06 August 2017

Self-Publishing My Book: The Road to the First 100 Sales

Bloggers are always publishing books, it would seem. It's an understandable, natural progression of sorts. Through blogging, you gradually become more comfortable with your writer's voice, and you move on to a project larger than a blog post.

Problem is, a book is a whole LOT scarier than a blog post. Independent publishing these days is easier than it ever has been before--but publishing a book still requires the sort of time and money that a simple blog post will never require.

So, when you are weighing just how much you want to write a book and see it actually published, you're going to ask yourself at some point: "Will it be worth it?"

I've seen many books and ebooks published by various bloggers over my years in the blog world...and I've found myself wondering exactly how much are these books selling and whether the financial benefit received from the book is actually worth it.

Because I wondered this myself long before the idea for The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger came to me, I thought I'd be transparent with what the self-publishing journey has looked like in the pre-publishing stage and in the months since publication.

Self Publishing My Book: The Road to the First 100 Sales

Goal-Setting Stage

Getting a book on the market, particularly a children's book, has long been a dream of mine. I have submitted various manuscripts I've written over the years to various agents and traditional publishers, but have never yet had success. When I first drafted these cactus stories, I thought they had a lot of potential, but I also knew that they would not be a good fit for traditional publishing. To me, the very strongest asset of these stories is that they are set in a non-Western world. The number of children's books set in Southeast Asian countries in general or in Malaysia in particular is so very small. I have a passion for diversity in children's literature and although there are no humans in my book at all, the all characters are local flora and fauna, the stories clearly embrace the tropical rainforest climate of this region, and the illustrations show details of normal life in Malaysia.

I knew that from a traditional publisher's perspective, a book that includes words from Bahasa Malaysia and portrays as normal a world where monkeys and monitor lizards and cockroaches are a normal part of the neighborhood wildlife would not be relatable for the average kid living in suburban USA.

However, I believe that books that you can't relate to are how minds grow, so I decided it was worth going the self-publishing route. Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that "most self-published books don't even sell 100 copies." I have no idea if that's even true, but because that stuck in my mind for so long, my goal from the beginning was to sell at least 100 copies of the book, in order to break that imaginary milestone that "most self-published books" never reach.

Pre-Publishing Stage

I'll skim rather quickly through this stage, which for me lasted from the beginning of February, when I wrote the first draft of the cactus stories as bedtime stories for my little sister, to late April, when I released the final version of the book.

For most of this time period, the book was on my mind every day. It started with drafting and redrafting (Fun fact: many of the characters did not end up keeping their original names, but Ty's name has remained the same from the beginning!). I tested the stories on the kids I am with on a regular basis. I changed elements and figured out when my language was confusing and adapted various parts of the tales.

From there I moved to illustrating, which included a long learning curve for me as I'd never used a drawing tablet or digital art software before. This step including a good bit of Googling for "How do I...". I already knew about CreateSpace and generally how to go about using them to publish a book, so I did research to check and confirm page size and DPI requirements before I began making digital illustrations.

Once I had collected all of the illustrations, I set out to format the book using Adobe InDesign. Yet another bit of software I had no experience with, so this also required Googling to find out how to make my book look the way I wanted it to. Once the book looked generally problem-free and I had designed the cover art, I saved both files as PDF, and began the editorial process, looking out for plot points that didn't make sense or dialogue that didn't seem natural. At this point I had my mom and sisters read through the book on their own to see what changes they might make, what confused then, or whether they could find any errors.

Once things looked pretty good, I uploaded a copy to CreateSpace so I could begin the process for ordering the proof. The proof arrived at my USA address and my sisters there got their very first chance to read the book and give me feedback. My grandpa read it and spotted another two typos so it was back to Adobe InDesign to fix those typos and scour the document for more--a missing comma here, an extra space between a word and a period there. Fun!

There were times when I felt my eyes couldn't take the proofreading anymore. Finally, my team and I declared the book "finished" and I released the book for sale and started writing announcement posts for the blog. At this point, I had still never seen the book in person--Amazon doesn't ship to Malaysia--so I was completely trusting my family in the USA who said the colors looked great and we were ready to go.

Marketing Stage

This is admittedly where I am weakest. As the typical artist temperament--I like to create. I don't so much enjoy the process of convincing people that what I have created is worthwhile. The biggest truth I've learned so far about marketing is at the very least, make sure people have a chance to find out that your book exists. You can't control how they'll respond, if they'll buy it or if they'll enjoy what you wrote, but you can at least let them know that the book exists. And you may just be surprised at how many people are interested in hearing more and in buying your book for themselves, and even a spare copy for a grandchild or a friend's kid who has a birthday coming up.

