In which I sign with a small press…

Hey there!  I’m excited to share an announcement with you, and I’m a bit overdue, if I’m being honest.  Earlier in the summer, I entered into negotiations with Christine Ngeo Katzman, the editor of Halftime Magazine, and someone I’ve known for over a decade.  She was looking to expand her portfolio and searching for novels based on the marching arts.  As you might imagine, I was interested.

While I’m not embarrassed of my first six novels — they will forever hold a place in my heart — I haven’t done as much with them as I could, and my writing has changed and grown since they were first published.  So, I decided to put forward Confessions of a Teenage Band Geek as a project for consideration.  I’ve always been proud of it, but thought it never really found its audience. After some back and forth, we agreed it was the right manuscript. A contract was drawn up, and in July I went to work on editing a new draft (with anticipated publication in November 2020). While I’ve been editing furiously over the past few weeks, I’m excited to see where this partnership will lead.

I still enjoy self-publishing, and have other projects I’m preparing for release without Christine, but I’m optimistic to see how far ‘Confessions’ will go with the support of a team. I know many authors who are under a similar ‘hybrid’ approach, and I think in today’s publishing world, there are no right answers.  Authors have to do what’s right for them and their projects.

I’ve always loved the story, and Julia McCoy is such a fun protagonist to revisit. Confessions has also been (twice!) in consideration for adaptation to film/television, so maybe a third outing will be the trick.

Overall, like most of my publishing goals, my expectations are limited. I want new people to find the book.  I hope that if they like Confessions, they might consider buying some of my other works.  As always, I like giving a voice to the band geeks of the world. And perhaps most important of all, I’m now motivated to revisit Julia’s world, and get to work on a long overdue sequel.

On validation.

So, I’ve been struggling (obviously) with the release of the Queen and last night figured out why I don’t feel 100% settled with the book.  Thus far, my lovely friends and family have been the reviewers and certainly, they have been generous in their comments (thank you, fam).  With both Joe and 702, I’ve had a fair number of reviews (both good and bad) from unrelated people who simply read my books.  It’s not that I value the opinions of my friends and family any less (or that I could do this without their support) it’s just I’ve been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop for some time.

Basically, I want a stranger to read my book and give an honest opinion.  I’ve been waiting nearly a month and it hasn’t happened yet.  Yes, I know I should stand proudly by what I’ve produced, but I would love to know if the book resonates with anyone.  After all, I wrote the Queen, like all my novels, to be read and enjoyed.  So, call it validation or whatever you like, but I think it’s what is stopping me from moving on to a larger marketing push, etc.

If you need me, I’ll be obsessively refreshing the Amazon page to my book…

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Approaching 800.

So, the free thing is working out.  I think.  Each day there are more free downloads than the day before.  As of July 25th, according to iTunes connect, 769 copies of Room 702 have been downloaded.  I’m trying not to focus on the fact that if these were ‘real sales’ I would probably clear a little over $1 a book which would have netted me a pretty decent profit for a few days work.  I initially decided to run the ‘deal’ from July 21 – July 31, so I’m curious to see where this will go and if Amazon will match the price as they did with my previous book.

Anyway, the missing element so far is the lack of reviews.  While I, of course, want positive ratings and lots of stars, I’m also insanely curious what these people think about the book.  Do they love it?  Did they enjoy it?  Do they, gulp, hate it?  I’m kind of desperate for any sort of reaction.

 

tracking
One day these will be real sales, right?

 

16.

So, by the numbers, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Contacting numerous additional travel related blogs

Results?

  • Sold another book
  • Got another (fantastic) review (thanks Erin!)
  • Two additional blogs/websites are reviewing
  • Two more people have added the book on Goodreads
  • (Politely) turned down by another one of my dream list reviewers

What I Should Be Doing

  • Following up with the original group I sent my book out to

1 down, 9,999 to go!

In an attempt to repeat any future successes I might will have, I think there’s some value in reporting what I’ve done on a day by day basis to promote Room 702.  This book was (sadly) always intended as something to start an audience for a much bigger project I hope to launch in the next 1-2 years.  Room 702 is a place to learn again.  although I am essentially starting from scratch, I have to start somewhere.

So, by the numbers, here’s roughly what I did yesterday:

  • Reach out to select group of friends/family and beg ask for reviews on Amazon
  • Contact my alma mater about including the book in a summer reading release later this year
  • Announce book’s availability on my (unrelated) Tumblr account (5100 followers)
  • Pin book details on personal book related Pinterest board
  • Share book details on Ann Benjamin facebook account (linked to Ann Benjamin twitter feed)
  • Write blog post about how scared I am how successful I will be
  • Contact 4 industry related websites/blogs for potential book review
  • Prep and submit book to Nook (pending)
  • Prep and submit book to iTunes (under review)

Results?

