Just over a month ago, I self-published my novel Mervyn vs. Dennis on Amazon. A lot’s happened since then and I’ve been much busier than I expected. Here’s a fairly self-congratulatory list of the things I’ve managed to do in 5 weeks:
- Design my cover
- Buy a pineapple
- Buy a larger pineapple from a different supermarket because the first one looked a bit pathetic and not bristly enough
- Take a load of profile pictures
- Eat both pineapples
- Format my manuscript for Kindle and other devices
- Write a new blurb (this actually took hours)
- Completely redo my cover because I’d done the whole thing in the wrong size
- Write a bio
- Create an author site for Amazon
- Buy a domain name and create my own website
- Revamp my personal Twitter account into a more authory one
- Write my first 4 blogs
- Feed the cat
- Start a Goodreads account and make an author profile
- Make some business cards with AR codes on the back
- Redo the cover again for my paperback copies
- Design the spine and back cover for my paperbacks
- Get the paperbacks printed
- Create a Facebook author page
- Organise a Goodreads giveaway
- Start a Mailchimp newsletter
- Pick my nose
- Start Pinterest, Tumblr, Stumbleupon and scoop.it accounts
- Write personalised emails to every relevant book review blogger on the internet, offering them review copies (this took days)
- Contact many of Amazon’s top 100 reviewers, offering review copies
- Organise a Librarything giveaway
- Change some nappies
- Promote an Amazon giveaway
- Run Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads advertisements
- Send out paperbacks to interested reviewers
- Write this massive list of things I’ve done
Self-Promotion and Advertising
So how has it all gone? Well, I haven’t exactly stormed the bestseller charts and I’m not writing my Pulitzer acceptance speech yet, but it’s gone as well as I could’ve realistically hoped. I announced the launch on Facebook to friends and family and many were kind enough to buy a copy. From there, of course, sales died down. I paid for a promotion package at Awesome Book Promotion to coincide with the launch and for the following weeks. I’m not sure how effective this was. All those initial sales I can largely trace to friends and family. The ads may have given me some good exposure and customer awareness but I’m not convinced they directly led to any sales. It may have worked better if timed with a giveaway rather than a launch.
I ran a few Amazon advertisements, using the pay-per-click method. So far I’ve manged to sell a grand total of 3 books through this method and have spent more than I’ve earned. I do get a lot of impressions but there’s no way of knowing how many people have actually seen the ad. I’ve cancelled the more expensive campaign and kept the cheaper ones running for now. I also did some Facebook and Twitter advertising and got quite a lot of clicks from my call to action but no actual sales I can account for. The way they sell their advertising packages is extremely tempting. The more you’re willing to spend, the more clicks you get. You can actually buy your way to success (and bankruptcy). Twitter was the most expensive and probably the least effective method.
What I’ve Learned About Self-Publishing
Start as early as you can
This was the best advice I read many times before I self-published, and it’s also the best advice I ignored. This is typical of me, however, and I’m not sure how else I would’ve got anything done. To get sufficiently excited about promoting a book, I needed a book already sat there on the internet. The sensible thing to do, of course, is start promoting your book before you actually publish it. Get some early reviews in, drum up some excitement, organise a giveaway, get your paperbacks printed–that sort of thing. For me, the pressure of having a book already out there gave me kick up the butt to start promoting. If you can, you really should start early. Don’t be like me. Please.
Bookbub is king
I’ve done a lot of research on all the different promotion sites and Bookbub is definitely the promo don. If you can get your novel on Bookbub, don’t think twice about the cost, just bite their hand off. Mervyn vs. Dennis was rejected for a promo, most likely because of my lack of Amazon.com reviews. I’m working on this, though, and have a few reviews coming in from bloggers that should help my chances next time. Getting Mervyn vs. Dennis included in a Bookbub sale is one of my next main targets. Wish me luck!
People want your money
There are a lot of books out there and every author wants to be read. The vultures have realised this, too, and there are many dodgy places that will take your money in exchange for competitions, reviews or promotions. I’ve seen competitions that cost £100 to enter and what do you get for winning? A badge to stick on your site or book cover that you have to pay to download. I’m not even kidding. There are also countless Twitter-based promotion sites that will tweet about your book to their thousands of followers in exchange for cash. I’m still undecided about these. Some do have a lot of followers but many just seem to follow each other. They’re also, of course, followed by the authors who’ve used their services and not, more importantly, by people who want to read good books.
