Self-Publishing-The First Six Weeks - Melissa Schroeder

Self-Publishing-The First Six Weeks

I think the subtitle of this blog should be: Boring facts and ramblings from Mel.

Readers, this may be of little to no interest to you, but I have had a few authors ask me questions about my process and I thought I would address them here. Now when someone emails me, I will just send them to this post, lol. I will be very surprised if anyone reads it, but hey, at least I have a post to send people to if they do ask, lol.

As many of  you know, deciding to self-publish was not easy. It was a long process. I had dipped my toe in the water, putting out a short story and a few rereleases, but I had not done a full on release of a series there. As an author published with several companies, I will make close to or over 200,000 dollars this year. Yep, I know a lot of people don’t realize it, but I actually make a lot of money. And now I will get bashed for saying it but oh well.

My problem was that I felt stifled by publishers. They have their own interests and they don’t always correspond with mine. That’s business and I understand that. I also had a problem with being told another Harmless book might not come out for close to 9-12 months and that there seemed to be no interest whatsoever in the spinoff series. That military series was a brain child born last winter, not recently. I tried working within the system for years and basically just gave up. I couldn’t allow this to continue. My husband is retiring in August of 2013 from the AF and for the first time in 20 years, I want him to have the freedom to do what he wants. To do that, I needed more control.

I did not go into it lightly, nor did I think I could just slap a book together and put it out there. You need good cover art and editing. Am I saying that what I put out was perfect? Nope, but I do believe I put out a good product. I also had done a lot of reading on both sides of the fence. Konrath has good posts. Okay, he can be a bit of an ass, but he makes me laugh sometimes and he has cold hard figures. He never hides what he is doing, nor does he paint pretty pictures. I can deal with the blunt truth better than having someone blow smoke up my ass. I might write romance, but I need facts. Telling me that someday I MIGHT make it somewhere for a possible four figure deal…no thanks. Telling me what works and what doesn’t, that works for me. Konrath has always done that.

People kept telling me to just start submitting to NY again. Why? So that I can possibly get 1000-5000 advance and then not get paid for another few years. (psst…I made more than that in my first full month of self-publishing, but I will talk more about that later). One thing I disagree with a few people on is that there needs to be marketing. You cannot just throw a book out there and make money. Oh, some people do, and even in my own genre. I don’t like taking risks. Calculated risks, yes, but just risks? This cappy doesn’t roll that way. So, my PA Brandy Walker and I launched a marketing plan for my books. We are doing it for all of them in different ways, but I do promo, I do have a newsletter and I actually do get out there online and talk to readers. (hint, if you are a romance author who “doesn’t have time for readers” you might find they don’t have time for you.)

For authors, remember you are not just an author anymore. You are the publisher. I cannot stress this enough. That is what self-publishing is. You are the publisher, the marketing and art department, or you hire people to do those things. Do not ever think that putting out a book yourself is easy. Is it worth it? In my opinion, yes. Ten times over. So, I launched A Little Harmless Submission on the Oct 18th. It was a success. Did I have to deal with a glitch or two? Yep. But, I think that in the end, it was worth it. And, I am so excited about my upcoming year. I get to write two paranormals I have been waiting years to do, and I get to do a lot more Harmless books, including at least two more military books and at least three full harmless books, woo hoo.  This is something that would never happen if I were working through a publisher.

So, it’s been 6 weeks and here are the figures for my newly released books as of midday Dec 2 w/ combined sales from Amazon, B and N, Bookstrand and ARe:

A Little Harmless Submission
Released Oct 18th
3602 copies

Released Nov 14th

And this is not the only thing that happened. I watched was the rise of my older Harmless books. I think I had two of the older ones on the best selling erotica books on Amazon. I won’t get that payment for another six months, but all of my Samhain Harmless books were under 5K in sales ranking for several days. The only thing that bothers me is a slight dip in my sales at B and N. But, at the same time, my sales at Kindle have soared, so maybe my readers moved that? Not sure.

