Using Sidelines to Fund Self Publishing Ventures

I finally think I’ve narrowed down the most stressful aspect of self publishing — at least for myself. Writing isn’t hard. Promotion isn’t hard (when I’m not being excessively lazy). Formatting isn’t even that hard.

You know what is hard? Coughing up the dough needed to publish the most professional product possible. In the grand scheme of things, $300 isn’t really that big of an investment. But when you’ve got a baby on the way and are living off only one stable income, the idea of parting with any chunk of cash is insomnia-inducing at best.

Unfortunately, getting a job while nine months pregnant without a car and while living on the economy in Germany is much easier said than done. So I did what I always do when I get the sudden burst of ambition to up my income: consulted Dr. Google and circled the drain for a few hours contemplating jumping head first into dangerous sideline projects like stock market investment and domain flipping. Of course, diving into those kinds ventures without experience is a great way to break your neck — er, bank.

What’s a girl to do?

I briefly contemplated returning to the soul-sucking world of freelance writing. One click on Elance and the disillusionment came rushing back. Yeah. No thank you, not interested. Finally I’ve settled on two work-from-home ventures that so far have become promising prospects:

  1. Short Romance Writing: Yes, I’m funding my writing by… well writing. Romance, especially steamy romance, has this weirdly lenient readership that is willingly to pay $2.99 for a 3-6k word story. I tested this theory by releasing a hot and humorous romance short of 5k words last week. It’s already sold four copies. That’s $8.36 in royalties. That’s right, this piece that took me less than a day to craft has earned more royalties in direct sales than my novella that took me a month to write. Want to know how much I invested in my short story? Four dollars on a stock photograph. That’s it. It’s already profitable (even if marginally so). Now I’ve set aside one day a week to publish a new short (serialized with the intention of bundling, of course). Sadly, that one day will probably be more lucrative than the six others I dedicate to writing what I love.
  2. Cover Designing: (This is where I do that lovely shameless plug thing. Don’t judge me too harshly.) A couple of days ago I was doodling in photoshop, as I often do whilst I’m suffering from a bout of procrastination, when I got the idea to turn my mouse scribbles into pre-made cover art for other self publishers. I took the idea to my favorite forum and was encouraged enough by the feedback to open up yet another website: http://www.premade-covers.com. I can usually create 1-2 designs a day and am selling the covers at a flat rate of $35 per. The beauty of the whole thing is that the doodles are something I do for fun anyway when I’m in that distracted stage of writing. Even one sale will make the venture profitable (and joy, I’m currently working with my first potential client).

ButterflyF AppleF FlowerF

 

In total, I spend about two days a week on sideline projects and the other five dedicated to working Piper’s Peace. This minimal investment of my time has actually done wonders in to liberate me from the writer’s block that was dropped on my wrists. Turns out it wasn’t a writer’s block at all, but merely a mental block that couldn’t get around the looming fear that my expenses would eventually out weigh anything I might reap from this project. Now I can get back to writing for the love of it (and leave my shorts to writing for the monetary gain).

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My Writing Process – Or Lack Thereof

2073fa81c928202ce0d5ab38d81be551Because, Sherlock. I miss you in my life.

Lately I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of talking, but very little writing. I’ve chopped it up to simply being a part of my creative process. (Shh, that’s not an excuse, it’s a valid point. I’m pregnant. I win.)

So in honor of procrastination and distraction, I’d like to invite you all in on a glimpse of my process and the long journey from idea to finished product.

Amber’s Ten Step Writing Process:

  1. STEP ONE: Think. For hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Sleep on it. Dream about it. Digest it. Write it at least five times in my head before anything comes out on paper. Have conversations with myself about it. Talk to my characters. Pretend that I am my characters. Be judged by the neighbor.
  2. STEP TWO: Outline. Begins with word vomit ends in a semi-coherent beat sheet broken into loose scenes.
  3. STEP THREE: Work up the motivation to flesh out beats. Usually involves re-reading and editing the beat sheet half a dozen times, great way to circle the drain for a week or two. Sometimes involves reversion to step one. Always involves talking and lots there of. This is the step that my husband likes least.
  4. STEP FOUR: Write. Eventually find the momentum to turn beats into chapters. Talk big. Claim to get three done a day. Get maybe one. Be satisfied with baby steps. Force self not to rush exposition for the sake of finishing. Rush exposition anyway. Self-edit and double the writing time.
  5. STEP FIVE: Edit. AKA send work off to editor and try to suppress the compulsive urge to check email every five minutes for feedback. Sometimes occurs simultaneously with step four. Always results in returning to step four.
  6. STEP SIX: Polish and format. Purchase cover art. Fix indents, page breaks, and copy right page. Nit pick chapter titles. Consider learning how to integrate html links. Don’t bother learning how to integrate html links. Find reasons to delay the inevitable.
  7. STEP SEVEN: Publish. Upload to Amazon. Think of a witty blurb. Re-write blurb five times. Publish even though dissatisfied with blurb. Destroy nail beds while waiting for book to go live. Find every little error in the meantime. Impatiently wait for error free version to upload.
  8. STEP EIGHT: Mental collapse. Refresh report page every five minutes. Fall into crippling self-doubt when sales top out at 3. Second guess everything. Consider walking away. Distract with computer games and Netflix binges.
  9. STEP NINE: Rebuild. Get first review. Feel validated. Slowly gain confidence. Decide I’m a little better than sub par. Come to the conclusion it’s not time to give up quite yet.
  10. STEP TEN: Start over. Take a deep breath. Ignore the daunting task ahead. Starting thinking again.

