I am thrilled to welcome Carolyn Rose back to the blog with a post that is about as topical as it gets. I was lucky enough not only to read the book Carolyn has recently published (great, harrowing read) but also to meet Carolyn in person last summer. Writing simultaneously shrinks and expands the world, making it a place of books and book lovers, and this is one of the great joys in life for me.
What works to sell books in this brave new world? Carolyn’s going to tell you what she learned when she began to experiment.
This spring, after years of rejection and weeks of anguished inner debate, I independently published a suspense novel called An Uncertain Refuge.
Jenny Milchman was kind enough to let me blog about my decision to e publish, and recently invited me back to provide an update on how the book is doing.
An Uncertain Refuge, priced at 99 cents in its e-book form, went hot on Kindle and Nook in mid May. By the end of August, it had attracted 500 readers, mostly Kindle owners. In September, however, more readers clicked the “buy” button and I sold nearly 1100 copies. Again, mostly Kindle owners. As of October almost 700 more readers downloaded the book.
I am awed and amazed by that September showing and the October pace because I did very little in the way of promotion—partly by choice and partly because I had no choice.
First, I lacked the guidance, support, and experience of an agent and/or editor. Second, because I self-published, I was locked out of many contests and review opportunities. Third, I live on a limited income and hold down a job, so I have almost no promotional budget for ads and travel and very little time to devote to chasing opportunities around the Internet.
So, because the jury still seems to be deliberating about what sells books by barely known authors, I decided to experiment with An Uncertain Refuge. After all, I had nothing to lose and no one to account to for success or failure. I made two lists—what I was willing to do within my budget and time limitation, and what I wasn’t.
I wasn’t willing to tweet endlessly, post on Facebook constantly, badger friends and relatives, or leave shrill or self-serving posts on various forums. A little BSP goes a long way, and I didn’t want to alienate readers or writers. I also wasn’t willing to spend too many hours on networking sites that I found confusing, that sucked my time, or that seemed geared mostly to non-writers.
In addition, I wasn’t willing to dip into my savings to buy postcards or bookmarks. They’re pretty and make a nice display at events, but I didn’t think the expense would pay off. And, because I released another indie book this month (A Place of Forgetting) and my husband has one just out through Krill Press (Shotgun Start), I wasn’t willing to update my website and business cards until later in the year when I could add those books. too.
But, I was willing (and eager) to be a guest blogger for other writers, to post on various sites to get the word out, and to give away copies of the book in paperback form. And I was willing to seek out reviewers, to post occasionally on writer/reader forums, and spend a few minutes a day chatting with others in the Writers’ Café and other sites.
I was also willing to keep the price low and to give the book, and my low-rent promotional strategy, time to show results. Thanks to the changing landscape of publishing, to digital and print-on-demand formats, I don’t have to worry about my book being pulled from the shelves and remaindered. Promoting a book is no longer a sprint to the release date and the crucial time window after that, it’s a now a marathon.
Given all of that, here’s what I think worked and why.
First, I wrote a pretty good suspense story with layers, a strong female protagonist, complex and conflicted characters, and an ending that leaves things in doubt until the last minute. (On the negative side, An Uncertain Refuge deals with the raw issue of domestic violence, so it could be a tough read for some.) I used two sharp-eyed, nit-picking editors to root out typos and tell me when I piled on too much description. (Despite that, a friend called a few days ago to gleefully report that she’d found two typos.) And I hired professionals to format the manuscript for e-book (Kimberly Hitchens of Booknook.biz) and paperback (Patty G. Henderson) formats.
Second, I set the price low to attract impulse buyers. I took the focus off money and put it on increasing the number of readers. When I first published, my aim was to raise the price after Labor Day, but now I post that the e-version will be 99 cents until the economy bounces back. (And, skeptic/realist that I am, I’m not banking on that being real soon.)
Third, I picked up several nice reviews and a few mentions from writers I’m acquainted with and from strangers who read the book and put up posts.
Fourth, and probably most important, the also-bought factor came into play. An Uncertain Refuge sold enough copies that it made its way to the front row of the “readers who bought this also bought that” sections of books making strong showings. Their rising tide lifted my little ship.
Will An Uncertain Refuge continue to find readers at this pace? Or is this just a flash in the pan?
But I’m thrilled with the reader response so far, so thrilled that I’m giving away two copies of the paperback to lucky winners drawn from those who drop by and share their ideas and comments.
Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, and spent 25 years as a television news writer and producer in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She has published many mysteries and lives in Vancouver, WA, with her husband, radio personality Mike Phillips, and a motley collection of pets. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.