ZEN & The Art of Self-Publishing
Part One – Release Days
(There is a $100 Giveaway at the bottom of this post and if you click that banner above, I have a shitload of them on Facebook today too!)
I think about writing articles about self-publishing but then I think about how much work it would be to tell people everything I’ve learned and say fuck it. I’ll just mind my own business. But it’s been three years for me this month since I started self-publishing fiction and I made the New York Times Bestsellers list back in February with a book called Three, Two, One (321): (A Dark Suspense) and I’ve made the USA Today Bestsellers List six times, I think? Four with 321, once with BEND (which was banned on Amazon, but we still made it bitches!), and once with Social. So I’m gonna give it a shot and put it into perspective.
Other than the fact that I write good stories, I have no clue why I’ve been so successful at this. I think my characters are interesting, my plots original, and my marketing exceptional. But there are a lot of people out there who can do these things and have not seen the kind of success I’ve had.
So I just had a release day yesterday for my new book Sexy, and I started thinking “Wow, I did so much shit for this release!” And I started tallying it up in my head, two videos, three takeovers (one still happening all weekend here), Facebook ads, Share post giveaway, newsletter, ARC list, a last minute party at a private event, and graphics, graphics, and more and more and more graphics.
But then I asked myself – what did I do different when I released Junco (I released my first three books at the same time back in September/October 2012). And I realized that it’s all pretty much the same. For Junco I did three blogs tours with reviews, free review copies at Library Thing, giveaways, ads on websites (Facebook was not really into advertising back then) and that’s about it.
But the real difference in what I did then and what I do now, is that everything I do now is highly targeted to my fans and potential fans. With Junco I just threw shit out there and hoped it would stick. With Sexy, I aimed that gun and shot the fucking bull’s eye. And no, the book is not #1 in anything. It’s doing good, I had a lot of pre-orders. But you don’t have to be #1 to make it in this business. Sexy made more in two days than I did the first twenty-seven days of August.
I think for a brand new author with no experience publishing fiction, my first month back in 2012 didn’t go too bad. I made money. I didn’t make a profit, I paid a lot for custom covers and the blog tours. I even ordered swag for Junco. I have bookmarks! And people told me I was stupid. Yeah, this is what they told me. I’m wasting my money on bookmarks, and blog tours, and advertising. Write the next book, they said. And things will happen.
Well, I never believed that bullshit. I’m sure that sales magically happen for some people but I’m not one of them. I bust my ass for my sales. Such is life. I’m not a princess, I’m one of those lowly field workers. But I figured they were on to something with that write the next book thing. I figured that out after my sales from these first three books dwindled down to nothing in March of 2013 that I needed another release. I had one coming, two actually. But Junco books were not popular enough. They were between genres – something akin to SF and paranormal romance, but not quite fitting into either genre. I needed something solid. So I wrote a new adult book called Tragic.
And Tragic was awesome. I made the Top 300 on Amazon with a 99 cent sale from, shit I don’t even remember the name of the place. It wasn’t BookBub though. I really don’t remember my release day for Tragic, but I’m assuming I did all the same things I did for Junco because I’m still doing all that shit now.
Anyway, fast forward to Book Two – Manic, and sales did OK for the first few days, but then, gah! Sales sucked again! What is the deal with this bookselling business? I asked myself. Why is it so up and down? Well, that’s life man. Things run in cycles. Things go up, things go down, shit evens out. You’re happy, you’re sad, you’re satisfied, you’re unsatisfied.
I stressed about it like anyone else but I kept going. Once I figured out your success is all about the next book, I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I work 80 hours a week (easy). I spend at least $10,000 on advertising and editing and my PA and random swag shit each month. In a release month like this one, I have not totaled up my cost for the SEXY release, but I can say with a straight face it’s probably up there around $20,000.
But you know, I would not spend that much if I wasn’t making it back. I’ve made a lot more than $20K in September (and this is only the 10th). So I think I spend about the same as I did back for Clutch in 2012. Relatively speaking, when you look how much of my income went towards publishing. And the reason I’m giving you screenshots is because no one would believe me if I didn’t.
But in a non-release month I don’t spend much at all on advertising. I still have a lot of expenses, but I’m frugal with advertising. I really don’t advertise much if I don’t have a new book. I try to stack things up in classic James Fenici fashion, so I’m always coming out ahead. And this is what I call the New Zen of Self-Publishing.
Once you get a backlist like mine you have so much opportunity to use it. I work that backlist like a fucking NASA Mars Mission Analyst and I plan each sale months, sometimes up to a year in advance. I plan each release with the idea that I will maximize my profit of a certain subsection of back list books at the same time. I am always asking myself – how can get more out of this book? How can I reach new people? How can I make all the hours and money I put into each story pay me back?
I put forth my best effort on release day as far as pushing books go, but in-between I might try an experiment here and there, but for the most part, I could give a fuck about sales. If I did it right, and I did, just take my word on that. If I did it right, the sales are set up to get me through to the next release. And they do.
Last month – August 2015 – was very slow for me. Wasted Lust made money, but it was a book 13 in a very long, woven plot of interconnected tales and it still sold well, but you’ve heard of that 30-day cliff thing at Amazon? My 30 days were up in August. Sales were so slow for me in August that I was at August 28th with only $15K in my royalties dashboard. That might SEEM to be a lot of money to some people, but when your everyday business expenses add up to about $12K, you’re shitting your pants when you only make $15K.
I mean, I’M NOT shitting my pants. But most people are. The Zen Julie knows she set up that BookBub ad to run on August 30th (Tragic was free) and she set up that seven book Rook & Ronin Seven Book Set to release on August 28th. And Zen Julie did her homework and put a link to the omnibus sale on her Tragic Amazon page so she was ready and waiting for all those BookBub Freebie lovers to get word of this incredible opportunity to buy her books on sale. My books hardly ever go on sale, so when I put one on sale, bitches know I’m serious.
So yeah, I made up for my slow month of August because I sold almost 1000 copies of that Seven book Set at $4.99 in the last four days of August. Not to mention Tragic was actually free all month and I have a great read-through rate for the series and my #1 bestseller in August (behind that Seven Book Set of R&R – still on sale for a few more days, BTW) was book two, Manic. Oh, how I despaired about that Manic book back on its release day. I didn’t put it on sale for 99 cents and readers were none too happy with that price. But I stuck to my guns and look, two years later, it’s my #1 seller for August (and it wasn’t on sale!). I find it satisfyingly ironic.
So Zen, man. Zen in Indie Publishing means being fucking smart. Planning every move you make like you’re a NASA analyst. Thinking about tomorrow instead of today. Writing your ass off. Writing like your success depends on it (it does) and then letting your fans know your work is out there for purchase through marketing.
Finding your fans, well. That’s what makes me different from every other author out there. That’s what sets us all apart. It’s not the books. It’s not the talent. It’s not the marketing. It’s the FUCKING FANS!
THERE IS A FAN FOR EVERYONE OUT THERE. You might not have as many, but you grab them, hold onto them, and treat them right. Forget the rest. Find your fans.
So you can do all the shit I just talked about and get nothing from it, if you don’t have it all highly targeted to your fans. I don’t have time to talk about fans, I’m not even sure I understand it. People LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE. End of story. So I’m going to leave that mystery for you to solve.
My parting words are: Write, market, write, write, market, market, write, write, write, write, market, market, market, market, market. Repeat.
I wish you success!
And PS: Sexy is on sale now. 🙂
Thank you Michelle T for this amazing graphic^^!
And Thank you Michelle N for this one!^^^