A year ago, I released my first Regency romance as an indie author, Royal Regard, under the pen name Mariana Gabrielle. Two days ago, one of my books was mentioned in USA Today, a box set that has been on the Amazon Hot New Release and Bestsellers lists for three months, and today, my newest book, a perma-free novella, hit the Amazon lists for the first time.
So, does this mean I am “successful”?
At the risk of breaking the secret author code, let me jump into the numbers a bit. I have increased my income this month—from $1/day to $6/day—though one never knows when such a drastic change will occur or how long it will hold true. As of August, I had been pretty consistently selling an average of half a book a day for months, with occasional rises for new releases and sales. For the past three months, I am averaging three hundred downloads a day (though the royalties do not accrue to me), and I have momentum, which, to me, feels meteoric. I don’t have an agent or publisher or virtual assistant, but somehow, I have managed to claw my way onto the very first rung of the ladder to becoming a HistRom lower-mid-lister. A milestone, by the by, that doesn’t even remotely come with a paycheck yet.
At this rate, after all the promo copies and contests and swag, and box set royalties to charity, I won’t break even financially for another 100 years—1000 years, if you think I should be paid for my time, too.
But still, ‘tis the season for gratitude and celebration! So, I decided to reflect on how I got here in a year. There are a couple of primary factors, foremost the holiday box set featured in the USA Today column, which was predicated on the best marketing decision I have made thus far—creating the Bluestocking Belles.
To be clear, I have been a marketing and promotions professional since pre-Internet days, but the “E-Book Marketing Milieu” is really a whole new world for me, often highly uncomfortable. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and I have been a co- and cross-promotion proponent for years. When I saw Mark Coker’s general advice, about a year ago, in a spectacular Smashwords blog post on the future of the industry, a few things really resonated: “Take the long view. Network with fellow indies. Take risks, experiment, and fail often. Publish multi-author box set collaborations. Dream big dreams. Celebrate your fellow authors’ success.”
As members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, of course, we believe in the power of writers banding together to advance ourselves and our industry, but this article made me wonder, as a long-time co-promoter, whether it might it work in a more targeted, individualized, sales-focused way, even in the Amazonian jungle of a marketplace? These ideas coalesced into a general online call to other historical romance authors interested in long-term co- and cross-promotion. After talking to a couple dozen writers over the space of a couple of months, eight of us finally committed to a long-term group plan and officially launched The Bluestocking Belles in March 2015. I have no compunction in suggesting that we are the hardest working Regency writers online, busting our tails to entertain our readers.
And it has paid off nine months later, to the tune of 300+ $0.99 downloads per day of our box set (guesstimating about 9,000 total by the time this blog posts), with the 35% royalty going to the Malala Fund. With another three months left in this sales cycle, we have already raised more than $3,500 for charity via royalties and direct fundraising, far more than I could have raised alone. And as far as sales of my income-generating books, my perpetual half-a-book-a-day is currently three books a day. (Meteoric, I say!)
To be sure, the success of the box set was also predicated on many hours of work the Belles have put in on other projects, establishing ourselves as a brand in the historical romance marketplace.
On top of our own individual marketing efforts—blogs, websites, social media pages, etc. —common to all of the Bluestocking Belles, managed by various individuals and committees, we have a website; an excerpt book; a twice-weekly Regency “gossip rag,” the Teatime Tattler; Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages; a monthly book discussion group; a quarterly newsletter; constant online events, an impromptu storytelling group on Facebook, the Bluestocking Bookshop; and a very active street team with its own, secret web page.
This “communal marketing” concept is not a game for the faint of heart, but it has, in the main, been working.
- Our first box set, Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem, has spent three months in multiple Top 20 Amazon Hot New Releases and Bestseller lists, in Regency Romance and Holiday Fiction, earning thousands for the Malala Fund and many new readers for the Belles’ books.
- Our excerpt book, The Bluestocking Belles’ Guide to a Good Time, which we use as both promo tool, street team gift, and prize, features more than fifty pages of games, puzzles, riddles, and historical romance excerpts, available as a free PDF download or bound as a fundraiser for the Malala Fund.
- All of the Belles (even “Bluestocking Belles,” with its own Author Central page) have, at some point or another, now seen an author ranking in the Top 100 of Amazon Historical Romance writers.
- All of us are seeing increased sales to varying degrees.
- Our monthly book discussion group and guest spots on the Teatime Tattler have attracted appearances by multiple USA Today and New York Times Bestselling HistRom authors, like Grace Burrowes, Ava Stone, and Lucinda Brant.
- Our street team members are recommending and sharing Belles’ books and posts regularly and automatically, and are steadily reading their way through our 34 (and counting) books and writing reviews.
- Our books appear next to each other regularly in “Also Bought” and “You Might be Interested in” on retailer sites.
- We have a central “swag depot,” where one Belle acts as “swag queen” and postmistress general, making sure our contest winners get everyone’s materials.
- We all now have a physical presence at personal events and appearances we couldn’t otherwise attend. My coupons will be at a table at the Wairarapa Book Fair in New Zealand next week, and our Belle in Dubai can give out signed excerpt books at the RWA convention without lifting a finger.
- We have a communal marketing budget, an attitude of sharing when it comes to ideas and opportunities, and an inherent circle of support when it is needed.
The process of uniting into a functional group was not without its growing pains (still) and it has required a stalwart bunch, with reliable senses of humor, broad and complementary skill sets, and a lot of communal wisdom, but if I had to start over as an indie tomorrow, and I could only choose to bring one of my marketing tools with me, there is no doubt, it would be my Belles.
Mariana Gabrielle is a pen name for Mari Christie, who is not romantic—at all. Therefore, her starry-eyed alter ego lives vicariously through characters who believe in their own happy-ever-afters. And believe they must, as Mariana loves her heroes and heroines, but truly dotes on her villains, and all bring hearts bruised, broken, and scarred long before they reach the pages of her books.
She is a professional writer, editor, and designer with almost twenty-five years’ experience, and a member of the Bluestocking Belles, the Writing Wenches, and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She has released four Regency romances, Royal Regard, Shipmate, ’Tis Her Season, and La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess, and will soon release a mainstream historical, Blind Tribute.
You can learn more about Mari and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, on her Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads.
About the Belles
The Bluestocking Belles' books carry you into the past for your happy-ever-after. When you have turned the last page of our novels and novellas, keep up with us (and other historical romance authors) in the Teatime Tattler, a Regency scandal sheet, and join in with the characters you love for impromptu storytelling in the Bluestocking Bookshop on Facebook. Also, look for online games and contests and monthly book chats, and find us at BellesInBlue on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Come visit Amy Rose Bennett, Susana Ellis, Sherry Ewing, Mariana Gabrielle, Jude Knight, Vanessa Riley, Caroline Warfield, and Nicole Zoltack at www.BluestockingBelles.com and kick up your bluestockinged heels!
You will find the Bluestocking Belles’ fundraising campaign for the Malala Fund at www.classy.org/BluestockingBelles.