Happy Anniversary to Life First: A Year’s Worth of Publishing Lessons

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Cover introduced in January of 2014

It’s a month late and a dollar short, but happy anniversary (or is it a birthday?) to Life First, which published June 16 of last year.

It hardly seems like it’s been a year, but it definitely has.  So, what has the year brought? On the positive side, Life First has been well received by those who’ve read it. As of this writing, the book has 32 Amazon.com reviews with a 4.4 star average, which is pretty good. It’s received a BRAG Medallion, an Awesome Indies Approval, and been nominated for a Big Als & Pals Readers’ Choice Award.  The book (and it’s sequel) are now being carried in the Prince George’s County Public Library and the College Park Community Library.

So, in that sense, there’s lots to celebrate. On the financial front, however, it’s not done as well as I would like.  While it takes time to get an author career off the ground, I still wish I had more sales. The good news with sales is that June 2014 was the best sales month I’ve had, in terms of selling books without doing any type of promotion (I’ve had better sales months in terms of number of books, but they were sold at much lower price point).

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Original Life First cover from June 2013

Overall, I’m feeling good about the progress Life First is making, but more importantly, I’m feeling good about my overall author outlook. I’ve released three books in the past year, and if I’m able to continue that pace, I’ll have six books out by next June. I’ve noticed sales increase the more books you have available, so I’m excited about my upcoming projects.

Third Life is due to come out by summer’s end (truly summer’s end; sometime before the official start of fall, which is Sept. 21). I’m also working on a Young Adult novel called Scented.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but I started working on a prequel to Life First. The way Third Life ends leaves us with some questions about Dr. Grant.  Oddly enough, the best way to answer those is with an explanation of his history. I’ve only written about 2,000 words of the prequel, but I added a couple of notes to it. I need to finish the principle writing on Scented before I really get into the prequel, but I can tell you this: if Dr. Grant intrigued you at all, you’ll want to read the prequel.

As for the headline–A Year’s worth of publishing lessons– here are a few things I’ve learned this year.

1. Don’t expect immediate success. I know everyone says that, but you see stories about Amanda Hocking, HM Ward or Hugh Howey and think, I want that to happen. But, here’s the thing: those guys weren’t really instant successes. HM Ward did well initially, but part of her early success was output. She published a novel a month. Good novels (as quality is important).  By publishing them in fairly quick succession, readers knew they’d get more. And that helps. The same with Hocking. She had been submitting (unsuccessfully) to agents for years, so she had an entire “backlist” of good stuff that she could publish quickly. That coupled with her new work helped give her quantity so fans could devour and tell their friends, knowing with a big catalog, their friends would be sure to find something they liked from Hocking . And Howey– well, he noted that he wasn’t really an overnight success. He’d been at self publishing for three years and sold roughly 5,000 copies of his books when he had success with Wool.  So, immediate success is generally not immediate. There’s a lot of hard work that goes behind it.

2. It’s hard to tell what produces sales. If there were a magic formula people could use to produce sales, then every publisher would’ve already paid top dollar for it. There isn’t one. People have to read your book, like it and tell their friends. And then that has to happen exponentially for you to get sales. But, what causes people to do the first step? It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma. OK, maybe it’s not that complicated. They have to like your book and feel inspired to buy it. But we don’t know what gets people to that point. So, I’ve spent a lot of the year trying different things to get eyes on my book so people will take the plunge and read it. Still, I don’t know what’s most effective. As wonderful as Amazon is (and I love them, because they’ve made self publishing easy), they don’t tell you where your sales are coming from. So, cause and effect are always guesses. I’ve noticed some sales after an interview ran, and some sales after a blog post, or after leaving an insightful comment (er, at least a comment I thought was insightful) on a blog. But, I don’t know for sure if that was the impetus for the sale. It could all be coincidence. Short of something like a paid advertisement that produces multiple (dozens to hundreds of) sales, there’s no way to know. It’s good to take your best guess if you see an uptick, but as my Indies Unlimited colleague Lynne Cantwell pointed out, it can take up to 20 views for someone to decide to make a purchase. So, a specific story might have inspired the purchase, but who knows if it was the first or 20th time they saw your book mentioned.

