Self-Publishing a Trilogy
The Legacy launch went better than I could have expected thanks to all of you! I am so grateful to everyone who helped out with posting and sharing about the book, buying it, reading it, or just encouraging me in general.
This week I have been trying to get words down for the milwordy challenge, and figuring out youtube videos, so I thought I would do a little two for one and write this post as an in-depth version of the youtube video that came out yesterday. If you’re interested in self-publishing, this is how The Owens Chronicles came to be 🙂
(It’s definitely not a how-to, but I am someone who loves to learn through what people did right, but also what they did wrong, so I am sharing how I published my paranormal series, The Owens Chronicles. Hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes.)
The idea for the series first came to me over a decade ago, around the time of Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. I loved the love triangles and the characters (at least some of them), but I didn’t want to write another story about vampires. So, I came up with the Gifted, a subset of humans with some kind of supernatural ability, who keep coming back to life after they die, to ensure they can accomplish a specific task. Originally, I called the story Owens, for Embry and Lucas, the Owens brothers. Eventually I chose to scrap the love triangle and them being brothers, so my main character, Emily, became the Owens of the story.
When I first heard about Nanowrimo, the National Novel Writing Month, I got so excited. I work best on a deadline, and this was giving me an excuse to write a bunch of words every day for a month and end up with a book. I was entirely sold. Especially because up to that point, the only stories I had ever finished were the play the characters performed in one of my stories, my Grade 10 personal project, and a Dracula continuation for English class. Basically, nothing I was ever going to publish, and mostly on deadlines.
So, November 1st 2014, I started writing ‘Emily’ (because you need to name your projects for Nanowrimo). I wanted it to be a trilogy, so I plotted out the first book, as well as the main plots for books two and three. (By plotting, I mean that I came up with 28 chapters and knew my characters)
As I wrote, I realized that some of my chapters weren’t as long as I thought they would be, and I wouldn’t get to 50 000 words with what I plotted for book one. So, I decided to scrap the trilogy idea and put it all into one book, coming in at 60000 words.
I was so proud of myself, but then I did what I always do: put it away and told myself I would come back to it when I was a better writer and storyteller.
Deciding to Publish It
In 2019, I decided to stop being a dreamer and become a doer as far as the writing was concerned. I published Shards of Glass in August, and in order to give my readers another book of mine to look forward to (a series preferably), I set Prophecy up for pre-order and decided it would be a trilogy again. The major downside to this was that I could no longer market it as a Paranormal Romance, because the romance is only hinted at in Book 1, talked about in Book 2, and *spoiler alert* acted upon in Book 3.
I replotted the books following the hero’s journey, splitting up what I had already written so Act 1 would be in Book 1, Act 2 would be in Book 2, and Act 3 would be in Book 3. I broke it down in 28 chapters (28 is a significant number in the series, but you’ll have to read Book 3 to find that out) and got writing.
I had done some light editing on the standalone novel I’d already written, with lots of notes listing what needed to be fixed, but one of my biggest issues was reconciling what I knew the story was in my head, and what it had to become in order for it to be a publishable trilogy. I struggle a lot with this, because my stories were all originally written for me to enjoy, without following plotting or pacing or any kind of structure.
My goal was to have a first draft of all three books before I published book one in November. I figured I could write a book a month, edit the first one, then edit the others as fast as possible, and rapid release them one after the other.
Once I was done with the first draft, on September 16th, I read it and made more notes on what needed to be fixed. Then fixed them.
One such thing was the name of my main character. Emily and Embry were way too similar, especially when I liked to call them both by their nickname, Em. For personal reasons, we chose to change Emily. Since the book has a large focus on the moon, I used that as a starting point and finally found Lucine, which means Moon in Armenian. But they call her Lucy. I was so excited to tell my mom I fixed the problem, when I realized Lucy was just as close to Lucas as Emily was to Embry. So, I went back to my research and found Gabriel, which I believed meant guardian/protector, which is very fitting for Gabriel. (As I write this post, it apparently means God is my Strength, but I am choosing to ignore that)
I started my series bible in 2014, before I did nanowrimo, but I added all of the new details from this draft. I went chapter by chapter and wrote out everything that happens, as well as all the information you find out about all the characters. It comes in handy for later books, but I would recommend having an online system, so it would be easier to search than the notebook I used.
Then I wrote another draft.
