This post is for the writers among you. Publishing is changing and there are more opportunities for authors than ever before. We finally have the ability to take charge of our careers in ways we couldn't before Amazon brought out the Kindle. Seriously, the Kindle was a game changer. Add in all the other e-readers, and the invention of the iPad, and we're rolling along into a revolution that finally gives authors the means to reach readers directly in far greater numbers than they ever could before (printing books and selling them out of your trunk will only get you so much exposure).
Many of the Indie authors who've paved the way have been so generous with sharing their numbers, so I decided I'm going to do the same. I am what is properly termed a “hybrid” author. I'm self-publishing and writing for a traditional publisher. I believe there is sense and value to both things, so I'm straddling that line and having some fun. I'm learning a lot too.
Today is officially one month since HOT PURSUIT has been for sale on Kindle. It went live on Kobo and Apple on July 17th, though it was in pre-order at this stage. And it was live on Smashwords and B&N around the same time as Amazon. HOT PURSUIT is a departure for me in terms of the kind of books I am known for with Harlequin. I write for Presents, the line that's all about angst, passion, glamor, billionaires, etc. I love those kinds of stories! I also love romantic suspense, and I love anything to do with a military special operations team. Which is where my HOT series goes.
I am a known author and I have hit the USA Today list back when they only counted print sales. So how would that translate to my self-published books? Pretty well, it turns out, though not well enough to propel me onto any lists. Everyone says you need more than one book in a series to really see an effect, and I only have one book out there (plus a free short story that's military but not in the same series) but I cannot complain about the numbers thus far. In one month, I've sold 1800 books and made nearly $4k. No, that's nothing like my Harlequin numbers (which are still primarily in print), but self-publishing is long tail and this is only one month worth of numbers. In the same amount of time with a Harlequin, I can expect to sell far more books. And, in some respects, the Harlequin sales are long tail too because of the foreign translations. And now, with ebooks, if someone discovers you, they can go back and read all your books. That's a nice departure from the days where you could only get the books for a month and then never again.
HOT PURSUIT was a Golden Heart finalist in 2008. I had hoped my agent could sell it for me, but she didn't think it was ready. And it wasn't. I had some hard work to do first, and once I did that work, I decided I'd rather put it out there myself and see how it went than sell it to a publisher and take my chances. At least this way, if the book (and series) failed, it was all on me. But I don't think it's failing. Your emails, blog posts, and reviews tell me it's not. You seem to like this story and you seem to want more. And that makes me *very* happy!
So, one month, 1800 books sold of a book I was told that New York wouldn't want, and sales show no sign of slowing down. This is only the beginning. HOT MESS (Book 1.5) will be out sometime in September, and I've been asked to contribute to an anthology of holiday novellas by some of your favorite Indie authors. That story will be a HOT story, and then I'll follow it with DANGEROUSLY HOT, which is officially Book 2 in the series (though maybe I need a new numbering system since there will be another novella before that, LOL!).
If you are a writer who is looking at self-publishing, there are a couple of things you need to do. First, you have to spend money to get a good cover and good editing. You're going to need developmental edits, not just copy edits. I've written nearly 20 books with Harlequin and I still paid a developmental editor for my HOT books. I need editing and so do you. Readers will notice if you give them crap and they won't buy you anymore. There is a difference between not liking a story because it's not your thing and the story being poorly written and edited. If you don't have a lot of money to invest, save money until you can afford the editing at least. Trade services with other writers who are good at things you aren't (like cover design, maybe). Do everything you can to put out the best product you can. Self-publishing is NOT a get rich quick scheme. It takes money, time, and a commitment to the process to do it right.
Here are the things I did for HP: hired a developmental editor, hired a copy editor & proofreader, hired a cover designer, hired a formatter. I've not really advertised HP, other than on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I decided not to advertise yet because I only have one book in the series. I might do something when the next story comes out next month. Or I might not. This is a marathon, y'all, not a sprint. If HP continues to sell at the level it's selling for an entire year, well, that's a living. I can't predict that, of course, because things happen and books fall off the radar. But I hope readers are excited enough about this series to try the next one and to recommend the books to their friends.
