Passion To Profit: A Journey In Self-Publishing

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Passion to Profit

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Decisions to be made

There are many people who have been able to successfully ‘game’ the self-publishing world to reach a #1 best seller in a given category in a matter of days. I was never in this for the quick wins. My dream is to be the next Margaret Atwood, or the next Stephen King, or, perhaps more appropriately, the first MK Williams. I wanted to take the stories that I had been jotting down and writing and share them with the world in the hopes that they would inspire others, and that yes, maybe one day, I would be one of the well known and respected authors in American Literature.

Getting to that definition of my dream was a long journey. And getting to the publication of my first book to where I am now has been another journey altogether. I feel like I can finally say that I am ready to accept that I can have a dream and that I can profit from that dream without selling out. One key thing to keep in mind is that no matter what your driving motivation is you need to define what success looks like for you. Whether you want to become the  next J.K. Rowling, or just make enough income off of writing to retire, you need to go into this process with a clear vision of what success is so you will know it when you get there.

In my book, passion and profit had to be separate

I spent the first few years of my professional career in a job where I wasn’t happy. I would get home at the end of the day and do what I called “angry-writing.” I would write down these little ideas and think, “this will show them all! I’ll write this book and make $1,000,000 and never have to work again!!” As you can imagine, this work was uninspired. That experience made me shy away from the models out there that solely focus on “this is how to make money by gaming the system.” I want to still feel like I am being authentic and in it for the characters, not the money.

My first two books received zero responses from any literary agents. It was only after my husband had challenged my definition of success that I finally decided to self publish. He asked me if I had to be traditionally published to be successful? If the goal was to be published, why not self-publish?

I was initially against self-publishing after years of anti-independent-author-propaganda (it’s a real thing.) It had brainwashed me into thinking that traditional publishing was the only way to go. After I did the research I realized that traditional publishing is a dying industry and that if I was going to do this, I would do it my way. That meant no middle men.

If you are considering self-publishing, I highly recommend that you do your own research. There are so many different avenues to explore and there really is something for everyone in this new literary eco-system. (I am happy to answer any specific questions for those who are considering self-publishing.)

Here are the choices I made that went against the grain in some cases. I knew going in that a few of these weren’t in line with what some websites were saying to do as a best practice for making lots of money. I also knew that I didn’t want to start out by employing lots of gimmicks and detract from the content of my novel.

Related: MK was on the podcast. Listen to her whole story here

What I did that was right for me on my journey:

Tactic: ebook Only

Reason Why:

  • I wanted to keep the cost of the book low. Being a very frugal person, I haven’t paid for a book in years. I didn’t want to charge someone more than what I would be willing to pay.
  • I also don’t like the idea of people owning so many books that they only ever read once. This caused me some angst over the environmental cost.

How Did That Work Out?

  • My sales to date are 100% digital. Hah! Go figure.
  • Some people have said that they would buy it if it was a “real book” (they meant to say paperback or hardback book). I’m not convinced that they would have actually done this based on their ambivalence in supporting my book in other non-monetary ways (sharing my posts with a friend, recommending it to others, etc.)

Tactic: No Paid Reviews

Reason Why

  • Not only are some of these services outrageously expensive ($200-$700), but they don’t guarantee anything. If they don’t like the book, you will get a bad review. If you get a good review then that may or may not result in enough sales to even pay off the cost of the review.
  • Also, I began to notice that I was devaluing these reviews as I saw them online. If I see a book that advertises what was said in their Kirkus Review, I automatically start to scroll away from that book. I can’t tell if that review is genuine or simply just from a higher priced review package. No, thank you.

How Did That Work Out?

  • I’ve actually been able to generate a good amount of organic reviews. I make a point to ask people who have read the book to leave a review, even if it is just ‘I liked it.’
  • I have participated in one review group where other authors were able to read and leave reviews. The downside is that each author in the group has different genre preferences. My science fiction thriller wouldn’t be appealing to someone who loves to read and write Victorian era detective stories. This was a mostly positive experience, but I’d rather earn my reviews the old fashioned way, which can be painfully slow.

Tactic: $.99 Cost For Each Book

Reason Why

  • Everything I read prior to publishing said that for self-published authors that you need to give your first book away for free (some services charge you to do this) or that it needed to be $0.99. Especially if it is only available in eBook format.
  • I didn’t want to charge more than I would be willing to pay. As a super-frugal person who hasn’t purchased a book in years (I am a HUGE supporter of the local library), it didn’t feel right to ask others for more than I would pay.

How Did That Work Out?

  • The royalties on $0.99 are really small. Most of my sales come from Amazon and they take a 70% cut (at that price). I get a better cut from Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and even the local library, but most people are already on Amazon so that’s where they shop.

Tactic: No Kindle Unlimited

Reason Why

  • Kindle Unlimited requires that the book is offered exclusively through their service. That meant that I couldn’t sell it through other services (that offered higher royalties) or through the library (which I love).

