Saturday 2 July 2011

Self-Publishing Mistake #1

I'm the type of person who sits down to a meal and eats the broccoli first. I hate broccoli. My reasoning is...get the worst out of the way first and then enjoy the rest at a leisurely pace. 

Over the next few weeks, I'll be reporting back on the launch of my self-published novel "Dancing in the Shadows of Love." Everyone has to start somewhere and I started this project with a completed novel that I believe in and little else.

Inevitably, there were many mistakes and, so far, there have also been a few heady moments of success! 

But, applying the broccoli principle (that is, face the worst first), I'll start with the mistakes I made and leave the successes for last (to end on a high note!)

Self-Publishing Mistake #1

Without a doubt my biggest mistake has been the Launch Competition.  

So, what went wrong?

* I asked social media expert Jane Friedman if she had any ideas on why the competition was such a loss leader.  Her suggestion was that either my social media reach wasn't big enough or that I ran the competition at a time when people weren't "listening."

* Author Davin Malarsan, with his sensitive heart and sharp mind, suggested that people would have preferred to just help me rather than feel they were "getting something" for helping.

* The comments on Stephanie Faris's blog post "Annoying Self-Promotion" suggest that the market is saturated with giveaways and competitions.

I agree that all these factors contributed to the 'failure to launch' of my promotion campaign.

But there were other contributing factors as well:

#1 Too complicated: I've run three other contests on my blog. The entry requirements were simple (comment and/or follow) and the prizes small. Two were very successful, one was moderately so.  This competition, because I was asking for more active participation from my blog visitors, I thought offering substantial prizes would give it wings.  Instead, visitors were put off by my entry requirements. 

#2 Too long: I had originally planned a 3 week launch campaign. But, I forgot a lesson I learned when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Coming from a family that had once been involved in the horse-racing game, my Dad is an intuitive and lucky horse gambler. Every time I went with him to place his bets, he always said, "Never change your mind. Stick to the horse you choose first." I didn't - I changed the course of the competition to 6 weeks to give Competition Two entrants enough time to read the book - and lost the gamble. The first week generated some interest; by the third week I was bored, my followers and friends and readers were bored; by the last week I was counting the seconds that I could put this mistake behind me and move on.

#3 Too busy: I remember lazy days of five-day cricket matches and shops closing at 1 o'clock sharp on a Saturday, closed on Sundays. Now cricket matches take half a day and the shopping malls never close. Life rushes by in a whirl of constant activity. Social media is no different. Everyone, myself included, is desperately trying to carve out time from their real life to squeeze in a bit of writing, a bit of promo, and bit of chit chat about their own novels.  Intentions are good...but the reality is that time is of a premium to everyone.

#4 Too expensive: I had a budget in place (based on what I would have spent using a local POD company.)  The launch campaign was supposed to only take 25% of that budget. I completely underestimated the cost and the panic-effect. When I saw I was getting no response on the launch competitions, I panicked and tried to compensate by offering Amazon US$ giveaway vouchers in addition to the launch prizes. At a foreign exchange rate of US$1 = ZAR7, the competition has decimated my budget. I also underestimated airmail postage costs to various parts of the world. Yikes.  I'm sure it's much cheaper to feed carrier pigeons! Although I'd have needed a turkey to carry the weight of some of those prize goody bags! (Do turkey's fly?) But as my nephew Michael would say to me, "Suck it upppp, Aunty Jude, suck it up!" 

#5 Too noisy: Well, I warn you in my "About Me" page.  There, in black-and-white, it says, "I talk too much. I get overexcited when something catches my interest." In the first flush of launch excitement, I bombarded my social media sites with my excitement. And made so much noise about it that everyone (including HRH Theodora!) headed for the hills! My sincere thanks to those brave souls (you all know who you are!) who stayed around to help amidst the din and clamour.

Am I disappointed? You betcha! Have I learned an important lesson? You betcha! Will I run another blog competition? Nope.

What do you think? What makes a good blog competition? Can you offer any advice on what you think I could have done to improve the response to my launch campaign? What do you think contributed to its sad demise? Are launch campaigns and giveaways now so passé an author is wasting his or her time using this as a way to spread the word about their book? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
You can read Self-Publishing Mistake #2 here
You can read Self-Publishing Mistake #3 here
You can read Self-Publishing Mistake #4 here
You can read Self-Publishing Successes here
Free Image ClipArt 


LynNerdKelley said...

Hi Judy,

Wow, so sorry about the launch being so disappointing and costing you more than planned. That sucks. I'm new to blogging and Twitter, so I can't give you any feedback, but I sure do feel for you. I read Bob Mayer's post the other day about self-publishing, and it was pretty interesting. He basically said that your first book probably won't sell very well and neither will your second, that the secret to success is to keep on writing and keep getting your books out there and give them time. He said there are very few overnight successes. Well, that makes sense.

