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Initial thoughts on my self-pub experience.

Hi folks.

If anyone thinking of self-publishing is interested, I've attached my thoughts after two months of experience with the Angus series. At the end of my report are sample covers for my upcoming series. I'd love your first impressions.

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Replies (21)
    • Thanks Rob, that is very interesting. I was amazed the Amazon ads seemed so effective. I never use anything sponsored so assumed no one else did either. Just shows you shouldn’t extrapolate from yourself.

      With your new covers, I, almost inevitably I suppose, loved the ones you have ditched. But I’m sure the expert must be right, sales will be better with the dark foreboding colours and logos. Nice titles.

      I’m going to try some of you promotion sites when the second book in the series joins the first (Marchish) . They sound worthwhile. I’m now writing book three, so like you trying to get a few more into the series but I’m not as quick as you.

      Re Facebook and Twitter, I doubt I’ve sold anything there unless you count friends who ‘didn’t know you write ‘ or relations. I promote there but I wonder if it garners any sales.

      Keep at it and I will do the same. Of course what we really need is some school or big purchaser to buy a few 1000. It’s just working out who!😂

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      • Hi Georgina. Thanks for your comments. If you're thinking of a new launch in March, you should be preparing now, truly. If you are interested, I'll be happy to give you a list of my successful promos. Do not advertise your second book. Advertise your first on a site that will promote your second, for free, in a package. Those sites have been my most successful. Three books minimum is the way to go, G. I'd consider delaying the release of your second book until your third is ready, or only a month away. Some promo sites won't even advertise your series unless there are three books, but more importantly, Amazon won't set up your separate series page unless there is three, and they are soooo good to promote - a must have.


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        • Thanks Rob, I’d love a list of your successful promotion sites. Great.

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        • Hi Rob, very interesting. I'm at a similar stage, except with fewer sales and at the moment only one book out there. I also intend to concentrate on the back list for the next couple of years. With a bit of hard graft I'm hoping to get three more books out by the end of the  year, and as you say, I'm resigned to not making any significant income from them until at least that stage.

          I went wide from the start, and I now wish I hadn't. I think KU is a fantastic place to get started and develop a feel for what works. When I launch book 2 in my series I am considering taking the first one off the other retailers, where they're not really doing anything and I don't have time to learn marketing, and make them exclusive.

          Interesting point about the covers. I don't think my initial cover speaks to the genre (fantasy). I also got a comment from an indie author (actually her husband who handles the business side of her writing career) who said as much. He made the point that getting the right cover design is vitally important in the success of his wife's books.

          Finally - you are spot on with your observation about quality of writing and the impact (or not) on sales. I've seen this time and again, and even some quite well established authors produce material which is littered with all the mistakes that we obsess about - head hopping, overuse of adverbs, clunky dialogue, etc., yet they are highly successful. Like you, I've come to the conclusion that story is more important for readers than craft. Of course, if the latter is good, that helps.

          You've given me a lot of food for thought. Thanks.

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          • Hi Andrew. Yes, going wide straight off the bat is a risky proposition. More things to learn. KDP is simple to manage and easy to set up. You mentioned the successful authors who write less than perfectly, I know one, and he's a marvel. When I so, know, I mean I've studied his work and never miss his blogs. Around 30 books he has and he's a master of advertising. I contacted him cold, introduced myself, and he was helpful. He ignores the recommended word count for his genre and keeps them short. Great plots and characters, but not the best on the deficiencies we mentioned.

            How about a comment on my covers, please.

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            • Regarding the covers - they certainly have the same look and feel, so there is a family resemblance that is good, and, I'm beginning to appreciate, important! The only thing I would mention is that they occupy a similar background colour range. Maybe the tone could be varied slightly, although that may not reflect genre expectations. As a counterpoint, admittedly from fantasy, rather than thrillers, take a look at Ann McCaffrey's 'Dragonriders of Pen' series. Her covers are all clearly from the same family, but quite distinct. As regards content - I do prefer them to your initial covers, which were good, but not obviously related.

