It was the year of Grey Bastards and Senlin … a cold yet inspiring year. The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, founded by author Mark Lawrence and judged by ten blogs, proved to be a life-changing contest even for authors whose books didn’t reach the Finals. Though it’s usually pronounced “Spifbo,” I’ve always preferred to recite the acronym SPFBO like it’s some combination of sunscreen and deodorant. Maybe that’s part of why I was cut in 2016.
Back in my day, there wasn’t an official Semifinal round. Some of the ten judges in SPFBO 2 posted reviews of a few books they were dealt before submitting one to the Finals. The Qwillery was kind enough to include mine, A Facet for the Gem (The Tale of Eaglefriend Book One), in a post with four other titles.
My book did not advance to the Finals. I fell back into the seductive embrace of selling it with Amazon Lockscreen Ads and Facebook Ads, and the sales I scored gave me an intoxicating endorphin buzz. Then came the jarring splash of ice water to restore my senses. Did you know it’s a good practice to weigh your book royalties against your ad spending? LOL.
Having to dial back my ads and watch SPFBO progress without me, I was picked up in other ways—like when Podium Audio successfully approached me for the audiobook rights to my now-complete four-book epic fantasy series. Then, the BookBub Featured Deal drew my gaze, and I couldn’t look away. Each title to earn that once-in-a-blue-moon spotlight climbed Amazon’s Bestseller lists, and I pictured the author lying back while servants hand-fed them glistening bunches of grapes and sizzling mutton on skewers.
I landed that coveted Featured Deal in 2017, and though I was sworn to secrecy about the grapes-and-mutton-treatment that I definitely got, I can reveal other details. Priced at 99c across all bookstores, my one and only book at that time sold over 1,300 eBooks in thirty-six hours. This drove me to become highly proficient in using the BookBub Ads you can run every day, and to discover that I need at least eight books published for my approach to be economically viable. I’m willing to bet many of you reading this already do have at least that many books on the market, and I’d love to hear from you, plus anyone else who finds this post intriguing. Much more to discuss than book sales (keep reading).
I’d be happy to offer friendly advice based on my six years of testing 1,144 BookBub Ads. My thousands of clicks now gain a new reader with about every ten clicks. If you have a larger series than mine, or multiple series to cross-promote, you could see a sustainable spike in your full-priced sequel sales.
This is me trying to pull a Dennis Reynolds and demonstrate my value to the community in more ways than writing thrilling epic fantasy adventures. I want to help. I have much to learn from you. Let’s be friends.
Which brings me back to SPFBO. The contest enables meaningful connections between observers, authors no longer in the running, and others still in play. There’s a wealth of knowledge and good karma that can be a prize unto itself. Though I like to call this business the “Publishing Game,” it’s not a competition. When I write great fantasy books, it makes readers hungry for more great fantasy books, and then they find yours, and after they’ve devoured yours, they come back to me and my newest title. The hard part is putting our books in front of enough readers who’ll enjoy them, when they have millions to choose from. I’ve learned to use paid advertising to surgically target these readers, and my sales with (mostly) positive reviews prove I’m doing something right. Without paid ads, though, my sales flatline—a hurdle I’d love to leap.
KDP Sales: April 29th – July 26th, 2023. Notice the drop when I relied only on Facebook Ads, and when I paused BookBub July 23rd. I was exclusive to Amazon (for Kindle Unlimited) this whole time.
Aug 1st – Oct 16th, 2023. These sales are a result of my one and only BookBub Ad. About 10% of my clicks bring a sale of Book One at 99c, and 20% of those who buy Book One at that price buy the whole series in one click.
I didn’t contribute enough during my brief stint in SPFBO 2 to reap the good karmic rewards that others did. I was obsessed with my dream of finishing my four-book series while sharpening my bookselling skills. I don’t regret those pursuits, which led to the completion of my best work through some trying years. I’d like to maximize the usefulness of my time and energy in ways that benefit this community, five years into my cancer battle that started when I was 29.
Throughout most days of October 2018, I was coughing up blood and shivering through fevers. In early November, when I could no longer explain this away as bronchitis while I determinedly plunged into the final three chapters of Eaglefriend Book Two, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer that had metastasized to my liver and lungs. The cancer caused blood clots to develop in my left leg, which led to a pulmonary embolism. Luckily, one of several doctors I saw in the early part of that month had the sense to rush me to the ER, and the hospital kept me for six days to administer chemo and blood thinners. An MRI at that time showed that my brain was clear.
Nine months later, after six cycles of chemo, I was just getting back to those final three chapters of Book 2. My doctor was preparing me for two cycles of high-dose chemo, each of which would wipe out my bone marrow and require me to stay in the hospital for three weeks, so that my own extracted stem cells could be administered to me in order to restore my system.
I had a double-headed plastic device implanted in the left side of my chest. The morning after that surgery, this device was hooked up by plastic tubing to a machine that rapidly circulated my blood, collecting my stem cells. I was reading The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss during this hours-long procedure, and when we’d collected about half of what we needed, the procedure triggered two seizures that forced us to stop. An MRI later that day showed two brain tumors. But at least those chapters from Rothfuss were damn good. That Kvothe sure gets in a lot of new jams just to bail himself out of older jams, eh?
One week later—about to meet a neurosurgeon to discuss swiftly blasting both brain tumors with radiation—I finished writing the Ferotaur King chapter of Book Two. This was the chapter my diagnosis interrupted nine months prior.
With only two chapters to go, the larger tumor hemorrhaged to double its size, putting me in the hospital with more seizures. Another week later, we hit the tumors with radiation, and I finished writing Book Two. After going on to complete my two cycles of high-dose chemo and stem cell transplants, I published Eaglebreakerin January 2020.
I’ve been clear of cancer for close to three years now, but the brain inflammation from two radiation cycles remains a problem that causes occasional seizures. Still, my urgency to reveal the fullness of my characters drove me to finish Books Three and Four by age 33. The medication I’ve taken for years to contain the radiation decay is corroding my bones to the point where I recently needed my left hip replaced. To clean up that radiation decay, open brain surgery is next on the docket. We’ll be going into it with detailed imaging, but the surgeon still has to hook up electrodes to my exposed brain and zap different areas of it to “map” which brain matter should stay and which should go. I asked them to remove the part that remembers the Game of Thrones final season and Fly episode of Breaking Bad.
Once I’ve recovered from that, we’ll replace my right hip since that too is deteriorating. Then, dare I say … I might be better than ever.
Meanwhile, what do I do when this tangled medical web gets too sticky? I keep writing, and sell a bunch of my published books, broadcasting the best of myself out into the cosmos to dwarf these temporary misfortunes. The positive feedback from those who find my creations worthy of their attention is medicine in my veins.
I’m close to mastering book advertising on a large scale. Between BookBub, Facebook, and Amazon Ads, I could easily spend at least $5,000 a month. But again, this would only be economically feasible if I had at least eight books in my series (working on Book Five now).
I’d love to rack up good karma on a massive scale. Annoying thing about karma is you’re supposed to give without asking in return. So, let me end with this: I have years’ worth of knowledge and experience that can put many authors in front of a large, enthusiastic audience. Come say hi on one of my social media profiles listed below, so we can learn from each other.
If my upcoming surgery is successful, and I do forget the final season of Thrones, feel free to just make up a different ending. And if we end up talking Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul, please respect that I’ve named everything under that umbrella the Heisenverse.
- L. Murray is the author of the four-book epic fantasy series, The Tale of Eaglefriend, and is happily writing new books that stand alone in that world. Join his excited 1,000 followers on Facebook.
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