My Year of Firsts – Natasha Bajema

My Year of Firsts

The Future is Closer.jpg

My new Lara Kingsley Series graphic with a snazzy tagline (and sneak preview of Genomic Data cover)

Last Saturday night, I was laying in bed unable to sleep and googling random things including my first novel Bionic Bug and did a massive double-take. I discovered that the hardcover version of Bionic Bug is currently available for sale on Amazon in Canada. FYI, my book is not supposed to launch on Amazon until 2019, and I didn’t intend to publish it there. After all, I have a well-planned strategy for soft launching my books. Or maybe not… I sat up straight in bed and said aloud: “Say what? This can’t be happening.” Okay, okay, there might have been a swear word in there too. Needless to say, my pulse began to race, and I was now wide awake.

I did a bit more research and found out that it was also available on Amazon in the US, UK, France… uh… everywhere Amazon does business. My fist tightened around my iPhone as I tried to wrap my head around how this could have happened. My first thought was that someone stole my book and was selling it on Amazon. And then I remembered…

nuclear-threat-2721836_1280Last month, I checked a box on the Ingram Spark website that toggles global distribution. Why? Mostly, to see what would happen. I don’t really understand how everything works yet, and I was curious what that would do. I got a warning box asking me: “Are you sure you want to turn on global distribution?” Sure, why not. What could possibly go wrong? I can always turn it off, right? It’s not like I’m clicking the button to launch a nuclear weapon, for crying out loud. Not unless a book is a weapon…

I clicked the box and nothing happened. So, I tried to un-toggle the box. But it wouldn’t work. I froze in a moment of panic. What did I do? Honestly, I had no idea. So, I wrote an email to Ingram Spark asking them if I could reverse the decision to do global distribution. Unfortunately, I got a canned response and a link to further information. I read through all of it, and based on the information, it appeared that it was no big deal. If I wanted to have my book at online retailers, I could do that. Since I didn’t, I closed the email and did nothing. I assumed it would require further action on my part. And I forgot about it. Until last night.

I’ve fired off another email to Ingram Spark to figure out if I can reverse global distribution and what that entails. But I’m not even sure if it matters that my hardcover is for sale in advance of my e-book version.

When you’re starting a new career, mistakes are bound to happen because you’re experiencing many firsts. Lately, I’ve been acquiring many first-time experiences and stumbling here and there. But this was my first face-palm incident, and I’m uncertain of the consequences for my launch in 2019. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this way-maybe for as long as two decades. If you ever want to feel like you’re 20 again, start a new career with a steep learning curve. If you do, I encourage you to live boldly and not be afraid of failure. Because this is how we learn and grow.

In this post, I want to celebrate my many firsts this year and share some lessons learned. Maybe that way, you’ll gain insights that will help you avoid some of my mistakes.

Bionic Bug Hardcover BookMy First Book Release

I published Bionic Bug, my first novel, on January 18, 2018 on Kobo. I wanted to make the book available to friends and family who were interested in reading it, but also wanted the feeling of having put something out into the world–to be a published author.

I made my book available for pre-order for a few weeks leading up to my release day and promoted it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn). On the day of its release, Bionic Bug made it onto the “Trending Now in Mystery and Suspense” on Kobo alongside some pretty amazing neighbors. How many ebooks did I sell to get there?


My Bionic Bug next to Agatha Christie, Ernest Cline & Lee Child

On the first day, I sold 9 ebooks. Yes, you heard that right (while I whimper in pain in the background). In the meantime, I’ve sold a whopping 21 e-books in four countries (which I’m super proud of). Better not quit my day job. However, I’m doing a soft launch, so I’m not concerned about the low numbers. Since I’m not sure if I plan to go wide to start or launch in Kindle Unlimited first, I’ve decided to publish only on Kobo.

Lessons Learned:

  • You can make a bigger splash with less sales in a smaller market. Amazon holds the leading market share in the e-retail book market (79.6% in the U.S.). Kobo comes in a distant fourth in the U.S. (with 0.3%), but fares better in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
  • That means if you do a promotion on Kobo and are able to sell 20 copies, you’ll make it to the top of the charts rather easily for a short time.

