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Five Self-publishing Lessons Learned Between Debut and Second Book

Lorna Sixsmith headshot

Irish indie author Lorna Sixsmith with her first book

In the run-up to self-publishing her second book, Irish indie author Lorna Sixsmith, who self-published her first book on 29th November 2013, reflects on some mistakes she made first time around – so she won’t make them again!

#1. Timing

Lorna Sixsmith TG4 RoisinChoosing the optimum time to publish your book is important particularly if you are targeting Christmas gift buyers or summer holiday readers. I ran a crowdfunding campaign during the summer of 2013 and promised my pledgers they would have my book by the end of November, perfect timing for Christmas gifts. As I had only written 10,000 words by the time the crowdfunding ended on 20th August, I had a busy three months! I had a goal to sell 400 by Christmas and succeeded in selling 750.

Lesson Learned:  Although I exceeded my goals by getting the book out for Christmas sales but in hindsight, if I had published it in September, and managed to get it into more shops, my pre-Christmas sales would have been higher. My next book will be out in September.

#2. Think Big With Press Coverage

Photo of page feature

Some of Lorna’s press coverage

I’ve had experience in generating press coverage for my previous business, getting mentions in newspapers and magazines and doing radio interviews. I had one radio interview lined up on a early morning national farming and was confident of getting local radio interviews. I also had contacts with the local newspapers and was hopeful of securing a feature in two of them.

Quite by coincidence, I heard a farming discussion on a national radio station and as it focused on one of the issues in my book, I posted them a copy. Two days later, I received a call from their researcher interested in interviewing me. On 12th December, I was interviewed by a high profile radio presenter on Ireland’s most popular radio station 2FM.

Lesson Learned: Don’t be satisfied with a couple of press mentions – aim for more. Listen to radio and read newspapers and see if there are any relevant stories that you can ‘piggy-back’ on.

#3. Bookshops

Cover of book 2

Now available: Lorna Sixsmith’s second book

I knew it could be difficult to get a self-published book into bookshops. I had heard sales of 250 copies plus press mentions were an absolute minimum to be considered by the wholesalers. As I had secured sales of 200 via the crowdfunding and I was going to be selling the books from my website, my goal was to sell 400 by Christmas. I knew a few people with small shops (lingerie, farm shop, upcycling shop) and they took my book on a sale or return basis. For some silly reason (probably to do with under-confidence), I didn’t ask any of my local bookshops if they would stock it. As a result, scores of people were going into bookshops after my radio interview and the booksellers didn’t know anything about it. Daft? – yes!

Lesson Learned: I would really recommend contacting wholesalers and local bookshops if you secure a good radio or television interview.

#4. Don’t Forget the Small Shops

By May 2015, my books were available in all bookshops and gift shops via the two Irish wholesalers, Argosy and Easons. I thought that was all I needed to do. However, a friend in County Clare recently took a box of my books as she was visiting a number of small gift shops, garden centres and farm shops. They took a number of books on a sale or return basis and they are selling.

Lesson Learned: While I won’t drive around the country with the sole reason of visiting small shops, I will be seeking them out when travelling to deliver training and yes, I’ll be asking them if they would like to stock both books.

#5. Never Say No

Photo of Lorna in radio interview

Being interviewed on KCLR 96 FM Radio

I’m pretty good at saying yes to journalists when they contact me for an interview, and I always have high-res images available. After securing a television interview last May, I was asked to do a few radio interviews and that was fine. Then I was contacted by a glossy magazine, the type that include close up shots of attractive people in their beautiful homes. I didn’t say no but I let it drag on and the journalist lost interest. That magazine sells over 30,000 copies each edition and would have a much larger readership than that.

Lesson Learned: Always say yes to journalists when they want to interview you!

OVER TO YOU What lessons have you learned since self-publishing your first book? Join our conversation by leaving a comment!

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18 Responses to Five Self-publishing Lessons Learned Between Debut and Second Book

  1. John Hayden August 3, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    Very Helpful info Lorna, Thanks for sharing and for bringing to life such a poignant conversation. I am in the process of having my debut novel proofread. These tips will help me tremendously. I was going to push it out before Christmas but might just wait until afterwards now.
    Best of luck with your second book, I was involved in the group chat on Linkdin when you published your first book, You are coming on leaps and bounds. Well done Lorna.

  2. Kathryn Guare September 24, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    Great post, Lorna. How does your “sales or return” arrangement work? Do they purchase the books and then have the option to return for a refund? Or are they taking them on consignment and sending payment if they sell? I’ve thought about going to more bookshops, but I’ve been leery because of one local bookshop that doesn’t ever pay me until I go into the store and see that the books are gone! I can’t be driving all over the countryside checking on all the stock I’ve put out on shelves, and since every copy is money out of my pocket until it sells, I’ve steered away from the strategy.

