Part of the Indie Authors Series
Please welcome our newest indie author contributor, Jana Oliver. She'll be here the third Thursday of every month starting in 2017.
Fifteen years ago I launched my career as an author. It proved to be a lengthy struggle to gain name recognition as I went from being an independently published author, to a small press, and finally onto one of the “Big Five” publishing houses. There I became an international bestselling author.
In 2016, I started over from scratch. Why? Because I wanted to write romantic suspense under a pseudonym, and I wanted to find out if it was “easier” to launch a new author in today's publishing environment. Back in 2001 there were limited ways to connect with potential readers via the internet. Now? We’re obsessed with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Has all that made a difference when you’re new or starting over?
The Biggest Issue
The Initial Research
Since my pseudonym (Chandler Steele) writes romantic suspense, I needed to know who were the top authors in that category. What did their websites and Facebook pages look like? What kind of graphics did they use? What kind of topics were they posting, were they on Twitter, and so forth. To keep it all straight, I made an Excel spreadsheet to document these details so I could see who were the heavy hitters. I mean, why reinvent the wheel?
This information gave me an overview of the romantic suspense world, what readers expected and what they didn’t. And it also helped me realize there was a healthy market for these kind of books.
The Self-Imposed Complication
To make this experiment as real world as possible I kept my pseudonym a secret from my readers. Chandler Steele was her own “person”, a new author who lived in Chicago and wrote “mission reports” for the Veritas private security organization. Her books are aimed at readers who love romantic suspense/thrillers and her tagline is Red Hot Danger, White Hot Romance. Not much confusion there.
A logo was created for Chandler, as well as one for her publisher (SteeleRomance) as the books are indie published. The book covers had a “brand” as well, so you knew they were part of an established series. So far so good.
The next step was a social media presence. My publicist (Tyra Burton) and I worked together to create a website, signed up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. All the graphics were consistent with Chandler's brand. (It helps that Tyra is a professor of marketing at a local state university). We ensured that anyone who encountered this new author knew exactly what they were getting: a high-octane story with a strong hero and heroine who fall in love. When it comes to branding, being ambiguous is never a good thing.
Testing the Waters
Initially I made the first three Veritas books available only on Amazon via Kindle Select, and through their Kindle Unlimited program. This was a test run as I’ve never done this with any of my other indie-pubbed books. (If you’re not familiar with KU, for $9.99 a month readers can enjoy unlimited books within that program. For voracious readers, this is goldmine.)
KU authors are paid based on the number of page reads, and the payment per page is determined by Amazon on a monthly basis after some rather arcane calculations. In November 2016 the figure was .0049 cents per page read, which usually is less than if you’d actually sold a copy of the book (depending on your sales price, of course).
KU did allow readers to find me, but not as many as I’d had hoped. Nor did those readers seem to come from surfing through the (admittedly) huge KU store. To be fair, I wasn’t looking for miracles, but I was expecting a higher readership than 35+ souls over the course of the required 90 day time period. This was in conjunction with Facebook and Goodreads advertising and regular blogging, so the results were disappointing. Especially since the Kindle Select program limited the books’ exposure strictly to Amazon.
Now if I was an established romantic suspense author, perhaps KU might be the way to bring folks into a lengthy series, but for a newbie like Chandler Steele, it didn’t work. However, I’ve found some of my favorite rom suspense authors that way (Melinda Leigh, Kendra Elliot to name two) but they’re firmly in the bestseller category. Still, what didn’t work for Chandler might work for you.
Pro Tip: I was very particular to ensure that the Amazon product pages for each of those books had the correct back cover description, that it was formatted correctly, etc. Just uploading your e-book (or listing your print book on CreateSpace) doesn’t mean the descriptions will look great when they arrive on Amazon’s sales page. I used my Amazon Author Central account to tidy up those issues. You can add content as needed should reviews or author blurbs occur.
Website and Blog Tactics
I’ll admit that my Jana Oliver website hasn’t been updated in many years. My bad. I was determined that Chandler’s not suffer the same fate, so with each new book launch the front page image changes, as well as the interior headers. We even added a section that allows readers to see photographs that helped inspire the books. What we’ve learned from Chandler, we’ll be applying to Jana’s website very soon. For those who are curious, we hosted on Weebly rather than WordPress and I like the platform very much.
