#AutismReads in April. $1.68 per book

One in 68 kids has autism, according to 2010 data released today. (CDC, Disability Scoop)

Two years ago, it was one in 88. Two years before that, one in 110. In 2002, it was 1 in 150, meaning prevalence has more than doubled in barely more than a decade.

That’s a lot of kids. Too many. Yet as I learned when I spoke to a literary society a few months ago, plenty of people still don’t personally know anyone with autism.

Climbing steeper and steeper.

Autism prevalence keeps climbing. Graph of CDC data excludes most recent 1-in-68 update.

Most have some grasp of autism’s typical symptoms — difficulty communication and socializing, adherence to routines and repetitive movements. But how that looks and what that means is vague, and too often everyone gets the Rain Man tag.

That’s too bad, because autism spectrum disorder is exactly that — a huge range of ability and functionality. And it’s knowing someone personally that shifts people from stereotyping to understanding, as typical students participating in a peer-to-peer program at a high school in my town share in this video.

Absent a personal relationship, one of the best ways to learn about autistic people is to read. So in light of these new statistics, released on the eve of Autism Awareness Month, I’m launching #AutismReads and inviting fellow authors of books about autism, or autistic characters, or who are autistic themselves, to join in.

What does that mean? For the month of April, I’m reducing the Kindle price of my novel, Sparrow Migrations, to $1.68. Why? Lower price >> more buyers >> more readers >> more understanding of autism.

It’s also kind of adapting Marshall McLuhan’s saying that the medium is the messageContent does matter though, and from events like the literary society appearance as well as the nearly 200 reader reviews I’ve received (Amazon, Goodreads), I know people are learning about autism from Sparrow MigrationsAs I did when I read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, John Elder Robison’s Look Me In the Eye, Temple Grandin’s Emergence: Labeled Autistic and Lisa Genova’s Love Anthony.

There’s plenty more great books, of course. So starting Tuesday, April 1, I invite authors to join me on Twitter for #AutismReads, $1.68 per e-book, if possible. Many don’t control their prices, but to those who do, please consider changing your e-book price to $1.68. Tweet me (@carinoga) and I’ll RT to spread the word. (See the list, updated daily, here.)

Collectively, this April, we can do more than be aware. We can learn. We can think, and change and grow.

- The letter O brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.






Successes and lessons, one year after self-pubbing

Last weekend my daughter lost her first tooth. I knew she’d anticipated this, but not nearly the order of magnitude. It happened at a restaurant, and they gave her one of those little salad dressing cups with a

Extra, extra - she lost her first tooth.

Extra, extra – she lost her first tooth.

lid to keep it safe for the Tooth Fairy. Shaking it like a maraca, my downright giddy five-year-old began flagging down passing waitstaff and approaching complete strangers at neighboring tables to show it off. (They were kindly indulgent.)

While I don’t have the prop, I’m borrowing her full-throttle, complete disclosure attitude for today’s post. A year ago today Sparrow Migrations went up for sale on Amazon in Kindle and paperback (also available in select stores!) One of the great things about the self-publishing community is the trend toward disclosure. From launch-day to-do lists to sales figures, it’s probably out there.

For me, the big asterisk is that self-publishing is dominated by genre authors: mystery, science fiction/fantasy and romance, and series authors. As a non-genre author of a single novel, much of the available information isn’t directly relevant to me. So I’m offering up my experience as a self-pubbed literary author, emphasizing what worked and what didn’t in terms of promotion and marketing.

My backstory: Like many, I chose self-pubbing after trying the trad route (find an agent, who then finds a publisher) unsuccessfully. My goals:

  • To have fun (check)
  • Learn something (check-plus)
  • Break even financially by the end of the 2013 calendar year (not yet, though at the one-year mark I’m 60 percent there.) 

