Hot on the heals of my post about the best of both worlds comes an interview with Julianne MacLean whose publishing journey includes both traditional historical romance releases and a newly released self-published work: The Color of Heaven. I think Julianne is maximizing today’s tumultuous publishing environment by utilizing both paths to publishing.
Robin: For those who don’t know, let’s give some background on you. From my research I see you have traditionally published through three different major presses, are a USA Today Bestseller, and have won multiple awards. Tell us a bit about your career…where it started and where you are now.
Julianne: I’ve written 16 romance novels. I started at Harlequin Historicals in 2000, moved to Avon in 2003, and I’m now at St. Martin’s Press with a Scottish Highlander trilogy out this year.
I’ve been working on The Color of Heaven for 6 years. It took that long because I could only work on it during short periods of time while I was between contracts for my historicals. My agent shopped it around 3 years ago when it was half-finished, but no one was interested for a number of different reasons.
I always believed in the story, however, so I reworked it and finished it last summer. When I showed the revised version to my agent, she believed that in today’s tough publishing climate, the result would be the same. Thankfully, there was a viable alternative available to me. I could self-publish it. I was very excited by the idea.
I want to make something very clear, however. Though I am about to talk about numbers and business strategy, it needs to be said that this book is not a “product.” NOT TO ME. This is the book of my heart, and when I wrote it, it was a true labor of love in every possible way. The story means a lot to me. I did not set out to write something “marketable.”
Robin: To give us some perspective would you mind comparing your print sales to your indie ebook sales?
Julianne: The Color of Heaven has been averaging 1000 books per day on Amazon since Feb. 19. I uploaded it the end of January, and the first three weeks were slow. I sold only 31 copies. Then it took off exponentially at the end of week three (I will explain more about that later.)
As of today, I’ve sold 25K copies of that one title in the past 4 weeks, most at $2.99 with a 70% royalty, so you can do the math. Those are all e-book copies, but I have a print edition in the works, so it will be interesting to see how well that one does. I’m hoping to have it available by the end of the month. (It will be a POD trade paperback edition published by CreateSpace.)
I don’t have sales numbers yet for Barnes &Noble, as it only appeared on that site 2 weeks ago through Smashwords and hasn’t caught on yet. The ranking is very low as of the date of this blog, but it’s slowly rising. I will be watching it over the coming weeks.
In addition, my agency will soon be approaching foreign markets to sell print rights in other countries, and film rights as well.
To compare with earnings on my previous print books – I’m not going to share my advances, but I will share this hypothetical situation, which is pretty common: Let’s say an author gets a three-book deal with a sixty-thousand dollar advance (which isn’t bad for a mid-lister in this market). He/she will receive the money over the life of the contract as the completed manuscripts are delivered. Sometimes the final amount is paid on publication, which can hold your money up even longer. Most books don’t earn much beyond the advance, so the sixty-thousand-dollar-advance author is not making a killing if he/she is delivering a book every 9 months and waiting for the last book to be released. It could work out to only $20k per year, unless there are some foreign sales and backlist royalties to add to that.
I just earned that in less than two weeks.
Robin: I noticed that you started with $0.99 and then raised to $2.99 which I personally think is a brilliant strategy. You are still in the top 100 but you have slipped in overall ranking – can you tell us if you are making more or less at that $2.99 price point?
Julianne: Here was my strategy: I started at $2.99 (and sold 31 copies). For that first week, however, I also offered it for free at Smashwords to my long-time readers who were signed up for my website newsletter. I told them to share the coupon code with their friends, and I promoted the free coupon on Facebook and Twitter.
I gave away 500 copies on Smashwords and considered them to be ARCs (advance reading copies). This is how the big publishers do it, so I went about it the same way. (If you’re an author, read The Anatomy of Buzz)
In the weeks that followed, reviews started popping up in a lot of places, so I believe it was very worthwhile. It created some invaluable word-of-mouth.