My First Limited Edition Hardcover

IMG_1671As an avid book lover, I decided early on to do hardcover books with dust jackets, in part to support my upcoming Kickstarter campaign. But I also just love hardcover books, and I know there are readers out there who prefer them. When I had my cover designed, I asked the graphic designer to work up a full cover format with flaps.

I chose Ingram Spark for my limited edition hardcovers because I’d heard so many good things about them from Joanna Penn who uses Ingram for many of her print books. Despite my recent hiccup with global distribution, they do amazing work, and I couldn’t be more pleased!

Ingram Spark charges a $49 setup fee for print books, which is reimbursed when you make your first order of 50 or more books. You need to convert your book to a pdf print file and follow the specifications on their website. I used Vellum to format my books and have the print license. The pdf file produced by Vellum worked very well with Ingram Spark. You’ll also need to create a special format for your cover using their specifications. Your cover design will depend on the spine width, so it’s critical to know how many pages your book will be before you format the cover. I had my graphic designer format the cover for me as part of my initial design request.

Lessons Learned:

  • It’s not that hard or expensive to create high-quality print books, especially if you plan ahead. When you design your cover, tell your graphic designer, you want cover formats for e-book, paperback, and hardcover.
  • There’s nothing quite like holding your own hardcover book in your hands.

My First Kickstarter Campaign

RewardsOn February 18, 2018, I launched my first Kickstarter campaign to crowdsource my next novel. I invited backers behind-the-scenes into the editing process for Project Gecko(Book Two in the Lara Kingsley Series). About 18 backers became members of a private Facebook group where they enjoy direct access to me as an author and to early drafts of my story. In this forum, I crowdsource ideas on names, settings, character arcs, and storylines. In this way, backers get to shape the story in Project Gecko and my journey as an author.

My primary goal with the Kickstarter campaign was not to raise money to publish a book, but rather to begin cultivating my first 1,000 super fans. My campaign concluded successfully with 48 backers and $2,467 raised. As part of my campaign, I sold 23 copies of Bionic Bug e-book and 36 copies of my limited edition hardcover.

Lessons Learned:

  • Kickstarter campaigns are a ton of work. Since I work a full-time job, it took most of my free time for about a month to put together the video, the graphics, the budget and the text on the Kickstarter page. The video took approximately 14 hours to prep, film, and edit.
  • You’ll need a launch strategy for your Kickstarter to maximize your reach. I used a combination of social media, blog posts, giveaways, and newsletters to create buzz for my campaign. And my campaign was fully funded within only 4 hours. But I really wanted to get Kickstarter’s attention and be designated as a “Project We Love.” Unfortunately, I didn’t generate enough traffic to get that label, which would have featured my campaign with increased visibility. I could have done better. One thing I neglected was reaching out to influencers to generate more attention for my campaign.
  • You’ll want to offer tangible rewards upfront to win backers. My most popular reward by far was the signed Limited Edition hardcover copy of Bionic Bug (32 of 48 backers purchased a hardcover book).
  • Don’t be shy about offering larger rewards. My biggest reward to name a character at $500 was snapped up within 1 hour. A few others expressed interest in this reward, but I only offered one of them.
  • Marketing a Kickstarter campaign is grueling work, akin to the work of a door-to-door salesperson. It was not easy for me to hit the streets as it sometimes felt like begging.

My First Podcast Interviews

In March, I was thrilled to do my first two podcast interviews. Of course, I was very nervous to have my voice recorded LIVE for all posterity and uploaded to the Internet. I wrote extensive notes to prepare for both interviews.

In my first podcast interview, I spoke on the Book Editor Show with my story editor Clark Chamberlain about why I think it’s important to hire professional editors as an Indie author. During my second interview, I spoke with long-time self-publishing industry guru Mark Leslie Lefebvre on his Stark Reflections podcast about crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and reader engagement. I wasn’t as nervous the second time around. I mean what could possibly go wrong? Then this happened…

I did a pretty good job of remaining cool during this crazy cat blooper, but if you know me well, you’d be able to detect that my laugh is the nervous-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening laugh.

Lessons Learned:

  • Do prepare for an upcoming interview so you know the key points you wish to highlight.
  • Be yourself and have fun on podcast interviews.

