Will The Learning Curve Never End?

Happy&Sad-fingers_OPA couple weeks ago I quietly released A Thousand Tombs, Book #4 in my Gen Delacourt Mystery Series. There was no cover reveal, no book launch party, no big announcement. Why? Because I’m not convinced that taking time away from writing to do any of those things is worthwhile until I have a fanbase of readers who hang on every new book.

While I may not have an army of avid readers, what I do have is the resolve to be a successful self-published author. My theory is that the achievement of any goal revolves around wanting something badly enough to 1) go for it, 2) generate adequate self-discipline to do what it’ll take to get there, and 3) hang in through thick and thin until you start to see results. So I simply published Book #4 and got to work on Book #5, Swindle Town. And with the release of each new book, I’ve shared what I learned in the interim between launches. Here goes.

Five Lessons Learned Pre-Launch Book #4

  1. I committed two books to KDP Select

PAINT150x_OpI’ve never been in KDP Select, but when Kindle Unlimited burst onto the scene last summer, I placed Book #2, The Last Fairytale, and Book #3, Paint Me Gone, into the program. It resulted in a few borrows that may not otherwise have been sales, but overall I was not impressed. What I DO love about Select is the ease of scheduling promos, and because of that, I plan to keep some of my titles in Select for a while.

AND (drumroll), I scheduled my first free ebook giveaway for the week of 9/29 – 10/03. Paint Me Gone was FREE for the first time ever. I’ll blog about my experience in two weeks.

  1. Getting reviews is STILL a dilemma

Yes, folks, reviews are tough to get. I’ve tried different avenues over the past few months, including the paid review site BookRooster. It ain’t cheap, but the site came highly recommended. So I researched and liked their business model, which was to offer books to “real” readers – not paid reviewers – in exchange for a review. I tried it, and … zip. After 18 weeks, BookRooster only managed to post a single review out of 10 promised. Granted, it was a great review, and the reviewer went on to buy, read and review three of my books. (Yay!) But my suggestion overall? Stay away. They’re just as overwhelmed as book bloggers.

Basically, tried-and-true methods are the only reliable way to garner reviews: that means it’s back to cultivating reader relationships on Goodreads, and spending A LOT OF TIME querying book bloggers to get those all-important first 10-20 reviews most book promo sites require, then submitting the book to promo sites and crossing fingers you’ll get reader reviews as a result of sales. Here’s a great article that will help. Reviewer Databases: An Author’s Best Friend.

  1. It’s all about plotting

TOMBS_150x_OpI’ve touched on this in previous posts, but the more I write, the more this lesson slams home for me. After I published Paint Me Gone, I thrashed around for the next plot and had trouble deciding where I wanted it to go. I knew the main premise and the ending of A Thousand Tombs, but not the steps to get there. So I started writing anyway, deciding to pants it through. After all, I had three books under my belt now, so I knew what I was doing. Right? Wrong.

Big Mistake!

I ended up going back through the book over and over to edit, alter, add to, and delete so many plot elements. As a result, I tossed out so much work! It was a huge waste of time and energy, and I learned my lesson.

So when I sent A Thousand Tombs off to beta readers, I spent three weeks developing the plot for Book #5, Swindle Town. I semi-plotted 35 chapters and got a good feel for how the book would progress. Right now I’m on the home stretch, almost done with the first rough draft using that outline. Did I digress? Absolutely. But not from the main plot points, which actually allowed me to roam without getting in deep trouble. Yaay!

  1. My first foray into marketing was a success

Loon-#17-Kindle_OpAs I’ve said, I waited until I had 3 books published in the series before I did much paid marketing or promo. I talked about what I was up to in this post: How To Market A 99 Cent Ebook Sale On The Cheap. I’m thrilled to report that Mark of the Loon made it to #17 in one of the Mystery categories on Amazon as a result of that promo campaign, and that was heady stuff. (It’s as cool as everybody says it is.) The Paint Me Gone freebie = “serious book marketing attempt #2.” I’ll blog about exactly what I did and the results in two weeks. Stay tuned!

