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.
As someone who is looking forward to self-publishing their first book later this spring, it is good to hear positive self-pub stories. Yes, you have to have a good book to start, but you darn right, you have to have tenacity and fight. You have to look out for yourself because no one else will.
Thanks for sharing this story.
Thank you for sharing this. It's an inspiring story. The book looks wonderful and I've added it to my TBR list.
Great interview and great advice! I enjoyed it and I'm going to look into your latest indie book...
What a great post! I'm going to bookmark this blog. I'll certainly use some of your strategies when my next book is out.
I saw that The Color of Heaven was in DailyCheapReads. Yesterday, I voted for it as my favorite.
My book, Dead People, was in their SuperCheapBooks last week. I sold over 100 books in one night--which is great for me. The surge of sales put it in the top 10 of Amazon's Ghost category, and it's been selling steadily since then.
Robin, I can always count on your blog for a shot of morning motivation much more potent than my usual double mugs of coffee.
Julianne MacLean's story is another inspiring self-publishing success story. Congratulations to her, and thanks to you for sharing it with us.
Thanks for sharing your story! My question is, how did your agent react to you selling your book directly on Amazon? And if you don't mind me asking, does she still receive a percentage of your sales? I've been wondering how this works. Thanks!
Thanks for sharing, Julianne. Always enjoy your books, no matter the medium. Congratulations!!
What a wonderful, insightful article on the whole issue of publishing. I for one am intimidated by the whole issue of self-publishing, but your insights give me courage. I may try it some day.
Fascinating post Julianne. Thanks for sharing the details.
Super article, Julianne! I've had some success self-publishing my romantic suspense stories, but so far, haven't rocketed out of sight at Amazon. But there's definitely a build going on there.
IMO, you've got what it takes to become one of those "Amazon millionaries" we read about. Talent, drive, business savvy and a tremendous platform. You've definitely got some interesting choices ahead!
I loved this book and remarked on Amazon that it was well worth more than the $2.99 price. I found out about it via Julianne's Facebook page. I'm so glad Julianne decided to pursue publishing it herself.
So far, I've only self-pubbed one short story. It's only been a few weeks and so I haven't seen much growth. But it hasn't disillusioned me to the process either.
Thanks for the great interview!
Wendy - you asked the question about how my agent felt about it. Every situation is different, but in my case - I told her what I wanted to do, and she was okay with it. Part of the reason was because she had already shopped it around before, and didn't think we'd get a different result a second time. So she didn't feel like I was cheating on her or anything.
And no, she doesn't take a cut of my royalties because I did all this myself - the cover art, uploading etc. But she will take a cut of whatever OTHER rights she sells, like foreign print rights or film rights.
Congrats on the success of Dead People, Edie!! Daily Cheap Reads is WONDERFUL website. I love them.
The fact that you have an accomplished voice AND a book of your heart story really shines in The Color of Heaven, Julianne. You treated this self-pubbed book as professionally as if you were handing it into a publisher - professional cover, professional formatting and copy edits, etc. - and looked at free reads as ARCs to generate word-of-mouth.
Your belief in the story is now being gratefully enjoyed by thousands of happy readers.
Good for you, Julianne! Thanks for sharing. After 19 years...ten novels, many partials, two agents, six golden heart finals, I finally decided to give the self-publishing route a try. I published my first novel, Return of the Rose, a medieval time travel, on kindle two weeks ago. I sold my 100th book today! Two of my five reviews are from people I don't know! That was the most exciting part! I have a second time travel being released on kindle at the end of the week. Self-publishing really does give deserving books a chance. http://tinyurl.com/6xqdt2x
First, Robin, thanks so much for this blog. It is so jam packed with info and good advice, I appreciate it.
Great to hear of Julianne's successes and thanks for sharing the info. I'm always happy to see a fellow Canuck doing well.
The bit I love about ebooks...
"Midlisters" are earning enough to make writing a full time career. :)
It was a labor of love... but isn't the best job one you love? ;)
@ Thereasa. Medieval timetravel? Sounds fun. I'm going to check it out.
Thanks Robyn for doing this article, and thanks Julianne for your candid approach to the subject. I think what you had to say tenacity and being very careful with what you put out there, particularly for first time authors, is key. (I've had several 'brilliant' first drafts only to realize, once I learned more, there were not as good as I thought.) It's sage advice in an age when it's easier to think we can all have instant gratification. I also think, as a reader, that price point is important. (I would rather not spend more than 7 bucks on an ebook, especially a novel). On the other hand, something that is "free" can be seen as valueless. It's a difficult line to walk. Your approach, Julianne, seems very measured and it's obvious you've taken the lessons you've learned and carefully applied then.
Wow, that's an inspiring story. Good for you. And what a gorgeous cover! You did it yourself, really? That's very impressive!
That was a very honest and insightful blog, Julianne. Thanks so much for sharing and I have to say you've put the "marketing" aspect into Color of Heaven to help sell this amazing book of your heart. You deserved mega rewards for that!
Leslie - thank you for the lovely review and support. And good luck with the short story!
