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.

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The Process

My debut novel is at the brink of release. I ordered my second proof copy yesterday and expect that Embers at Dawn is ready to meet its audience once I’ve looked it over one last time.

I’m not going to tell you it was easy. It’s been a long, meandering road…

The project of writing a book didn’t truly kick off until a friend of mine, Isabell Lorentzen, gave me the book How to write any book in 28 days by Nick Daws. It took me more than 28 days to write a book. To be more precise: the first draft took me roughly six months to write. The entire process has taken me almost three years.

Daws’s book gave me a kick in the butt and provided valuable information on how to write a book. It was never my intention to produce a completed body of work in less than a month, but a book-length text became more manageable after learning about how to plan it and how to find time to write.

The first draft was the easy part… And the hard part. I had my story jotted down, it was right there, but that’s just it: it was jotted down. I had a lot of polishing ahead of me.

I went over the first draft for the first time a month or two after completion. I was surprised to find that I had written a first draft that needed very little editing. Then I left it alone for about six months, while writing the first draft of the second book in the 9 Lives series. When I picked it up again, I realized that writing another book had improved my writing skills and that the manuscript needed a lot more work.

At that point I had no idea how many times I would go over the manuscript. The mere thought of poring over the same words over and over again bored me to bits. I have come a long way since then … I don’t hold that thought no more.

Isabell, my writer friend who gave me the Daws book, started writing her own book at about the same time as I started writing mine. We read each others work right from the outset. I’d send her a new chapter as soon as it was done, and she’d do the same. It was good to have someone close who was in the same situation as myself during the early stages of the manuscript. We’d give each other constructive criticism, but even more importantly: we’d show enthusiasm for each others work.

Many drafts later it was time to find beta readers. I’m fortunate enough to know a fair few, all right, I’ll be honest: nerds, who are well acquainted with everything from language to shooting irons. It was scary to allow new people to read my manuscript, but it was something I had to face sooner or later. I consulted their feedback, integrated what I agreed with into the text and kept on editing.

Because I know all these nerds who excel in their fields of knowledge I decided to not hire a professional editor. I know, against the advice of every self publishing guide out there, but I’m confident it was money well saved. I did, however, spend money on proofreading.

As I have mentioned in a previous post: I went for Scribendi. I did not regret it. The feedback I got was beyond anything I expected, or even dared to hope for. This is not meant as an advertisement for Scribendi, but I couldn’t be happier with the work that was done. They had clearly hand-picked a proofreader who is familiar with the genre. The manuscript that was returned to me had been formatted to perfection and was chock-full of valuable feedback and comments. Of course, grammatical errors and punctuation issues had been dealt with too.

The book was almost done, but I still had more work ahead of me in the formatting department. Formatting the book to get published as a paperback through CreateSpace has been somewhat tedious, but not very difficult. I’d advise anyone formatting a book to consult guides on how to format. It’s incredibly easy to not take notice of details that makes a world of difference, if you want a product that looks professional. As I mentioned earlier: I have ordered my second proof copy. I didn’t order that second copy because the first was perfect.

Having pretty much declared the paper version of the book done, I started looking at formatting the book for Kindle. I don’t know how many times I’ve read about how easy it is, but I give up. I’m going to pay the professionals at CreateSpace to do it for me. It’s not very expensive and I want to be certain that the book looks good on all reading devices.

I can think of only one element in the publishing process more vexing than formatting: dealing with the tax issue. I decided to get an EIN. Reading about how much time and effort some people have spent obtaining an ITIN; it was an easy decision to get an EIN. As far as I’ve been able to research, there are no drawbacks about choosing an EIN, rather than an ITIN.

Obtaining an EIN is fairly easy. I simply called IRS, talked to a woman for about 15 minutes and at the end of the conversation I had my EIN, ready to be used immediately. The conversation consisted for the most part of me spelling my name and address, and her reading it back to me. I waited 50 minutes to get through, but I called on one of the first days IRS was open again after the government shutdown.

Once I had my EIN, I filled out the W-8BEN form and mailed it to CreateSpace. I later filled out the same form online. If I’m not mistaken, I came across it on my KDP page and figured it could do no harm to fill it out there too. Shortly after, I received an email from Amazon that stated that my withholding rate had been set to 0%.

I considered pursuing the traditional route of agents and publishing houses, but after a lot of research and serious consideration, I found it exceedingly easy to choose the self publishing trail.

I like the control I have with self publishing. The fact that I’ll get paid more per book than in traditional publishing is not a dazzling lure, but a good sales point. However, I must admit: if a publishing house at some point shows interest in my work and offers me a reasonable deal, I might not decline.

Yup, that’s about it. Only one thing left to do: get the son of a bitch goddamned published.