I knew that I wanted to have hardcover and paperback versions of my trilogy, and I was on a deadline, so I researched all the cover designers I could find, seeing which ones sold the type of covers I was looking for, and listing them by price. There was a premade cover I absolutely loved, but I didn’t know how I would get the other covers from them without paying an arm and a leg. Ultimately, I chose 100covers, because they had the best prices, and offered a 50% discount for series, that comes with a box set once the series is done.
I was in love with the cover they sent back. They gave me some color choices, and I tweaked the hair color, since it’s an important part of the story. Then I did an Instagram poll for the dress color. I love how it looks like Lucy is picking up her dress to run off into adventure, and it is my favorite cover to date.
While my mom was reading it and sending me her feedback, I plotted out novellas for all of the Owens women, and made adjustments to the series plot, because a lot changed as I was writing book one, and researching elements of plot.
Editing & Formatting
My mom and I edited the book. Instead of reading it to each other, I had the computer read it out to me, which was super helpful in catching mistakes my brain usually corrects. I had planned to have an audiobook ready before launch, and get to edit it while recording that, but this never happened.
The formatting, as for all of my novels, was done with Vellum, an awesome software that lets me do my ebooks, paperbacks and hardcovers, including front and back matter. As I published every book, I made sure I had the next book on preorder, so readers who liked the book had somewhere to find more books from me. I also included a link where they could download a bonus scenes/chapter/pdf from me in exchange for joining my mailing list.
I made it a point to be done with as much as I could before mid-October, because I knew I was going to be busy. Two of my cousins had babies, I became a full ACTRA member (the union for Actors in Canada) and I was production manager/minors coordinator/actor for Little Bird, a beautiful short film I was honored to be a part of. The fully drafted trilogy was not going to happen, which was fine, only I really didn’t do much of a launch. My first book mostly sold to family members, and this book was not their genre. I was also told not to spend too much on advertising until you have at least three books, and I took this to heart. I did nothing to promote the release of Prophecy. I posted on my personal and author facebooks, sent out a newsletter, wrote a blog post, and an Instagram post. That was it. It was by no means a successful launch. At all.
The only people who bought it were my friends and family members, who would have bought it anyway. They were also the ones who shared my posts and posted about the book as well. They were incredibly supportive.
I considered doing book signings, but never followed through. My grandfather had a Christmas party the weekend after I launched, and he bought a bunch of copies of Prophecy to give away to his guests. I have the best family.
Cursed First Draft
I started writing Book 2 in January. I was working at the Montreal Auto Show, so I left home around 6 am and wrote in a Starbucks until my shift started at 9, then had my notebook with me for every break. My goal was to write a chapter a day, so I calculated how many pages I needed to write for it to add up to 2-3k words. I did not make a lot of friends, and most of the people who talked to me were wondering what in the world I kept writing. Some thought I was taking notes of everything they were saying.
Never Stop Learning
During this time, I took a lot of classes. Bryan Cohen had his free, 5-day Amazon ads course, so I took that and spent over 100$ throughout all the amazon ad platforms (USA, UK, Spain, Italy, France and Germany), and made about 25$. It was not a success, but I want to master Amazon ads, so I’ll keep trying until I do.
In February, I typed up Book 2 and started writing Book 3 in the notebook. When I finished typing it up, I focused on editing it, then sent it to my mom and my cousin.
In March, Covid-19 took the world by storm, so 20Booksto50K started a post for authors to offer their services to help other authors through it. A woman offered to BETA read for someone, and I took her up on it.
I sent her both books, so she would know what was going on, and she had fantastic insight. She tried not to go too deep into Book 1, since it was already published, but she did mention that I do dialogue tags wrong. Instead of writing:
“Come here,” he said.
I was writing:
“Come here.” He said.
Not a big difference, but those who know will notice, and possibly be annoyed. I also had a muddy middle where not a lot happened, and an ending that built up speed, slowed down, then built up again to a smaller reveal than the one before. She recommended I read Take Off Your Pants, so I bought it and learnt so much about pacing. I was reluctant to change everything though, so I rewrote the ending and fixed what I could without rewriting everything.
Changing the ending meant I could no longer call the book Cursed, since the curse was only revealed in Book 3 now. I played around with every word I could find that ended in y. Books 1 and 3 were always going to be Prophecy and Legacy, but Cursed was an outlier because it fit perfectly with the plot. Now that it didn’t, I might as well find a title that ends in ‘y’. So I settled on Destiny.
