Your First 10K Readers

Your 1st 10K Readers-3

Back in May of 2015 when I first got my miracle and my ebook sales started exploding in the UK, the only action I could trace any of that success back to was the changes I made to my books’ keywords on Amazon. I’d watched a video by Nick Stephenson on how Amazon’s true function wasn’t as a book store but as a search engine. He gave some tips on how to make your books more searchable, and therefore more accessible to readers. This is the only change I made prior to the jump in sales and I will be forever grateful for that bit of free advice.

I’ve blogged several times about the steep decline in sales I’ve experienced since November of 2016. The world was a little preoccupied–and frankly, still is–and people were not all that interested in reading for leisure. The indies who did survive the slump were only able to do so because they excelled at something I’ve barely even tried–marketing.

I’ve experimented with Bookbub, which was a success. I’ve also tried using Amazon ads for a week, which was not. And I’ve created a few FB ads but got cold feet when the results weren’t instant and took them down. It’s scary to spend money up front when there’s no guarantee of a return. But what I’ve come to realize is that it’s also necessary.

I have plenty of books in my backlist so there’s no reason that I shouldn’t be able to achieve a relatively high ($3,000-$7,000/month) and steady income. But writing a lot of books, even a lot of really good books, is no longer enough. I have to get those books in front of people and not just any people but the RIGHT people.

I have no idea how to do that so I’m taking a leap of faith and taking Nick Stephenson’s course on how to find your first 10K readers. It mostly covers how to build and maintain your mailing list through the use of targeted ads and reader magnets. I’m usually opposed to paying for information like this because so much of marketing is hit or miss. But if I’m going take the financial risk of enrolling in an online course, if I’m going to try something different in the hopes that it will change my life, I’m going to do it with someone I trust. Someone whose previous advice allowed me to go from selling 0 copies of my books a day to 100-200.

It’s been one year since I’ve seen those kinds of numbers in my dashboard…and I miss them terribly. To be honest, doing nothing at this point is even more of a risk. So over the next few months I’m going to offer myself as a case study on Nick’s course. I won’t be sharing detailed information from his modules since that would be stealing. But I will be talking about the changes I’m making and how they’re affecting my bottom line. If the results are good maybe you’ll be motivated to try the course for yourself.

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What To Do When You Realize Your Idea Isn’t Original Part II

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A long, long time ago when I was working on the first book in The Girl In Between series I came across a newly released traditionally published book that shared several similarities with my novel. Of course, I completely panicked and started rethinking everything to the point of almost driving myself mad.

And then I came to the realization that lots of books have things in common–characters, setting, plot, conflict. There will always be an aspect of one of my stories that someone else has attempted to explore before. The difference? Well, the explorer, of course.

No one else has lived my life and therefore no one else has my same experiences to draw on for inspiration. No one has my voice or my perspective. No one is me. And that is how I was able to push through and continue with that series.

But then disaster struck again, only this time my WIP didn’t just share similarities with the traditionally published book I came across. The synopsis for both were practically identical.

Here, I’ll show you…

Rough synopsis for my WIP, which I used to teach my students about stakes & inciting incident during the outlining process:

Maite has just lost her twin brother in a tragic accident. His organs are donated, saving several lives. One of them is Phoenix who’s been waiting for a heart transplant for almost six months. He wants more than anything to meet the family of his organ donor and thank them for their son’s amazing gift but Maite and her parents are still in the midst of their grief and can’t imagine anything more final than hearing their son’s heart beating in someone else’s chest.

Even though they denied a meeting with him, Phoenix manages to find out the identities of his organ donor’s family. He learns that Maite is in his freshmen photography class and even though he knows he should keep his distance, something else, something stronger keeps pulling him in her direction. After partnering up for a semester-long project Maite and Phoenix slowly begin to develop feelings for one another.

Shortly after discovering that she is in love with Phoenix, Maite also discovers his true identity and realizes that he’s been keeping his connection to her twin brother a secret. Feeling betrayed and confused Maite is faced with the decision to forgive her soul mate or lose him forever.

And here’s the synopsis for Tamsyn Murray’s new novel, Instructions for a Secondhand Heart:

Jonny knows better than anyone that life is full of cruel ironies. He’s spent every day in a hospital hooked up to machines to keep his heart ticking. Then when a donor match is found for Jonny’s heart, that turns out to be the cruelest irony of all. Because for Jonny’s life to finally start, someone else’s had to end.

