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How I sold the first 10,000 copies of my self-published book

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

For the past few months, I've been nagging my agency for a running count of my sales for Obitchuary, eager to reach 10,000. It's kind of an arbitrary number, but I thought it marked a point where I could feel accomplished with the work I'd put into the book so far.

A few weeks ago, I made it. And less than a year after the release!


And more good news: On Oct. 25, I will be speaking at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading about the process of indie publishing, sharing some of the experiences I will outline below. I'm on at 1 p.m. at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, so be sure to come by.

Until then, I thought I would offer TEN TIPS ON SELLING YOUR BOOK TO 10,000 PEOPLE OR MOAR! We love ten tips lists, don't we?

Some background on my experience:

My agents at DGLM tried to find a traditional home for Obitchuary. Some houses came frustratingly close to deals, but editors said it wasn't a category of book that was selling. It wasn't warm and feely enough. It was too salty, too "chick lit" when "women's fiction" was the thing. One editor told us it reminded her of Janet Evanovich, which you would think would be excellent. Except, the editor said, Janet Evanovich had her category "sewn up." And I was just like.


I had a couple options. I could keep trying to find a publisher forever. I could stick the book in a drawer, which is not a poor or weak choice, for the record. I could publish completely on my own. Or, my agent said, I could give their digital publishing program a try. The agency helps its clients find editors and designers, formats and uploads the manuscript, advises on search words that gel on Teh Googles. And for the normal royalty, I'd still have representation for any options that come up later, which to me was the most appealing aspect.

I decided to give it a try. Obitchuary ended up as what folks in the biz are calling a "hybrid," since I have an agency but retain all the rights, and can do anything I want with it at any time.


I have found it to be a nice balance. But an agency is not a marketing firm, and selling copies to regular folks is ultimately up to me. I had to figure out through a lot of trial and error how to do it.

The 10,000 mark seemed like a good time to reflect on what has been working or not working. Maybe it'll help some other folks quell the night terrors. I don't have all the answers by any means, but here are things I think are important:


1. Listen to other people.



Everybody has a blog and everyone wants to talk. Read. Listen. Ask questions. One of the most helpful pieces I found came from my internet amiga Felicia Ricci, who wrote the memoir Unnaturally Green. Her blog about publishing her book was picked up by the Huffington Post. She offered lots of advice  -- picking a release date, using the word "we" to sound more official, even though it is probably just you in your fuzzy pajamas drinking Two Buck Chuck.

I also read and re-read the Wall Street Journal story on Darcie Chan, the author of the Mill River Recluse, which explained how she blew up. (I also purchased and read both books, because I am not a monster.)

2. Make sure your book is ridiculously good looking



Seriously, do not even think about releasing it until you're sure it is rad. I know. I get antsy, too. But invest in an editor other than your BFF after several rounds of Tequila Sunrise. DGLM found me a great one in New York who charged a reasonable rate and was fast.

Get a great cover design. I hired Jennifer DeCamp, who I had worked with at the Tampa Bay Times. We went back and forth for at least a month on different designs, scrapping a couple different attempts until we hit just right the right note. I think the cover is divine, and so did Indie Reader, who recognized it as a boss, chill, sweet cover. Indies have gotten a bad rap in years past is because people put out subpar work. Don't do that. It's gross.

3. Get some mad money together



All that stuff I just talked about? You're paying for it. And if you want to promote the thing and get attention (which I will talk about in a minute), you're going to have to pay more. MOST of your sales will be digital, but you'll want to order a stockpile of paperbacks from whatever platform you use to handsell at book clubs, festivals and places you visit IRL.

You can spend as much or as little as you like, and you'll probably notice a correlation. I don't think it's entirely different for our traditionally published friends. A successful mystery writer I know told me he wished he had saved his advance for marketing because his publishing house wasn't doing it for him. Unless you are George R.R. Martin and have a swaggy beard and a legion of fans, it's the way things work. I did a couple of freelance writing assignments and socked the profits away just for book purposes. Find a way to get some cake up.


