The Year of Self-Publishing

Whether you’re still on the fence with how you feeling about self-publishing, or if you’re 100% for it or 100% against it, it would be hard to argue that 2012 was not the year self-publishing became a legitimate force in the market. This has been brewing for a couple of years (see: Amanda Hocking and John Locke), but 2012 – with a little indie book called 50 Shades of Grey and a “New Adult” sub-genre trying desperately to prove itself – we’ve seen several headlines that have read something like “Former Self-Published Author Lands 6-Figure Deal.”

The thing is, there are plenty of self-published authors who are perfectly happy to remain self-published authors. The headlines we see are about self-published authors becoming traditionally published, and that’s where I think other writers have been getting confused about how self-publishing should work. To the self-published authors who have enjoyed your experience and have no plans to go traditional unless a 6-figure deal lands in your lap, feel free to ignore this post. Or, if you do have plans to get an agent and try for a traditional publisher, just not with the book you self-pubbed, you can ignore this post too.

To the other writers out there who think that “Self-Pub to Traditional Deal” is the norm, pull up a chair.

I have no beef with self-publishing. I find it to be a separate entity from traditional publishing, with some notable titles crossing over from both sides. Mostly, I think the two can co-exist peacefully and separately. (It’s sort of like the Blue-Ray to traditional’s DVD. Each provide a way for you to be entertained. For consumers, having another source to get content is a good thing… made even better when they don’t have to choose and can use both.)

That’s why it’s disheartening to get so many queries for books the authors have already self-published. While agents have had more success with getting self-pubbed books sold to traditional publishers this year, it’s important to keep in mind that all of those books were the exceptions – not the rule.

Turning a self-published book into a traditional book deal still takes:
1) huge sales figures (over 5,000 copies sold at the very least)
2) a healthy online presence
3) glowing reviews from major publications (think Kirkus; not just someone with a book blog or a writer-friend, unless your writer-friend is Stephen King).

If you have all three of these things, chances are agents are going to find you and you don’t need to query. If you have one or two of these things, then query away and hope for the best. If you don’t have any of these things, it’s not the end of the world, but query a different project entirely.

Self-publishing has proven itself to be lucrative and viable, and the stigma of it has drastically lessened. I include myself among those who turned up their noses at it, and I’m proud to say I’ve changed my mind because writers have made it impossible for me not to. (Woo!)

But I’m still wary when I see writers – too many writers – query me with their self-published books. Despite my evolving opinion, the original reasons I didn’t like self-publishing end up rushing back to me. I have to wonder why the writer self-pubbed in the first place. Was it out of frustration with rejection? Did they think a self-pubbed book would get my attention? Or were they misled to believe that self-pubbing before querying is now the norm?

Don’t let success stories change your mind about your own career path. Remember that no one ever writes front-page articles about all of the people who don’t win the lottery. Stay true to what you want out of your writing career, and if you end up changing your mind about the best way to reach your audience, then be smart about how you make that switch. If you read about how a certain self-published book got a traditional book deal, you’ll rarely find it was because the writer queried an agent with that same project before it was ready to be seen.

Interview with Michelle Davidson Argyle

<!–[if !mso]> st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

My week of non-traditional publishing alternatives (as I am now calling self & indie publishing from now on) is coming to a close. Michelle Davidson Argyle is a name you’ve heard on the blog before. She’s the artist behind my awesome Glass Cases banner, and designed the covers of Tracy Marchini’s self-published titles. Michelle is also a writer of contemporary and literary fiction, and fantasy. Having started with self-publishing, she moved on to indie with Rhemalda (which Karen Amanda Hooper told us all about yesterday!).

Tell me about Cinders. What made you decide to self-publish it?

I wrote Cinders at a time when I was really frustrated with publishing and writing. I had quit my blog at the time and decided I wanted to write something just for me with no restraints, no goals, really, except to entertain myself. Cinders started as a short story and then grew into a novella. Halfway through writing it I decided I would self-publish it because as a contributor of The Literary Lab blog, we had a lot of readers asking us about self-publishing – and we really didn’t know what to tell them. 

