In addition to being a famous Mexican holiday, now celebrated around the world for reasons unrelated to the Mexican victory of Puebla over the French in 1962, Cinco de Mayo is also my anniversary of being a published author. My first book, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, officially came out on 5 May 2012.
Second Year Goals
Last year, when I reflected on the momentous occasion of my first anniversary, I was really amazed at how far I’d come in terms of books sales and skills acquired. I also set out some goals for my second year:
- 5 books listed on amazon
- Redesigned website with free download of Emilia Cruz mini-anthology
- Re-release of HIDDEN LIGHT with new cover, lower price, and at least 1 promotion
It was a short list but all the goals were measurable and had a timeline attached to them. But the year ended up being much more than just those three goals.
Learning as I Go
As I headed into Year 2, I was uncertain about book marketing, this blog, the whole face-to-the-world thing. So I took time out from writing to take two online classes: Blog that Converts with Derek Halpern and Instant Bestseller with Tim Grahl.
Blog That Converts was supposed to help me redesign the website. It did that but also opened my eyes to the whole issue of how people respond to online messaging and what makes them connect to a blog/product. Blog That Converts is primarily directed at those who run an online business but I really got a lot out of it. Derek Halpern’s socialtriggers.com website is full of ideas, not just in regard to the content, but also in regard to how Derek presents information and how the site is designed.
I was one of the beta testers for the Instant Bestseller course, which is based on Tim Grahl’s book, YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES. The book is hands down the most intelligent discussion of how authors must connect with readers in the new publishing age in order to be successful. Tim has a lite course that is free on his website. I hope Tim expands both the course and his website with more resources and case studies; I plan to regard him as the oracle for the foreseeable future.
Both the classes helped me give this website a major upgrade with catchthemes.com’s Catch Everest pro theme and a monthly author newsletter via the aWeber email service.
Subscribers get a copy of THE BEAST, the first Emilia Cruz story which was previously featured on The Huffington Post’s Fiction 50 showcase, plus a guide to writing book reviews, my list of top 10 international mystery series, and monthly updates with exclusive excerpts and book release news. Making a newsletter has been another learning curve and I’ve been helped by fellow Instant Bestseller students.
I’ve probably spent too much time this year on web design, Twitter profile design, and Facebook covers. But as a book may be judged by its cover, so is an author judged by the professionalism and quality first impressions. I get a lot of positive feedback on the look of this website, my Twitter background, etc. Presentation makes a difference.
This anniversary I have 4 books listed on Amazon, not the 5 I’d planned. The 5th book was to be a short memoir based on letters I’d written while a student in France many years ago. I put it on the back burner while taking the courses above and the manuscript stares at me balefully as I type.
HAT DANCE and MADE IN ACAPULCO were released, however. HAT DANCE, the second Emilia Cruz mystery, was on the Top Rated Top 10 for Amazon’s International Mystery category for several months, and might still be in the Top 100. I think CLIFF DIVER still is. (I’ve stopped obsessively checking things like that, which is a major accomplishment on its own.) MADE IN ACAPULCO is a collection of short stories and includes the first two chapters of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.
The black matches-and-smoke anniversary cover of HIDDEN LIGHT turned out great. Bold, eye-catching, yet clean. It might be my favorite cover yet. HIDDEN LIGHT sells more in paperback than any of the other books. Maybe it’s the cover or maybe political thriller readers buy more paperbacks than mystery readers who prefer Kindle?
Writing for Water
Long before the Emilia Cruz series hit Amazon’s algorithm I knew that if I made enough I would donate a portion of my proceeds to Water.org, the charity co-founded by Matt Damon to bring clean water to communities worldwide. So despite the fact that Emilia hasn’t knocked Jo Nesbo off the top of the mystery charts, I decided there was no time like the present.
I started in January 2014, donating $1 from every Kindle book I sold to Water.org. After a bit I wondered if some fellow authors might like to help and Sharon Lee Johnson, Norm Hamilton and Jerry Last all stepped up with donations and promotional support. As I felt the effort gaining traction, I put up the Writing for Water page and set a goal of giving 25 people clean water for life. And it is happening! @Water is retweeting our updates, I got a nice email from the home office, and our numbers are climbing!
Have you ever done something that turns out to be bigger than the sum of its parts? Seen real change because of just a small thing? That is what is happening because of all the wonderful readers and fellow authors who are sharing this journey with me. We are giving clean water and changing lives. It feels amazing.
More than anything else, be it steadily rising book sales, the growth of the Emilia Cruz series, or an improved website, this second year has been made memorable by some wonderful virtual friendships with fellow writers. Norm Hamilton, Sandra Nikolai, Khaled Talib, Andrew Chesnutt, and especially Jane Rosenthal and Jerry Last have shared time, attention, advice, and good cheer. David Bruns from the Instant Bestseller course has helped with website ideas and tips, while Sharon Lee Johnson has been an infectious cheerleader and work ethic champ. Every day, on Twitter and Goodreads, I meet a fellow author with whom it is a pleasure to trade war stories and cheer success.
I’m thrilled to be participating in a group blog with 4 talented writers: Jane Rosenthal, Christopher Irvin, Guillermo Paxton, and John Scherber. The Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel is just getting off the ground but will be a locus for mystery and Mexico fans alike.
The team at Latinas4LatinoLit.com really gave my visibility a boost last summer with a series of 10 blog posts. Likewise, the editor of Mamiverse.com, Lorraine C. Ladish was a guest on my blog and hosted my article on bilingual humor. More opportunities came my way for guest posts, reviews, syndicated posts, etc. Here are links to some of the highlights.
Done properly, social media is not so much of a distraction as great tools for connecting and researching. I use Twitter and Pinterest to find great web design resources, news about Mexico, etc. Facebook is for advice from fellow authors and some great free promotion. I had been using the free version of Buffer, which seems to have gotten the vapors, so HootSuite is likely in my future.
Keeping a blog updated is hard work and it is tempting to turn each post into a nonfiction article about something I find interesting. My “Future of Bookstores” series has been a huge time investment but I’m not sure it has had any impact on book sales. DIABLO NIGHTS might have been out 2 months earlier, too.
Yet I had the opportunity to connect with some amazing folks I would have never have encountered otherwise: thriller author Dale Brown, with whom I had a memorable online exchange; Bernard Cornwell, author of the legendary Richard Sharpe series: Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author Publisher, Entrepreneur, and C.M. Mayo, author of a number of literary gems set in Mexico.
Now that I have some experience behind me, however, in the coming year I will keep unrelated blog posts from stealing too much writing time. Maybe I’ll cleverly combine things with a series on time management for authors!
For Next Year
For my third year of being a published author, here are my goals:
- Meet or surpass goal of providing 25 people with clean water for life via donations to Water.org based on book sales in 2014
- 2 more books listed on Amazon (DIABLO NIGHTS, the third Emilia Cruz novel is slated for late June release)
- Publication of at least 1 Emilia Cruz short story in an anthology or ezine
- Book trailers for all the Emilia Cruz books
- A core group of 500 readers I connect with monthly via the newsletter
- 100 subscribers to the Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel
Watch this space to see how it all turns out. While you’re at it, let me know your goals for the coming 12 months!
All the best, Carmen
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