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  • [Reality Check] - 10 Lessons I Learned My First Year as a Hybrid Author by L. G. O’Connor
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[Reality Check] - 10 Lessons I Learned My First Year as a Hybrid Author by L. G. O’Connor
Contributor
Written by
Zetta Brown
April 2015
Contributor
Written by
Zetta Brown
April 2015

This week, my friend, fellow author, and She Writer L. G. O'Connor is summarizing her first year's experience of being a published author. The following blog post is what inspired me to start this blog a few years ago.

I published my debut novel in 2008 and L. G. published hers just over a year ago, and as you will see, a lot has changed in the industry between my debut and hers. Whether you are an established author or just starting out, you want to read and learn from L. G., because what worked even a year ago may not be your best option today.

This post is a bit longer than normal because this isn't just food for thought, it's a primer for those of you who are about to take the plunge for the first time or rebranding yourselves as you take your writing into a new direction.

 

10 Lessons I Learned My First Year as a Hybrid Author
By L. G. O’Connor

©2015

Wow! Where did the time go? Today is the one-year book birthday of my debut novel, Trinity Stones--the first book in my four book urban fantasy/paranormal romance series. It's been quite a ride!

A lot has happened since my publication date. My next book, the series prequel novella, Hope’s Prelude (Book 2.5), launches in May. That will make the fifth piece of content I’ve published in thirteen months. Since last April, I’ve also published the second book in the series, The Wanderers Children, the Trinity Stones audiobook, and the young adult adaptation of Trinity Stones to attract a new audience of readers. To top that off, my Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction novel (the first in a potential trilogy) is on submission with traditional publishers.

In and around all of the publishing: I've attended several conferences; promoted my work through live author events and blog tours; worked on building a social media presence and platform; signed with an agent for a new series; won NaNoWriMo; networked with established authors and industry professionals; and made some amazing author friends. Oh, and did I mention that I have a full-time job? *laughs* So, I guess you can say that it’s been a busy year! And yes, I'm feeling a little sleep deprived.

During all the craziness of this past year, I've sponged up as much knowledge as possible. I have also come to terms with my writing and publishing goals and have arrived at the conclusion that I can't do it all—no one can. Below are some of my epiphanies. Hopefully, you’ll find some of them helpful. A friend of mine recently said to me, “I wish they had mentioned some of this while I was going for my MFA!”

Although some of these lessons are obstacles, stick with me…

The Biz

Lesson 1: With rare exception, your first book will not make you money or a career

This is true whether you are an indie author or traditionally published. Assuming you’ve created a quality product that has been professionally edited and published in both cases, your first book will not prove to provide much, if any, financial gain or fame. You’ll be investing in editing, maybe a publicist, marketing, etc. Like in Hollywood, there are the rare exceptions. But even those who make it will tell you it was luck. Some sobering statistics that I’ve gathered: The average debut indie author who puts marketing effort behind their launch will sell 250 paid books (free and undiscounted aside), if they are really successful it will be closer to 1,500. Traditionally published authors will see about 2,000 books, and if they rock the park, 10,000.

At a round table last fall, with a table of twenty-plus established romance writers (read: New York Times best-selling authors), the trend they noticed was it wasn’t until the fifth book that authors started to see some traction and break out. Without exception, the authors making sizable livings (read: heavy 6-digits) from indie publishing were former traditionally published authors with backlists and an established fan base. Most of them had 20-40 books published. There are some “indie only” exceptions who hit the erotica and new adult waves at the right time in 2012, but again, only 10% of indie authors make up 75% of all indie sales.

More books = better chance of success. So, keep writing and publishing!

Lesson 2: The industry has changed since 2012

The biggest revelation I had after speaking with, and listening to, industry professionals and well-known established authors is that the industry has changed dramatically over the last five years. It continues to evolve, making it harder and harder for new debut authors to be heard in the sea of content that’s growing every day. Like it or not, Amazon is still the major player for indie authors. Gone are the days of Kindle Millionaires with all the overcrowding of content, reader saturation, and the new tide authors are calling the Kindle Unlimited Apocalypse. True, you can migrate to other platforms, and you should, but discoverability is even harder on those platforms.