Best promotional values, hard copy

Unlike a lot of self-pubbed authors, I’ve had more financial success with my hard copy (352 total copies sold) than my e-book (250 copies sold). Combined, that puts me at more than 100 books over average, according to this decade-old article, which doesn’t differentiate between self- and trad-pubbed, and more than double the self-published average, according to this article. Here’s how:

  • Taking any public speaking gig within 50 miles to an audience of readers (writers, alas, not so much.) Word of mouth from my own mouth is without a doubt the surest route to sales. When I sell my hard copy direct, I also make $10/book, as opposed to about $4/book for a store sale. I’ve spoken to women’s clubs, book clubs, at conferences and at libraries. The time and travel constraints of public speaking are obvious, which is why the next two are important…
  • Horizon Books and Brilliant Books - I’m fortunate to have two fantastic indie bookstores in my town, and I worked to cultivate relationships there. Before I was ready to sell I went into both and asked them to carry it. With Horizon I had a history from publishing my trad nonfiction book several years ago. A staff member there even agreed to be a beta reader. Brilliant is much newer but keen on local authors. They provided welcome guidance on my price point, $2 higher that what I originally set it. I’ve done events at both (readings and straight signings, readings went better.)
  • Postcards aimed at readers – Have something to hand potential readers you encounter. It’s not complicated. Cover art on one side, boiled-down back cover copy, event and where to buy info. Pre-launch, I got 1,000 postcards from a local printer for $156. Those helped get customers in the stores for events, and reminded those who couldn’t make it that the the book existed.

Best promotional values, e-book:

For me, e-book = Kindle. I’m no longer enrolled in KDP Select and eventually I hope to get onto other platforms, but for this first year I stuck with the 800-pound gorilla mostly so I could do their giveaways.

Giving your book away is less effective than it used to be due to changes on Amazon’s end that isolate free book rank from paid book ranks. Still, my best sales months have followed my two giveaways, my reviews soared, and my findability improved. Now, when you type Sparrow Migrations into Amazon’s search bar, I’m the second book (behind Red Sparrow) to pop up. Which is important, because, as they say:

The modern-day needle in a haystack.

The modern-day needle in a haystack.

Giveaway I: June 4-9, 2013: 5,446 downloads. June sales: 60. Amazon reviews increased from 16 to 39. Average rating 4.6/5 stars.

Giveaway II: Jan. 14-18, 2014: 33,642 downloads. Jan sales: 44. Feb. sales: 41. To date in March: 10. Reviews increased from 39 to 148. Average rating remains 4.6. Noticeable bump in Goodreads “want to read” numbers as well.

Among other free book sites, I listed both giveaways on FreeBooksy. I just was on the site and it looks like they may have changed the terms to not free for authors. When I did it, it was free, though they have to pick your book, so it’s not guaranteed. For other free listing sites, check out the tool on Author Marketing Club that lists 20-plus.

For the January giveaway (which was timed to the fifth anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson, the real-life starting incident of the novel), I advertised on BookBub. It cost me $110. I was ecstatic at the 33,600 downloads, thinking my paid sale spike would be proportionate to that which followed the June giveaway (which was not timed to coincide with anything), meaning ~330 books sold in the next month. Sadly, it wasn’t. But the $2.09/book royalty I receive more than covered my costs, and so far, it appears that giveaway has a longer tail, making BookBub worth it for me. NOTE: You can advertise non-free books on BookBub, but the rates are much higher. So when I went back to paid I tried….

Fussy Librarian – This is a newer e-mail service that delivers free and discounted deals to readers who sign up. The distribution is a lot smaller than BookBub’s. Then again, it’s free to authors.* I signed up for their literary fiction list and bought one. My full-price ($2.99) listing ran in late February and I think it’s contributed to that longer tail effect that’s had me on roughly a sale-per-day pace. (Update, 3/30/14: It’s no longer free, but it’s darn cheap, either $1 or $3 for a listing.)

So far in 2014 I’ve sold 101 Kindle copies, compared to 149 for the nine and a half months Sparrow was available in 2013. The needle’s moving in the right direction, anyway.

Jury’s out

  • Goodreads giveaway – In July I gave away ten hard copies and spent $100+ for books and postage. One key mistake was opening the giveaway to Canadian readers. Each book + postage to the four Canadian recipients cost me more than the $14.95 retail cost of the book. If I’d limited it to U.S., I’d rank the success higher. Some 781 people entered the giveaway, which helped my “want to read” numbers. Only four of the recipients have provided a review, which is encouraged by the site. They could still come through, though, and I believe Goodreads membership overlaps well with my target reader. Hence the jury’s still out.
  • Library database subscription – I paid $29 for this but haven’t used it. Libraries are nice customers for self-pubbed authors because they don’t demand the same discounts or returns that bookstores do. So I may yet get around to using this. But it’s an important lesson to plan before you spend either time or money.

