I’ve been self publishing in the romance and urban fantasy genre since early 2011 and let me tell you, it’s a tricky space to be in. What works today, doesn’t tomorrow. And just when I think I’ve got it figured out, something changes in the industry and I have to readjust my marketing strategies.
One of the biggest changes I’ve witnessed this year has been in what marketing strategies no longer work. My usual promo “hot spots” stopped producing results earlier this year and the only reason I was able to continuing selling a ton of books was because I had put the work in of building my tribe. If it wasn’t for that, I’d have had to start all over again.
As 2017 draws to an end, and I reflect on the different things I’ve learned that helped me to maintain a 6-figure income in self publishing, I wanted to share them with you.
Series Will Always Outsell Stand-Alone’s
For years, I focused on writing stand alone stories. This is where every one of my stories wraps up by the end and doesn’t continue. All conflicts have been resolved, and my hero and heroine are united.
While I’ve often reintroduced some of my past characters into new stories, they only ever appeared as either supporting characters or a brief mention.
In 2017, I finally started writing a series in urban fantasy. Yeah, I took my sweet old time, that’s for sure. But I just preferred stand alone projects.
And because you’re likely a lot smarter than I am, you already know what happened next.
My book sales soared!
In fact, none of my stand alone stories have ever sold anywhere close to what the first book in a series can sell. I’ll never go back to stand alone stories unless it’s a short story that I’m using as an incentive on a squeeze page or through giveaways. Lesson learned.
Size Doesn’t Always Matter
Throughout this past year, I’ve managed to boost my list size from 32,000 readers to over 60,000 subscribers by participating in newsletter swaps, giveaways and other various cross promotion. What I’ve learned is that the size of your mailing list means nothing. It’s all about quality.
Having an IM background, I already knew this. I’ve been building email lists since the late 90’s but somehow I managed to forget all of that when I started self publishing. I kind of assumed readers in a closely-related genre would automatically want to read my books as well and so I focused on joining a ton of giveaways and swaps that not only fucked up my Also-Bought’s, but it became a mailing list segmenting nightmare.
I had readers of mystery on my paranormal romance list! I mean, yeah, they might be interested in both genres but nothing will piss off a reader more than emailing them about romance offers when they have never read a romance book in their life.
So, I refocused on segmenting as I used to do in Internet Marketing. I ended up with a ton of sub-lists, but at least I knew what kind of reader was on each list. That made connecting with them a hell of a lot easier, and my open rate and click-through rate soared.
Which brings me to another thing I’ve learned this year…
Build a Targeted Mailing List of Buyers, Not Just Readers
To bolster my list size, I often participated in Instafreebie giveaways. While it’s great to give free stories to readers, it’s more important to focus on giving away stories to active buyers. After all, I write to make money, not just for the joy of writing. If that were the case I’d be writing something other than romance.
If you build a list of freebie seekers, it’ll be hard to monetize that list. Readers will always be looking for the next free book rather than consistently purchasing your stories from online marketplaces and book stores.
What you’re looking for is a happy medium. Spend the majority of your effort reaching targeted buyers in your genre, while treating loyal readers to a free copy of a book every so often. Don’t lead with free, otherwise you’ll struggle to make money.
When Free Works
I used to price all new releases at .99 while also running some free days through KDP. While it can definitely help maximize exposure, I’ve learned that I will always attract more loyal readers when they are willing to pay more for my books. This is why I stopped pricing books at .99 unless it’s the first in a new series and only then, I price it at .99 only for a limited time.
For me personally, free only works when I’m either offering a free book to readers that I’ve already cultivated a relationship with, or I’m offering it up as incentive to buy the remaining books in my series. Otherwise, my books are priced at 2.99 and up.
Don’t be afraid to increase prices
For years, the most expensive book I ever released was 3.99. Over the last year I decided to play with price points, setting books at 4.99 and even 5.99. Many times those books outsold the lower priced offers.
The length of your book does factor into pricing. Authors writing longer fantasy books often price as high as 8.99, while novella-length books are usually 2.99. Take a look at what is selling in your genre and try different price points to see what works for your audience.
Forget About Pre-orders
2017 was a year of pre-orders. While I hadn’t ever really bothered with them before, I decided to make a real go of it this year and set pre-orders for most of my book launches.
It was a huge mistake.
See, when you set up a pre-order your book will get a sales ranking as soon as you’ve sold a single copy. So even though you won’t get paid for those sales until release day, it affects where and how you rank in the charts.
And contrary to popular belief, you will not get a huge surge in ranking on release day from any of those pre-order sales. They don’t affect ranking, only sales.
So, if you have a large tribe of readers like I do, it doesn’t make sense to waste that ranking on pre-orders. I’d rather send my readers to the book page when it goes live and increase my chances of sticking. Plus, it’ll help me ride the coattails of other recently launched books in my genre through the also-boughts.
No More Box Sets
While I’ll always continue to create box sets out of my own books, I am limiting the number of box sets I participate in with other authors.
Most of the time box sets are used to hit lists like New York Times and USA Today. Since I already hold those titles, it doesn’t really make sense for me to contribute any of my books into these sets.
Not only do they not make a lot of money anymore, but my book is essentially held hostage in someone else’s KDP account for months, sometimes up to a year. And since Amazon doesn’t allow for a book to be published under more than one account at a time, I can’t have my book live in my KDP account if it’s in someone else’s box set.
But, don’t box sets help to increase exposure?
They can, and quite honestly that’s the only upside to participating in one. The thing is, you need to make sure that the box set you join features only 10-12 authors. Most of the sets I was in had 20-25 authors which means that very few readers are likely to ever get through the entire site. If my book is in the middle or back-end of the box set, exposure will be minimal, at best.
The same goes for profitability.
While the marketing dollars for a box set with 20 authors will likely be more than in smaller sets (since authors have to pay a buy-in to join that goes towards promotion), you are also splitting profits amongst 20 authors.
Keep that in mind when considering sets and perhaps start with a smaller box set that will help you cut your teeth on the process, network with other authors in your genre and still be able to make money from it.
Promo Costs Too Damn Much So Build a Tribe
Years ago, I could throw a couple hundred dollars into a book launch by purchasing ads in newsletters like MyRomanceReads.com and pull in a decent return. Those days are over.
This is why it’s critical that you build a tribe of your own outside of any social media platform. My newsletter is my bread and butter when it comes to stabilizing my income when the tides of change hit our industry with a mighty force.
I’ve tried dozens of advertising options for authors and nothing produces the results that they used to. While I still include Facebook boosted posts, AMS ads and sometimes a few BookBub sponsored ads, my best marketing comes from newsletter swaps with other authors in my genre and through my own newsletter that I worked hard to culivate. That’s where my focus will be going forward
To our success,