Observations after the Buchmesse, part #3. My publishing strategies as a self-publisher in Italy

The two previous articles of this series, reporting my considerations after being a guest at the Frankfurter Buchmesse (I’ve talked, together with Matthias Matting, German self-publisher, and Camille Mofidi, European Manager at Kobo Writing Life, about “Think Local, Act Global: How to Reach a Global and Successful Audience through Self-Publishing” at Kobo stand), focused respectively on the situation of digital publishing and self-publishing in Italy, and on the best-selling self-published genres and their readers in Italy.
Now I’d like to tell you my story: how I have become a popular self-publisher in Italy. The following strategies worked well in Italy, but I think they can be used everywhere. As you’ll see, getting in touch with the right people at the right time was essential to my writing career. It’s good luck, of course, but good luck happens only if you help it with your commitment.

The omnibus of “Deserto rosso” (my science fiction series) among the books exposed in the stand of
Kobo during the Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014.

It was 2012, I mean, the year of my debut as self-publisher. I had already written a novel, but it was still far from the final draft. But I wanted to try digital self-publishing, so I started writing a short story which then became a science fiction novella. It was January 2012.
There was so much story to say that I decided it was the first instalment in a series of four, called “Deserto rosso” (Red Desert), set on Mars. They were three at the beginning then I realised that four was a better number to include what my imagination was creating.

I wrote the first draft in January but I worked on the text until the end of May. I wanted it to be as perfect as possible, and I needed to study the technical part concerning the publishing of an e-book.
I was already studying self-publishing by constantly reading various blogs about this topic since 2010, now it was time to try the real thing. I already had a blog and a Facebook page since the previous year.
So in March 2012 I published a free e-book, which was actually just a little more than a fan fiction. I wanted to use it to get some readers, but it was also the right occasion to learn how to format a book, how the retailers worked and so on. I wanted to be ready for the moment I had published the novella. I don’t know the precise number but that free book was downloaded more than 50 thousand times, which is quite a big figure for
Italy. And people are still downloading it.

Then I published the novella. It was June 7th 2012. I promoted it on the social networks. It cost only 0.89 euros on Amazon, much less on Kobo because I use Smashwords as distributor and the price in euros is set starting from the one in dollars.
Some people started to download it, not many, 1-2 copies per day. Nothing special. I didn’t expect more.

Then someone took interest.
I sent my press release to the biggest science fiction portal in Italy, Fantascienza.com, where the editor in chief published a short article about the book, because he was curious, since I was a woman writing science fiction, the book was about Mars, which is a trending topic (it is more now, but it was beginning to be so at that time), but mostly he was curious because I was publishing a kind of serial. That was my original idea, since the first book was a novella ending with a cliff-hanger. Then I changed my mind and the other books are novels, the latest one is even quite long, and that’s why I prefer to refer to it as a series including non-conclusive books. You have to read all of them to get to end of the story, even if each of them has a story arc, but it ends with you wanting to read more.
Then I was asked by FantaScientificast, an Italian podcast about science fiction, to be interviewed in one of their episodes.

I think the combined action of the mentioning on the portal, on the podcast and this interview, together with all my marketing efforts, like blog tours and so on, caused a sudden peak in my sales which continued throughout summer.

The e-book was both an Amazon and Kobo bestseller.

Meantime I was writing the second book and I was using Facebook, mostly, to get people involved during the writing process. Asking them questions about the plot, which character they liked, which one they didn’t like, what they thought would happen next. It was really fun!
I succeeded in keeping the interest of my readers. They were some hundreds then (a bit more than 300, which, again, was a big number in Italy, especially in 2012). I used to share small, accurately chosen excerpts from what I was writing or editing. I prepared slogans, started a countdown during the latest 30 days before publication.
I had some beta readers, who also helped me promoting the book once published.
In a nutshell, I created a lot of anticipation around the release of the second book, which occurred at the end of November 2012. The result was an immediate peak of sales in December.

Then I repeated the process with the other two books.

In the meantime I had become a regular podcaster at FantaScientificast, I was blog touring continuously, I was involving people on Facebook, my blog and Twitter.
The story of “Deserto rosso” is hard science fiction but also a technothriller, involving people dying in an suspicious way. I had created a poll among my readers on my Facebook page, asking “Who killed Michelle?” and giving four possible answers.
The response was great and the third book (published in April 2013) went even better than the second, i.e. it sold many copies in a short time.
People wanted to know as soon as possible who had killed Michelle!

Meanwhile, I had created a Twitter account for the main character, Anna Persson, and the readers started interacting with her. Even the Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano interacted with her sometimes on Twitter before his mission on the International Space Station. That was fun because Anna is an ESA astronaut and she called him colleague.
And of course I had repeated what I’ve mentioned above: more interviews, blog posts, polls on my Facebook page (this time regarding which choice Anna would’ve made between two male characters; yes, there’s even a love triangle in the series, though it is still hard science fiction), excerpts, countdown and . . .

. . . and the last book was an immediate success!
The anticipation was so much that people started buying it immediately as soon as it went online, at dawn on a Saturday! Actually even before I realised it was online. It was September 28th 2013.
During the promotion of this book I was out, in Salerno, where I had been invited to speak about self-publishing at a conference at university. The speech was streamed online, so my readers, friends, and family watched it. It helped spread the word about my series.

Then at the end of the year I published the omnibus called “Deserto rosso” (including all four books) both as e-book and as paperback. Many readers rushed to buy the paperback to have the hard thing or to give it as gift for Christmas. It was December 2013.

At the beginning of 2014, I was awarded by Wired Magazine Italy which listed me as one of the ten best Italian self-publishers. Then the participation to the Book Fair in Turin came, the release of another book, a thriller, which has been selling really well, though with a higher price than the single books from the series, then “Deserto rosso” was reviewed by Toms Hardware Italy. And then . . . I got to be invited to Frankfurt Book Fair!

My next Italian book will be published on November 30th. It’s science fiction again, it’s connected to “Deserto rosso” and it’s actually the book I had written before 2012, which is now about to see publication.

And now, as you may have noticed in this blog, I’m also starting exploring foreign markets by translating some of my books, but this will be the topic of my next article in this series, where I explain you how I got my books translated into English without spending a folly.