Free promotions work
I ran a free promotion for Mervyn vs. Dennis over one weekend and took out a Books Butterfly promo to advertise it. This went really well, with over 1500 downloads. I’d also done a lot of promotion off my own back including emailing countless sites who kindly agreed to add my sale to their newsletters and feeds. The very next morning after the giveaway, I received the following wonderful 5 star review on Amazon.com:
By Kindle Customer on July 31, 2016
This book was actually fascinating; although set ten years ago there was so much concerning racism and homophobia it could have been written in 2016. Besides all that it was often hilarious and totally lol funny:) I was mildly surprised that I read it all in one go. Although there were other things to do, I couldn’t put it down. The relationships between Mervyn and Dennis, Mervyn and Clyde, Cecil, Sara, Adam were all totally enthralling. If you enjoy well written stories with quirky characters and interesting plots, this book is for you.
Whoever you are, Kindle Customer, thank you! Just this one review made all my self-promotion and the giveaway worthwhile. There are also a few people currently reading Mervyn vs. Dennis on Goodreads and I’ve had some more newsletter subscribers. It’s easy to think that I gave away 1500 copies of my book and lost potentially a thousand pounds in royalties, but most of those downloads were in America where there are still plenty of sales to be had.
The free promotion also sent me to the top of the charts in my genres at Amazon.com. Mervyn vs. Dennis was the number one most downloaded title in both satire and comedy. Getting to the top, largely thanks to the Books Butterfly promotion, must have also resulted in people simply downloading it because it was number 1. It’s the opposite of a vicious circle, which pretty much sums up self-promotion: you’re either in a vicious circle or a positive one. It’s hard to break out of the vicious one and you’ve got the make the most of the positive one while it lasts. Overall sales have increased since the promo so perhaps I’m getting some good word-of-mouth as well.
People are really nice
The most surprising thing of all, especially considering that this is the internet, is how nice people have been. I’ve had many complete strangers, and old friends I thought I’d lost contact with, contact me about my book and how much they enjoyed it. Instead of the depressing slog I imagined it would be (it’s been a slog for sure, just not a depressing one), the whole process has been rather heartwarming. I got my paperbacks printed mainly as promotional items for reviewers and prizes but holding the first one in my hands was a lovely moment. They look a lot better than I expected and kudos to BookPrintingUK for the fantastic job they did on them.
It’s time consuming and addictive
Right now there are several things I’d like to work on for my next phase in self-promotion. Writing this blog is one of them. After this, there’s an interview I need to do. There really is no limit to the amount of work you can put in. It’s an all-consuming activity. I’m constantly checking my emails for news from reviewers and checking the Amazon kdp site for my updated sales figures. It’s great to wake up in the morning and see I’ve sold some more copies or that someone’s read the whole book in one day through the Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) tracking. To my profound shame, I’m rapidly becoming one of those people who check their phone every 5 seconds.
Reviews are hard to get
Getting good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads is one of the most important factors in the success of an ebook. The problem is that many friends are worried about writing something that comes across as dumb or trite. Meanwhile, with random people, they understandably can’t be bothered. I’m just as bad myself–I rarely write reviews for products on Amazon, so I totally understand when people don’t do them either. The problem is, I suppose, people underestimate just how important they are. Even just a two line review makes a world of difference. So if you’ve read my book but haven’t reviewed it yet, please do! It doesn’t have to be an Ebert-style analysis, just something short is absolutely dandy. It really makes a massive impact on sales and my chances of getting a Bookbub slot. I have actually added a grovelling request at the end of my book asking for reviews but, silly me, I didn’t do it before my free promotion, so most people only got the newsletter request. Hey ho!
Pinterest and Tumblr are weird
I still don’t understand them. Can someone explain them to me?
Should You Self Publish?
In my opinion, yes! I decided to self publish as something of a last resort and I’ve found it much more enjoyable and exciting than I imagined. I’ve got a clear plan for the future and I’m currently editing my next novel Grand Theft Octo which will hopefully be out in a few months. The only problem I’ve faced is never having enough time. Striking a balance between writing and promotion (let alone home and social life) is really difficult. It’s always appealing to write something new but there’s always the temptation to do a bit more promo in case you find a brand evangelist who’ll recommend your novel to the whole of the internet.
Check Out These Great Blogs:
Here are some great blogs with more invaluable tips and advice on self-promotion:
A really useful and interesting guide on advertising
Some great tips and warnings about self-publishing
Getting your self-published book into high street bookstores
Self publishing and the fear of marketing
Making peace with self-promotion
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