Lessons from My First Year of Self-Publishing
When you publish your first book, it’s a magical feeling.
However, it’s also easy to get lost after that, with all the different ways you can market and promote your book. What will give you the best results? How are you going to get enough readers and sales to fulfill your dream of becoming a full-time author?
In this post, you’ll find the results I had (spoiler alert: I definitely didn’t sell a bunch or earn top dollars here), the lessons I’ve learned in this first year of self-publishing, and what my goals are moving forward in 2024.
How hard is it to get self-published?
Before we dive in, you might wonder how difficult it is to actually get self-published.
The answer: it’s not difficult at all.
Well, when you compare it to getting traditionally published, at least.
Self-publishing does require a lot of knowledge about a lot of things because you’ll be doing most of these things yourself. This includes:
Writing the book (but that’s a given either way)
Editing the book (depending on your budget, you can also hire professionals. But I’d still recommend you know how the editing process works before you hire someone)
Picking the right book cover (again, it’s good to have the right knowledge about what works in the market even if you hire a professional designer. Which you should also do)
Writing the blurb copy
Picking the right metadata
Marketing your book
Promoting your book
It’s a lot, and you can’t expect to become an instant expert on all of these things. Trust me, I’ve tried.
It takes time and dedication to hone your craft, learn about marketing, and everything else that comes with self-publishing.
And, yes, some things you can (and will) learn only after you’ve published your book.
The results of my first book
Let’s dive into the results of my first book. We’ll look at the sales and the number of reviews as an indicator of how the book did in its first year.
In total, I’ve had:
3858 pages read (meaning around 8.5 full read-throughs)
Looking at formats:
My overall earnings for this first year (from the published date (21st November 2022) until 17th November 2023) was $53.83.
In addition, I’ve had 2842 free downloads of the book.
I hadn’t really set a goal for this first year because I knew it would be difficult to predict what to expect. This year has really been more about learning what works and what doesn’t work (for me) and what actions I can take to improve my sales for both this book and future books.
I’ve gotten a total of 12 reviews/ratings on Amazon of 3.7 stars. And the book has 25 ratings on Goodreads with an average of 3.7 stars.
I had hoped to get at least 20 reviews on Amazon, but I’m happy that I’ve gotten at least 10. I heard before from other authors that getting reviews is difficult, and this was definitely true!
And I got a really nice amount of reviews on Goodreads. So, all-in-all, I’m quite pleased with the reviews I got.
How much can a first-time self-published author make?
Of course, the results from my first year don’t have to be your results. You could sell more or you could sell less in your first year.
It’s dependent on a lot of different factors. Some make a few 100 or even 1000 bucks in their first year, while others get barely $10.
I think the most important thing here is to not put too much pressure on your first year. It’s unlikely you’ll get a bestseller right away. Although there are expectations, of course.
The most important thing is, in my view, to keep growing. It’s just the first year of your new career. You’re still learning.
I know I am.
And this process of learning and improving is much more valuable (and will, hopefully, lead to more sustainable growth) over time than getting it right the first time.
Lessons I’ve taken from my first year of self-publishing
I learned a lot this year, and I’ll do my best to condense it for you in 5 lessons. Keep in mind that the things that worked or didn’t work for me might yield different results for you.
Marketing starts before you write
This was probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned. Marketing is much more than slapping on a nice cover, writing a nice blurb, and calling it a day.
If you want to promote your book effectively, you need to really understand what kind of book you’re marketing. Which means you need to really understand the type of book you’re writing.
Luckily, I did spend a fair amount of time making sure I hit the right reader expectations within my book. The only thing that seems off is the beginning (first few chapters).
The way I started the story was probably not the most effective way to hook YA urban fantasy readers (my genre). I also got some feedback that readers didn’t like the main character at the start or that they weren’t hooked right away.
So, this is something I aim to fix (but I’m getting ahead of myself).
Aside from the writing, you want to make sure your book cover fits with the other books in your genre. This is another thing that I didn’t really have. While I researched covers beforehand, I didn’t research them the right way.
The book now has a new cover that fits much better (although it could do with a little tweaking). It’s getting pretty close to how I want it.
So, the takeaway here is to really know and understand the market you’re writing for.
It’s really a marathon, not a sprint
While it’s possible to have short-term success with your books, it’s really more of a marathon to have long-term success.
Sure, it’s possible to go on TikTok and hopefully create a viral video that will sell a lot of books. Many authors have done this successfully, and there’s also absolutely nothing wrong with doing this. If you like TikTok and enjoy making videos, then go for it! (I think it’s harder to sell books through Facebook or Instagram these days.)
But it’s really not my thing.
I want to make sure I have an audience of readers on a platform that I own (like an email list). And, as I’ve found, that takes time, and I need some different tactics for that. I haven’t focused nearly enough of my time this year on building this.
I believe if I keep growing my audience, I will consistently start to sell more and more books. And I won’t be at the mercy of some social media platform (although, again, if you want to do this next to building an audience on a platform you own, you definitely should give it a try!).
I think this continued growth will serve me better in the future.
Book promos probably work better when you have a 2nd book out
I’ve tried my hand at book promos. With Kindle Unlimited, you get some free days or some .99 cent days for your books that you can use to promote your book through several book promo websites (you don’t have to be in KU to use this tactic, though).
I’ve tried a free promo, thinking it might lead to more reviews. However, this wasn’t really the case. Maybe I got 1 extra review out of it? It’s quite possible readers just download a book because it’s free, and then not read it for a really long time.
We’ve all hoarded books before (I have, anyway).
The .99 cent deal was a bit better because you still get some royalties, but definitely not enough to make back the money I spent.