Worst values

  • Plover Pilgrimage – Knowing how series authors dominate self publishing success stories, I contrived a second book by excerpting four chapters into their own self-contained story. It works for both adults and readers as young as middle grade, so I added illustrations. I love the book, the cover and the illustrations. The artist generously gave me the originals and they’ll look beautiful framed on my office wall someday. But the book’s not done anything sales-wise, and constituted 11 percent of expenses. Lesson learned.
  • Trade journal print advertising – Aimed at bookstores, which, as mentioned, are set up to put unknown self-pubbed authors at a disadvantage. Hand-carry your books into the stores you know yourself and skip advertising in PW Select.
  • Out-of-town bookstore signings – Without any community recognition to provide marketing oomph, my three-store experiment leads me to conclude it’s a waste of time and gas.

Biggest miss:

Not having a mailing list sign up on my Kindle file prior to the BookBub giveaway. What I wouldn’t give to be able to reach those 33,600 readers directly! Not all would have signed up, of course, but even 1 percent would be 336 people to contact when my next book’s ready.

Hope this helps another author. What experiments have you found success or steered away from?

Light at the end of the tunnel

For the last month, I’ve worked on this tunnel through a snowbank in our front yard. First I’d chisel away IMG_0541at one side, then switch to the other. Last night, digging away on the far side, where the truck is, I thought I saw the porch light glimmering through, from the other side.

I jabbed the shovel harder. The glimmer grew brighter. Jabbing it again, for the first time in a month I encountered no resistance as the last crust of snow crumbled and my shovel blade sliced into the void of the tunnel’s other side. 

To say I was elated is an understatement. I hollered to my daughter, who was outside, to try it out. I went inside and fetched my husband and son. Gratifyingly, the latter abandoned his video game to come out and wiggle through. I chiseled a little more until I, too, could crawl through it. We were having such a good time I relaxed my usual rigid adherence to bedtime to stay out and play a half-hour longer. Even when we came in, for at least an hour, the grin was stuck on my face, just like on Owen’s truck.

What’s that all about? Why was I, a 44-year-old mother of two, with a job and a mortgage and a seat on a non-profit board, feeling triumphant that I managed to dig a six-foot tunnel through a snowbank?

To answer, I think back over the last year and a half. After two-plus years of making steady gains in coping with our son’s autism, we hit a plateau about 16 months ago. Especially in terms of his academic progress, that last crust of snow has refused to give way. No light has glimmered at the end of the tunnel, despite trying multiple different tools (ABA therapy for him, parental training for us, medication trials and dosage adjustments that wound up sending us back to baseline, resuming weekly occupational therapy, and more.)

Until, coincidentally, about a month ago. We tried a new ADHD medication. I have saved on my phone the e-mail from his teacher, less than two weeks after starting: “Today was the best day this year.” Anxiety is down, interaction is up and both his work habits and his academic performance are markedly improved.

We finally broke through the barrier, in other words. Just like my shovel did. Only it wasn’t until that metaphorical moment that I realized how frustrating and agonizing these last 16 months have been.

We were approved for formal ABA therapy a year ago. That’s the gold standard for autism treatment, the thing which all the insurance battles are fought for. The therapy we had paid out of pocket for previously, on a limited basis, until that therapist left. We got a new therapist lined up and prepared for an intensive summer.

But ABA didn’t work. For whatever cocktail of reasons, the gold standard was a clinker for us.

We tried to put that disappointment behind us last fall. After all, this school year was supposed to be the payoff year. In 2011 we chose a Montessori school –pushing back against conventional wisdom–for our son specifically because the multi-age classrooms would minimize transitions. He did well his kindergarten year in a primary classroom. Because he entered primary at the top of the age range, he moved to a new teacher for first grade in 2012. Bad fit. We floundered for a month before requesting a new teacher, his current teacher, where he thrived.

Unbeknownst to us then, however, that was the beginning of the plateau, the last truly positive step forward. Last fall, he returned to her room. But instead of a payoff, we found that substantial academic regression occurred over the summer. All this year has been spent trying to catch up. Which sets up the agonizing. Was the conventional wisdom correct? Did we make the wrong call, school-wise? Was ABA a mistake? Was it the medication? Should we have hung in there longer? Should we have cut our losses sooner? 

As I learned yesterday, all you can do when the questions dog you is keep digging. They say when you’re in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

Or, you can keep at it. Working both ends, with different tools. A shovel, a scrap two-by-four, two of your kids’ toy bats. Being patient. Waiting for it to warm up a little, then putting some energy into it.

And lo and behold, there is light. And it is beautiful.

- The letter F brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.