indie publishing

The Dream World Collective is now FREE on Wattpad!

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

I’m excited to announce that you can now read The Dream World Collective on Wattpad. There’s a good chunk to get started with, and I’ll be posting more regularly.

I love this story. It’s about five friends who quit their jobs and move in together to do what they love, and it’s sweet and silly and geeky and heartwarming. If you’re an idealist or a geek or an artist, I wrote this for you.

I can’t wait to share it with you, and I’d love your help getting the word out. Please take a few minutes to check it out and share it with the dreamers in your life.

Read the Dream World Collective on Wattpad!

The Dream World Collective - Manifesto

 

May in Review + June Goals

Hi friends! May completely snuck up on me. Between a series launch, a string of family visits, and a heavy workload at the day job, I seriously didn’t even notice we were in a new month until about the 10th. It was, frankly, unsettling. Nevertheless, May was full of exciting developments. Let’s take a look.

May Accomplishments

1. Hubris Towers series launch!

Hubris Towers

Seriously! Go check it out!

Bill and I published Episode 1 of our new comedy series. It’s so good! You should totally read it!

  • Reader response has been phenomenal, with almost unanimous 5-star reviews to date. Brilliant!
  • First-month ebook sales were a little lower than I expected, but should pick up as we release new episodes.
  • The paperback Pocket Edition was surprisingly popular. I expected to sell a few to die-hard fans, but we sold dozens of them. Maybe because it comes with a free Kindle copy on Amazon. (Boom! Marketed.)

2. My first free promo I made The Stone & the Song free for two weekends in May, and—wow! Suddenly I understand why people use free promos!

  • My book hit #1 Free in Fairy Tales on the first day of the promo and stayed there for the rest of the weekend!
  • Downloads in the first day more than doubled my first month’s sales, and over the course of the two weekends I ended up with hundreds of downloads.
  • This is the first time I’ve definitively broken out of the friends-of-friends sphere of readers, and also resulted in my first (5-star!) review from a total stranger.
  • The first weekend did about four times as well as the second, and I have no idea why. Let me know if you have any theories or have seen similar results.

3. First multi-platform release The Stone & the Song is my KDP Select guinea pig, but long-term I definitely want to build up a robust cross-platform audience. Hubris Towers was my first multi-platform release.

  • So far, Hubris Towers is available on Nook, Kobo, Google Play, and Amazon.
  • So far no real traction on the non-Amazon platforms. I’m curious to see how this develops as the series matures and gains momentum. Still pretty sure it’s worth it long-term.

4. Released 2 more sections of the Dream World Collective

5. Wrote about 8,000 words of Hubris Towers Episode 2. (Now with Russians!)

  • Planned release date is June 13. That’s so soon!
  • This is by far the fastest-paced large-scale project I’ve attempted to date, and I’m really excited to see how that helps us build momentum.
  • Sign up here to get a reminder when it comes out

6. The Clickworks Press catalog is expanding! I can’t say too much yet, but I’m getting ready to release the first Clickworks Press book I didn’t write.

  • This is a game-changer. My plan from the beginning has been to make Clickworks Press bigger than me. Bringing in new authors makes it a fundamentally different kind of endeavor, and I’m so excited to be bringing in brilliant talent this early on.
  • Short-term, this helps authors streamline their publishing experience, cross-promote, and get more exposure. It points readers to great new reading experiences. It helps Clickworks Press develop legitimacy, flexibility, and a robust catalog. Long-term, just wait and see. We’ve got some incredibly cool ideas in the pipeline.
  • I’m still thinking through the details of the business model and I’d love to hear what you would find cool and useful. Drop me a line at byfaroe@gmail.com if you’re interested in brainstorming or have some ideas for me.

June Goals

That was long, so I’m going to keep this quick.

  1. Release Hubris Towers Season 1, Episode 2.
  2. Write 1/4 to 1/2+ of Hubris Towers Episode 3.
  3. Release more sections of The Dream World Collective.
  4. [Stretch] Set up a weekly auto-delivery system that will give people happy stories in their inbox.
  5. Iron out the first-phase Clickworks Press model.
  6. Investigate the costs and mechanisms of a Clickworks Press website that can support my super-cool ideas.
  7. [Possibly] Write more of The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher. Frobisher is the crème de la crème of my writing endeavors (which is saying something). It will not do to neglect it much longer.

