Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Second Time Around (Part 2) - Self-Publishing a Second Time

Guest post by Lance Charnes


Last time, I talked about the things that didn’t change between publishing my first novel (Doha 12) and my second one (South). Some things were just fine the way they were, while others really should’ve changed – sometimes in a big way – but didn’t.

What did change in that one-year interval? Glad you asked.

Things That Changed for the Better

I’ve gained some more beta readers from Doha 12, so this time I could get feedback from more people faster. This is a good thing. In order to get South out within the one-year window I’d set for myself, I didn’t have time to put the whole thing through my critique group, something that made me more than a little nervous. My new network of beta readers gave me enough good feedback that I came out reasonably confident that South held together to the end.

I waited months before I finally submitted Doha 12 to Midwest Book Review, a legitimate (i.e. not pay-to-play) review outlet that actually carries some weight with librarians. I used my MBR review to place Doha 12 in several libraries. This time, I catapulted copies of South to MBR as soon as I had a couple good reviews to tout.

One of those reviews was from Macmillan’s Criminal Element, a mystery/thriller-oriented blog to which I started contributing shortly after Doha 12 came out. Not only is it good exposure, but I was able to get South reviewed for their Fresh Meat feature. This meant several thousand readers were exposed to a very nice and lengthy review on launch day. You can’t buy that kind of publicity if you’re an indie author.

While flogging Doha 12, I discovered a couple promotional sites that seem promising.
·      eBookBargainsUK is actually eBook Bargains Everywhere but the U.S., with newsletters going to Latin America, Asia, Africa, and various European nations; it also runs links to non-‘Zon outlets. The associated blog boosts e-book outlets all over the world, and while it veers into breathlessness, I’ve used the info to locate my books in places I’d never otherwise know about.
·      Kindle Books and Tips is the only paid-ad placement on which I’ve broken even or profited – twice. It’s a combo website/newsletter/tweet-and-Facebook operation with a potentially large reach and very reasonable ad rates. It is, unfortunately, Kindle-centric, and most of its readership is in the U.S. Still, I’ll be slamming South in there once it keeps enough ‘Zon reviews (see Why Did That Have to Change?).

There are more e-book sales sites opening up around the world every day, and nearly all of them carry English-language books. Kobo in particular has been very aggressive in partnering with these sites. Collectively these outlets make up an increasing chunk of non-U.S. e-book sales. Getting listed beyond the Kobo partner sites is still a challenge for an indie author, although I hear that Smashwords is making deals with a number of foreign sites.

I now know a lot of little things that helped save time. For instance:
·      The Ingram catalog accepts limited HTML code for the product descriptions in its catalog. I discovered this too late with Doha 12, after I’d spent a huge amount of time trying to get my horribly mangled back-cover copy fixed on bookselling websites I never previously knew existed.
·      Got your book in Amazon or iTunes, and you’re tired of posting all those links to all their various storefronts? SmartURLs will save your life. This lets you create a single URL that will figure out where the clicker is located, and send him/her to the right storefront for his/her location. For instance, my URL http://smarturl.it/south-kindle will take you to ‘Zon’s U.S. storefront if you’re in America, Amazon.ca if you’re in Canada, or Amazon.de if you’re in Germany. If nothing else, it makes for much cleaner email signature lines and blog posts.
·      Just knowing where the last book showed up made it easier to find the new one. Between Ingram and Kobo, my books are popping up all over the world. It took months for me to find all the channels selling Doha 12 (I’m still discovering them); I’d located South in the same outlets in the span of a couple weeks.


Why Did That Have to Change?

I was able to build my Kindle edition of Doha 12 in Calibre and upload it directly into KDP, meaning I had much more control over how it came out. Not anymore. KDP now has an online converter, but it’s not nearly as capable as either Calibre or Amazon’s own Kindlegen tool. This means you can use Kindlegen to create your Kindle MOBI file, and the online converter will then convert (and mangle) your already-converted file. The KDP people were very apologetic about this, but still…really?

Several of the review sites I placed on last time are either closed to new submissions or have gone belly-up. That’s too bad; I got some good reviews from them. At the same time, I haven’t found others with the same reach replacing them. It seems like every third blog out there now is a book-review blog, and they each have their thirty or so followers. I’m sorry; if I’m going to both give you a book and wait six months for you to review it, I want more eyeballs on the result.

Not only is it harder to get a review, but Amazon is deleting reviews seemingly at random. I lost two of my four ‘Zon reviews for South without notice, and I’m pretty sure neither broke the terms of service (the reviewers aren’t related to me, nor did I pay them). This is probably a reaction to last year’s sock-puppet scandal. The capricious and non-transparent way enforcement is carried out is cheesing off a number of reviewers and authors. Losing legitimate reviews also shuts books out of the better promotional opportunities.

Discoverability was a bloody awful mess last year. It’s worse now. Just that many more people have piled on, increasing the size of the ocean in which our books swim (or sink). The few publicity outlets that seem to work are either (a) overwhelmed, or (b) have discovered their worth and are either increasingly restrictive or significantly more expensive, or both (I’m looking at you, BookBub). As hard as it was to write and produce your book…that’s the easy part.

There’s very little about publishing a book (as opposed to writing it) that you could call “fun.” However, when you’ve gone through it once, you’ve largely paved the way for all the others that come after it. I fully expect it will be easier still when I put out my third novel, but other things will have changed in the interim, making this the perpetual learning experience.


Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. His international thriller Doha 12 and near-future thriller South are both available in Kindle, ePub and trade paperback editions around the world, in case you want to buy a copy in Finland. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.

3 comments:

  1. Fascinating post! I was not aware of smarturl, I'll have to give it a look. I'll be setting up on ebookbargainsUK tomorrow (I'd done that with my first book but forgot all about it). Thanks for chronicling your adventures!

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  2. Glad you liked it. SmartURL is a lifesaver, especially in online forums (you never know where members are physically) and in signature blocks on emails or in forums. It may not lead to bestseller status in India, but it can't hurt.

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  3. You're absolutely right that it's a perpetual learning experience! The publishing industry is changing at a rapid pace. If you publish just once a year you're going to notice that the process is different each time!

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