This Week in Self-Publishing: What I Did and What it Got Me

My apartment has non-functional radiators that I have turned into bookshelves.

Money earned (total): $7,392.11

Money spent (total): $3,549.16

Book sales (last month): $350.40

Money spent (this week): $52.85 (book mailings and a bookstore booking fee)

Sales in the past seven days:

Three ebooks, 21 paperbacks. This is the opposite of what I expected. I’m delighted that you are all buying paperbacks! Libraries, too; I keep getting messages from people who have found (or requested) my paperback in their library, and I recently learned that the Multnomah County Library in Portland is stocking my book, which touches my heart because that was my very first library as a child.

If you want to buy The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 1: 1989–2000, here’s a link to multiple retailers. (Also IndieBound.)

Promotional activities I’ve undertaken in the past seven days:

I looked through a 52-page database of book bloggers as well as lengthy lists of book Instagrammers and book Tumblrers to identify people who were:

  1. still actively blogging
  2. interested in literary fiction
  3. accepting review requests

About four hours of research yielded ten promising contacts, and of those ten people, I got two responses—which is not the number I was hoping for, but I’m still excited that two people want to read and review my book. ❤

I also contacted four Portland bookstores about readings, and got one yes, which is exactly the number I was hoping for. Thanks to cartoonist Lucy Bellwood for tipping me off to the best indie bookstores in town, and I’ll share more details about the event when it’s ready to go public.

BTW, Lucy Bellwood had me on her podcast last month to discuss self-publishing, and if you haven’t gotten a chance to hear the episode, it’s great:

But back to “what I did this week.” I also reached out to two major media sources: the NPR Books Tumblr, which invites people to email book review requests—and remember, my third chapter is titled “Jack plays the NPR game in Kansas”—and This American Life, which just announced a call for pitches that is relevant to my novel.

I’ve been in the freelance business for long enough to know that this is all a numbers game and that many of the numbers will be rejections, but if you get enough acceptances you start to build momentum/reputation/audience and eventually you become a Senior Editor and a columnist and all the other things I currently am.

Of course, that process took me about three years, and the shelf-life of a debut novel is more like three months.

I also started thinking about whether I needed to hire a publicist. First to see if there’s anything else we should be doing for Biographies Vol. 1 before the newness wears off, and then to see what we could do for Biographies Vol. 2.

The thing is that I have a lot of factors that could be considered “good hooks:” I funded my advance through Patreon, I’m writing this Millennial novel that goes all the way through to 2016, I’ve been tracking the financial process online, um… maybe I only have three good hooks. (Also a good book, which should count for something.)

And working with someone who knows a little more about publicity than I do—because I know about pitching editors, which is related but not quite the same thing—might help Vol. 2, which will by default help Vol. 1.

Plus I’ll have another “good hook” if I tell the story of how I tried to publicize my first volume myself and then hired a publicist for the second go and did way better. That’s the kind of article that self-pub blogs and industry sites would love.

YES I KNOW I AM SOUNDING LIKE THE WORLD’S BIGGEST SLYTHERIN. I have to be strategic about this, because… how else does one figure out what to do?

There’s also this interesting angle that I just realized: I’m submitting Vol. 1 to a pile of awards—the IPPY and Ben Franklin awards just opened submissions, and those are huge indie deals, so I’m going to add them to my list—and these awards all announce in June.

One month after Vol. 2 is scheduled to release.

So this is where having a publicist could be helpful. Should I hold Vol. 2 until July or even August, with the idea that winning an award on Vol. 1 might give it another promo opportunity that we should fully take advantage of before doing another book launch? Or should I publish Vol. 2 exactly one year after Vol. 1 as planned, so all the people who buy Vol. 1 after it (theoretically) wins an award will be able to buy Vol. 2 immediately?

Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that a lot of you want Vol. 2 IMMEDIATELY.

Hiring a publicist will probably destroy any hope I had of making a profit on Vol. 1, but if you look at this like simultaneously playing the long game and the short game, i.e. “building my long-term career as an author” while also “getting as much coverage for these two books, while they’re still new, as I can,” it makes sense.

Or I could keep figuring out how to do all of this myself. I’m really enjoying learning about publicity, but I don’t know if I want to waste my inexperience on what I know is a really good novel, because who knows if I’ll ever be able to write something like that again. (I’ll never do another Millennial coming-of-age story set in the immediate past, that’s for sure.)

Thoughts are, as always, welcomed. ❤



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Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker

Freelance writer at Vox, Bankrate, Haven Life, & more. Author of The Biographies of Ordinary People.