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Friday, March 21, 2014

A Week of Self-Published Authors: Final Guest, K.C. May

As the week winds down and our final guest shares her experiences, I want to give a big thanks to all four authors who took the time to answer our questions in such detail and with such candor. I think a lot of the authors out there who haven't become best-sellers feel a degree of failure in themselves, at least that is my impression when I talk to many of them. For all of you who are beating yourself up over your sales, I hope the authors who've been interviewed this week have helped put things into perspective for you. "Writing is not a sprint, it's a marathon." It's like most careers-- you don't don't get hired in as the president of the company, you have to work your way up.

What can you (we) take away from this week?

  • Write. Writing more is the absolute best way for you to become a success.
  • Don't get distracted by social media. It can seem like a good investment of time, and sometimes it is, but best in moderation.
  • Write more.
  • Brand yourself. Be who your books are, at least as far as what your readers see and hear.
  • Free book giveaways are a very good marketing tool.
  • Write more.
  • Be patient. If you're a good writer, and if you stick with it, you'll find success even if you end up having to redefine what you thought "success" was originally going to be.
  • Pay attention to the trends in the industry. New ideas and options for marketing are coming out all the time.
  • If you're not sure if you're spending your time well, you should probably be writing.

Our last guest is K.C. May, a science fiction and fantasy author with six novels to date. She has her own publishing house and has been in the business for close to ten years. She is one of the few self-
published authors who has created the ability for herself to make writing her full-time career. She has a lot of experience and it shows. Authors, take a look at her website www.kcmay.com. It's everything an author would want their website to be: clean, professional, and fun. Take a look at the covers of her books. Even if you'd only read one of the Kinshield saga, you'd know any of the others were part of that series simply by the cover.

You’ve been a novelist for close to a decade. In that time, the industry has drastically changed. What do you see as the positives from those changes and what do you see as the negatives?

When I first started writing novels (in the late 80s), there weren’t a lot of ways for a writer to get feedback. Without feedback, it’s difficult to know what you’ve done right vs. what you need to improve. With the internet came ways for writers to connect, and share advice and feedback. Since my first book was published in 2005, the biggest changes have been in the explosion of the number and variety of outlets for publication. Small presses have succeeded, vanity publishing has diminished, and self-publishing has emerged as a surprisingly viable means to earn a living as a writer.

Your novel, The Kinshield Legacy, won a hardcover publishing contract in 2005. You’ve since had the rights reverted back to you and published it under your own imprint, “Peach Orchard Press”. Why did you decide not to seek another publishing house?

In 2010, self-publishing was beginning to get real traction in terms of accessibility to the major markets (Amazon and Barnes & Noble in particular). I’ve always had somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit (I’ve tried getting into Amway, Mary Kay, and a few other peer-to-peer type organizations), and so the thought of doing it myself was massively appealing. By self-publishing it, I could maintain control of the artwork and see the sales figures myself instead of having to trust that the publisher (which has since earned a spot on the Predators & Editors “Not Recommended” list) was reporting sales accurately.

I did query my agent about The Venom of Vipers before self-publishing it, however. His lack of response (hrmph!) was no match for my ambition. I was more than happy to publish it myself.

Your situation is unique in that you own the publishing company that distributes your books which leads me to believe you see a benefit over simply self-publishing “generically”. In what way(s) do you feel you benefit by adding that extra layer? Would you recommend that other self-published authors do the same? Have you ever considered placing other authors under the Peach Orchard banner and expanding your company?

I’m not sure there’s a benefit to anyone but me. By establishing a separate entity, I can show (to anyone who cares, such as the IRS) that this is a serious venture for me. I’m not “just” a hobby writer. I felt that creating a publishing imprint was a way to communicate my intent. I don’t know that I’d recommend doing so to others, but I certainly wouldn’t discourage it. I think it depends on their commitment level and cash flow. It might be cheaper or free to register a business in other municipalities, but where I live, it ran me a few hundred bucks just for that piece of paper.

My intention is to only publish my own work under the Peach Orchard Press banner. That doesn’t mean I won’t change my mind, but the benefit to my readers in keeping POP solely for my own writing is that they know that every author pen name with my Peach Orchard Press name and logo is me. If my fantasy or science fiction readers also enjoy romance, they can tell by the publisher that I also write in that genre. And they might enjoy those books as well.

You have recently begun a chapter of your life as a full-time author. You have achieved a success that most authors, especially self-published authors, never reach. What was the turning point, the moment, when you realized you could support yourself as a writer? What changed in order for you to feel comfortable enough to take that leap?

It was a bit of a surprise to me, actually, when I was doing my taxes. 2013 was my fourth year having to declare royalties as a self-published author on my income tax return. I had a big sales boom in 2011, and things tapered off in 2012 and 2013, but when I saw that my royalty income for last year was still almost enough to pay the bills, I decided there was no longer any reason to wait. Writing fiction was what I wanted to do. Every Monday, I would wake up dreading my week and wishing I could just write stories.

