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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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.

IndieReader Review of Embers at Dawn

Charles Baker has reviewed Embers at Dawn for IndieReader. Here’s what he’s got to say about it:

Crazy Cat, also known as Lee, also known as Lily, is one of the toughest and baddest outlaws around, and she seems to be wanted everywhere she goes. Unfortunately, at this current stop, she finds that the marshal already recognizes her from the wanted posters. But she has one thing on her side: he’s a crooked marshal, brutal and violent and extremely hated by the townsfolk. So as it is with outlaws and crooked law men, there are some serious shoot-outs. If you like your Westerns dark and morally ambiguous, J.C. Loen’s EMBERS AT DAWN is plenty of both.

The protagonist of EMBERS AT DAWN is, quite frankly, a frustrating, brilliant and brilliantly frustrating character. In the few Westerns, or similar types of stories, that actually feature female outlaws, often the point of the story is this hidden sensitive side she has, or alternately what a cold and heartless she-devil she is. Lee is neither. While she does occasionally show her vulnerabilities in the story, it’s hardly the point of the narrative, and most of what she reveals in these moments is how little vulnerability she seems to feel. But she’s still a well-rounded character, seemingly at times so self-aware and at other times oblivious. She sort of falls in love, but not in a way that betrays her character.

Like a lot of historical fiction, EMBERS AT DAWN is meant to be an immersive experience, and generally the dialect of the book is one thing that really transports, with its Western-style mixture of roughness and elegance: “’Shut up, Stub. We best get this situation sorted and done with afore they come trying to torch up this place again.’ ‘Yous been saying so since afore Christmas. All I’ve heard is a lot of talk. I ain’t seen any doings,’ Cal said.” The first-person narration, strangely enough, doesn’t always match Lee’s dialect, but it often achieves a terrible poetry that sings out quite well: “Three strangers rode into town, trailing a fourth horse that had two lifeless bodies dangling about its flanks,” though more rarely it gets caught up in its own purpleness: “The sun kept rising, glowing through the branches, setting the dead tree alight with an incandescent hue.” But overall, the writing is good, more matching the quality of the former sentence than the latter.

EMBERS AT DAWN is a fairly earthy vision of the American Old West, never shying away from violence and vulgarity, but also not quite as nihilistic as it first seems.

Happy Birthday, Lee!

In the world of the outlaw known as Crazy Cat, it’ s Lee’s birthday today! Huzzah! Had she been alive (not that I’m saying that she ain’t!) she would have been 167 years old. She would no doubt have celebrated with drinking whiskey and shooting guns. Both fine activities I fully endorse, although not necessarily combined.

T-Shirt, tote bag, button and postcard featuring the sketch of Lee is available here: http://www.zazzle.com/crazycatdrygoods.

In the event of Lee’s birthday, I’m giving away Embers at Dawn (kindle edition) for free today and tomorrow. Get yours here: US or here: UK

Crazy Cat Dry Goods and Sundries

bildeI’ve opened up a Zazzle store dedicated to merchandise inspired by my western series The 9 Lives of the Outlaw known as Crazy Cat. My goal is always to make something I would wear or use myself.

bilde-2 I’ve ordered a few items to check the quality of the print, and have been very pleased with what I’ve received. More designs are in the making, I’ll let y’all know when something new is out.
The Embers at Dawn T-shirt is available here.

The Cover

I’m thrilled to announce that the cover for Embers at Dawn has gotten a positive mention in The Book Designer’s monthly e-book Cover Design Award. I quote: “Very atmospheric cover that I’m sure will have the desired effect.” This is what I wrote about the cover: “I designed the cover myself. I’m a professional photographer, so it was an easy choice to take that particular job myself. The book is the first in a series. The series’ caption at the bottom is meant to be reused on the upcoming books. It’s a western novel. The face on the cover is the protagonist.”

Evolution of a cover: From rough sketch – via mock-ups – to finished result.

Designing the cover for my debut novel has been a meandering journey in sketches and mock-ups. I’ve been working on the concept for the cover art for almost as long as it has taken me to complete the writing (I have a lot more sketches and mock-ups than the ones shown here). I knew early on that I wanted Lee’s face on the cover, featuring her whiskers and ever present cigarette. I dabbled with the idea of hiring someone to draw the cover, but I eventually decided that I wanted a photograph on the cover and to do the job myself.

Because Embers at Dawn is the first in a series, I wanted a style that could be easily copied onto the upcoming books. The idea is to have a different close-up image of Lee’s face on the cover of each book. Ingvild Eiring has kindly agreed to pose as Lee throughout the entire series. I’m aware of the fact that the title Embers at Dawn is somewhat cryptic, so it was important to have the series’ title in focus too. The “label” (at the bottom of the cover) will be reused on future releases in the series.

To emphasize the western genre I used fonts I bought from Walden Font Co. It’s the first time I’ve paid for fonts, but I’m very glad that I did. I made several mock-ups of the cover using whatever fonts I had at hand, but they didn’t quite “fit” the gritty western style I was looking for. Walden Font Co. have also been kind enough to feature the cover art for Embers at Dawn in their customer gallery. Thanks guys!

If you’d like to wear the gorgeous Ingvild/Lee, I’ve made a T-Shirt featuring the cover photo that can be bought here: Cafepress