How Did That Work Out?

  • Still unknown. This service does pay authors based on the number of pages read so it could have potentially been another means to make money, but then I would have lost all of the royalties from the other services.

Tactic: Purchased ISBNs

Reason Why

  • Kindle does offer ISBNs for “free” to authors, but then they become the publisher of record. While I have yet to experience the meteoric success that I have planned for, by owning my ISBNs I am the publisher and still retain all control of my works.

How Did That Work Out?

I had to spend this upfront to start the process, but I was able to buy in bulk (~$300 for 10 ISBNs) so I have ISBNs at the ready for my next project.

Tactic: No XXX for $$$ (Very specific genre and sub-genre fiction)

Reason Why 

One of the most popular (and lucrative) genres is erotica and romance. Usually the stories are “quick and dirty” to read and to write. While I’m not a prude, I don’t think I would feel comfortable writing in this genre, even if it could lead to a better ‘gamification’ of publishing.

How Did That Work Out?

  • My mom can read my books without blushing.
  • I can sell my books everywhere.

What I'll Do Differently For My Next Book:

As I have become more knowledgeable in the publishing field, I have realized that some of my personal preferences and fears have held me back from being able to get my books out to a bigger audience. I’ve realized that I can only grow my audience if I start to take some well planned and well researched risks:

Tactic: eBook and Paperback

Change-up

  • I will be publishing my next book as both an eBook AND a paperback.

Reason Why

  • Amazon now offers an option to make paperback books available on-demand. This means I don’t have to order a huge stock and then rush to sell out that inventory.
  • Apparently people still like tangible books, the forests be damned.

*Post publication note– turns out people hate trees. The paperback copies have far outsold the ebooks.

Tactic: Pricing Based On Value

Change-up

  • This is the toughest one for me because I still have the fear of someone thinking I am asking for too much, but…
  • My next book will start out at a higher price. I am still trying to work out the cost model because I know that I can’t price it too high or it will never sell. I am thinking that the eBook will be around $3.00. This will get me to a higher royalty tier with Amazon so that I can afford to pay my cover artist.

Reason Why

  • Encouragement from others and finally learning that I can’t base everything on what I would do as a consumer because I am a super frugal hermit who would be happy to not buy anything, ever.
  • Alot of the research I did indicated that after the first two books that the price can go up, this external approval is making this transition easier.

Tactic: Kindle Unlimited

Change-up

  • My next book will be available for at least 90 days exclusively on Kindle Unlimited.

Reason Why

  • Worth a try, if it proves to be successful I can continue with it, otherwise I can sell my book through other services after those first 90 days.

Tactic: No XXX for $$$ (Very specific genre and sub-genre fiction)

Change-up

    • Still no plans to write in this genre. However, I am considering a second imprint/pen-name for some quick serial detective or sci-fi books. Maybe.

Reason Why

  • I recently listened to an episode of the FireDrill podcast that discussed Romance Novels as a means of side income specifically.

Things I still need to get used to on this journey:

  • Introducing myself as an author: I have the luxury of having a super cool day job that I love, so I tend to rely on that when people ask me what I do for a living. I know that writing will always be the side-project for as long as I continue to see myself and introduce myself as a Marketer/Author instead of the other way around
  • Marketing: Yes the irony police are here. I have put almost no money into marketing my books to date. It’s not that I don’t know how, I spend all of my time at my job doing this. I just haven’t had material royalties to date that would support a larger campaign. I am trying to wait until I have profits to reinvest before tacking on additional expenses.

TLDR:

  • Be true to yourself and what you are comfortable with when you are self-publishing. That’s the joy of not having an agency and publisher and a dozen other middle-men to answer to.
  • You can decide that you want your books to make you lots of money, but it is also okay to just have this as a passion project that earns you the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

*Post-publication note: The new tactics were very effective. What I earned in royalties in the first two days that Enemies of Peace was available was more than what I had earned on the previous two books. The book peaked at #881 on Amazon, given the millions of books available for sale on Amazon, I’m pretty excited about that accolade.

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7 thoughts on “Passion To Profit: A Journey In Self-Publishing”

  1. Hi M.K.,
    Thanks for all the details on your publishing journey. Very interesting to read your thoughts and decisions. Also congrats on moving forward and producing. That seems like the hardest part (for me at least).
    I saw you Enemies of Peace has a decent number of reviews. How did you get the first few? I understand you don’t pay for reviews. In addition to the one review group you mentioned, do you have any other effective strategies? I feel the same way you do about many of the ethical issues. But then I wonder whether I could get any traction if I don’t use them and everybody else does to be successful.