I discovered Booksprout, a site that lets you post your book to get reviews. I took Prophecy out of Kindle Unlimited for a bit so I could upload it to the site. I got 14 downloads and 7 reviews, which was very exciting. And an anomaly. I put Destiny up before its launch, and got 2 downloads but no reviews. (same for Legacy. Shards of Glass got 3 downloads and 1 review)
I finished Destiny at the end of May and went to order proofs from amazon. I uploaded the book to KDP, then went to upload it on IngramSpark. You can’t do paperback preorders with KDP, so I was excited to be done the book early enough that I could make a preorder. It immediately told me I couldn’t publish the book because the ISBN was already in use. I thought it was a glitch, because the ISBN was registered to Destiny (previously Cursed). Unfortunately, I’d made a mistake when publishing the paperback for Prophecy on IngramSpark, and used the ISBN for Cursed.
I immediately ordered a new ISBN and fixed the attribution of the other one, but it took days for Amazon to reject my title. I uploaded the new ISBN as fast as I could, but got rejected a few days later, because I forgot the ISBN was on the back cover. I had to reach out to my cover designer and have them fix the ISBNs due to my stupid mistake. I don’t think the paperback was approved on KDP until the night before I launched.
Finally, on June 11th, Destiny was released into the world and did pretty good. I ran a promotion of Prophecy and used some free promo sites, and was really happy with it all.
I only discovered them after I launched, but I think they’re amazing. It’s a platform through which you can organize newsletter swaps, create universal book links, send out review copies and reader magnets…It’s incredible. I’d heard of others like them who charged, and was never able to justify that expense at this point in my career. I started doing newsletter swaps when I had 13 subscribers and am now (almost) at 400. Mailing lists are worth their weight in gold. Thanks to StoryOrigin, I have a list of people who are interested in reading the kind of books I write.
I wrote drafts of Legacy in May and June, finishing the final draft at the end of July, at which point I sent it out to my mom. I had already recruited some BETA and ARC readers (my email list was at 47 when I sent out the invite, so I was really happy with 3 responses), so I sent those out in early August. I got the Write.Publish.Profit 3.0 bundle from info stack for its 12-month subscription to ProWritingAid, but it had tons of awesome ressources on writing. I used myself, my mom, and Pro Writing Aid for the editing.
My BETA feedback was amazing. Not just because they loved the book, but because they went into details about the things they loved and things they weren’t sure about, which let me know that I hit the emotions I was aiming for. In the future, I would want to have a more organized system for BETA reader feedback, maybe even a list of questions. I set up the sign-up part based on Jenna Moreci’s skillshare class.
I set up a Preorder Giveaway, so anyone who pre-ordered Legacy could sign up for a chance to win autographed copies of all three books in The Owens Chronicles. Everyone who entered automatically received the first four chapter of Legacy ahead of the launch. I got the how-to from another skillshare class, but I didn’t have a big enough platform to attract that many signups. As in I only got one, and it was from my cousin. However, I did receive 6 pre-orders, which is more than any of my previous launches. So overall it was a success?
Amazon was having trouble getting author copies and proofs to Canada. I couldn’t order them until maybe a week before my launch, at which point they wouldn’t have arrived in time. I tried to make the paperback live on amazon so I could order a copy and then unpublish it (or hope no one noticed), but I made the mistake of putting it on pre-order with IngramSpark before they shipped it. The preorder took over the live book and my shipment was delayed until after the launch. It was unfortunate, but I might not be meant to ever receive proofs.
Since Legacy was the last book in the trilogy, I decided to go big (rather than go home). For Destiny, I had used a bunch of free promo sites for the launch, but this time I got into paid ones as well. Fussy Librarian, EReader News Today, Awesome Gang, Book Basset, EReader IQ, book raid…I spent nearly 200$ on them, plus facebook and amazon ads. I also did a bunch of newletter swaps the month before, while Prophecy was out of Kindle Unlimited. It hurt my page reads at the time, but helped to build my mailing list.
I planned my launch around amazon promos. Prophecy was free for the 5 days KDP Select allows, Destiny was only 99cents for 7 days (in the US and UK), and I launched Legacy at 2.99$ instead of the regular price of 4.99$. That means that instead of paying $14.97, you could get the entire trilogy for under 4$.
It was the best launch I’ve had yet, and it’s still going on. I won’t compare myself to others, because that would be discouraging, but this launch is making me believe that with a few tweaks and more quality books, I might make it after all.
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
-Ruth Bader Ginsburg