4. Pick a release date and get super obnox with it



This advice came from Felicia up there in tip one. Here's the secret: If you're publishing yourself, you can release your book whenever you please. But as Bridget Jones introduced Mr. Fitzherbert at the launch of Kafka's Motorbike, picking an official date lends a sense of occasion. New releases come out on Tuesday, so that's what I picked. I went with Oct. 1 because it was nice and easy to remember. Then I posted about it, like, a bunch. On the first week I sold lots and lots, which helped propel the numbers up in the Amazon categories, which helped it get in front of more browsing eyes.

5. Get reviews



Terrifying! I know! But reviews are helpful. You're not likely to get a review in the New York Times, no matter how much you think you deserve it. They don't just magically come to you. So adjust expectations.

Before you publish, start meeting book bloggers. I had relationships with folks on the web who were happy to read my stuff and post reviews when the time came. You can also go the route of straight up cold-calling (e-mailing) and asking for reviews. This worked for me in a couple places. And finally, you can pay for reviews from some reputable services (Kirkus, IndieReader, Foreword), but know they are still going to be honest, not glowing just because you gave money. If you're paying, make sure to ration the reviews. Don't do them all at once. Stagger the reviews so you stagger your sales.

Once your book starts selling, those Amazon reviews WILL magically come to you. I still get them all the time, from actual readers who are not even distant cousins. The good ones outweigh the bad tenfold, and you just have to have thick skin about the rest.


6. Advertise, weirder the better



I paid some good change for ads in fancy book publications. I put one in the New York Review of Books! LOLOLOL. I don't know that it did anything at all. I learned you can spend hundreds in a publication like that, OR you can Google, "e-book promotions" and find links to DOZENS AND DOZENS of sites that will, for a nominal fee, promote and tweet your book to thousands of subscribers who are just looking for inexpensive things to download to e-readers. This has by far been the biggest driver of my sales.

Some of the sites are, well, better looking than others. Several times I cringed and crossed my fingers hoping for no identity theft. If they use PayPal, that's a good sign. Some good sites to check out are Book Basset, The Fussy Librarian, and Ereader News Today, which I have used twice to excellent results. Darcie Chan used this one, too, which is how I found out about it (see tip one).

7. Keep the price low



You worked on this book diligently, possibly for years. You know it is worth more than $.99, and I believe you. But try to keep the price low. I have kept my digital book at $.99 for the year, simply because it was selling so well at that price. This is not based on any real data, but I think people are more likely to take a gamble on a dollar than they are on $5, or even $3. You get way less money from Amazon when you price it at $.99, as royalties shoot up when you move to $2.99. But I try to see it as being paid in readers right now, and thinking long term. When the second book comes out, I will likely keep that price low and slightly raise the price of the first. Which leads me to...

8. Don't expect to make money



I mean, you will make some money. Someone is buying something you are selling. But by all means, don't quit your day job and head down to the Bugatti dealer. A career in writing is built over time. Also...

9. Don't be surprised when people ask how much you make



I read this somewhere else, but can't remember where. Another author was noticing how comfortable people were with asking her how much money her book brought in, as if you'd walk up to someone at work and just ask what their paycheck was. I don't mind that much -- I tend to think we talk way too little about what we're paid in this country -- but just be prepared. When people assume I have made $10,000, I just laugh and laugh and then tell the truth, which is that I have made enough to 1) replace the carpet in my dining room, 2) Buy a bed frame and mattress for my guest room, 3) Paint my office, and 4) Buy a Groupon Getaway to Europe. Not a ton of money by any stretch, but a nice supplement.

10. Find time to keep writing



This is probably the toughest, most important part of all. All that stuff I mentioned up there takes time, time away from your book and your writing process. Lately I have been struggling with that the most, trying to wrap up the sequel to Obitchuary by the end of the year while also mounting various personal hurdles and still finding time to watch Chopped (important). I've made a conscious decision to cut back on promotions now and focus on writing, because you can sell one book into the grave, but there's no long-term prospects without more butt-in-chair.

I am sure I have much more to learn and would love to hear from others about your own process. Leave comments here, or make sure to come see me at the Times Festival of Reading. We can laugh, cry and high five. And if you're so inclined, you can even buy the good, old-fashioned paperback. I still sell a couple of those.