For Submission, 6 weeks of sales have me at just about 270 sales less than Addiction. I just got the figures for the first month of Amazon sales last month (it released in June) But that included Addiction’s first month of sales AND two months of preorders from B and N and Amazon. I averaged 1.80 per book, which would have gone down to 1.35 cents per book for a book with less than 60K words. And, since this was over 60K, I would have only earned 1.65 per book offsite.  I averaged 2.60 per book this way. Even before the contract changes I would only get 2.20 per book, but even with just these sales and the new Samhain contracts, I would have lost 3400 bucks. Let that sink in. In six weeks, I would have lost 3400 bucks.

Am I the best seller? Hell, no. But one thing that I know is what I will get paid in December and January. I will know by the end of December what I will get paid in Feb. It is easier to plan that way.

I am not someone who will condemn people who decide not to self-pub. Everyone has considerations in their personal life. Mine forced me to take the scary step and go out there and do it.  I needed to have a steady living and I know I can trust myself. Honestly, after having a book from a bestselling series sit around for a year before release for no good BUSINESS reason, I don’t trust anyone. For those of you considering it, I would say dip your toe in. I put out a short and a few rereleases. See if you can operate this way. I don’t think you need to pick just to be self-pubbed or traditionally published. You can, but you can also try both. One thing self-pubbing gives you is a monthly paycheck and the knowledge of what that paycheck will be about 7 or more weeks in advance. It also fuels your other book sales as I have mentioned. Or it might just help you creatively. Doing something so different, like my Cursed Clan and By Blood, can fuel your creativity and that is always a good thing.
Here are a few pointers:

Start with a budget
That sounds simple, but it is imperative. You have to put out money. My upfront budget for formatting, covers and editing is 500-800 bucks. This changes depending on the size of the book, ie how many words. Know you will need that before you make any money on the book. And, if you do your own formatting or can do cover art, and I mean make it look professional, then your costs might be less. Also, depending on pics, etc, cover art might get expensive.

Understand YOU are the publisher
Marketing, editing, etc, all needs to be arranged by you. Cover art needs to be considered, when to release, etc. This is no small feat and make sure you can do this before you jump into it. I know some people have said you don’t have to worry about it. But in romance, I think you do. There is a lot of competition out there, and why wouldn’t you take that extra step to make more money?

Regular releases
I know that one of the reasons my first two books did so well is because I had two Harmless releases back to back. I have a shorty coming out this month, and then another Harmless book in Feb. This is my best selling series and my readers have been irritated with long waits for new books. So, I want to make them happy.

Now, I read someone make the comment that they NEEDED the recognition of other authors. I think for me, I have worked outside of the box for so long, I don’t care.  Would I love for people to accept me? Sure, but I have given up on that. From the time I first got published and was told by a local RWA that I was NOT really published because I was an ebook author, to having people pretend they don’t know me because they signed NY contracts, I have lost the interest in gaining acceptance. Readers like my writing, and that is all that matters.

I am not here to answer challenges from people who think self-pubbing is going to ruin publishing as we know it. Truth is, it IS going to change. Digital is now the new mass market, as it was reported that digital fell over 50% in sales this past September. I am just putting my info out there for those thinking about it. Will everyone do as well as I do? Uh, no. And some people will blow way past me. Let’s be honest. Some unknown or newbie authors are kicking my ASS. But the truth is, no one tells people not to send to NY publishers because they might never make a lot of money. And people are condemned for talking about it. Again, I really don’t care. I think knowledge is power and anyone who throws a fit about info being revealed is afraid of the future. Painful but true. Because people decide to go this way is no reflection on you because, and I hate to break this to you, the WORLD DOES NOT REVOLVE AROUND YOU. I think taking 18% on digital from a publisher is insane, but I don’t condemn anyone for it. It’s their life, their career and their decision.

I will be venturing into print soon, but I have to wait for all the Harmless books to release, and Addiction is not out until May. If there is interest I will update, because this is an ever changing business. Daily something happens. Just this week Italy and Spain were added to Kindle’s list of countries.  Of course, if only three people read this, one being my mother, I think I might not spend any more time posting lol.