So although I can't answer your questions, I say keep writing and publishing and hopefully word of mouth (the best advertising ever) will get a buzz going and your sales will take off. I thank you for sharing your experiences and wish you all the best.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

LYN: You've given some great advice. I do think that developing a readership takes time and although I've listed this launch campaign as a "mistake" I think it's been a great learning curve. Next time I'll know what to expect and used my budget more wisely.

Frances Garrood said...

I don't have the ansewrs, Judy, but I do admire and applaud your honesty. To admit (a kind of) failure so publicly deserves recognition. As writers, we are promoting ourselves, and admitting we've got it wrong is hard. But you've learnt something - and so have I! - so all is not lost. Keep going, and very good luck.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy .. I'm going to come back and leave a fuller answer .. but I think the comments so far are great - and the thing is you're not skulking or sulking in a corner, not saying anything.

I think you'll engender more good will through the process and evaluation of it than at the moment you think you might.

Your writing is exceptional and it's from a part of the world that few know about having not experienced Africa ..

I know that I am a mighty grateful recipient of two overseas prizes .. which have given me much pleasure, as well as my mother, at a time .. when it is lovely to receive.

It's gloriously sunny here and Wimbledon finishes .. but I'll be back to add a few other aspects ..

For now - your honesty will truly be appreciated .. with big hugs Hilary

greta said...

A first time is always a gamble - hardly ever a gambol. You, wise one, have learned AND passed your learning on. Thank you. May the next one be the gambol you deserve

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

FRANCES: We learn more from our failures than our successes, said (I think) Samuel Smiles. It's true. And wait until you read my other, er, mistakes! *blush*

HILARY: Ha ha! I may yet skulk off into a corner!! Sunny here too, but still chilly. Hope Rafa does well at tomorrows final. Enjoy the match and hope your Mum enjoys the new parcel.

GRETA: ROFL! Luckily I'm a gamboler, er, I mean a gambler, but I also enjoy a good gambol, which is probably why I'm so enjoying this self-publishing journey despite the downs! :):)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Judy,

Thanks for sharing this post. I don't think it was you. When I first started blogging-what 3? 4 years ago-contests were great- people wanted to win and participated. My last book, free copies and other give aways didn't generate any interest from new fans. Perhaps there are too many promotional freebies out there right now.
I agree with your commentors-from what I've seen the best thing to do is keep writing and keep publishing. Your readers will find you. (((hugs)))

Wanderlusting said...

Awesome post Judy. I did a giveaway through GoodReads (as I see you are now) and I was surprised at how many people entered. However, I feel that if I held the same competition on one of my blogs, it wouldn't go anywhere.
I've been blogging for 5.5 years now and as Nancy^^ says, things were different then. I could hold a giveaway for a scarf or something and get 60+ entries...if I did it now I'd be lucky to get 20.
It really is a case of oversaturation and everything going for free.
BUT I still think giving away a signed copy of your book (and maybe a couple of E-editions) is still a good idea, just maybe scale it back a bit? I'll be trying this soon, through other blogs at the end of the month, so it'll be interesting to see!
Anyway, sorry for the long comment. Just wanted to note how much I appreciated your honesty...and as long as we keep writing, we have a chance :)

Karina Halle

Kristie Cook said...

Hi, Judy, I don't know what your definition or measure of failure or success is, but a launch of a debut book by an indie author hardly ever meets expectations, especially the author's. It takes more than one book and time to see your efforts pay off (coming from an experienced indie). That said, I think you've identified some of the problems with your contest - too complex, too long, too expensive. I see contests all the time with a lot of entries. FREE never gets old or too much. However, if getting an entry takes too much time, effort or brain cells to figure out, you'll get fewer entrants, regardless of how great the prize is.

I was pleased with my first launch's contests that I did, but I didn't have high expectations either. Also, I've found, for a launch, you have to go beyond yourself. When you can get book bloggers and other writers involved, your entries go up. But keep in mind, too, that lots of entries does not necessarily mean lots of sales and vice versa.

As I've experienced and have seen with other indie authors, it takes several months and titles before you really see results. We're on a different curve than big-pubbed authors. They sell lots in their first weeks and then the curve heads downward. Ours is more like a bell curve. So don't fret yet or put too much weight on your "mistakes." What you did this time just might work brilliantly for your fourth or fifth book. Best wishes!

Kiru Taye said...

Hi Judy, I'm new to blogging and twitter so I can't really give advice re: social media book promotion.
However I can say that I thought your entry requirements for the competition was complicated. I did catch on to it the last few weeks of the competitioon and I was put off because of the complexity.
I would advise you keep it simple next time.
I also agree that gaining a wider readership takes a while so keep writing. It will happen eventually.

Elliot Grace said...