How about you? What does your writing process look like?

 

Publishing, Proofreading, and Promotion

First of all, WOOHOO – the novella is now live. This post shall begin with a shameless plug, but it’s a free one. Since the free promotional period is a go. So I don’t feel so terribly guilty.

SS3DOWNLOAD ME

Or don’t.

Seriously.

On to the stuff you actually care to read.

As I said before, formatting was fairly easy. Wednesday evening I put my game face on and my little heart got to racing when I finally hit that “Publish” button. Holy goodness, I’d done it. It was on the market. People could search my name and find my work. It is a woefully intimidating feeling. Terrifying. I was suddenly afraid to have people read my work. Enter self doubt and insecurity. Which was only further emphasized when I sold one single copy in that first 24 hours. One.

Then again, it was pointed out to me that I had MISSPELLED MY OWN TITLE. Trust me. There were tears.

After all the minor errors were fixed, I started working on the promotion side of things. First, I posted Samara’s Song on Goodreads. Then I set up my free promotional period for this weekend. I’ll discuss why I decided to go the free route below. Then I got in contact with dozens of book bloggers and queried them for reviews. I’ve heard back from three. Two are interested – one of which I am quite excited about and is slotting me for a post this month. One rejected. But at least they were kind enough to let me know instead of leaving my request to rot, so that was sweet. I’m still waiting to hear back from a plethora of others. Lastly, after social media was hit (excluding facebook – see crippling insecurity), I listed my book on pages such as SnicksList.

Below are some of the hard lessons I’ve learned over the past couple of days.

  • Publishing is not instantaneous. It took about 8 hours for the novella to go live. During which time your book goes into a sort of limbo – it can’t be edited at all. Not the price. Not the manuscript. Not the minor spelling error in your title. The same is true every time you submit a minor change and republish. Right after the novella was published, I decided to change the price. Cue another 8 hours of bashing myself with the keyboard when I realized I had forgotten about the title. I blame pregnancy brain. Which leads to:
  • Proofread all the minor stuff before publishing. Please don’t make my silly boo-boo. It’s embarrassing and unnecessary.
  • Contact book bloggers and promotion sites before your promotion begins. The exception is SnicksList and other sites that only allow you to submit once the book is actually free. If I could go back, I would’ve contacted a dozen sources last week to let them know Samara’s Song would be appearing free this weekend. There’s simply not enough time for them to do anything about it now. Same with blog reviewers, who easily quote 2+ months for a review. While building a platform is obviously something to start early, it’s now been made clear to me that promotion is as well.
  • Free promotion only appears to be a useful tool if you don’t have sales. Free downloads do not affect your sales/borrow rank. In fact, they will hurt your sales rank (if you have one to speak of), because during the promotional period your book isn’t selling. In fact, I’m not entirely sold on the benefits of Select and will likely to be dropping it when my 90 days are up. My main reason for launching the weekend promo is to try to get on an “Also Read” list and hopefully pull in one or two reviews.
  • Refreshing the KDP Report page will drive you crazy. If you’re new and don’t have much of a following yet, just don’t do it. You’ll be more and more bitter with every click of that little f5 button.
  • Deciding on a price point is almost as painful as waiting for a sale. Amazon suggested I put Samara’s Song up for $2.99 – seems pricey for a one hour read, but the greedy side of me was smiling pretty big at that 70% royalty. I’ve now decided that the loss of readership isn’t worth the higher revenue (at least not yet). When the promotional period ends, I will be bumping the novella back down to that sad, sad $0.99.

Needless to say, it’s been a stressful 24 hours. I will check back in to let y’all know how the free promotion turns out and whether or not there is a payoff.

 

Treating self publishing like a business, not a hobby.

First of all, thank you to everyone who’s already added this blog to their follow list. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do a small happy dance when I awoke to find I had 7 followers. I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t still doing a mental happy dance. So thank you. Again.

