(Continued from Part 2)
Createspace, a division of Amazon, turned out to be the salvation of my self-publishing career. As with all things Amazon, its print-on-demand site was extremely user-friendly, and the costs for publishing were more than affordable. Within a short time, I had published both Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening and As the Twig is Bent: A Matt Davis Mystery not only in regular print versions, but in large print editions as well. I was on my way—or so I thought. Wrong! Just as it had been when I sold life insurance back in 1973, the bulk of my sales were to friends and family, and we all know how fast that list runs out. I was going nowhere fast.
“Congratulations, Pops!” said my son-in-law, Brad, upon hearing that I had published my books in print. “Now, you need to publish them on Kindle.” In the context of today’s publishing scene, that would be about as innocuous a comment as one might hear any day of the week. But, in 2007 (or thereabout) it sounded as though Brad were speaking a foreign language. “What’s a Kindle?” I asked, totally clueless. “Oh, that’s simple,” he replied. “Kindle is a device . . . ” Over the next half hour, Brad explained the whole concept of Ebooks, and how it was the latest craze in publishing, and certainly the wave of the future. So, once again, back to the drawing board I went. My “Googling” knew no bounds, as I searched, and delved, and searched some more, in my quest to learn everything I could about this new form of publishing! Within a couple of days, I had signed up with KDP (another Amazon division), which I believe stood for Kindle Digital Platform; today it’s known as Kindle Direct Publishing. It was only a matter of time before I knew everything I needed to know about Kindle, and had published both of my books in the new medium. Along the way, I also discovered Smashwords, a kind of “wannabe” version of Kindle, only more of a distributor, and I published with them, too. (Eventually, there would be Nook, and more recently Draft2Digital, another Ebook distributor like Smashwords). Now the money should really start rolling in, I thought. Wrong again!
Paperback sales were marginal at best, and Kindle sales, although greater in number, were languishing, too. Smashwords sales were virtually non-existent (owing mostly to a difficult interface and a limited promotional program; pretty much the same story with Nook). Soon, I grew despondent. All those hours spent writing, researching, and publishing had just been a waste of time—or so I thought. It was time for Brad to come to the rescue—again. “You’ve got to advertise,” he said. “Try sponsored search advertising.” Oh, boy! Here we go again, I thought. Another lengthy learning session followed. I became energized once more. The first such advertising resource I found was Yahoo Sponsored Search (it has since morphed into Microsoft Bing). Without going into too much detail, it was basically a pay-per-click method of getting out the word to potential readers. I made another major investment in time learning its ins and outs, and before long I had established my first advertising campaign—with a budget of $3 per day! Sales began to accelerate, and as they did, so did the size of my budget. Then came a similar program with Google. Within a couple of months, I was spending approximately $30 per day, or $1,000 per month! But it was worth it, because I was suddenly selling a lot of books—nearly a thousand a month (paperback and Kindle editions, combined). The royalties were rolling in. Within a short time, As the Twig is Bent: A Matt Davis Mystery had shot up to the charts (at its apogee, it actually reached the #24 best seller spot among mysteries in the Kindle online book store). Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening didn’t fare nearly as well, however, but I wasn’t concerned. I just figured its subject matter (coming of age in the 60s) wasn’t as popular as that of its cousin, “the mystery.”
Over the next several years, I continued to add to my advertising acumen, learning about keywords, bidding, scheduling, and ad writing. My background in advertising copywriting served me well. I also continued to write, adding a non-fiction book on divorce, A “Real” Man’s Guide to Divorce (First, you bend over and . . . ), and three more Matt Davis mysteries, Opening Day, Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises to my collection of books. I joined every writers group I could, added Facebook and Twitter to my social networking, and participated in a local book festival, the Blue Ridge Bookfest. I was even paid to give two seminars on self-publishing. The world was my oyster, at least for a while. But the rest of the world was catching up, and as with anything new, along came a glut of authors and even more new books, and my own books were lost in the shuffle among the millions upon millions of new additions to the marketplace. But I’m still out there, plugging away, and continuing to write. Last year, I formed my own publishing consulting company, Escarpment Press, which has published two books to date, with several more in the works. And I owe it all to my wife’s uncle, Vahan Gregory, to my son-in-law, Brad—and especially to my wife, Becky, who has supported me in every way, through every phase of the odyssey. For me, the dream has come true. I have quit my day job! Now, if I can only find another eight hours in every day . . .Oh, did I mention the audio books? It never ends!
Footnote: Along the way, I was given an opportunity to somewhat repay my wife’s uncle for his kindness, who provided the major impetus for my writing/publishing career. Sometime in 2009 Vahan Gregory contracted cancer (he was around 80 years old at the time), and he asked me for a favor. Would I help him publish some of his lesser known books? Over the next six months, working at breakneck speed, I succeeded in fulfilling his request, and helped him publish six books, before he finally succumbed to the disease in 2010. No doubt, Vahan’s books are his legacy. But, in a sense, I feel I am also part of his legacy, a living version (at least for a while) that I think he would be proud of. Please take a look at some of his books (especially Oh Boy, Here Comes Walt!). I think you’ll find them refreshing, and perhaps they’ll be an inspiration to you.