NOTE: This article was written one week after the self-published release of Legends & Lattes in 2022. An awful lot happened after that point, involving its journey to traditional publication through Tor in June, over 3 months later (in ebook/audio again) and a November print relaunch, as well as those months of indie sales data. None of that will be covered here, as I think that information doesn’t really contribute to the usefulness of this specific article (and might, in fact, detract or mislead).
I recently released Legends & Lattes, my first full novel, on February 22 of 2022. (2/2/22 — Look at all those 2's!) It went much, much better than expected. I’d always wanted to write a novel, and had failed NaNoWriMo countless times, and this was my first success. I don’t have a basis for comparison except speaking with other self-published authors, and reading what’s available online, but I think it’s pretty clear the book launch went well, and the reception has been very good. I’m happy!
Before we get started, here are my shamelessly self-promotional links to the book and audiobook:
And dang, I love that cover.
So, for anyone else thinking of taking the plunge, or in the middle of doing so, I’m going to lay out end-to-end everything that I did, things I discovered, and also cold, hard, numbers. I wanted this sort of information when I was going through the process, and never found it all in one place, or often only vaguely articulated.
This is my first (completed) book. I’m actually a full-time audiobook narrator, and erstwhile game developer. I wrote my novel because it was a long-held dream, (and my NaNo buddy encouraged me), but I had no real expectations for it. My main reason for going through the full publication process was curiosity — I wanted to know what things looked like on the other side of the fence where the authors I work with regularly toil away. I like to learn stuff.
Here’s the high-pass on what I’m going to cover -
- Prep & Writing
- Cover Design
- Formatting (eBook & Print)
- KDP eBook Publication
- KDP Paperback Publication
- IngramSpark Paperback Publication
- Social media/ARCs
- Sales numbers/Data/Observations
- Summing Up/Next steps
There’s going to be a balance of objective data and also my speculations on why something worked. But look, I have a sample size of ONE BOOK. My speculations may be very, very wrong. Feel free to bring your skepticism and critical thinking along for the ride.
Remember, this is just what I did. Extract what makes sense for you.
PREP & WRITING
As I mentioned, I failed a lot of NaNoWriMos in the past (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated). http://www.nanowrimo.org This is my first ‘win’. There were some key differences this time that helped me actually complete the book (and I did in fact complete it during November).
- Simplicity. Every other attempt I’ve made at completing a novel has partially failed because it was too big, too complicated, and wanted to be too much. If it wasn’t the Great American Novel, then why was it worth my time? Well, friends, that was stupid.
I mentioned that I’m an erstwhile game developer. As an old-hand game developer, you discover new developers always have starry-eyed visions of the game they want to make. “It’s going to be World of Warcraft plus GTA, but also with the storyline of Mass Effect!”, they say. And my answer is always — “This is your first game? You should make Tetris.”
People are often put off by this, but it’s the perfect first game to build (Or some variant of it. Maybe you like Columns or Dr. Mario. Whatever.). Tetris is understandable, has all the component parts of a game — and it was still wildly unbelievably successful. You can hold the scope of it in your mind all at once, and you can reasonably finish it, learn a lot, and then move on to the next thing.
Well, I never took this advice when attempting to write a novel. And I finally figured out that I ought to. This book was my Tetris.
- Relatability. I finally decided to write something that was actually relatable to me — some realization that was resonant. I didn’t even know I was going to do this until it started making itself apparent in what was really going on with my hopeful orc barista. When it did, I paid attention and let it flower. For Legends & Lattes, it ended up being a couple of ideas, because they followed on from one another. None of them is earth-shattering — just basic human realizations, some that I had embarrassingly late in life.
Those are, in brief : You aren’t stuck doing what you’ve always done. It’s never too late to start again. People are as important to your life as what you decide to do. It’s valuable (and sometimes very hard) to make room in your life for things that aren’t work. People are at heart good, often when you least expect it.
“My job sucks and I could get another one” doesn’t sound like it’s the foundation of a good book, but it’s simple and relatable and it entangles with a lot of other personally relatable concepts.
My book is not about defeating the dark lord, or global conflict. Just simple stuff that I understand and know how to articulate my thoughts on in a genuine way.
- Fun. I still smile thinking about an orc opening a coffee shop. Conceptually it’s ridiculous, but I didn’t treat it that way. The book plays it straight — but the imagery and the conceit make me happy, and they work well with the core concepts of the book.
- I outlined. I don’t want to push this at all, but for years I thought I was a pantser. Turns out, I am not. If what you’ve been trying doesn’t work, maybe try something else. (Here we are at those basic themes of the book again!) All my previous books got stuck in the boggy middle. Outlining clearly with a basic description of each scene in each chapter ensured I always had a signpost near enough to lunge for if I got stuck. This saved me over and over.
- Writing buddy. Aven Shore-Kind was my NaNo writing buddy. We kept each other personally accountable and encouraged one another. I can’t over-stress how useful this was.
One thing I think I’ve learned from audiobook narration over the past few years is what I want to see in writing. That has also translated into what I want to write. Reading aloud someone else’s work makes it extremely clear what your personal tastes are. I’ve discovered I dislike needless exposition, redundancy, over-flowery language and vocabulary (even if I understand it), and descriptions of scenery and clothing. I like lightly-sketched and evocative prose that is not heavy, and that never requires me to re-read a line to extract its meaning. I like a contemporary pace. I do not like reading about the rugs, the furnishings, the minute details of clothing, or the particulars of someone’s hairstyle. Superfluous detail makes me itch. I want things that get me to the meat of whatever human connection is happening.
I discovered that what I also want is to constantly be in need of an answer — and to have that need regularly satisfied at different scales of time. I want the author to provide me with questions that I need the answer to, and I want them paid off. I like some big ones lurking in the background, and then short and medium-term questions to keep me satisfied as a reader.
I also think world building is pretty tedious when done in bulk. These are the parts I skim over when I’m reading a chonky doorstop paperback. I simply cannot retain them. I know many love that, but it’s not for me. Out they go.
For NaNo I kept to my daily quotas. (Which were a bit higher than the NaNo baseline, which targets a 50k word book. Mine ended up at 62k.) I wrapped up the book a couple days shy of end of November, writing every day. NO MISSED DAYS. Due to the outline, the resulting book is remarkably close to what was published.
I used Scrivener, because I found the notecard approach very useful for being able to glance at the chapter’s scene outline while writing, and to quickly re-evaluate and add to my outline as I went.
For writing. And writing. And writing.
Scrivener is the go-to app for writers of all kinds, used every day by best-selling novelists, screenwriters…
When it came time to edit though? I switched to Microsoft Word. Onward to editing!
I’m a big believer in editing. Even with near-zero expectations about publishing this, I care a lot about making something of quality, so I knew I was going to engage a professional editor. In this case, that sort of fell into my lap. I narrate the author Forthright’s novels (The Amaranthine Saga) — and I love her work.