Things authors used successfully in the past--free days, book giveaways, Bookbub--are either no longer producing the desired results, or are less effective than they use to be. What’s happened is we’ve trained readers to expect to pay less for quality content, and they are stuffing their readers with more than they will ever be able to consume. Like collectors' cards, readers acquire free books but are less likely to read them than paid books. Many indie authors used to find that just one Bookbub ad would catapult them onto the bestseller list (I’ll address reader newsletters later). Now the vetting is so tight that only Big Five or wildly successful indies infiltrate those lists. An unknown indie author with few reviews doesn’t have a chance on the best lists, even with a great book. So the gap continues to widen.

Discoverability = Hard Work + Time + Content

Lesson 3: If you’re an indie author and want to get into bookstores and libraries…forget CreateSpace

Although “expanded distribution” makes your print book widely available to bricks and mortar stores and libraries (through Baker & Taylor), the chances of them proactively ordering your book: ZERO.

Two big reasons: the books aren’t returnable (which is the price to play in a consignment industry), and indie bookstores loath Amazon. CreateSpace is awesome for online sales of print books via…Amazon. If you want a chance to get into bookstores and libraries, go straight to the source – Ingram. Sign up for an IngramSpark account. Upload and distribute from there. Set your trade terms to a 55% discount and make your book returnable, otherwise, don’t bother. And yes, you will only make $2 on a $20 book if it’s 375 pages. Still, the chances of your book getting proactively ordered by bookstores and libraries: ZERO.

You need to do the legwork with a professional press kit and a plan to bring customers to their store, or provide libraries with good editorial reviews from respectable review outlets to get orders. That’s the reality.

On the upside: you can have your launch party at a Barnes & Noble, no problem!

Your Work

Lesson 4: Set realistic goals and measures of success

As I said before, having J.K. Rowling-type success straight out of the gate? Unrealistic. Making a living from your first novel? Unrealistic. Basically, if your goals are centered on selling a lot of books, and your definition of “a lot” is in the tens of thousands, you’re headed for disappointment.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a slow build over time to acquire a fan base and widen your network.

As I always say, happiness is a low base. My goals:

  1. Produce a body of work within a two year period: 6 published pieces, and 2 unpublished pieces.
  2. Gain fans book by book
  3. Expand my network of readers and authors
  4. Build my VIP Blogger list to 200 in the next two years
  5. Get 2,000 relevant: Twitter & Facebook followers, Newsletter & Blog subscribers, over the next 2 years.
  6. Make back my investment within 3 years

Success for me: the first time someone told me they loved my book so much that they read it twice.

Lesson 5: Reviews

Getting reviews is important, but they won’t all be good. Don’t sweat it. The first couple of bad reviews sting, no doubt, but get over it. Even if your book is a bestseller, you will get some bad reviews. Just understand reading is a personal experience for your reader, and not everyone will like your story. It’s not personal to you, so don’t take it that way. One caveat: if the reviews are all focused on bad editing and poor writing quality, you should listen. Unpublish, and try again.

I know from Q&A sessions with international bestselling authors such as Sylvia Day and Sherrilyn Kenyon, they don’t read their reviews. Developing a thick skin is essential in this business. If you don’t have one, get one quick.

Important advice:

  1. Under no circumstances should you reply to reviews (I’ve never made this mistake, but many do), whether they are good or bad. Never. Ever. It reflects poorly on you, and usually violates the terms of service for most sites, especially Goodreads.
  2. Get as many reviews as you can in order to quality for advertising in paid reader newsletters like Booksends, the Fussy Librarian, EReader New Today, etc.
  3. Also, be careful with review swapping. Authors sometimes review each other’s books to help build each other’s ratings. This is frowned upon if not done legitimately. It’s a fine line to walk, and there is always the possibility of Amazon removing reviews they deem to fall into this category.
  4. If you have a low number of reviews and they are all 5-star, buyers tend to doubt their legitimacy.

Honest Reviews = more credibility; More reviews = more chances for exposure

Platform  / Marketing

Lesson 6: Don’t wait to build your platform until after your book is done

If you don’t have one, start now. Study the social presence of authors in your genre (not the “megas”, but the reasonably successful), and start to replicate the parts you feel comfortable with. Essentials: author website and mechanism for sign-ups. Choose the social media sites you are most comfortable on, and focus on setting up a presence. Some to choose from: Twitter, Facebook author page, Google+, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Goodreads, YouTube, etc. Use these to find your voice and engage with like-minded people. This can be a time suck, so set parameters you can live by whether it’s an hour a day across all platforms, once a week blog schedule, Facebook on Fridays, etc.

