2018 in review: a year in which strategy & planning paid off…

The bottom line: 2018 was a record-setting book sales year for me. I had my best sales year and single best pie-in-the sky month, hitting goals that once had seemed impossible. I had set a focused strategy, followed the plan, and didn’t allow myself to get sidetracked.

I took advantage of unexpected opportunities that came my way, but I made sure that the opportunities aligned with my brand and the readership base I was trying to grow.

In retrospect, my strategy seems ridiculously simple, but it worked: get my ducks in a row and build on past successes.

I capitalized on the popularity of Alien Mate, which had been published in 2017. I wrote and released two more books in the series, and when I joined the Intergalactic Dating Agency group author project, I wrote an Alien Mate spin-off series, the Dakonian Alien Mail Order Brides, rather than write something completely different. Darak (book 1) and the Dakonian Mail Order Brides series, did extremely well, outselling Breeder, which had previously been my best-selling book/series. I’d chosen to do the IDA project because it seemed to be perfect fit with my brand.

Over the years, I’d participated in eight other group publishing projects (anthologies & special series), but the IDA project is the first one that resulted in significant earnings for me. Contributing to the success of the series was the amount of cross promotion by participating authors of the IDA project. When you have a village promoting a book, big things happen.

As part of my strategy, I paid careful attention to the timing of new releases and promo, updated back matter, and redesigned book covers. I was fortunate to get two BookBub featured deals (both on Alien Mate series books), in addition to a BookBub new release deal. I changed my new release strategy to offering long preorders rather than trying to hit a high Amazon rank during release week. I sell more books through a long preorder period than I do from the Amazon algorithm new release boost. The bottom line is about sales, not ranking.

Another positive development was an increases in sales with other booksellers. I had committed to “going wide” a couple of years ago because I didn’t want to put all my eggs in the Amazon basket. At the start of the year, other booksellers combined accounted for 29 percent of my sales; by the fourth quarter they accounted to 45-50% of sales. I did test KU v. non KU by putting my old Rod and Cane Society series in KU. The results were lackluster. When the KU contact expires this month,  I’m going to make that series wide again.

One thing that did not work for me—but I’m not giving up—was paid advertising on Facebook and Amazon. I took Skye Warren’s Facebook Ads Intensive class and tested a bunch of ads, but was never able to turn a profit from the ads. But I have some new ideas and strategies and plan to do more ad testing in 2019.

My reader newsletter continued to be a key component of my author platform. In 2017, I doubled my subscriber base from about 2000 to 4000. When I set goals for 2018, I’d initially wanted to try doubling it again, to 8,000. But 8K wasn’t what I really wanted. I wanted 10K. (Such a nice round number!) However, even 8K seemed impossible. How would I ever achieve 10k? Well…I ended the year with 10,300 subscribers—and that’s after deleting 3K inactive subs. I increased my subscriber base by 150% and maintained a healthy open rate of 35+%.

Growing my subscriber base across many platforms to reach new readers is always a goal, but I don’t apply the same attention to all platforms, because I can’t do everything. So, some platforms grew organically; for others I actively sought to increase my following.

In 2018, my goal was to write and publish four new books. I did seven, however that was due to the Dakonian Alien Mail Order Brides (Intergalactic Dating Agency) series. Three short novellas (25-35K each) took the place of what would have been one new novel-length book in the fourth quarter.

I decreased blogging this year, which had been the  goal. I used to blog 4-5 times a week. I’m now down to 1-2 times per week. When I first got published, blogging sold books. It doesn’t anymore. Many authors are no longer blogging. However, I enjoy it (if I wasn’t an author, I’d probably be a “professional” blogger). However, time is limited, and I have to focus on what delivers results.

I’m still trying to get a handle on time management and learning to write faster. Frankly, I want to get away from the computer more.

I offered many promotional drawings, seeking to provide interesting, creative giveaways.  I held a prize drawing every fourth Friday (Freebie Friday) for Amazon gift cards, SWAG, autographed paperbacks, free ebooks, etc. My sci-fi romance Alien Mate is set on a frozen planet, so I took a copy of the book to the Arctic Circle, then signed it, held a drawing and gave it away. The heroine of Darak: Dakonian Alien Mail Order Brides (Intergalactic Dating Agency) was a pastry chef, so I held a drawing for some Wicked Good Cupcakes to promote the series.

This year, my husband and I took three vacations.We spent almost three weeks on  a trip to London and a cruise of Norway. We visited an ice hotel and we saw the northern lights. (This is how Alien Mate went to the Arctic Circle). We spent a week in New Orleans and another week in Las Vegas for our daughter’s wedding.

Life intervened in other ways, too. My 80-year-old mother had two surgeries, got a couple of infections, ended up in ICU & spent sometime in a skilled nursing facility. Stressful and time-consuming. (She’s home & doing all right now). As much as I would like it to be, life is never perfect. There will always be problems and distractions. I just have to keep moving forward.

The Year in Review – By the Numbers

Books published – 7 (6 new, 1 re-release)

Words Written: 239,155

Newsletter

Increased subscriber base 150% percent, from 4,000 to 10,300

Sent out 33 newsletters (about 3 per month).

Blogging

Total page visits: 63,691 (643,783 total since 2011)

Total page views: 81,769 (968,486 since 2011)

Blogs written: 137 (a 40% decrease over 2017’s 226 blogs)

Follower base:

Instagram – 900 to 1092

(This is more of an increase than it seems, because I deleted and blocked 300 bots & sketchy types who’d been following me. IG isn’t a big part of my platform, but it’s fun to me. Sometimes you have to do stuff for fun).

BookBub – 765 to 1775

Facebook Friends – 3179

Facebook Page Likes – 2098

And that’s the year that was.

Do you have any questions about strategy or tactics?

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13 Responses to 2018 in review: a year in which strategy & planning paid off…

  1. Lisa Medley says:

    Very impressive! You are inspiring! Keep those stories coming 🙂

  2. Jannie says:

    Just a comment regarding newsletters: I use my iPad almost exclusively for reading email using the program I have installed. Since I read in a ‘preview’ pane, authors think I’m not reading them. I do. From top to bottom. There may be others who do this. Authors could be thinning their newsletter ranks of regular readers.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’m assuming you read my newsletter the same way? I checked your status on MailChimp. You’re one of my 5-star subscribers, so it shows that you’ve been reading my newsletter.

  3. Celeste Jones says:

    Very interesting, Cara. Thanks for sharing. I’m inspired to be more focused in 2019!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Celeste. I’m sure you did well in your partnership with Sue Lyndon. Being strategic benefited me a lot this past year.

  4. Great information! Thanks for sharing your stats and experiences, Cara. You are one of the bloggers I read frequently, because you always offer interesting and/or informative posts.

    Here’s to a mega-successful 2019!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thank you, Laurie. That means a lot that you read my blog, because I enjoy blogging and try to offer informative posts. Even though I’ve cut back on blogging, I still blog.

  5. Jade Cary says:

    Wow! You have really invented yourself. I’ll be watching you. Much love.

    • Jade Cary says:

      And by invented, I meant reinvented.

      • Cara Bristol says:

        You know, spanking romance was a good way to break into publishing. But, I found it too limiting, and I wanted to go more mainstream. I was fortunate that many of my spanking romance fiction readers followed me over to science fiction romance, but it did take a while to build up a readership in that market.

  6. P.L. Parker says:

    Again, very impressed. Wish I had your motivation and promo abilities!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You had a challenging year, as I recall. It’s all a learning process. Many authors are much more savvy than I am.

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