What’s new with all of you? Anything I can get excited about with you? Tell me!

Cheers! —Ben

Kate M. Colby: Why I Will Independently Publish

Hi friends!

One of these days I’ll probably get around to writing my own rationale for pursuing (primarily) independent publishing rather than traditional publishing contracts, but in the meantime I want to whet your appetite with this.

Kate Colby is a talented writer and I’ve been growing to greatly appreciate not only her writing but also her professionalism and strategic thinking about fiction as a full-time career. In this post, she lays out the questions, research, and reasons that ultimately led her to indie publishing, and many of them parallel my own.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Does self-publishing still carry a stigma as far as you’re concerned? As a reader do you pay attention to whether a book was self-published?

Cheers!
—Ben

Kate M. Colby

In my “Kate’s Publishing Crash Course” series, I gave a general overview of the three main publishing options: traditional, vanity, and independent. In this article, I want to share with you all my personal reasoning behind choosing independent publishing as my writing career path.

It is no secret that I am planning to independently publish my novels and run my own author-entrepreneur business. However, I realized that, while I have shared my plans with you all, I have not shared why I have made this decision. Therefore, in this post, I want to explain how my views on writing and publishing changed entirely in less than a year.

Kate and DanielTo his endless satisfaction, I have to credit my husband, Daniel, with planting the seeds of independence in my brain. You see, as I described in a previous post, I have known that I am a writer since…

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Catching Your Reader’s Eye. Also Tapirs!

A writer wants to express how amazing her books are, but she can’t seem to pin down which details are the ones that will catch a new reader’s attention. Will she be able to overcome her misleading instincts, or will years of effort and emotion be wasted as her stories gather dust in endless obscurity?

Ok, so that was a prototype.

I just read a book by Libbie Hawker called Gotta Read It! – Five Simple Steps to a Fiction Pitch That Sells. I recommend it. It’s an inexpensive purchase and a quick read, and gave me good insight into what I currently find one of the trickiest parts of my job as an author: writing compelling product descriptions.

Baby tapir!

A couple quick takeaways (one of which is from her recent appearance on the Self Publishing Podcast, which also includes tapirs):

– Authors tend to write about what’s unique about their books, while it’s often more effective to show a reader how the book is like other books they’ve loved.

– Authors often try to summarize the plot and/or describe the awesome story world, which can do more to dilute the story than to promote it.

While the main substance is fairly familiar territory if you’re at all acquainted with how stories work, I found a lot of value in the simple and effective way it gets applied to writing product descriptions and the extremely practical, actionable steps. Plus Ms. Hawker just seems very fun and smart (in fact, she’d probably want me to call her Libbie), and she also writes historical fiction, much of it set in ancient Egypt. Can’t argue with that.

Through all this I also discovered Libbie Hawker’s blog, which has some great posts on the writing life and the publishing industry, from the perspective of a smart, frank, and funny successful full-time novelist.

Link: Gotta Read It! by Libbie Hawker

Cheers!

—Ben

Hubris Towers: My Secret Master Plan, Mk. I

Ok, so writing Hubris Towers is officially getting addictive. This is my first deep fiction collaboration—working with Bill, who blogs here—and it’s so much fun that I want to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at our process, my personal goals, and some fun new things I’m trying with this project.

Before I go further, a caveat: This is all highly speculative and subject to change. Part of the fun of this project is the freedom to try things out and experiment freely.

Serial Structure

Right now we’re planning on writing episodes of 12.5-15k words each—that’s about 35-45 pages—with eight episodes to a season. That lets us bundle each season into a solid, novel-length book, idea being that we could sell the book at a discount to reward loyal readers who know they’ll read the whole season, while also serving everyone who’s eager and likes a steady drip of new stories as they come out.

It wouldn’t be out of the question to release an episode a month, though for now we’re both sustaining day jobs, families, real lives, and other writing projects, so we’ll see. But even with a slightly slower pace that’s a steady output of a full season each year in steady, snackable chunks.