As Jana Oliver I’ve blogged about what it was like to write my books, the trials and joys of being an author, etc. etc. I wanted to change that up, so Chandler’s posts talk about the research she’s completed to compile those mission reports (books), and include “ripped from the headlines” issues. Topics like mafia-run prostitution in New Orleans, what it’s like to be an inmate in the Louisiana prison system, the fact that ramen noodles are more valuable than cigarettes when you’re “inside”. Another blog post talked about the role female soldiers (in this case a Marine) played alongside our Special Forces teams and how military snipers work.
This different approach allowed me to do something new, rather than the same old thing. Since my readership is still small at this point, I’m not exactly sure how those posts are being received, but for me they’ve made blogging fun again. If that’s the least of what I achieved, I’m happy with it. It might be of value for you to think outside the box, at least in terms of your blog posts. Let them reflect your personality and have some fun.
Okay, to recap, so far we’ve established a brand, made sure Chandler’s covers reflect that brand (that’s not always the case even with New York publishing houses), mirrored that branding across all social media platforms and tried to reach out to potential readers via regular blog posts. All of this was achieved by examining the current bestsellers in the genre in terms of their social media presence, because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Next week I’ll be talking about Facebook strategies and paid advertising (surprising results there), the key missing element in our marketing strategy, and what’s next in our quest for readership (hint: iBooks and Kobo marketing plans).
Feel free to ask any questions!
About Jana Oliver
BRIAR ROSE, is a dark steampunk retelling of Sleeping Beauty, complete with Hoodoo, a vengeful Civil War ghost, and metal magic.
In Jana’s young adult Demon Trappers series, Riley Blackthorne, Atlanta’s first girl Demon Trapper, takes on a host of Hellspawn and their diabolical masters. This multi award-winning series has spread across the globe, with editions in ten countries. When she’s not daydreaming new stories, she can be found savoring a growing collection of single malt scotch and old books. Visitors are always welcome at her website.
Jana Oliver | Chandler Steele | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound |
Happily ever after might not be possible in this dark and sexy retelling of a modern day Sleeping Beauty.
Briar Rose believes in fairy tales . . . and now, because of a family curse, she’s living one. Doomed to fall asleep for 100 years on her 16th birthday, Briar has woken up in the darkest, most twisted fairy tale she could ever have dreamed of, miles away from the safe, boring small-town life that she has left behind. Briar must fight her way out of the story, but she can’t do it alone. She always believed in handsome princes, and now that she’s met one, her only chance is to put her life in his hands, or there will be no happy ever after and no waking up.
Great information, Jana! I'm passing it along to someone I know who is having to 'start over'.ReplyDelete
Glad to know the info was of value. Starting over is way hard, but doable. It just takes as much persistence as when you first launched as an author. As usual, nothing comes easily.ReplyDelete
Very timely post for me, Jana--not that I'm starting over, but am taking a few weeks to step back and re-assess the various aspects of my indie author efforts. I like that you can compare the results of your efforts as a "newbie" with those as an established author. All that effort and money to get just 35 or so readers in 90 days perfectly illustrates the problem with the current system. Looking forward to next week's post.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Meg. Yeah, there are days where I wonder if I'm wasting my time, which is what all authors feel at some point or another no matter if they're indie or traditionally published.ReplyDelete
Finally an article on this process that might help. I'm glad you're finding it difficult as the newbie. Not because i wish you to fail, but because your struggle is my struggle, and i want to see how you succeed. And I'm going to copy your success. Copying's cool right. So I need you to succeed. Merry Christmas to you and to all writers and I hope santa brings us all lots of sales. I do believe and if I can stop eating the pies and drinking the beer, i might leave a snack out for him and his beasts on Christmas Eve. Carrots for the reindeers, right?.ReplyDelete
Carrots for the reindeer, some fine ale for Santa, maybe. I'll be posting how this quest goes. One thing for sure, it won't be boring. Happy Holidays!ReplyDelete
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Why don't the images in this article link to your books (and spreadsheet). You tickled my curiosity, so I wanted to read one of your books. But now I have to go look for them on my own. As an average midly curious reader I wouldn't bother anymore.ReplyDelete
I didn't consider linking them, to be honest, because underneath my bio you'll find links to each of the online bookshops where all my books are listed. Once I locate the spreadsheet on Dropbox, I'll drop it in a blog post on JanaOliver.com so folks can snipe the template if they wish.ReplyDelete
Here's the link to the page that has the spreadsheet: http://www.janaoliver.com/spreadsheet/ReplyDelete