Lessons Learned in the Trenches

Yesterday, I released my 13th self-published book, SEASON FOR LOVE, which is book 6 in my bestselling McCarthys of Gansett Island Series. This series has been, without a doubt, the most popular thing I've ever written, which is quite remarkable when you consider that book 1, MAID FOR LOVE, was rejected everywhere. When I say everywhere, I do mean EVERYWHERE. The very best thing about self-publishing is it allows us to bring books and stories to readers that publishers, for whatever reason, weren't interested in. It allows us to do things that traditional publishing tends to shy away from, such as series with more than three books. The McCarthy Series is now at book 6, with book 7 on the way and many more to come after that. I had originally envisioned eight or nine books in this series, but now I plan to write it for as long as the readers are enjoying it. The freedom to do that is another of the great things about self-publishing.

Another thing I'm doing with this series is keeping past couples front and center in subsequent books, something readers tell me they love about the McCarthy series. I like to think the HEA (happily ever after in romance speak) is just the beginning of their love story, and revisiting past couples has been a big reason why this series has done so well. Readers tell me all the time that they dislike series in which previous couples all but disappear off the landscape after they commit to forever together. To me, that's right when it starts to get interesting, so I'm delighted to be able to break the mold with this series and keep my past couples on the landscape.

So what have I learned after issuing 13 self-published books? Here are a few lessons learned:
1. It's a lot of work. Luckily, it's work I enjoy and tend to be fairly good at. Formatting and website updating and HTML message generation are all things I did in my old day job, so they are second nature to me. I know that gives me an advantage over many other authors who find that kind of work tedious, but I love having full control over the entire process.

2. Customization matters. I customize all my ebooks with live links to my other books on each of the four main platforms: Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Apple. Since I've been doing that, my sales have increased exponentially across the platforms. I believe in making it easy for readers to find my other books. As an e-reader myself, I appreciate when authors make it easy for me to find their other books.

3. Excerpts matter. I include the first chapter of the next book in the back of every book in a series. In the back of my single titles, I include chapter 1 of Maid for Love, book 1 in the McCarthy series, hoping they will be enticed into getting the whole series. If readers like the book they are just finishing, they want to know what else you have. By giving them a sample, you whet their appetite for more.

4. Release dates don't matter. I learned this one the hard way. Uploading to retail sites is risky business in that you never know when your book will go live on any of the sites. I'm lucky to have a point of contact at each of the four main sites and can alert them to new releases, which helps to expedite the process. But even with their help, the timing varies by as much as 12 hours. Amazon tends to go live first and Barnes & Noble tends to go live last. That's why I no longer give release dates to readers. When I do, I end up spending the entire day answering questions from Nook readers who want to know why the new book is live on Amazon but not on B&N. I have passed along this feedback to my contact at B&N, along with the news that many of my Nook readers downloaded Kindle apps yesterday so they could read the new book right away. That can't be what B&N wants to hear. I hope they will make the turnaround time quicker in the future. Of course, all of this madness could be alleviated if we were allowed to offer our self-published books for pre-order. That's still number one on my wish list. Fingers crossed!

5. Second only to a bang-up story that's well edited and professionally presented, the most important element to any book launch is readers. Making them aware of the book via all the social media outlets and via my mailing list is job one on release day. Interacting with them as they read and comment and respond after the fact is critical.

6. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions. I recently opted all my books out of third-party distribution with Smashwords. As much as it pains me to remove my books from Sony and Diesel, it takes WAY too long to make pricing and other changes on those platforms, which impairs my ability to be nimble with the primary platforms. For instance, if I want to increase my prices, I have to wait for Sony to catch up before I can increase them on Amazon, which insists on having the lowest available retail price. It can take up to three weeks for Sony to make a change to a book distributed from Smashwords. In this day and age, that is just too long, and that's three weeks that I'm forced to keep sale prices in effect at Amazon when the sale is long over. As much as I want to make my books available at every possible platform, the hundred or two hundred sales a month at Sony weren't enough to keep me there when it takes so long to make changes.

6. Enjoy the ride. I'm having more fun than I've ever had in my life. Self-employment, made possible by self-publishing, is the BOMB, and it's thanks to my lovely readers that I am getting to live my dream.

The E-book Formatting Fairies can help you to live your dreams, too. Contact us today to start your book on the way to publication!