So in a lot of ways, I wrote Cinders to self-publish it. I knew it stood a very small chance of making it traditionally. Agents don’t often look at novellas, especially as a debut piece, and publishers don’t see them as huge money-makers, either, so self-publishing seemed like a natural decision for the book. I am a photographer and love to design things, so the cover was a shoe-in, as well. I had a lot to learn, but the path has been a great one. 

At the time I published Cinders, I never intended to self-publish other works (and I haven’t so far, although I do have plans for a short story collection).
Did you query agents before deciding to self-publish? If so, how many/for how long?
I queried exactly two agents before self-publishing, but that was two years before I self-published, and I wasn’t very serious about it. I queried an agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and Nathan Bransford, both for my contemporary YA novel, The Breakaway, which is now coming out with Rhemalda Pubilshing in 2012. 

I’m embarrassed when I look back on those two queries. They were terribly done. I didn’t know what I was doing, and the book was far from ready. I knew that, too, and quickly changed my strategy to strengthening my writing. I knew it would be a few years before I was ready to publish.
What self-publishing service did you use?
I used CreateSpace.
Did you have to pay for their services?
My experience has been excellent with CreateSpace. Their quality is decent and their process is easy to use. CreateSpace is completely free unless you want to use their Pro Plan, which currently costs $39.00 up front and is $5.00 a year after that on each title. The Pro Plan gives you a larger royalty and brings the cost of your book way down. It was worth getting, at least for me. I think CreateSpace also offers services like editing and cover design and marketing for a fee. I didn’t use any of those services.
If I were to self-publish all my work exclusively, however, I would go with Lightning Source. They are a better fit for a long-term self-publishing career, and many small publishers (and even larger publishers for backlist titles, I’ve heard) use them.
Did you use outside editors for your work before self-publishing?
I contemplated hiring an editor for Cinders, but found out that one of my writing acquaintances online used to work as an editor. She volunteered to edit Cinders at no cost. She did an excellent job. I also put the book through extensive copyediting and several rounds of readers I’ve learned to trust and work well with over the years.
What did you do to publicize your book? How do you reach your target audience?
I gave away a lot of free books (print and ebook) as part of my blog tour, which lasted for one week when the book released. I’ve held contests, done interviews, and had a small launch party in my home. Reaching my target audience has been difficult, honestly. A lot of readers assume the book is young adult, but it’s more literary adult fantasy than anything else. For this reason the book has received some nasty reviews and misunderstanding because readers expected something completely different (namely a Disney fairy tale). I’m fine with that, but it’s made me think a lot about target audiences and book presentation.
Can you give a picture of how it sold? What percentage of royalties did you receive?
I receive 70% royalties on ebook Kindle copies sold through Amazon (in the U.S.) and a varying amount on print copies. CreateSpace charges a set fee on each sale depending on the page count, plus they take 40% of the list price. I currently have Cinders for sale at $6.99 for the print copy. This means I make $1.14 per sale on the U.S. site, but I have altered the price several times, so that amount has changed since I first released the book.
To date, I’ve sold 520 copies of Cinders in 14 months and made approximately $1,300. This includes all sales, including by-hand print book sales, ebook sales, and online print book sales through all channels. However, I’ve spent approximately $1,600 on the book (buying print copies, shipping free copies out, printing bookmarks, business cards, throwing a launch party, paying for the cover, the list goes on and on), so I haven’t actually made anything on the book yet.
To be completely honest, some days the amount of books I’ve sold seems high, some days extremely low. For my first book, however, and considering the true genre and that I’ve only barely released my second novel through a publisher, I’m happy with how it has sold so far.
Were there any unexpected challenges in self-publishing, things you didn’t expect would be so hard?
The emotional rollercoaster, mostly. The stigma against self-publishing (and yes, I believe there is currently still a stigma and there always will be a stigma to some degree) made it hard for me to feel on the same level in my own circle of author friends who were going with agents and getting huge deals and hitting bestseller lists and all that jazz. I felt very small and very different and it was hard for me to get used to the fact that I’d only sell a few copies of my book a week when other self-published and traditionally published authors were reporting about selling hundreds a week. What was wrong with my book? The cover was professional, the writing phenomenal, the reviews high, and I was pushing it at a steady pace. Still, I think when I realized how hard it is to self-publish a book, market a book, and keep writing books at the same time, I knew self-publishing wasn’t for me. I needed someone backing me up, rooting me on, and helping me market, even if just a little. It might be awful to say I need that validation from a publisher, too, but it’s true.
In all honesty, I’m not cut out to run my own business entirely by myself (I’m not sure many authors are). It was too much to do and too emotionally draining. Traditional publishing has been just as much work, but I have a wonderful publisher who acts as a safety net, a friend, and a financial supporter of my work. It makes all the difference to me.
What advice would you give writers who are considering self-publishing their work?
Understand that self-publishing your work is not an easier road than traditional publishing. It might seem easier, but in the long run, it isn’t if you’re expecting the same results as a traditionally published author. I believe it all evens out in the end. For the amount of work and time an author puts into starting their own self-publishing venture—if done professionally—just as much time and work could go into querying and selling a book to a bigger publisher.
I think too many writers are jumping onto the self-publishing wagon for the wrong reasons. They are either fed up with the traditional system and want to avoid all that waiting and frustration, or they think they’ll be an exception and hit it big like some of the self-publishing success stories out there. Those in the middle who do their research, take the time and money to do things professionally, and have realistic expectations, are the ones who will be happiest, I think. I’m just sad when I see someone self-publishing with any regret in their decision. It definitely needs to be something that is 100% yes!