So, I think these tactics would work better with a 2nd book out (in a series). That way, when readers do read the book, like it, and want to read the 2nd book, you’ll get more royalties because of the read-through.
I’ll definitely try this out again once I’ve published the sequel.
Vet your reviewers before you send them your book
I’ve used some sites to get advanced reviewers for my book (Zero Alchemy & Book Sprout). My initial idea was just to get the book in the hands of as many readers as possible, so I didn’t really vet them beforehand.
It wasn’t until I got some reviews that I realized this probably wasn’t a good idea.
With some readers, it was easy to tell they weren’t necessarily a good fit for my book. For instance, they didn’t really answer the questions about which genres they liked or why they wanted to read this book. Or they answered they read genres wildly different from mine.
Of course, they wouldn’t like the book very much.
So, I did end up getting a few lower ratings because of that. Lesson learned.
Look at the data and follow where it leads
A couple of months ago, I signed up for the Author Adschool course. It’s a great course that focuses on utilizing Amazon ads for a low cost to identify potential issues with your book and sales page.
I’ve already learned a lot from the course, and I’ve continued to make tweaks. For instance, I’ve had to change the metadata (the 7 KDP keywords). My keywords were too broad. I had to make them more specific, so Amazon knows what my book’s about.
I’ve also changed the cover to have it fit better with my genre (it still needs a few minor tweaks to be really good), and I’ve changed to blurb as well.
At this point, I still have to gather a bit more data to know my next move, but I’m pretty confident I need to revise my first chapter to make it fit better with my reader’s expectations.
I know that if I keep looking at the data, I’ll know where to make my changes, and my book will end up selling better. Once that’s the case, I can scale up the ads and earn more on my book.
Oh, and the community that comes with the course is amazing as well. So, for each thing I want to change, I can (and do) ask for feedback. That way, I know the changes are the best they can be before I implement them.
Goals for my 2nd year
The goals for my 2nd year are likely too ambitious. Mostly because I’m giving birth in January, and I have absolutely no idea how much time I’ll have left to spend on my writing and on marketing/promoting my book(s).
But, I’m going to go ahead and set the goals anyway. I’ll see how far I’ll get.
1. Write & publish the sequel
I’m already doing well on this goal. I’d hoped to have it published this year, but I’m falling short of that. But, at the moment, I’m working on tightening the plot. I hope I can finish line & copy editing in December. And then it’s a question of when I’ll be able to proofread it when the baby’s here.
Hopefully, I can have it published in February (or March at the latest).
2. Write & publish a reader magnet
Currently, I do have a short story on my website as a reader magnet, but it’s a really short short story. So, instead, I want to have a novella as a reader magnet that is related to Illuminated.
Luckily, I already have a first draft written for that.
Again, I have no idea how much time I’ll have to spend on this, but I hope I can finish it within the first half of 2024.
3. Research & write book 1 of a new series
I’ve had an idea for a new series in my head for a few years, so I can’t wait to write it. But I’m going to have to wait for a bit (also because I want to have the reader magnet finished before I write this new series).
I first have to research a few books similar to my idea to really hone in on those reader expectations. And then I can start writing it.
I’m not expecting to publish it this year, that will likely happen in 2025.
4. Increase the nr of subscribers on my email list
Currently, I have less than 100 subscribers on my email list for readers. That’s not going to do much.
So, in 2024, I really want to focus on improving this. I’m going to do this by:
Promoting the new reader magnet on my website
Promoting the new reader magnet within my book(s)
Promoting the new reader magnet through group promos and email list swaps (I use BookFunnel for this)
Participate in BookSweeps at least once
Participate in the Written Word Media list builder at least once
BookSweeps and Written Word Media both cost money, so it’ll depend on my budget and how I’m going to allocate it when I’ll participate in those. The idea is that those new subscribers will hopefully also buy my book (or a portion of them, at least), so I should get some return on investment here.
5. Increase the nr of reviews
I’d like to have more reviews on my book. Of course, if I manage to get more sales, I should also see an increase in reviews. But I think I can also help it along a bit. I’m aiming for at least 20 reviews by the end of next year and hopefully get to 50 reviews.
To get there, I’m going to do the following:
Do a review tour (a book tour specifically designed for giving reviews)
Try BookSprout again
Maybe do ZeroAlchemy again
All of these things do cost money, so it’ll depend again on what my budget will be and how I’ll allocate it. Likely, I’ll try BookSprout and StoryOrigin for a few months to see if I can garner some reviews there.
I’ve already used ZeroAlchemy, but that did work quite well. So, I’m thinking about doing it again once I’ve also updated the first chapter. The review tour is the more expensive option, but it might give a nice little bit of exposure next to reviews.
6. Earn $100 a month from Illuminated
I’m still quite far away from this goal, but I think it’s doable. I’ve already explained that I’ll continue to make the necessary changes to the book to make the sales page convert well. Once I’m there, I should be able to scale up more easily.
I’ll then get to the $100 using the following promotional tactics:
Group promos and newsletter swaps (I use BookFunnel for this)
Nurturing my new email subscribers
Book promos (the stacked promo deals for .99 cents or free)
The last one I’ll only do after I have the sequel out.
What are your goals for 2024?
You’ve now had a peak at the results I got in my first year of self-publishing and the lessons I’ve learned. I’ve adjusted my goals for 2024 based on those results and what I’d like to accomplish in the future.
What have your results been for 2023 with your books? What have you learned this year that you can take aboard to next year? And what will your goals for 2024 be? More importantly: how are you planning to accomplish them?
If you need any help or support, feel free to shoot me an email!