    • Lorna September 29, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

      Hi Kathryn, apologies for the delay in replying – had a hectic week at the Ploughing Championships (lots of sales thank goodness) and catching up since.
      Yes, it can be a bit tedious with ‘sales or return’. Bookshops here work like that with their wholesalers ie if the books are on their shelves over a certain length of time, the wholesaler deem them sold and not eligible for returns so bookshops have to be efficient with keeping record of what is selling and what isn’t. What I have found is that both wholesalers here don’t like keeping a lot of stock in the warehouse so it’s not like they order 500 books and then return the 250 unsold ones a year later. They tend to order in small amounts of 50 books at at time or even smaller amounts as orders come in from bookshops.
      I haven’t got my books in many smaller shops yet (e.g gift shops) and will only be doing so with ones that are nearby or that I know (knowing means having conversations with them on Twitter, not necessarily knowing them in person). However, with the few that I have given books too, only one hasn’t paid me so far. I email them every few months and ask what has sold and they seem very good at keeping records of stock, and then I invoice them for the number sold and they pay via online banking so it is fairly convenient. I hope to do more of that now I have two books available.
      I agree though, it does take time but it’s just a case of setting time aside every so often to do it.

  3. Louise September 21, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks for the great tips. I self-published years ago, and didn’t do any of those things. I will certainly try a bit harder with the PR side of things this time round.

    • Lorna September 21, 2015 at 8:33 pm #

      In some ways, it is easier now, I find journalists find me via my blog and other social media platforms plus those platforms help to grow your following. 🙂

  4. Barbara Lorna Hudson September 21, 2015 at 4:20 pm #

    Thanks for useful post. Even though my novel will not be independently published I will be doing my best to market it – I don’t expect my small independent publisher to do everything.

    For a couleof self-pubised books I got business cards printed very cheaply and when peple asked for my email address they got book details as well. Sold a few that way as far as I could tell. Nothing like John Yeoman’s success though.

    • Lorna September 21, 2015 at 8:32 pm #

      I think most traditionally published authors are finding they are having to do most of the marketing themselves now (or at least after the launch is over). Good luck.

  5. John Yeoman September 21, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    Good points, Lorna! Perhaps the one thing I’ve learned since I published my first significant book in 1999, via a trade publisher, is that media coverage alone is not enough. For that book I worked hard to get 34 interviews on local radio stations, hundreds of column inches in weekly newspapers and three major spots on regional tv – including an entire 20 minute program on Meridian tv focusing entirely on my book. (How did I do that? I used to run a PR company.) Did it sell many books? Not one. My @!*@! publisher had forgotten to get the book listed at Whittakers, the book trade bible. So thousands of people presumably went into bookshops and asked for my book. And it couldn’t be found.

    Disgusted by that experience, I went the indie publishing route in 2002 and sold 6000 paperback copies of my first indie non-fiction book in 12 months. But almost none of my sales came from PR coverage. (Although I did get around 1200 sales from a 2/3 page interview in The Independent.) I learned a hard lesson. PR coverage is good for the ego but, by itself, it doesn’t sell books. I think Joanna Penn had the same experience.

    That’s why I also turned down an invitation to appear on The Big Breakfast Show, the one-time UK equivalent of Oprah. Madness? No. The target audience was wrong. I wouldn’t have sold a single book.

    You also have to balance the time you take setting up those PR slots with the return on investment. Sure, it’s nice to say on your book page ‘Featured in the Independent, Anglia News, Meridian, South Today’, as I legitimately can, but you can’t put PR coverage in the bank 🙁

    • Lorna September 21, 2015 at 8:30 pm #

      Yes, I agree that media coverage is not enough on its own – we need our books in bookshops as well as social media. I have to say though that getting PR gives books kudos as well as sales. How did you track the 1200 sales from the Indo btw?)
      I agree that not all press coverage results in sales but if it doesn’t take much time or cost me money, I always think it is good for building up profile. People often need to hear of a product at least seven times before they buy it apparently.
      Well done on all those sales, very impressive 🙂

  6. Miles Allen September 21, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    Great piece, all valuable information. I picked up on it as I’m just about to self-publish my second book in 4 days. I was lucky enough to have most of the above in place for book one and it worked very well shifting thousands of ebooks and almost 1000 paperbacks.

    My greatest lesson though is the timing thing. You need far more time that you think, basically turning the final planned weeks into months looks to be about right. Proof-checking has been my bane, not being able to find a good service and ending up making the book late due to too many errors remaining.

    • Lorna September 21, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

      My editor was brilliant, I’d never have made my deadlines without her and yes, I would agree that things take longer than you think. Launching second book this week and have radio interviews lined up so hoping for good sales. I find mine sells better as a paperback than an ebook as works as a gift book.

  7. Denise Barnes September 21, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

    I enjoyed your post very much and have taken note of the tips you kindly gave.

    I am in exactly the same position as you, Lorna, with my second s/p novel nearly ready (just doing final edits and tweaking the cover). I wanted it out in October in time for Christmas but my nice PR lady said that as I was not a ‘famous’ author (yet!) it would be better to wait until the mad Christmas rush with thousands of books being published, therefore competition very high, is over. So I’m waiting until January so mine will hopefully stand out better with the magazines and media.
    Hope she’s right!

    Good luck with your second book!

    • Lorna September 21, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

      Yes, before Xmas seems to be a busy time alright. Mine works well as a gift book, some work better for holiday reads.

  8. Chris Syme September 21, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

    Love this post! Especially helpful is the info on timing. I like to try and get my calendar done a year ahead but sometimes stuff happens. Thanks Lorna!

    • Lorna September 21, 2015 at 8:31 pm #

      Thanks Chris, yikes, a year ahead would make me very happy 🙂

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