Over the coming months we'll be tapping into your thoughts, experiences, digging around for helpful writing tips and giving you the chance to reach other likeminded souls and share your musings, ideas and personal stories. It's a great way for us to get to know you better, and for others to learn from the people who have 'been there, done that and bought the T-shirt'!
Ten years after I started writing my book, it became my overnight success story. Kind of.
In the beginning was the word, and then another, and another. After a handful of efforts that never went anywhere, I finished my first book, Guarded. The achievement of a lifetime, and I loved it. Off it went into the drawer, and I set to work on my second masterpiece that would mark the start of a new series. It was destined to fade away too, when an online course led me straight into the arms of an acquiring Senior Editor for a small digital-first publisher. The minute I wrote "The End," the whirlwind began. She read, she liked, she offered me a contract. I had yet to submit it to agents, but who cared? I had a contract. I was going to be published. Suck on that, nay-sayers! And so the stellar rise to fame and fortune-- came to a screeching halt as reality set in. Did you know that publishing companies do NOT treat you as their most prized asset? That realization blew me right off my self-constructed pedestal.
My schedule didn't bother them in the least. I was ready to leap into editing, promoting, blogging right away, but getting anyone to communicate with me was a challenge. Worse, I had nothing to promote with. I had no excerpts, no cover, no blurb. For months I worked on setting up my website, making friends on Facebook, basically did a social media crash course. Finally I received word from my publisher. My first round of editing out of three was set to begin, followed by copyediting and then proofreading. Within weeks, my enthusiasm suffered the first dent: the senior editor is swamped, but she's training a new editor and would like to start her on my manuscript, because it's pretty clean already. The senior editor would pick things up in the second round. The trainee editor was wonderful and we got along great. No complaints there. Except the senior editor still had no time. But not to worry, she'd see to the copyedits personally and would pick up any missed points then. The copyediting didn't happen. But they'd get me someone to help proofread my book.
Despite this frantic lack of activity, I discovered my book release would be delayed by a month. So I canceled my book blog tour, created new promo material... I received my cover two months before the new release date. It was hideous. I asked, no, begged for a new cover. I didn't hear back for weeks. Meanwhile I finished my proofread. Do I even need to mention that I was on my own during that process? Two weeks before the release date, I had a new cover and my ARC in PDF format. I tried so hard to like the new cover. Not easy, because the first person I showed it to laughed and said, "Be serious for once." She still feels bad about her reaction. A quick look at my ARC confirmed that no one but me had proofread my book. Worse, someone had sent my manuscript through a spellchecker and introduced errors. "Dammit" had become "damm it." Dammit!
When my book came out, I had no blog tour lined up, no promotion planned. A few great reviews trickled in, but the excitement fizzled out a month later after the sale of seventeen copies. A new start Never would I publish with a small publisher again, because my experience wasn't unique. Absent staff, delays, lack of communication, sub-par covers, basic editing... This haphazard attitude by publishers is more common than I thought. Turns out, they hadn't done anything wrong. I was the problem, because I like being in control. I want to stick to deadlines, decide the look of my covers, and keep an eye on every cog in my book-making machine. Some prefer not having to worry about publishing so they can focus on writing. To me, the loss of control was agony. I needed a boost, and nothing picked me up like the book I started oh so many years ago. The characters, the world, the super-dense plot... It was a unique story in many ways. I spent three months rewriting it and then hired a proper editor. The cover was also important to me, and I found a cover designer who took my mock-up and turned it into a stunning piece of art.
Now came the red tape. Registering with the tax office for a second income, creating accounts on Kindle, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark and Smashwords, acquiring ISBNs and registering my book, filling in form after form after form. Self-publishing is no joke. It's not something you do on the fly. The only reason I didn't give up was because I recognized the opportunity. Writing already was my escape and my hobby, but it could become my retirement fund if I treated my product and my readers with respect. I released Guarded on July 31, and became obsessed with my Amazon rankings. Sales held steady at two and then five each day. When Guarded broke 80k, I was overjoyed. Mid-August, Guarded shot up to 30k. Then 22k. 15k. Before I knew it, I topped two categories, "Vampire Mysteries" and "Shifter Mysteries," and I stayed at no. 1 for two months. Then it took off in Australia, Canada, and finally hit the UK.
Three months later, I had sold 5000 copies. My highest Amazon ranking was somewhere around 400. No, I didn't become the new Stephen King, but considering many books sell fewer that one hundred copies overall, Guarded did okay. But why oh why oh why? At some point I sat down to analyze my moderate success. Was it the price point? Quite the opposite. At $4.99, Guarded saw off competition from $0.99 books. Was it my promotion activity? I did a blog tour, the minimum an author should do for his or her book, and no more. Once I eliminated social media and the influence of friends and family as trigger factors, one answer remained. It was my cover and my blurb that sold thousands of copies. I even have anecdotal evidence to back up my claims. Several reviews for Guarded started with "I picked up this book because of the cover." Their comments made me happy, because a lot of work and money had gone into the cover's creation.
The result was everything I wanted it to be: uncluttered, simple, striking. No faces, because readers generally prefer building their own heroes in their imagination, and I stayed clear of the cliché of bare male chests. A reader who'd read and loved Guardec later picked up my first book. She loved it too, which seemed to confuse her. In her own words, "if you skip out on something you think is blah, you really might be missing out." Don't rely on readers to come to that realization. An appealing cover breaks down most barriers.
I'm now embarking on a new adventure. My next book is due to be released, and if you think I did my due diligence with Guarded, you haven't seen anything yet. Three rounds of content editing. Two rounds of copy editing. Five beta readers. And two rounds of proofreading. If Guarded hadn't done so well, I couldn't have afforded a fraction of that. My new book comes with a decent blurb and another striking cover. Perhaps not as eye-catching as Guarded's, but still better than many books in similar genres. But I'm a realist. This new book is facing many obstacles. Not everyone liked Guarded enough to buy the sequel. Readers who enjoy serial fiction require more than two books before taking the leap. And it doesn't help that I shifted genres from urban fantasy mystery to urban fantasy romance. But writing is all about the long haul. Every book, every paragraph, every sentence builds on what came before. The more you publish, the more success you'll have. Don't neglect the blurb and cover. Work hard. And that's all there is to it.
There's definitely a lot to be said about the amount of personal involvement vs success metric here! The more you put in, the more you get out! Great story Carmen, glad you stuck with it! We wish you all the success you deserve.
If you've written anything on your own blog or website and would like us to share it, tweet the link with the hashtag #selfpubspotlight or send us your tips, tricks or self-publishing experiences right here.
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