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My experience self-publishing for the first time.

Guillermo Stitch

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Joined
Jun 4, 2018
Messages
168
This post will be long.

A few months ago when I was busy marketing my novella, Literature®, I had a couple of private conversations with members here about the work I was doing on it. It was the first time I had self-published anything and, going by my Goodreads page and Amazon reviews, as well as a handful of pro reviews, I must have done something right and some curiosity was expressed as to how I had gone about it. I said I would post about my experiences when the dust had settled and this is that post.

In no way do I offer it as an 'expert' post. How could it be? It is the account of a first-timer. And I apologise in advance for taking up so much space. But maybe that first-time-round experience will be interesting to any here who have yet to take the plunge and, equally interesting to me, maybe more experienced members will be able to spot any misapprehensions I'm under and put me straight.

Everything from this point in the post on rests on the assumptions that you have written a half-decent book that you can put some genre tag(s) on, that it has been formatted and proofed and there's an at least acceptable cover on it—that you have a ready-to-go print-on-demand product, in other words. I do think that some of the marketing methods would equally apply to small press authors who are left to do much of their own promotion.

I started work on the publication date 3 months prior to the publication date which I had set (and which I religiously stuck to). This was to give myself time to build whatever buzz I could. Doing it again, I would have no hesitation whatsoever about making that 6 months.

My main tool was, of course, the spreadsheet. To give an idea of my work flow, the sheets I opened up on mine were: press release submissions, personal and semi-personal (online) contacts to solicit reviews from, pro reviewers, Amazon reviewers, sci fi writers to follow on Twitter, Goodreads influencers, promotions companies, expenses, a 'to do' checklist, people to receive postal copies, book bloggers, other Twitter follows.

By far the most used tag was book bloggers. Between them, pro reviewers, journalists (being Irish, I sought to use that angle to leverage Irish journalists...and failed...), press releases etc I probably emailed close to 500 people in the end, book blogger accounting for around 400 of those.

I think it's important that you write a good email and have a media kit so you can attach a professional looking press release and a book cover. You should probably be as keen to workshop your pitch with other writers as you are your actual work. You also need to tailor each email to the individual you are addressing and their preferences (and get their name right!). In terms of book bloggers specifically, the return on that so far has been 15 reviews, with a further 12 agreed but no sign of them yet. If that seems awful then consider the alternative – not doing that work and not having any reviews. Some bloggers reply to decline to review your book, but mostly you just don't hear back.

I don't have many reviews by people who personally know me, although there are some. I've read a lot about how Amazon can be very persnickety about that and indeed, some reviews that went up on Amazon later came down, for example when someone posted a review from the same IP address as someone with whom they shared a surname, both reviews came down. So I personally would not recommend relying on personal contacts to make your Amazon page look good.

The returns with pro publications were if anything more meagre than with book bloggers, although at least there are fewer of them to contact. I was successful in getting reviews from a couple of hard sci-fi publications that normally don't accept self-published (get that pitch right!), Tangent and SFCrowsnest, but it was a mixed blessing. Neither seemed to like the book very much and the reviews were very much at odds with reviews from elsewhere. Note to self – my work does not really click with hard sci fi aficionados.

One piece of excellent luck I had was getting a cracker of a review from Anne Cunningham, who reviews for the Irish Independent, Irish Times, Sunday Times UK and so on. She loved the book but couldn't get the review into a national, instead getting it into a regional, the Meath Chronicle. Of course, that hasn't stopped me from mentioning the nationals she writes for whenever the opportunity arises. I was very surprised to hear back from her originally (the ONLY Irish journalist who ever responded to me) but I now have a theory as to why she noticed my email and it's this: my email included some blurbs and testimonials that I had solicited and one of them was from a Siun O'Connor, and Irish film-maker and an old friend of mine. Turns out Anne Cunningham knows her mother. I don't know if that's the reason, but...you just never know what will catch a person's eye.

Every time something good came in – a blurb or review – I would update my email to give it more clout. I do think I noticed more interest when I started including Anne Cunningham.

Underground Book reviews then picked my book as a nominee for Novel of the Year and that also gave me ammunition. A review from Publishers Weekly is forthcoming, they tell me – I submitted the book via their Booklife website. Fingers crossed it happens and fingers crossed it's a good one.

The reaction from book bloggers has been overwhelmingly positive. Ironically, even though I originally though that the sci-fi element was the book's most marketable quality, the good reaction has come more from mainstream and other publications, rather than sci-fi mags.

The rest of the reviews that have amassed on Goodreads have been organic, and almost all positive.

I still have feelers out there for pro reviews but of course the more time goes by the less hopeful I am about them. I sent a couple of requests out just the other day but overall, activity on the book is coming to an end.

I have done a free promotion which resulted in around 3000 downloads. I don't think I'll do it again – people just click on it because it's free, and I think it's a very low-grade transaction. But I will try discounting (via KDP), especially if I get a good Publishers Weekly review.

