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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Week of Self-Published Authors: MR Cornelius

We're continuing our self-pub week with an interview with MR Cornelius, who's written three novels to date. She shares her thoughts on why she chooses to self-publish as opposed to going traditional, her successes and failures in advertising, and some basic advice for authors like herself.

Her books are well-researched, well-written, clever, and an absolute blast to read.

You can find her on Amazon HERE.

I hope you find her replies as useful as I did. 

You’ve been a novelist for over two years and in that time have achieved success without going the route of traditional publishing.  You’ve jumped in with thousands of other authors and come out ahead of the pack. Based on that, I have to assume you know the industry better than most self-published authors. From your point of view, would you discuss for a moment the way the industry currently stands in relation to where it was when you began, where you believe it is going, and how it relates to self-published authors specifically? 

I’m flattered that you think I might know what is happening in the book industry, Matthew, but I don’t have a clue. But then, even experts, and traditional publishers aren’t sure what’s going on, so I guess I’m in good company.

I can tell you my experiences.

My first book, H10N1, was published in May 2011. That fall, I heard about Amazon’s KDP Select. I decided to offer the book free on Dec. 28, 29 and 30 of that year. I figured people would be getting Kindles for Christmas, and would be looking for books to download.
During those three days, I gave away 6500 free copies of H10N1. In January, when the book went back to regular price, I sold over 1200 copies. In February, my sales were still close to 1100.

Now, I’m sure your readers are thinking that’s the kind of success they’re looking for. But unfortunately, that was the last time I had that kind of banner month.

When Amazon started the Select program, it was much simpler to rise up the ladder of the TOP 100, but since they changed the algorithm for equating free books to paid, I haven’t even gotten close to those numbers.  In June 2013, I gave away over 6000 copies of my book The Ups and Downs of Being Dead. When the book went back to regular price, I sold 59 books. (*frowny face*.)

Now I’m not saying I will no longer use KDP Select, because I still believe they give me the best coverage. I tried Smashwords, who in turn distributed my e-book to Kobo, Sony, and B & N. But I’ve never gotten traction from any of those sites. And even when someone ‘borrows’ one of my books through Kindle Prime, I’m making over $2. None of the others can come close to that.

On Feb. 26, 27, and 28 of this year, I offered my book Losing It All FREE on Kindle. During those three days, I gave away 5502 copies. Didn't get any higher than #44 on the top 100 list. Since then, I have sold 84 copies of the book, which is a really good month for me. (No appreciable difference in sales of other 2 books.) And I've gotten 7 new reviews since the free offer. Not sure if there is a connection. I wouldn't think people would read a free download that fast, but I did not solicit any of the reviews. 

One of the good changes Amazon made was in their affiliate program. If someone clicks on a book on a website, and it takes to you Amazon to purchase the book, the website owner makes money. But Amazon got tired of these sites only offering free books, so they changed their payout system. Now these websites need to offer regular and reduced-price books if they want to make money. And that’s a good thing for us authors. Because of the glut of free books out there, our reduced-price books never got showcased. Now they are.

As far as where I think the industry is going? There are a whole lot of people self-publishing now who better not quit their day jobs yet. There is such an abundance of e-books, both from traditional and self-publishers, that it is very hard to get a decent share of the book-reading market. And with companies slithering out of the woodwork to ‘help you get published’, the market will continue to be super-saturated with low cost books. These companies are not interested in your talent; they are interested in your MONEY.

Your novels have achieved the AIA Seal of Excellence. This means they have been reviewed by industry professional and found to be every bit as good as traditionally published material. Have you pursued a publishing contract? If you haven’t, why is that? 

I started out with an agent who pursued a publishing contract for me. After a year of rejections, she suggested I try self-publishing. She loved the book, but couldn’t sell it. I felt confident enough to self-publish, considering I had crossed the first hurdle of finding an agent.

Even if she had managed to sell my book to a publisher, it would have just made it to print in 2013, because there’s a 2-year drag time between a contract and a book actually getting onto a shelf. In that same time, I’ve published 3 books, and will have my fourth book ready this spring.

And with the e-book world exploding, the print book is steadily losing ground. I know, lots of people say they still want to hold a book, and turn the pages. But how many of those books are purchased new, and how many are bought second-hand at the Goodwill, or passed along from one reader to another? Some folks may still be willing to plunk down $30 for a hardcover novel, but considering you could buy a Kindle for the same price as 4 books, and you can see how a lot of readers are changing the way they read.

So why do I need a traditional publisher if my books are only going to be sold online? There are very few book signings anymore, unless you’re already an established author. Indie bookstores are going out of business at an alarming rate. Even big-time authors have decided to retain their rights to e-sales, so traditional publishers may soon go the way of Blockbuster.

Now as far as earning the AIA Seal of Excellence. Here is how I earned that honor: I PAID A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR!!

Writing is a business, just like cutting hair, or opening a shoe store. If you aren’t interested in investing some money to get your business started the right way, then don’t bother writing. You’ll just become one of the millions of authors who have books on Amazon that are going nowhere.