  1. I expanded my writing time

I’ve also experimented with writing at times of the day I’d previously dismissed as “not peak production hours” (See this post: 15 Tips To Increase Your Productivity.) What I found surprised me, and changed my writing habits. I discovered that when I wrote during what I’d designated off hours, I produced as high a word count as peak hours, which (used to be!) early morning for me. Now – when using an outline – I’m sometimes able to bang out 3,000 words in a day (OMG! Never before!), writing in the morning, again in the afternoon, and once again in the early evening. Night still doesn’t cut it for me, I produce gibberish. The takeaway? Experiment. Try different things!

Readers, has Kindle Unlimited changed your thoughts about KDP Select? What are you doing to collect book reviews, and are you still a dedicated pantser despite the challenges? Please leave a comment and share!

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39 Responses to Will The Learning Curve Never End?

  1. Ruth Harris September 29, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    Super interesting post! I always thought of myself as a “morning person” who did my best work in the AM. Lately, tho, I’ve also expanded my writing time and found, as you did, that afternoons were productive, too. Nights? Fuggedaboutit.

    Something else that intrigues me is that how I feel—tired, perky, cranky, cheerful—makes ZERO difference in the quality of my work. Weird. I wonder if other writers have observed this. I’ve tentatively concluded that the book has its own energy and style and doesn’t give a bleep how I feel.

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      RUTH! Intriguing that you said that … I’ve also found that no matter how I “feel,” if I can just get myself to start writing, I do just fine. So much for being in the mood!

    • Sydney Strand September 29, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

      Ruth: I have to admit, mood affects my work (production, namely). There are some family health issues that are weighing on me, and sometimes they weigh too heavily.


    • Anna S. September 30, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

      GREAT post – and excellent observations, Ruth Harris. I completely concur! I’ve discovered that there is no BEST time for me to write – creatively speaking, that is. I write when my damned characters have something to say! If I’m on a roll that day or week, this happens more or less at the computer or iPad. But more often than not, is has occurred in meetings, taking a walk, grocery shopping, talking to someone in the hallway, even just tucking myself into bed – when suddenly an inspiration or thought hits me. I wrote (almost) an entire chapter in my head while my husband was driving us to Upstate New York for some R&R. It was some of my best writing, I must say. 😛

      • Molly Greene October 1, 2014 at 7:41 am #

        Thanks Anna and I agree – my drive time is super valuable for plotting. You might try taking a small hand-held tape recorder with you next time, that way you won’t lose any of the details 🙂

  2. Barry Knister September 29, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    Thanks for this very good post. Your approach–emphasizing developing more books before marketing–seems to make a lot of sense. And I will certainly keep in mind the process you’ve used for at last marketing your work. In your case, though, it doesn’t hurt to have done all the hard work that’s resulted in a great website.

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

      Thanks, Barry. When I started to blog early in 2011, I thought I’d have multiple books published within a couple of years. That didn’t happen! I have built a nice website, but the issue is that my blog readership is other authors, not a reader fanbase. Now I need to work on that!

      • Sydney Strand September 29, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

        Totally understand, Molly. So. Totally. Understand. ;o)


        • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

          Thanks, Sydney! It’s good to know I’m not alone 😉

      • MM Jaye September 30, 2014 at 4:36 am #

        Now, that aspect I can’t wait to read about. I’ve found it extremely easy to connect with authors (through beta reading, reviewing and hosting them on my blog) but these nice people are NOT going to be readers of my work. Creating a reader fanbase? Now that’s where the money lies (pun intended).

        • Molly Greene September 30, 2014 at 7:25 am #

          Agreed! Other authors are a great resource and support system, but readers pay the bills!

  3. hannah September 29, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    Molly, thank you for this post!

    I absolutely love it and with your dedication to writing, I have no doubt that you will be a favourite with so many readers soon.

    And yes, those times I say I can’t write because it’s not my aha writing time, when I do try, what I write makes a whole lot of sense and before I know, I am spending two, three even five hours on a sitting… Writing!

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

      Thanks Hannah, and my pleasure! I’m still the kind of writer who pops in an out of my chair while I’m working, but I find I can write more often during the day now than I ever thought possible. We just need to experiment!

