Five years on

I’m being a little bit self-centred today. But, I make no apologies for celebrating 5 years to the day since I hit the ‘publish’ button on my first ever book. So I am looking back at what I have learned since that evening (Saturday 29th September 2018 at 7:29pm, to be precise).

I was far too old to take up writing properly. I wish I had started years earlier, but life got in the way of the stories in my head. Husbands, jobs, emigrating, other hobbies, you know the kind of stuff. Over the years I had written the first paragraph of a dozen books, only to abandon them after a few days, and then in 2018, quite unexpectedly, a few magical things came together and The Wideawake Hat was born.

Here’s how I described these events in the Preface to The Wideawake Hat :-

In late 2017 my ex-boss (and now good friend) Heather came to stay at our house in the basin. The story of James Mackenzie caught her imagination and we enjoyed finding places associated with his name including his memorial on the hills looking out across the flat lands. It is indeed an awesome place and this is where the seeds of this story were sown as we walked along the river past an abandoned homestead, which could once so easily have been James’ home.

Between March and September 2018 my interpretation to the legend of James Mackenzie grew into a book. In the back of my mind I had visions of The Applecross Saga being another Poldark series – 12 books, I said grandly to anyone who asked! We are on number 7 now, so I may have got that prediction right after all.

Now, writing I can do, but in that naive way that creative people think, I presumed someone would just come along and want to publish the book, All I had to do was sit back and watch the royalty payments come in. There was sure to be a call from Netflix too. We would be raking it in!

Oh, how silly that idea seems now. I did a lot of research into publishing, and I didn’t much like what I found out. I have to admit to being quite arrogant here. I didn’t want to wait for years to be published, neither did I want some publishing house to tell me to change things round. It was my book and I thought it was perfect. Looking back now, it is far from perfect, but it isn’t a bad start to my writing career. If I re-wrote it now, with experience under my belt, I would probably change it quite a lot.

So self-publishing was for me, it seemed, though it wasn’t a world I knew anything about. In New Zealand at that time, Amazon did not have a big hold on readers. We kiwis don’t much like having to pay for things in Aussie dollars, and that was all there was on the mighty Zon in those days. So I began on Kobo, simply because a few friends who read a lot suggested it to me. I suppose I thought the ebook thing would be a small part of my overall sales. Paperbacks would make my fortune. I ordered 500 copies to be printed locally. It was a lot of boxes – it still is a lot of boxes, I’m afraid! I was hopelessly over-ambitious about that.

I had enough experience to produce a reasonable cover, the back matter and a decently formatted document. My only external help was from my good friend Heather, who served as editor, proof reader and all round sharer of good ideas. I couldn’t have done it without her. So, on Saturday 29th September 2018 at precisely 7:29pm, I hit the button on Kobo that says ‘Publish ebook’.

It took a while to go on sale (that was my first lesson in planning ahead). I sold 5 copies in the first day. My husband, my sister, my niece and Heather. I have never known who the 5th one was, which makes me feel very proud that someone chose my book without even knowing me. Whoever you are, thank you very much!

Having dipped my toe in the water, I continued to wander around the internet looking for ways to expand my publishing empire. I found Apple Books and Google, then took the plunge with Amazon. Never in KU – it has never appealed to me to be forced to be exclusive to Amazon. Sales grew a little bit at a time. I found the world of promotions and sought out the free or cheap ones. I built a website and some presence on social media. It all helped a bit. I suppose I was publishing ‘wide’ at this point, though I have never known another way, and had certainly never heard the term to describe self publishing to more than one place. 

I’ve made friends online along the way, and learned so much from those who are prepared to share their experiences with us newbies. I’ve tried a few things and failed – I don’t think I am ever going to be a TikTok influencer – and I’ve tried some things and they have worked very well indeed. If I had to pick one good idea out, it would be making the first book in the series free as an ebook. Slowly the conversion rate for those who continue to read books 2-6 has grown to 22% and I’m still working on building that up.

So here we are. 6 books written and a 7th one nearing completion. I continue to love writing, to lose myself in the characters and storyline. And I continue to enjoy seeing people start to read my books and get hooked on James and Sophia and their lives in Mackenzie’s Basin. I have no way of knowing if my sales figures are good, bad or indifferent. All I can say is that I take in more money than I spend each year, though it isn’t enough to live on! But I will proudly say that on the 5th anniversary of publishing my first book, 20852 copies have been downloaded, bought from my website or a shop, or listened to. I treasure every single sale!

The big question, though, is what will the 10th anniversary bring? There’s always that call from Netflix, I suppose……!

One Comment on “Five years on

  1. Well done Mandy. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to share in the Mackenzie story and be part of your journey as a talented writer. I think Netflix might well come knocking. Here’s to the next 5 years! 🥂

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