Friday, May 27, 2016

What about those-under-the-bed manuscripts? by Cheryl Bolen


You hear stories about authors like Diana Gaboldon whose first-ever book, The Outlander, skyrocketed to fame. But for many of us, our first books suck. It takes time to learn professional writing. My first book sold was the seventh I’d completed.

When people used to hear that, they would always ask, “So now you can go back and publish those first six books, right?” 

It doesn’t work that way. Or at least it didn’t back when the big publishing houses served as the gatekeepers to the publishing industry. Just because an author had the good fortune to sell a “midlist” book doesn’t mean that suddenly everything she’s written is going to be sought after.

That changed when eBooks soared to prominence and so many people who’d dabbled at writing began publishing their first efforts—many of which were bad. Very bad.  

When I started indie publishing with five backlist titles that had previously been published by Kensington, I did very well. (I sold 100,000 eBooks my first year of indie publishing.) I then decided to examine all those books that had never sold to a publisher to see if any of them were redeemable.  

At that time I had sold ten works to New York publishers and felt I had a reputation to uphold. I had no desire to put out amateurish efforts. 
 
The first “reject” that I indie published was my multi award-winning World War II historical which won contests under various titles but which I finally self published under the title It Had to be You. Though editors always liked the book, they kept saying, “World War II doesn’t sell.” I thought they were ill informed. It was my first “original” eBook. The reviews have been stupendous, with some people saying it was one the best books they’ve ever read. But how about the sales? Those editors were right. WW II doesn’t sell. In five years I’ve sold 3,691 copies. Eleven of my historical books have each sold over 20,000 each—some of them 60-80,000 copies. Even though its sales have been modest, I’ve earned, $6,370 on it—more than any of my advances from Kensington! So, I’m glad I published it. 

Another of my under-the-bed books was Murder at Veranda House, which had won many contests under various names. Because it had done well in contests, I knew the writing was solid. Like It Had to be You, it had not sold because it didn’t fit in a niche market. I had written it with Harlequin Intrigue in mind, so it was half mystery and half romance. I realize now it wasn’t right in tone for Intrigue. I self published it in 2012. It also has received good reviews but slow sales. In over four years it’s logged 7,979 sales and earned just under $5,000.

Of the remaining four under-the-bed books, only one of them I thought salvageable, that first-ever book I wrote when I was 25. Capitol Offense needed a good editing, and I had to add things like cell phones and delete things like Plymouths. By the time I finished editing, it was only 38,000 words. Because it was so short, I decided to give it away in the hopes of drawing readers to my other romantic suspense books. I gave away 21,000, and reviewers liked it so much, I started charging $.99 for it. Finally, I began charging $2.99.  I’ve only earned $1,000 for it—what I earned for my first historical novella for Kensington.  

You might ask how I can pull out sales figures so easily. I subscribe to BookTrakr, which archives sales numbers from the first day any of my books were epublished—even though I wasn’t a BookTrakr subscriber in the beginning. Best of all, I get an email every morning telling me every copy I sold the previous day from the major worldwide electronic vendors  (as well as Create Space), how much money I made, if I got any new reviews, and if I’m on any Top 100 lists anywhere. If you’re in Amazon Select, it calculates how much you earned that day on page reads. This great resource was designed by the brilliant husband and son of bestselling historical romance author Lauren Royal. 

    What I have learned 
My readers don’t follow me to other genres. My genre since my first sale in 1997 has been Regency romance. That’s where I make more than 90 percent of my money. 

Even pathetically selling indie books make more money than my New York-published books!—Cheryl Bolen’s newest historical is Oh What a (Wedding) Night (Book 3 in her Brazen Brides series).

15 comments:

  1. Cheryl, that was a fascinating post. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thanks for checking it out, Kathleen.

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  3. I have some manuscripts that are in my "take a look" pile. They make me tired just thinking of digging back in. However, I have actually written short stories based on one. I loved the characters, their situation and their backstory, so I wrote their "resolution" story. It worked well. This post is full of interesting tips and thanks for sharing them, Cheryl!

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    1. Sometimes those old manuscripts will require more work than we're willing to give them. After all, starting a new book is much more fun, isn't it, Bonnie?

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  4. This is so interesting--thank you for sharing it.

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    1. I appreciate your stopping by, Liz--and for starting th Gems in the Attic blog.

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  5. I am one of the few who sold her first book, so I've got no manuscripts under my bed. But all of your stats are very interesting...I think you just talked me out of trying to write a contemporary. ;-) And thanks so much for mentioning BookTrakr--I'm thrilled you find it so useful!

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    1. P.S. I should have mentioned that I rewrote that first book completely 23 times. :-) I've heard you have to write a million words of fiction before you learn how to write it well. So some of us write several books before getting published, while others of us write the same book over and over...

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    2. Thanks to Jack and Brent Royal for BookTrakr! Amazing that you sold your first effort--but even more amazing that you rewrote it 23 times! I don't have that kind of patience. Was this Amethyst?

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    3. Yes, it was Amethyst. The first version was longer and different...for one thing, there was another brother, who was a privateer! As for "that kind of patience," um, it was more like stubbornness--I refused to give up until I got that book right. My critique partner thought I was crazy. In retrospect, she was right. :-)

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  6. Congrats on finding a market for your extra manuscripts.

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    1. Thanks, Becky. Some manuscripts you just have to chalk up as a learning experience. Even when they have some redeeming qualities, you have to ask yourself, "Does this style of writing convey my brand?" I've got some that were written and rejected after I'd sold eight or nine books, and they don't pass my own test now. So they'll never see the light of day.

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  7. Cheryl thanks so much for this interesting post. Best
    Cathleen

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  8. Cheryl, I always enjoy your informative posts. You're spot on when you say even pathetically selling indie books make more than NY trad pubbed. Viva la indie--or is it le indie?

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  9. Thanks, Joan. You helped pave the transition for many of us indies and I am so grateful to you and Anne Marie Novark.

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