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There Is No Secret

This post was originally written for and posted at Yamina Today. I’m reposting it here in the hopes that it might help you in your self-publishing journey.

What is the secret to self-publishing success? How did writers like Amanda Hocking and John Locke come from nowhere and become USA Today and/or New York Times best-selling authors?

With the launch of Absolute Liability (Southern Fraud book 1), I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a bit of success by landing in the Amazon Kindle Top 100, and since I began self-publishing in September 2010, I’ve sold more than 28,500 books. Though I’m nowhere near the league of Hocking or Locke, people still ask me how did I it. What’s the secret?

The secret is that there is no secret.

I’ll tell you exactly what I did, how much money I spent, and how many books I sold. Will replicating my process gain you the same result? I have no idea because there will always be an element of luck involved. If there were a formula for publishing success, every book would be a best seller, and that’s just not the case.

Book Preparation Notes

  • I wrote the best book I could, and then I put it through a professional editorial process, including a story/content editor, proofreader, and multiple cold readers. (I am an editor by trade, so much of the cost was deferred through exchange of services, but I spent $200.)
  • I purchased art and tried to design a cover that, while being true to the genre, also stood out and said something definite about my book. (Art cost $100.)
  • I tried to give more than the reader expected in terms of interior/ebook design by adding chapter-head and section-break images as one might see in a professional paperback or hardcover. (Images included in the cost of art above.)

Platform Notes

  • I already had an active following on Twitter and Facebook, which was crucial to spreading the word.
  • I had an existing blog and had the honor to participate in several group blogs. I also took any guest blog or interview that I was offered.
  • I designed a flash website specifically for the Southern Fraud series, and I included a contact form.
  • I try very hard to respond to all my email from readers.

Marketing Notes

  • I decided to price low. In comparison to what most traditional authors earn from a $6.99 mass market paperback, $.35 on a $.99 ebook is a good deal.
  • I chose to do a big launch on the weekend of July 15. I combined a 2-day sponsorship at Kindle Nation Daily with 1-day sponsorship at Kindle Boards and a sponsorship at the Frugal eReader. I also had a charity drive for Ride 2 Recovery, which helps facilitate the rehabilitation of wounded service members. (Launch cost $245, plus my donation to R2R.)
  • I sent ebook ARCs to book bloggers for honest reviews on sites like Amazon, BN, and Goodreads.
  • After the launch, I used a free voucher for Google Adwords, which ran from 30 days, and purchased one $30 ad on Goodreads.
  • Since those ads expired, I have done nothing but the occasional guest blog.

The launch of Absolute Liability peaked at a rank of 430 on the Amazon Kindle list. After that, the book slowly began to build momentum and landed in the top 100. If you’d like to read a breakdown of weekly sales numbers, please visit my blog.

I hope you can use some facet of my experience to help your books, but there’s just no guarantee that replicating what I’ve done will work. It may not even work for me next time. Also, a great deal depends on your precise market. What may work for a thriller may not work for historical fiction, and a book in a niche genre may not have an audience big enough to hit overall best-sellers lists and may warrant a completely different strategy.

If I could boil it down to a three bullet points, I’d say these are the most critical factors to success:

  • Professionalism: hold yourself to high standards.
  • Risk: be willing to face the possibility of total failure.
  • Patience: work until you get lucky.

I’d love to hear what has worked for you and what hasn’t. What have you done to share your books with a wider audience?

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