I was chatting on twitter to a couple of self published authors who have done well for themselves recently saleswise. One who stood out was Cary Caffrey, whose science fiction/fantasy book “The Girls from Alcyone” I purchased in hard copy from Amazon a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoyed reading it – the book was pacy and the plot gave a satisfying arc for the main characters while spanning interplanetary politics in a very plausible future world. Also it had a bit of lesbian sex in it. You can’t go wrong with lesbian sex. It was beautifully written and I read it in a day. It reminded me of the old pulp SF stories I love so much, but with more of an eye to readability. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to my friends (and my children, when they are *cough* a bit older). There is a lot more depth to it than perhaps the blurb would suggest; plenty of action, strong female characters, and a vividly realised world well set up for future sequels.
Here is the blurb: “Sigrid and Suko are two girls from the impoverished and crime-infested streets of 24th century Earth. Sold into slavery to save their families from financial ruin, the girls are forced to live out their lives in service to the Kimura Corporation, a prestigious mercenary clan with a lineage stretching back long before the formation of the Federated Corporations. Known only to Kimura, the two girls share startling secret-a rare genetic structure not found in tens of millions of other girls. But when their secret becomes known, Sigrid and Suko quickly find themselves at the center of a struggle for power. Now, hunted by men who would seek to control them, Sigrid and Suko are forced to fight for their own survival, and for the freedom of the girls from Alcyone.”
Anyway, Cary was kind enough to write me some tips for self publishing, which I would like to put down for posterity. They may sound obvious to you, but I haven’t even started absorbing them yet and I think it will lead to me re-publishing the current books under new titles and artwork, and give me a head start on Barnabus.
As for how I publicized, there’s definitely no trade secrets. I’ve listed five steps I’ve taken that I’m convinced have helped me. Sorry (in advance) for the length of my ramblings – I just wanted to be as specific as I could.
Reviews: This is a big one. About two months before I published I sent out about twenty copies of my book for people to read. I asked everyone who read the book to (please) post a review on Amazon. Four days after publishing I already had five five-star reviews on my amazon page. I think this helped immensely! After the first month, I think I had about 11 or 14 reviews. Almost all of these were from people who wrote to me saying they read the book, whom I then asked to ‘please post a review!’
I still ask people to post reviews (when they write or tweet me). I’d say over half my reviews are from people who have written to me or tweeted me, or people I’ve met on twitter, whom I’ve asked to post reviews.
I think the fact that I’m barely selling on Amazon UK, where I only just got my first review the other day, compared to .Com shows how important the reviews are. (or it’s pure coincidence – who knows!)
I never spam my book. Mostly, I re-tweet other writers I like and try to pump their books instead of my own. Most writers (if they’re nice) reciprocate and say lots of nice things about my book (it always sounds better when other people mention your book). This approach seems to have worked out pretty well. My book has been tweeted out now to tens of thousands of other twitter followers, writers, bloggers and reviewers. I’d never have been able to do that on my own.
These re-tweeters are a great help.
I also participate in a weekly blog where I share snippets from my work. This has helped expose me to other writers (who have been very supportive). http://scififansat.blogspot.com/
The whole Amazon system/sales-mechanism does a great job bringing readers to your book. Once there, though, it’s up to us (the writers) to make a good first impression.
I did a lot of research, looking at other self-published book covers. What I found didn’t surprise me much: most of the covers out there look pretty much the same. Everybody seems to grab a royalty free photo and put their title over top – not very imaginative. Hey, even I thought about doing that! It was pretty easy to see that if I wanted to stand out I needed to do something different.
I decided to commission some original art for my book cover. I don’t think my cover’s perfect by any means, but I think it stands out from most (I get lot’s of comments on that cover), and I’m convinced it’s helping with the sales. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s definitely paid for itself.
I was also careful, in designing the cover, not to show the girls faces (readers like to decide for themselves how characters look, often putting themselves in the place of characters – that’s why I really don’t like photos of models on book covers). The image works well with the title too (I think).
A great teacher I had (way back) pointed out that, while the cover is the first thing people see, it’s the title that’s the first thing people read. A really good title always asks a question, begging people to want to find out more.
I like my title for a couple of reasons. I think it’s pulpy enough that you know you’re going to be reading a good old-style action-adventure. I think it also gives a good hint at the story – you know right away that these girls are going to be different and dangerous (at least, I think).
(I mention the title because I’ve received a lot of positive comments on that too).
I think most importantly, I hired a professional editor. I tried seven different editors before finding one I felt compatible with. This editor was great. He didn’t just fix grammar issues or the occasional typo, he was terrific at pointing out echoes in my writing (using the same word or phrase too much), and highlighting awkward phrasing, even making lots of helpful suggestions a long the way. It was a lot of work (and time), but it was worth it. It was also a lot of fun.
I think this relates directly to sales because of the whole free sample system on Amazon. No one’s going to buy a book without first reading the free sample (I’d imagine), so taking the steps to make sure it was well-edited was a must.
The bottom line is (and I freely admit this) I don’t know why my book is selling. It could be because of the things I mentioned, or it could be a pure stroke of luck.”