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Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy Anniversary to me!

Today was the day I self-published my first novel, Song of the Fairy Queen, through Smashwords. It was an incredibly huge step for me at the time. I was traditionally published but not particularly happy with how my writing career was going.
To be honest, I was pretty anxious, I did the push the button/don't push the button dance. I had already taken the drastic step of self-publishing Song in print through CreateSpace, and pretty much accepted that choice was the kiss of death for the story according to common knowledge at the time and I grieved a little for that. It did make the decision a little easier. At least someone would see it and like it, or so I hoped. (I'm happy to say that Song of the Fairy Queen has gotten some wonderful reviews and is doing pretty well.)
So much was negative about self-publishing then. Sometimes it still is.
I remember that first check from Smashwords for a whole $15 and change, but by then I had discovered Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble's PubIt, and I'd uploaded there as well. Now I would rather find another way to measure success, but dollars does seem to be the best measure.
I had made an agreement with my husband - he would agree that I could quit my day job, if I was making money from my writing within a year. That was predicated at the time on my relationship with my traditional publisher. I had been pretty confident that I had something moving forward with them, unfortunately, I was wrong. I had to make a decision - commit myself to the old traditional path or go all in as an independent writer - if I was to meet that goal.
That meant I had a LOT to learn, and fast. Like how to self-edit. I couldn't ask my sooooo patient and supportive husband to cough up a couple of hundred dollars for an editor, which meant I had to do it myself.
I scanned editor/agent websites for editing pet peeves and made a list of  them, to complement what I'd learned from my editors.
Old cover
Then there was the cover art.
I pulled books off my shelves to use as examples, searched for stock images and learned to create covers - some of which I'd already learned making the covers for Song and Heart of the Gods.
I had already learned to make book trailers as part of the marketing for my traditional publisher, so I wrote a primer on how to create them, documenting the steps necessary. I already knew more than a little about marketing from my past experience with my publisher (the idea that they'll do all the marketing really is a myth), but they went mainly through select yahoo groups. I decided to try Facebook instead, because its popularity was growing. I also started to use twitter.
I was very lucky in those first few months to have two people offer to feature my books on their blog/websites for free, giving me exposure I couldn't have gotten elsewhere. I wish I'd been able to thank Kenneth Wayne and eLTC in a better way.
Getting the courage to ask for reviews was tough, especially from those I didn't know. What I also didn't know was that in the Indie community, for a while at least among some reviewers, was that you could ask for the opportunity to fix anything a reviewer found wrong. In traditional publishing, that wasn't an option. (Sadly, it isn't any more for most Indies, either, after a few abused the privilege.)
That though is how I met Kai Wilson.
One of the things I had noticed was how much Indie writing was really awful. Bad spelling, grammar, story lines, ugly or too busy covers.
So in conjunction with Kai and a few others (some of whom were just shanghaied) I started the Indie Author Group with the idea that we would help writers become better authors. (Neither and none of us knew what we were getting into.) And of course, help ourselves by creating a place to consolidate all this information. The IAG now has nearly 700 members. I'm really proud of that group and what we've done there.
From Amazon I learned the joy of free, when for reasons of their own they made my novella, Setting Boundaries, free. Suddenly I was hitting the Top Ten list of free fantasy novels. I was also learning that spamming was annoying (we'd already banned it on the IAG) but making an occasional appearance on writer's sites was far more effective.
Suddenly I realized it was nearly August, and I started anxiously looking at my checks. I was startled to see that those checks had been steadily increasing, doubling and tripling as I put more and more books up. My poor husband was horribly neglected. Editing 200/300/600 page novels just does not happen overnight and that all had to be done, but I had set myself to a one book a month schedule in order keep the sales ball rolling. (By then I had a backlog of quite a number of books.) I had read from Joe Konrath or Barry Eisler or someone that more books equals more sales. I'd also seen it through my friend Laurann Dohner, an erotica author who by then had several series going and was making very good money.
August came, and with it the first check that would equal what I had been making in my day job - or at least enough that I could start paying some of my own bills, like gas for my car.
With that, and to my husband's relief, I cut back on my release schedule, moving to a bimonthly release, and I also changed some of my work habits. I'd been so focused on editing and getting my existing books out that I had no time or inspiration for actually writing. I need to reschedule, put my priorities in order, so I did.
New Cover
I made some mistakes. Like many writers who dream of having a print book in hand, and being somewhat tired of having to carry the load of marketing, I got involved with a purported publisher. Fortunately I realized my mistake and got my book back, but not before that involvement thoroughly scrambled my release schedule, making hash out of my plans for the Christmas season. (I did get a great new cover out of it.)
One thing I had learned was that holidays and holiday tie-ins were the best opportunities for book buying and selling, and with the new Kindle release, it would be better than ever.
Thank heavens for Kindle Select. I had my reservations, particularly after what I was still going through, so I checked it out carefully, weighed the pros and cons and then decided to toss a few eggs in that basket. It paid off in a big way. ( I remember commenting that it was sure to slow down and getting called on that remark by a member of the IAG group, but it has - a natural function of a new opportunity and system - and I'm still doing well.) Will it last forever? Time will tell.
The possibilities are expanding, there's some talk of interactive books, and there are some cases where I wouldn't mind being able to tie in either the music that helped inspire a certain book (Nike's Wings - She Don't Want the World by Three Doors Down) or an image - the statue of Descending Night I saw on a visit to Hearst castle that gave birth to Song of the Fairy Queen.
Still, it's been a long strange journey. I've made some great new friends - Kai, Rik, Ed and others - someday I may actually meet them. *laughing*  I've slowed my release schedule again to allow for more writing, and I'm already working on a sequel to Nike's Wings, as well as preparing another book for release in March. There are new opportunities popping up - Apple's iBooks, Barnes and Noble's new program.
It'll be interesting to see what this next year brings.