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              • Thanks Andrew. Yes, it's early doors and I'll experiment with the background colors. Great covers the Dragonriders.

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              • Rob, thank you so much! It is really helpful!

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                • Hi Rob,

                  Thanks for the overview of your self-pub experiences to date. Have been following your journey with interest. Particularly keen to learn about the various advertising and promotional routes you’ve taken. In terms of Amazon, what was the expense like?

                  I’m a way behind you in terms of my series, with Book One (The Merlin Commando - cover below) launched in December on KDP - I wanted to keep things simple - and the second book (Children of Excalibur) currently at the edit stage, with the plan to publish in May. I’m on with planning and prep for Book Three (Storm King Rising) which I hope to launch around Christmas. I’ve noticed that the process has speeded up as I make fewer mistakes in the early versions on the ms and I get to know my characters better!

                  This drip feed publishing is in part down to writing alongside a full time job; but I can see the logic of holding fire and publishing several books together (the plan for this YA low-fantasy/dystopian series is for seven books). We’re yet to really push the button on proper promotion (joining Twitter, etc.), and that’s also with an eye to the series, giving a boost when more books are out there. I’m also trying to encourage some of my target audience readers to promote through TikTok, etc (if they like the book!).

                   I may have been premature and Harry will probably tear his hair out; but in terms of motivation, it was great to have that first paperback in my hands…


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                  • Hi Nick. The costs are heavy if you accept their recommendations. Never do that. They are within your control. You can start low and boost when results come in, or boost particular keywords that are getting clicks. Might I suggest that you try a promo group or two so as to generate interest in your book and lower its rating. I had good results on this site and it costs nothing unless a buyer clicks on your ad. 20c is all per click and my sell rate was great. Check it out and give it a spin. 


                    So, if nobody likes your cover and blurb, they don't click and the ad cost zero. No danger of overspending there. 

                    In cover thumbnail, your name disappears, and the title is difficult to read. Perhaps you could 'bold' the title and lighten your name's color in a larger font.

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                  • Thanks, Rob. Will try that. Interesting on the cover, as we tried the thumbnails and could see title fine; my name isn’t a selling point(!), but we can certainly get our great cover designer to lighten those colours…

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                    • Your name is your brand, Nick. Let the world see it.😎 

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                    • Hi Robert, thanks for sharing your experience with us. I'm planning to self-publish my first book in May, so it's great to get all your wisdom and advice! Thoughts on your cover drafts:

                      1. For the second cover, could you use a tank, a motorcycle or other land vehicle? That would fit in with your other books. It sounds like you need another one as well to go on a fourth book.

                      2. Are you planning to change the title for 'Cage the Chinese Dragon'? The others are all called 'The [Something] Conspiracy', which I think works well. Can you use the same structure for the first book? If not, maybe don't use that for the other two, because then the first doesn't really fit in. You could also have variations, e.g. 'The [Something] Affair', 'The [Something] Cover Up' and so on.

                      The new covers look more modern and I definitely can see the genre from them. I would guess they are James Patterson style thrillers. If that's what you were going for, I think you nailed it. I like the colours and to me they strike the right tone.

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                      • Hey Rob, Lots of great insight here. About the covers...I much prefer the new ones although they're strikingly similar. Honestly, I don't know whether that's a good thing (ie, reinforces the theme) or a bad thing (ie, blurs the individuality of each novel). Maybe a little variation in the positioning of the titles and author name might help. 

                        One more thing...I worry about the title "Cage the Chinese Dragon". Taken in isolation, it has political overtones that may not play well in today's world.

                        Keep charging ahead and leading us!

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                        • Hi Reidr. That title will go, but not because of the political overtones, still thinking of titles. Thanks for your comments.