Some helpful ideas for dogs during the day

Monday, March 31, 2014

Activity suggestions for my dog while I am away:

Long nap
Stare out window at cars
Meditate/be thankful about winning lot in life
Crochet/knit/cross stitch/hem jeans
Bark, but only to attractive "one of the guys" extent, don't overdo
Search for cheese shreds on floor
Nap again, new position
Start blog (dog or human interests/cooking/fashion)
Check blog traffic/improve SEO
Try online dating, free and paid because open mind
Take out recycling
Check Kong toy one more time for dried peanut butter crumb
Make e-blueprints for bathroom remodel
Dust baseboards
Write great American novel
Read YOUR MOTHER'S novel, FINALLY, GEEZ
Develop more cogent opinions on French prime minister situation
Take selfie near window at best light of day, three quarters angle
Sell some small things on eBay, then buy one really great thing with profits
Start smoking because of midlife crisis, decide to quit same day
Pee on tile
Pee on hardwood
Pee on washable bathmats
Pee on back porch
Pee on front stoop
Pee on leg of wooden chair
Pee on anything with a hard surface, basically
Recall fond memories of peeing on old carpet
Scrapbook portions of old carpet for posterity
Put portions of old carpet in time capsule in yard
Nap, dream of peeing on carpet



Not activity suggestions for my dog while I am away:

Pee on brand new carpet just installed last week


Remembering Grandpa

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My grandpa died a year ago Friday. I wrote a eulogy and read it at his funeral, and meant to post it online back then, but things were a little hectic. I know he'd like people to read about him, though. He was a celebrity that way.

Being a journalist has taught me how to ask questions and listen, something I take for granted most of the time. But it made me think it was really special to be able to use those skills to interview my own family. And then it made me think that it doesn't take special skills to talk to each other more, even if it's sloppy. Share the stories, good and bad. Write them down. Don't forget. It's simple if you do it.

Here's the eulogy. 

The baby came screaming into the world on Oct. 18, 1924. When his parents gave him a bath, he turned the color of blueberries. They were certain he would die so they called in a priest and a doctor. He was baptized once and named Adam. Then, in his first great act of defiance, he lived. He was baptized again and named Wilford. 
He sunk fast and breathless into the things around him. He made a scooter from an orange crate and a two-by-four, tin cans for lights and a dismantled roller skate for wheels. He made a model airplane powered by rubber bands, and when it crashed, he fixed the front with strips of bamboo. It kept crashing, so he tied a lit match to the plane and watched it come down in flames. 

After high school, his parents gave him a 1937 Harley Davidson motorcycle. He painted it by hand, dashing a lightning bolt down the side, and posed against it in leather boots and gloves, leg cocked and lip curled.


During World War II, Wil’s friends were being called up. Wil was not, so he asked why. The draft board workers found his papers stuck in the back of a drawer. He picked the Coast Guard because no one else was in line that day. He learned to shoot guns, to lower life boats, to speak in Morse code.

He learned ju-jitsu and boxing, how to save people and how to march in parades. He was lost at sea for a week. He spent eight hours at a time searching for overturned sailboats, kids on rafts, helpless fishermen, stalled and broken ships. At least twice, luck and instincts kept him off planes that crashed. 


He met Rita Smith at the roller rink back home. He asked her for a spin during couple’s skate, and they waltzed together on wheels. When she came to dinner, he made his mom set the table with their finest dressings. Rita’s mother loved Wil. She made him cream pies, and when they didn’t turn out, he promised to drink them with a straw. Wil and Rita worked together like a see-saw. Where Wil was wild, Rita was steady. Where Wil wanted the sky, Rita wanted the ground. He took her up in an airplane – once. He took her on his motorcycle – once. He proposed at Lakeview Park in January 1946. She had been ready for it since Christmas. 



Wil was a pipe inspector, a salesman, a tool designer, a foreman, a process engineer. He was president of KTS Met-Bar until 1995. He ran Wil’s Radio Shop, fixing radios on the nights and weekends. He worked two jobs at once to support his wife and their six children. 