I’d been letting the royalty checks pile up in the savings account, trying to decide how to use the money (Should I get a swimming pool? New car? Put in a new outdoor fire pit in the backyard? Remodel the bathroom?). Then I had a particularly bad week at my day job, one of those weeks where I just wanted to throw up my hands and quit. I spent a few days (and a weekend) thinking it over, talking with my family about it, and then I wrote my resignation letter.

It is generally agreed that the most difficult part of being a self-published author is marketing, especially in the beginning when there are only a few titles for readers to choose from. How long (years) and how many novels did it take before you were able to consider that a career as a novelist could be a reality? What strategies did you use to market yourself that you would warn others against using? What strategies did you use to market yourself that you feel contributed most to your success?

I have six novels and a novella out now. One of the novels and the novella are free (and they shall remain free as long as I have the power to keep them that way), so essentially I have income from five novels released Dec 2010 through Dec 2013. I didn’t consider going full-time until January 2014, when I looked at my tax return + bank statement and realized that possibility was real. I figured that, although I’d have to supplement my royalty income with money I’d saved up for a little while, having time to write three or four (or more?) books per year (and hopefully earning enough from them to fully cover my bills) was worth the risk.

I am not a natural salesperson (which is probably why my attempts at Amway, Mary Kay, etc. failed so miserably), and I’m not good at marketing myself, and so for a while, I threw money at whatever venues were available – banner ads, “sponsorships” (for someone else’s marketing campaign), giveaways, ads at sites like Bookbub, Facebook, Goodreads, etc. Most of them worked a little bit, but some didn’t work at all. Facebook and Goodreads ads for me were a waste of money. Some of those sponsorship ads didn’t work, or they were effective at one time and became less so. There are Facebook groups that list effective advertising sites (like BookBub, Book Gorilla, and so forth) that I recommend writers follow. Those that worked for me a month ago might be a wash six months from now. The Facebook groups that keep lists would probably do a good job at updating them as new sites emerge and old ones fade away. Just know that there are sites out there that cater to readers, listing good deals on books. The more popular of those sites tend to be the most effective for advertising.

When I released my romance novel this past December (the first book under that pen name), I was a nobody in the genre. Discoverability is the key to sales, and if no one knows your book exists (because it’s not on a bestseller list anywhere and no one is talking about it), there are no sales. What I did for that one, to get it kick-started, was to give it away for free. Yeah, people gasp and clutch their hands to their throats because “how can you possibly make money on a free book?” If your potential audience numbers in the MILLIONS (or even hundreds of millions!) of readers, a few thousand (or 20 thousand) free copies isn’t going to ruin everything. Some of those free copies will actually be read, and some of those readers will leave reviews (especially if you include a note at the end asking them to). My romance novel, Body Double, has been out just shy of two months now, and it has 33 reviews on Amazon US and 20 on Amazon UK. Not bad for an unknown author in a new genre, right? And now that it has a good number of reviews, it’ll qualify to be featured on a site like Book Bub, Book Gorilla, or Fussy Librarian. That’s where the readers are. In fact, when the book went back to its regular price of $3.97 on Amazon, it got the benefit of an hour’s visibility on the top 100 free books listing, except that it had a price. It ended up with a very respectable sales ranking on Amazon UK (in the triple digits) for several days in January. Sales rank keeps the book in front of readers’ eyes.

Then there’s my favorite marketing method: writing more books! It really helps to have a mailing list that people opt into. In the back of each book, I’ve included a link to my web site and urged people to sign up for the mailing list. These aren’t like those “fake” Facebook Likes that never engage or Twitter followers that don’t care. These are people who actually like my writing and want more. When I’m ready to announce a new book, my newsletter readers get the scoop first, they get an opportunity to win something nobody else can get: a personally autographed digital copy, and they find out about the release day-only sales price (99c on release day, then the price goes up the next day. It’s a win-win. My book starts off with a strong sales rank, and my most devoted readers get my new book at a killer price.

Is there any one book you’ve written that has molded your identity as a writer and made you into the brand you are? Is there anything about your brand that you feel has created a reason to compel readers to read more of your books?

Gosh, I’m not sure. The Kinshield series is a brand, and I’d like to think readers would agree that the gradual peeling-back of mysteries and layers in the series that takes it from being “just another sword and sorcery book” (book 1) to something different and fun (books 2-4) is uniquely “me.” Every writer has their own spin, their unique way of seeing the world and telling a story that reveals the nuances of human experience. I hope that my twist is different enough yet comfortably familiar enough to entice readers to come back for more. I plan to be doing this for the rest of my life.


K.C. May said...

Thanks, Unicorn Bell, for letting me go on and on. :)

Robin Lythgoe said...

Excellent information, K.C.! Thanks for sharing!

K.C. May said...

Thanks for stopping by, Robin!

Liz A. said...

Wow, great advice. Having more books out there seems to be the consensus. Something to strive for, at least.

Congrats on getting to full-time writing.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks for sharing your journey, and your insights on writing, publishing, and marketing! I started my own business with Wings of Light Publishing for my books, but I admit I feel like I barely know what I'm doing with it yet . . . I'm going to check out your site for tips. :)

Huntress said...

Fantastic. What a great week!!

Anonymous said...

I'm excited to read your story, it gives me hope.

Anonymous said...

I'm excited to read your story, it gives me hope.