We Are Not Alone–An Indie Cinderella Story
Welcome to WANA Wednesday, based off my best-selling books, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. This is the day I dedicate to teaching you guys how to rock it hard when it comes to social media. Writing is hard. Building a platform is hard. Some days it will feel as if you are doing all this work, and yet it’s all for nothing. So, today I want to share some social media successes with you to keep you encouraged.
There are all kinds of social media gurus who claim to have the answers. There are books to show how Such-and-Such-Author sold a zillion books in five months. All that is great. We can always learn something, but, before we commit to any social media strategy, we need to ask some tough questions.
First, can the methods be duplicated? Just because one person sells 1000 books a day with his hands tied behind his back means little if that method hasn’t worked for others. Other questions we might ask are, “Can the approach work for an unpublished no-name author who has never recieved the traditional publishing seal of approval? Can the approach work for a new author with only one or two titles? Can this method work for the writer who breaks out in hives at the mention of the words sales or marketing?”
I can’t speak for any other methods, but I am here to give good news. Yes, WANA methods have put my books at the top of the best-selling list. That’s good news for me, but what about you guys? The GREAT news is that WANA has worked for others as well. Authors with good books that no one wanted and that no one noticed until social media completed the success equation. We will hear from one of those WANA success stories in a moment.
There are those who will say that all that matters is a good book. For the past four years, I have said that we live in a society inundated with too many choices. I felt a good book was not enough. I deeply believed that we had to find a way to generate word of mouth, too. Writers needed more. We needed a good book AND a social media approach that 1) was more than just a new way to spam people 2) that would generate a community vested in our success 3) that could offer us exponential exposure 4) that left time to write more books and have a life and 5) that didn’t try to change our personality.
So I created WANA.
The big news in world publishing this past week has been that a British writing duo, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards, have signed a six-figure, four-book deal with Harper Collins. So what?
What makes this team interesting is that this deal was not earned the traditional way through the query process. This was an indie writing partnership with two books that the UK agents and publishers didn’t want. Rejected so many times these guys actually gave up writing. For over ten years! Then, earlier this year they gave it another shot and self-published. No agent, no publisher, no hype. The books the gatekeepers didn’t want to know shot from nowhere to, literally, #1 and #2 simultaneously, in the Kindle UK chart. In June alone they sold over 40,000 e-books.
And when they hit the top spot the gatekeepers suddenly forgot these books were rubbish and came running, cash at the ready. Louise Voss and Mark Edwards, congratulations! Read their story here.
Ah, keep reading. I have more good news. Voss and Edwards weren’t the first to use social media to launch their books up the charts. Bizarrely another writing partnership, writing under the pen-name Saffina Desforges, had led the way with another novel the gatekeepers rejected time and time again. Sugar & Spice hit #2 in the Kindle UK charts no less than three times, and is on target to sell 100,000 e-books by the end of summer. That’s with just one title! They are currently in discussion with one of New York’s most prestigious agents.
But apart from being indie thriller-writing male-female partnerships with two guys called Mark who have conquered the Kindle UK charts with books the gatekeepers rejected, what do these two writing teams have in common?
Their success was down to the way they used social media to beat the odds and achieve sales most authors can only dream of. Mark Williams is here today to explain how the Saffina Desforges team have achieved nearly 100,000 sales with just one book using social media, with a little help from yours truly and We Are Not Alone. Thank you, Mark for sharing your story…
Saffina who? If you’re reading this in the US then you probably haven’t yet heard of Saffina Desforges. If you’re a regular on Amazon’s Kindle UK site, on the other hand, it will have been hard not to have heard of her. Our e-book has dominated the British best-seller charts, with sales not far short of 100,000, has been # 1 in six genres, and has reached # 2 in the main Kindle UK chart three times.
And it’s all Kristen Lamb’s fault.
Let me explain. It all began last year when two writers over in England, Sarah Griffiths and I, completed a gritty crime thriller we had been co-writing, and sent it off to the UK agents in eager anticipation.
Now of course we weren’t complete amateurs. We occasionally dipped into Kristen’s blog and had stolen a few ideas. For instance, establishing a brand.
Sarah created the pseudonym Saffina Desforges for us. Google Sarah Griffiths or Mark Williams and a thousand different people show up with that name. Google Saffina Desforges… First page all the way! So Sarah became Saffina.
We set up a website as per Kristen’s advice, and thought about buying WANA. But hey, let the publisher do all that promo stuff later. We’ve got a name and a website. The rest is easy. Agent. Publisher. Fame and fortune. Sorted!
You all know how the system works. You send off your precious manuscript. The agent falls about laughing and sends it back. You tweak it, send it off to another. Repeat until someone gives in. Give in? Us? Not
So now our walls are covered with beautifully-framed rejection slips from some of the most prestigious agents in the UK. At one point we were on course to exceed John Grisham for knock-backs. Stephen King’s legendary fifty rejections was in our sights. We greeted each rejection with faux-joy, reminding ourselves just how illiterate agents are, and then we sat quietly in dark closets and sulked for a few days. All the while quietly joking to ourselves that the next email or phone call would be from a top New York agent.
Hey, we’re writers! Fantasising is what we do!