So there it is. My Indie Journey, one month in. Any questions?
Hey, Lynn! Wonderful blog. So happy for your success. My last book did not sell to New York (although I’m currently on submission with another). Regarding the last book that didn’t sell, my agent and I considered self-publishing (she edited it thoroughly), but it was the first in a trilogy. She said it would be best to finish the trilogy and self-publish each back to back. This advice is also in consideration that I don’t have a previously published book or readers who might follow what I publish. Do you think having readers in a different genre affected the success of this book for you?
Callie, I think it’s wise to wait until you have all three ready. It would have been wise for me too, quite honestly, but I decided that for personal reasons I needed to get it out there and test the waters. And I do have plenty of books available, though not in the same series, so I’m not a one book wonder. But waiting would have benefited me too!
I think what has helped me so far are a couple of things. First, I do have books out with a publisher and there might be a “trust” factor. I have a healthy mailing list. And I joined an author co-op whereby I could put the book on NetGalley. It got a lot of reads there and several bloggers reviewed it for me.
I think I had some crossover from my loyal Harlequin readers, but not too much. Because lets face it: we like what we like. Billionaires and military guys are different, though they are still contemporary and that helps. I think if I were writing something wildly different — like paranormal or urban fantasy — I wouldn’t get the crossover.
Thanks, Lynn! That makes sense. 🙂
I’m guessing the $4K is gross? Would you be willing to share the costs you mentioned to get it ready for publication (editing, formatting, cover etc)?
Congrats on your success with this?
Uh… That last sentence was not a question. Darn iphone keyboard is small.
LOL! $4K is indeed gross. My costs are in the neighborhood of $2K though I don’t have final figures on that yet.
Thanks Lynn for being so upfront and your generous sharing of all facets of putting this book out for the readers. While I’m not looking to take this path, yet, I appreciate all the information.
Best of luck
You’re welcome, Pam!
Just wanted to say thanks so much for your transparency in this post. I am a longtime reader of your Presents and loved HP as well. As a writer who hopes to publish at some point, you are an author whose path I admire and whose business sense I’ve come to respect, so it’s very exciting to see you self-publish. I’m so glad that this journey is going well for you and here’s to more success! 🙂
Thank you so much, Amy! I’m glad to know you enjoy my Harlequins and you made the crossover to HP. I really appreciate you taking a chance on that book! 🙂
Good luck with your writing and thanks for all the kind words. I believe a rising tide lifts all boats. So the more info we share, the better for all of us. Not a single writer I know can write enough books to keep up with demand, so there’s room for all of us in this pond. 🙂
Hardly seems worth it – only $4,000 in a month?
Maybe it’s not. That’s something we each have to decide for ourselves (you didn’t say if you were a writer or not, but I’ll assume you are). But what if the book, a book that was in a file on the computer earning nothing at all, makes $4K next month? And the month after that? Is it worth it then?
What if additional books in the series earn $4K a month? What if you have 5 books out and they each earn $4K a month?
There are no guarantees that any self-published book will earn a dime. But, for me, this was entirely worth the work. And I’m happy that I get to write the rest of the books in the series and people want to read them. That’s the best part, really! People like the HOT world and want more. I’m tickled. 🙂
Congratulations on the successful hybridization, Lynn! 😉
And thank you for sharing. It’s good to see the stigma falling off of self-publishing–with a realistic outlook toward quality, of course. You already have such a solid reputation under your belt, I would have been very surprised if it -didn’t- do well.
Thanks for passing on the learning experience! 🙂
Thanks, Angela! I think self-publishing is a very viable business decision these days. But, yes, I believe quality is important. I don’t think making the rounds with your very first book ever, getting form rejections, and then deciding to publish anyway is the thing to do.