  4. Sydney Strand September 29, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    Kindle Unlimited has actually made me KEEP all my books in KDP. (Also, Year 2 is the year I go into more platforms–I had to cut some of my workload somewhere, and learning more formatting skills was one of those things.)

    I have sold small but respectable numbers of my four books, but for novellas ($1.99 and $1.49) I have loaned 2X as many through Unlimited as people have bought. For my traditional-length novel ($2.99), it’s about 1.3X as many, and I still have a good number of sales for that title, too. In July, 1/3 of my royalties came from Unlimited. At this stage of the game, I just need readers (like you) so I’m good with my book just getting out there.

    Profitability is something I’ll be aiming for in Year 2. Did I say that already? ;o)

    Regarding book reviews, I tried NetGalley. I think I got about 4 after paying $100 to buy into a co-op. So, yeah, not worth it. I went through Booklikes, because you only need an ebook for review. But those reviews weren’t from native English speakers and so read a little oddly (but very realistically, I must say!). I went through Goodreads Giveaways, and that netted me some nice reviews. I use my newsletter to guilt family and friends to write a review. That works–IF Amazon posts them. But I do now have four non-family, non-friend readers who love to read my work and who I send free copies of my books to in order to get more reviews from them. ;o)

    I do think the way to go is getting a list of very specific-to-me bloggers (mommy bloggers, for instance, for my Bad Mom series) and ask for reviews and be a stellar author for them to work with. But I need to have a moment to breathe in order to organize that. (Plus I’m working on Book 3 of 4 in the series, so I want to wait a bit.)

    Regarding pantsing. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I’m on a schedule! My Draft 1 is pretty ugly. It doesn’t need to be more so. ;o)


    • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

      Super interesting and I’ve heard that in the blogosphere – about KU being great in lieu of low-cost novel & novella sales. Ditto about cultivating readers for reviews – I actually approached a few readers who left reviews on GR for my first book and offered them the 4th to read & review. I’ve had good luck getting positive reviews from the couple of promos I’ve done, and that is super encouraging … and I’m officially now a no-pants person, lol! And Sydney, so pleased you stopped by and love your comments. THANK you so much for sharing! I wish you all the best w/profits in year 2 – with luck, I’ll be right behind you 🙂

  5. Rowena May O'Sullivan September 29, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    Thanks for this Molly. I really needed to read this today. I’m just going to keep writing like you. I just don’t have the time and energy to do it all, so I figure the writing should come first, even if I’m a slow writer. I was feeling as if it was all too much, so I just needed to read this post today to help me feel a little more centered.

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

      Hi Rowena! I feel the same way. There is so much to learn, process, and do. So many different actions we can and should take as indie authors. But the bottom line, the core of it all, is that we need to have well-written, interesting books to offer when we “get out there” and sell. You keep writing!

  6. Garry Rodgers September 29, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    Hi Molly,

    Great post as usual & you’re right about focussing on readers. I love your resolve to build your profile. I’m wondering if you are familiar with the motivational writer Napoleon Hill and his masterpiece, Think And Grow Rich. IMO, this is the bible when it comes to the principles of success, regardless of what business you’re in.

    Garry Rodgers, Vancouver Canada

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

      Thank you so much Garry! Yes, I own the book “Think and Grow Rich” but I have not read it for awhile – your mention might be a sign that it’s time to pick it up again … thank you for the reminder!

  7. A.K.Andrew September 29, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    Congratulations on your new novel! Your perseverance is awesome Molly and I loved what you said about working without a plot ( can work if you’re lucky- maybe) and writing in non peak times. We can surprise ourselves sometimes. Really helpful to hear your experience about promotion & reviews. My book is out with agents at the moment but the lessons you have given will apply whatever way I end up publishing. Really a v. inspirational post. Thankyou.

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

      My pleasure, A.K.! Writing the novels is only a small part of the work we do as self-pubbed authors. Book reviews, book promo, and tasks like these are less of an issue when authors are trad published – but you still have to do some of that work. Best to you on your journey!

  8. Julie Musil September 29, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    Molly, I truly appreciate how you share what you’ve learned. I’ve been mulling over KDP select for a while now but haven’t taken the plunge. I only have two books out right now–both stand alone titles.