You’ve since moved on to Rhemalda Publishing to publish Monarch. What made you decide to make the move to a traditional publisher?
Well, as I explained above, I never intended to keep self-publishing my work. If anything, I was going to self-publish two other novellas to go with Cinders, but I had no plans to self-publish anything after that, especially my longer works. I had Monarch waiting in the wings, close to querying, and when an author I had no connections to contacted me about reviewing Cinders and ended up loving the book, I looked into her traditional publisher (Rhemalda Publishing) and decided to submit Monarch to them.  Small publishers had been getting some good buzz at that time with Tinkers (a novella with a small press) winning the Pulitzer prize. I thought Monarch would be a good fit with a small publisher. I was right!
Did you consider trying to get an agent again to help guide you with signing a contract? If not, do you have a lawyer to handle them for you?
I did not consider getting an agent or a lawyer at that point in time, no.  The author I knew with Rhemalda Publishing had hired a lawyer to look at her contract, and since we had become friends by that time, she answered a lot of questions for me. My contract was very similar and I did not feel the need to spend money on a lawyer when Rhemalda was so open to answering any questions and negotiating certain items if I wanted. I’ve talked with several other Rhemalda authors since then who have hired lawyers to go over their contract for them and not one of them has had issues or any large concerns. I’ve signed two more contracts with Rhemalda now and I’m happy with all three.
Finally, tell us about Monarch. What other projects do you have lined up with Rhemalda?
Monarch is my adult thriller about a CIA spy who’s set up for murder and has only one place to go—an old flame named Lilian Love who owns the Monarch Inn. The book is told from three points of view and centers around shooting bullets, love, lies, and of course, butterflies! You’ll have to read it to find out how that all comes about.
As far as future projects, my contemporary young adult novel, The Breakaway, comes out fall 2012 from Rhemalda. It’s about a girl who’s kidnapped by a family of jewel thieves—and she’s not sure she wants to leave them, especially the one she’s falling in love with.
Then Bonded, my collection of fairy-tale themed novellas (including Cinders) will be released from Rhemalda spring of 2013. It includes a continuation (Cinders), a retelling (Thirds), and a prequel (Scales).
I’m very excited and very happy with my career and choices so far. It has been an exciting road! Thank you for inviting me to this interview, Sarah!
HUGE thanks to Michelle, and to all of the featured authors this week. Also, thanks to my readers. I hope you all learned a lot this week, and see that publishing is not black or white. 

