The Bug Boys at the OC Childrens Book Festival

Self-Publishing: A Two-Year Review

Photo of The Bug Boys author, Stewart Hoffman

It has been two years since I released my first novel, The Bug Boys, and what an interesting couple of years it has been. I have seen some ups and downs (mostly downs if I’m being honest) but I continue to promote my book as best I can within my limited marketing budget. Along the way, I’ve made some friends, collaborated with other authors, and most importantly, never stopped writing.

To mark this anniversary, I actually sat down and read my book again. It was an interesting experience to say the least since I had forgotten so much of it. I thought I would hate it and want to change everything, but that wasn’t the case. My aliens, nanobots, and fart jokes book still entertained. If I were to give it an honest rating today, I would give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. It’s a little rough around the edges, with some awkward phrasing here and there and one too many POV shifts, but on the whole quite inventive and funny. Most of my footnotes still crack me up!

The first book, or the second for that matter, has yet to find an audience.

When I sat down to construct the book, my plan was to, “write what you know,” so I based it in a blue-collar village similar to one I grew up in. I wanted it to be as realistic as possible, and represent the people in that part of the United Kingdom too. With that firm foundation in place, I was able to add all the science fiction elements, and there are many moments in the book based on actual events in my life, only with an alien twist this time around.

In hindsight, I believe that approach was a little misguided, but I honestly could not see myself writing anything else at this point in my career. The first Bug Boys story had been sitting in my head for over a decade after all.

I currently live in the US but wrote a book about a village in the UK, in UK English. This meant marketing in two countries, and it was hard to reach potential readers across the pond. In addition, middle grade boys are possibly the worst demographic to try to reach and get feedback from. The content of this story may also be too simplistic for adults, and yet too complicated for middle grade readers. All I know is, I wrote a book to the best of my ability at the time, and judging by the reviews I have gotten so far from people that don’t know me personally, a good one.

 

The Numbers:

Copies sold: 786

Copies really sold: A little under 250 (I think).

Reviews:

Goodreads: 45 ratings, 34 reviews. Average – 4.31/5 stars

Amazon (US): 31 reviews – Average – 4.8/5

Amazon (UK): 7 reviews – Average – 4.5/5

Library Thing: 2 reviews – Average – 4/5

NetGalley: 5 reviews – Average 3.8/5

 

5 Tips for the Self-Publisher:

If you are planning to self-publish then keep these things in mind.

  • Don’t expect to become rich with the first, or second, or even your third book. This might seem obvious, and you may have already told yourself this, but I guarantee you’re still holding onto some hope that you’ll be that one exception. Let it go. Find that little nugget of hope and kill it! Because if you don’t, it’ll make your life miserable.
  • Try to build an online following before launching your first book. Create a blog and post interesting content regularly.
  • Unless you’re really passionate about your subject, try to write something that will appeal to the masses.
  • Have a marketing strategy in place before your release date and have a generous budget.
  • Join as many applicable forums as you can find and interact with people. Goodreads is a great resource for this.

Do all these things and you might (might) sell a few books, and if your book is ‘holy cow’ good enough, you might (just might) find an audience.

 

Marketing:

The following programs and services were used to promote my books. My goal presenting them here is to share what worked and didn’t work in regards to sales. Your experience with these companies may differ from mine.

Digital Book Girl: This cost $30 for a three-month promo. For that, the service would regularly Tweet a link back to their own blog and mention my book. I was also selected as their “author of the month” for May 2018, and my book was mentioned in an email they sent out to their followers. This service ultimately didn’t lead to any sales of my book.

My Book Cave: Their prices vary, but I never spent more than twenty dollars to promote my book. For that low price I was able to advertise my book on their website and be included in an outgoing email. I used this service three times in all, and in each instance, I sold books. Never enough to cover the cost of the promotion, but I still considered this highly successful.

Goodreads Giveaways: I did giveaways on this site until Amazon.com (the owners since 2013) decided to monetize the service. As of this writing, it costs $119 to start your giveaway and you can only offer paperbacks, unless you published digitally through Amazon’s publishing service. While this was free to use, I frequently setup giveaways in the US and UK, and received many positive reviews.

Library Thing Giveaways: I switched to using Library Thing after Amazon started to charge for their giveaway service. Library Thing also let me do giveaways for my digital book too, which was a bonus. Unfortunately, because the site is less popular than Goodreads my giveaways didn’t get as much attention, and I also discovered the same people entering to win, even though they had already won a copy of my book before. I have received two decent reviews from this service so far.

Orange County Book Festival: This cost $80 to rent a table in the ‘Authors Corner’ tent for four hours. I also purchased twenty copies of my paperback, a table cloth, and bug shaped candy! This was interesting, but a little terrifying too. I was so out of my comfort zone, and while other authors around me stood up and actively ‘sold’ themselves, I preferred to keep quiet and wait for people to come to me. I sold one book and gave one away to the Girl Scouts. The crowd were on the whole a little young for my chapter book.

Contacting Schools & Libraries: I have contacted several schools around the US and UK to see if they would accept a free copy of my book. Out of the thirty-one schools I contacted, six got back to me. One of those was my sister-in-law’s school here in Southern California. I would send the books, along with some promotional material. I have yet to receive any feedback. A list of the schools and public libraries that have my book available can be found here. I will continue to do this after the summer.