He bought the lot next to the family home on 21st Street so his kids could have a place to play. He loved to invent stories, letting the kids fill the holes in silly voices. He took them to the drive-in movies in their pajamas and sprung for large root beers and Snyder’s chips. After seeing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, he bought everyone chocolate bars. Rita kept a tight budget, but when Wil did the grocery shopping, he brought home cigarettes and moon pies. 

He hated going to bed angry, so he’d apologize to everyone, even if he wasn’t wrong. He often slept on the floor. Maybe he liked how it felt. Or maybe he wanted to see his teenagers come through the door at night. Just when they turned off the television, he’d pry open an eye and say, “Hey, I was watching that.” 

Wil connected with each of his children in different ways. Mickie was his oldest, and he was the only one she would let teach her to drive. Barbara was his baby and he picked her up every weekend from college, even through snow and ice. Nancy and Wil critiqued each other’s writings and spent hours in his computer room learning new gadgets. He loved to talk about the military and engineering with Dennis, and visit real estate properties all over town with Dale. Pam drove him everywhere, and when he finally gave up his car after much protest, he told her he’d repay the favor one day when she couldn’t drive. 


He loved his 14 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren and was genuinely interested in our lives. He passed on stamps and books and gadgets from his basement. He showed us things he invented and saved specifically for us. He taught us about history, how to write cover letters for jobs, how to beat the high score in Snood. He called us all “George,” and told us to save our money for good whiskey. He picked up his grandsons from school. “Did you learn anything today?” he’d ask. “Nope,” they’d say. “Good,” he’d say. And they’d buckle in and drive away.


He and Rita were their own Bonnie and Clyde. When the kids told them to lay off the McDonalds, they went in the morning before anyone was awake. They knew all the breakfast spots in town, where Rita ordered eggs over medium and Wil ordered his softly scrambled with rye toast, “Toasted,” because he didn’t want warm bread. Wil enjoyed a monthly Manhattan, and Rita knew one was enough and two was too many. She knew, too, that her husband needed to do things to feel like himself, needed to mow the lawn, needed to visit Kathy at Subway and bring Julie the turkey at Thanksgiving, needed to pass out Christmas bonuses at his old shop. And Wil knew Rita needed him there, sitting at the helm of the table making jokes and sneaking cookies, starting big ideas with, “I was thinking…” So at night, when the errands were done and the visitors had left, they would lie in bed and hold hands until they fell asleep, and in the morning, Wil would wake up, look at Rita and say, “You’re my favorite person in the whole world.” 


Wil faded, quieted in body but not spirit. While sick in bed he drew a stunning portrait of his doctor.


He examined the tissue boxes in his hospital room and invented new uses for them. He fought and fought and fought, raised his hands in the air, then left softly with his faculties, his curiosities and his visitors around him. 

The day Wil died, his grandson, Max, walked through Wil’s basement. He found a little yellowed sheet of paper Wil had written on years before, buried beneath a book on a desk. It said, “If a tiny baby could think, it would be afraid of birth. To leave the only world it has known would seem a kind of death. But immediately after birth, the child would find itself in loving arms, showered with affection and cared for at every moment. Surely the baby would say, “I was foolish to doubt God’s plan for me. This is a beautiful life.”

Obitchuary is getting good reviews! I am eating cookies.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

GOOD REVIEWS, GUYS. THE REVIEWS ARE GOOD.

Check out reviews for Obitchuary from IndieReader, whose reviewer called the book "a near-perfect blend of sweet, tart, and salty," and ForeWord Reviews, whose reviewer said I have a "ear for dialogue and a deft hand with humor." 

I am pleased. As you might imagine, putting something you wrote up to the mercy of honest critique is only slightly less terrifying than standing naked in front of a panel of Olympic swimmers and saying, "Ok, now all at once, everyone count the cellulite. GO!"


I hope everyone is having a happy holiday season. Mine has been interesting and has involved a lot of hunkering over the cookie tray, crumbs from nutty bars flying left and right.

Don't forget, you can still pick up Obitchuary for your e-reader for 99 cents, or in paperback for the holi-daze.

