A Debut Novel’s First Year in Numbers

When I released my debut novel a year ago I had pretty much no idea what to expect. I found it frustrating that so few (or is it just me that haven’t found them?) were willing to share the actual results of their promotional efforts and overall sale when starting out. Vague words like “good” or “bad” was the norm of what little information I could find. So, this is me sharing what I would have loved to have read a year ago myself: An honest report of a self published debut novel’s first year in numbers.

My initial goal was to sell 1000 copies in a year. That goal changed pretty quickly, to have 1000 copies in circulation within a year – giveaways or sold – kindle or paperback. There are currently 1340 copies of Embers at Dawn (my debut novel) out and about. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t gone completely overboard with marketing, but I have certainly made an effort.

I’ve spent a total of approximately $1420 on the circus that is publishing and promoting, which includes: Proofreading, submission fees to competitions, copies of paperbacks (for giveaways, the local store etc.), promotions and postage for giveaways. I’ve earned a total of $242. Needless to say: I ain’t quitting my day job yet.

Here’s what I’ve done to get those 1000+ copies in the hands of readers:

KDP SELECT

Embers at Dawn has only been available as paperback and Kindle edition during the year it’s been out. I started off pricing the book at $3.99 and lowered it, over time, to $0.99. I have sold a few at the $0.99 price point, but I don’t need more than two hands to count the sales.

I have used KDP Select’s Free Book Promotion as often as I could. The results have varied, but have generated more “sales” (can you call it that when you’re giving away something?) than varying the price. The results of my Free Book Promotions are as follows (unless otherwise stated the promotion have only been marketed via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and my blog):

  • Five days in December 2013 – Copies given away: 224
  • Two days in March 2014 – Copies given away: 73
  • One day in April 2014 – Copies given away: 24
  • Two days in May 2014 promoted via Digital Book Today – Copies given away: 107
  • Two days in September 2014- Copies given away: 73
  • Three days in September 2014 promoted via Digital Book Today, E-books Grow on Trees, FreeBooksy and It’s Write Now – Copies given away: 751

GOODREADS

I have tried two different approaches to promoting my debut novel on Goodreads. I have hosted two giveaways where I gave away nine copies of the book and advertisement. I can’t say that the advertisement did much else than rob me off $50, but the giveaways were a major success. I kept both giveaways open for a month, as recommended by Goodreads – one directly after the book was released and another about six months after. 1286 people requested the book during the first giveaway. 1130 during the second. There are currently 929 people who have marked it as “to read” and I have received 7 reviews and 13 ratings.

COMPETITIONS

I have only submitted Embers at Dawn to two competitions: One dedicated to western literature – I didn’t win anything, and to IndieReader’s discovery award – I didn’t win anything there either, but I got a professional review out of it and a IndieReader feature (that I had to pay extra for). Can’t say that I got anything out of it, besides something to put on Amazon while I wait for reviews from readers to appear there.

AMAZON

I don’t have a single review on Amazon, except a quote from the IndieReader review, but I haven’t done anything to get reviews there either, beside asking on my blog and offering the winners of my second Goodreads giveaway a free copy of the next book in the series if they give me a review on both Goodreads and Amazon… I asked nicely on a hand-written note.

SOCIAL MEDIA

My blog is also my author website, so I’m doing my darnedest to keep the content on point and of quality. It’s good to have a platform where I get to properly went the thoughts I have on the writing process and share what I’m up to creative-wise, both as an author and photographer. I have 35 followers as of right now.

My Facebook fans mainly consist of people I know. It doesn’t seem like it does much for marketing my work, except for giving friends a platform they can share content from when they feel like promoting what I do. I have 130 likes on my page.

I love Instagram. I don’t really get Twitter. I don’t think either has lead to much as far as sales and exposure goes. I have 98 followers on Instagram and 67 on Twitter. Too many cats, too little content, I guess.

I have also made a book trailer. It has had 134 views and received 4 likes on YouTube.

MERCHANDISE

With a background as a photographer I am, of course, a sucker for the visual. I enjoy building the world of Lee (the protagonist in my western series) both on the page and off. I have no illusions about getting rich and famous by selling T-shirts on Zazzle or bookmarks on Tictail, but why the hell not, right? I enjoy designing the stuff, and I hope that some of you enjoy it too. I have sold exactly two buttons, a mousepad and a coffee mug – the mousepad and coffee mug was bought by a good friend.

LOCAL EFFORTS

An independent bookstore in Oslo, Tronsmo, is selling my book. They bought five copies and have not asked for a re-up, so I can only assume that they’re not sold out. I have also been interviewed by local media: a newspaper and a magazine. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But I honestly can’t say that it’s done anything to boost the sale.

I expect and accept that building an audience and platform as an author will take time, patience, a lot of hard work and a fair amount of money. I look at my Flickr account and take heart. I became a member in 2006 and was very active for a few years. When my efforts turned to writing, more than photography, I stopped uploading new work at a regular interval. But before I quit Flickr (at a regular basis) I had already uploaded a considerable body of work. In my absence, my followers have grown from some 3-400 (if I remember correctly) when I left it in 2010-2011ish to a whooping 1262 in my absence. I like to believe that if you work hard and make something worthwhile people will take notice… Sooner or later.

An Obelus Wheeze – Cover and Blurb

Lee has fled Chert in pursuit of the traitor Dan. She’s heading for Mexico accompanied by her guide, Snake Girl – she can’t decide which is worse: the climate or the company.

An Obelus Wheeze is a road trip on horseback – across scorching deserts and freezing mountains. The outlaw known as Crazy Cat gets to prove what she’s made of in encounters with bandits and rattlesnakes, crazy ole coots, saddle sores and worst of all: a big city.