    I MUST outline a book. I’m blown away by pantsers who successfully write books without a roadmap. We each have to do what works for us, and outlines and index cards work for me 🙂

    • Molly Greene September 29, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

      Julie, I’ve resisted Select just on the basis that I don’t think exclusivity is a good idea – but the truth is I’ve struggled with price-matching and I’m tired of it. One promo using Select showed me what a breeze it was. I may be a pushover, but I think I’ll have to go with it.

  9. joybelle2012 September 30, 2014 at 1:41 am #

    Hi Molly, I totally agree with your sentiments regarding all the hype that often surrounds a new book release. I often read about what authors say they did and realize it must have cost them time as well as a lot of money. But then I guess if you’ve got money to burn it doesn’t hurt you. If on the other hand you are working to a strict budget, all that advertising is probably a waste of time.
    One woman who writes really soppy romances hit the top after going all out on really big advertising, then she later complained that nobody was buying her book. Out of curiosity I read the free sample offered on Kindle and quickly realized that her writing was really bad.
    Thanks so much for your freebie today. Will begin to read it at the weekend. Best wishes for good sales on your new book.
    Now for my big question: It might seem strange to you, but I’m fine with most of the writing stuff I need to do, its just the way to make links etc. that has me puzzled. For instance, where you had the link ‘download here’ and also at the title of the book, how did you make it active so that people could just click and download??? I’d like to offer a few freebies, but have no idea how you did this.
    Thanks for your latest blog,

    • Molly Greene September 30, 2014 at 7:17 am #

      Joybelle, I think big book releases probably sell books for authors who already have a strong fanbase. And I agree w/the writing comment, the money is better spent on editors than book release parties! Thanks so much for downloading PAINT – and here’s a how-to re: adding a link to a WordPress post. Best to you on all your writing!

  10. Debbie Young September 30, 2014 at 2:44 am #

    Yep, the best way to sell a book is – to write another one! Received wisdom is that once you have 5 or 6 books out there, things start to take off, given, of course, that you’re a decent writer. So you are nearly at that critical point, Molly – fantastic!

    Writing a series of books in the same genre/same setting/same characters is also good news from the marketing point of view, because it opens up all sorts of new possibilities such as reducing the price of the first one or making it free, to lure in your reader, because those who enjoy the first one will be happy to pay real money for the subsequent books in the series. Best not to leave it too long between new books in the series, so your readers don’t have to wait too long for the next one. One very successful trade-published author that I’m fond of, M C Beaton, is contracted to write one new novel a year in each of her two most popular series – Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin. MCB is nearly 80 now, and that inspires me to think that if she can do it, I should be able to as well – and to keep going forever! (I’ve just published the first in a proposed series of flash fiction/very short story collectionss, “Quick Change”, and am hoping to produce one each quarter – which probably amounts to novel length over the course of a year.)

    A tip re getting reviews – do you use beta readers? I’ve used half a dozen for “”Quick Change” and also for a non-fiction book I’ve written about Type 1 diabetes, and these readers were able to supply great quotes to launch the books with, usable on the blurb, as well as early reviews to get the ball rolling.

    • Molly Greene September 30, 2014 at 7:19 am #

      Hi Debbie, I have three wonderful beta-readers and a couple of them review for me. The goal, of course, is to have hundreds of reviews, and that takes time. Thanks so much!

  11. MM Jaye September 30, 2014 at 4:31 am #

    Awesome post and thank you for sharing all that’s happening in your writing life! All aspects of it are inspiring to newbies like me. Lately, I struggle with the idea of whether I’m just a storyteller rather than a writer per se, as I lack the dedication I see so many true writers have. Well, to each his own as they say, but I need to change my frame of mind and sort out my priorities.

    Thanks again!

    • Molly Greene September 30, 2014 at 7:24 am #

      Hi Maria! I think writing multiple books is a financial decision – do you want to earn a living wage as an author? If not, a book a year will keep your creative juices flowing and get you to the 4-6 book tipping point eventually. I say do what makes you happy!

  12. cindy September 30, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Hey Molly,

    Congrats on Gen4, Molly. On my TBR list:))

    As for me. Sigh. Still a pantser but this post may finally turn me into a plotter. I’m actually half and half. I free write the first part of the book and then when I have a feel for the characters and where they are going, I outline.

