Self Publishing

My journey into self publishing was very unexpected. I have been writing this blog for quite a while now whilst editing my novel Second Chances which I uploaded to Wattpad some time ago. I’m currently working my way through updating it with the view of self publishing it when I’m finished.

In the course of writing I also began to write a series of children’s stories which I hoped to get published for my cousin’s little girl as she is the heroine of the series.

I never dreamed of self publishing, I always wanted to go down the route of getting an agent, editor and hard copy publisher so I could walk into a shop and see my books laid out on a table one day. But from what I’ve read that experience isn’t what it once was.

Even with a traditional publishing deal you have to do a lot of your own publicity work and you only get a limited amount of time on shop shelves. If sales aren’t good then your books will be returned and pulped in favour of the new releases.

Entering an erotic writing competition, and winning, changed writing for me. I was asked to write more stories and since then, back in April this year, I have been playing catch up.

On entering the competition I had to come up with a pen name for the writing, not wanting to use the same pen name as I use for children’s stories. But then I needed a profile and an image to put to that name, again not wanting to use my own photos.

In truth I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into, I had no idea if I could write more erotic stories. I had enough projects that I had underway without starting something new.

But then I sat down and managed to write a few more stories, then I needed to find something to do with them. They were published on the site I won the competition with and I was told they got good read figures but what else could I do with them?

I started a second blog and showcased my stories that way and that started getting hits and followers. Since April this year my follower and hit count on my erotic blog have well surpassed that of this blog.

The simple truth is, people like sex and there is a market on the internet for everything to do with it.

I’d been thrown into a world I knew little about and had been given access to people who wanted to read my writing. I had to make it my focus, I wouldn’t get this opportunity again and I couldn’t waste it.

I had to become active in erotic forums and learn more about desire and sex, far outside anything that I had ever experienced before. I wanted to write about real situations, push the boundaries a bit and write things that would appeal to a range of people.

It has been an eye-opening experience and taught me a lot about human nature. I have become a much more tolerant person, sympathetic to the needs people have that most write off as being perverse.

While for me it was mostly for research purposes I have learned more about myself and met some nice people who are on hand to help with any scenarios I want to discuss. One of the best compliments I had about my writing was how realistic it feels and that is what I always wanted it to be.

It just so happens that all this started at around the same time I lost contact with the one person I know who has a media background and I have no doubt their input would have made my life a whole lot easier!

I have a business mind and have no problem finding creative solutions but when it comes to making money from my writing I have no idea what I’m doing.

I needed to create a profile and a forum for that profile so I needed to set up Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Linkedin and the like. The blog was doing well so I started a website.

That in itself was a nightmare, I had no idea what I was doing or even where to start in terms of content. I turned to my trusty Writing Magazine and found a feature on the best free website hosts so I chose Weebly which seemed pretty easy.

I played around with it a bit and in the end I have created a site I’m proud of. It isn’t the most professional site you will ever see but it is all my own work and its the best I can do with my limited knowledge.

After I got over 100 views in the first couple of days on my website I decided to buy the domain name which is another minefield. If you are setting up a website make sure you keep your details private as you can search to see who owns websites and you might not want to be outed!

I’ve since started developing the website to add a news feed of what I’m doing, links to my books, affiliate links and using it as a forum to host other authors work. The more I learn and the more opportunities that arise the more work I have to put in to keeping everything fresh and up to date on all my profiles.

I kept posting my work on my blog and the competition site when someone recommended Literotica to me so I began to post stories on there. The first couple of stories I tried took off and within the first weeks they had over 1,000 reads which blew my mind.

In the end I posted 5 stories on Literotica and in about 5 months I had over 52,000 reads of those 5 stories. I still can’t believe that my work could reach so many people just on one site.

That was when another author I had interacted with on Twitter messaged me to ask why I was giving all my work away for free. I said I didn’t really want to, I was starting to see so many people reading my work on the blogs and Literotica that I had started wondering how I could earn money from my work.

I looked at adding a shop to my website but couldn’t see a way to add books that made any sense. I contacted some publishers but hadn’t heard back from some of them, the couple I did said they liked the work and it was well written but wasn’t suitable for them.

That was when I was advised to try Smashwords. I had heard of it through my interactions on Twitter but hadn’t got around to checking it out. As soon as I started reading up on it I knew that was going to be my next step.

