Before Bridget E. Baker started writing and publishing YA dystopian and adult contemporary romance, she practiced as a lawyer. Today, she’ll talk about writing in different genres, writing an 80k- word novel in 6 days, and being fearless with Facebook advertising (she’ll share real numbers). As of press time, her highest KU page reads in one day has been 68,600.
This is Part 1 of 2. Read Part 2 here.
Q. Did you grow up thinking you would be a writer?
A. I grew up thinking I’d be President. Seriously, my parents were the kind that said, “You can do anything,” and I believed them. I had utterly unrealistic expectations. I thought I’d be a famous singer, with a perfect body and face, who wrote books, and was President while riding horses bareback.
Q. Hey, it’s not too late!! I hope you run for president someday. I would support you. Sounds perfectly doable, Bridget. Considering all your energy, if we could only bottle a fraction of that. Where did the writing come in, then?
A. When I could barely get a part in the high school musical, I realized that I might have been aiming a little high. In fact, I was in voice lessons and my voice teacher was the first person to ever ask me if I’d considered being a lawyer. I think I was 12. I thought, no, but maybe that’s a good way to go. They talk and write, right?
As to when the writing came in: I’ve read voraciously since I was five. I read my first chapter book in kindergarten, and it was about horses. I continued to stay up way past my bedtime with a flashlight all the way through high school. I spent as much time reading as I could. But I never considered writing novels until after I graduated from college and started law school. I was buried in legal work and I thought, hmmm, I wonder if I could blob out a book. I really thought it would be that easy.
Q. So you went to law school.
A. I started college as a major in public relations. I realized quickly that was not what I wanted to do (mopping up other people’s messes and playing clean up for problems.) So I changed to English. That lasted a semester, and I switched to political science and decided to do law school. I graduated from BYU undergrad in 2 years and began law school at the age of 19.
Q. 19…that is impressive. Tell me about that first book experience. What did you learn from it?
A. Oh man, I thought I was so smart I didn’t need to do anything to prepare. I figured I’d sit down and write the next great American novel. So… I imagined all the things I wish would happen to me… and wrote them all down. It was literally the worst book ever. I had no idea that all books, to be great, needed CONFLICT. I did about as well writing that first book as I would have done trying to build a table. (Which would have been a big piece of wood, screwed onto four blocks of pointy wood, all purchased at Home Depot.)
Q. I take it that book was shelved?
A. Oh Jewel. I wish I’d shelved it. I shopped it and shopped it and tried and tried to query that poor, gosh awful book. I tried for like 2 years. I couldn’t figure out why my query never worked. I kept revising the book and then rewriting the query all over again. I liken it to trying to polish a piece of poop. It did not work.
It was never going to work. I finally went to a writers’s conference where an agent (bless her heart!) told me… “I think maybe the BOOK is the problem, not the query.”
I had written a SECOND BOOK (equally bad!) before I decided to read a pile of craft books. VOILA! A light went off in my head. THE BOOK is the problem!
Q. Well, but you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t tried, right? So fast forward. I understand that your dystopian series, Sins of our Ancestors, nearly landed you a traditional publishing deal. Can you tell me about that journey?
A. So after reading craft books, I wrote Marked. I queried and had my choice of a few agents. I signed with Carrie Pestritto (Prospect Agency at the time.) She and I revised it for a while (probably too long) and then shopped it.
It went to acquisitions at a big publisher, but in the end, although the editor loved it, the publisher said their list was too full of dystopian-esque books and they couldn’t buy another. We shelved that book and I was SO sad about it.
Q. What year did you start writing it and what year did you sign with her?
A. I wrote Marked in early 2013 and I signed with Carrie in early 2014. We shopped it end of 2014, which was about a year too late, I think. We shopped a Middle Grade book, which scholastic almost bought. Then we shelved that. Then we shopped another book, which I’ll be releasing later this year. It went to acquisitions.
I shelved Marked entirely. Never looked back at it. Carrie said we couldn’t sell it. I tried to convince her to try again. I think it was hard for me to process that with traditional, they don’t care at all about your hopes and dreams. Not one whit. They want to know what they can sell.
Q. Well, obviously, you made the move to self-publish it. How did you make that jump?
A. We came SO CLOSE to selling my third book with her. (My fifth I’d written.) It was YA contemporary fantasy (or YA sci-fi) take your pick. It almost sold to Harper Collins. And then we could have sold it to middle range press, but I was too snobby to make the changes they wanted. That ticked my agent off.
When she changed agencies, she couldn’t take all her clients with her, and since I’d said no on that small deal, I think, she didn’t take me. I had sent her three more books she hadn’t read, AND I had a book currently on submission. (The third one was with Abrams who had asked for an R&R).
Suddenly I was adrift. I decided to shop one of my new three books my agent hadn’t looked at. I sent out 75 queries and got 38 full manuscript requests. I knew I’d find a new agent…but when I went to the Storymakers conference in May… I talked to Elana Johnson and a few other people. Then I found the Writing Gals and I decided I was sick of my book babies that I knew were decent sitting on shelves for market reasons. I thought I’d start with my worst book, my weakest per the market, Marked.
I went ahead and released it to try and learn how self-publishing worked. I banged out the second and third books in that series and released them all, one month apart.
Q. Why the weakest?
A. I started with my weakest for a few reasons. Number one: I wanted it to see the light of day. I thought it was a decent story… but I knew that if I started with the better story, I’d never come back and release one that wasn’t as good. I figured it would be a good one to learn with.