That someone turns out to be Neve’s twin brother, Leo. When Leo was alive, all Neve wanted was for him (and all his glorious, overshadowing perfection) to leave. Now that Leo’s actually gone forever, Neve has no idea how to move forward. Then Jonny walks into her life looking for answers, her brother’s heart beating in his chest, and everything starts to change.

Together, Neve and Jonny will have to face the future, no matter how frightening it is, while also learning to heal their hearts, no matter how much it hurts.

And cue mental breakdown…now.

I was absolutely gutted.

This…this was SO MUCH worse than the first time I discovered another book similar to my own. Because this book is practically identical!

FGHSHSGSNUDH!!!

That’s how I felt in that moment because what choice did I have but to shelve my novel? After having already spent years daydreaming about these characters and learning what makes them tick. After grieving the loss of Maite’s brother right alongside her. After diving deep into existential questions with Phoenix. Like…why do some people get to live while others don’t? And what is our responsibility to those who’ve passed on too soon?

And why, oh, why did the universe plant this story seed inside me if another writer was about the publish the exact same thing?

Did I mention how crushed I was?

But worse than that…I was confused.

I’m a very intuitive person. I’m a strict student of Fate and constantly in pursuit of my purpose. I look for signs everywhere and I usually follow them. So far, I’ve felt like Fate and I have pretty much been on the same page. But now I find myself knee deep in a very emotionally taxing project, which I now have to abandon because someone else has reached the finish line first.

And my only recourse is to CHOOSE to see it as another sign. Maybe that sign is that the next book in my queue, the one I’ve decided to query, MUST be written now. It can’t wait. And the universe had to practically shout it at me before I finally noticed.

So Fate never abandoned me. And just because I’m abandoning this story doesn’t mean I won’t be able to tell it eventually. Because even though it seems identical on the surface, below that surface is an ocean, the depths of which only I can explore.

We Are Not Alone

austin-chan-275638I’ve been in desperate need of a reminder that I am not the only person on the planet trying to make art their full time gig. I know I’m not alone because I’ve met dozens of artists with secret identities that allow them to function in the “real world”. But sometimes it can feel like everyone else is making progress in leaps and bounds while you’re backsliding into obscurity.

The biggest perpetrator of artist envy? Twitter. People rarely tweet about the bad writing day/week/month/year they’ve had and instead only hop online to share their triumphs. When other people’s successes are all you see it can make your own failures seem even more devastating.

What I’ve realized over the past several months is that only seeing when an artist has reached the finish line helps absolutely no one. Other writers might think that celebratory tweets about landing an agent or a book deal or a million dollar contract might motivate the masses, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps. But the truth is these things are not helpful for an artist in the trenches. These announcements do not inspire me. They make me want to crawl into a hole and eat an entire tub of ice cream.

So if watching others reach the finish line isn’t really all that helpful…what is?

Well, the journey of course. The good, the bad, the ugly; the twists and turns and falling off a cliff that you didn’t realize was just around the bend.

I’ve been chronicling my journey here for almost 5 years now! But recently I’ve been gripped by this new idea for a massive, totally out of my comfort zone project. One that involves a nonfiction book, a podcast, and possibly setting up a Patreon. Oh, and talking to other human beings. Like face to face and not over the internet. A notion both absolutely terrifying and…somewhat exciting? I don’t know what’s gotten into me but I’ve already written the foreword for this thing and I really think it’s the next step of this journey, which I will continue to share the good/bad/ugly of, but possibly in a way I never would have expected.

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How I lost over $150,000

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Maggie Stiefvater recently wrote a post about the implications of piracy on her work. After receiving a mind-bogglingly low royalty statement she had a hunch that piracy was to blame so she and her brother conducted a little experiment to test her theory. They created a dummy file for her novel, The Raven King and uploaded it to pirating sites shortly before the book’s release.

Not long after people were chatting online about how they’d downloaded the file and discovered that it was a fake. And yet, despite the plea Maggie placed in the back of the dummy file for readers to procure her novels in a responsible and ethical way, these people went on to ask each other where to find a copy of the actual story. They persisted in their piracy without regard for how that choice was negatively affecting, not only Maggie’s livelihood, but also her ability to continue writing books in a world her readers had grown to love.