She offered to edit for this project, which is something she doesn’t often do. (Please don’t spam her with requests) It turns out she has an actual background in editing, and edits her own work, and my thoughts about narrative and stories and language largely align with hers. We were a good fit. She is also not afraid to call me out if I’m not being true to my characters, or if I’m straying from the path in some way. I want actual critical analysis, even though it’s sometimes difficult to accept.
My first pass was to edit by myself, though. I gave it a couple of days after completion (realistically I should have given it two weeks, but I’m impatient), and then read through and did my own edit pass, tucking in my shirt wherever I could. Afterward, we began a more formal edit process.
If you have not had your work edited before, it will be a shock. You will probably initially dig your heels in. I think that’s probably natural, and if you don’t feel that, then you may not be getting a very extensive edit. Every comma removed will initially feel like an attack on the quality of your work. It isn’t. Get over it as quickly as you can. That doesn’t mean you should rubber stamp every edit that comes your way, but I think you should probably swiftly get yourself to a place where you realize that your editor is trying to keep you from going out there with food between your teeth.
I tried to get into the mindset that my editor’s eyes were going to find things for me that I’d be embarrassed about otherwise. Like QA for software, they are helping expose the bugs, and making sure I justify some of the design decisions I made. I didn’t accept every edit, but in cases where I didn’t, I made sure to justify it or (and this is important) — I tried to find an alternate solution to the problem. There are often many ways to address a shortcoming. Your editor may suggest one, but that doesn’t have to be the one you select. But acknowledging that there is a weakness is the first step.
Sometimes it’s just an issue of style, and that’s valid, and you should definitely stick to your guns. But it’s also very easy to tell yourself that a legitimate problem is a stylistic choice, so that you don’t have to address it. Be careful.
We used Word for the editing process with Track Changes active.
The first stage was a very slow first-pass edit — a chapter or two a day. I’d then go through the tracked changes in the evening, accept, reject, or alter as needed, and make notes where I disagreed or chose another solution. Then I’d pass it back, versioning the file each time. (I’m a big believer in versioning). Sometimes we’d have another exchange on one of my solutions to a problem, and go another round. And the next day, another chapter.
After a few chapters, I started ‘editing ahead’. I got a sense of the sorts of weaknesses that were being exposed during the edit, and then pre-edited upcoming chapters myself with that in mind. I wanted to internalize what was happening, and to absorb the lessons that I felt were important and put them into practice. This meant I learned a lot, and also cut down on the number of edits per chapter as I pre-empted what my editor would have otherwise found. I think this was incredibly useful for me, personally, to help me grow as a writer. Ideally it means the next book will have fewer of those weaknesses.
The edit also helped clarify what was important to me — which is in the end, communication. I want to connect with the reader, not impress them with how smart I am. If a turn of phrase was too obscure, or a saying too archaic, maybe I love it — but if it doesn’t land, what’s the point? I’m here to tell a story and reach the reader on a human level, not show off. That doesn’t mean the language should be remedial. I think you can write gracefully with clear, simple language, and we boiled away some of my more obscure choices.
After the first deep-edit, we did a consistency/story/sanity pass. This was faster than the first, to get a bird’s eye view of how the story hung together, to look for any lingering structural weaknesses that could be shored up, continuity errors from the first edit, or leftover ‘editing’ droppings. Your first edit pass will almost certainly leave behind some detritus. You want to catch it!
As a result of the edit, I probably dropped at least 2k words in cruft, but then added back about 2k words in expanded conversations, and a few brief scenes to keep some characters more present through the middle of the book. I ended up roughly where I started for word count.
Note that another editing option is the developmental edit. A dev edit begins much earlier in the writing process and is focused on helping to identify and resolve big story problems. I didn’t do that here, but you may want to consider it.
Editing costs money, depending on what you’re getting. I can’t give you hard numbers here because we had more of a barter thing going on. Research this. A lot of self-pub authors go light on editing, or self-edit. There are rational reasons that people choose to do this. I think a good solid edit is worth its weight in gold, though.
I’m going to link to an article by Brenna Bailey-Davies about finding an editor, because she can address it more usefully than I can.
I wrote my first-pass blurb and tagline before I even wrote the book.
I like catchy wordplay, so the tagline was the very first element I had, after the general conceit of an orc opening a coffee shop.
A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes
It just happened to be what I wanted to read at the time — something with fantastical elements that didn’t feel fraught. I needed a break from the world and the action-adventure fiction that I narrate daily. It was very useful to have that guiding star as I further developed the book — and it turns out to be very useful afterward to let people know what the book is. I’m going to try to do something similar with every subsequent book I write. Super helpful.
My first-pass blurb was:
Viv the orc barbarian has had it with a life of packing steel and raising hell, and takes one last score — and a fabled artifact — to start her life over, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune.
But the conditions have to be just right, and she’ll need help from unexpected quarters to make her dream a reality.
Slinging coffee instead of swords isn’t exactly easy, and old frenemies aren’t trivially left behind -but with a little good fortune tucked away, Viv hopes to build something that lasts, for once.
A steaming cup of fantasy slice of life with a dollop of unexpected romantic froth.
I had this before I wrote a single line of the story.
I really don’t like long blurbs. I want to get the gist right away. The first sentence sums up the entire concept. The following sentences hint at challenges and needs, and at the end we make a nod to the genre conventions we’re going to play with — slice of life, with a little romance.
The final blurb is:
High fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention.
Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv, the orc barbarian, cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.
However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners, and a different kind of resolve.
A hot cup of fantasy, slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth.
Not actually that different — some rephrasing, and references to some elements that developed over the course of writing, but still very recognizable as the original blurb. It’s just a little better tuned.
The tagline and blurb really serve as a mission statement for the writing of the book, that also conveniently articulates it quickly to a potential reader. At least, that’s the hope. I definitely think it worked here.
This section is going to be long, so buckle up!
While editing was ongoing, I got my cover design on the move. I had a very clear idea of what I was after. I wanted to strongly evoke the vibe of the book, while also very definitely signaling what it was not. I had no desire to draw in people who wouldn’t be on board for what I had on offer. I don’t want read-and-return-and-bad-review purchasers or readers.
I have a background in commissioning and providing feedback for artwork from my time in game development, so I wasn’t really hesitant about this. I also think it’s critically important — second only to having a good book (and maybe a close second?) After my experience announcing the book, which I’ll get to, I feel even more strongly that this is the case.
For my cover, I wanted to evoke 90’s paperback art — the era when Darrel K Sweet seemed to paint the covers for every one of them. The boldly-serifed typography and traditional approach were key to that for me. The book is a combination of warm nostalgia for classic fantasy, married with some more modern sensibilities and storytelling style.
Also, I pine for covers that distinctly convey the vibe of a book. I think modern cover design actually misses the mark here a lot, at least for me as a reader. There are a lot of pictures of swords, the backs of a lot of stock-photo-people, a high-contrast blood splatter, probably more swords, SOME VERY BOLD TYPOGRAPHY, or maybe something artsy and vague. I seldom have any idea how these books ‘feel’ because their covers don’t communicate it to me. I don’t get a vibe. Or if I do, it has nothing to do with the book. They’re pretty, but they leave me disconnected.