  • 1 book sold (thank you EEB!!!)
  • 1 industry response who is interested in reading the book!

Optimistic about tomorrow.

In which I stop being precious and start publishing.

So, this is not my first rodeo.  Room 702 marks the seventh book I’ve published.  And yet…I was very hesitant to let this one go.  So much so that I still am being weirdly protective and haven’t let my greater community of friends (aka facebook) know of its arrival into the world.

I think I’m hesitant because after all this time, I’m scared.

With my YA books, I knew the audience and could gauge the reactions (i.e. everyone loves me and I love them).

Now, I’m in completely unknown territory.  Will people love Room 702?  Hate it?  Not even know it exists?  You’d think after six books I’d built up a relatively thick skin, but I don’t think I have.  What if no one buys it?  While I would never trade in the experience of my YA books, I think I’m ready for a truly successful book.  And what does that mean anyway?  How do I define success?  Actually, it’s a pretty simple formula.  12 months = 10,000 sales or else, sad Ann.

When I hit ‘publish’ last night I did get the usual sense of accomplishment and now that Room 702 is out there I can move to the marketing phase of the book, but…is it really ready for public consumption?  Only time will tell.

Oh wait, I’m still being precious, aren’t I?

6 Months – An Update.

Hello, July.  Wow – where does the year go?  I’ve always liked to mark things and this mid-point in the year seemed like a good time to check in.  There’s a few things to catch up – WIPs, building a brand, blog, Twitter, so let’s get started!

1.  The point of this blog was always intended a place to capture my thoughts as I moved through starting up a new personality, that of one Ms. Ann Benjamin.  At 89 posts, it’s been an interesting trip.  At the beginning, there was a large part of me that thought my writing deserved an agent (I know, I’m egotistical).  That I should query and be traditional.  That I should get an advance and a marketing team and everything fancy.  However, in the past few months, mostly due to an author’s friends awesome success, I’ve decided, what’s the point?  If an unestablished author can find an audience, sell a respectable amount of books all what most would consider a non-traditional genre, then I have to think there’s hope for me and my work.  While I’ve not 100% ruled out going after an agent, it’s becoming less and less of a possibility.

2.  My timelines are currently completely different than how I thought the year was going to go.  In January, I assumed I would finish Room 702 (I did) and then I would edit it in July (haven’t touched it) and it would be out by October.  Instead, I finally got an idea for a long overdue sequel to the Fates project (currently 46K into what I hope will be a 90K rough draft).  Additionally, I decided it makes a heap more sense to finish out and publish my final YA book.  Editing the YA book (working title, Major Pain) will force me to put the Fates sequel away for awhile, but in order to get Major Pain in shape, I’m willing to make the sacrifice.  As Courtney Brandt, I’ve already got a wonderful audience for my marching stuff, and it seems to make the most sense to reward those who have stuck with me for this long.

3. Building a brand when you don’t have actual content available is difficult.  I expect (hope?) this will change, but building something out of nothing might take awhile.  Given how little I’ve attracted interest to Ann Benjamin, it’s another reason I’m ready to delay releasing any of my books just yet.  As the publishing industry changes and readers become more sophisticated and want more from authors, I don’t feel comfortable publishing until at least three books are written and (nearly) ready to go.  As of now, I have one practically finished final draft, one rough draft, and one WIP.  You can never ‘unpublish’ a book, but you can be patient.  Rushing to publish was a mistake I made the first time around and one I don’t plan on making again.

Pic is related.

4.  Twitter is something I still don’t fully understand.  I have 830 tweets and 66 followers.  My hope is when I release a book about hotels, all the hotels I’m following will RT the hell out of me.  #wishfulthinking

5.  Unexpectedly, I’m getting into the world of travel writing.  While I’ve not been paid, getting to go to fantastic restaurants for free is a way to repay my husband for all the years he’s let me carry on and keep writing.

Where are you in your goals?  Are you on pace?  Or has something changed how you thought this year was going to go?

In which I release a free e-book on KDP Select Amazon (the experiment).

So, part of this blog is to help prep for an inevitable audience and totally successful bow into self publication.  This week’s lesson involved the first attempt I’ve made ‘giving away’ a book on Amazon (by enrolling in the KDP Select Program.  For those who don’t know, this basically means you will sell a book ONLY through Amazon for 3 months.  Given most of my sales come through Amazon, I did not feel I was giving up significant sales elsewhere).

For reasons I’ll later get into, I’ve decided to break away from my YA name, Courtney Brandt, and build a new platform for myself under a pen name, Ann Benjamin.  As Courtney Brandt, I have 5 self published titles (all centering around a high school marching band).  The first book in the series, The Line, has been out for quite some time and was the perfect title to give away.

