Feature: Success
 by Jake Kerr

my self-publishing journey

Entering September of 2015, Tommy Black and the Staff of Light had sold less than 200 books and was sputtering along with no real hope for a future. Book two, Tommy Black and the Coat of Invincibility, was delayed to a January 2016 release, and I had a final plan to kickstart the series—apply for a Bookbub promotion.

As I outlined in my previous column, Bookbub has become so powerful in the publishing industry that their promotions alone can push books into the top 100 of the Amazon store, effectively launching careers. However, getting a Bookbub promotion is incredibly difficult. That said, they have outlined what they are looking for, and I embraced this as my last hope for Tommy Black and the Staff of Light.

So I raised the price to $3.99, since Bookbub wants to see serious discounts. I made the book available in all of the ebook stores, not just Amazon. I applied for a promotion that would give the book away for free, and I did it in a less popular category—middle grade. To my delight, Bookbub approved me for a promotion. 

Knowing I was about to have a few thousand people download my book, I created a special book two sampler of three chapters (you can download it here if you like) with a link at the back of Tommy Black and the Staff of Light. I also added a link for people to sign up for my mailing list if they wanted more information.

Ideally this promotion would have happened with book two already out, but I realized that a bit too late to change it. (I’ll discuss this more in my next column). But I felt that with the sampler and the link to the series page (which you can visit here) and a sign up I had done my best.

The results of the promotion were astonishing. Bookbub said to expect 5,000 downloads on average. Tommy Black and the Staff of Light had over 13,000 downloads on Amazon alone. The following few weeks saw 79 people download the Tommy Black and the Coat of Invincibility sample chapters, and nearly 200 signed up for news about the next release.

With an early January release date of book two, I had thousands of people who had downloaded book one. Despite the success of the Bookbub, I had to manage my expectations for book two’s release. Just because someone downloaded a free book doesn’t mean they will read it. Also, just because they read it, doesn’t mean that they would enjoy it. Still there were good indications. I gained over 12 new reviews, and my average review of Tommy Black and the Staff of Light went up (it currently sits at 4.4 stars). 

As book two’s release approached I once again had the amazing M.S. Corley create the cover. I also had two editors edit the book. Even if you self-publish, you need to stand out as professional. So with the packaging in place I moved on to launch marketing.

Launch marketing was much simpler and less expensive than what I did for book one. You may remember that I spent an enormous amount of time and money marketing book one to little effect. This time I kept things simple: I added promotional pages about the book in the back of all my other books. I sent announcements to my mailing list (which was now significantly larger thanks to Bookbub). I promoted the release on Facebook and Twitter to my own followers. And, finally, I did some modest advertising of less than $100 on Facebook. 

Tommy Black and the Coat of Invincibility launched on January 4 and reached a rank of 34,740 in the Kindle Store, which is very good, but certainly not a bestseller. Two things happened, however, which fundamentally changed the launch. The first was that the most popular fantasy and science fiction website on the Internet, io9.com, did a feature on the book on January 7. That moved the rank all the way up to 20,339, which is very strong for an unknown author release. The second was a feature on the blog of popular science fiction author John Scalzi. That happened the next week and increased my rank to 19,704. 

All told, I made more than $1,000 from the Tommy Black series in January, a strong indication that as I release more books, a reasonable income from writing books is possible. 

Continue Reading.