Here are some of the people who helped me.

Covers and all print promo: Kendra Egert is an amazing artist. I had been using another cover artist when he told me that he could no longer do covers for me. Kendra was a godsend and she is always helpful with promo ideas too. She knows the biz and her covers are amazing. Other than For Love or Honor and Sinner’s Delight, Kendra has done all my self-pub covers. She is fast and professional on top of all that.

Formatting: I have known April Martinez for awhile. She and I have been around this biz for a long time, lol. She is a great cover artist but she is also a fantastic formatter too.  Always professional and very understanding when I make the gazillion mistakes that I do.

Editing: Chloe Vale is fast but she is also a very talented editor. She has a background in teaching English but she is also a READER. That is important.  Anyone with good editing skills can read through your manuscript, but a reader can tell you more. Chloe is very good at that.

All of this would not mean much without my PA Brandy Walker. Thanks to her mad organizing skills, I can promote without spending too much time on it. It gives me more writing time and more reader time.  One of the things I love is spending time with readers online. Since that is where I hung out as a reader, I consider some of them good friends. I was getting so bogged down in promotion that I didn’t have time to deal with it. Having her in my camp makes it possible for me to self-publish and in fact, she has been urging me to do it for awhile now.

So, there you have it. My boring self-publishing post that hardly anyone will read, but now I have that link to send people who email me, lol.

UPDATE: Thanks for the great comments and please, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I had to spend MONTHS reading up on this stuff and still didn’t get it all right. Oh, and for the few emails I got, the Harmless in Hawaii, that is my trip next month to, you guessed it, Hawaii. I am taking Brandy with me so we research the possibility of having a reader get together and doing some book research and goodie buying for the ADDICTS!


Categories: Self Publishing

39 Comments on “Self-Publishing-The First Six Weeks

  1. I think this was hella insightful and the info is exactly what is needed right now. And THANK YOU for telling it like it is.

    I personally think its your business to tell the world what you want in terms of your career, and no one should think they have the right to tell you you cant, or look down on your or get pissed at ya for giving away “insider” info. Jealously runs rampant in this industry, and I’m glad you tell it like it is.

  2. Thank you! I have always thought keeping figures secret is a problem in publishing. I remember one publisher not wanting a best seller list because then people would get jealous. I really think they didn’t want any of us to know who was the top seller. It is easier now with offsite sales to tell, but all we had back in the day was fictionwise.
    Knowledge is power. I cannot say that enough.

  3. I find that pubs that don’t want BS lists tend to not want it because they throw all their promo and opportunities behind selected few. I had that issue with a defunct pub a while back. Be honest about what your doing… and be fair. There is no guarantee anyone will sell big, and keep selling big. All we can do is talk about it, and see what works and what doesn’t.
    I’m glad for posts like these, because its the straight shit, and you know your not getting the run around because people don’t want to share their experiences. hoarding information is childish, because there’s room enough for everyone in this industry. Im a firm believer of sharing information because really, in the end, we all benefit from it.

  4. Melissa. You do what you do so well because it is what you love to do. I buy your books because I love the stories, and the content is everything this reader is looking for….*S*
    I’ve always believed we do what feels right, and if others don’t like the way you do it….oh gives a crap. You think and do outside the box because it works for you and to hell what anyone thinks. As long as you love what you do, and it fulfills your heart and soul…keep right on doing it.
    Wishing you always the best girl….your doing what you want the way you want to do it, and that’s all that matters.
    I’m pretty sure you love what your doing…aren’t you? *G*


  5. Thank you, Darcy! It really has made a different when I sit down to write. I no longer feel that pressure and I don’t dread edits. I enjoy my work and it has made life so much better for the entire family.

  6. Thanks for the info! I have another friend that has taken the self publishing route and is doing fantastic. So well that she just gave notice at her day job. And her book just came out in September or October. I have several other friends and acquaintances that are considering it. It is surely an option. Why not try it? Why not have your fingers in all areas if you are unsure?

    Thank you so much for the great advice and suggestions and just for telling your story!

