Cheryl Bolen: A Stunning Anniversary

This morning I welcome my friend Cheryl Bolen to SlingWords. Cheryl is celebrating her 1 year anniversary as an Indie Author. Take it away, Cheryl!

A Stunning Anniversary
by Cheryl Bolen


I started my awesome ebook journey the last week of May, 2011, with four full-length Regency historical novels for which I had gotten my rights back after they went out of print. During this first year I have indie published 16 books, have sold 200,000 copies, and have made more money than I made in the past 14 years publishing ten books with New York publishers.

Things Change

Recently I had a long talk with my fabulous agent. Though she wanted very much to sell my humorous Regency romance mystery trilogy, she told me with great honesty she couldn't get me the kind of money I'm making indie publishing. She also said few of her authors can get their publishers to release more than two books a year, and she pointed out the $15,000 advance (per book) she could expect to get me would be split into several payments.

It was a sad decision to make, but most of my books from now on won't be available in book stores — if book stores manage to still be around. (Probably my last New York-published book, Marriage of Inconvenience, will come out in October.)

Ebook Journey

My initial strategy when I went indie was to price one book (A Lady by Chance) at $.99 and the other three (Brides of Bath series) at $3.49 each. My first month I sold a modest 1,000 books. At Joan Reeves' urging, I added my World War II love story, It Had to be You, during that first month.

Things didn't heat up for me until the three-month mark when I published three original Regency historicals, one of which was a novella. My pricing philosophy on these was that since they had — for one reason or another — failed to garner a publishing contract, I would offer them for just $.99. That's when the sales really took off.

One of those ebook originals, My Lord Wicked, went to number 2 in Regency romance on Amazon (of about 6,000 titles), and The Earl's Bargain skyrocketed to number 1 its first week and was my first book to break into the Top 100 sellers in the Kindle Store. The Earl's Bargain stayed at number 1 in Regency (at Amazon) for weeks and in the Top 20 for months. It is still in the Top 40. To date, it has sold 40,000 copies.

Sales & Royalties

Since ebook royalties for indie books at $.99 are only about $.35 a book, you can see I have earned just $14,000 on Earl's Bargain, but these books will stay in cyberspace — and hopefully sell — in perpetuity. Also, having books in the Top 20 gets an author awesome exposure. Between four and five months into my indie publishing I had seven different books in the Regency Top 20. When readers like one of your books, often they will buy all of them. There has not been a single day since August that I haven't had a book in the Top 20 Regency.

I have had two more $.99 titles — ebook originals — capture the number 1 spot on Amazon's Regency bestsellers, my novella Christmas at Farley Manor (which also broke into the Top 100 sellers in the Kindle Store) and my March release, His Lordship's Vow.

Ironically, those three books which hit number 1 were "traditional" Regencies, shorter books with no consummated sex scenes. This is a genre New York abandoned a decade ago, but which my readers love. The best reviews I have ever gotten in my life have been for His Lordship's Vow. Even though it wasn't "hot," readers thanked me for writing a satisfying love story.

My best month I sold 38,000 books. I'm tapering off now between 14,000 and 18,000 sales a month. Half of my 16 indie books are priced $2.99 or above, and on books $2.99 or more, I make a gratifying 70 percent royalty. My New York published books netted me just 6 percent royalties — or less if they was sold through a book club or other distribution channels.

All the previously mentioned bestsellers are from Amazon. While I sell fairly well at the iTunes store and have had several bestsellers there, I have yet to figure out why my books aren't selling like that on Barnes & Noble.

What I've Learned


• Though the $.99 books won't make you rich, they bring you readers, as do free books. I've done very few free days on my books, though I recently moved one of my Regency novellas to free to attract new readers. I'm also going to offer one of my contemporaries free permanently to attract readers to that four-book contemporary series, Texas Heroines in Peril.

• Inventory is important. I've got 11 books in the same genre, the genre which accounts for most of my sales. It's extremely difficult for a person with just one or two books to have the number of sales I've experienced. It's the kiss of death to jump genres with each book.

• It's not easy to get readers to switch genres. More than ninety percent of my sales are in Regency romance, the genre for which I was already established when I began indie publishing. Eleven of my 16 indie books are Regencies (and Harlequin offers a couple more of my Regencies as ebooks). Though my World War II love story has sold steadily, it only accounts for 1 percent of my sales (2,000 copies). Ditto for my four-book romantic suspense series, Texas Heroines in Peril. Most of those who are buying my Heroines in Peril "also bought" my Regencies; so, they followed me. But romantic suspense readers are not finding me.

• I have done almost no promotion and no advertising. I rarely Facebook, rarely visit Goodreads, and I'm not on Twitter. I blog occasionally and maintain a simple website. I do believe social networking can be helpful, but I'm just too busy writing. It took me almost five months to finish Marriage of Inconvenience to fulfill my last New York contract, and I've written several novellas this past year and am finishing up the second book in my Regency mystery series.

• Because of the proliferation of indie authors and indie books, it's almost impossible to get an indie book reviewed through traditional channels.

• Even though I have a degree in English and have massive editing experience, I can't proofread my own books. I pay eBook Editor, run by my journalist son, to find my errors.

