After writing full-time for five years and making intermittent sales (they would happen randomly, without my understanding of why at that particular moment, and why that particular book), I finally got fed up with being poor and have told you (or rather, screamed at you from various Internet roofs) that I'll be treating my book writing as a business from now on. Starting tomorrow, to be exact. Because tomorrow, on May 15th, it will be exactly five years since I began writing the first draft of my first trilogy, Siren Suicides. Many of you have asked what I meant by this, some have misunderstood that I'll be betraying my past mantras (like concentrating on the craft and letting your readers sell for you), and some have cheered me on with the rightful, "FINALLY." Yeah, finally.
So, why now?
Kill me, but I don't know why after working on my startup for over five years and learning how to brand and market and sell, I thought that self-publishing my books would be any different. It isn't. I guess I was under the impression that art was exempt from such annoying things like ads, and such boring things as budget, and such tiring things as researching metadata and prices and genres and sales. Yes, sales. Actually looking at sales and figuring out how to boost them, which I haven't done for years. Somehow my books are still magically selling. Not a lot, but they do. Imagine what will happen once I start actively selling.
How will that look like?
Not very different from what I'm doing now, except much more organized. Here are ten tips for you (and for me, as this post is really me screaming at me to get my ass in gear) on how to turn your book writing into a business (if you haven't done so already). Some of these I've done when I had my startup, some I picked up from other writers, and some I read about in books. It'll be trial and error, but it'll be trial and error with a sharp focus on sales. Here we go.
1. Clean up your brand.
My author photo is the same everywhere, thank God, but it needs an update, and it needs to match the rest on my brand (and my brand needs a clean-up), so when Anya is back, she will redesign my site, and I'll ask her to look at my bookmark templates, and create postcard templates, and think about packaging options, and so on. All the little details. I want you to get not only amazing books in the mail, I want you to have a gorgeous experience shopping for them, and I want you to say "Wow!" when you receive them.
2. Collaborate with other artists.
I don't make new products seasonally (like, say, if I made clothes or jewelry and had my own online business). I publish about a book a year, which is slow for a self-published author. The number hovers about 3-4 books a year for a self-published author to grab the audience and keep them reading (and buying). Which is not a rule, it's what I hear from indies, and I don't know how true it is as I haven't researched the numbers myself. But if I rush myself, I'll write poor product. I don't want to do that. Why would you buy my books then? Instead I'll be reaching out, let's say, to an artist who makes felt roses on Etsy, for example, and then when spring comes, send out postcards (we're coming to this one) with an idea for a spring gift—Rosehead and a felt rose together. Or something. You get the gist.
3. Keep track of and reward your customers.
This was the biggest problem for me, still is, in terms of creating a database of all customers so I could reward those of you who shop often and support me a lot, and keep track of everyone else. So I jumped back on BatchBook (used it every day when I had my startup) and I'll keep track of all of you who buy my books, win my books, and so on (and I'll sell your addresses and identities to Russian mafia and NO FUCKING WAY I'M KIDDING RELAX). I'll be sending you Thank You cards in the mail, handwritten with love. And other cool things as I think of them. But basically I'll be rewarding you, pinging you to review my books, to buy more, and to tell friends, so you remember about me. I used to do this for my startup, but then I forgot to do this when I started publishing books. Why? Idiot, I know.
4. Ask your customers for book reviews.
Ever notice how when you buy something online, depending on the brand, you usually would get an email reminder in about two weeks, asking you to review the product? I will do that. After you buy a book, I'll set up a system to send out an email in about two weeks asking you for a book review. Because book reviews for a self-published author are everything. And even one sentence helps.
5. Give out books for reviews.
I'm already doing it here, but now I'll be doing it in a more organized manner, by collecting all information in one place: Who asked for what book? When did they get it? Did they review it? And so on. For that I'm upgrading my Squarespace site to the commercial level, and I'm going to switch to Xero from GoDaddy Accounting, and connect my MailChimp to that, and my BatchBook, and start an account on ShipStation so I don't have to spend all this time handwriting addresses (it takes forever). Plus I'll be buying nice white boxes from Uline for my books from now on. No more paper envelopes. Nice boxes are the best.
6. Explore and try out ads.
I hate ads. And for the longest time I would tell that to anyone who would listen. But I also noticed that when ads are relevant to me, and when they're clever or smart or beautiful, I actually like them. I also noticed that when a big book by a big author releases, IT'S EVERYWHERE. It's advertised. And so readers are driven to pick it up because they see it everywhere, and everyone is talking about it. So I'll explore it. And I'll try be get creative and funny, like do a GoogleAd based on the search string with words "gold brick" or something, saying, "If you have extra gold bricks, click here." I dunno. This is just an idea for now. But I'll pursue it.
7. Reprioritize your social media posts based on traffic and sales they generate.
I already started doing this one too. Many of you noticed that I'm now posting on Facebook daily, not just pictures via Instagram, but actual text posts. It's because Facebook, as much as I hate it, generates the highest click-through rate to my site and drives the most traffic (and maybe I should reactivate my Facebook Fan Group). Guess what number two is. Pinterest. I know. I was shocked. But I actually use it daily. I have picture boards for every one of my books, and I save images there for future blog posts, and so on. Every day, when I write, I search for images, and I save them there. And I got traffic coming from there! So I started sharing my blog posts there again. Third is Twitter, fourth is Instagram, and fifth is Goodreads. I'll be focusing on them accordingly.
8. Set up book release dates and create buzz.
This is the worst thing for me to do. I just want to be done with the book and move on. Also, I hate scheduling things, especially when I have to take into an account a whole team of people and their schedules. But I'll bite the bullet and do this from now on, because the book is either made or ruined in the first week of its release, just like a movie. Once it rides the crest of interest, it kind of fuels it to go even higher, and so buzz generates more buzz. Otherwise it can go in the opposite direction and spin down into a spiral of obscurity, never to climb out. Here is an excellent blog post by Cory Doctorow about that. I'll be using it as my guide.
9. Go on book tours and to conventions and book fairs.
Travel is one of those things that I love and hate. I love it because I get to see new places and meet new people. I hate it because it takes me away from writing. I'll just have to do it. Period. I make my best sales in person. Every time I sell at a convention, I sell out, and I always meet new readers many of whom later come to my site and buy my books. So, I need to do more of this. It's also an excellent opportunity to ask people to join my newsletter and to send them a Thank You card in the mail and stay in touch, and again, generate more sales.
10. Read books on marketing and selling books.
I have sort of been doing this one already too, by studying plotting and writing craft of the books that sell, so I could learn the rules that apply (and glimpse anything else useful). Now I'll expand this to reading books on data, like The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel and so on. I can tell that from studying books like Story and Dialogue and The Story Grid is already improving my chances of writing more sellable books simply based on Royce's reaction (I read to him every night what I wrote earlier). TUBE will be the first book where I'll consciously apply what I learned, and I believe it will help me sell it better.
That's it for now. These are ideas I have at the moment. I'll have more later and I'll share with you what worked and what didn't. Next up the post on 25 things I learned while writing full-time for five years. GET READY. It'll be something.