Guest Blogger: How I made $23,500 in 4 months self-publishing my novel ‘Forged in Fire’ by Trish McCallan

Featured, Guest Bloggers — By on February 29, 2012 at 11:05 am

Forged in FireHow I made $23,500 in 4 months self-publishing my novel ‘Forged in Fire’

By Trish McCallan

On Sept 7th, of 2011 I self-published Forged in Fire, a high octane romantic thriller. By the end of December of 2011 I had sold over 10,000 copies and earned $19,500 in royalties enabling me to quit my day job and write full time. As of January 20th, the book has sold over 12,000 copies, earned somewhere around $23,500 in royalties and attracted the attention of a BIG NAME publisher.

There’s no question a good share of FIF’s success is due to its sub-genre. Romantic thrillers are among the hottest books within the eBook industry. But there were several steps I took prior to publication and upon publication that were equally important to the book’s success.

I’m on several readers’ loops and I lurk on Amazon’s Romance Forum. From listening to reader chatter, I knew there was still a lot of resistance toward self-published work. Indie books were described as unedited with sloppy presentation. Dozens of readers claimed they could tell a self-published book just by its cover, or by the number of errors in its blurb. So from the beginning my objective was to mimic as closely as possible New York standards of production. This meant a professional cover, professional copy/line editing, professional proofing and professional formatting.

The cover is critical to a book’s success. It’s the first impression a reader is given, it’s the main reason a reader will click to learn more or pass with barely a glance. The perfect cover will capture the eye and convey the book’s sub-genre immediately, and all from a thumbnail size picture. It will impel the browser to check the blurb out. Before I started searching out cover artists, I studied the covers of the top selling romantic thrillers. Once I had a clear sense of what a special ops thriller cover should look like, I started checking out cover artists. When I found an artist who consistently produced work I liked, I contacted her and sent her examples of my sub-genre’s covers to give her an idea of what I was looking for.

Once you hook the reader with the cover, the blurb has got to sell the book, or encourage the reader to sample the first chapter. At this point editing becomes crucial. If there is one typo, one word usage error, or one miss-spelling most readers will quit right there. If the blurb is unfocused and doesn’t give a good sense of the story, you can lose the sale too. A good blurb intrigues the reader into either buying or sampling.  But if they sample the chapter and find any errors you will lose the sale too. You don’t want to give the reader a reason to turn away.

Since I wanted to mimic New York publishing standards as closely as possible, I sent it to a professional copy/line editor, a professional proofreader, and a professional formatter.

I considered the expenses associated with the production of Forged in Fire an investment in my career.  Besides, as investments go, production costs can be minimal. My cover was $105, the line/copy editor  $600.00, the Proofing $129, and formatting was $35. (Which included all formats) Total production costs came to $866.00. In my case, Forged earned these expenses back within six weeks.

In the end, my strategy paid off, 95% of the readers who have contacted me have no clue the book was self-published.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how perfect a book is packaged, if nobody knows about it. I was lucky in this respect. A friend of mine, Denise Grover Swank, had self-published her first book two months prior to mine. Denise had put her book on a month long blog tour. I tracked her book’s Amazon ranking and noticed that as the blog tour progressed, her ranking dropped rapidly which indicated sales were escalating. By the end of the tour Denise’s book had hit the Kindle Store’s romantic suspense bestsellers’ list and started selling up a storm. Since Denise had done no other form of promo on this book, it was good evidence that a blog tour could push a book onto the bestsellers’ list. Since quite a few readers buy off this list, hitting the list can have a huge effect on a book’s sales.

In the hopes a blog tour would have a similar effect on Forged in Fire, I signed it up for a month long virtual tour through Bewitching Blog Tours. But my tour didn’t start until the middle of October. So from September 7th to the middle of October, I arranged guest posts through various author friends. My first guest blog actually took place a month before the FIF’s release. The post was about how the Black Dagger Brotherhood had influenced the characters and it drew a big crowd of BDB fans and led to a waiting list of 25 people.

A couple of days before FIF’s release, I sent a complimentary copy to everyone who was on my waiting list and asked them to recommend the book—if they liked it—to their friends and on their reading loops and forums. Within days several readers had recommended Forged on JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood loop. A week later I guest blogged at Joan Swan’s Romance Giveaways. This time I drew a Goodreads crowd, which led to several readers recommending it to the romantic suspense group over at Goodreads.

Still, September’s sales were modest. I sold 199 books and made somewhere around $400.00. At the time I was experimenting on Wattpad, seeing if posting periodic scenes would encourage people to buy the book. This actually led to quite a few sales. My first Amazon and Goodreads reviews, came from readers who had bought the book after reading the first few scenes on Wattpad.

My original goal when signing up for the month long blog tour was to push Forged onto the Kindle Store’s bestselling romantic suspense list, in the hopes of riding that list through November and December, all the while collecting sales from readers who bought off the list. What I didn’t expect was that the guest blogs I’d set up myself would have such a powerful effect. By the time my tour started, Forged had already hit the bestsellers’ list, and from that point on the sales accelerated, doubling every week.  By the end of October Forged had hit the top twenty in bestselling romantic suspense and had sold 1567 books. By the end of November it was in the top five and selling between 170-240 books a day. I sold over 5000 books and made almost $10,000 dollars in November alone.