But after a while we realised the fatal flaw in the send-reject-send-again strategy. If the agent doesn’t tell you why they rejected it (which nine times out of ten they don’t) then what do you tweak before sending it to the next? You might be making it worse, not better. And there comes a time when you think, “There must be another way.”
So we stuck it on Amazon.
Well, why not? It was cheaper than sending out to yet another agent, and this was eight weeks before Christmas. We could be in the top five by then. Or at least the top fifty… Not that we were ambitious or anything. We’d have settled for the top five hundred. Of course by Christmas we weren’t even in the top five gazillion. We were nowhere. So far out in the charts it was unreal. In fact our book did absolutely nothing for almost three months. It was nine weeks before we even got our first review! So much for friends and family buying up a hundred copies each and writing glowing accolades.
John and Jenny No-Pals, that was us.
Then Saffi got hold of a copy of Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and excitedly told me how it was going to soar us into the charts.
Yeah, right. I mean, I read Kristen’s blog occasionally, and I had set up an old blog myself (not that any-one knew it existed). But what’s all this stuff about Facebook and Twitter? Don’t we have enough distractions as it is?
So while I tried to sell our rejection slips on eBay, Saffi started out on the WANA route to world domination. New blog; facebook page; twitter account; new shoes; make-over; night out with the girls. Things I just never would have thought were needed to promote a book.
Meanwhile our sales were consistent. Consistently non-existent, that is. With three full months on Amazon you could count our sales on the fingers of a rattle-snake. Then in early February we actually started selling. Not many, sure, but readers were actually finding us. Was Kristen’s WANA actually working? Were the new shoes paying off? All we knew was we were selling a few more than before.
So we looked into WANA again, and took it a bit more seriously. Saffi said she needed two new pairs of shoe and every weekend out on the town with the girls. I wasn’t convinced. Did Kristen really say that? All I knew was, we were selling. Hey, I’ll have some new shoes, too!
Darn. Apparently I was only allowed a new blog. But I was happy. Instead of just Mark Williams, it was now Mark Williams International. No longer a name. Now a brand.
So put Mark Williams into google and get a zillion Mark Williams hits. None of them me. Put Mark Williams International into google…
And Saffi of course went the whole hog, with two blogs, facebook pages, twitter accounts, the works. She started going through WANA page by page, finding out about hashtags and pingbacks and all that stuff. And so many new shoes!
But if Kristen says a girl needs new shoes to sell, who was I to argue? We were selling. That was good enough for me. Of course, having a blog and nothing to blog about is no fun, so we tried out some more crazy WANA ideas, like TEAM. You know, sharing your cyberspace and helping others. What goes around comes around.
We invited guests, reviewed other writers’ works, and wrote about things that might interest fellow writers and readers. After a while I reluctantly signed up to Facebook, and even later Twitter, while Saffi was busy with all the rest of the stuff in WANA.
By mid February we were actually selling in double figures every day, and making some headway in the smaller categories on Amazon. By the end of February we were getting top movers and shakers places. Not just in the charts, but climbing rapidly. We were selling hundreds a week. I emailed Saffi and said, “Re-read WANA and do everything in there, twice!”
So she did.
The owner of the local shoe-shop took early retirement to Barbados. But in between trying on shoes Saffi kept at it with all the other WANA stuff. And we kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. We were leap frogging big names. Writers we’d actually heard of. Writers we’d paid to read! Suddenly we were in the top hundred across all categories. The top fifty. The top twenty! And still the sales numbers were rising. The top ten! The top five! We actually got to #2. Three times!
As I write this we are still in the top fifty, selling thousands a week. With the debut novel by the unknown author that all the UK agents had rejected! Oh, and that crazy dream about being called up by a New York agent? Out of the blue one of the most prestigious agencies in New York called us! Yes, they called us, on the
other side of the Atlantic! Nothing signed yet, but some very interesting discussions going on about our new series of crime thrillers.
Will it be your turn next? Dare to dream!
Yes, of course having a good book that readers will love is a big factor. But you might have the best novel ever written in literary history. If no-one knows it exists, no-one will ever buy it. Kristen can show you how to make sure people know your book exists.
Oh, and for those still wondering, Kristen doesn’t really suggest new shoes as part of the plan. But buy a pair anyway, along with WANA. It worked for us!
Congratulations Mark and Saffy! Thank you so much for sharing your story, and it gives me tears that I could help you realize your dreams. If you guys are the Indie Cinderella Story, then I am thrilled I could be your WANA Fairy Godmother :D.
I hope all of you reading this feel encouraged. I know I ask a lot of you and sometimes it just feels like you are throwing a ton of effort into a black hole. I just have to say that hard work, great writing, and a solid social media platform built on a clear author brand is the formula for success, no matter what publishing route you choose to take.
Mash-Up of Awesomeness
Lessons form The Green Lantern and how NOT to plot a story. LOVED this post by Jami Gold.
6 Tips to Avoid Death by Critique by Roni Loren
What Separates Man from Pen Monkey Yes, I am a total Chuck Wendig fangirl, but this man is pure GENIUS
For the romance authors. I highly recommend Anna Destefano’s post about some important changes in the industry. Anna always has great posts and is an awesome teacher when it comes to the craft. Social media is wonderful, but at the core we need to write great books.
The Myth of Having More Time Someday by Jody Hedlund.
3 Tips for Reclaiming “Alone Time” by Tawna Fenske