A few things influenced this decision:

1. February is traditionally one of my slowest months for book sales.

2.  It’s great practice for when I actually release a book.

3.  Via word of mouth, I had heard good things about the program.  Other authors I know encouraged me to try it.

4.  As a long time downloader of free Kindle books, I owed back at least one book of my own.  🙂

So, with little to no advertising at all, The Line ran free yesterday.  The only places I let people know the book was for free was my Twitter account (where I have maybe 50 followers), my facebook group for the series (220 followers) and my marching dedicated Tumblr account (2500 followers).  By announcing it, the day of, I received (with the number still slightly changing) 1078 downloads.  Of which, 1 was returned, giving me a grand total of 1077. Even though I was not checking religiously on the number, I think I made it to around the 235th most popular free book download (I was also first in my category).

Given I had no real knowledge of how the book would do and nothing to judge it against, I feel okay – that 1078 is a good place to start with and good benchmark for the next free day.  While I’m sad that I have no way of recovering those sales, at the same time, now a lot more people have heard about my book.  With four additional free days, I’m hoping to continue to increase my visibility. Of course, I’m also hoping there will be a trickle down effect to my other books, but as of now, the spill over from the free books seems to be fairly low.

Here’s what I think I’ll do next time:

1.  Actually build up when the free day is.  By springing it on people – it seems a bit unfair.  I don’t think I’ll do a BIG lead up, but at least give people more than a ‘GO NOW’ sort of signal.  (BTW, if you want to know – the next date is March Fourth, kind of an inside joke among the marching community).

2.  Do this for all my other titles.  Cycle through each of the books in 3 month increments.  With 5 books, this would be a great way to continue interest by doing next to nothing.  Listing my book for free didn’t technically cost me anything.  The people who downloaded the book weren’t going to buy it anyway, so it’s not a loss of revenue.

3. Update the categories my books are listed in.  I really dislike how Amazon’s system works, but think I would do better / gain more exporsure if I change the category for the whole series.

4. Decrease the price of all the other books in the series.  I’m curious to see if a .99 price point has a different reaction than the current $1.99 one.

What this means for when I release one of my adult manuscripts:

1.  Without a ‘base’ of books with my name, there will need to be a lot more promotion.  I need to weigh whether or not just to let my book run for free for a certain amount of days.

2.  I’m hopeful that as both books I intend to release are not as niche as my YA books, that it will be easier to attract a wider range audience.

How about you, reader?  Any experience in giving the milk away?

A Book Review: The Mill River Recluse.

I think it’s a good policy to read a lot if you are a writer.  In my opinion, it’s especially important to read what’s in your genre so you best know what is selling, what is popular, which agents are representing these authors, and what audiences are buying.  Although The Mill River Recluse is not in any of the genres I’m writing in, it was one of the best selling digital books for Kindle last year, so I thought I would have a read.  At .99 (or, just over 3.5 QAR in my local currency) , the price was definitely right.  The reviews on Amazon ranged from good to great.

Always happy for a new book, I settled in to read the book on my Kindle.

As I read, I understood why an agent wouldn’t necessarily want to represent the author (in interviews, the author, Darcie Chan*, lists she was rejected repeatedly – a tale any author knows too well!).  The novel doesn’t specifically fit into one genre.  It has more than one protagonist.  While the story is good and original, it’s not particularly legendary or memorable.  While I might recommend it to my mom or grandmother, I don’t think any of my friends would particularly enjoy it.  The pacing is okay, but the ending doesn’t pay off for me.  I wasn’t affected like many other readers who repeatedly mentioned, “keep tissues handy.”  I would rate the book as mediocre.

However, for what I paid, I feel I was adequately rewarded for my investment.  I don’t feel the author took my money or that I paid for something I did not get some value from.

So, is that the secret?

Does being successful = charging more for your books?

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about being self published is the ability to set the price.  Personally, I don’t think my books are worth much more than the $1.99 – $2.99 they are currently priced at.  I cannot bring the price of the paperback versions of them down, but if I could, I would price them at $4.99 or $5.99.  Why?  That’s what I feel comfortable charging people.  I think they get $1.99 amount of entertainment from my writing.

So, it’s the never ending dilemma of being a self published author.  Without the market to decide or professionals to tell you, do you go in undervalued?  With my current projects, I’d like to think I could go as a high as $5.99 per book, but at the beginning, do I want quantity over quality?  In Darcie’s case, she did well (financially and critically) and continues to hold on to the under dollar pricing.

Subjects to consider in the following months.

*While I might not place her book as one of my favorites, props to Darcie Chan for helping bring the ‘legitimacy’ of self-publishing forward.  I think she (along with others like Amanda Hocking and John Locke) help set and raise the bar for self-pubbed authors.