But Thanksgiving threw a wrench in the book’s acceleration. Up until then, FIF showed no sign of slowing down. But after Thanksgiving, Amazon launched a week long black Thursday sale as well as well as a three day Cyber Monday sale. They bombarded their customer base with emails promoting books with heavily slashed prices that had been written by big name traditional authors. They also tweaked the Kindle Store’s algorithms. Forged in Fire’s acceleration stopped in its tracks. All the books that had dominated the top of the bestsellers’ chart, including Forged, suddenly dropped in sales and fell out of the top twenty. By the end of December Forged had fallen onto the second page of the bestsellers’ list (From #5 to #30) and was selling half of what it had been selling at its height. Still- it sold 3300 copies through December and earned around $6500.00.

Since Jan first, Forged has been selling between 70-100 books a day. Since I haven’t done any promo since the blog tour ended in mid- November, I wanted to see whether another blog tour would have the same effect the first one had.  This time, however, I signed up with two different blog tours companies, to target two separate pools of readers.

While there is ample proof that launching a blog tour immediately upon a book’s release can accelerate a new book’s sales, nobody has tested what a blog tour can do for a book that has peaked and is starting to slip in sales. Will an additional blog tour increase such a book’s sales again? Can it push it back up the bestsellers’ list?

These are questions I hope to answer in the coming months.

About Trish McCallan

Trish McCallan has been writing for as long as she can remember.

In grade school she wrote children’s stories, illustrated them with crayons and bound the sheets together with pencil-punched holes and red yarn.  She used to sell these masterpieces at her lemonade stand for a nickel a book. Surprisingly, people actually bought them. Like, all of them. Every night she’d write a new batch for her basket.

As she got older her interest shifted to boys and horses. The focus of her literary masterpieces followed this shift. Her first full length novel was written in seventh grade and featured a girl, a horse and a boy. At the end of the book the teenage heroine rode off into the sunset . . . with the horse.

These days she sticks to romantic suspense with hot alpha heroes and roller-coaster plots. Since she is a fan of all things bizarre, paranormal elements always find a way into her fiction. Her current release, Forged in Fire, was the result of a Black Dagger Brotherhood reading binge, a cold, a bottle of NyQuil and a vivid dream.

You can find Trish at www.trishmccallan.com.

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    8 Comments

  • Interesting information, Trish. Congratulations on your success.

    How did you find your cover designer, editor, and proofreader? I find people can add titles without much experienced these days. It’s good to hear from someone who has gone through it.

    Wishing you continued success,

    Cheryl

  • Hi Cheryl,

    When it came to the cover artist I checked out the covers of the bestselling kindle books on the romantic suspense best sellers list and checked the acknowledgements of the books with covers I liked. You can do this just by sampling the covers on Amazon, everyone thanks their cover artists so I got a list of names that way.

    I did the same thing when it came to the editing and proofing professions. I skimmed reviews of the bestselling books and looked for reviews that specifically mention the book had Superior editing, then I looked up the acknowledgements in those books to see who they used. Eventually, however, I used a cover artist that had done a friend’s book. And an editor who had done another friends. My proofing editor was someone highly recommended on The Kindle Boards, by a multitude of best selling authors, so I went with her.

    The Kindle Boards, Writers Cafe–btw– is a great place to find all kinds of professionals.

    If you have any questions about self-publishing feel free to email me at trishmccallan@yahoo.com

  • My thanks to Pump up your Books for hosting this last stop on my blog tour! It’s been a great ride!

  • Dorothy Thompson says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Trish…we enjoyed having you! What a great way to end the tour with this wonderful guest post. I know you worked hard getting those sales and through reading your experiences with it, I’m sure you have encouraged a lot of people to give it a go themselves. Good luck to you and check back in with more success stories because I know they are headed your way. ;o)

  • Terrific post! I am almost ashamed to admit this, but I am one of those editing snobs who has very little to give in terms of leeway regarding spelling or basic editing. I completely understand that typos happen, but repeat offenses are intolerable to me. I think self-pub authors deserve a shot just as any author, so I’m not the least bit reticent to read an “undiscovered” writer.

    The steps you spell out are beautifully simple and achievable. Promo is the hardest part for most of us, myself included. I have lots of food for thought as I prepare to bring my novella to market.

  • Thanks for sharing all this terrific information, Trish!

    All the factors you’ve mentioned certainly play a role in your success, but I also believe in the power of being in the right place at the right time. I know authors who have gone through all these steps, yet don’t sell many copies.

    So what is the real secret?

    I think one primary factor is the type of book/genre: romance thriller.

    Best of luck with your book! That’s terrific!

  • Allan Neil says:

    Wonderful guidance and very useful ideas. In the past, my covers have come from subscribing to a photo agency – in my case Shutterstock – picking the most apposite pictures and using photo-editing to superimpose the titles. This is within their T & C and they are happy with a credit for the pictures.
    I have also used professional editing. I went Stateside for editing of my latest work, with very acceptable results, with one exception, or 108 to be precise. These are the differences between English (US) and English (UK). Those are 108 separate words, not separate instances. I didn’t count those!

  • Trish,

    Reading your recommendations and experiences has provided me with answers to several of my questions.

    At my age I can’t wait for a publisher to accept my book. That’s why I have embarked on the road to self-publishing. That’s what is keeping me feeling young.

    All the best,

    Patrick

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