I downloaded the step by step guides and began to write a new story that I could publish. I had started writing longer stories as I became more familiar with the writing so was up to almost 10,000 words a story from my initial 2,000 which made them much more in line with the short stories on the site.

It was a lot of hard work and took me a few days to get it edited to the exact standards of the guide to qualify for the roll out to all the main book outlets Apple, Barnes & Noble etc. but if I didn’t qualify for that what would be the point? If I was going to do it I wanted as much exposure from it as I could get.

That was when I hit my first block, I needed a professional cover or my book would be dead in the water. I have no idea when it comes to design so I had to look at spending money to get a professional cover and luckily the guide was there to help.

I contacted Vila Design who made me a cover I was really happy with for £30, a small price to pay and my only cost for publishing the book other than my time and effort, but without it I would earn nothing.

So a couple of days later I had my book edited with a professional cover ready to upload, all I had to do was hit send and wait for my book to be accepted. A few days later I got an email to say I had achieved Premium Status and my book would be appearing on the shelves of Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and many others.

I had published my first book and I was excited. But then I panicked and thought how the hell am I going to sell it?

I had no idea how to promote my book. I put in on my website, blog, Twitter, Facebook profile and I created a Facebook page for the book but how was I going to find paying customers.

I asked people in the communities on Google+ if anyone would be prepared to read a free copy and write a review but there weren’t many responders.

I researched the internet looking for book review bloggers who were accepting erotic fiction books and wrote to a whole bunch of them but didn’t get a reply from any of them.

Then someone I had been talking to online said they had downloaded the book, read it and they loved it. I logged in to my account to see my first purchase on Smashwords had a 5* review to go with it. I was over the moon. It wasn’t like we were close and he wrote it because we are friends, we barely know each other but it meant a lot.

But even 5* reviews don’t mean much. Most people who download books don’t seem to leave reviews and the only way you get in the top lists are sales figures and * reviews. I’ve no doubt getting in those lists are the key to making decent money online but I’ve yet to find the formula to do it.

My first book was downloaded over 150 times in the week I had it as a free book promotion, I have sold maybe 10 copies of it in a month and the book sample has been downloaded over 50 times but I still have only 1 review across all the sites it is selling.

I don’t think that is because it is a bad book. The story is good if not maybe a little niche, it won’t be to everyone’s taste but I’m fairly sure if it was that bad people would have said so. It’s human nature to tell people bad things and not good, sadly.

One of the main problems when selling your work is coming up with a price. If we are honest it takes a lot of time and effort to write a book, far more than $.99 a copy will ever cover and you don’t even receive all of that. But you can’t realistically charge everyone the $199 your time was worth in writing it.

I spent a long time reviewing the books on the sites I would be aiming to distribute to, looking at the types of covers they had and the prices of the books.

I decided to look at the word counts as I soon realised the prices alone weren’t a good enough comparison. Some people charge $3.99 for a book of less than 10,000 words and others are free.

I decided that for a book of less than 10,000 words I would charge $.99 which I still think is a fair price. For anything between 10,000 and 30,000 I would charge $1.99 and if I ever write that novel of 30,000 words+ then I will probably go for $2.99. I doubt anyone will buy a book from an unknown for more than $2.99.

But still the most downloads I had was when the book was free. The idea behind that is run a short promotion, get reviews and then that will spur people on to buy the book or buy your other work. But it hasn’t worked that way.

One of the tips in the marketing guides is to have a few book options to make yourself look more professional so I re-edited a bunch of my short stories and made them into an anthology. I had to get a cover made and this cost a little more this time due to exchange rates but still a necessary expense.

I had to take down all the blog versions of the stories and hope that some of the thousands of readers would be prepared to pay to have all the stories in one place. This hasn’t worked as well as I’d hoped either.

I am currently running a 50% off promotion for the anthology but I’ve yet to sell 10 copies. It is good value for money but it doesn’t seem to attract the attention it did when the stories were separate and free.

I didn’t think out of 52,000 people it would be a stretch to find a few that would be prepared to part with $1.99 which in reality is less than your daily coffee.

I find that by constantly Tweeting links to the books and keeping the blog posts updated it does keep interest in them. Authors are good at sharing each others links so you get the word out to other users.