  7. Melissa thank you for posting this. I am just a reader but I find it fascinating how the publishing industry works. I have told people that you are the best author I have met at promo and connecting with your readers. As a reader I like to feel like I am important to an author and that is one of the reasons I helped start RP. I know with some other authors I am just a way to make money but if I start to feel like that then that is the end of me buying your books and helping promote your work. I think that you care about your readers and want to satisfy them. I totally agree that when we have to wait a year for a book because a publisher doesn’t want to put it out does nothing but create bad blood with the readers. It is one thing if the author isn’t done with the book but it is another when the publisher is dragging their feet. As a reader if the wait is too long I lose interest in the series. Sometimes I don’t have time to go back and re read a series so they are fresh in my mind when I get the new book. Having them released closer together is so much easier. There is a lot of books out there and if the wait is long then there is always another series that could capture your readers attention. I personally am very loyal to authors but lot are not and if someone is on a limited budget (like most of us are) then they will get the books that are released each week and not wait for the next book in a series.
    I think putting the numbers out there for readers is important because it makes us feel like we are not alone in our love of romance books. We can always go to the NYT Best sellers list and get the exact numbers of books sold there but for romance books it is harder to get numbers. I know for me I like to feel like I am not alone in my love of romance books. Romance has such a bad reputation of being just fluff but to me it is important to help take me away from everyday life. I think the reputation is total bullshit because I have read some of the big time authors and went who the hell wrote this crap. I think some of the best authors out there are romance authors. I have found since joining a readers group I am more assertive in what I want and more confident in life.
    You have surrounded yourself with a fantastic group of people to help realize your desires for your career. I think you are one of the smartest and cutting edge authors out there and it shows in your choice to self publish. I know I will still get the best book you can create so I don’t care how you release them. I am glad that you as an artist make more money because publishing like so many other jobs the bigwigs are the ones that make the most money but it is on the backs of the people who tend to bust their buts to get the jobs done.
    My rambling is complete for now. Thank you again for the insight into the secretive world of publishing.

  8. Can I just saw wow? This was super awesome and helpful. I have been writing and I really want to get published. OK duh, who doesn’t, but I am not huge on the idea of waiting six months to get paid. There is one publisher I am super interested in, but getting paid twice a year? And I’m sorry but some of their cover artist suck. I see people on tumblr do better manips. And let’s not forget how publishers are “hating” vamps right now, uhh says who? I’m a huge fan of vamp anything and am all over it all the time! So I thought self pub fit my instant gratification need more so then traditional publishing. This was so awesome and helpful and good for you for sharing info more people would shy away from. But of course that’s why you kick major ass!


  9. LOL Tina, ramble away. Self publishing is one of the avenues that is allowing authors to make a living. Granted, I was making a living before, but the truth was that it was always in question. Last time I asked for something and upset the apple cart, I went 18 months before being assigned an editor. Financially, it hurt. It also stalled my career a bit. Now, even if I publish with publishers, I know I have a steady income. And the ability to move to HI.

  10. Brandi,
    First thank you. One of the series I want to do, By Blood, is a vampire series set in Victorian England. It is coming out in digital this summer, print probably this fall. You do get to price your own books, and I was going to include that, but it was getting to be a long post. Anything below 2.99, you earn less % of royalty. My pricing scheme is as follows:
    under 10K .99
    10-20K 1.99
    20-50K 2.99
    50-80K 3.99
    80+ 4.99
    right now, I cannot see myself going over 4.99 but that depends on the pricing of editing and if sites like Amazon and B and N change their % stuff.

  11. You make me laugh thinking nobody but mom will read this 😉 Thanks for the insight! Glad we connected on Twitter and best of luck! I’ll be reading 🙂

  12. Thanks so much, Katie. The one thing I have always hated about publishing is all the secrecy about numbers. Why? I mean, some people don’t want to admit to it, I understand, and some are worried it is too close to bragging. But without cold hard figures, you cannot make informed decisions.