There are some notable exceptions, though. Gideon the Ninth anyone? That cover is a vibe and it sets you up for the story. Also, a killer tagline. Lesbian Necromancers in Space? Hell yes.
That’s what I wanted. But with less Necromancers. And less space.
I was prepared to spend money for my cover. I think you should pay artists. If you find the right one, and you pay them what they’re worth, I think you get elevated work. I don’t want to publicly state the rates of my artist. I like giving out real numbers, but these aren’t mine to give. I expected to spend more than a thousand dollars, and I did. It was 1000% worth it. Don’t skimp on your cover. But don’t waste your money either. Finding the right artist with the right vibe is key, in my mind. So is knowing what you want.
My artist was Carson Lowmiller https://carsonlowmiller.artstation.com/
I ended up hunting for an artist for several weeks, and had a pile of individuals that I thought could pull it off. Key to me was their representation of female characters, the expressiveness of their faces, an excellent painterly style, and striking use of color. Carson’s anthropomorphic work, his strong compositions, and his clear ability to bend his style to the subject matter of art briefs he was given made him a great choice in my mind. His work has a warmth to it that I enjoyed and thought would represent L&L well. I couldn’t be happier with the final result.
If I were to go back in time to do this again, I’d start this part of the process much earlier, because good artists are in demand and you’ll need to wait for their availability. But of course, I didn’t know I’d finish a book when I started at the beginning of November, so that wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye at the time. Next go-round though…
When I queried artists I was very clear about what I wanted — a two-character book cover, a quick set of elements that were important to me, the expected dimensions, basic style, a short brief on the book and its tone, and questions about rates and timeline.
Once we’d agreed on terms, the next step for me was providing a full set of notes, as well as a layout to work against. I didn’t want to be stuck in a situation where typography was an afterthought for the cover. I have a graphic design background, so I created a template for Carson to work against.
I used KDP’s cover template generator to get my dimensions. https://kdp.amazon.com/cover-calculator
Once I had the template image for that (which includes guides and clear sections for spine/front/back and various important areas of the cover), I brought it into Photoshop and did a temporary logo and text treatment. I created a first-pass logo, tentatively placed text on both front and back, and labeled and grouped everything in the Photoshop file for Carson’s reference. I also sized up the template to get myself a little more DPI wiggle room in case I decided to print larger at some point.
I delivered the layered template, and a complete set of cover design notes for Carson well in advance of his start date. I also let him know that he could feel free to adjust positioning or scale of the typography to work better with his composition as needed. I’m going to reproduce those notes here, so you can see how I went about it.
COVER DESIGN NOTES
Overall tone — warm & traditionally painterly, ‘rich’-
Because the book plays it very straight I don’t want to lean too hard into game-concept supersaturation and hard-edges, unless you think there’s a really good reason to do so.
Setting is medieval with some modernisms
The coffee shop the book is primarily set in was a renovated livery/stable, so natural woods/plaster/stone/mullioned windows/etc.
The main focus in my mind are the two primary characters:
Viv — Ex-orc barbarian. 30s-40s-For the purposes of this, she’s probably closer to a half-orc visually — mostly human face, not really bestial, exposed lower fangs. Green or olive skin tone. Face still appealing, due to mild romance angle. Tall, well-muscled. She’s retired, so she wears regular clothing, not armor or weapons. Would be nice to have some detail to it, so it’s more than just a plain tunic or shirt — vest maybe, a key on a leather thong. No face-paint or disfiguring scars. She’s not overly described in text. Hair long, either bound a few times in a tail or potentially braided. Could be black or auburn or brown. Viv is the main character.
Tandri — succubus — late 20s — notably shorter than Viv. Wears a sweater with high collar. Consciously trying not to be oversexualized, but facial features still cute/appealing. Two small horns poking out from hair. Dark hair probably cut around chin length. Has a tail. Magenta/purplish cast to skin, even if it’s just a blush of it.
There’s a sweet romance angle between these two that eventually develops over the book, so the expressions between them should ideally hint at a friendly, personal connection, w/ expressive eyes catching each other’s glance
My first thought had been to have them back-to-back, glancing slightly over their shoulders at one another, with Viv/orc holding a latte in a mug that she is preparing, potentially w a milk steaming pitcher (or not if that’s clumsy!), while Tandri has a plate with a large cinnamon roll in it.
The espresso maker in-fiction is a gnomish contraption, a big silver box with pipes/dials, obviously meant to evoke a modern espresso machine but with a bit of gnomish whimsy to it.
Compositionally, depending on angle, it might be neat to have this partially in foreground on a countertop, which also allows you to obscure lower bodies? If a composition works better without it though, that’s fine. The two mains are the most important element.
When I mentioned a potential 3rd character, that would be:
Thimble — he’s a rat-man — not full-on anthropomorphic. If Warhammer was cute. Eyes still rat-like, but walks on two legs, and wears a baker’s apron. Dusted with flour. He might be peeking slightly from behind them, or over/around the counter or machine, potentially holding a biscotti or croissant. Ideally he would not be featured much — just a small partial exposure.
Would be nice to have some hint of the shop behind — plastered wall & timbers, a door to a pantry, some stacked mugs, potentially a glass-domed display of pastries (could be in foreground) — any pastries should be cinnamon roll/biscotti/croissant (that’s all they bake). Some combination or subset of those to evoke the coffee shop vibe, while still having it feel medieval at the same time could be nice.
I’m very open to adjustments or changes, or whatever works best to make a strong composition, as long as we can ensure that the two primary characters work well.
*Random other elements or swap-outs, depending on what seems to work best for you if some other element doesn’t fit the composition -
Other characters that could be used instead of the rat man or hinted at or in place of some other element -
Greatsword hung on the wall behind, wreathed in holly
Dire cat — there’s an enormous gray dire-housecat the size of a wolf that appears from time to time.
Cal the Hob/Gremlin — wears a flat cap and was responsible for the renovation. Short, builder type, mildly cantankerous.
I wanted to be very clear about what I was looking for, while also leaving room for Carson’s own interpretation. That meant not getting overly specific about things, and signaling my willingness to bend in favor of compelling art, and seeding some initial options to do that with.
Once we hit our window on Carson’s schedule, his first step was a set of quick concept sketches.
At this stage it is very easy to find yourself drawn to the most fully-rendered sketch. (In this case number 1 — where Tandri and Viv are most clearly rendered). That’s a trap! Don’t do that. Here, we are just looking at composition, and how it’s going to read.
I liked parts of all of these, so I did a quick combination of the elements I thought were best. I wanted the character setup from #2, but in the interior layout of #3, and with Thimble in a location where he wouldn’t be obscured by jacket text.
You’ll see that this is also remarkably close to the brief.
I didn’t spend much time on this, but just enough to give him my feedback without an overlong text description that was unclear. You can already see that this is very close to the layout of the final artwork.
The next stage was a color rough.
Anatomy isn’t really final here — things are still quite sketchy — but it’s a little more fully rendered and we’ve got color blocked in to get a sense of how it will read, and we can also see how it all hangs together with the text.
