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Update on Steel and Song — and Our WU Publishing Experiment

photo by Corey Holms [1]
photo by Corey Holms

As many may recall, in July, after a few years watching independent publishing go from vanity press to a viable path to publication, and after kicking the idea around, we took the plunge and decided to experiment with a project we are calling Writer Unboxed Publishing [2]. We had no idea how the project would evolve – we needed a guinea pig! I offered up my novel Steel and Song: The Aileron Chronicles Book 1 [3], to gauge the feasibility of such a venture.

Since then we’ve gathered valuable metrics. We’re still in the discovery phase of WU Publishing, but one thing is clear: the response of the WU community to both the proposed venture and to Steel and Song has impacted our thinking in unexpected ways. An engaged, active population is one of the strengths of the WU brand, and while we anticipated WU would be supportive in general, we were blown away by the magnitude of support and enthusiasm. I want to thank everyone who bought a copy, tweeted, Facebooked, blogged, left a review, and were in general amazing. We could not have asked for a better launch.

If we move ahead with this project, we’d like for WU Publishing to be more than an independent publisher. Because the strengths of WU are unique (and awesome), we would want WU Publishing to align with WU’s culture and leverage those strengths to both the benefit of the authors who are considering publishing under the WU imprint, and readers who are looking for unboxed books.

How we leverage those strengths to produce successful books is what we are currently focused on. Those strengths are:

  1. An engaged and active community
  2. Unparalleled support on social media
  3. Deep pockets of wisdom about the industry and the willingness to share that wisdom
  4. Community spirit that is supportive of authors and all kinds of fiction

It’s an enviable platform thanks to you, and one that makes WU unique and powerful. How to translate that platform into a publishing venture is the challenge. We have some very cool ideas in development, and one big idea (the only kind we know how to do!) that we hope will gel into the vision we are seeking. It’s a tall order, and we want to be clear it won’t happen quickly because we want to be thoughtful about putting the best possible structure in place. But we are excited about the direction we are heading. Look for a decision about WU Publishing in 2015.

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I promised I’d share lessons learned and resources that can help others who are considering independent publishing.

Reviews – So, as all writers know, online reviews are both the lifeblood and the bane of the new digital paradigm.  Via the incredible WU network (thanks LJ Cohen!), we learned about a new project from Publisher’s Weekly called Booklife [4], currently in beta. Booklife is PW’s venture into independent publishing, providing services and resources (for a fee) to help authors publish their books. But where Booklife differs from the dozens of other similar services is that Booklife offers the opportunity to submit your book to be considered for a Publisher’s Weekly review [5], at no charge. Having your book selected for a (hopefully positive) PW review makes Booklife worth joining.

We’re pleased that, after a period of assessment through Booklife’s system, Publisher’s Weekly has selected Steel and Song for a PW review. Cross your fingers.

Netgalley – for certain genres like romance and Young Adult/New Adult, NetGalley [6] has proven to be worthwhile. For those who are unfamiliar with NetGalley, it’s an online services that provides digital advanced copies to “professional readers.” Reviewers, bloggers and librarians can request an advanced copy in return for a review or providing early buzz about a novel.

I joined a co-op which featured my book for a four-week period for a reasonable fee. Steel & Song received a substantial amount of requests which yielded a handful of quality reviews immediately. But the long tail has been pretty good as reviews are still trickling in and being posted on Goodreads and Amazon. I found it a worthwhile investment despite some quirks and hassles.

Kindle Unlimited – Amazon’s latest venture, Kindle Unlimited, has caused a bit of a kerfuffle among the indie publishing community. For books that are published with Amazon in KDP Select, which gives Amazon an “exclusive” for a three-month period, books are able to participate in Kindle Unlimited. A sale is notched when a reader borrowing the KU title reads past 10%. Amazon launched KU about two weeks after Steel & Song went live, and since I’d chosen to start with KDP Select, we had no choice but to participate.

For someone in Phase One of building a brand, KU is helpful in terms of discoverability. Though a borrow pays less than a sale (anywhere from $1.50-$1.80), the borrow does count toward visibility in Amazon’s algorithms, pushing the book up the ranks. It’s a risk-free way for a reader to try a book. I’ve found that my (extremely limited) backlist is benefiting as well. Am I concerned that I might be leaving money on the table by participating in KU because I would receive a higher royalty from a sale instead of a borrow? Right now, no. I’ll take the trade-off of reaching more readers.

Do you have tips or tricks to offer others who may be considering independent publication? What do you hope to see for Writer Unboxed Publishing as we consider next steps? Let us know in the comments below–we want to hear from you.

About Kathleen Bolton [7]

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton [8]. She has written two novels as Cassidy Calloway [9]: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber [10].