The First Two Months of Publishing

I am taking a short break in my marketing primer series as I have a big promotion coming up on February 17th and as a result should be able to give you more accurate details with regard to the effectiveness of the next four marketing strategies on my marketing list in two weeks.

In the meantime, my book is now two months old. I’m not sure if it has quite got its legs underneath it yet, but it has managed to teeter about the room a couple of times without taking out the coffee table.

These are the things I have learned in the first two months of publishing:

1) It is possible to check your Amazon ranking and sales numbers every hour.

You shouldn’t. I rationalize it based on the fact that knowing how many sales I’ve made (or haven’t made) helps me to understand which of my marketing strategies are working. But checking every hour is probably qualifies me for some sort of psychiatric drugs, except that I know many other authors are doing the same thing – right? You are, aren’t you?... Guys?... Okay, okay. I’ll stop. The good news is, I now have a very good understanding now how quickly books slip up and down the Amazon ranking scale.

2) Five star reviews rock.

Yup, they do. Not much I can add here. Each one is a gift. They are why writers write. And even though I managed to restrain myself from filling the reviewer’s inboxes with smiley face filled thank you notes (as apparently that is bad form), I appreciate them more than words can express. 

3) A three star review feels like a bad review, but it isn’t.

Remember, three stars on Goodreads means that the reader actually liked the book – at least according to the Goodreads rating system. If a three star rater reader also left a review, not only did they like your novel, but they liked it enough, or felt sufficiently strongly about some aspect of it, to take the time to write something. Even in my less than glowing reviews, my reviewers have thus far been able to identify things that they liked or loved about my novel, and the things that they didn’t like or love, for me provide useful feedback with regard to what not to do next time. I have received some really thoughtful comments from readers, and I absolutely appreciate that they engaged with the content in a meaningful way and took the time to send their thoughts along. Ratings also mean different things to different people. One person’s three is another person’s four or even five. I have been consistently surprised to look at three star ratings (on other people’s books) that start with the sentence: this was a really good book.

4) Many popular and well-written books have Goodreads and Amazon ratings of just under four.

Just to be clear, I am still sitting in the fours in my ratings, but I had thought that when a book slips into the high threes, you know, like 3.87 or 3.56 that it is doomed. After doing a bit of research I realized how wrong that is. Multitudes of books that sell well have ratings in the high threes. In fact some of the more popular books have slightly lower ratings than less popular books, because they have so many ratings. If a large number of people read and rate your book, you are bound to have some less than stellar ratings and that is okay because a large number of people have read and rated your book!

Writer Kristina McMorris suggests that one of the best antidotes to a less than glowing review is to go and read a bunch of one-star reviews of some of your all-time favourite novels. I did spend some time doing this and I have a much better understanding of how readers engage with books and the range of reasons they do not give it a five-star rating, which are not sometimes the reasons that you think.

5) Your acquaintance’s romance novel will outsell your middle-grade fantasy.

I had this wild impression that middle-grade fantasy was a big seller. You know, like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the Chronicles of Narnia. Turns out middle-grade fiction might not sell as well as adult genre fiction. Many popular marketing sites state straight up that you will not have as much luck with children’s books as with adult books. R.L. Lefevers observed:

Also, in general, there are generally lower sales expectations for MG titles and (slightly) more willingness to wait for the slow build that happens as MG filters through the system. Many…things…don’t even happen until a year or so after a book has been out.

Okay, so patience is in order. I can work with a slow build. Perhaps I don’t have to start writing romances then. Well, I guess I already do write romances. I will be interested to see how they compete with my middle-grade books.

6) Many of my initial readers and fans are adults.

Yikes. Maybe I didn’t write a middle-grade fantasy. Knowing your audience is always a tricky thing, and in marketing I am constantly having to decide whether to push A Pair of Docks in the middle-grade or adult direction. A Pair of Docks, like Harry Potter and most of those great Pixar movies, is aimed at both adults and kids. But are adults really reading middle-grade fiction? Or are there just a few exceptions? In See Grown-ups Read, Alexandra Alter observes:

Middle-grade books have become a booming publishing category, fueled in part by adult fans who read "Harry Potter" and fell in love with the genre. J.K. Rowling's books, which sold more than 450 million copies, reintroduced millions of adults to the addictive pleasures of children's literature and created a new class of genre-agnostic reader who will pick up anything that's buzzy and compelling, even if it's written for 8 year olds. Far from being an anomaly, "Harry Potter" paved the way for a new crop of blockbuster children's books that are appealing to readers of all ages.

Overall there is far more crossover among adult, young adult and children’s literature than there ever was and less stigma for adults to read children’s books. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, believe it or not, was originally written for adults, but the publisher convinced Greg Kinney to target it towards kids.

Okay, so maybe that is all okay.

7) The long tail requires a lot of patience.

Hugh Howey and many other Indie authors talk a lot about the long tail of publishing – that it takes time for a book to build and an author to establish him or herself. Books that do not take off immediately have “forever” as Howey suggests to go viral and make it, and because they are ebooks or print on demand books, they have the luxury of having the time to do that. In the traditional publishing world in contrast, if a book doesn’t make it in 6 weeks to 6 months, it’s a goner. I’m not saying they are wrong. But darn, if forever doesn’t seem like a long time to wait.

8) I still don’t think of myself as a writer.

Despite claiming this was one of my goals for 2014, it is still an area of work. At best now, since most of the people around me are aware of my novel, I can muster an “I am sort of a writer, and I write.” I'm a hedge better, and I automatically don’t claim success in most areas of my life in case I later fail (and stating that I am a writer would be claiming success, right?), even though I have been paid to write and edit environmental reports and articles for years. So, I am not sure what that makes me - a report writer? But I am getting better at claiming to be a writer, especially after reading this article on the self-limiting habits of writers. I have also ordered Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. It still ranks second in its Amazon categories despite having been published in 1993! I will let you know what I think.

9) The one good thing a day mantra works.

When I started this indie publishing and writing process, I wanted to set realistic goals. I decided the day after I published my novel that I would be happy if one good thing happened each day in association with my writing – just one! A sale, a good review, a nice comment from someone, an invitation to an event, an interview, even a virtual high five from another author. Two months later, I am surprised to discover that only one day in the last two months has passed in which not one good thing has happened. These good things have sustained me through the doubt (and some of the bad things).

Keep the good things coming, I say!