In the following article, best-selling author and executive coach Attracta Burke writes about her journey from typing the last words of her manuscript to appearing on the bestseller lists of Dubray, The Irish Times and Amazon.
My first book, The Formula – How to be your very best self, reached the #1 Bestseller position in Dubray Books, #7 on The Irish Times Bestseller List and also #1 on Amazon Kindle Store in two categories. Self-published books don’t normally appear on bestseller lists. Why is this?
From starting to write to reaching #1 Bestseller status has been challenging yet hugely exciting.
I didn’t approach a publisher. I have no writing history and I wanted this project to have momentum – I didn’t want to wait. If I’m to be totally honest here, I didn’t want the rejection I was sure to receive. There’s nothing like really wanting to achieve a goal and having to wait too long for other people to decide if you are capable of it. I figured I’d go it alone and I was curious to find out what level of success is possible for a self-published author.
The process went something like this:
- Write book
- Find editor
- Decide on whether to use an Irish self-publishing support company or CreateSpace (Amazon) for:
- Purchasing an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), the number printed on the reverse of every book.
- Interior Layout
- Cover Design
- Kindle Conversion
- Help with distribution
- Hire a PR company
- Find retailers willing to stock
- Approach wholesalers
- Organise Book Launch
- Maintaining sales after initial launch
- Further post-launch learnings
Writing the book was just the start. I did this over a number of months by allocating time every day to write and re-write.
My preference was to work with an Irish editor so we could meet. However, all Irish editors I got in touch with were busy and couldn’t start my project for a few months. At this stage I had no contacts in the book industry and, not being keen to wait, I searched further afield. I held Skype calls with some US editors and within days I spoke with Lisa Tener who was busy but liked what she read. She recommended an editor, Kelly Malone. Kelly and I got on really well on our initial call so I decided to work with her. She lives in Seattle and, as I’m based in Ireland, it worked fantastically. We agreed on a very tight schedule. Kelly worked during her daytime, and emailed me her suggested queries and edits. I worked during my day, while she slept, and sent her the revisions; together, we got the job done by the agreed deadline. So far, so good. A great editor, someone you connect with, is essential.
By now I had a completed manuscript. Next, more challenges. Again, I contacted some Irish companies, sent them the manuscript. One company took so long to return my calls & emails, I eventually gave up. Another, Carrowmore Publishing sent me a detailed quote. I liked their efficiency, speed and interest but their quote was slightly above my budget. I liked them a lot and wanted to work with them to benefit from their support, as this process was all completely new to me. But I had decided to get this book published on an absolute shoestring so, after much analysing, I took the decision to work with CreateSpace (Amazon’s resource for self-publishers). Also, part of the reason for my decision was that I wanted to see if it was possible to get the manuscript from a Word document to the finished article on a minimal budget and with very little help – could I actually do this?
So, the CreateSpace quote was less expensive. The good news is that, yes, I ended up with a finished article, a bestselling book. However, along the way, I did encounter some obstacles.
Some of my queries proved difficult to answer. Firstly, the ISBN (International Standard Book Number, that comes with the barcode on back cover); should I buy my own ISBN (€70 or €250 for 10) or use a free CreateSpace ISBN? It wasn’t a large amount but I wanted to do the right thing. Some blogs and webinars recommended to use free CreateSpace ISBNs. Others recommended to buy your own as you’d own your content. Some said using CreateSpace ISBNs meant you would still own your book rights. It was unclear. I decided to use the free CreateSpace ISBN. What I now realise is that even though I have self-published my book, CreateSpace are listed as the publisher as they own the ISBN number. (Every book must have an ISBN to be considered for sale by retailers and wholesalers.)
Using CreateSpace, I came across the following challenges. At the start, a price was agreed, which was great value. Yet, as the work progressed, there were extra charges for minor changes. I missed a few typos, ended up changing my social media details and wasn’t happy with the first two iterations of the cover. Various extra costs applied to all these changes which I hadn’t budgeted for.
Another challenge for me was flexibility. For instance, with the cover, I completed a detailed brief, had a conversation, then received one cover design which was very different to what I had communicated in the brief. It would have been nice to have two or three options …
A final obstacle I have just discovered is that CreateSpace will not give me access to the book design files, just PDFs. I’ll need to pay for each future change (‘bestseller’ on cover, adding testimonials, etc).
CreateSpace is an efficient service, however, as a new author, I would have found it helpful having someone to call or meet from time to time. At one time I became quite overwhelmed and wondered whether I’d actually finish the project. I then came across Jean Callanan, of Momenta Hub, who expertly guided me through the final stages to a successful launch.
I would recommend, if using CreateSpace, to plan carefully, be organised, make time to call them often, even if you’re in a different time-zone. Before approving an interior or cover, I would ask 4-6 people to read and proof for typos or grammatical errors. There’s one set of free changes allowed. Only one. The benefits are quick turnaround times and a very easy listing process for Amazon and Kindle.
I still have lots to learn about the book business; next time I would like to find out what this process would be like with more support, more flexibility, someone to call to ask about the little and not-so-little idiosyncrasies of the book business. I may work with an Irish company where I can pick up the phone for a quick chat and meet someone from time to time.
Hiring a PR company, finding retailers, approaching wholesalers were also part of the process. With so many books on the shelves, how will yours stand out? Self-published authors need to support retailer sales, i.e., do the job a publisher would normally do. Having a PR plan increases probability that a retailer will stock your book.
Also, wholesalers are more interested your book if you have retailers on board. It’s all interlinked. My PR campaign enabled me to approach Dubray Books to launch and stock The Formula. Having an opening order from Dubray Books then added to my case with Argosy Book Wholesalers.
If you’ve ever organised a party, you have the skills to organise a great book launch. The biggest concern is if people will turn up. That’s not in your control. Everything else can be organised. I would suggest inviting at least twice as many people as your capacity then keep inviting people until you have 130% of your desired numbers confirmed.
After a successful launch, your new goal is to maintain sales so that both the wholesaler and retailer keep your book listed. PR, social media, tagging stockists, approaching other bookstores to stock, driving all your sales to the retailers that buy from your wholesaler – these are all essential.
Finally, some background work you need to do if your book sales are going to be enough to land on bestseller lists: your book must be registered with Nielsen Title Editor and Nielsen Book Data for sales tracking & reporting worldwide. This is free. Neilsen tracks sales from 60% bookstores in Ireland – best ensure customers on your target list includes these retailers.
When aiming for the Amazon Bestseller list, it’s crucial to list your book in as many categories as possible – and the correct ones. It’s possible to list your book in a maximum of 10 categories.
As well as Jean Callanan shepherding me through the nuances of the book industry, Ronan Colgan from Carrowmore has been a huge support. Next time, I’ll work with Carrowmore – now, looking back, the quote I received from them at the start was good value! My favourite part of the whole process has been meeting lovely people with whom to share interests and learnings. And of course, seeing your book on Bestseller lists is exciting too!
Attracta Burke is a #1 bestselling author of The Formula – How to be your very best self. Founder of ‘The Smart Formula’, she has developed a blueprint for effective leadership and business success that will boost your confidence, improve your decision-making and empower you to make life choices that pay dividends.
She works with leaders and individuals to help them define their own unique success formulas thus helping to unlock the potential within and reach their personal and professional goals.