Thank you, Julia - for those kind words!
Theresa - congrats on Return of the Rose and your 100th sale! And wow - 6 GH finals. Clearly you were doing something right! I probably saw your picture up on the screens at the RWA ceremonies many times, because I've been to just about every conference in the past 14 years. Only missed a couple of them!
Neil - "labor of love" - yes, best job ever :) Thanks for posting.
Hi Jennie - I didn't do the cover myself, though I chose the photograph and worked very closely with the designer. She is a fellow author I met on a loop I'm on, and also has a background in graphic design. Here's the link to her website:
Julianne,thanks for the information. It's a gorgeous cover; you both did a great job. Best of luck with it, although it doesn't sound like you need any.
Thanks, Julianne! I just bought your book. I LOVE the blurb and the cover is wonderful. Congratulations again on your success!
Outstanding. Thanks, Robin and Julianne.
Hey again Theresa - thanks for the support :)
Here's another little number nugget I didn't mention in the blog. (I used to be an accountant, so I love hard data.)
In order to hit that Top 100 list, I sold about 500 copies on Amazon in about four hours, which put me at #96 on the list very quickly. By nightfall I had sold 1000, and was #55. So that's what it took.
Congrats are in order and I love the cover of your book. It's always good to hear a success story when we're just starting out and beginning to realize the long, hard road to achieving some kind of momentum. I was in for a rude awakening because I thought once I put the book out there readers would find it, but pretty quickly saw the reality behind that illusion. You have to be willing to work very, very hard to promote it without any guarantees that you will succeed. But I'm in for the long haul and I really believe in my book. I know there's an audience for it somewhere and the task is to find it with a lot of patience and perseverence, probably the same combination it took to get it written to begin with.
Julianne, very interesting post. I'm curious why you chose to put this book out under a different name. Was it a strategy for this new means of publishing or because it was a different type of book than you normally publish?
Huge congrats on your phenomenal success!
I love reading success stories when it comes to self-publishing. Thank you for the great marketing tips! I'm going to need them this April. :)
Hi Trish - you asked why I took a pen name.. It's because I wanted to make sure my readers understood that this was a very different type of book. It's not a romance novel. There's some romance in it, but a lot of other stuff, too, some of it too tragic for some romance readers. I didn't want to keep it secret, either, which is why I put my real name on the cover as well. When I write another book like this, I will write it under the EV Mitchell name again.
Thanks for popping by :)!
Thank you for sharing this, Julianne. And huge congratulations on the success of The Color of Heaven! :)
Thanks so much for sharing your experience with self pubbing through Amazon and B&N. I have several novellas I've self-pubbed with them that are doing quite well also. I'll be ordering your highlander series. Love those!
I saw your link to this on the Kindleboards forum. This is extremely helpful to newbie indies just starting out such as myself. Thank you for taking the time to share!
I'm thinking about self-publishing, but I hear it's a lot of extra work, which I have very little time for. Are there professionals who can help with self-publishing, and do they cost a lot?
Sandy - it is a lot of work, but it's a lot of work to publish traditionally, too. I did the same amount of promo for The Color of Heaven that I always do for my print books.
And yes, you can get people to do the formatting and uploading for you, but you still have to oversee everything and make sure you are getting what you want in terms of the cover art. I personally loved having control over all that stuff.
Great interview. Thanks for sharing so much information, Julianne. The book sounds great. I have a question that you may or may not know the answer to. I've been considering the self-publishing idea but does that make you a publisher now? So when you file your taxes do you have to distinguish between the writing and the publishing? Or is it all lumped under writing?
Excellent post, Robin.
Julianne, congratulations on your astounding success. I'm a noir fiction author with a novel and a collection of short stories. I have yet to figure out how to convert free copies into reviews, and my 99-cent price doesn't seem to be having any effect at all, but when I read you went from zero to 1000 books a day in just 3 weeks, the room began to spin. Well done.
Hi Cindy - I will lump it all under my writing business, because the money I am earning is royalties on my own work, same as always. I'm not in business as a publisher, not publishing other people's work, so I don't see a need to distinguish it.
Thank you, Mike - the room was spinning for me, too, when the numbers jumped like that. I think it was a combination of a lot of things - the cover, the cross-genre story, what I did to promote it, and the price at 99 cents. Though I've since raised the price to 2.99, I may drop it again at a later date to promote it again, maybe when the print edition becomes available.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I've gone back and forth on whether to self-publish, but it seems more and more to be a viable alternative.
Best of luck with The Color of Heaven!
Thanks for all the great information, Julianne. It is an exciting time, but it's so hard to know which way to jump as an author right now. Insider info like this is so helpful.
Good luck with your book! And let us know how you are doing with it.
Here's wishing Ms. MacLean continued success. I'm studying self-publishing, and interviews like this add value to what I'm learning each day.
great interview, thanks for the tips! I'll put them to good use.
You said you gaveaway 500 copies on goodreads - was that the ebook version? I can't find that option on goodreads now.
Great interview. You're certainly an inspiration to my self-publishing efforts!
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