I still have books on my computer that will never see the light of day. They aren’t good enough. But I think a writer who has been working and growing and learning knows when she has the right book. New York doesn’t always get it right. The wild success of some self-published authors proves that. 🙂
Great post! I really love that you have the recommendation about editors. I edit on a freelance basis (used to be w/ Samhain), and it’s often disheartening to see writers want to pay basically nothing for edits. A good editor with real experience and credentials is going to cost a bit of money. Writers can check out Writers Market to see what reasonable freelance rates are, but knowing that they are a cost– and that they’re really essential to a well produced book– are important. :0)
Yes, ma’am, I would never discount the talents of a good editor! And speaking of discounts, one shouldn’t expect editing to be cheap. It is THE most expensive part of self-publishing. And while I may have a typo here or there, or even a misplaced comma that didn’t get fixed, I know I don’t have giant errors and readers can expect a smooth read. That’s because I paid for skilled editors!!
At RT, Sylvia Day stressed that her self-published books go through the same rigorous editing as her traditional books. She hires three different editors for different phases. And she refused to put a book out until she’s satisfied. While many beginning self-publishers can’t afford that, they shouldn’t skimp on a good developmental edit and a good copy edit. At the minimum, the copy edit should be done (though I’d never go out without the developmental edit either!).
Seriously wish I could post this EVERYWHERE.
I love this post. I think $4000 in a month with very little advertising is GREAT. If you were a new author and this was a start, then imagine how quickly you’d make PAN? I plan on looking into this in the future after I release my series with my publisher. I want to have three books ready to roll in addition to the books I’ve got with the publisher in 2015. I hadn’t considered a developmental editor, but I might now that you’ve recommended one. Cover art, copy editing, and formatting will have to be farmed out.
Thanks for being so forthright and transparent. I’m sure the numbers will increase as you release the next books in the series.
Thanks, Christine! Yep, I think I could make PAN in two months probably, if I wasn’t already. But I do have a name and many books out there, which helps drive the self-published book.
I would not skimp on that developmental edit. You *could*, if money is an issue, use beta readers. But I don’t think they should be writers, quite honestly. I think they should be romance readers who read widely in the genre. Because writers look for different things.
For instance, in the novella that’s with my editor now (after revisions), one of her concerns was that my hero’s reluctance to be with the heroine wasn’t very well articulated. She understood what I was trying to say, but it didn’t come across well — and it required some rethinking in several scenes and some seeding of his issues. What if I decided to skip that phase and just get some critique partners to read for me? They might not see that deeper issue because we are often looking for the surface things because we don’t want to “mess” with another writer’s voice. But this wasn’t voice, it was story, and a good editor sees that.
I’m not explaining it well, but believe me, I won’t skip this phase because it’s too valuable to me. She makes the story better by telling me what is a problem. It’s always up to me to change it or not, but she doesn’t pull any punches. Nor does my Harlequin editor, which is why I believe good editing is so valuable!
I’d look to spend at least $2K to get a book up. Maybe more, depending on the level of editing required. I don’t think it should cost $5K, however, to put a price tag on the upper limit. 🙂 But you want to do it well and successfully, so put the money into it at the start. And maybe you can barter for services and spend less than I did. I had the money, thanks to my Harlequins, and I farmed everything out. 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing this information, Lynn! As an author pursuing publication, and one who is also considering self-publication at some point, I’m excited to see real sales information. That you’ve earned $4,000 in a month from this venture is encouraging, so keep up the good work! You’re an inspiration!
You’re welcome, Crystal! I think nearly $4K in a month is a nice chunk of change, though it’s nothing like the big indies are earning. But it’s a start, and I’m pleased with it. 🙂
I have to say that I think if I had NO books whatsoever, and I put up this one book, my earnings would be far less though. If you’re going to self-publish, it’s best to have more than one book to put up, even if you have to wait until you have 2 or 3 ready.
All the best…..we’ll keep spreading the word of your stories. They are awesome.
Thank you, Alexia!!
I disagree 4K seems very worth it and it’s now up there and will gain momentum with your next Indie books. Congratulations!!
Thanks so much, Tina! I think it’s worth it too. And of course, since posting this, it’s made more. 🙂
Did you self-publish via Kindle or Smashwords? How did you find your editors, cover artists, formatters? Is there a self-publishing manual that’d walk a writer through the self-publishing process step by step? Thank you for so generously sharing your info! Wish you continued super success w/ your series!