    • Hi Anna! That is a great question, and I have those moments of review envy at times. I have learned the long and slow way to line up for Advanced Review Copies. When my first book came out, I joined some reader/writer groups on Goodreads. I saw authors on those forums announcing that they were ready to send out ARCs and were letting other users sign up. I connected with one author and I like her books, and I have learned some of the tactics that she has used for these ARCs. How this works is that the author (you) sends out a free copy of your book to the people on your ARC list. They get a free book and in exchange agree to leave you an honest and fair review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other channels. There are some rules around this, for example, you can’t post a review to Amazon until the book is live, whereas you can post to Goodreads prior to the release date. Because of this, you would want to send a reminder to those readers the day before your book goes live so that they remember to post the review to Amazon the next day. My first few reviews for Enemies of Peace came from those ARC readers. I find that with each book I am learning more. For example, I sent out the message on Goodreads for the ARCs on Enemies of Peace then copied and pasted the responses into my Gmail. This was a tedious process. To prepare for my next book release (ETA early January), I set up a google form on my website. Now I can passively collect interested ARC readers throughout the year and promote this opportunity beyond the Goodreads forums.

      Let me know if you found this helpful. Best of luck on your journey!

  2. Fascinating, thanks for sharing! I just picked up Nailbiters as a thank you.

    Self-publication is a path I’m looking to go down. I’m also a marketer by trade (software & tech, I wouldn’t have a clue about sports!), so my research in the past has led me to the “email list is king” approach to book marketing. ie. the approach that building your list is the most crucial part of driving awareness and sales, especially in the long term.

    I’m also quietly in love with serial publishing on a blog to build an audience, similar to Andy Weir’s approach with The Martian and Eliezer Yudkowsky’s HPMOR, but I’m not sure it’s as viable a proposition today as it was >6 years ago.

    Ep195 of the Side Hustle Show was a good primer for where my head naturally went for marketing. I could see the marketer at work in how you approached your books, and I’m wondering what approaches you’ve taken / are considering for building an ongoing relationship over the longer term with your readers?

    • Hi Adam,
      Thank you for the purchase! I hope that you enjoy the book 🙂 I think your background in marketing will definitely be an asset as you work towards publishing your book. You already have one of the skillsets that self-published authors need to master so you are ahead of the game, as it were.

      I love listening to Side Hustle Nation, even the episodes that are not book-focused have spurred some great ideas! I have a long list of social and person to person marketing ideas that I have for my books, especially as I am considering a sequel for Nailbiters. I think the more I can tie in what people have liked about that book into the marketing, the more they will rally around the main character and their journey. I have worked with a few of my friends that are entrepreneurs in other spaces (custom prints and designs) to make “fan art” for the book to encourage others to send in their own. Social media is a very collective space and the more that I can encourage readers to share their impressions and apply their own creative mind, the more they will want to share it with others. It’s hard to engineer something that is supposed to be organic, but I’ll keep learning and challenging myself along the way.

      How are along are you on your journey? When are you planning to put your manuscript out to the public?

      • Thanks! I like the idea of encouraging your readers to invest in the art that you’re making. It’s not going to be everyone that goes to that level, but I guess it’s the whole 1000 true fans concept. It all starts with those diehards. Enjoying Nailbiters so far BTW, I’m 20% progressed!

        It’s early stages for me with manuscript. I’ve got the rough outline and a few sample scenes written, just to prove to myself I can complete a scene. Baby steps. As I get closer to thinking about marketing, I might drop you a note on Twitter. Congrats on the latest podcast ep!

  3. Hi MK! My husband and I have each written two nonfiction books which are in ebook format. After listening to this episode on the podcast, I knew I had to listen to it again with my husband! We finally listened to it together. I’m convinced that I need to do both a print and an audiobook version of my second book (the first one doesn’t lend itself well to audio as it has lots of clickable link resources. The second one does too, but it’s shorter so I feel like it would be more manageable to put those resources on a hidden page on my website and direct people there). He is also interested in doing a shorter print version of one of his books.

    I’m curious to know, looking back, what do you wish you knew now that you didn’t know about both making an audio version of a book and a print version? What surprised you about the process (other than the fact people are way more willing to buy physical books)?

    I have started the process of creating the physical version through CreateSpace, but haven’t a clue about where to start with an audiobook. I would like to narrate it myself and get it onto Audible. Any tips for me? Any very basic resources that you found helpful you could recommend?

    Anyway, you’ve totally inspired both of us! Thank you for helping to convince me I needed to get my butt into gear and do this! 😀

    • Hi Rosemary! Sorry I am just now seeing your comment. If you are still in the process of developing your paperback, you have probably already seen that CreateSpace is being “sunsetted” and all authors are being asked to move into KDP Paperback or to another platform. Happy to answer any questions on the formatting. For the audiobook process, I was just so excited to hear a professional narrate my books I was happy with everything. The second experience was amazing, Dani has a wonderful voice and because Jonathan has pro equipment from doing the podcast, the audiobook came out perfectly. I don’t have an ear for good audio, but I have heard some audiobooks that has spotty audio and I’m very thankful to have had professionals behind the microphone.

      Sorry for my delayed response, feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions. 1mkwilliamsauthor at gmail.com

      Best of luck on your publishing journey!

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