K, back to cookies.
a near-perfect blend of sweet, tart, and salty. It's an excellent antidote to the stresses of everyday life, a perfect book to curl up with on the couch when the economy or politics have got you down. - See more at: http://indiereader.com/2013/11/obitchuary/#sthash.1LHm6PNX.dpuf
a near-perfect blend of sweet, tart, and salty. It's an excellent antidote to the stresses of everyday life, a perfect book to curl up with on the couch when the economy or politics have got you down. - See more at: http://indiereader.com/2013/11/obitchuary/#sthash.1LHm6PNX.dpuf
a near-perfect blend of sweet, tart, and salty. It's an excellent antidote to the stresses of everyday life, a perfect book to curl up with on the couch when the economy or politics have got you down. - See more at: http://indiereader.com/2013/11/obitchuary/#sthash.1LHm6PNX.dpuf

Glossy magazine pages are the best

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hey, girl, heyyyyy. Look who's in Publishers Weekly Select this month.


RECAP: Times Festival of Reading was fest-tacular

Monday, November 18, 2013

Life! Egads, it gets in the way. I would tell you about it all, except the Internet would run out of space and patience. I'm lucky I still have actual human friends.

Let's stick to something simpler, like an overdue recap: The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading was a total smash. It was standing room only in my session about Obitchuary. Everyone seemed to laugh in the right spots and ask great questions. One precious child even said, "Are you going to make it into a movie?" Oh, youthful optimism, so bright, so dear. Let me just get Mr. Scorsese on the horn and work that out.

The night before the festival, I attended the official cocktail party, where authors milled around nibbling crudites and miniature meatballs. Inevitably, I ended up in a corner with several winners of the Pulitzer Prize who were kind enough to ask about my book. I ended up with verbal food poisoning, saying things like, "She, like, kills a guy, with like, well, it's wine that tastes like juice." And then I slunk away to the bar to guzzle wine of my own to cope. It was basically the scene from Bridget Jones where she asks Salman Rushdie where the loos are.


But, it all worked out fine!

Here I am outside my session, coyly pointing to my name on the sign (should have shoved it in my purse like Dan Akroyd with the salmon in Trading Places). You like the dress? I got it on sale at Bebe. It made me feel like a crime fighter. 


A couple days post-reading festival, I appeared on Bob Andelman's podcast, Mr. Media. Bob is also a client at DGLM and has written many, many books of his own. Back when I was writing obits for the paper, I wrote one about his mother-in-law.

Before we Skyped, Bob gave me very specific instructions not to touch my nose, because that all too often comes off as gold-digging, and not in the marrying for money sense, if you smell what I'm stepping in. I agreed heartily to this restriction. I would not touch my nose!

I touched my nose.

Anyway, watch the Mr. Media interview here. We talk about everything from the business of book publishing to the business of newspapering to why reporters all have foul mouths befitting sailors. It's a gas!

Don't forget, you still have 15 days to enter the Obitchuary giveaway at Goodreads. We're doling out 10 signed copies like they're going out of style (but, uh, they're not, of course. Very stylish, always).

There are more exciting things down the pipe, and I promise to also get back to blogging about things that aren't related to the book once stuff has calmed down a little. There is a lot of world out there that needs dissecting, plenty more noses that need touching. I vow to touch them all.

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY! Enter to win a free signed copy of Obitchuary!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jenny, my cousin, good friend and most enthusiastic reader, wrote me recently to explain why she prefers paperback books to e-books. The smell.


While I think my Kindle smells plenty fresh, I get that for some people, reading is a ritual that employs all (or some?) of the senses. Book pages can be a tasty aperitif for the nostrils, you dig? If you want to get in on this book-smelling action with Obitchuary, but don't want to fork over that equally-smelly cash, we have a solution. For the next month, we're hosting a giveaway at Goodreads. Ten lucky readers will win a signed paperback copy, mailed directly to you! Enter here:



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Obitchuary by Stephanie Hayes

Obitchuary

by Stephanie Hayes

Giveaway ends December 04, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

And if you happen to love the smell of your e-reader in the morning, don't forget the e-book is still 99 cents through the end of the year. Good luck and best wishes in all your olfactory pursuits.