Our Collaborative Process

Bill and I have been friends for decades. We were friends in grade school in Ankara, Turkey, where we would routinely spend the night at each other’s houses on short notice and spend long hours reading and writing and plotting together, and now we live a few blocks apart in Baltimore, where, along with some other friends, our families have dinner together several times a week and we spend long hours sipping whiskey and reading stories and talking philosophy or theology or writing.

So you could say we’ve got an understanding of one another by now. I pray everyone who’s reading this has or will one day have friends like mine—it’s a massive blessing and one of the most fulfilling parts of my life.

Mushiness aside, here’s how we’ve got the collaborative process set up so far.

We met for a couple big-picture brainstorming sessions to lay out the story concept, setting, and characters. At the last of those meetings we sketched out the overall arc of Season 1, then developed it into paragraph-length summaries of each of the eight episodes, along with a few ongoing hooks and interesting ideas that will take us into Season 2.

I’m great with characters and settings, and my prose skills are pretty solid, but I have always found plots a lot harder to develop. Bill is a veritable fountain of brilliant plot turns and devices. I can say something like “We just need these three impossible things to happen. All at once.” And then he’ll think for a second and lay out a plan for how all three of them can happen at once, with this other clever twist developing in the background. So the plotting went pretty quickly with Bill in the room.

Short version: We had a four-hour meeting where we made each other laugh constantly.

Then Bill expanded Episode 1 into a detailed summary of a few thousand words, say a quarter to a third of the total projected length.

I’ve taken that summary and am fleshing it out into the full draft. We have very compatible senses of humor and are both being pretty unselfish with the plot, so it’s really turning into the best of both worlds. He’ll put all his best ideas in the summary, then I’ll take those, run with them, and add my own. I suspect it’s going to start turning into a sort of contest of trying to make each other laugh out loud. Certainly that’s where it’s going so far.

A Series That Pays Minimum Wage

This is a little ambitious, but I want to see if we can make this a project that pays minimum wage or better on average. Our plan is to keep it light, fun, and fast, and it occurred to me that I can actually track all the time I spend on it and calculate my overall hourly earnings for the project.

With our collaborative process it’s a pretty speedy production cycle, and I bet the serial structure will help us be efficient with post-production and may even net some economies of scale like, say, repeating cover design elements within seasons or bulk purchase of ISBNs.

My part of the planning for Season 1 is basically done, and took about 4 hours. I’ve since maintained an overall average of 15 words per minute composing the draft. If I can maintain that, writing a season of 100,000 words will total around 111 hours of writing time. Let’s add 20 hours to account for post-production. That may seem optimistic, but I’m only counting my own time here. With Bill’s help my time on editing should be minimal, and I think we can get the compiling and publishing down to a science.

I’m going to assume the average reader (who goes on to finish Season 1) buys one standalone episode then gets the full season. With that assumption and a 50/50 income split, some back-of-envelope calculations indicate we’d need a little under 600 readers for me to make minimum wage on this. And that’s not out of the question by any means. If I can bump my speed up to 25 words per minute the minimum-wage point drops below 400 readers. That’s really not out of the question. The Stone and the Song passed 100 sales in its first month and that was just my very first short, preliminary test run, with no product funnels in place and minimal marketing. Hubris Towers will be building on itself over months and will have both Bill’s network and mine drawing readers.

Anyway, that’s all kind of pie in the sky, but it’s fun to think about.

More to the point, at this stage the writing is cracking me up constantly. It’s so much fun I’m stealing time from other projects, even Frobisher, which I love, to write more of Episode 1. I’ve already written about 10 times as much for it as I meant to this month, to the extent that it’s almost becoming a problem. Except not really, obviously. Glee! I can’t wait to unveil it in all its Wodehouse-y (Wodehouse-ish? Wodehomely?) glory. Patience.

Cheers!

—Ben

February in Review + March Goals

Some pretty cool writers I follow are writing month-end reviews and goals. It’s a great idea. I might make a practice of it, too. Certainly last month was great and this month is exciting, so I’m going to try it out today.