As soon as the coupon expired, I lowered the price to $0.99 over on Amazon – again for one week only - and I promoted that “special offer” on Facebook and Twitter and did a few guest blogs where I mentioned it.
The turning point came when that sale price was mentioned on Daily Cheap Reads. I went from a 10,000 ranking to #55 by supper time that day. (I think having the positive reviews already in place helped to drive those sales, and the attractive cover art was key.)
The book continued to climb to #27 over the next week, and that’s when I raised the price back to $2.99 (though I was uneasy about this at the time and had some concern that it would fall off the list completely and lose momentum).
I was pleased to see that it didn’t slow things down much at all. The difference was barely noticeable in the ranking, but the royalty dollar figure soared at 70%. The ranking dipped to the low thirties for a short while, then climbed up again and peaked at #13 last weekend. It has since dropped to #54, but even so, I still made $11,000 last week.
So to answer your question – I am making more at the $2.99 price than I did at $0.99. And I still believe that $2.99 is an excellent price for a book. Reviewers have even commented on it and asked, “Why is this book so cheap?”
(Personally, I think a good book with a proven track record through positive reviews or a publisher’s stamp of approval is worth more than $0.99, and readers are willing to pay for good fiction. Using it as a promo price is one thing, but I don’t want to see this become the standard.)
But back to strategy. I just booked two promotions - one on Kindle Nation in April, and a five-day e-newsletter of excerpts from Eye on Romance, which will go out to 17K subscribers the week of March 21. I will be watching the numbers carefully to see if these promotions have any effect. Aside from my E.V. Mitchell website, these are the first promotions I am paying for. Kindle Nation is $139 and Eye on Romance had a sale price of $150 last week.
Robin: One of the things that is really bothering me about traditional publishing at the moment is the 25%/75% e-book split. I personally think this is the #1 thing that publishers have to change to attract and retain top talent. Does the success of Color of Heaven and/or the royalty share arrangement affect your thinking on future projects and whether you’ll stay traditional or shift to self-publishing?
Julianne: Absolutely. I will think very carefully about the next contract I sign.
Robin: If you were a new writer starting today, what would be your strategy to publishing – would you still go the traditional route, try your hand at self-publishing, or some form of hybrid approach?
Julianne: That’s a difficult question, because it depends on the drive, tenacity, talent, and experience level of the author (both in marketing and writing). It also depends on the author’s own personal priorities.
So let’s talk about tenacity, because that’s a key factor, whether you decide to self-publish or go the traditional route. It took me 6 years to sell my first book to Harlequin, and during that time, I wrote 5 novels, submitted to agents and publishers and got rejected left, right, and center. I did not give up, however. I was honing my craft the entire time, and to be honest, I’m glad I got rejected.
I keep hearing that the publishers, as gatekeepers, are rejecting a lot of good work. That’s true. Sometimes they make mistakes, but let’s be honest with ourselves. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes a writer still has some growing to do.
I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d self-published my first novel, because it simply wasn’t very good. So my advice to authors is to keep writing, develop your voice, get feedback through critiques. Learn how to revise and improve your work. It has to be good, no matter which route you take. And if you self-publish, please… do so with a professional-looking cover.
Robin: If you would have to give a new author one piece of advice (beyond “write a good book” which is a given), what would that be?
Julianne: Decide whether or not you’re willing to be in this for the long haul, and if the answer is yes, then keep writing and learning, and don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged if your first indie book isn’t a bestseller, or if your first submission gets rejected. Keep revising and writing new books. Most writers love to write, so consider it time well spent, no matter how long it takes.
Robin: Anything else you would like to share?
Julianne: The publishing industry is in flux right now, and it’s an exciting time for both authors and readers. I can’t wait to see where we are five years from now. I hope it’s a good place for everyone.
Again I thank you today for your time. I love the writing community and that those who have “made it” are willing to share with those new to the trenches. I’ll be watching your career and hope to see many successes in the future.