Lesson 7: Social media is for engagement, not selling books

Social media is one of the places to connect with people and find your tribe: readers, writers, fans, industry contacts, whomever. Remember, people buy things from people they like, and they’ll like you because they connect with you on some level. It’s okay to share content about your work, events, or even a sale on your book, but not if that is all you are sharing.

In my other life, my team teaches salespeople how to use social media to gain access in a sale process. We emphasize a sharing ratio of 10:4:1, which is ten pieces of non-company branded industry related material, four pieces of company branded non-sales material, and one sales/promotional piece. This is to add value or to be engaging. Otherwise, you just become noise. I’ll say this only once, but please hear me:

Tweets and Facebook Ads do not sell books.

There are some Facebook sites that allow you to post your books, but honestly, I’ve never seen any blips in sales because of them. If all you’re doing is self-promoting via social, you will quickly become an annoyance to everyone following you. On the other hand, if you participate in Facebook groups with like-minded people, you have a chance to sell books as a byproduct of building relationships.

Engage, don’t add to the noise.

Lesson 8: Reader newsletters have the highest direct impact upon sales

Bookbub, Booksends, EReader News Today, Kindle Nation Daily, etc. There are a ton of these. Some are much more effective than others, and usually, you need to have a discounted or free book to advertise. Some accept full priced books up to $3.99. These newsletters have the single most direct impact on book unit sales than any other method of marketing. As a new indie author with a low number of customer reviews, no editorial reviews, no famous author blurbs, you’re chances of getting accepted into the best ones like Bookbub and EReader News Today are much lower.

Also notice I said sales units, not dollars. Great events where you have a captive audience—like a library event with an established group of attendees in the 30-40 range, or signings where you have spoken—tend to have the most immediate impact for full-priced books sales.

Books don’t sell themselves, and it’s hard work to get sales.

Networking

Lesson 9: Build your support team

Surround yourself with a good core team of beta readers and general supporters. One of the most amazing experiences out of publishing my first book was the close-knit relationships that formed between me and the other authors at my publisher. We all released our books around the same time. There are a bunch of us who make up a sounding board and support system for each another. Spend time networking with other authors, especially those in your genre. Over time, you can help each other by sharing your fan bases if you believe in each other’s work. With all of these people, be generous…it’s good karma, and it will all come back to you tenfold.

Lesson 10: Gather your tribe book-by-book

Do what you can to collect your fan base, and then treasure and nurture every one of them. As Penny Sansevieri taught a bunch of us during a Romance Writer’s of American online class: turn your “fans” into “superfans.” Go out of your way to create relationships with bloggers and readers, and treat them like gold. I have several VIP bloggers who have hosted me for both of my book launches, and some true reader fans—I’m proud that they are part of The Angelorum Twelve tribe. For every book release, I know there are people waiting. I write for them as well as myself.

The Future

BONUS LESSON 11: Keep Writing and Reading

As Sylvia Day said at a conference I attended last month, “Keep reading.” If you are an author, you should read not only in your genre, but in others. I’m always writing, and I never stop reading. It’s so important to fill your inspirational well and to understand the market.

I write because I love it. As a debut novelist, I chose to write a four-book series plus one novella, so I’ll be living in this world for another year or two.

For fun, in November 2013, I decided to try my hand at Contemporary Romance/New Adult, and did my first NaNoWriMo. I won. I wrote the 84K novel, which is currently on submission in 6 weeks. It has gone through some minor revisions, a new edit, and a proofread. That started the new series I’m working on. In November 2014, I did it again, with the second book in that series, and made it 75% of the way to completion.

I couldn’t imagine not writing, not creating, and not visiting the worlds and characters that I love so much. I’ve made peace with the fact that it may take time to find bestseller-like success.

It makes me smile when people tell me that they see my book as a movie. A woman came up to me after a library book event and told me that she was an intuitive. She’d never seen my work before. Taking my second book in her hand, she said, “I see the number three. I see your book becoming a movie. I’m not sure if it is in three years, or by the third book.” It gave me chills, and all I could think was, “From your lips to God’s ears.”

So, keep writing, keep on going, and eventually you’ll get there. Maybe just not as fast as you’d hoped. As my friend Kelly always says: “Onward!”

 

L.G. O’Connor, in addition to being the author of an Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance series, The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles, is an executive at a Fortune 250 company and holds an MBA in Marketing. Check out her new Author 101 series, and subscribe to her blog at www.lgoconnor.com. For perks and other “bookish” things, subscribe to her newsletter on her homepage at www.lgoconnor.com .