...self promoting one's release can indeed get out of hand, and costly, if not careful. My indie-publisher has been cautioning me of this. Your honesty is admirable, Judy, and just so you know, you earned a sale from me a few weeks ago, and "Dancing in the Shadows of Love" was a wonderful read :)

Well done,


Tabouleh said...

HI Judy,
I am so sorry that the launch has cost you so much... the only thing I can say is that I would love to read your book... keep writing... never give up... many writers did not do so well the first time they wanted to publish a book but they continued to persevere...
Well Done for being so honest about your mistakes... it takes courage to admit and write about it on a publish are a brave woman... I find it refreshing that you want to mention your mistakes teaching and advising other aspiring writers on what to and not to do when publishing or launching their book... Way to are inspirational.
Much love and sunshine to you... Keep your head and spirit high...

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

NANCY: Hmmm. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing, Nancy, knowing you’re experiencing the same effect does make me feel better.

WANDERLUSTING: Ja, Karina, I’ve also been blownaway at how many people have entered the Goodreads giveaway – I’ve got one going at Library Thing as well, and it’s also generating a surprising amount of interest. Maybe that’s because there’s more reader’s there? Good luck with your signed copy giveway through blogs – hope you get great feedback! And I love your long comment! Thanks for taking the time to make it!

KRISTIE: I’ll be getting to the success parts later – I just prefer getting the broccoli off my late first! :) And I agree with you that as an indie author our curve is completely different to traditionally published authors. Patience is key as we have to allow our sales to grow naturally. Thanks for your input – much appreciated!

KIRU: K-I-S-S, for sure, if I ever have another blog competition. About two weeks into the comp, by the time I realised it was too complicated, my personal legal advisor (Husband!) said I couldn’t change the entry requirements part way through the comp as it wasn’t fair to the earlier entrants. So I had to stick it out, watching all the hits on that post come to a dead end. Won’t make that mistake again!

ELLIOT: Listen to your publisher – he’s right! :) Eagerly waiting for my copy of your “South of Charm” to arrive so I can start reading it.

TABOULEH: Thanks for the kind words of support! I’m happy to put my mistakes out there because I believe in self-publishing as a viable career path for fiction authors…but we need to maintain a high and professional standard. So, if sharing my self-pubbing mistakes can help raise the bar, I’m happy to share!

Summer said...

Judy, I actually saw a lot of "positive" here. The publishing business changes by the minute and the only way we figure out how to stay as close to "on top of it" as we can is to know what works today, even if it didn't necessarily work yesterday. And it'll get more complicated but that's how business *is*.

I appreciate your frankness. We hear about those who are enjoying phenomenal success, and we are cautioned by others. But how do we learn to swim if we don't get in there and do it ourselves and then share what we learned?

Keep paddling. The book that sells two copies today may sell 100 tomorrow. The beauty of it is that you have a lifetime to figure it out, you control it, and you learn as you go. And as you add books to your sales list, you become more visible. Just enjoy owning your own business, and keep learning!

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

SUMMER: So glad you saw the post as positive - I do think we can learn more from our mistakes which is why I started with them. But overall it's been a great experience and I'll address that when I do the success posts!

CA Heaven said...

It was interesting to read your self-analysis.

To be honest (and I hope that's OK with you), I like your blog best when it's running at the slower regular pace, and I love your series on punctuation.

I planned to read your book, but haven't got the time yet, due all my travelling this spring/summer. But it's not too late, I can still read it, right? Anyway, I'm not very interested in giveaways; I have everything I need, and a lot of stuff I don't need already. A competition with takeaway would be better >:)

Sorry for writing such a long comment. I'm talking too much too >;)

Cold As Heaven

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

COLD: You can be as honest as you like! I much prefer plain speaking! :) And (you'll be glad to know) I'm *exhausted* from all this scurrying around doing guest posts and extra posts and what not. Thankfully (for me and for you!) from August I have to start scaling down all my social media activities as its time to move forward onto my next book and I can't multitask! (So it's either writing or social media, not both at the same time!) And, in the current flush of honesty that's embracing us, I don't expect you to enjoy my story (although I do appreciate the fact that you bought it!!) :) And I'm still talking too much...

Michelle D. Argyle said...

We truly do live and learn! I've learned quite quickly how important SIMPLE is, especially on the internet. I wish you the best of luck in future marketing! It can be quite the roller coaster. I certainly can't keep with writing AND marketing too much. It's good to keep them quite separate, at least for me.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

MICHELLE: I also have to keep my writing and marketing separate. Perhaps each function uses a different side of the brain? But I can't do both together. Haven't written a thing since I started with the self-pub venture, which is of great concern to me, and something I have to address shortly. *After* I simplify my life! :)

Judith Mercado said...

Thank you for illuminating the path for the rest of us.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

JUDITH: More like the blind leading the blind, I think! :)