One of the questions I’m asked a lot is, “Why did you stop the writing process on your third book to do a second edition of your first published novel? It has a three-star rating on Goodreads and four stars on Smashwords.”
I always take a deep breath and explain that the ratings are great, but they are not from a lot of readers. Three or four stars would be acceptable if you had 50 or more people rate the book, not one or two. Then I take another breath and explain the process that brought me to the conclusion to write a second edition of Demons of the Jungle. I have decided to put this process in a blog before I release the second edition so that new readers, along with new authors, can see why I thought a second edition was needed.
I will start off by saying that I’m a retired engineer and I worked with numbers every day for 35 years. Demons of the Jungle was first released May 24, 2014 as an e-book on Smashwords. From there it hit Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble and the other major retailers; the paperback version came out later the next year. Total book sales to date (November 11, 2015): 169. Sounds OK for an author’s first published work.
I decided to take a closer look at the numbers. For the first month of release I offered coupons, so the book was free. I learned in a hurry that readers love free books—the total number of freebies I gave away was 109, giving me 60 true book sales. 60 (true sales) divided by 18 (the number of months the book has been available for purchase) = 3.3 books a month. Now the numbers that looked OK in the beginning are looking worse.
Next I looked at the number of partial downloads, a feature authors use to give the reader a sample of the book (Demons of the Jungle’s was set to 20%). I had 164 sample downloads. Given my 60 book sales, that gives me a 37% ‘download to buyer’ percentage. Ouch, that hurts! A new author should run closer to at least 50% (that’s my opinion, not a stated fact).
So why were people only reading 20% of the book and not buying it to see how the story ended? At that time my second book was ready to go to the editor and I was almost through with the third book. I stopped writing and set out on a mission to see why the numbers were so low on the first one. Sure, I write because I love to write, but I would like for the reader to enjoy what I write too. There was no reason to continue with the second book till I found out what was wrong with the first one.
First, I ruled out some of the problems that keep most independent authors from selling books (e.g. poor spelling and grammar, amateur artwork and an incoherent plot), because my book:’
- had been proofread and edited by a professional;
- had cover art designed by a professional artist;
- featured illustrations in the printed version that were done by the same artist;
- had been read by beta readers when it was a manuscript.
After ruling out those issues and talking to my editor, I hit the streets, literally, with the 20 printed books I had in stock and with a plan she and I had devised. From the numbers, I knew that readers like free books. My first stop was at the group of stores in which my artist friend had a shop, and which also had an independent author bookstore. Now, this artist is also a lawyer and English major, so I gave him a copy of the book because his artwork was on the cover and his illustrations were inside. I asked him to read it again, not looking for illustration ideas but as a book as a whole. Next I headed to the bookstore, pulled the five books that were on the shelves and discussed my plan with the owner. He agreed and I put my plan into action. With my 24 books in a box I began walking the area, stopping people at random and asking, “Do you like to read and, if so, do you like the paranormal genre?”
If they replied yes, I continued.
“This is my first published book. It’s not selling and I need to know why. I’ll give you the book—do you mind reading it and then answering this questionnaire and mailing it back to me?”
If they answered yes, I gave them the book, a questionnaire and a self-stamped envelope.
Many of the people I talked to also asked me questions, and the questions I was asked shocked me and shed some light onto why my books were not selling. These were the most asked questions in order of how frequently I was asked them:
- “Do you have a Facebook page?”
- “Do you have a website?”
- “Do you have a Twitter account?”
- “Do you have a Google + page?”
At that time all I had was a WordPress blog and personal accounts on the other social media sites. With each question I would explain this and then ask, “Do you think I need an author page?”
The overwhelming answer was yes—that way, when people searched for local authors, I would show up. Readers want to be able to like a page rather than become friends with the writer; they want updates and to occasionally leave a comment; and, to my surprise, they would rather buy printed material from an author’s website than Amazon.
