Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Self-Publishing And Promotions - An Experiment


Elizabeth Black writes erotica, erotic romance, and horror, and she lives on the Massachusetts coast. See her bio at the end of this article.

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It seems everyone is self-publishing these days. More authors are jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon when they read about success stories like J. A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking. Why pay a publisher most of your earnings when that publisher (especially if it is tiny and for the most part operates out of someone's kitchen) does little of the work? Authors who are published by large publishers these days must do most of their own promotions. Some authors must distribute their ARCs to professional reviewers on their own because their publishers don't send books out for review. It's even tougher to find readers to review your works on reader blogs. So lots of people self-publish, hoping to repeat the successes of Konrath and Hocking.

Not all of them succeed. In fact, cases like Konrath and Hocking are rare. From what I understand, most self-published authors barely sell fifty copies of their books in the book's lifetime. You don't hear much about that.

As an experiment, I self-published two erotic fairy tales, "Trouble In Thigh High Boots" (erotic Puss In Boots) and "Climbing Her Tower" (erotic Rapunzel). Like so many small press authors, I was tired of working my ass off promoting and writing and taking home only about 40% of my book's worth. I wanted the 70% I could get from Amazon, especially since I did most of the work myself anyway. Far too many small publishers are really self-published authors operating a start-up out of their kitchen. They add a dozen or so authors (often new authors) to their catalogue to give the appearance of professionalism. These are people with little to no publishing and/or marketing experience. These publishers provide editing and cover art - and that's about it. Since I did most of the work including promo as opposed to most of my publishers promoting author's works, I wanted to see if I could make a go of self-publishing.

It's much harder than most people think. Granted, I've been self-published for only four months. It's too soon to say whether or not I have been successful.

I choose to avoid Kindle Select. I wanted my books to be available on as many distributor sites as possible, so I opted for Kindle Direct, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple, and a few others. I never made it to AllRomanceEbooks although I should list the books there. I'm still figuring out Calibre. Now that I'm considering Kindle Select for a three month trial run, I'll forgo ARe for the moment. I've also chosen only ebooks for the moment, since I can't afford to release print books. 

One big problem many writers face is that their books are lost in a sea of millions of books, especially on Amazon. This is especially true of self-published writers. How do you get noticed? That's where creative promotions come in. The Holy Grail is to find readers rather than promoting to other writers. Here is some of what I've tried so far:

Professional editing and cover art: I hired a cover artist and an editor. That was the first thing I did. They put me back several hundred dollars for both books, but the expense was worth it. My books are professionally edited - something all self-published writers should strive for. One valid complaint of some self-published works is that they are full of errors and are presented in an unprofessional manner. My covers are beautiful and easy to read. I've seen some self-published authors and even small presses skimp on the covers. There's more to making an effective cover than choosing free or low cost stock photos and slapping some text on them.

Professional and Reader Reviews: Some small presses don't even send out books for review. I sent my ARCs to review sites and individual reviewers myself. Good reviews drive books further up in the ranks, but they can be hard to come by. Amazon recently removed what it considered questionable reviews from author's books, including perfectly legitimate four and five star reviews. Hit-and-run one-star reviews that serve no purpose other than to attack the writer remained, driving the overall rating of the books down. Reviews can be gamed. Sock puppets were a big problem. Like so many writers, I was disturbed to learn some best-selling authors (most notably self-published w√ľnderkind John Locke) had paid online services several hundred dollars to write positive reviews of their books to artificially boost sales.

Social Media Sites: Facebook and Twitter are mixed bags. Facebook's new algorithm allows for only less than 100 of your friends to see your posts at a time, therefore you lose a great many potential readers. You must be careful promoting on multiple groups because Facebook may ban you temporarily or permanently for spamming. Even seeking friends who are possible readers is risky, since there is a new item below friend requests asking if you know the person outside Facebook. Ignore that feature. If you click on "no", that person's account may be penalized for up to a month.  Despite all that, Facebook is one of my favorite places to be, especially when it comes to networking with other writers and publishers, and finding submission calls. I do see results from my promoting on various reader groups, so Facebook is worthwhile. I've heard from writers who get plenty of mileage on Twitter, but I'm not as active on Twitter as I am on Facebook.

