So almost four weeks in, it’s time to report out on the big pen name experiment. But first just a couple of announcements. Book three in my Derivatives of Displacement series, A Grave Tree, is almost done. I finished the second draft yesterday and it will be off to my editor once I finish the third draft on October 15. I also now have a cover courtesy of the fabulous Design for Writers. Look for announcements regarding review copies sometime in late October. If you haven’t read books one or two yet, now would be a great time.
I’ve also been asked to participate in several panels at VCon in Vancouver in less than a week. I will be talking humor in middle-grade fiction, self-publishing, and paranormal romance. If you're in Vancouver, come by and say hi!
Also coming up in November will be the release of the long awaited Tails of the Apocalypse anthology to which I have contributed a story about an elderly cat named Santiago. All of the stories are about how animals deal with an apocalyptic situation. There is a great line up of writers so be sure to check out this anthology when it comes out. I will also be doing a review copy announcement on that one in a few weeks and of course there will be a Facebook party with great prizes.
Setting Up a Pen Name
I watch the Amazon market a lot, and on occasion when my books have shot to the top of a category for a variety of reasons (sale, mention somewhere, pure dumb luck), I have noticed a preponderance of certain types of books at the top of those categories. Some of these books seem to have staying power at the top of those categories selling thousands of copies each day. Intrigued, I honed in on an unusual category that is a huge seller on Amazon these days, not just in its own category, but across the charts.
So I started buying and reading a few of these books, and found that not only were many of them only mediocrely written (to downright awfully written) and very formulaic, but they were also short. Surely I could toss of one of these in a week, and fame and fortune would await.
At the end of August, I was a little stuck on the ending of A Grave Tree, and decided to do an experiment. I would set up a pen name, write three of these genre fiction shorts, and see what happened. Given that I’ve now been in the biz for almost two years, I would also do everything “right” by including links to the next book at the end of the first book, putting them out in rapid succession, branding them just like the bestsellers in their category and so on. I also decided that I would keep costs very low by doing the covers, formatting and editing myself. I’ve already blogged about the covers and formatting.
I also decided that I would have to set up a small “platform” and established a limited content website, and a twitter account for the pen name.
Since I write middle-grade fiction, and have somewhat of a serious career as a consultant, I am not going to reveal the new genre, but suffice to say it is a bit spicier than my normal writing.
I correctly estimated that each short of about 15,000 words would take me about a week to write at a pace of about 2000 to 5000 words a day. Add in a few days of editing time, as well as a day to do the cover and format, and I would say that each one took about 10 days of effort. Lest you think I totally just put out garbage, I did take it pretty seriously, studying the formula and techniques utilized by other authors in the genre and working to ensure I was developing the best story possible within the boundaries and time frame that I had set (I have studied the release dates of the successful authors and know that they are working as fast if not faster than me). I'm actually rather pleased with the resulting stories and covers.
I released the first short the first week of September, and one each week after that. With no platform to speak of (I think I had like 40 Twitter followers and no website views on that first day), I was not sure how well they were going to do. To my surprise, they started selling right away. No platform, no awaiting audience. Also to my surprise, my Kindle borrows started lifting off immediately. The sales and borrows held pretty steady for four weeks and have only just started to drop this week since I have now not had a release for two weeks.
Each one cost me $80 to produce—$40 each for the two stock photos it took to make the cover.
So how many did I sell? Before you toss aside your own writing and start writing vampire time travel erotic romance, my borrows and sales for all three shorts total just over 350. The sell through rate on the series was pretty decent, with the first being the best seller with 44% of the sales/borrows, the second having 37% and the third having 19%.
Unfortunately just as I was doing more research on my newly chosen genre, I discovered that not only does it sell like gangbusters, it also is a completely saturated genre with literally hundreds of new releases every day. Next time, I might do some more research and try to pick a hot, but more obscure genre (although maybe these don’t exist).
But, considering that was for three weeks work, my pen name had zero platform, and that is just the first month, I’m not totally unhappy. Unlike my other work though, I have garnered almost no reviews, and I wondered if this meant my stories had missed the mark for the genre. However my Goodreads ratings are pretty decent so I think readers of this genre don’t review on Amazon as often. I even got some subscribers to my mailing list.
The Ten Things I Learned
- It was remarkably freeing to write true formulaic genre fiction. I did not worry as much about my sentences and words, other than of course to make sure they were correct and reasonably interesting. I also, given that they are formulaic and uncomplex, did not have to spend hours researching and pondering plot to get that perfect wrap that I have to do with my science fiction and fantasy. My characters were also less real, but nicer and sexier. The stories were actually pretty fun to write.
- Title branding is very important. In my research of the genre, I discovered that all of the successful writers include a long title that includes the genre after the story title. So they would put “A Sinner: A Sweet Paranormal Romance” (this is an example only – I am not going to reveal my new genre). I think this helped to increase my discoverability dramatically.
- Kindle Unlimited is an absolute must in certain genres. Borrows comprised 79% of my ‘sales’ and without them, this would not have been a worthwhile undertaking, except as an experiment.
- Rapid releases seem to be key. Two weeks after I stopped releasing one a week, my sales started to drop off. I will report in on the long tail in a few weeks though.
- Shorts are easy to produce, but the royalty is a kicker. A longer work would have been the same number of words to write, but would have had lower costs as it would have required only one cover, and then I could have charged more and gotten the 70% royalty on Amazon. Although my borrow earnings would have been the same, I would have earned twice as much on the sales.
- I've learned lots of great new Twitter strategies. I already have just under 500 Twitter followers on an account that I started less than four weeks ago. It took me several years to achieve that on my own Twitter account where I tend to be my quiet, unaggressive self. I also have learned a lot more about Twitter strategy by following only people in the same genre. Using hashtags, retweeting others liberally, quoting from your book, and using photo teasers are all ways to get more followers, get your own stuff retweeted and get more eyes on your book, and I believe more sales. I am transferring some of this learning to my actual Twitter account.
- Being another person is both liberating, odd, and time-consuming. My pen name can do things that I wouldn’t necessarily do. But I also have this strange compulsion to be honest with people. I wanted to post an actual picture of myself so that I would be a real person, and have this desire to talk about my kids on my pen name Twitter (and my pen name doesn’t have kids). Also finding the time to tweet, blog, and write for one person is challenging enough, doing it for two people is exhausting!
- Setting up a pen name on Amazon is easy as you can just use your regular account. I have noticed a slight uptick in sales on my non-pen name books in the last few weeks, which makes me wonder if Amazon regards any activity on your account as being good activity no matter what name, and starts to promote your other stuff. I have no idea how the mysterious Amazon algorithms work, but I thought this was interesting.
- I learned a lot about making covers, formatting, and self-editing and feel a lot more confident on these fronts.
I’ve had to take a break from the pen name to focus on my other work, but I think I’ll be revisiting my pen name in the future with a box set, another series and a full-length release, when I can find the time to be two people again! Maybe I could hire someone to be me.
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