  13. Mel,

    You are most welcome. And I really like that scale for pricing. I’m very sorry but paying $12 for an ebook that’s 50k words is just ridiculous! Even $9 is pushing it. I understand those amounts for print because you have ink, paper, processing, blah blah, but $12 for a freaking electronic file? GTFO!

  14. Yes, that is stupid. There is no reason that a normal book should be that amount. The main reason that publishers are doing that is to drive people to print. They have invested a lot of time and energy in the format and they are not willing to let go. There are probably other reasons, but I don’t know them.
    Pricing really irritates me. I have to say the one publisher that has stayed consistent from the beginning is Samhain. Their prices have not changed since they opened their doors. Print they had to fiddle pricing, but digital, that has stayed the same. I have been a bit embarrassed by several of my publishers and their pricing. And I disagree charging more for certain authors. That is just wrong IMHO

  15. Thanks! Since so many people read it and responded, I am sure I will do followups and not all of them will be cheery, lol. I believe in honesty when it comes to business. I don’t need fantasy. That’s why I read and write romances, lol

  16. Congrats, Melissa. This couldn’t happen to a nicer person.

    I have covers done by Kendra and am about to get my feet wet…now that I’m almost done being cancer chic.

    Your post has me feeling so much better about it. I have an editor, and a formatter for Smashwords, but I haven’t wrapped my head around what I need to do for Amazon. And now that they are saying Kindles 1, 2, and Fire all required different formatting, I’m a bit overwhelmed. How did you handle that?

  17. Brit,
    Thank you!!!
    And no, there is no different formats. I have April do the Kindle format, which is basically Mobi, and then load it in the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing, your publisher account). I have never heard you need more than one format, nor have I had any complaints about the formatting. Is this from other authors you have heard this?

  18. Melissa,

    You make an excellent case for self-publishing with all the efforts you have gone through and you’ve definitely made money. My question is, did you make money because you already had your name out there and readers followed you over? I’m curious because I have a few friends who have professionally edited manuscripts, but they’re new. Do you think they can have the same success you have had without the “name”?


  19. Well, I went out with a best selling series. In May, Harmless books, the four that were available at the time, sold over 18K copies on Barnes and Noble and Amazon. So, as I said, I took a calculated risk.
    At this point I don’t think you need a name, but you do have to act as the publisher just like I said. And, it is always best IMHO that if you have a series you are releasing, it is best to have them out within 6-12 weeks of each other, meaning have book one and two done. Many people put books out and make nothing. I know a well established author who is published with several companies who told a friend it might take her years to make a profit. I have no idea why, or what she did, but it shows that you can never know either way. I have been published for 7.5 years so I am positive that has something to do with my success. And I will be honest, my cursed clan books are not going to do as well as Harmless. None of my books do. So each book, even for me, is vastly different. I know it is kind of a non answer, but I can’t give solid answers about stuff like this. Good marketing, good editing, good covers and good writing can still go ignored by readers. I will say they have a chance at making money tho

  20. Great Blog! My two friends and I have recently ventured into self-publishing and so far, so good. Yes, we’ve run into some snags but overall, it’s so freeing that we just keep coming back to the well. We have at least one more series planned and more after that. It’s simply way too much fun! Thanks so much for posting… I’ll be back to read more of your posts!

  21. Thanks so much for sharing–just the motivation I needed…I was asking for confirmation, and you sure delivered. I’ll be back, so, yes, please continue posting. Honesty is rare, so do know that yours is appreciated!

  22. Sorry, Melissa. I read the article from FB only yesterday. However, when you have almost 5K friends on there, you can’t go back and find it. At least I can’t. I thought I’d bookmarked it, but I didn’t. I’m still looking though…

  23. Melissa-thank you so much for taking the time to post this! I totally agree with this: ‘I think knowledge is power and anyone who throws a fit about info being revealed is afraid of the future.’ So true! And honestly, I think a lot of those people who are too afraid to venture into unfamiliar territory are jealous of those who succeed at it. I saw it among too many NY authors when ebooks started to sell so well.

