Now that I'm finished with re-publishing my fifth book, avoiding work on my sixth book in progress (and delaying work on book seven, eight, and nine, etc.), I've checked and re-checked my sales dashboards and book request lists to find no movement. I've been hoping for a sale or review of a book that I'm really proud of. I've spent over a thousand dollars trying to publish this one book because I believe in it--and at some point, I either believe in myself or quit.
My writing, story and pacing, have gotten better over the last two years since self-publishing my first book, Rebound, The Pentagon Group, Book 1. When I wrote Stained Glass Shards, I knew it would be a different story. No, I'm not some sort of literary genius, hoping to create a classic novel, most writers exclaim their new book to be extraordinary. I write books that provide an escape: a romance with some angst, suspense, and resolution. Stained Glass Shards is my best so far. But yet, I can't seem to tell enough people about it to even matter what I think. And the people who've read and reviewed it aren't able to shout it from the same mountaintops created by books that top the industry.
I've attempted to gain blogger recognition and reader reviews. I've made direct requests to blogs and honest reviewers for six months before publishing. I've sent emails to over 400 blogs. I had 27 bloggers accept the promo information in early 2016, but only 6 requested the book and only 3 actually picked up the book and reviewed. Now, I'm partly at fault for not having at least tens of readers rate and review. I had failed to send out the promotional information to the bloggers. I sent them an email with my reasons. At the time, I was frustrated with not hitting my goal of 100 reviewers--not just blogs who agreed to upload promo links, but readers who would rate and review--only obtaining 8 on Amazon and 12 on Goodreads. I felt like those blogs, without reading and reviewing, wouldn't help in the grand scheme of my inflated hopes. Those blogs could very well have been the tipping point for this publication, propelling it to a higher ranking, but I refused to accept that I start that small and will grow big in time. My inner petulant child gave it all the time needed (almost two years of self-publishing). The landscape of self-publishing romance, for the most part, has remained the same, but there have been some notable differences.
Typically, visibility comes from bloggers, tours, and events where the author engages with readers, promotes links, and offers books and other items as gifts. The hope is that bloggers will rate and review so readers/participants will click on the affiliate link (a specially coded link that provides the promoter a small financial award when clicked) and buy. The author hopes that giveaway winners will read the book, and rate and review on a retail site or Goodreads. However, that rarely happens. Authors can't count on giveaways to increase reviews. And often, authors can't count on purchasers to rate and review either, which is why a blog review from multiple blogs is most critical for release day success, especially on Amazon, who promotes the book when more than 50 reviews are published on its site.
From my observation, powerful bloggers, who've rated and reviewed or promoted book link(s), impact the visibility and sales of those books. Often working directly with those blogs are public relations companies. I've seen an increase in PR companies over the last two years-- I'm sure they've been around much longer, but they've become exponentially more visible and known within romance. The top PR companies (if you've read their website and checked out their clients) represents the top indie authors in romance, many are New York Times and USA Today hitters. Those successful PR companies are generally closed to new representation because they're too busy. Even if a PR co. is available, the monthly price is often too cost prohibitive for an unprofitable business (i.e. an Indie who can't sell enough to recoup royalties to pay for a PR company). I've often said, "When I make money, I will get a PR co." But I can't reinvest zero royalties, so it becomes a what comes first? Chicken or the egg? Now, I've heard all the stories about "picking self up and boot straps thingamajig," but many indies don't have that kind of money or time to get a part-time job to pay for promotion because "When would I write?" Okay, so what's next?
Advertising on Facebook. A very successful web course teaches indies how to create a Facebook ad, analyze and calibrate them to ensure a return on investment. Well, I haven't paid for the full course, but I did a mini course and applied the lessons to my ads, but I've yet to have an increased return on investment. All I've managed to do is feel stupid because less than ten people "like" each of my ads or follow me on the page--not to mention that I'm not getting sales despite spending a lot per ad, per day. I've tried to get readers to my newsletter, but they don't sign up as expected, or falls into spam folder because they don't open, or unsubscribe. As an enticement, I've given away books, but readers don't claim them. So I've come up with the excuses that ads directed at Romance readers don't work. Why? Because book ads are overwhelming FB members. There are so many images, offers, and links that readers just don't focus on another DOWNLOAD NOW!
FREE books can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. If a reader loves a book, she will follow, like, promote, rate, review, etc. But here's the catch, you must have lots of books published to retain the reader. Romance readers have been burned by really bad books with similar cover images and storylines. Readers are overwhelmed by the offerings. I, too, have quit reading romance--for shame! I've had intense bouts of book hangovers where I can't find a new book to hook me from start to finish, so I've ended up not finishing a lot of romance books. It got to the point where I didn't know if it was me or that the books were so bad. I've moved on to another genre, even though I still write romance.
What if readers acquire free books? Well, the majority don't read them as quickly as the author intended. It's relegated low on the reading list because books with more visibility, word of mouth, and high ratings eclipse those indies. It feels like the invisible book "expired." I truly believe that if my book is not talked about within six months since release, it's dead after that. Now, I've heard that books are gifts that keep giving, but we have to practically give away our books to get readers to give it a chance. There is no guaranty that our gifts are ever read.
How else can I get my books noticed? Street teams. A group of readers who spend their free time exchanging an author's links in exchange for pre-released books and gifts. I'm not a great organizer of people. I'm a leader of people I know and see on a regular basis, but the management of a virtual team of people from all over the world is something I've yet to do. I've been blessed with a select few ladies who've read and promoted my books, but to organize them and give them rules and demand time from their busy schedules are something I cannot do adequately. So I fail at that too. Essentially, I'm focused on writing, yet, I'm not writing because I'm focused on sales and being read. But without more books, it doesn't really matter, so I have to focus on writing. Do you see how manic/depressive that can be?
This post is a purge of my frustrations, letting it all go. I came to the decision, before the marathon of refreshing sales pages, that I have to write as a hobby and not as a business. Why? Because I'm not a good salesperson, marketer, copywriter of ads, or anything remotely related to making myself stand apart from other great writers (or even the poor writers with an amazing following).
The industry has a glut of writers and books, and it's never going to end. There will be more people discovering they can write and sell a self-published book. There will always be a new writer who knows how to sell better than me. There will always be a greater storyteller who connects with a huge amount of readers. And there will always be those few indies who have a ginormous dose of luck on their side. But I will still be here, writing stories, spending thousands to bring it to readers, hoping some luck strikes.