February Accomplishments

  1. I released my first story,The Stone and the Song, on Amazon. Lots of work, but a smashing success!
  2. Released 2 more sections of The Dream World Collective.
  3. Launched my mailing list and got 2-3x industry average open and click rates. Because my people are awesome. Sign up here for friendly notes and mysterious missions.
  4. Wrote more of The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher. Uncharacteristically, I’m not sure how much.
  5. Recorded about half of the audiobook version of The Stone and the Song.
  6. Established rough concept for Hubris Towers, an upcoming serial fiction collaboration, with Bill.
  7. Wrote a blog post every week day.

March Goals

  1. The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher – Current word count: 96,642
    • Minimum: Write 12,000 words (avg. 3,000/wk)
    • Target: Write 22,000 words (avg. 5,000/wk)
    • Stretch: Round it up and hit 120,000 words total. (That’s my projected total word count! Could finish the rough draft this month! That’s crazy!)
  2. The Dream World Collective
    • Minimum: Release 2 sections on Patreon
    • Target: Release 3 sections and overview remaining rewrites needed before launch
    • Stretch: Release 4 sections and overview
  3. The Stone and the Song
    • Minimum: Keep encouraging readers to leave reviews
    • Target: Release paperback
    • Stretch: Release paperback and audiobook
  4. Hubris Towers
    • Minimum: Sketch characters, setting, and rough arc for Season 1
    • Target: Above plus sketch concept for each episode in Season 1
    • Stretch: Above plus write partial episode to test process and develop speed projections
  5. Write a blog post every week day.

Oh, man. This is such an exciting time! Let me know in comments or at byfaroe at gmail dot com if you’re interested in beta reading, collaborating, or chatting about the art and business of writing. I love this stuff and I love finding other writers who are serious about making it a career and/or lifestyle.

Cheers!

—Ben

Book Launch: Detailed Breakdown + Debrief

Kara Jorgensen, author of The Earl of Brass and The Winter Garden, asked about how I marketed The Stone and the Song during its recent launch. (For those just joining, this was my debut launch and hit the top 10k in Amazon paid rankings, selling nearly 100 copies in the first ten days with no budget and no pre-existing mailing list.)

My reply got way too long for comments, and I’ve been wanting to share this anyway in case it’s helpful to any other authors out there, so here it is.

Results

  • Nearly 100 sales in first 10 days
  • 4 days on the Top 20 Amazon Best Seller list in Fairy Tales
  • Broke the top 10k in Amazon paid rankings
  • Multiple five-star reviews on Amazon within first few days of release. (It appears a couple have since disappeared. I’m looking into this.)

Wave 1: The Big Facebook Bonanza

For this launch the announcements went in two waves. I announced the pre-order on Facebook, and a bunch of friends were really excited and shared the announcements and/or made announcements of their own. I probably had around 10-12 friends who shared/announced at least once, including 3-5 friends who went crazy and put it up once or twice a day or more for the first few days.

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

I’ve lived in multiple cities and have always been working to become a professional author, so I had a pretty wide base of friends excited for me. I think the great cover and professional presentation helped push a lot of people into taking the book seriously and being genuinely intrigued or excited about it, not just casually happy for me, and the pre-order discount (99 cents) made it pretty low-commitment.

So people started ordering, which gave me an early surge in rankings and Hot New Releases, and I shared screenshots (on FB) to keep the excitement going and help legitimize the book as a serious endeavor, not just a “cool thing my friend did.” Then my crazy-cool friends shared those, etc. This first burst lasted 2-3 days, during which I got 50-60 pre-orders.

Wave 2: Building A Mailing List

A few days later, I launched my mailing list (more details here) with a broadcast to 420+ old friends and acquaintances. Of these about 60 bounced, and of the rest about half opened the note and 30-40 signed up for my mailing list. During the day or two after that email my total pre-orders went a little above 80, with a few more trickling in since then. By then I’d fallen far off in rankings, but this second The Stone & the Song hits Amazon Hot New Releases!surge pushed me back up into the Top 12k-15k in Amazon Paid (and top 15-25 in Fairy Tales, and Hot New Releases again) for a couple days.