3. Covers are important but confusing. I did a cover change on Life First. I liked the first cover, but got some feedback that it was too abstract. But, of course, after the cover change, got some feedback the new cover wasn’t quite genre-molding enough. I know that covers matter, but I don’t know how exactly you find the perfect cover. I’m still learning on that one. Hopefully, I’ll get a better understanding as I go through this process again.

4. You can’t take things personally. Reviewers sometimes think your work sucks or that your protagonist is “one of the stupidest characters I have ever come across.”  You have to read it, weep, and  move on. There are plenty of characters I’ve thought were entirely too stupid, and I didn’t hate the writer or think the writer was a bad person. I just didn’t mesh well with the character. It happens. It hurts, but it’s not the end of the world. If that’s the worst thing that ever happens to me, I’m a very lucky girl.

5. Pricing is confusing, but higher may be better. It’s interesting. I sold more books at the 99 cent price point than at any other price point. The ones I sold at 99 cents were often part of an advertising campaign. But, the thing is, I never got sustained sales with the 99 cent discounts. I’ve let the price hold steady at $2.99 for Life First and $3.99 for Second Life, since April. And in June, I noticed a real steady sales stream. I visited Kindle Boards ( a virtual watering hole for authors) and someone mentioned they were moving from $2.99 to $3.99, and several people commented that the $3.99 price point sells better. A little counterintuitive, and I’d heard it before, but I hadn’t quite believed. However, people who’d done it noted it can take a couple weeks before sales recalibrate. I haven’t tried moving Life First to $3.99, but I’m considering it.  And of course, on the other side of that debate is giving away book one in the series. I’ve had a couple of people suggest I make it perma-free when Third Life comes out, with the goal of selling other books.  There’s a lot of advice, and I think ultimately, authors have to do what works best for them and what they’re comfortable with.

6. Wasted time is your biggest enemy. There are only so many hours in the day, and what I’ve learned is that wasting time on activities that aren’t helping you is the biggest enemy writers face. It’s important to use social media and such, but getting sucked in to the point that you don’t have time to write, contact reviewers, and find good covers is  detrimental. It leaves you feeling frazzled and constantly behind the eight ball. So, if you can avoid useless time sucks, do it. Again, not all social networking is a useless time suck, but you know when you’ve been diligent and productive and when you’ve not. I still haven’t figured out perfect efficiency, but at least I know now what the cost of goofing off is.

 7. It’s OK to experiment. If you’re not selling a lot of books and you do something that doesn’t work, it hasn’t affected your bottom line. So, I’ve been more open to trying new things. For my next to books I’m going to do some Advanced Review Copy (ARC) giveaways to readers. So, if you’re interested in an ARC of Third Life or Scented, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter, as I’ll be posting details of how to enter the giveaway there.  (The newsletter comes out about once a month, and no one sells your email address or sends you craptastic ads. It’s just news about the books, extras and sneak previews.)

That’s it for me. Have a great day. And if there’s someone you know who would enjoy Life First, but hasn’t read it, tell them about the book. It’d make a great anniversary present. 🙂

About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at http://rjcrayton.com/subscribe.
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9 Responses to Happy Anniversary to Life First: A Year’s Worth of Publishing Lessons

  1. L. Rita St. Claire says:

    Congratulations on your first year anniversary. I’m pleased to see your book is being carried in my local library, Prince George’s County. As an aspiring writer, I always find your blog inspirational and informative. I wish you luck and many sales in your second year.

  2. Dale says:

    Congratulations, RJ. Hard work and a great story helps a lot. I don’t really sell much unless I do a promotion, lol.

  3. “The good news with sales is that June 2014 was the best sales month I’ve had, in terms of selling books without doing any type of promotion” –

    That and willing and able to continue experimenting, very grand things to contemplate on a well deserved one year anniversary – congrats 🙂

  4. You have put a lot of effort into marketing your work and I think you owe a lot of your success to that. None of us know what really works, as you say. All we can do is keep looking for other avenues to get our name out there. I wish I had the savvy and the inclination to do more of that.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Yes, Yvonne, getting your name out there is important. Hopefully, in the next year, I’ll be able to get the name out there more. I’m looking to try some new things. Hopefully, I’ll be wiser (not just older) in my year two strategies. 🙂

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