I had specific bits of feedback at this stage, but tried to keep them controlled to things that were very important to me, with the understanding that it wasn’t ‘done’. I wanted to provide that information in case it saved Carson time in the long run though.
Stage 3 is more fully rendered now — we’re getting closer. The faces have come into focus, and that’s the most important part. My comments here were focused on a few key things having to do with the character’s builds, and also with the cups in the background initially registering as steam to my eye. I’m very happy with where things are heading. I’m also starting to play with the logo and typography a bit more.
Close to final now — rendering is nearly complete, and only Thimble is missing. There are a few minor details of clothing that I made comments on, but very little else — Carson’s going to bring it to a smashing finish.
And then final delivery. I love it. Thimble is adorable, some great little details have been sprinkled in, the lighting has been refined. It’s lovely.
At this point I finalize my blurb text, and complete my logo work.
And that’s a wrap! We’re set to go on the cover-artwork front.
I also requested the PSD files for this so that it would make it more straightforward for me to assemble an audiobook cover. I always want source files if I can get them. It saves pain down the road, if your artist is willing to deliver them. (Some may not be!)
That allowed me to tuck the logo in behind Viv in order to frame things well for the 1x1 aspect ratio required.
I should also point out that I paid additional for full rights to the artwork so that I can use it for advertising, or sell it on merchandise. This is a cost I’m willing to absorb, but may not be important to you. DO NOT ASSUME YOU HAVE THESE RIGHTS WITHOUT VERIFYING WITH THE ARTIST!
I also made sure that Carson knew I was happy for him to share and display the artwork however he liked, even though I was purchasing those rights.
It was a great experience, and I’m so pleased with how it turned out. Hopefully it was a pleasant project for Carson as well.
A reminder — credit your artists (and editors, and proofers)! Tag them in social media. Put their names on and in your book. Recognize the work that people do for you.
I went down a few roads as far as eBook and print formatting. There are tons of options available! Ultimately I settled on Vellum, but I’ll quickly go through the other setups I toyed with and discarded.
Also, a note: I was fiddling with formatting during the entire editing process. I like to parallelize as many things as possible.
You can test your eBook layout in the Kindle Previewer application (and the built-in previewer in the KDP Dashboard as well)
I initially used Amazon’s eBook formatting guide and did my formatting in Microsoft Word.
That guide is available here:
I knew I wanted to incorporate artwork and drop-caps into my book, because I wanted it to look as nice as possible. My initial experiments using Word to do this were actually very successful — they imported well into KDP’s Kindle Previewer. However, ultimately, it meant I’d need a separate source document for print output, which felt too cumbersome.
On the plus side, using Word to initially decide on how I wanted my book to look was useful when it came time to transfer that look to the tool I actually used.
If I had only planned on publishing on Amazon as an eBook, I think this would have been just fine.
calibre - E-book management
calibre: The one stop solution for all your e-book needs. Comprehensive e-book software.
I also experimented with using Calibre — again, successfully. But lord it is clunky. Using the actual application is a pain, and frankly I’m old and cranky and I don’t have the patience or time to fuss with it. It’s free. It’s powerful. But you get what you pay for, and I will pay for sanity.
Also, notably, this is not going to be useful if you want a print-formatted book.
Initially I was put off with what felt like restrictiveness when using Vellum’s demo. I couldn’t do things just so, as I might in Word or Calibre. But once I gave in to the fact that it was just going to work, it was clearly the right choice for me. Instead of spending my time debugging output in Kindle Previewer or combing through a PDF to make sure that everything was set up properly for print, Vellum works, and it looks nice, and it’s trivial to do things like change font sizes and typefaces without exploding all over the place. It’s pricey but it saved me a lot of time, and I still got 99% of the layout I wanted. I’m proud of how the paperback version turned out as well.
I was able to incorporate custom header artwork (which I licensed from Shutterstock). I was also able to add two-page spread artwork in the front of the book that prints all the way to the edges (full bleed). Vellum has excellent handling of things like verse text and subheadings, and does a very nice auto-magical print layout.
The key here is that your print and eBook can be generated from the same source document — you don’t have to maintain them separately. This is huge.
I was pleased with the print layout that was generated from Vellum, as well as the eBook formatting.
Highly recommended. It isn’t cheap, but again, you get what you pay for.
One major caveat — Vellum is Mac only.
Atticus is a somewhat comparable option for PC users, although I didn’t find it as solid.
As a last note, if you’re laying out your print, do the obvious thing and pick up a bunch of books and flip through them. How are their copyright pages arranged? Where do they place important information? How are their chapters formatted? Pay attention to things you wouldn’t normally look at.
My goal was to have my book look as not-indie as humanly possible. Studying a bunch of professionally-printed books I liked the look of was very useful in that regard.
ISBNs are the unique identifiers for individual versions of your book.
What does that mean? If you release a paperback, an eBook, and an audiobook, those are each individual versions of the book. Each one warrants its own ISBN — it identifies which is which. Your paperback will not have the same ISBN as your eBook.
What about storefronts? If your paperback is available in multiple storefronts, does each one warrant its own ISBN? Nope. That ISBN follows that version of the book (paperback), not which storefront it is on.
If you publish on Amazon, they will generate a free ISBN for you. HOWEVER — this ISBN can not be used elsewhere. If you plan to publish paperbacks or eBooks in other locations, you will need to buy an ISBN for each edition and keep them consistent across those storefronts or vendors. (Hardback, paperback, eBook, and audiobook are all different editions) To be clear, that means one ISBN for paperback (shared between vendors), one for eBook (shared), etc.
To do this, at least if you’re in the US, you purchase ISBNs through Bowker.
The most important identifier your book can have is the ISBN. As the U.S. ISBN Agency, Bowker is the ONLY official…
If you go down this route, you’re going to want to do this in bulk, probably 10 of them. One ISBN is a whopping $125 — while 10 costs you $295.
If you don’t buy an ISBN for each version and keep them consistent when publishing through other avenues (IngramSpark for instance), then you will have separate versions of the same product — two different paperback editions of what’s effectively the same book. Very confusing. A real mess — and potentially Amazon will take them down to resolve the snafu.
I bought a block of 10 and assigned the appropriate data.
Here’s what my ISBN dashboard looks like.
Note that they’ll try to sell you barcodes. Don’t bother. KDP and Ingram will both generate one for you, and there are free online tools to do it. It’s a racket. We’ll get to barcodes later.
You’ll then need to set up the individual data for each ISBN.
Note that you don’t really have to fill ALL of this out. I didn’t bother with the description or the eBook file type.
You do of course, want to add yourself as an author:
You’ll also need to set a publication date (some time in the future, roughly when you expect it to go live) and a Title Status of Active Record and a target audience of Trade if you’re writing a novel.
I set my price as Not Set, so that I had flexibility.
It’ll take a day or two for all of that information to percolate. You might as well do this early and have it taken care of.