You have to remember the time differences around the world and schedule the Tweets throughout the day to reach the different markets at the peak times. For me selling erotic fiction I look at the start and ends of the day, well that’s when I would use them anyway.

I also make sure that any promotion and blog post I write gets added to my Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Website and then I add the page to Stumbleupon. I can’t sell Stumbleupon enough as a great resource for getting the word out to people who might never usually find you. It always boosts my views almost instantly after adding a page.

If you are looking to get your work out into the world then I would recommend using Smashwords as a starting point but make sure you follow the guidelines for Premium status. There is no point in doing all that work and then not achieving distribution to all the big book sellers.

Smashwords converts your book into all the relevant formats allowing you to easily set up an Amazon account and add your book. Smashwords do roll out some books to Amazon but only a certain number at a time so it is best to do that yourself.

One thing I didn’t realise is that you have to register to pay tax in the US. Amazon automatically tell you that you have to pay 30% US tax but through Smashwords I found out there is a tax treaty between the UK and US and I should qualify for paying 0% US tax if I lodge the correct forms.

Therefore I had to apply for a US Tax number and I’m waiting on the outcome of this. If it all works out then not paying that 30% tax will boost my royalty numbers a little more.

The reality of self publishing is that it is a lot of hard work. There is a lot of trial and error but the internet has some wonderful tools to help. If you have a budget you can set aside for your book then there are people who for varying charges will mass promote your book.

If you are going to use this route then research them well and make sure you get the best service for your money. Look at the followers they are reaching and ask yourself if they are likely to be the audience for your book before just signing up to reach the numbers.

Twitter followers are a strange bunch, some people use it purely as a popularity contest and collect followers but don’t interact with them or read their tweets. So it can be deceptive if someone has hundreds of thousands of followers.

It is best to add people who write similar work to your own and anything else that might be related as the people who follow them are probably the sorts of people who might find your work interesting to.

Don’t forget that other Authors are not the enemy and helping each other can bring everyone better results. If you have a blog or a website then offer other writers a space on there for Q&A’s and book promotions. They will add that on their website and their followers will find out about you and if they really like that Author they will appreciate your effort to help them.

If you help people by retweeting their promotions then I find they repay the favour. But I try to avoid spamming my followers with only promotional stuff, I also talk about what I’m doing and share funny things I find.

I interact with people and talk to them when I can so people can see I’m not just a sales robot. There are a lot of Twitter accounts that are purely sales based and those get boring after a while and you find yourself zoning them out. It’s much better to make connections with people and be helpful, I find you get better results that way and people are more likely to offer advice.

Make use of the communities online in the area you are writing about. You can set up Google Alerts to notify you of any chosen searches when they appear online to help you find potential readers.

Look for blogs about your topics, similar topics and forums where you can interact with people but make sure you interact first before wading in on the sales front.

I found the podcast that my story featured in on the erotic forum. Another user had decided to set up a podcast and needed content so she asked for people to supply stories, she picked 2 of mine she loved.

I got a nice message from her yesterday to say how much fun she had recording and editing my story which was really nice. That will now reach more people I wouldn’t have previously and they might find my other work through that avenue.

I also took part in an anthology writing project through that site but I’m not sure they ever got enough stories to get it off the ground. The guy who was collating them loved the story I wrote so if they don’t use it I can publish it myself as my next book.

But it was an exercise in writing to a deadline and they wanted a high standard of work whereas previously I wrote as the mood took me and to my own standard, it was nice to prove to myself I could meet deadlines.

I’m lucky that people I have interacted with online look out for me too. I have people sending me links to writing competitions, submissions calls and helpful hints for editing and writing as they see them which is nice. It’s nice to know someone was thinking about you when they saw that. I always try to fix people up with things I see that might benefit them too.

In reality writing isn’t really a competitive thing, it’s unlikely anyone will write a book to oust J.K. Rowling and there are millions of people who hate 50 Shades of Grey yet E.L. James has a 3 movie deal on the back of her book sales success.

We can all work together and exist in the same markets as we all have different voices so there is no need to be hostile to other writers.

No one could have predicted the success of Harry Potter and 50 Shades and no one knows where the next success story is coming from, there is no reason why with luck, creativity and hard work that can’t be me or you….

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