Category: Publishing

Cart, meet horse


Cart, meet horse

On the one hand, I’m definitely happy I decided to jump into the publishing side of the writing business.

On the other hand, maybe deciding to just jump right in was a little… shortsighted.

Who knew that running a publishing empire would be as much work as starting any other business? (Well, ok, so I knew it would be work, but I was maybe a little naive about how much work it would be.)

In the past few weeks, I’ve shifted gears… instead of trying a whole bunch of things in an unfocused way and seeing what works, I’ve settled down a bit to some of the foundational work that I skipped right past when I just threw stuff out into the wild.

What’s that, you ask?

Well, the biggest thing has been building a mailing list, surprisingly.

I’ve been struggling with the issue of how to get reviews on the books, because people use reviews when deciding whether or not to buy. I’ve been spending a lot on ads, but there’s only so much ROI when there aren’t any reviews. All the traffic in the world is only moderately useful without what one author calls ‘social proof.’ But Amazon, at least, is very strict about reviews – in theory, they shouldn’t come from friends and family, and authors can actually get suspended if friends and family review their books. (Which is bullshit – I get that they don’t want review manipulation, but for a new author starting out, the only people we have to ask for reviews is friends and family! We don’t have fans yet, silly retail beast.)

It turns out, conventional wisdom in this area is to build a mailing list to generate buzz around new releases, and have an advance reader team who can get ARCs and be prepared to leave reviews right away when a new release releases.

Oh, yeah, there’s also the pesky issue of having an actual launch strategy. Whazzat?

And the fact that ad costs go WAY down when your sales go up, because Amazon’s algorithms work in favor of things that people want to buy.

And I’m discovering that plain old book covers aren’t really effective for Facebook ads. You need separate art for those. So now I have to develop new creative assets for my Facebook ads. Which apparently should be mostly about list building, because the ROI on book sales through Facebook is generally too low to support advertising there for individual books. But when there are enough books to put together a box set, I can advertise that on FB, because the margin will be high enough to support the higher cost of customer acquisition there.

But with all this business stuff, I don’t actually have much time to write my own stuff.

Oh, and then there’s all the specialized tools I need to learn about. I had to learn MailChimp, and set up an automation sequence, and design an email, to start populating a mailing list. (And had to develop those creatives – but I’m actually pretty pleased with the creatives I came up with for that, they almost look professional. The Facebook ads are pretty slick.) I’ve spent way too many hours figuring out how to do 3-D book covers in Pixelmator. (I hate 3d book covers, personally – think they look so cheesy – but evidently they sell.)

And apparently I’m going to have to learn BookFunnel to distribute reader magnets and book giveaways, because that will relieve a lot of the technical headache associated with delivering the book file to people and helping them get it into their devices.

I also paid good cash monies on a course from this guy, who apparently made $450,000 via Amazon a couple of years ago, on self-publishing. This year’s course is focused on Facebook ads, but I actually bought it with the promise of an Amazon ads course that he’s adding in May. I’ve been spending a lot on Amazon ads, and they seem to be the only thing driving sales, but my ROI is crap – not a single ad is in the black.

But he touches on a lot of stuff in this course that sort of assumes I’ve done the underlying work and know what some of these concepts are. I do, in a vague sort of way, but I haven’t really done the work to develop these assets and resources for our new authors’ pen names.


So yeah. Tonight I have to edit this week’s podcast for the publishing imprint, because I’m still doing that, for some unknown reason. This weekend, I’d like to put together a video ad for one of the books – yes, video ads for books are apparently a thing. Plus I need to record next week’s podcast. And I still have a module and a half to go in the online course, plus two other bonus courses to consume. And at some point, I should work on building up a list of keywords for my Amazon ads, because those are supposedly the more effective ads (although I’m currently having more success with Product ads – presumably because I haven’t done the work to develop the keyword list).

So basically, I have a full-time publishing job on top of the full-time contract writing gig. When am I supposed to write my own stuff? Apparently I don’t get to do that anymore.

Oh, what a fickle business is publishing.


Oh, what a fickle business is publishing.

Or at least, the selling books portion of it is.

(Well, who am I kidding? That’s really all there is to it, anyway.)

Starting from scratch with a publishing imprint and unknown pen names was always going to be an uphill battle. Building contacts from scratch, establishing a brand with the new pen names… that was going to be challenging. Is challenging. I knew it would be time and capital intensive.

I’ve got a raft of Amazon ads going right now, which is driving a steady and increasing number of book sales, but I’m still outspending the book revenue with the advertising – a LOT. Fortunately, my paying work right now can fund this growth stage, but it’s a little nerve-wracking to see the ad dollars flowing out in a steady stream and the revenue trickling in a few drips at a time.

I’ve been experimenting with different ad copy for different target audiences, and tweaking the book description copy on the page, and conversions have steadily improved. But we’re still missing the very important Gold Stars. That’s right – Reviews, baby.

Without review data, it’s that much harder to get someone to click the “Buy” button. Even the best-written book descriptions in the world don’t mean much until we see “Oh, 109 people have rated this and it has decent reviews, so at least someone likes it.”

As a reader, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. I’ll pass on books that don’t have many reviews, by unknown authors, even if the writing looks decent or seems like something I might enjoy. I can’t blame other readers for doing the same now.

I feel like if we can just get some reviews, the conversions will go up drastically. Some of the ads might even start paying for themselves. It will also jump-start Ye Olde Online Bookseller’s algorithms to market the book more effectively even when I’m not paying for ads – should boost the organic search results.

It’s just getting past this initial hurdle of getting the books into enough people’s hands to get reviews on them that’s the hard part.

In the meantime, book sales come in fits and starts. In the beginning, the marketing engine wasn’t really running, so there were no book sales (while I was trying to clear up some problems with the listing pages). Since the beginning of March, though, sales have steadily increased – first one, then one every day, then a handful of days with none, then a few… currently, in the past seven out of eight days, we’ve gotten at least one sale every day… multiple sale days are becoming the norm, versus days with none or only one. But that makes the days like today, with no sales, worse.

“Why did we sell five the other day, then three, then one, then four, and now none? Why no sales today? Is there something wrong with the page? Have the ads stopped serving? Why? Why?

The changeable uncertain nature of this business is tough. Plowing ahead when I don’t necessarily understand all of the variables involved, or when my sheer stubborn will isn’t enough to just make it work, isn’t always easy. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, spending the money to try to get over this hump, or whether I should go back to something ‘safer’ and put the money toward household goals, instead. It feels kind of selfish to just be pouring this money into a fledgling business just to try to make it work.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten kind of accustomed to pushing at something long enough to make it give way and make it work. Pretty much everything in my life has been like that. “Hard, hard, hard – oh, wait, there we go, this is actually a thing that I can do.” Whether it’s starting my own business when I started freelancing a decade ago, or losing weight and exercising, or learning how to ride a motorcycle, or even just turning a wrench… there’s a point when you get the leverage just right and the thing becomes easy.

I guess being stubborn isn’t the worst personality trait. So for now, I’ll just keep trying different things and see what it takes to make this publishing thing work. It would really be nice to get to a point where it doesn’t take quite so much time, though, so I could get back to the thing I really love – writing.

Who would have guessed that starting a second business on top of my regular full-time business would leave me less time to do my hobby?