That time I got interviewed by Melanie Harlow

Can you believe that March is already here? I feel like between the release of Kismet in the Sky and finishing the manuscript for Surrender to the Stars, I haven’t had a chance to breathe! But, I can’t complain because it’s been amazing and fun! I also can’t wait until Surrender to the Stars (Cassie and Vik’s story) is in your hands! You’re going to love these two together. They are sizzle and fire!!

I recently joined Melanie Harlow‘s author group on Facebook where Melanie shares her expertise and experience as an established author. It’s been a source of invaluable information and such a great way to meet other new authors who are going through similar journeys. We talk about things like managing work, life, and writing, best practices for publishing, how to find the right team, etc. Needless to say, I love it!

I’ve actually been fortunate to be in touch with Melanie over the course of launching my debut. She’s been extremely kind in giving me pointers and helping me navigate in the self-publishing world. Thank you, Melanie! So, when she said she wanted to do an email-interview of my debut experience, I was all for it! We figured it would be a great way for other new authors to get an idea of what to expect and learn from some of my mistakes. Here is the entirety of the conversation for your reading pleasure:

Real Talk from a 2021 Debut Author (Feb 28, 2021)

Since it has been a minute since I was a debut author (things change VERY fast in indie publishing so 2013 seems like the Jurassic period), I wanted to interview a current debut author to get a sense of what it’s like out there!I asked Author Swati M.H. to chat with me about her experience, and she was incredibly generous with her answers. Thank you, Swati!!

Our “interview” took place via email around February 15th, so any numbers she gives here are as of mid-Feb.You released KISMET IN THE SKY (a contemporary, multicultural romance) on January 7th. You had a beautiful cover that was category-appropriate and a blurb that put your tropes (second chance, forbidden romance, workplace/boss) and hot hero right up front! How did it go?

So far I’ve sold 142 books (paperback+digital).

On the release month, January, I sold 121 copies in total.

KU Pages read to date: 20,319

KU Pages read in Jan: 15,709

4.8/5 on Amazon ratings with 61 reviews.

I think that’s great! There’s a statistic that says the average self-published book sells about 50 copies in its lifetime, so you’ve already doubled that! I also think 61 reviews is fabulous. I also sold 122 books my debut month (July 2013). And going on 8 years later, that book still only has 94 reviews! So you’re doing well!

One of the things I will mention that I THINK I did right was that I formed an ARC team and street team early. I made a LOT of blogger friends on my own too whom I regularly keep in touch with (not just to promote my book but have gotten to know online). Because of that, compared to some other debut author friends, I had more reviews/ratings for my book.

But as you can see, I haven’t made anything off this book but I tell myself that the reason I went into it was a.) because writing is my passion and b.) to prove to myself I could do it. Even with the dismal rankings and $$, I will continue to write. I also took the David Gaughran course and one from Alessandra Torre. I am also running an Amazon Ad (I have 527 keywords and have spent $57 so far). But only 2 books have been bought from it.

Where did you find readers for your ARC team as a debut author? Were they just readers you’d gotten to know by interacting in groups or on social media?

So, the way I did it is I created a google form for sign up and me and a few bloggers shared it on social media (mainly IG). The form asked each reader to give me their reviewer name on Amazon and Goodreads. Then I vetted the people who signed up by looking at the number of reviews they did, their reviewer rating, and the country they reviewed from. I started off with almost 30 readers and whittled it down to 12. They have all signed up for book 2.

I was also introduced to Kylie Frankel. If you don’t know her, she has a pretty large reader group (though I don’t think she is an author herself) and allows release parties in that group too. She runs a service that helps new authors find top arc readers/reviewers who guarantee reviews. I gave away a few e-copies of the book to her and some of those readers signed up to be in my ARC team for the future. Again, she charges for this so I don’t think I’ll do it again but it was great as a first time author to be intro’d to a group with tons of reviews on Amazon/Goodreads (Amazon doesn’t delete their reviews).

Smart! So you established relationships with bloggers FIRST, and then they helped you by putting your form in front of their audience. And you took it from there.

Yup. So many have been so supportive with helping to share for me just based on us becoming virtual friends. I’ve talked to a couple on the phone and even did a Zoom HH with one. I’ve had so much fun making friends through this. That’s been the best part of all of it.

You mentioned two things you felt you did right–establishing blogger relationships and setting up an ARC team. Was there anything you’d do differently? Or a mistake you learned from?

Yes, I definitely think establishing the blogger relationships, keeping up with them (they’re like any other relationship…you have to maintain them!) and setting up a street team early were things I did right. I also created a launch plan early which REALLY helped me to stay on track but I’m just more of a planner in general. One other thing that not everyone can do/afford is that I got a PA. I personally think it helped to have someone to bounce ideas off of and help with release parties, cover reveal, etc. It took a little bit of the stress off. But, again, not everyone can do that.

In terms of things I would do differently or mistakes I made:

– I paid for way too many teasers. While those teasers were fun to put out, I wasted a lot of money. I could have gotten Canva earlier and done them myself if I wanted to. In fact, I didn’t NEED that many teasers. I could have just posted 3-5 really good ones prior to the release. I had more like 10-12! Like wtf??

– My very first week after creating my Instagram account, a blogger reached out to me and said that she would like to read/review my book and that she has thousands of followers (which I verified) but that she would charge me. Like a complete rookie (which is exactly what I was), I paid her for her review on Instagram! I still cringe when I think of that. Never again.

Yikes! That sounds shady. You’re right–never pay for reviews. You used a PR firm. Did you feel that was the right decision for you?

Having the PR company really helped but I’ve talked to many new authors who think the PR company should be doing all the marketing work because that’s what they’re paid for and are disappointed when the marketing/PR doesn’t meet their own expectations. I think the PR company is a great support but you still have to do some work yourself, like talking to bloggers, asking them to read your book, and being sincere in that relationship.

YES! A PR or promo company is not going to do everything. They are going to amplify your voice and your efforts. So in the end, what do you think is the most important lesson you learned?

The most important lesson (you and other book people have told me several times but I have to remind myself every day): Reset my expectations for myself! I honestly thought a good debut would sell in the hundreds a week – HAHAHAH! But the fact is, I never really knew what to expect. There were no numbers out there telling me what was realistic so I had crazy expectations. While I did well, I didn’t sell hundreds of copies in the first month. There are a few that sell every day still but it’s not flying off the shelves. So, reminding myself that this is a long game and that rarely do debut authors make it big has helped me stay motivated. I also have to tell myself (and this is JUST me, not every author) that I am in this for the FUN and not for life changing income. The ultimate goal is to follow my passion and IF that results in great income one day, that’ll be icing on the cake.

I think that’s a really smart, healthy mindset! This is a great time to be an author because we have more freedom and choices than ever before. But it’s also very crowded, and we have to be strategic to come out ahead. You are SO RIGHT that it’s a long game. I always say I have two pieces of favorite advice for new authors: Stay in your lane. Write the next book.Congratulations on your debut, and thank you SO MUCH for your honesty and time. I think this will be very helpful!

Thank you again for everything!

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