I used to be pretty ambivalent towards the notion of piracy. I couldn’t imagine there being enough people out there willing to steal my books for it to affect my bottom line. I mean, out of the millions of books available on pirating sites, who would seek out mine? And how many would do it often enough for it to infringe on my ability to earn a living?

Turns out, that number is 76,508.

After creating an account on http://www.blasty.com, a platform where content creators can monitor when their content is stolen and/or used for phishing purposes, I was not only able to find the websites that were illegal distributing my books but I was also able to see how many times they had been downloaded, which turns out is 76,508 times.

76,508.

My books range in price from Free to $4.99. Ironically, my free book, The Girl In Between, made less appearances on the pirating sites than the rest of my backlist. So most of those downloads actually equated to lost sales. Lost sales to the tune of $153,016 if you’re being conservative and $381,774 if you’re calculating at the high end of my backlist.

And here I am, begging bloggers to review my new release just so I can afford my new house payment. All because 76,508 people decided that my art–something I spend 8-12 months and countless painstaking hours creating–should be free.

This is not me taking a stance on whether or not art should be free. I believe that people should have access to good quality books regardless of their socioeconomic status or where they live. For many, this can be accomplished by visiting one’s local library. Most of my books are available via Overdrive, which many libraries subscribe too.

However, I know that this isn’t an option for everyone and I want my readers to know that you can ALWAYS send me an email requesting a book if you’re unable to pay. I’ve given away thousands of free copies of my work and I love connecting with readers this way. In fact, I made this offer in my latest newsletter and encouraged readers who couldn’t afford to purchase a copy of my new book to email me so I could send them a copy in the format of their choice.

BUT, these free books I’m giving away to readers aren’t the same as a free book pirated from a website. Why? Because I’m actually getting something in exchange–a connection, feedback, a relationship that may lead to one of those readers encouraging a friend or family member to buy the book or requesting it at their local library. I gain a loyal reader who may actually buy one of my future books when they’re in a better financial position to do so.

The point is, I want readers to have access to my books but I also want to be able to make a living someday doing what I love. That becomes an impossibility when thousands of readers choose to download my books for free rather than pay for them.

 

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Permission

jon-tyson-195064I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone and trying a few “go-to” marketing methods other indies swear by. It feels strange to be paying for advertising. My brain wants to label the act a failure. It wants to label me one too. And I didn’t realize how much of that “failure” was self-prohecised until I watched Ksenia Anske’s live Facebook video about how to get out of your own way so that you can start making sales and building a loyal readership.

The moment she said that the rejection was all in my head, manifesting simply because that’s what I was afraid of and therefore expected…because for some sad sick reason that’s what I thought I deserved, it all clicked.

Pen & Xander is the best novel I’ve ever written. There is no reason it shouldn’t find an audience. In fact, it already has one…they’re all just eagerly waiting for me to find them and share this story with them. That’s what I have to believe if this book is going to have any semblance of life. I have to believe that this story is exactly what many people are looking for. That I’ve written something worth shouting about.

So I started doing something scary. Something I usually NEVER do.

I actually gave myself permission to send the novel to a few friends. There were no strings attached but I have to stop assuming that the people who care about me the most are the ones I must shield my art from at all costs. Usually, when I publish something new, I tell no one but the internet. Very few family members have read my work and that’s only because they found it on their own. But it wasn’t until today that I realized my secrecy doesn’t come from a place of not wanting to be an icky sales person. It comes from my fear that my stories aren’t good enough.

And this fear fuels every decision I make about my books. I always claimed that I didn’t need to spend money on marketing; that it was a waste. The truth is I didn’t think my books were worth the investment. I preferred to give away copies to new readers than to ask them to spend their own money not because I was trying to be generous but because I didn’t think my books were worth the money.

It makes absolutely no sense, especially after all the time and creative energy I’ve spent over the past six years. In that time I’ve written eight novels. How do I still not believe in myself? How am I still struggling with the same doubts I had as a teenager? Maybe I’ll always struggle with my fear of failure. But maybe there’s a way to harness that fear and use it as fuel. Maybe it starts with acknowledging that it’s there and then doing the scary thing anyway. It’s how Pen survives. By pretending. So I will pretend. Every time I hit send, every time I share my story with someone new, every time I sit down to write. Until  my convictions are stronger than my fears and I’m no longer running from the success I deserve.

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