Moving on.

The issue that I see with a lot of indie authors – apart from the obvious disparity in quality flooding the marketplace – is that they don’t recognize themselves for what they are: entrepreneurs. We are basically our own one man company, and the job is not simply to write. Writing is the easy part.

My plan from the beginning has been to tackle this project head-on with the understanding that I am creating a business. My business plan focuses on the following:

  1. Budgeting for start up costs: Whoa, whoa, whoa man. Self publishing is a free enterprise. There are no start up costs. Technically, sure. You’re right. But unless you’re the jack of all digital trades, I’m gonna have to call bull on that one. The main costs that I have budgeted for pre-release include a professional graphic designer to kick out high-quality cover art, an editor (because even the best of us are blind to our own menial mistakes), and the funds to launch and manage multiple platforms.
  2. Launch and manage multiple platforms: Self publication means self promotion. There’s no way around it. I opened my first ever Twitter account two days ago (follow me @amberfeldkamp, but be warned, I’m dismally awful and awkward at tweeting). I’ve also launched http://www.amberfeldkamp.com as my personal author page and this website to document the process. Shameless plug. Shameless plug. Shameless plug.
  3. Know my target market: Before I even began outlining, I researched what niche market I wanted to write for. Based on my research, there appear to be three general genres with the highest readership: romance, thrillers, and erotic. I blush at the thought of writing erotica. Amber, your modesty is showing. I’m not keen on putting together thrillers and I’m a lover. Romance wins. But I want to target a more specific niche. I’ve noticed the general rise in the dystopian novel, particularly of the YA genre. There appears to be an untapped market for adult dystopian, however, and this just so happens to be a favorite of mine to write.  The end result? A conscious decision to write serial novellas in the adult dystopian romance genre with a focus on reaching an 18-25 year old female readership.
  4. Be ready to invest the time: I wake up (anytime between 7:30 and 10:30, contingent on either the whining of my dog or the kicking of my son) and the first thing on my mind is work. I feed myself, feed my dog, and then plop myself behind the computer and I write. I plan. I outline. I format. I send emails. And. I. Write. For at least seven hours a day. I understand working individuals don’t have the time advantage, but since I do, I plan to utilize that time to the best of my abilities and not allow myself to be passive.
  5. Be prolific: As far as I can tell, the best way to achieve success in self publishing is to have both quality and quantity on your side. One book is not likely to constitute a living. One book a month, on the other hand, and now we’re talking.

So that’s the bare bones of the business plan we’re working with right now. Time willing, the first novella will launch sometime this weekend.

As I said before, I want to be as transparent as possible with this whole process. That being said, there are a million and one cogs involved in keeping this thing turning. So if there is a particular topic you are interested in that I’ve failed to put on display, don’t hesitate to click that little “Ask Me Anything” button up yonder and shoot an email my way.

Self Publishing – Show me the numbers!

A quick google search will reveal a plethora of articles claiming that self-publishing is the route for struggling authors to take in the new age. Just look at H.M. Ward who turned down millions of dollars in advances in favor of self-publishing. Or the million other success stories that seem to be cropping up all over the web.

Clearly those of us who are not yet millionaires are doing something wrong. Right? Well, that’s if the all the hype is to be believed. The honest truth is that these success stories do not account for the masses, and the majority of self-published titles are swept away and buried beneath an ocean of rubbish. Not to mention how rare it is for “successful” self-publishers to share their actual figures.

Okay, so maybe demanding to know someone’s income is not exactly tactful. But I’m not exactly the queen of tactfulness, so I will cross that line. We simply can’t ignore that this information is relevant. The few transparent blogs/threads I could find of self-publishers boldly exposing their entire process, expenses, and profits I absolutely devoured. And then I retreated to my corner in bitter disappointment when they stopped updating, returning to live vicariously through the google success stories overflowing on the web.

After months of wading waist-deep in that optimistic muck, I’ve decided it’s about time to get my hands dirty and figure out this whole process for myself. And I’d like to invite you along for the ride. You, the indie author who’s wondering what happens when an untested manuscript hits the kindle market. You who’s unsure where to even start when it comes to marketing and promotion. You, the skeptic who doesn’t buy into the hype. I am right there with you.

My name is Amber Feldkamp and I am an untried author with great ambition and probably a little to much optimism. This blog denotes the start of my self-publishing journey. I have a plan, a platform, a plot, and a promise: complete transparency. I offer up my successes and failures without complaint or censor. If everything goes to hell in a hand basket, you will be the first to know – well, after I cry into my husband’s shoulder for an hour or two.

Hopefully together we can learn what works and what doesn’t and if self-publishing really is a viable career path for the modern writer.