Note: I’m not keeping the huge list. I may send one reminder, but otherwise I’m only emailing the people who actually opted in.

I was also fairly shameless about telling relevant friends and coworkers about my book, but (hopefully) without being too weird about it. It’s tricky riding the line between helping people find it if they’d be interested but not making them feel obligated or awkward if they’re not. Main thing there is to think from their perspective. I try not to spew my announcements to everyone, but to think about who might genuinely enjoy what I’ve got and let them know it exists.

Initial Follow-Up

My real goal from this launch is to get 25 Amazon reviews by March 7, two weeks after release. With over 85 sales, a ghost army of amazing supporters appearing from nowhere, and consistent messaging that this is the best way for readers to help me, I think that’s realistic. These reviews will harness the goodwill and momentum of the launch and put it in a lasting form that (I hope) will drive Amazon to start putting the book in also-bought lists and recommendation emails and convince new readers to buy it.

I contacted my shiny new mailing list with a last-chance reminder on the final day of pre-orders. Going forward I’m going to send an intro email describing some exciting upcoming projects and ideas, but mostly the goal is to figure out cool new ways to delight my list. I’ve got them preliminarily self-segmented into readers, writers, adventurers, enigmas, etc., along with asking who’s interested in what (updates, collaboration, friendly notes, experiments), and my philosophy is that the list is more for them than for me. More to come on that. Sign up here if you’re interested in joining in.

The book itself has an unobtrusive sign-up link on the copyright page and some pretty carefully-thought-out calls to action in the back, inviting people to sign up for my mailing list, support me on Patreon, or email me. It also has a sample of my next novel followed by links to where you can read it free for now and a reminder to sign up for the mailing list. The goal is to find those who liked my story enough to read it to the end, give them a taste of what else is available, provide an overabundance of fun and value, and get a way to stay in touch. I’m excited to see how this develops over the next couple weeks as my 80+ initial buyers get time to read and finish the story.

Lessons Learned

This was a test run and I’ve learned a lot. Knowing what I know now, I would have done it a little differently.

1. I’d just release directly (with a limited-time discount) instead of making a pre-order. I could have had readers leaving reviews on Amazon or sharing their thoughts about the story on social media throughout the launch week rather than just going on hearsay and product description.

2. I’d have been ready to send out the email as soon as momentum started dying down. I was still figuring out mailing lists and refining my contact list, and ended up having about a 2-3 day delay between the two big surges, and my sales rank dipped to 100k (and even, briefly, close to 200k). I think if I’d timed it better I could have had a sustained 10-20 sales/day for 5-6 days in a row. I don’t have details, but I get the impression that’s getting close to where Amazon’s algorithms would start picking it up a little more seriously and it might have started getting some organic sales and building on itself a bit.

3. I’d have contrived a way to keep up the engagement on FB through the day. I have a day job (and no smart phone) so wasn’t able to respond to peoples’ shares, encouragement, questions, etc. during the day. My bitlinks and my friends who were watching corroborrated that the action fell off around 11am. My wife and I have since realized that she can help keep things going from home while I’m at work :]

4. I’d have proofread a little more carefully. I ended up getting a little impatient and loading the final compile at 2am a day or two before deadline. It turned out there were still a few typos. Luckily I was able to fix some of these early on and upload the fix during the pre-order period. A hard lesson was that Amazon freezes the design 2-3 days before launch. I had a couple final adjustments to the manuscript that unfortunately didn’t make it to the pre-order customers even though I uploaded the changed version within minutes after Amazon unfroze the book. Not critical, and they can set their accounts to get the updated version, but it bothered the perfectionist in me.

5. I wish I had figured out a way to get a list of people who bought the book. It would make it really easy to express gratitude, remind people to leave reviews, check for interest in future releases, notify buyers about the changes in 4 above, etc. Anybody have a good way to do this?

It was all a ton of work and a ton of fun. I’m trying to mostly put it behind me and get back to work on actual writing now. This has more than ever driven home for me how good it will be to have a catalog of other books I can direct eager parties to.

Any ideas on things I could have done better? Questions or experiences of your own you’d like to share? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Cheers!

—Ben