While we’re at it, I should mention ASIN numbers. This is Amazon’s equivalent to the ISBN, and stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number. They will automatically generate one for you that is unique to your book. You don’t really need to do anything with this, but be aware that it exists, and is a way that your book can be referenced.
KDP eBOOK PUBLICATION
Kindle Desktop Publishing is actually quite slick and straightforward.
We’ll talk about the eBook publication process first, and then paperbacks in the next section.
I’d recommend you create your account and get your banking information set up early. As soon as you have a viable eBook and print PDF, it’s worth getting your books set up on KDP in draft form so that you can shake out any trouble, and fill out all the appropriate metadata. Give yourself a lot of breathing room by doing this up-front, so you have less to fuss with when release time comes.
I don’t know that it’s worth expending a lot of words on adding your books to KDP. I found it pretty intuitive. However, a few bits of information are worth going over.
You are allowed to set two categories for your eBook in the Details section of your book data. Obviously books get sorted into a lot more categories than that. This process happens automatically over time. However, you can request the addition of up to 8 other categories explicitly.
Once your book appears on Amazon you can use a form to request this. Note that this link will request a KDP login to view.
Select Amazon Store & Product Page, and Update Amazon Categories, and follow the instructions.
You can use this to slot your eBook into categories relevant to it that will rank well. To find those categories, it’s worth looking at comparable eBooks in niches where you think you can stand out.
I’m no expert on this, that’s for certain, and you do not have to do it. But at least now you’re aware of the option!
Kindle Unlimited/KDP Select
This is specific to eBook, obviously. What you choose to do here is going to come down to your particular goals. My goal was simply to get the book into the hands of people who might like it.
Kindle Unlimited is the customer facing program that you’re probably familiar with. KDP Select is the author-side opt-in for that program. If you elect to participate in KDP Select, that makes your eBook available in Kindle Unlimited for 90 days, after which you can elect to remove it from the program (or stick with it).
I chose to do so. My reasoning was that I wanted more eyes on my book, and if I did free promotions later, then that would result in increased KU page reads. You’re paid by the page read at a fluctuating monthly rate.
eBook Pricing/Royalty Rate
There are two royalty rate options available to you for your eBook — 35% and 70%.
The 35% royalty rate has no delivery fee — the 70% royalty rate does. The delivery fee is levied based on the file size of your book. (Another reason to use Vellum — it optimizes your imagery to reduce the final file size very nicely.) My delivery fee per book is 17 cents, and my filesize is 1.15MB. That comes out of your royalty payment from Amazon.
The 70% royalty rate also makes your book available for Kindle Book Lending — you can’t opt out of this, so just be aware.
The 70% royalty rate is only available if you price your book at $2.99 and above. Less my delivery fee and at my royalty rate, that means I make $1.97 per copy.
I deliberately priced my book as low as I could, while still maintaining a 70% royalty rate. Why? Again, I wanted the book in more hands. It’s also not a long book. I wanted to prioritize readership and reader satisfaction, and I’m a first-time author. I chose to think of it as a preorder/introductory price, which I may bump up slightly later. But not for at least a month.
KDP PAPERBACK PUBLICATION
Adding your book as a paperback is very similar, and equally easy, at least if you’ve used Vellum to generate your print output. The main differences are going to be the assets you upload (a PDF of your print book, as well as cover artwork which you’ve created using the template from that Template Creator we referenced way back when.)
Paperbacks through Kindle Desktop Publishing are printed on demand (POD). No inventory has to be maintained. They make them as requested. Basically, you don’t have to worry about it.
Your other major option for print on demand outside of Amazon is IngramSpark, which we’re going to get to after this section, and I’ll lay out the differences and pros and cons. I did both, and I’ll explain why when we get there.
Since I’m using Vellum, Vellum generated the print PDF for me. The cover I saved from Photoshop as an RGB PDF. All artwork was flattened, with the exception of the barcode, which remained on a separate layer in the PDF. (Note that IngramSpark will be different — we’ll use CMYK there.)
You’ll have the option to let KDP embed the barcode on the back of your book for you. I elected not to do that. I used a barcode generator to do it. (Again, it’s a bit of a racket to buy these from Bowker. Don’t!)
ISBN Bar Code Generator > Kindlepreneur
Barcode Pricing Instructions Below we have added instructions for different pricing scenarios, including each option's…
I did this so that I could place it precisely where I wanted it on the layout, with no guesswork. I also included a pricing barcode (use 9000 as your price to have an ‘unlisted price’.)
Once you’ve uploaded your documents, you’ll be able to order yourself a print proof, which you definitely want to do. You get them at print cost, and they print and ship fast, so you can quickly check to make sure that you’re happy with the layout, that your cover is aligned properly, and that everything looks the way you’d like. If you have any doubts about whether you prefer matte or glossy covers, this is a good place to figure it out. I went through multiple rounds of proofs, trying out gloss and matte, and making adjustments to some of the placement of elements because of where the cover folds happened near the binding, and to make sure that I better accommodated changes in alignment on the spine due to the vagaries of printing.
Your cover alignment will not be ‘perfect’ every time. Make sure elements on your spine aren’t too large, even if they do fit into the ‘guides’ on the template, because they can shift a bit.
Even if you’re also planning to use IngramSpark, I’d recommend sorting out all your printing issues here first, because it is much, much faster than doing so through Ingram. (Although you will still certainly want proofs from Ingram.)
Also note that paper weight in KDP is different from Ingram. KDP uses 55lb paper, and IngramSpark uses 50lb. Your book will be slightly thinner on Ingram if you also choose to also publish through them.
KDP uses Laserjet printing, and Ingram uses Inkjet. I found I liked the bolder blacks of KDP’s print jobs better. The thinner paper and slightly more washed out blacks of IngramSpark’s prints felt a little cheaper and flimsier to me. YMMV.
I priced my book — $12USD in this case — so that I’d make roughly the same amount per paperback as eBook. After the printing cost (which will vary based on size and page count), and the print royalty rate of 60%, I make about 2 bucks a copy. Again, I’m trying to keep my book cheap and accessible.
Note that you have an option for Expanded Distribution. You get a lower royalty rate (40%), and it will make your book more widely available. I can’t see a reason why you would do this. If you want wider distribution, just use IngramSpark, which will be better received. If you do select Expanded Distribution you will not be able to use IngramSpark.
INGRAMSPARK PAPERBACK PUBLICATION
IngramSpark is the primary indie-focused Print-On-Demand service that you can use to get your book printed and available to retailers outside of Amazon. Bookstores and libraries do not like to order from Amazon, for a variety of reasons. The obvious competition they present is one, but also, paperbacks from KDP cannot be returned to Amazon if unsold.
Why would you use IngramSpark? Ingram’s distribution network is, I believe, the largest, and any bookstore can order from it. But maybe you don’t want to bother. It’s more of a pain to set up by a country mile. You pay a fee to set up each book ($49), and you pay a fee for any revisions after it is live ($25). Both of those actions are free with KDP. The print cost is also higher. And if you want bookstores to actually stock your books, you’ll be selling them at discounted prices to them, with options to return them. Which means you will make less per book, or will have to price higher, or, more likely, both.