Reader Forums: Forums such as Kindle Boards and Goodreads are great places to find readers. The problem is writers are discouraged on most reader forums from plugging their own works. If they plug, they are sometimes flamed and attacked. I've run into many writers who have had bad experiences with Goodreads. According to Hocking and Konrath, rather than endlessly advertise your books, you must engage readers. I agree with that. So go into these forums with the intention of talking about your favorite books. Join in the crowd. Get to know people. A big problem with this approach is that it takes an incredible amount of time and it's not guaranteed to get anyone interested in your books. Time that could be spent writing is spent hanging out in reader forums hoping to get lucky. I used to post on Kindle Boards but I've since slowed down. I've never had much luck with Goodreads.

Live Chats: I highly recommend live reader chats if you can find them. My favorite live chat is the Night Owl Romance Live Chat. I'm a member of an online writer's organization that meets with readers on Night Owl every two months or so. Plus I have set up my own individual chats on Night Owl. These chats are scheduled a year in advance so if you're interested in participating, keep an eye on the forum towards the end of the year to sign up.

Contests: Giving away a book for free is a great way to get noticed. I've found initially I've given away more books than I've sold. It takes time but there is a payoff. Everyone loves free stuff, and people will come out in droves for a chance to win a free book. Just be careful of the collectors - those who are in it only for the freebies. These people have no intension of actually reading the book or buying your other books. They collect free stuff for the sake of having it. Hosting contests on your blog or Facebook page, for instance, is a great way to lure lurkers out of the shadows. Ask a contest question that requires more than a "yes" or "no" answer so you get some personal information about your contest entries. Then, engage them briefly. A little attention goes a long way. Plus you may make some friends doing this.

Loop Chats on Yahoo Groups: Yahoo groups are a mixed bag in similar ways that Facebook and Twitter are mixed bags. A big problem is that most groups are promo dumping sites readers don't visit. So it's all an echo chamber of writers promoting to each other. Yes, writers read but the purpose of posting to Yahoo groups is to promote your books to readers who aren't necessarily authors. I participate in live loop chats on the Love Romances Cafe Yahoo group several times per year. An advantage of loop chats over live chats is that readers don't have to be present during your chat to benefit from it. There is an archive of your posts so readers who drop by hours later have written material they may view at their leisure. This includes blurbs, excerpts, and buy links. You can't post long excerpts in live online chats. You'll end up with a case of TL;DR.

Blog Hops: I've had great results from blog hops. A blog hop is where a number of blogs with a common theme are linked on one web site, most often to celebrate a holiday. For instance, there are Valentine's Day, Christmas, and Halloween blog hops. I've done both romance and horror blog hops. You register your blog on the blog hop page and have a post prepared for the day(s) of the blog hop. Some requires a contest giveaway of a book or other swag. Want to try a blog hop and you write romance? Sign up for the July 4th romance blog hop at The Blog Hop Spot: http://thebloghopspot.com/sign-up-here/

Blog Tours: There are companies that will set up blog tours for you, but I've found it easier to simply set up my own. I contacted writer blogs and reader blogs, and asked if I could put up a guest post. Everyone I contacted said "yes". It helped that I already knew most of the people from Facebook. I often swap with them - I'll host them on my own blog. I set up a three week blog tour, running Mondays through Thursdays. Blog tours are a great way of getting exposure to a wide variety of people in a short period of time. If this sounds too overwhelming for you to do on your own, there are plenty of companies online that will do it for you, for a fee.

Radio Shows: I've co-hosted romance and horror radio shows on Blog Talk Radio with Marsha Casper Cook. Radio is a great format for you, your interests, and books in general. Plus it's interesting to put a voice to a name. Radio shows make you seem more real and human.

Special Sales And Free Books: One way to attract attention is to lower your book's price to $0.99 for several days as a promotion. An even better way to attract attention is to make your book free for a few days. Think of it this way. Your free book is downloaded on Amazon by 1,000 people. 100 out of those people actually read it. 20 of those people chat up the book with other readers because they liked it. Then those people buy and read the book, and pass on their own views of it to their friends. A snowball effect occurs.

These are the two books I have self-published.


TROUBLE IN THIGH HIGH BOOTS
Erotic Puss In Boots


Tita is a Puss In Boots with a little something extra. Being a magical creature, she shifts from a kitty into the form of an alluring, ginger-haired woman when the situation demands it. And what a situation she finds herself in! Her new master Dylan is a poor man who needs a boost in the world. Sly Tita uses her seductive wiles to pass him off to the villagers and the king as the Marquis of Carabas in order to help both of them gain their fortunes. Her plan is not without its problems. Dylan's malicious brother, Zane, lusts after Tita, and he wants her all to himself, but she refuses to succumb to his treachery. Being a cat first and foremost, she purrs in the arms of her many lovers but her heart belongs to only one man - the king. She hopes that in ensuring Dylan his lofty place in the world the king finds a place in his heart for her. Her life becomes an erotic adventure in reaching her goals.