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                        • Great to hear that you are taking so much from the experience, Rob. So pleased you are seeing some significant sales success. Very interesting on the craft vs enjoyment point... I'm still going to bang on about to you about filtering though 🤣! 

                          On the covers, titles not withstanding, I like the look and uniformity of colour palatte across the series. 

                          Something to consider though: All but 2 of the current top 20 of the amazon best sellers in 'Conspiracy Thrillers' feature much bolder/brighter colours somewhere in the design (bright reds and yellows-universally associated with danger/attention/warning- in particular, seem very popular!). 

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                          • Bang away, Graham. I try darned hard to get rid of those pesky filter words, but I'm not sure the average reader notices unless they're repetitious. Re the covers, that's a good point on the colors and I'll check it out. 

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                            • Maybe brighter colours are because we all need cheering up in these somewhat tedious times

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                            • Thanks for all the info, Rob, and good luck with the ongoing efforts. I'm not there yet (and given your advice to have 3+ books available, I'm further away than I thought), but it's all valuable.

                              I'm with you on good writing being less important to mass readers than a good story. What really annoys me is not the iffy writing of some big-name mainstream authors, but the fact that easily fixed clunks haven't been picked up by agent or editor.

                              Re your covers, the second set is less exciting than the first, with more muted and dull colours.The battleship says to me it's a WW2 thriller, but that may be just me. The tree image is out of line with the war imagery of the others. The rocket trail looks like it's going to miss the jet in the last pic (but it's on target in the first set - much more intriguing).

                              My other thought is about the titles. They aren't of a type. I feel they should all be "The something Conspiracy" (eg The Chinese Conspiracy, the Vengeance Conspiracy, the Prism Conspiracy), or all "The Vengeance something" (eg The Vengeance Prism/Tree/Dragon/Ship".

                              The Embattled Warrior doesn't work for me, either, for many (probably trivial) reasons. It's a tautology - warrors are always embattled, that's what they do! But embattled implies just facing difficulties as much as fighting, like a football team facing relegation, so it weakens the idea of the warrior. And if the hero is an FBI agent, the "warrior" bit doesn't seem to fit. And simply, it's just trying too hard. I think I prefer the simple "Matt Fraser thriller" for a series.

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                              • Great going, Rob.

                                Thanks for the useful information brought together in a single download. I'll keep it for when I'm ready to launch. 

                                Currently working with a designer on my first cover. He's guiding me through the process and he's having to be patient with me while I feel my way towards defining my style, etc. Cross-genre novel, so it isn't easy working out exactly where it should sit in the market. Think all the initial brain-storming will be worth it though, because we're doing everything with an eye on the future books in the series. I budgeted for a professional designer with a good reputation and reviews, and very glad I did.

                                Caught up in my own design problems, I won't presume to comment in any detail on your cover examples, except to say the second set at least has a series theme. Don't lose sight of that. The others here have made lots of sensible suggestions.

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                                • I too will be saving your notes and links for future use! Interesting that Amazon Ads worked for you, as I've read so many who say don't waste your money...

                                  I like the new covers better than the old, as the previous ones seemed kind of old-fashioned, if you know what I mean, compared to the new ones. I also liked the linked-title suggestions above, as a way for your readers to instantly know the books are connected is a good idea... JD Robb does that with her IN DEATH series - what's she up to now 45 books? On top of all the romances she writes as Nora Roberts... I don't know how she finds the time!!

                                  Though I don't think it will stop readers who look for the "Matt Fraser Thriller" identifier... After all, Lee Child has TONS of Reacher novels, and the titles are all different... OK, I just checked my library, and I notice his SPINES are all very similar, with his name writ large at the top, and the title at the bottom, then in the center, a small gold circle with A JACK REACHER NOVEL... 

                                  I've been obsessing over covers lately, and notice many series keep their spines consistent, even as the covers vary, so that's another option - they also look cool on the shelf that way!

                                  Good luck with the continued journey, and keep up UTD on all the good news!

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