"I Was sure I had a good story and knew my readers were out there" - Meet author and triathlete, Caitlin Avery
Life of Cyn is the story of a woman who must choose between revenge and forgivenesslearns after she learns her husband’s new boss is the guy who assaulted her in high school.
Why did you decide to self-publish? Did you have any doubts?
In January of last year, I did NOT want to self-publish. I’d done it with my first book and used a hybrid publisher for my second book. That hybrid experience was a financial nightmare; I spent way too much money upfront and had to share royalties with them, where I made between .10-.90 cents with them for each copy sold. I haven’t made a profit on that book yet, but part of my self-pub journey last year was to get the rights back on it and re-release it.
So last January, I was very jaded. I’d submitted my 3rd book to agents to try to go the traditional route, but after 18 months and 250 rejections, I had no path to publication for LIFE OF CYN. Agents had essentially said that #MeToo was dead in publishing, but I was sure I had a good story and knew my readers were out there—I just had to find them. My biggest fear was that I’d spend a ton of money and not earn it back, but I wasn’t willing to shelve the book, so I had to face my fear. The first step I took was to read two books that changed my perspective: Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC, and THE WAR OF ART, by Steven Pressfield. They taught me that I could be afraid and do it anyway.
I started the publishing prep work last spring. I hired an editor and researched cover artists. Then I purchased Vellum so I could format the interior myself and investigated options to improve my website and start a newsletter. I was nervous about the technical stuff, so I used YouTube to answer my questions, and when I got stuck, asked for advice in the WFWA indie author group. I love the writing community so much—the support has been invaluable. Having a connection to other writers is what was missing when I launched my first two books. Throughout the summer, I formatted my book, co-created my cover with a designer (my concept, her artistry), built a new website on Wix (easy and intuitive), and started a newsletter on Mailerlite. The most impactful step I took was to learn about TikTok and Instagram reels. I joined both apps last April and followed the advice I got to post one video per day. I’m glad I did such a big experiment to see what worked and what didn’t because that knowledge came in handy when it was time to launch my book. 2 weeks before LIFE OF CYN was released at the end of December, I wound up with a bunch of viral promo videos on TT and IG. Several of them got 4,000-6,000 views (with 20% engagement in the form of likes or comments), and one promo on Instagram got 52,000 views.
On December 27th, I released my 3rd book to rave reviews (from ARC readers I acquired by posting promos on TikTok) and the biggest sales I’ve ever seen. On day 3, LIFE OF CYN hit #1 Drama in new releases on Amazon. In the first month, I sold more than double the number of books that I did for each of my other books in their first year. I have 33 reviews so far, and 75% are 5 stars. I had my release party at the same local bookstore that held my last one, and they sold out of their copies and had to dip into mine. Best of all, I get $5 in royalties for every paperback and hardcover sold on Amazon and $3 for each eBook. I’ve also had 4,000 page reads on Kindle Unlimited in the first month. That’s equivalent to 10 full books. In total, I’ve sold 212 copies the first month, mostly paperbacks and hardcovers, and have earned back half of what I spent to produce the book (@ $1900). It has also led to sales on my last book that I took back from the hybrid publisher, and now I get all the royalties on it.
What did you like best?
I love the interactions I’ve had with readers due to the rabble-rousing nature of my topic. Many people, including several total strangers, have reached out to tell me how much my book has influenced what they plan to do differently in their lives moving forward. That is enormous, and I always give those people my full attention. It happened this morning; a total stranger reached out to talk, and we chatted via messenger all morning. The topic of sex assault is universal, it affects men and women in every country around the world, but my marketing approach to the topic has been unique. I out my rapist and talk openly about what he did when I promote my book. Here’s the backstory: I outed my assailant in 2015 on Facebook and learned of 9 other victims from my high school in 24 hours. (All the assaults happened in the early ’90s.) The only bad thing that happened to him in 2015 was that his fiancée broke off their engagement when she heard the news. So, I set out to write a fictional story about a woman who goes after her rapist 20 years after the fact and manages to do everything I wish ‘we’ could’ve done to ‘ours.’ That’s the hook. And the way I’ve badgered my assailant online appeals to male and female readers alike, who are gobbling it up in 1-2 days. That’s my second favorite thing about this experience.
What was the hardest part?
Starting the process of building my website (to cut down on cost) and my newsletter. I was intimidated and thought I couldn’t do it, which gave me anxiety. But it was relatively easy, and I finished the website over one weekend. I also didn’t enjoy the process of dealing with Ingram for the first time. It was less intuitive than Amazon, with worse customer service. But I’ve sold 57 books thru Ingram in the first month and made it to their top 10 in dramas in December and January, so it was worth the minor frustration.
Would you do it again?
Absolutely! This experience has been so rewarding because it was challenging and scary, but I did it anyway. The amount of royalty I get for each book is a huge enticement to keep self-publishing. And the fact that the industry professionals thought my book wouldn’t work due to its genre but were wrong, makes me second-guess their value.
What advice do you have for authors just starting?
I recommend getting involved with the Twitter writing community, which has been great for gathering information. You don’t need TikTok and IG until you’re closer to the time when you’ll be promoting your book. It’s better to wait until you are ready to only post about author-related stuff so you don’t confuse the algorithm. There are tricks to learn about the algorithm, but plenty of people on TikTok share those pointers.
Caitlin Avery writes about women whose lives are amiss and can’t resist dangerous impulses. She's the author of the award-winning adventure/thriller, The Last Cruz, its up-and-coming sequel, Grief and Grace, and soon-to-be released women’s fiction, Life of Cyn. Her first book, a coming-of-age memoir, is called Lightning in my Wires. When she's not inventing transformative adventures for her readers, she loves to indulge in them. A triathlete, mountain biker, backpacker, black-diamond skier, and yoga enthusiast, she lives outside of Boston with her husband and son, and the cat and dog who rescued her.
Follow her on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, or Twitter as Caitlin Avery Author.
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