Connect: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | SheWrites

Check out her books on Amazon by clicking HERE, or any of your favorite indie or traditional retailers.

 

©2015. Zetta Brown. All Rights Reserved. Zetta is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. She provides editing services through JimandZetta.com.

Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk for editing tips and follow “Zetta’s Reference Desk” where she features a writing reference book every week. Don’t miss this week’s featured reference!

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Comments
  • @Jackie Weger, thanks for adding that! Dang, what do I have to do to get in on your author promotions? :-) Sounds awesome. BTW, saw in your profile that you started the Choosy Bookworm Read & Review, would love to hook up offline to discuss.

  • Michelle Cox

    Thanks for your additional tips, Jackie!  I'd MUCH rather be writing, too!

  • Great tips! Thanks!

  • J. Dylan Yates

    This is fantastic, Liz. Thanks for sharing this again, Zetta!

  • Zetta Brown

    Hi, everyone!

    I want to thank you all for your comments and thank Liz for writing what I think is the equivalent of a primer that could be called "Hybrid Publishing 101."

    When I started [REALITY CHECK] a few years ago, my aim was to share the realities of being a published author and hopefully dispel a lot of myths new and never-before-published writers I encountered as a publisher and an editor. But for over a year now, I've relied on guests to share their realities because I'm not the only writer out there dealing with publishing issues. Liz's post is a perfect reflection of the purpose of this blog.

    If anyone out there has a story to share, contact me for a guest spot.

    Come cash in your [REALITY CHECK]!   :)

  • Lynne Favreau

    Terrific guidance and advise Liz! I have a friend ready to hit the publish button and can't wait to show her this. Thanks for posting Zetta!

  • Nancy McMillan

    An excellent post grounded in the current reality of publishing. Thank you for taking the time to write it. 

  • Maria Powers

    It does answer my question! Thank you Liz.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Maria, Hybrid can refer to multiple things. Sometimes it refers to a traditionally published author who then self-pubs. It also refers to a new way to publishing that is somewhere between traditional & indie publishing - like She Writes Press. My first book is through the She Writes Press small press (traditional distribution), my second book is indie-published through my micro-publishing company. So, I've published mutiple ways, and now I'm looking for a traditional deal for my new series... Hope that answers your question.

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Ladies, Thank you so much for all your comments :-) I'm glad I can help...

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Kelly, So glad you are my LGO Fan Club President! Hugs...

  • What a great post! So clear and straightforward. One of the best Reality Checks yet. Thanks L.G. and Zetta. 

  • Sue Y Wang

    Thank you. This is practical and helpful for me as I'm in the editor stage. Good to set expectations and goals. A dose of reality, to be coupled with some magic, hope :)

  • Valerie Brooks

    Thanks, L.G. I appreciate how you laid out this info and the encouragement.

  • Charli Mills

    Great insights presented in an encouraging way to others. Thanks!

  • Maria Powers

    A really good post.

    Are all your published books currently indie published? It appears that you are shopping a book to traditional publishers but do you have any other books published traditionally? I am trying to understand your use of the term hybrid.

    All of your points are so on target. Thank you for the post.

  • Loraine Despres

    Great advice from a hard working author.

  • Jan Stone

    Thanks for all the practical insight. Priceless!

  • Kelly Kittel

    From your lips to my ears. This is why I'm the self-appointed President of the LGO Fan Club. Plus, I'm hoping for an invitation to the red carpet. Or at least a free Trinity Stones plastic bucket of popcorn. Thank you and, as always, Onward!

  • Rita Gabis

    So clear, so practical.  Many thanks!  Rita

  • Liz Gelb-O\'Connor

    Brooke, Michelle, Cindy, Lene - Thanks so much for your comments! :-) It's been an exciting ride. I'm glad that I have something of value to share...

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    Wow! This was fantastic advice! Many thanks for sharing.

  • Cindy Eastman Writing

    Liz, it is always staggering for me to see the magnitude of information you share with others. This piece is an amazingly synthesized, comprehensive, legitimate guide to one of the most complex processes out there: publishing. Well done, as always, in delivering a useful and honest guide for authors. Thanks!

  • Michelle Cox

    Thanks, Liz!  What a great post!  I am definitely taking notes from your experience.  Thanks for taking the time to share!

  • Liz, this is an excellent post. Thanks for all the good insights. Any author—aspiring or working toward a second, third, or fourth book—can take so many good pointers from this list.