UPDATE: Some nuance from author Vale Nagle — IngramSpark’s print costs start to become cheaper than KDP as the books get longer. Once you pass around 110k words, the balance tips. Just to bear in mind!
I wanted to do the whole thing though — apart from just learning the ropes, I wanted it to be possible for my book to be ordered in to a bookstore, just because that’s cool.
IngramSpark’s interface is considerably less friendly than KDP’s. Expect to bumble around a little. It’s not completely obtuse but it’s just not as effortless to use.
IngramSpark’s pace is glacial compared to KDP. It will take days and days after submission for you to receive an eProof of your book. If you approve the eProof, it will then take days and days before they print a proof copy and send it to you. You do this by ‘ordering’ it for yourself. With KDP, I had my print book added and a proof in hand in under 4 days with expedited shipping. It took two and a half weeks through Ingram. Expect to twiddle your thumbs a lot. Plan for this longer period of time.
For your book to be visible to retailers, you will need to approve the eProof that IngramSpark sends you, and then manually ‘enable distribution’. You do not want to enable distribution until you have first gotten a physical proof. Then the metadata feed that Ingram sends out will begin trickling your book out to stores. This takes a number of days, and varies based on the retailer.
It also doesn’t all happen at once. Expect to see your book listed on Barnes & Noble’s website with no description and no cover artwork — and then three days later or so, those will bubble their way up.
Also, note that if you make any changes to your book after it is available, and submit them, it will go through the approval process again. But not until after any print orders have been completed. It will take days and days and days — potentially weeks. During that time if retailers try to order your book, it will show as ‘unavailable’. They will not be able to buy it until Ingram has gone through the whole approval process again. Make sure that what you enable for distribution is, in fact, what you want published.
Note that availability through IngramSpark doesn’t mean anyone will stock your book. It just means that they can.
Which brings us to pricing and returns…
Your book on IngramSpark will cost more to print than through KDP. This is already going to cut into what you can make per book. Additionally, when IngramSpark sells your book to a retailer, the retailer expects a wholesale discount. The default is 55%, but you can choose different values. To make the math simple, a $12 book at a 50% discount means that the bookstore buys the book for $6. The print cost and royalty comes out of that, and you get what’s left over. I can’t sell my book at $12 without literally paying the bookstore to take it, so I have to price at $15.99, and I still make a little less per book than on KDP — $1.61.
UPDATE: Author Vale Nagle provided a little more insight to me on Ingram. Apparently a 35% discount is the cutoff for appearing in Barnes & Noble, Walmart, etc. Also, apparently the 55% discount is not precisely what the bookseller gets — a larger chunk of that goes to Ingram, and the bookstore might only receive 35–40%. Ingram does a very good job of obscuring this. I may be playing with these numbers.
But we’re not done yet! The next item on the list is returns.
Bookstores don’t like to buy books without the option to return unsold stock. IngramSpark isn’t going to eat the cost of those returns though — you will be charged back the wholesale cost for anything returned ($6 in the example above). Which is going to be more than your royalty per unit, unless your price is very high. Ideally you won’t be seeing a ton of returns, but be aware, it’s a little scary to think about. There’s the possibility that you could owe Ingram money, in particularly dire circumstances.
You have the option not to allow returns — in fact you have three options.
- No returns
- Returns with destruction
- Returns with shipping
If you choose the first, bookstores probably aren’t going to buy your book.
If you choose the second, they can return them if they don’t sell, and Ingram will destroy them.
If you choose the third, they can return them, and Ingram will then ship them to you and charge you additionally for the shipping.
I personally don’t want to unexpectedly have a lot of possibly damaged books show up on my doorstep that I had to pay extra for. I chose number 2.
We’ll see how that pans out! I’m living on the edge here.
I do know that bookstores have appreciated this setup — a 55% discount with destroyed returns. I also hope it doesn’t bite me in the butt. I really don’t expect to sell enough units to bookstores for it to be too enormous of a risk though.
My cover artwork is nearly identical on Ingram — but not quite! Ingram requires CMYK files and a specific PDF standard for the PDF you supply.
That information is provided in their file creation guide:
Also, make sure that you generate a new template using Ingram’s cover template creator — since the paper thickness is different from KDP’s offerings, your spine may be very slightly thinner. You want to compare it to your KDP variant.
IngramSpark also requires you to place your barcode on the back. They don’t have an option to do it for you. Just another reason that I chose to place it myself.
There are probably lots of schools of thought on preorders. I chose to set one up— although to a certain extent my hand was forced on the timing of that, which I’ll get to later.
I chose a 2.5 week preorder period, roughly. If I had my druthers, it probably would’ve been 1.5 or 2. Or perhaps even shorter.
One of the main values of doing a preorder is shaking out any problems ahead of time — making sure you have everything in order, that all files are set to go, and that you’re prepared for launch day.
The other value is that you appear on the Amazon rankings in advance of launch day.
Once your book goes live on Amazon, it does not immediately appear in the rankings — that can take as much as 48–72 hours. That means it has no chance to show up on any lists, and you can’t obsessively refresh to watch it climb or fall.
With a preorder, you make sure you’re in the rankings before launch day.
That’s a bit of a double-edged sword. I’ve seen a lot of speculation that your preorder numbers all contribute in some way to your launch rank. My data says no. You will begin ranking during preorder based on preorder sales, and those will influence your rank, but when launch day arrives and those preorders convert to ‘sales’, you do not get a magical boost. Your rank will be the same as it was before (plus any natural boost to sales you get from it being your launch day) You will see a big ‘sales’ spike, but that’s all your preorders converting to actual sold units, and that has no bearing on rank.
A note on that — those preorders do not all convert at once. Preorders convert to sales as they are delivered to a reader’s device, so your preorder conversion can last a couple of days, which makes it very hard to untangle from ‘real’ day one sales. Just bear that in mind.
KDP lets you publish your book once you have a preorder date set, and all your media and metadata is ready to go. It’ll take several hours minimum once you push the button before that goes live, while it is approved. At that point it’ll actually show on Amazon, and you will have a permanent link to it.
You cannot set up paperback preorders through KDP. It’s just not an option.
However, if you really want to set up paperback preorders, you can do it through IngramSpark. If you make your book available for preorder there, it will actually show up on Amazon as a preorderable paperback. Ideally you used the right ISBN.
I didn’t do this, and I don’t really think I would, given the difference in price. But the option remains.
Brace yourself. I’m probably not going to advise you to produce an audiobook for your first book. At least not at the beginning.
I did it, but the reason is pretty obvious. I’m a professional audiobook narrator, and I recorded it myself. Odds are you aren’t. (If you are, well, you probably don’t need this section anyway.)
Why do I advise against this?
Audiobooks are not cheap to produce. The Union minimum for an hour of finished audio is $250. That’s not unreasonable for the amount of work that goes into producing that audio, but again, it’s not cheap. If 10k words equals 1 hour of audio, a 100k word book is ten hours long, and $2,500 or more to produce at a reasonable quality level.