An Obelus Wheeze is the second book in the western series The 9 Lives of the Outlaw known as Crazy Cat. It’s a story of harship and love, unforgiving climates and sordid sons of bitches.

-Recommended for mature readers.-

Release date TBA early 2015

Sign up to the mailing list HERE to be sure not to miss it.

Beta Readers are Wizards

Something magical happens when I send a draft to a beta reader. I’m not talking about the feedback I will receive once the beta reader has read it, or how useful it can be to let the text rest for a while before going over it again – I mean the very instant that mail is sent or that envelope is posted. It’s like waving a wand and abracadabra: New eyes! Typos pop up from the text like mutated gophers. Purple prose wash onto a beach of shame like so much flotsam and jetsam. Paper doll characters bloat and explode upon the page – setting themselves up for execution or refurbishing. Stilted dialog sticks  out like thorns, and logical flaws make themselves known in deafening roars.

It’s hard to explain, but knowing that your words are being read by others makes a difference in how you read them yourself. I’m not saying that I’ll spot every little flaw myself before the wizards get a chance to point them out, but the knowledge of those eyes makes a remarkable difference.

An Obelus Wheeze is in its third round of being read by new eyes – the final round before I make the finishing touches and send it off to proofreading. Each round is different and serves a purpose in the editing process.

  • Round one: I send the first draft to a trusted friend who is also a writer. I almost feel sorry for her for doing this – the first draft is the text in a fetus stage, not something that is ready for the world. But because of the magic of beta readers it serves its purpose, and I am grateful for early feedback if there should be any major plot holes to see about.
  • Round two: A revised draft is sent to another trusted friend who has an eye like a magnifying glass. It is almost annoying how good she is at pointing out anything awry – from characters acting out of character to displaced descriptions of nature. She makes me feel dumb as shit, and I love her for it.
  • Round three: After implementing changes based on feedback from round two, I send the text to a bigger selection of beta readers – six people (this time), to be precise. At this stage, I pretty much consider the book done, what is left to do is merely minor tweaks – or so I hope. I will, of course, take any feedback to heart, but what I’m crossing my fingers for are thumb ups and hell yeahs.

I find that editing a book is a fluid process that takes its own sweet time. I spend more than twice the amount of time editing the text than I do writing the first draft. I don’t have a count on how many times I go over the text – in the end there are far more drafts behind the final result than the ones the beta readers get to read. And in the end the book would not have been the same without the wizards.

Ine – Chasing Cats

My good friend and favorite model has made a photo book with a selection of the art and erotica images she has created during the last five years with fifty photographers from around the world. I am extremely proud to have several of my photographs featured in the book.

One of the photos from our first shoot in 2008

Buy the book here and make sure to be quick about  – there are only 200 copies! You’ll also find luxury editions which include prints signed by both Ingvild and yours truly.

Cats chasing Ine

THE FIRST DRAFT BEAST

I’m currently editing my second novel: An Obelus Wheeze, the follow-up to Embers at Dawn. Before I started editing An Obelus Wheeze I completed Embers at Dawn, and then jotted down the first draft for the third book in the series The 9 Lives of the Outlaw known as Crazy Cat. I find that this method works well for me (write a draft, and then edit the forerunner). It gives me distance to what I have previously written before starting the process of editing.

Writing a first draft and editing are two very different kinds of beasts. I have realized that there is no point in even trying to write a perfect first draft – I tried it with Embers at Dawn about four years ago – it just ain’t gonna happen.

The first draft is the story in a hairball form, coughed into words by a rambling author. You will commit logical flaws, unsavoury purple prose and less than cohesive sentences. Your characters will be rag-dolls failing at the seams and with too little stuffing, exchanging halting dialogues and performing a series of mundane tasks in between the actual story (that you will later edit out). But that’s fine. That’s exactly what a first draft should be: a rabid, bastard of a beast.

It took me two first drafts of novels before I figured out that a first draft is just that: a first draft. The important thing is to get the story down. The polishing comes later. What I found out after drafting the second book, and then returning to the first book to edit it was:

  • My writing had improved
  • I had somewhere along the way found “my voice”
  • I had gotten to truly know my characters (the only way to truly get to know them is spending time with them)
  • I had made absurd flaws in the story that I didn’t notice while writing
  • I had made absurd flaws that I didn’t notice until someone else pointed them out to me
  • It doesn’t matter if I write by hand, type on my computer or tap it into my iPad – the words and story will be the same
  • It doesn’t matter if I’m at home, on the bus, or on a lunch break. I don’t need a room of my own to write… sort of speak

I have also learned that:

  • Wordcount is a curse. Trying to fill whatever metre you’ve set yourself will only result in a whole lot of mundane noise – that you’ll banish during the editing process anyway
  • There is no point in commencing the editing process as soon as you’ve completed the first draft – you’ll be blind to the text and wrongly think that the rabid beast is not in need of medical attention
  • Paper is king. Red pen is the mighty queen. Get the beast out of the computer and let it breathe – it is so much easier to spot sore paws and the bubblegum stuck in its fur that way

A friend of mine recently finished the first draft of her debut novel. I told her time and time again to quit fiddling with the first few chapters – to get on with the damn story – but of course she didn’t listen. I wouldn’t have listened to me neither, but this is what she wrote on Twitter after finally completing the first draft: “Rewriting is so exciting! If I’d known how much it’d change and how much it would improve, I’d have jotted down the draft sooner!”

I guess that that very first of first drafts is something every author has to face alone and come out of it facepalming herself just like every other noob before her. Seems like none of that “just get it done” business makes any sense until you’ve started editing the damn thing.

What I’m trying to say here is that the first draft is a feral mongrel, as well it should be. Spawning that beast will not teach you how to write, teaching it to sit and not shit on the floor will, or in other words: editing will transform that wild puppy into a (hopefully) nicely groomed champion.