And I don’t mean pay a friend in your critique group. I mean an editor whose business is guiding you to write the best book you can. I challenge you to pick up your favorite author’s book, flip to the acknowledgements, and see the sentence that says something like: “I’d also like to thank my editor, whose invaluable assistance . . .”

If Stephen King, and James Patterson use an editor, so should you.

You seem to be the Queen of Finding Reviews. Your most recent novel, Losing it All, already has 27 reviews. Your novel The Ups and Downs of Being Dead has an amazing 134 reviews, and your apocalyptic novel H10N1 has a whopping 189 reviews. What’s your secret? How have you managed to get so many people to take the time? 

Some of my book reviews have come from bloggers I found on Twitter. You can do a hashtag search to find them. But be warned, half of them still want a hard copy of the book, which you will gladly send, free of charge. Others have gotten better about accepting e-books, but trust me, these bloggers are very, very busy.
You will wait for months to have your book read, (during which time you will NOT send a snarky message asking how much longer they are going to take), and then if they don’t like it, they won’t review it. Which really is a blessing. If someone doesn’t like your book, be glad they don’t post a review.

Pay attention to what types of books these bloggers review. If they say they only read romance, or science fiction, don’t badger them to read your mystery. That’s a good way to get a bad review.
I keep a list of reviewers, and their interests. My first two books were speculative fiction, but the third was more of a romance. So I went back through my lists and pulled out reviewers who liked that genre.

I have also gone on Goodreads and looked up people who gave a favorable review for one of my other books. I asked if they would be interested in reading another of my books.

And of course, with thousands of my books given away, (over 80,000 for all three books) I couldn’t help but get some reviews from anonymous readers. Remember when I said earlier that offering free books doesn’t give as much bang as it used to? It doesn’t in terms of sales, but it certainly gets your book out there and read. The trick is getting the review.

If you aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, you need to get busy. I prefer Twitter for a fan base. Sometimes people drop me a line to say they read one of my books and enjoyed it. I tweet right back, asking them to please consider leaving a review on Amazon. I assure them that it does not have to be a long review. Just their thoughts. Amazon only requires 20 words for a review. And a 5-star review is a 5-star review. (At least for now.)

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. 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? 

The day I received my first ARC of H10N1, I considered myself a writer. And when I saw the book listed on Amazon, I felt as though this was a career I wanted to pursue.

But—if you are asking if I can support myself as a writer, I must answer with a resounding no. I made less than $10,000 last year.

My husband still works full-time, our mortgage is paid off, our children are out of college, and I am retired from a school system, so I am drawing a pension.

I know of some self-publishing authors who are doing well. If you want to read about a success story, check out my friend Russell Blake at Blake Books. He wrote 25 books in 30 months, and he has probably sold more than a million books by now. But Russell is the exception. He literally locked himself in his hacienda in Mexico, and wrote for 14-16 hours a day. Honestly? I don’t think my back could take that kind of abuse.
And if you have any kind of life – a spouse, children, a day job – there’s no way you can match that kind of writing stamina. Most of us tinker around with our books over weekends, and while on vacation.

If you seriously want to pursue a writing career, my advice is to ask yourself some questions.

1. Do you have $5000 to invest in this career?
A good editor will cost over $1,000 per book. A good cover will run you between $250 and $500. Are you going to format your own books, or will you pay someone? Are you going to let an all-in-one publishing house handle everything? Because that will cost WAY more than going through someone like Createspace or Lulu. You’ll have to buy your own ARCs at around $6 to $7 a book. It isn’t unrealistic to think you will need around 100 books to send to reviewers. And no, there is no guarantee that the book will be reviewed.

2. Do you think you have more than one book in you?
Lots of people have a great idea for a book. Some of them actually write it. But if you dry up after that one book, you won’t get very far.

3. Do you come up with great ideas for books, but never seem to finish one?
Nobody sells an idea. They sell completed books. Even if you send in a proposal for a non-fiction book, you will still be expected to finish it.

4. Can you live without an income?
That’s the toughest question, isn’t it? There are a whole lot of books out there, folks. The chances of your book skyrocketing to the top are slim. Google estimates there were over 129,000,000 (that’s one hundred twenty nine million) books listed on Amazon in 2013.
If you want even a fighting chance of making your 32c on every 99c book you sell, you better have the best possible book you can write. And how are you going to be sure it’s as good as you can get it?

(Hint: Hire an editor.)


mshatch said...

Really liking these posts! Very informative and helpful - especially for those of us wanting to know more about self-publishing before jumping in.

Huntress said...

IMO, the cover makes all the difference. I buy the book because of the cover. But it gets my attention and I pick it up. One of the best marketing tools ever.

Great posts, Matt!!

Liz A. said...

Yep, hiring an editor is key.

Great tips.

Robin Lythgoe said...

I am really enjoying hearing the stories and advice from other authors. Those covers, yes! Please make them beautiful (not your darling child's artwork, but something professional!). A gorgeous piece of artwork goes a long way to getting people to look a little further at your book.

Editors—yes, a necessity, but I want to urge caution. Get referrals. Ask for a trial. I have seen far too many books lately that credit editors, but the editing itself was either terrible or ignored.

Thanks for the wonderful tips, Marsha!