If this is your first book, wait until you launch the book and see how it does. I would not recommend betting that cash.
You will make anywhere from $2–$6 per unit from the sale of audiobooks, based on their length. You probably need to sell at least 700 units for that to be worth your while for a 10 hour audiobook (depending on your narrator’s rate). There are very few levers you have to influence audiobook sales — they are primarily driven by sales of the book itself. If your book is doing gangbusters and people are crying out for audio, then do it. Unless you know it’s going to be a hit from the get go, in which case, you’re probably not reading this article.
Put more simply — worry about the book first. If you have the money to spend, spend it to make your book a better book and give it a better chance of success. Then follow up with audio if things are going well.
The odds that the audiobook will improve the sales of your actual book, if your book is not already selling, are very, very, very low. No matter who you get to narrate it.
To be sure, there are other ways to get your audiobook produced.
Sometimes an audiobook publisher will approach you to produce it — but they will likely only do this if it looks like it will be a success based on your Amazon rank or some other buzz. They will then bankroll the audio production, and you will eventually be paid a royalty (probably quarterly) once it has earned out their costs to produce. That royalty won’t be as good as what you could have gotten producing it yourself, but you won’t be out any cash. Odds are low that this is what happens to you first thing though. And if it does, you maybe already have an inkling that your book is worth converting to audio, in which case, if you can afford it, it might be worth commissioning it yourself.
You can publish audiobooks yourself through https://acx.com. It doesn’t cost you anything to use as a service. ACX also pays monthly.
If you investigate ACX you will find that there are options for ‘royalty-share’ agreements there. These are situations where you pay no money, and you and the narrator split the royalty evenly between you. You’re out nothing, and they bear all the risk in terms of their time investment. I’m going to advise you against doing that. You will be inundated with auditions, but if you want to guarantee a certain quality level, you probably need to be aiming for working narrators who are of that caliber. They are very seldom auditioning for a debut book with no discernible Amazon rank.
I think about this the same way I think about cover art; that you should seek out your artists with intention. You should have a clear idea of what you want, you should contact a narrator you believe would do your work justice, find out their rates and schedule, and attempt to retain their services. I wouldn’t put up auditions for cover artists either. Hollering “Hi, I want a fantasy book cover, whatcha got?” into the void seems like an awful way to go about that, and I think the same holds true for audio.
If you do decide to do audio, find a good narrator, pay them what they’re worth, and get a good product. Research narrators you like that perform your genre well and that you enjoy. Get their contact info and reach out. They’re nice people.
At this point you may be thinking “perhaps I should record it myself?” Let me just say that recording audiobooks is a highly skilled discipline, and even if you have a nice voice, it’s just not that simple. You may be the unicorn who is an excellent narrator on day one, but the odds are low. Get a pro to do it.
Just ‘putting it out there’ on audio because you can, because someone will take a flyer on it as a royalty-share project, or because you recorded it yourself with a Snowball mic in your coat closet, is a fool’s errand. All you’ll end up with is something you’re not proud of that you’re stuck with for seven years.
If audiobooks definitely seem like the thing to do, and you’re at sea, feel free to ask me for more in-depth information.
Twitter was easily the biggest social media component of the book’s success.
I announced the book on Twitter with the finished cover art. I had no expectations. Then it blew up. I think when Seanan McGuire shared it, it really took off. I could not have known this would happen, and didn’t plan for it.
Twitter was the social media platform where the book proliferated most widely and quickly. I did a little on TikTok and Instagram, but Twitter does a better job of maintaining a conversation and adding to it, and just generally driving itself.
I don’t have a mailing list. I didn’t secure an online book tour. In my case I was able to piggyback off an unexpected Twitter explosion to gather interested ARC readers, and ultimately, preorders.
I set up a simple Google Form for potential ARC readers that included the cover, the blurb, asked whether they were willing to provide an unbiased review, whether they reviewed on Goodreads or Amazon, where they posted on social media, their preferred eARC format, and an email address.
I had 100 responses over two days before I turned off the form. I filtered some out, usually based on whether they actually bothered to answer my questions, or the preferred genres obvious in their reviews. (Splatterpunk? Maybe not right for this book.)
Then I promptly sent out eARCs. Because the book is brisk, reviews started coming in fairly fast, and were uniformly positive. It went very well, and I quickly received a nice pile of reviews spread across various blogs, Goodreads, and Amazon. Not all of my eARC readers have read or reviewed, but enough to build up some more chatter in advance of launch.
I was pretty low-fi with my eARC distribution. I just threw the PDF, ePub and MOBI on Dropbox and sent links to any reviewers.
I experimented with Bookfunnel, which I know many use, but they garbled my ePub formatting, so I promptly canceled my subscription and didn’t bother. It was too much of a hassle.
I also watched for really engaged Twitter/TikTok users who obviously were interested in the book and tweeted a lot about books. I pinged them and asked if they’d like an eARC.
Folks like https://twitter.com/Panediting are exactly the sort of folks I wanted to communicate with because they like things I like, they’re interested in what I’m doing, and they like to share with others. Why wouldn’t I want their help? No need to be stingy with eARCs with folks who will get the word out on your behalf.
I don’t want this to come across as mercenary though. Who wouldn’t be happy to interact with people who are excited about their work? I was giddy to do it! And I did it without expectations.
I went into all of this expecting nothing. I just released the little eARC birdies out into the world, and if they landed somewhere, then that would be fabulous. I only tried to shepherd them in the direction of people that I thought would actually appreciate them.
So. I didn’t spend a dime on marketing. Not on advertisements anyway.
Why? Well, when this began, I wasn’t thinking about it. Remember, I was just planning to toss my book out there to learn about the author’s side of the business.
I did talk with other authors I know, and they hold a variety of opinions. Some swear by advertising, through various means, and some maintain it does nothing at all. I chose to wait and see.
The book blew up a little though, so something obviously went right. Here’s where I comb through the last few weeks and speculate on why. Because, in a way, I think I did spend money on marketing.
I think it’s very dangerous for me to make any definitive pronouncements, especially with my laughably small sample size and the fact that my launch was so anomalous. So, this is all very much speculation, with the benefit of hindsight. I don’t think it’s a blueprint for anything, and I think luck and timing played an enormous part.
I believe you have to be in a position to capitalize on luck and timing though, and that is something I tried specifically to do.
Legends & Lattes had over 2,600 preorders, and reached the low 300s of rank on Amazon during the preorder. That’s pretty nuts for an author’s debut, un-advertised, un-hyped book.
Here are my thoughts about what went right, and why.
- The cover and pitch were very well targeted. The cover perfectly communicates the vibe of the book, and makes clear the book’s concept, as well as the feel the book wants to deliver. And that vibe is desirable and relatable. I only set out to do that for myself, but it turned out other people wanted it too.
- The tagline “a Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes” lays out the terms unambiguously. Put simply, when you see it in combination with the cover you know exactly what you are getting.
- The book backs up the promise of the cover. It does what it says on the tin.
