Friday, February 8, 2013

The Five-Day, 17,000 E-Book Download--A Self-Publishing Success Story

July 2010.  I'm sitting next to Therese Pautz, a woman in my Madeline Island book-writing retreat.  It's midsummer and outside the fields are beautiful with grasses and wildflowers.  Beyond the fields is the blue expanse of Lake Superior, where this island is located. 

Therese has been for a six-mile bike ride that morning and looks ready for our first class session.



We share a little about ourselves, and I learn she is a lawyer and marathoner, writing her first mystery.  I'm impressed by her determination to learn a creative skill she has no experience with.  I've read an early draft of her story--it's set in Ireland and has a fiesty young woman as its main character. 

There's loads of local color in the narrative--Therese loves Ireland--but the story isn't really holding together.

Therese makes a lot of progress on her storyboard that week, basically rebuilding her book, using the book-writing skills we study each day in our class.   By the end of the week, the book shows more promise, and I am curious to see where she'll go with it. 



She signs up for my twelve-week online class, then another, and gets feedback from me and from her small group of writers.  I read another version of the book and give her editing suggestions, impressed with how far it's come.

 But then, I was impressed by her determination that first summer, and I'm counting on it to carry her to the finish line.

How She Got There--First Steps
Therese decided in 2009 that she wanted to write a book.  She didn't know what kind of book, so she took some writing classes to explore different genres.

A friend suggested she try Nanowrimo (National Novel Writers Month) that November.  It gave her the "habit of dumping words on paper," she said, taking "a step toward a disciplined writing practice and thinking more creatively."

One scene, the prologue, came to her one day when she was running.  She decided to keep a notebook by her bed and write questions in it each night.  She found ideas began coming to her--whenever she was engaged in any repetitive physical activity, such as running, biking, or swimming laps.

Her husband gave tremendous encouragement and editing assistance.  She took classes to gain skills and support.  She found the "tenacity and talent" of other writers inspiring, she says.  Her goal was a fast-paced book.  "That meant unlocking from my lawyer's mind and writing."  She read many books on the craft of writing.

Setting Goals and Getting Feedback 
When the draft was ready, Therese gave it to ten readers for feedback.  She'd gotten feedback from her online classmates but wanted more. 

She also hired an editor to line-edit the manuscript, and those suggestions were helpful.

She approached book-writing just like she approached training for a marathon, triathalon, or bike race.  "Knowing the end goal," she said, "I had to figure out how to get there.  What skills am I missing that I need?  Who can help me learn these skills?"

Some days she didn't feel like writing, but "writing the book was more about the discipline of showing up each day and doing something, even if I wasn't inspired."

She set daily and weekly goals--word count, blocks of time set aside for writing.  Her days are full; she has a family and is active in her community.  So she got up earlier to make time. 

She also kept a log (similar to a training log, she says) to keep track of time spent and work produced.

"It helped to tell family, friends, and colleagues about my goal," Therese says.  "They kept asking about it, and that help drive the book toward completion."  A group of writers from her Madeline Island retreat stayed in contact and checked in by email each Sunday on their progress. 

The book took three years.

Nearing the Finish Line

Therese knew she was done when she had nothing else she wanted to say.  It was time to let go, and she'd learned so much.  She now wanted to move on to learning about publishing and starting her next book.

She explored very briefly whether to use an agent.  But three factors led her to self-publishing:  "I wanted complete control over my book, I wanted the book to be released sooner rather than later, and I figured out that I could ultimately make more money by self-publishing if I invested the time and resources into marketing the book."

Rain and Revelation was released in October 2012. 

Creating a Successful Launch
Therese sent an email blast to her network of family, friends and colleagues, announcing the publication of her book.  She also posted on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

She wanted her release date to be around the holidays, so people could buy the book as holiday gifts.

After research, she decided to sign up for the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program.  "It required a 90-day e-book exclusive," Therese says, "but it gives author five days to give away the book as a free download." 

So on December 21, she announced the free download of Rain and Revelation as her "birthday gift."

At first, she thought she'd only use two of the five free days, but as she watched the numbers climb, she decided to go for it.

Nearly 17,000 readers downloaded her book!  Well under 100 of those were from her contacts, she says.  And this month alone, over 88 people have borrowed her book as part of Amazon's Prime program.  She receives payment for that too.

"Since then, e-book sales are steadily increasing, and there are overseas sales," Therese says.  Readers are marking it to read, rating it on Goodreads, she adds, and she's getting more and more reviews posted on Amazon.  "Before, I recognized most of the people who posted reviews--they were friends and family.  Now I only recognize about 25 percent."

She has 54 reviews to date.

"When you give something away," she adds, "it comes back to you tenfold."

Currently Therese is working on her second novel, another mystery.  She's having a blast.  She's also training for a three-day, 300-mile bike ride.  She also has a goal of visiting 50 book clubs this year, to pique interest in her novel. 

"It's like a marathon," she says, "slow.  One foot in front of the other and not looking back.  Each race is our own and no one else's."