Three months ago, I was faced with a choice, find a day job or make my writing pay. I chose to self-publish my back catalogue of novels. They had been traditionally published in Ireland by the likes of Penguin; the rights had reverted but I’d done nothing about it. And so, in October 2014, I took a step that I should have taken long before. I reinvented myself.
The pen name I chose is that of my children’s names combined, Aimee Alexander. The little boy on the cover of my first Aimee Alexander novel, Pause to Rewind, is my son, Alex, when he was little. Even the title has meaning: when my daughter, Aimee, was small she would say, ‘Rewind me,’ instead of, ‘Remind me.’
This is more than a journey into self-publishing. It is a journey of self-discovery. It is about taking control of my career, stretching myself, using all my skills and having to learn new ones. It is also personal. Never before has my family been as invested in my writing. It is as if we are doing this together.
There is magic in this adventure, an actual buzz. Every experience is heightened – working with a designer to produce a cover, seeing it transform, watching the book ‘go live’ on amazon. Even blogging.
As a traditionally published author, I knew that I should have been blogging. I could never motivate myself to do so. I had nothing to say that I thought anyone wanted to hear. Now, on www.aimeealexanderbooks.com, rather than ‘blogging’ it feels like I’m taking people with me on an adventure into the unknown, sharing the ups and downs, the surprises, the excitement, the challenges, the frustration and the hope. No doubt, people are learning from my mistakes.
One of the biggest challenges I face is technology, an unfamiliar language that I must master. Each day, I push myself to grasp it. Each day it gets easier. I can now negotiate my way around the blog with relative ease. It took me an entire morning but I have set up a newsletter that readers can sign up to.
With a background in marketing, working with designers is something I enjoy. Developing promotional strategies is fun. Having the freedom to do both – start to finish – is liberating. Using amazon’s KDP Select programme, on any given day, I can see how and where my books are selling. When I run a promotion I can monitor the response. This is new to me. It is also invaluable.
An example: On November 18th, I offered Pause to Rewind for free. I promoted the offer through a site called BookBub. Within twenty-four hours, 40,000 people had downloaded my book. In what turned out to be one of the most exciting days of my life, my family and I watched as the sales graph on KDP Select turned into a straight perpendicular line as Pause to Rewind climbed to the #1 ranking in family fiction and #1 in medical fiction. Yes, it was free but all of these people, all over the world were being introduced to my writing.
When the promotion ended, downloads predictably dropped. However, they did not return to previous levels but stayed remarkably high. I put this down to a few things: the book moving up the amazon rankings making it more visible but also, as the days passed, word of mouth and reviews by people who had enjoyed the book. As I write, Pause to Rewind has 121 reviews on amazon.com, averaging 4.6 stars.
After the promotion, a reader emailed me through my blog to ask if I would be publishing a paperback. Moved by the book, she wanted to buy copies for her daughter and friend. I had not intended to publish a paperback – they are expensive to produce, retail higher and sell in much fewer numbers on amazon. But. She had asked. And I had promised myself, from the start, to be open to whatever came up, to say yes to every opportunity. So my adventure expanded. Just before Christmas, the paperback became available. A copy was in my son’s Christmas stocking, seeing as it is dedicated to him – and, at his request, the dog.
On December 2nd, I published Checkout Girl, a short story that has always been special to me. It is a magical, spiritual story that I never had the courage to write as a novel. Now, thanks to self-publishing, it can reach a world audience.
A reader who was driving across Sweden wondered on my Facebook page if I was producing audio books so that she and her family could listen as they drove. I had no plans for an audio book, not knowing where to start. Then at a seminar, I met a woman called Helen Shaw who runs a company called Athena Media (www.athenamedia.ie). On hearing about my self-publishing exploits, she turned to me and said, ‘Let’s make an audio book.’ The following day, we recorded it. I found the experience hugely challenging, in particular reading without sounding like I was reading. But that is what makes an adventure an adventure, isn’t it? Terrifying yourself.
I learned to set up a preorder facility for my second Aimee Alexander novel, The Accidental Life of Greg Millar, and on December 27th, I published it. Within four days, with no promotion, it was #52 in psychological women’s fiction on amazon.co.uk. For the moment, I am not going to cut the price and promote. I just want to watch what happens, watch it taking its first steps itself. With self-publishing, I can change this strategy at any time.
I have spent most of this article talking about marketing. In a way, that’s deceptive. The best marketing of any book is the book itself. It has to be the best it can be. On amazon, you live or die by your reviews. Though the novels I’m publishing as Aimee Alexander were originally bestsellers in Ireland, released by leading publishing houses, most of my energy goes into making them better.
Since embarking on this adventure, help has arrived from so many people in so many ways. It has made me realize the kindness and generosity of human nature. To anyone thinking of taking this step, I would say two words: do it.
(c) Denise Deegan
Aimee Alexander writes contemporary women’s fiction that focuses on family. Find out more about her books here, check her website www.aimeealexanderbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @aimeealexbooks.