My First Podcast Episode

BIONIC BUG podast artAfter the cat blooper, I felt that there was nothing could stop me. So why not launch my own podcast? Actually, this has been on my mind for some time. In March, I decided to combine my interest in podcasting with content marketing for my fiction. Each week, I kick off my podcast episode with a technology news headline (or headlines) that has caught my attention. Then I read a chapter from Bionic Bug. Each episode concludes with behind-the-scenes technical information.

I’m using Patreon to gain support from my audience. To set up my podcast, I’ve purchased a Blue Yeti microphone, a Jabra headset, intro music from Pond5, audacity recording software (free), and blubrry hosting services. So far, I have 3 patrons, 5 episodes recorded, and 59 downloads. I have not yet done a formal launch for my podcast and will do so once I have 10 episodes locked and loaded.

Lessons Learned:

  • Podcasting is not cheap, but it’s doable. For the above equipment and music, I spent about $200. Hosting services cost $12 per month for 100MB. I’ve already gone over this data limit with four episodes monthly. One minute of audio = 1MB.
  • The learning curve is a bit steep. I was able to learn how to set things up by watching a one-hour YouTube video from Blubrry. It took me about 5 hours to get things set up. Once I did, it was pretty easy.
  • Podcasting is hard work. This is probably the bigger deal so think hard before you invest. I prep, record, edit and post one episode per week. Each episode is about 20-30 minutes. It takes me about 3-4 hours to finish the preparation, recording, and editing for an episode. I believe it’s worth the investment in the long-run.

My First Book Launch Party

Cocktail Party

As an introvert, I had to be convinced to host a book launch party. Thanks to a persistent extraverted friend, I did. And it was worth all of the anxiety. I hosted my book launch party at Wicked Bloom, a bar located in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington D.C. It happens to be the setting for the first chapter of Bionic Bug. The owner and manager loved the fact that I wrote their bar into my novel and were extremely gracious hosts. They even had mixed-drink specials for my event and printed posters for me.

Lessons Learned:

  • Go against your introverted tendencies and interact with your reader audience. You never know what could happen as a result. I sold 11 books, made some new fans, and learned how to use Square to swipe credit cards on my phone.

My First Guest Blog Post

On May 4, I published my first guest blog post on the Creative Penn. For any of you who are writers, this is Joanna Penn’s blog. She’s a widely acclaimed self-published author and industry guru. My post is titled “How To Build 1,000 Superfans When You’re Starting From Zero.” I offer some lessons learned about building a reader audience from my experience as a new author. I also had the opportunity to interview David Gaughran about his new book From Strangers to SuperfansI learned almost everything I know about self-publishing and running an author business from Joanna’s blog and weekly podcast. Check it out if you’re interested.

Lessons Learned:

  • You need to put yourself out there to open the doors of opportunity. The Indie community is full of generous authors and industry experts who love to help other authors. I met Joanna Penn, Mark Leslie Lefebrve, David Gaughran, and many others at writer events I attended in 2017. That’s how I got some of the opportunities described in this post.

Final Words

When I started this blog, I promised to share my author journey with you–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you feel encouraged to try new things and stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Humans are wired to learn from failure more than success. It must be a survival instinct tucked away in our genetic code that forces us to relive failures in minute detail. That’s so we learn from our mistakes and hopefully, don’t make the same mistake again. But it’s also the nature of success. If we succeed, we pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next project. We often do not stop to analyze our successes. Why bother? We succeeded. As a result, we don’t gain a deeper understanding of what variables led to success in the first place. But failure and mistakes stop us in our tracks.

When you’re learning, growing, and making mistakes, you’ll feel like you’re riding the rollercoaster of life again. For those of us who have rested on the laurels of our expertise and experience for a decade or two, it’s incredibly energizing and makes you feel young all over again.

In the meantime, Ingram Spark responded to my email and disabled distribution for my book. It will take a few days to reflect on Amazon’s site. However, if Amazon purchased and retains copies of my book, it will continue to show availability as long as they carry inventory. Oh well. I’ll find out in a few days. And then, i’ll promote the book to get rid of the remaining copies and hopefully wipe the slate clean.

Whatever you’re hesitating to do right now, stop hemming and hawing and go for it already. Just press the button or toggle that box. Let’s see what happens…

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

The Future is Closer

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