I have covered the basics of marketing: I posted on the blog about the book. I created a video on our Youtube channel telling the story behind the book. I made a static page about the book that's linked in my blog header so that the book info doesn't get buried by blog content (btw, you should probably read that page, I think it's pretty funny if I do say so myself. I created and used a hashtag on instagram: #WhereIsTyTheCactus

{My sister created this t-shirt inspired by the book}

In real life, I've taken the simple route of just talking about the book. Sharing this exciting new thing in my life--the fact that I wrote, illustrated, and published a book for children--with friends and family members. Not everybody is on social media, so you can't just assume  that because you posted an announcement on Facebook that your friends and family know.

I could definitely take it further with marketing, but I'm slowly feeling my way along in this area. If you have any advice or recommendations, I'm all ears!

I will be honest with you: I am fairly certain that nobody who has no connection to me at all has bought my book. That's still a dream, and it's a dream that's not going to happen unless some of the book owners decide to leave reviews on Amazon. Yes, complete strangers have bought the book--but those are strangers just in the sense that they've never actually met me. Strangers as in people who read my blog (Thank you!!!!) and people just removed from me by a degree or so, friends of people who know me who mentioned my book to them.

Reviews are the hardest thing to get, apparently--my book still has 0 reviews on Amazon in spite of sales that surpassed my initial goal. So I will ask, for those of you who own my book and have read it, please, if you wouldn't mind, I would so appreciate if you'd take a few minutes to write down what you thought of The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger on Amazon! I have appreciated it so much when various people have written to me to say, "Hey, your book just arrived in the mail and I sat down and read it to my daughter!"

And for the very curious, as of today, current total sales for my book are: 111 (Feb 2018)

On to the next 100!

Is it worth it?

For me, it was worth creating this book from before it was even published. From a financial standpoint, I surpassed the break-even point--this was because the only real cost involved in creating the book for me was the cost of the $80 Wacom drawing tablet. It's pretty obvious to you all that with a couple dollars of royalty from each copy (the author's portion, left after printing costs and Amazon's cut) multiplied by per-hour wage on this book is quite dismal. You're going to need to sell far more than 100 books in order to make a book a financially advantageous investment of time.

But as you can imagine, because of that typical artistic temperament...I don't think of the worth of the book as solely limited to finances alone, although they certainly matter. I got to write a book! That parents in multiple countries have now gotten to sit down with and read to their kids! More kids are learning that Malaysia exists (when I was the age of the target reader of this book, I didn't know Malaysia existed or anything about it) and are learning about my favorite of all Malaysian critters--the everpresent cicak! I met my goal of 100 sales, and I did it within two months of publication! For me, that sounds like a pretty good start, and I'm glad I took the scary risk of creating The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger.

What dream could you take steps toward today?
Laura Darling said...

Thank you for sharing this! I loved hearing about the process and all that was involved. I'm so glad you think it was worth it! Sure sounds like it to me! :)

Cristina said...

This is so awesome! I would never have the guts to self publish a book. This is a huge achievement, lots of congrats!

Unknown said...

Congrats! This was really interesting to learn about. My goal in life is to publish a book!

Becky said...

I'm in a very similar place as you - I self published a book. I worked over a year on writing, editing, and designing it. And I did the basic marketing stuff but don't really know where to go from there! I have a whopping 1 review on Amazon lol.

Unknown said...

Wow! You have such dedication to the book. I would love to write a book one day but my story hasn't quite formed yet. I'm hoping to submit a few short stories to contests and see how that goes first.

chelsea @ the new wifestyle said...

thanks so much for sharing this! it is obviously quite a process! i've watched/helped my husband with his books, one through a traditional publisher and the other through self-publishing and both have a some serious pros/cons! makes me think i should really get on mine....

congratulations -starting a book is easy but FINISHING a book is where it's at!

Kay R. said...

This is so awesome!! Congrats!

Jenny Evans said...

Congratulations on your book, especially on selling more copies than it was "supposed" to. You are a great example of following your dreams and not letting fear get in the way!

Brita Long said...

I'm so glad you wrote this! I might do a similar post when I hit X number of book sales. I initially planned on just selling my mom's book as an ebook, but then I learned about the paperback-on-demand option. So of course I'm currently scrambling to get that done by the release date next week. All the files are uploaded for the ebook, though.

Beka @ Sunshine to the Square Inch said...

This is so great! I'm glad you exceeded your 100 sales goal! Writing a book sounds like so much work but it sounds like you did a really good job of figuring all of that stuff out.