It was a year ago this month that my world changed forever thanks to the ebook revolution. April 2011 was when my sales exploded. I have been reeling – in a good way – ever since.
This journey, however, started long before that. It started in the fall of 2009. Back then, I had one goal: to somehow get back some semblance of a writing career. To me, at the time, that meant land another contract with a traditional print publisher.
Boy has that goal changed! But let’s look at how I got from there to here.
The First Step Down a New Path
In the summer of 2009, I was basically unpublishable in the eyes of New York. I hadn’t had a book out since Unforgettable came out in 2007. I’d gone from rocketing onto the publishing scene by hitting the USA Today list with my first title to sales numbers that were so bad (thanks to the implosion of the publishing industry) it was heartbreaking. I was also so emotional beat up after eight years of the publishing process, I needed a break. I stepped back for two years by going to the mountains of New Mexico to paint aspen trees and contemplate clouds.
That was fabulous for awhile, but after two years my muse started to stir. I wanted back in the game. So, I landed a new agent with a proposal for a new series. One of the first things I realized, though, was that a lot had changed in the two years I’d been away. Suddenly, it wasn’t just the proposal and an author’s sales numbers that publishers looked at before offering a contract, it was the author’s Website and overall Web presence, i.e. their number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Yikes! My Website was two years out of date, and I didn’t know a tweet from a twerp.
As karma, chance, the universe would have it, I bumped into an Internet marketing coach at a wine bar one afternoon and I hired her to overhaul my Website. Instead, she overhauled my entire life by opening my eyes. I already knew the publishing industry doesn’t make sense to any rational business person. Yet, in talking to this very savvy businesswoman, trying to explain why I couldn’t implement her marketing strategies because “that’s not how things work in publishing” I started to see just how ridiculous the publishing industry is. Even so, the first time she suggested I ditch New York and self publish, I drew up with indignation and said, “I would never self-publish!”
Long story short, part of the strategy this marketing guru proposed to help me land another print contract was for me to start this blog. Julie’s Journal Online was meant to accomplish two things: 1) help me learn social networking by teaching others; and 2) seriously up my overall Web presence. In order to write my blog posts, I had to do a lot of research. That led to me reading things like Konrath’s blog the Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. Which led to me reconsidering epubbing my out-of-print backlist. Lord, what a hair-pulling experience epubbing was back in the early days before we had a sufficient number of cover designers and formatters to hire.
Blazing a New Trail
Out of desperation, I formed email friendships with other authors traveling the same path. We were intrepid travelers into the dark unknown with nothing but each other to turn to as we hacked our way through uncharted territory. Julie’s Journal Online became my way of sending posts back to others just beginning their own journey.
The first two years were a lot of struggle, frustration, and hard work with very little payoff in terms of money. I was limping by financially designing ebook covers for other authors, but getting my own backlist converted to ebooks took a long time. Cover design was a natural for me, because I was a professional graphic designer before I sold my first novel, but I was a dismal failure at formatting. I finally hired a former indie bookseller, Pam Headrick, to format my files properly. Pam has since become a full-time professional ebook formatter, and I highly recommend her. (Learn more here.)
Finally, in February 2011, I had three of my out-of-print backlist titles up as ebooks, the Pearl Island trilogy. That had taken months, and sales were very slow but starting to show a bit of promise. With my next titles, the Perfect trilogy, I decided to upload them all at once. What we trailblazers had discovered about ebooks is that the more titles you have, the more it improves your discoverability in an exponential way. I correctly reasoned that uploading the whole Perfect trilogy in one day could have a positive impact on my algorithms. I was also planning to use some marketing strategies early indie authors had developed.
The Day My World Changed
And so it was on a morning last April, shortly after I’d uploaded the Perfect trilogy, that I woke up, checked my KDP dashboard, and spewed coffee all over my computer when I saw how my sales had taken off. Nothing has been the same for me since. I have gone from saying “I would never self publish” to saying “I’ll never go back to traditional publishing,” (at least not unless significant changes occur).
I realize this path isn’t for everyone. Some of my friends are still working with publishers and are happy to have those contracts. More and more, though, I’m seeing authors juggle indie publishing with their print contracts. I know that’s going to be the focus of the Ninc Conference 2012, Profitable Partnering, Publishing a la Carte. For me, though, indie publishing has been fabulous. I love the control – probably as much, well almost as much, as the money. The main thing indie publishing has given me is it restored my passion for writing.
Where I am Today
My seven indie titles are earning more money per month than I used to make per year as a print-published author. In spite of that, last fall, I agreed to an offer from Montlake for them to republish my one remaining backlist title, At Last, formerly titled Unforgettable. Yes, that’s right, the title that bombed so badly as a print release. As an ebook properly packaged and promoted by Amazon, a company that knows a tiny bit more about marketing in the Internet age than publishers in New York, that story has sold many times its original print run and is continuing to sell strong.
I’m currently working fast and furious to finish the proposed story my agent was shopping (before my ebooks took off and I told her to pull it), and hope to have it finished by the end of summer.
What I’ve Gained from Epublishing
Other than the money, the main thing epublishing did is it gave me back my passion for writing. Traditional publishers had me convinced readers no longer wanted the kind of fun, feel-good stories I enjoy writing. From my sales figures and reader feedback, I know readers do still want them. There’s no spread sheet for measuring that.
How has the ebook revolution affected you, either as a writer or a reader?