    I’m pubbed in NY, but honestly, I don’t plan to accept another contract with either of my NY publishers until they can start offering me more money. Writing a novel takes a LOT of effort and the money I’m making in NY right now is forcing me to focus on digital (and let’s not even talk about how little a NY author makes on digital editions of our books, regardless of the fact that they are priced far higher than anything put out by the e-publishers!).

    I have one question, if you get a chance to answer: you referred to contract changes and I *think* we have the same e-pub. I haven’t seen any changes-is this something new?

    I’ve self-published one little story-a prequel short to my vampire series-and am not making much on it (around $250 in several months’ time-priced at .99), but that one was really designed for readers of the series just for fun. I do plan to do more self-pubbing, so I’m very grateful for this post! I’m still struggling with promotion. It does take a lot of time, and I can’t afford to pay someone else to help me with it. Again, if you-or Brandy-have a moment to answer, what do you feel are the most important things to do in terms of promoting a self-pubbed book? I’ve done ads on two popular review sites, and I blog all over the place (24 guest blogs/interviews this year, not including my posts on our Smutketeers blog) plus monthly author chats most of the year. I’m a very social creature by nature and I love talking to readers, so I’m chatting daily with everyone on FB, Twitter, our Smutketeers Yahoo group…not sure what else I should be doing.

    I also want to add that while readers may see authors talking about making money here, that doesn’t mean writing to make our readers happy isn’t a priority! That’s the part that feeds my soul. But I live on my writing income, so sales are important, as well, and surviving in this economy has been a huge challenge.

  24. Eden, Remember I have been published with Samhain since almost the first. Since I went 18 months without an editor, I was still working off old contracts, some signed in 2008. The only one under that contract was A Little Harmless Lie. I lost 6K in the first 6 months as opposed to the older contract. So many Samhain authors have never had that in their contracts.
    For how to promote a selfpubbed book, there are a few things to make sure you do. Make sure you have a list of reviewers, either bloggers, individuals, and reviewers with review sites who will post honest reviews for you. Be willing to give up some digital copies of the book. Your publishers do this all the time and since you are the publisher, you need to be willing to do it. I am lucky that Brandy handles all of this.
    Then, don’t treat it any differently than any other published book. It isn’t any different than those. I have to say I know just how to market myself. I don’t know if it is from years of being a reader, or just something that comes naturally. People keep trying to get me to teach online classes but I hesitate for two reasons. Last time I did, it was stolen from me and presented at an RWA National by someone who took the class thru Passionate Ink, and secondly, it is time. Last time I tried to talk in person to an RWA about ebooks and promotion, I had a Harlequin author sit in the front row and roll her eyes.

  25. Oh, Eden, forgot to say this. I think of my shorties that are connected to stories, like prequels or with my Harmless shorts, after stories, as promotional tools, and as a gift to my readers. If I could, I would list them for free everywhere. I sell, but again, I think last month I sold about 250 on Amazon of ALH Surprise. Less than 100 bucks, but my readers love seeing what happens after they fall in love. And I work upcoming stories into them so readers can see what is coming up:) I do not expect to make any kind of profit off them.

  26. Thanks for answering, Mel! I wasn’t sure if I needed to review any new contracts more carefully.

    Thanks so much for the promo advice! one issue I’ve run into is that many of the review sites I normally use don’t review self-pubbed books. Once I put out a regular-length novella I’ll have to see who’s doing what in the review world. I didn’t really expect this prequel to be a money-maker-my Midnight playground readers seem to have loved it, and that was its sole purpose. 🙂

    I’m always willing to give up books for reviews and contests-I think that’s just part of getting the word out there. For any other authors reading this who aren’t sure about doing it, I can’t stress enough how important this is!

    Mel-my local RWA chapter is doing a panel on self-pubbing next year, and we celebrate those book releases at our meetings and on our email loop. I do think the ideas about ebooks and self-pubbing are changing, at the chapter level, at least. I just spoke (on a different topic) at another area RWA chapter, and had several questions during the Q&A period about self-pubbing.

    Thanks again for this blog post and for taking the time to answer questions!

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