CLIMBING HER TOWER
Erotic Rapunzel


Rapunzel has never known life outside her tower. She has never felt the company of a human being other than Mother, and she has never been in close contact with a man - until Prince Richard of Norwich climbs into her tower one dark night and sweeps her off her feet. Prince Richard introduces Rapunzel to erotic pleasures beyond her wildest dreams, and she wants more! In order to make her both his wife and his sex slave, Prince Richard needs to spirit her away from that tower, but Mother stands in his way. Prince Richard and Rapunzel begin a tantalizing and dangerous adventure in order to be together as one. And "let down your hair" takes on an entirely new meaning in their fevered embraces.

ABOUT ELIZABETH BLACK

Elizabeth Black writes erotica, erotic romance, speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror. She also enjoys writing erotic retellings of classic fairy tales. Born and bred in Baltimore, she grew up under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe. Her erotic fiction has been published by Xcite Books (U. K.), Circlet Press, Ravenous Romance, Scarlet Magazine (U. K.), and other publishers. Her horror fiction has appeared in "Kizuna: Fiction For Japan", "Stupefying Stories", "Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales Of Body Enhancements Gone Bad", and "Mirages: Tales From Authors Of The Macabre". An accomplished essayist, she was the sex columnist for the pop culture e-zine nuts4chic (also U. K.) until it folded in 2008. Her articles about sex, erotica, and relationships have appeared in Good Vibrations Magazine, Alternet, CarnalNation, the Ms. Magazine Blog, Sexis Magazine, On The Issues, Sexy Mama Magazine, and Circlet blog. She also writes sex toys reviews for several sex toys companies.

In addition to writing, she has also worked as a gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and make-up artist (including prosthetics) for movies, television, stage, and concerts. She worked as a gaffer for "Die Hard With A Vengeance" and "12 Monkeys". She did make-up, including prosthetics, for "Homicide: Life On The Street". She is especially proud of the gunshot wound to the head she had created with makeup for that particular episode. She also worked as a prosthetic makeup artist specializing in cyanotic blue, bruises, and buckets of blood for a test of Maryland's fire departments at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport plane crash simulation test. Yes, her jobs are fun.  ;)

She lives in Lovecraft country on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. The ocean calls her every day, and she always listens. She has yet to run into Cthulhu.

Visit her web site at http://elizabethablack.blogspot.com/
Follow her at Twitter: http://twitter.com/ElizabethABlack


6 comments:

  1. Thanks Elizabeth for an entertaining and informative article. Now I need to question my inclination to self-publish.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Ron. I have a feeling self-publishing takes some time to catch on for people who are just starting out. You aren't going to get scads of readers overnight. The problem is, does the writer want to put in the effort?

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  3. Self-publishing has a double face. It could be an opportunity for many writers (also for me), but we know that division of labor is better.
    If I have to concentrate on writing, how do I do everything else?

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  4. Lady Flo,

    I compartmentalize my work. Write in the morning and promo in the afternoon. I also keep lists and a very well-tended calendar. I try to determine what works the best and gets me the most results, and I follow through with those things. Those are just some suggestions. What works for you may be different.

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  5. Hello, Elizabeth,

    So don't pull your punches - after all this work, how well have your self-pubbed books sold? Especially in comparison to the books you have out with indie publishers?

    I certainly agree that you need to be really careful about which publishers you sign with. You need to find a company that realized publishing is a business, and treats it that way.

    So far I haven't gone the self-pub route, because I'd rather spend the limited time I have building readership (or writing) as opposed to learning all the ins and outs of the different publishing platforms. The work my publishers do on editing and cover art is worth the 20-30% extra, in my opinion, especially if that helps me increase my overall level of sales.

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  6. My self-published books have not sold well. I haven't quite figured out why yet. Part of the problem is that I'm not well-known, and the writers who do best in self-publishing are the ones who already have a following. It's too easy for a new or unknown writer to be lost in a huge sea of books. As you've said, self-publishing requires a lot of work - time that could be better spent building a readership and/or writing.

    I do better with some of my mid-sized publishers. I have a new novel in the works at the moment, and I'm not going to self-publish that one. I'm going to submit it to the larger independent presses that have good track records. Yes, you must be careful when choosing a publisher. It seems there is a new pub opening every other week, and I avoid new ones. I agree with Absolute Write that writers should watch a new pub for at least two years before even considering submitting to it. I may return to self-publishing once I develop more of a following, but now I plan to submit to established, reputable independent publishers.

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