Website: I created a website specifically for The Bug Boys (TheBugBoys.com) to advertise my books. I would post review and competition information. This didn’t result in much traffic, so after one year I shut it down and moved everything over to the site you are currently on. The Bug Boys domain now points to a page on this site advertising my books.

Facebook Ads: Over the last couple of years, I have frequently tried to boost posts through Facebook. I may have sold one or two books.

Twitter Ads: Until recently, I frequently posted ads for my books. This didn’t result in any sales whatsoever. I once tried to promote a tweet for $100, but this did not lead to any sales.

Reading Alley: For $25 this site will feature your digital book on their website, and for $25 more, they’ll promote it. Users of the site, if interested, can download your book for free with the promise that they’ll leave a review once they’re done reading it. I have as yet to receive a review from this service.

NetGalley: This site was actually a little nerve racking to use, because they have a reputation for brutal honesty! I went ahead and took advantage of an offer they were running and ultimately received five reviews. 1 x 5 stars, 2 x 4 stars, and 2 x 3 stars. The five-star review was so good, I ended up getting the critic’s permission to use it in my second Bug Boys book.

Teacher with The Bug Boys book stands with two other students.

Altona Middle School in Longmont, Colorado

Publisher’s Weekly (Book Life): For $149 I got to upload information about my book on their website, and that also covered the cost of a small ad in their print and digital catalog. Their site also claimed my book would be considered for a review, but after a few months, I was ultimately rejected. I received no sales as a result of this promotion.

Biblioboard: A year after my first book’s release, I launched the second book in the series. I applied to have the digital version of the first book become available in public libraries around the country. Ultimately, The Bug Boys was rejected, but copies of the book made it into the Los Angeles Public Library and San Jose Public Library.

Approaching Bloggers: I tried to contact as many bloggers as possible to read my book. Kid Lit Exchange (BookedUpBlog.com), ScifiandScary.com, goodtalesreviews.wordpress.com, and writerbeesbookreviews.com. I received 4 and 5-star reviews from these sites. These were unpaid for.

Google AdWords: On a couple of occasions I used this service ($50 a month) and while I did notice traffic coming through to my website, I didn’t record any sales.

 

Considered Using:

BookBub: This service costs around $400 and by all accounts is very hard to get into. Some authors report that it took multiple attempts to list their book there. It is reported to be very worthwhile but I just can’t afford to keep that kind of money to one side in the hope this service will eventually agree to list my book.

Mom’s Choice Awards: The basic cost for this service was around $500, but there were discounts available. You would basically pay the fee, send in a couple of copies of your book, and then hope they would be selected to receive the award, and get promoted on their site. I decided this was too risky. I couldn’t afford to lose $500.

 

PaThe Bug Boys with award labelsid Reviews:

Literary Titan: For around $45 Literary Titan will review your book, and post about it on their blog. The Bug Boys got 4 out of 5 stars. The review was also posted on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Amazon, however, has since removed this review.

Reader’s Favorite: This site claims they’ll review your book for free, but it might take a while for them to get around to it. I decided I didn’t want to wait and paid the $59 fee. The Bug Boys received 5 out of 5 stars. The review is posted on their site and Barnes & Noble.

 

Competitions I entered:

2016 Writer’s Digest ebook Competition: This competition cost $105. It ran towards the end of 2016 and early 2017. 1st prize was $8000 and a publishing contract. I entered The Bug Boys and got an honorable mention and $50 worth of books (3rd prize). I also got some notes back from the judges, which was nice, and a link back to my site on WritersDigest.com. I couldn’t turn this win into any book sales, however.

NIEA (National Indie Excellence Awards): This competition cost around $75 to enter. I ultimately got to be a ‘finalist,’ whatever that means. I wasn’t able to channel this dubious victory into any book sales.

London International Book Festival: This competition only cost $50 to enter. I received another honorable mention for The Bug Boys. I was unable to impress anyone with this achievement. The lucky winner got to fly out to London to attend the award ceremony.

 

Conclusions:

I’m glad we live in a world where anyone gets to publish a book, and that creative people are not held back by publishing gatekeepers. That being said, just because you can publish a book doesn’t mean you should. As I was writing my first book, I regularly attended two critique groups to review every chapter, figuring my finely tuned self-doubt and keen paranoia skills would help me root out what people really thought about my work. They (I believe) seemed to like it, so I continued on.

Self-publishing is a minefield, so watch where you place your hard-earned cash. There are lots of bogus ‘services’ and people out there happy to exploit you for a quick buck. Giveaways are also hit and miss, and I believe many of the books I mailed out ended up not being read and instead, went straight on used book seller websites. If you seek out other independent authors, you should be able to sort out where to best place your marketing dollars.

Keep calm and carry on writing. Read books, write stories. Attend critique groups and join forums. I plan to keep pushing forward with my work and I’ll keep improving. I have one book I’m working on right now for adult readers, which I hope to release sometime in the summer of 2019, and the third Bug Boys story, The Bug Boys and The Bullet Ant Queen, a year or two after that.

1 comment

  1. Shar

    Wow, this is one of the most comprehensive, thorough posts I’ve read lately on self-publishing. What an insightful read and very helpful to new authors. Thank you for sharing so many tips and resources, and so much of your experience. Way to be honest about the process.

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