What have you learned from this experience?

book-1012275_960_720The headline is a quote from the man I adore: “What have you learned from this experience?” (Not, incidentally, what you want to hear when you’ve just bumped your toe or broken your heart. But I love you, darling.)

Two years ago this December, I published my first historical romance, a novella. I’ve since published two novels, three novellas, and multiple short stories. I am about to publish another two novellas (in a box set) and another novel.

I am learning all the time, but here are my top five lessons from this first venture into the wild and wonderful world of Indie.

Lesson 1: We do better together than apart

In the past two years, I’ve ‘met’ many wonderful authors. My to-read list has expanded at an alarming rate, but I’ve also been privileged to share their insights, tidbits from their research, and their encouragement as I’ve dipped my toes into the indie publishing water.  I’m also part of a collaborative of historical romance writers, the Bluestocking Belles.

Without the retweeting and sharing of my friends, far fewer people would have heard of my books. And I am keen to return the service whenever I can. Readers are not a scarce resource to be hoarded; an enthusiastic reader will devour the books of many authors. When we share, when we support one another, we grow a larger market to benefit us all.

Lesson 2: 20 December is a terrible date to launch a new book

The 1st; maybe the 10th; maybe the 30th. But I launched my first book on the 20th.

The 20th was a really, really, bad idea, and very nearly did me in. So many competing demands. We have a habit of giving the grandchildren a craft day, and the year I published Candle’s Christmas Chair, we did two (one full Saturday for the older children, and one for the younger). I work full-time in commercial publishing, and 30 years of experience should have taught me that clients pile on the deadlines in the three weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Zealand summer holidays. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on Christmas shopping and baking.

I did all my own editing, cover design, formatting, marketing, and so on. The week leading up to 20 December was insane, and the next week, as I publicised the book, even crazier. And that week included Christmas Day.

I’m not planning to do that again, but check with me later this year and I’ll let you know how 13 December worked out for me.

Lesson 3: Don’t leave the cover till the last week

I’ve done a lot of research on covers, and looked at hundreds trying to work out what I like and what I don’t.  To make the cover of Candle’s Christmas Chair, I downloaded Pixelmator for the Mac, and my PRH transferred across a heap of fonts from the ancient version of InDesign on our old publishing company’s computer. We experimented with fonts till we found some we liked. But – with final tweaks on the image — the cover I actually used wasn’t completely ready until 12 December, just a couple of days before I uploaded to Smashwords and Amazon.

More pressure than I needed.

You’d think I’d learn, but when the wonderful Mari Christie suggested that my semi-professional baker in Gingerbread Bride needed a better biscuit on the front cover, I spent a fortnight hunting down a member of the Cake Decorator’s Guild, baking her some gingerbread biscuits to ice, and then photographing them; and the cover was ready right at the last minute.

Lesson 4: Distribution takes time – preorder is the way to go

I uploaded the first book on 16 December my time. The book began to be downloaded from Smashwords straight away. Somehow, I’d managed not to take that into my calculations, but hey — a download is a download, right? It took several days to filter through to the resellers from Smashwords. Apple finally started showing the book on 27 December, and didn’t really pick up speed for several days.

Amazon started selling immediately, too, but didn’t really begin to move until I managed to get them to make the book free.

Putting Farewell to Kindness up for preorder five weeks before release definitely lightened my stress load. A Baron for Becky  went up nearly three months in advance, and so did Revealed in Mist.

Lesson 5: Ask for what you want; it’s less stressful than waiting

Ask for reviews. Ask for ratings. People can say ‘no’. But you lose nothing by asking for an honest review. One thing I’ve asked for a couple of times was a free listing on Amazon. I was giving away a novella, and am now giving away a book of three shorter stories and a novella, to give people a taste of my writing style, but Amazon insisted on a price of 99c.

I’d been told that Amazon would price match, and that I should ask people to request price matching. So I did. And nothing happened. I read discussions on forums where authors talked about how hard it was to get price matching. But then I thought ‘why not ask’?

So I emailed Amazon, told them that the book I wanted price matched was free at Apple and Barnes & Noble, that my strategy was to give it away free to publicise the next few books, and that — if they price matched — we’d both benefit in the long term. Within 24 hours, it was free on Amazon to US purchasers, and that slowly spread to their other stores.

So ask. People just might say ‘yes’.

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