- The real world sucks right now. It’s been a hard few years. COVID, and…. *gestures at everything else*. Escapism for me these days is the idea of going to a coffee shop and having a nice conversation with someone whose face I can see. I think this just happens to be a good book for this point in time. I didn’t intentionally do this, but, well, it’s what I needed, too.
- The book is polished, and easy to tell people about and share. It looks nice, it’s well edited, and the prose is clean and readable. It is not hard at all to explain to someone else what the book is. Number 1 figures into that. It’s perfect for word-of-mouth.
I hadn’t planned to start the preorder in late January, but since I already had everything set to go on KDP, I was able to activate the preorder quickly and capitalize on the sudden interest on Twitter. Day one preorders were 872. Day two, 312. I was able to quickly capture some of that interest because I am a pre-planner, and the book was ready to push live.
When I said earlier that covers were even more important than I’d originally assumed, this is why. At this point nobody could read a word of the book. All of this was based purely on the cover and pitch. It’s a really, really good cover, and the pitch is solid.
Where I spent my ‘marketing’ money was on an excellent, well-targeted cover, and a well-produced, well-edited book to follow it up. Basically, I was ready to go if lightning struck.
How useful is that to anyone besides me? I don’t know. In the future, I’m going to sink my money and energy into writing and producing quality books can sell themselves — to the best of my ability — before worrying about anything that isn’t part of the book itself.
I will be experimenting with free promotions in the future, and maybe ads, just to play around. I’ll update this with the results when I do.
Here’s something that is very clear in my mind about whatever I do though:
I only want to sell my book to people that I believe really want it. I have no desire to market my book to anyone who isn’t absolutely its audience. I don’t want just a lot of readers. I want all of the right readers. So for me, everything is about communicating precisely what it is in the most relatable and pure way I can.
On launch day, we reached a peak rank of 299 in the Amazon store, beating our preorder rank of 335. Our preorder rank would probably have been much higher though if those first two days of huge preorder sales had actually affected rank — but those days were lost, since it takes so long to begin ranking on Amazon, so we’ll never know.
It’s fair to speculate that if I’d done a shorter preorder, I might have had a much higher rank at launch — if we assume that I’d get the same number of sales as the preorder period (or even a healthy chunk of it), but that feels hard to say definitively. What if I hadn’t capitalized on that first Twitter explosion? Again, we’ll never know. I’m not going to bite my fingernails over it though. My goal is to have something that holds onto some solid rank for as long as it can in a sustainable way, rather than a huge spike and then obscurity.
My hope is that the low price, Kindle Unlimited, and word-of mouth will help make that happen.
The eBook is holding around in the 500–700 rank range, depending on the day.
I’m going to snapshot a lot of week 1 numbers for you here.
You can see that we tail off to a maintenance level — averaging around 50 copies a day — until launch on the 22nd.
SALES GRAPH : WEEK ONE
Here you can see the spike of preorder conversions, in combination with the sales swell. Then we drop down to our maintenance units for the week which is around 120–150 units a day, spread between print and eBook.
We sold a lot more paperbacks than expected. Remember, they weren’t even available during the preorder period, so take 2600 out of that Kindle sales figure. ~800 eBooks post launch vs 632 paperbacks? That seems crazy. I think it’s largely (again) down to the cover. It’s got a strong nostalgic element.
INGRAM PRINT SALES
I wasn’t expecting much here, because this is really only bookstores ordering it in, and I hardly have a marketing campaign to brick and mortar — but multiple booksellers did contact me about stocking the book, and I know various individuals called in to local bookstores to order.
Notably, Ingram does not register sales until the books have been printed and shipped, so this figure lags heavily. As I say though, I wasn’t expecting much.
KINDLE UNLIMITED PAGEREADS
Pagereads continue to trend upward. No idea on that dip on the 25th. It’s a Friday, so maybe that’s a bad day for KU, and then the weekend is stronger? I don’t think I have enough data at this point to be able to usefully speculate.
I also nearly-simul-launched the Audible edition. It didn’t come out until two days later than the eBook, for complicated reasons that aren’t applicable to anybody but me, so we’ll just ignore those.
ACX’s dashboard for sales is… lacking compared to KDP. It’s clunky, and updates sporadically.
Still, we’ve sold around 881 audiobooks after 7 days of sales. Not too shabby! That number is lagged, so it’s a little higher at this point, but it’s enough to get on with.
SUMMING UP/NEXT STEPS
Writing and publishing this has been a real joy. Most especially when my book connects with someone who needed it. It’s pretty hard to articulate how special that is — to know that you sent a message out into the world, and someone received it, and the transmission came through just right.
I’ve learned a huge amount about the self-publishing side of things, which was my initial goal. More than that though, I’ve learned that I really do want to write, and I really can finish a book, and I can put it into people’s hands, and some of them will really enjoy it. What a wonderful thing to discover.
If I had to boil it down to one big takeaway, it would be to treat your work like lightning could strike at any time, so that if it does, you’re ready and waiting. I can’t help thinking that your readiness makes the lightning strikes more likely too….
For future books, I’d book my cover earlier, and I’d be more deliberate about my cover reveals, and I’d tune my preorder period — but I really did enjoy the process and would stick with a lot of the same decisions.
As far as next steps go… apparently the first was to write this ridiculously long Medium post, to dump all of this information as quickly as I can — ostensibly for others, but also for me, when I inevitably forget the details once the next book is ready to publish.
And now I’ll sit back and watch numbers, and keep tabs on social media.
I’m thinking about how to get my book to reach people it otherwise wouldn’t, who might be interested.
I was contacted by an agent about potentially going trad-pub. It was a really interesting conversation and I learned a lot, but I’m not sure if I’m prepared for that loss of control yet, so I’m taking my time and thinking about it. Going traditional would almost certainly mean that a lot more people are exposed to my book. I think it would do particularly well in bookstores. Still, there’s that loss of control. I like being able to nimbly act and do exactly what I think is right, and evaluate, and then try again — and I’d lose most of that. There’s also the potential of hybrid trad-pub/indie, where it’s some mix of the two. It bears consideration anyway.
NOTE: Eventually I did make the decision to do this, which I do not regret.
I’m thinking about potentially submitting to publications for review.
But mostly, I’m thinking about the next book, and how I can apply what I’ve learned to it. I don’t want any of this data though — the numbers, the strategies, the speculation — to get in the way of actually writing something that I enjoy and that connects with someone else. I want to keep that part unchanged.
FWIW, my next book will be set in the same world, but isn’t a direct sequel. I’m interested in telling different sorts of stories in some of the same places, where the characters from different books cross paths from time to time, and the sense of place grows from story to story— but there’s always the freedom to talk about something new. I also like the idea that you could drop in at any given book, and be just fine to enjoy it on its own.
I hope this has been useful to you. If there’s something you want to hear more about, hit me up at email@example.com, and if I have the info and can share it, I will do my best.
(Also, in the spirit of valuing editing, and crediting the people who help you — special thanks to Aven Shore-Kind for reading through this and pointing out all sorts of little errors and areas in need of improvement)