I'll stop now and add anything else I think of to subsequent posts. None of the above has had any miraculous result on sales, which have been poor. I am still searchng for that mythological elixir - traction. But then I am not self-publishing's preferred model. It seems that to find sales success then you need to commit to one of the popular genres, produce several books a year and make sure those books are part of a series. That seems to be the prevalent model and it will never apply to me. I'm just some bloke that makes art with words and is bloody-minded about the way he does it. Maybe that limits the insight that can be gained from my experience but there you have it. I hope this has been of some interest and am very interested myself in discussions and other people's experiences.
 

Guillermo Stitch

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 4, 2018
Messages
168
Oh, and I did a Goodreads giveaway prepublication and a Librarything giveaway post publication. The latter was free and they are a good way to solicit reviews.
 

Jo Zebedee

Aliens vs Belfast.
Joined
Oct 5, 2011
Messages
17,146
Location
blah - flags. So many flags.
I hadn’t realised you were Irish, Guillermo. A couple of other possible routes: Octocon are running at end October and haven’t finalised their programme. It might be worth contacting them to see about a panel place. You’ll have to buy a ticket but it will give you access to the other genre writers and, crucially, a chance to pitch for a Worldcon place next year, which will give a wide platform.

The Irish Times took Inish Carraig a few months ago but no review to date but I have had luck with the Irish News in the past and Culture Hub.
Also if you’re near Dublin the Irish Writers Centre is worth a look at for engaging with other authors. And they do events for readers.
 

Guillermo Stitch

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Joined
Jun 4, 2018
Messages
168
Thanks so much for all that Jo - I'm afraid I'm very typically Irish in that...I don't live in Ireland, so the physical locations are far away. I'm in Spain. But I will deffinitely look into the Irish News and Culture Hub.
 

Guillermo Stitch

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 4, 2018
Messages
168
I should add that at the outset I set up an author website at www.guillermostitch.com

Judging by traffic, it has yet to come into its own and has not been a significant element in the book's 'presence'. However it's there now and to be built on.

Much more measurable, interactive and, I think, useful, has been Goodreads. I set up an author account there, also at the outset, and immediately set out on a friend making rampage, adopting a completely mercenary approach to numbers and lookig to connect with people who seemed, from their own friend numbers, to be active on the site. It became an avenue, apart from my spreadsheet of bookbloggers, for the distribution of arcs and the accumulation of reviews.

Goodreads groups can be used to offer arcs and petition reviews.
 
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Montero

Senior Member
Joined
Jan 2, 2008
Messages
2,115
You might want to add a link to your website to your profile. I (and I think other SFFs) click on SFF name to find out more on someone's books when intrigued.
 

Guillermo Stitch

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Jun 4, 2018
Messages
168
Hi Montero,

The link is there in the about section of my profile. Is that what you meant? Or is there somewhere better to put it?
 

Montero

Senior Member
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Jan 2, 2008
Messages
2,115
Ah, OK found it in "about" - was expecting it on the page you go through to immediately on pressing your name.
 

Guillermo Stitch

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Joined
Jun 4, 2018
Messages
168
On the subject of reviews from pro publications, two more have come in since I last posted. One brilliant one from Interzone magazine and one from Publishers Weekly. The Publishers Weekly one is positive so on one hand that's good. But on the other it reads as disengaged and half-hearted, so I'm actually disappointed. You never can tell if your book is going to end up in front of a reviewer who is firing on all cylinders or one who has slept badly and who isn't providing their full attention. You can see why so many writers advocate not caring about reviews. But then, for the first timer, how else to make noise?
 

Montero

Senior Member
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Jan 2, 2008
Messages
2,115
Nope - promotions and giveaways have a much clearer effect on sales. Reviews seem to be a more nebulous, intangible ( and maybe long term?) benefit.
Promotions being reduced price?
With giveaways are you counting items given away in the sales, or is this giveaway book 1, see an increase in purchases for book 2?
 

Guillermo Stitch

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Joined
Jun 4, 2018
Messages
168
Promotions being reduced price?
With giveaways are you counting items given away in the sales, or is this giveaway book 1, see an increase in purchases for book 2?
I don't have book 1 and book 2. Just book.

Promotions can be free promotions, but then obviously downloads don't really count as 'sales' as no money is changing hands. So KDP countdown discount promotions is really what I'm talking about. I'm about to run another one so I'll post about results.
 

Montero

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Jan 2, 2008
Messages
2,115
Thanks GS for explanation.

Has anyone ever bought advertising - the log-in page for Goodreads for example?
 

Montero

Senior Member
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Jan 2, 2008
Messages
2,115
@Cathbad and @Jo Zebedee - ah, thanks. So cost money and no obvious change in sales?

(Would note in passing I've seen some book ads on Goodreads which are NOT well worded......:) and if they are representative of what they are trying to sell...... I've been vaguely keeping an eye on ads to see how it is done )

Before I tried my hand at this self-publishing malarky (debacle? farce?) I was a travel writer. If any of you fancy having a gander, I'm at it again...

https://www.guillermostitch.com/guillermostitchblog/mr-and-mrs-stitch-go-to-africa
Read your latest on Morocco - that was interesting and atmospheric and I like the practical details. Have read about three books on Morocco - one on someone doing up an old house in the traditional style, one by Annie Hawes and one was Josie somebody on her bicycle.
 
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