Q. How is that series doing? Can you share numbers?
A. What kind of numbers do you want? I’m pretty open with everything.
Q. Probably from start to where it started to take off due to x factors.
A. Hmm. I spent a LOT on it. And I had self-publishing startup costs. So I spent about $4k in startup costs. AMS Ads class, Facebook ads class, reader links, book funnel, Mailer lite, KDP Rocket, Vellum, ISBNs (I bought 100) and on and on. I spent about $5k on the series between covers, promos and a Kirkus review, editing and whatnot. All told, NINE THOUSAND was a lot to try and repay.
I started with AMS ads and didn’t have much success. I released in September (15) and then second book was October 15, and third was November 15. I made about $500 in the first month, $400 the second month, and about $1000 the third month. I wasn’t seeing many page reads. I also released full price ($3.99) on all three.
Q. What month and year did you put the series out?
A. Last year. 2018. I also released my first clean romance on November 1. I had no idea what I was doing, but while writing it, I had an idea for a series. I started thinking maybe I’d do more. I had another book I’d written as a standalone and put it out in January. It was THIRD genre (STUPID!), a YA standalone suspense. Already Gone. I love that book… but for indies, in my opinion, you need more than one book in a genre you are staying in to build an audience.
A lot of people had told me that Christmas romances sold themselves and I should do one. I think that’s kind of… saturated at this point, but it was kind of fun. Anyhow, I tried AMS ads for Marked and only lost money. I made some on Finding Santa… but I didn’t contemplate the impact of having a Christmas first in series book. That was dumb, too!
Q. Let’s talk about being fearless for a moment. One of the things that has really impressed me about you on social media is how open you are about sharing your experiences. And how much you are willing to spend on advertising. Were you one of those kids who had to be talked to climb down a tree? Where do you get your fearlessness, I think is what I am trying to get at.
A. I have always been extremely open and loudmouthed about everything. It was the very reason I tried indie: the Writing Gals were open. I don’t believe anyone benefits from making decisions based on cloudy or inaccurate information. I strive to be open and completely honest about how my indie experience has been at all times.
I’m a bright raging red. I think that makes me pretty open and willing to talk. But beyond that, I want to be friends with people who will be honest with me about what works and what doesn’t. One of the things I hated about traditional was the veil of secrecy. People aren’t like that with plumbing. With electrical. With anything else, really. They own what they’re doing, their charges, their profit margin. I wish we could be more honest about what’s working and what isn’t. A rising tide lifts all ships, I really believe that.
One friend told me flat out, “I don’t read, Bridget. I don’t even like books.” I said, “NO problem. I don’t want to push my friends into reading when they don’t want to.” (I asked her to join my ARC team.)
She then looked my book up on Amazon… and read a sample chapter. She came back and said, “I haven’t read a book since Twilight, but I LOVED your opening chapters. can you send me the book after all? She ended up reading the entire series and got into the habit of reading at night. Guess what I have now? Not just a reader for me. I have a reader for life, who loves to read, but needed to find books that she liked. I think we are all like that.
Q. That is fantastic. I’m glad you didn’t give up. So let’s talk about advertising on Facebook. We both joined Anne-Marie Meyer’s Facebook advertising class and I have been following your success there. What is your best advice to someone that wants to level up with advertising, based on your experience so far? Maybe give an entry level scenario up to a risk-taking scenario. As in, investment versus return.
A. Okay, so the hard thing about ads is this. You can take a class. You can take a dozen classes. You need to find what works for YOU. So my advice to those who want to succeed is this: Pick a course and take it so you understand how the tools work. You can pick AMS or FB. AMS is a kind of… run itself thing. It gives you very little data, but it requires very little work on your part.
Q. I get the impression though that even without a class, you would have jumped into advertising anyway.
A. Facebook gives you a METRIC TON of data, but it requires a LOT or experimentation. And a LOT of tracking.
The other suggestion I have is: Pick your budget. If you can spend $500 a month, stick to that. If you can spend $1000 a month, stick to that. Assume you will LOSE IT ALL in month one. Hope to break even in month two. Assume you’ll be profiting by month three. For me, I made a profit of $500 in month one. But I spent $1,000. (I made $1500 back.)
Q. Was that on one book? Or more?
A. I started with ads on THREE BOOKS. My standalone suspense. My Marked series and my romance, which was branded as Christmas and the only one out. I did a lot of dumb stuff. I let bad ads run.
Q. What do you mean with bad ads?
A. I consider a bad ad to be one on a single book, that’s first. I only make a good profit if I get read through. Books don’t sell for a high enough profit margin for indies … so you’d need a VERY low click rate and a VERY high conversion to make one book profitable.
I wish I hadn’t run ads at all until my entire series was out. I get 75% read through on Marked. (Which is pretty high, actually.)
Number two: I had my ads set up wrong. I made my goal IMPRESSIONS once on accident. I had like a $2 cost per click and I let it run for DAYS hoping it would improve. DUMB.
Q. And for the benefit of those that don’t do ads, the lower the CPC the better right?
A. YES so FB gives you a lot of information. They give you cost per click, total interactions, they give you which ad image, which ad text is doing better. There are a lot of metrics, but the only one I worry about is the OUTBOUND cost per click. So my cost per click is pretty low on just people who “click” on my ad or interact. I only ever care about how many people are inspired to click to my LANDING page.
Q. You have been sharing a lot of your page read data on Kindle Unlimited lately. What has been your highest page reads day so far?
A. Marked has been out for like 7 months at this point, so I attribute pretty much all sales to FB ads because I’m not doing anything else. My KU reads finally skyrocketed with my ads. My highest page read day yet was 68,600 or so, a few days ago.
Q. Wow. On how many books again?
A. I have 7 books out right now.
Q. Can you tell me what results you have been seeing so far?
A. I can show you those too, the page reads and when I started tracking.
To continue to Part 2 which has Bridget’s FB advertising numbers, click here.