Today on Amazon I was pleased to see that first book I put up one year ago, A Lady by Chance, is still in the Top 20 Regency bestsellers. Is this a great business model, or what?

Takeaway Truth

Many of my friends have embraced indie publishing, just as I have, and it's given all of us a new lease on the writing life.

28 comments:

  1. And here I remember that first month when you wondered why nothing was moving! I do think you are providing something-the old-fashioned Regency-the readers want and New York ignores. ANd I get regular hits on my own blog from people looking for my reviews of your books.
    Congratulations!!!

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  2. Wow -- congratulations, Cheryl! You are an inspiration!

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  3. Congratulations, Cheryl! I think one thing I've had hammered home to me is inventory. Both you and Thomas, from the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog do little promo but you do write books. More inventory, more sales-makes sense. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Great story, Cheryl. Congratulations, and I can vouch for the excellent service from your son's eBook Editor; he took the scan of my family saga BirthRights and made it work on line.
    Now Im getting ready for more.
    Victoria Hinshaw, aka Summit Wahl

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  5. Cheryl, you are an inspiration. Congratulations on you're success!

    Cindy Wicklund

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  6. Congratulations, Cheryl!!!

    I TOLD you!!!

    Here's to many more sales!!!

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  7. Your genre jumping comment has me taking a serious look at what I'm doing.
    Thank you so much for the insight, and congratulations on your success!

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  8. Cheryl, I'm just amazed at how you took hold of your career and pointed it in the direction you wanted to go.

    Congrats, honey!! keep those Regency's pumping out!

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  9. Cheryl,

    Congrats on your amazing sales! I haven't read your books, but I LOVE traditional Regencies. My biggest peeve with modern regencies is the sex. I will go buy one right now!

    I write traditional books too (although they're Westerns) and I think that's one reason for my success.

    Best of luck with the future.

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  10. Cheryl, your success is absolutely thrilling - you go, girl! And thanks for offering tips on your success, and for generously sharing the knowledge.

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  11. You are right ... this is a great business model.

    Congratulations on your success! You are an inspiration.

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  12. Just popping in from my vacation to say thank you to all who visited and commented.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

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  13. Anne Marie, prodigious gratitude to you for encouraging me to embark on this ebook journey.

    Debra, thanks for picking up one of my traditional Regencies. I do love them. (I know you started the same time as I and have had similiar success--if not greater.)

    Cynthia, You're being much too modest by saying I'm an inspiration. I bet there's not a person here who couldn't profit from your advice on indie publishing. Two years and your books are still bestselling Regencies. YOU'RE the inspiration.

    Joan, thanks for giving me this forum -- and lots of loyal readers.

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  14. Victoria, Thanks for the endorsement for my son's business. I can't wait to reread your traditional Regencies -- when they come available.

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  15. Thanks to all of you for the sweet comments.

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  16. Cheryl, thank you for telling us your story. It's so inspiring. There are 2 things in particular I took away from your post:

    1. Readers rarely cross genres. So as authors, we need to find our genre and stick to it.

    2. You didn't do much social promo. As someone who's a bit, well, slack in that area, I'm pleased to hear it.

    Thanks again and the best of luck for the next year and beyond.

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  17. Yes, CJ, isn't that what those agents always told us at all those writers' conferences? They can't sell authors who hop genres. Now that I'm wearing a publishing hat, I understand the wisdom of all the editors and agents over the years.

    (Though I still don't agree with the decision to discontinue traditional publishing of traditional Regencies!)

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  18. Thanks for sharing your experience, Cheryl!

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  19. Wow, Cheryl, thanks for the simple and detailed explanation! Most indie-pubbed authors are not that forthcoming on specifics (sales, prices, revenue) so the indie experience is still a murky fog of caution for me. Great blog, I really appreciate it!

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  20. So happy for you, Cheryl. I've dipped my toes into the indie world and even though I haven't had enough time in the past few months to get my books out there as fast as I'd like to, I'm having a grand time watching the sales on the three I have managed to put up. It IS a new world, for all of us. Thank you for sharing your experience. No one deserves this more!

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  21. Like Joan, I believe in sharing. That's what RWA teaches us. . .

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  22. Hi Cheryl, thanks for sharing your great story and all of this great info. Congratulations!

    Wishing you continued success,

    Theresa

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  23. Congratulations, Cheryl. You've got it nailed!

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  24. Thanks, one and all, for visiting and commenting. I'm still at Rancho Reeves but Larry's on his little tractor having fun mowing his "pasture" *g* so I'm reading all these comments and loving them!

    I'm just so happy for Cheryl.

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  25. Congratulations, Cheryl! This is fabulous!

    I'll second what you've said about focusing on one genre to develop a readership. Sage advice from a real indy success story.

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  26. Congratulations on your astounding success, Cheryl--your journey is so inspiring! And thanks for sharing all your insights. I've decided to put aside the book-of-my-heart mainstream historical I was working on and stick with historical romance, which is what readers expect from me. It's really nice to hear your experience confirms that choice. :-)

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  27. Cheryl, first off: HUGE congratulations to you! It was wonderful to read your success story and I'm thrilled for you! Here's wishing you many more bestsellers!

    -- Danelle Harmon

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