Once I had given away all the books, it was time to wait. I made good use of that time by creating Facebook, Google + and Twitter accounts, and building the official website, AuthorJosephClay.com. While completing those sites I was also doing what all writers should do: reading. Over the next four weeks I checked out Cruel & Unusual and Flesh and Blood by Patricia Cornwell, Woman with a Gun and Sleight of Hand by Phillip Margolin, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing and Fire in the Hole by the late Elmore Leonard, and Split Second by Catherine Coulter. To read my reviews of these books and what I learned from each author, click on the link and it will take you to my official blog, AuthorJoeClay.com. After reading all these books, my style of writing came to me, as well as the way I wanted to handle back stories, how the book would be laid out, and more.
The questionnaires started rolling in and I began reading them. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the parts my beta readers (all authors) had told me I needed to cut were the very parts these readers wanted to know more about. Be careful, the author beta reader may be sabotaging your work. After all, there are thousands of writers and your book, in reality, is their competition. They may claim we are all one happy family and be more than willing to help, but stop and think about it.
Here are the other things these readers suggested, from most frequently stated to least.
- The story would be better if the POV was changed to be seen from the eyes of the stronger protagonist.
- They felt disconnected in certain areas of the book and didn’t feel like they were in the story (that told me I was doing more telling than showing).
- The cover art was nice, but they wanted more of a visual, a face to put with the story, and something that didn’t look like art.
- The introduction was way too long and the information in it would have been more interesting if tied into the story (there was my answer as to why only 37% of people were buying the book after the sample download. With a 64-page book that has a 20% sample you get roughly 13 pages. Take away the title page, copyright page, preface, acknowledgments, table of contents and a boring five-page introduction, and you are left with only three pages of the actual book).
The things they liked were: the illustrations as, once again, they helped them visualize the story and the surroundings; and everything the professional proofreader/editor had suggested that I change.
I had all the information I needed and decided that the reader deserved my best work. After all, I had since written two more books and learned a lot. I didn’t know everything, but I knew more and felt that a second edition was what was needed—people were spending hard-earned money on a book that I felt was inadequate.
I formulated a new set of rules and a process that I would follow for each book I wrote, starting with the re-write of Demons of the Jungle.
- Use beta readers who like the genre of the book; no writers at all.
- Take no advice from a writer who has not published as many books as I have. Now, if James Patterson or Stephen King calls I’ll listen to every word.
- Never use a preface; I can say what I need to at the back of the book under the author notes.
- Never use an introduction; if the book needs back story there is a way to add it into the book.
- Use a graphic designer for the cover art and make sure there is a face to tie to the story.
- Engage and interact on social media by making a minimum of three posts a week.
- Trust my proofreader/editor over everyone else, including James Patterson and Stephen King. (Note: Your best beta reader is the proofreader/editor. Get to know yours as a friend as well as a co-worker. Sure, you pay them, so technically they work for you, but treat them like an employee and they will do you a good job—treat them like a friend and they will go above and beyond to help you be the best you can be. I know my editor for Demons of the Jungle held my hand every step of the way and made suggestions that she didn’t have to, like what instructional books on writing I should read, or how to make a character’s dialogue so distinct that the reader knows who is speaking before they get to the end of the sentence. Your proofreader/editor is the best friend and partner you and your book can have. I have three that I work with and I consider each to be a colleague and a friend.)
Look for the new and improved version of Demons of the Jungle, Second Edition in late December of this year or early January 2016. Follow me on one of the above linked social media sites for the exact date of the release.
How did Demons of the Jungle get its beginning and what went into writing the story? I’ll cover that very interesting writing exercise in next week’s blog.
Blogs in this series: “When is a second edition needed?”, “Birth of the Demons”, “Piecing it all together“, “Who is Debra Wright?”, “Who is Patricia Mitchell?”, “Who is Levi West?”, “The Demons”, and the teaser before the release, “A deal too good to be true”.
Blog Edited by: Clare Diston @ Human Voices