    I wrote two indie books in 2014 this way, revised a third, and revised a small press novel I am waiting to be released.

    On my indies, 3 are KDP and I like it that way. My small press publisher does not have traditional marketing clout either, so marketing remains the issue. And reviews. The first time I did a “free” KDP I got 60 reviews! A bit over a year ago.

    I am on the last day of another “free” and last time I checked, I had not earned a single new review…so…I think the days of “free” are numbered.

    Kindle now has the subscription service along with the library lending, so those folks get all the “free” books they can read and more. Also “free” seems to be flooding the marketing game. I realize the reviews won’t pop up right away, and who knows, maybe I’ll get some, but I’m not counting on it.

    What worked yesterday “countdown” for example — might not work tomorrow. I predict we’re gonna have to take tap dancing classes.

    • Molly Greene September 30, 2014 at 9:47 am #

      Ha! Cindy, I pantsed the first 1/2 of TOMBS, too – that’s why had to go back and change it all to conform to the 2nd half outline! I actually think some authors are just better pantsers than I am, so it works out for them. Re: reviews, I know. It’s tough. I’m hoping for ten reviews from this promo, and that may be optimistic – and with everybody stampeding to first in the series free, I’ve actually reconsidered whether I want to do that myself. We need to looking ahead to what we can do that’s different. I wish I had a crystal ball!

  13. Michael Kelberer September 30, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Hi Molly – Great post, l really get a lot out of your “step back and look at what just happened” posts!

    I noted in one of your comments about you reference to the “4-6 book tipping point.” Everything I read reinforces that truth – that for newbie authors, the best thing they can do for their career after they finish a great book is to write another one. Once you have a portfolio to work with, theres good grist for some serious marketing.

    • Molly Greene September 30, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Thanks so much, Michael. I get a lot out of stepping back and taking a look, too! I feel like it’s a matter of “adjusting the course” and learning from mistakes. I think it was CJ Lyons’ blog where I first read about the industry theory that it takes “4-6 months after the last book in a series of 4-6 books is published” for an author to get traction. I have 4 books out now, and January 2015 will mark the end of that 4 month term. I have my fingers crossed I’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel early next year. 🙂 Keep writing!

  14. Anne R. Allen September 30, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Great post, Molly! I totally agree. I’m going to link to it from my Sunday post.

    • Molly Greene September 30, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      Thanks, Anne! I know you’re a pantser but as I said earlier, clearly you guys are much better at it than I am. Thanks in advance for the link!

  15. Lorna October 1, 2014 at 2:27 am #

    Interesting post. I know I don’t use goodreads much but I do use social media to promote my book and find it worked well. I’ve got press coverage too which has helped. Know what you mean re those pesky reviews though, they have really dried up but that’s because most people are buying the hard copy in bookshops so they’re not getting the reminder from Amazon.

    • Molly Greene October 1, 2014 at 7:40 am #

      Hi Lorna! I’m not sure I agree about the hard copy sales draining reviews, as my books are only available as ebooks and most self-pubbed authors have difficulty getting into bookstores in the U.S. My theory is that there are just millions more books to read! There has to be more to it, of course. Thanks so much for your comment!

  16. Laura Zera October 2, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

    Hey, congrats to you and writing, learning, writing, learning and then always sharing. Do you have Beavers in the U.S.? It’s like Boy Scouts, but for, like, 5- and 6-year-olds. Their motto is “sharing, sharing, sharing,” and then they slap themselves on the butt to make a beaver tail noise. Anyhoo… regarding writing and mood and time of day, I’ve found that listening to certain kinds of music is really helping me get focused when I couldn’t before. Stuff like Mozart and music with no discernible beat that boosts alpha brain waves (if you Google alpha wave music, it’s out there). Hubby turned me on to it and I am a total convert!

    • Molly Greene October 3, 2014 at 7:30 am #

      I’ll move right on to the music comment (lol!) – veeeeerrrrry interesting about the alpha brain wave + music thingy. I’d try it but I’m a silence-is-golden type of writer … I actually need noise-reducing headphones!