I, for one, learned to let go of some of my prejudices against self-publishing. It’s not all angry rejectees and wannabe millionaires looking to “stick it to The Man.” There are real people with real talent who put in real effort to get their stories read, and isn’t that what we all do? There’s certainly room for self-publishing, indie publishing, and traditional publishing to live amongst each other. There’s no right way or wrong way; just the best way that works for you and your projects. 

No blog post on Monday, but we’ll be back to our regular Story Time schedule on Wednesday. Hope you all enjoy the long weekend!

Interview with Karen Amanda Hooper

There’s a bit of a hubbub about the terms “self-publishing” vs. “indie publishing.” Many self-pubbed writers refer to themselves as indie – implying they are independently publishing their work on their own. It’s “independent” in its truest definition. I understand where it comes from, but to me, the words can’t be interchangeable because the term “indie publishing” already exists. It refers to being published by an independent press, who is an established publisher but not a “Big 6” style corporate machine. 

Still, when you boil it all down I guess it’s just semantics. The term “indie” is changing, and since words develop new meanings all the time, I won’t argue with self-pubbed writers who call themselves indie. But! For the purposes of this blog (since it’s mine), indie will mean non-corporate and self-pub will mean self-pub. Thanks 🙂

Which brings me to Karen Amanda Hooper. Karen is not a self-published author, but rather an indie author in the old-school sense of the word. She doesn’t have an agent and while there are several independent publishers who won’t take unsolicited material, Karen found one who did. This week isn’t just about self-publishing, but about other viable options that go against tradition. I hope you all benefit from hearing her story, and learn about a third option you might not have considered before.

What do you write?
YA that blurs the line between fantasy and paranormal, and, of course, there’s always romance involved. My debut novel, Tangled Tides, is about an island girl turned into a mermaid against her will who discovers she’s the only soul who can save a world of merfolk, selkies, and sirens from becoming extinct—including herself and the sea monster she falls head over fins for.
Did you query agents before deciding to publish without one? If so, how many/for how long?
I did query agents before submitting to Rhemalda. I had to open my Agent Cupcakes folder (we call them cupcakes instead of rejections because they’re easier to stomach with a sweet name) and count the actual number. Here are my stats: 
Agents queried, 78 total. That was over a 10 month period in 2009. I received quite a few requests, a lot of form cupcakes, some nice personalized cupcakes, and a couple agents who requested the full but I never heard back from them (and yes, I did check in).

How did you hear about Rhemalda? What made you go with them?
Crazy story actually (sorry it’s so long). I shelved this manuscript in early 2010 after getting no offers of representation. By springtime I was querying a totally different project when a USA Today article came out saying how mermaids were the summer paranormal trend. A few writer friends sent me the link saying I should self-publish my mermaid story. I took it as a sign from the universe and figured why not? I never planned on querying it again so why not throw it out there while mermaids were popular. I contacted a couple friends who had self-published and asked for advice on how to educate myself on the process. One of those friends was Michelle Davidson Argyle. She had read some of my story and told me to submit it to her publisher. At the time I really thought I had no shot, but I submitted anyway. A few weeks later I got The Call. I was standing in NYC waiting for a cab outside of the RWA National Con (we were on our way to an agency cocktail party where a friend was about to sign with her agent). Rhemalda told me they loved my story and wanted to discuss some things with me to see if we were a good fit for each other. I wanted to scream with joy from the rooftops but I couldn’t steal my friend’s thunder. (She was literally minutes away from signing with her awesome agent!) So Rhemalda and I scheduled a phone call for the next day where we discussed lots of details, including a new title (thank goodness) and their vision and mine. I sat on the floor in a quietish hallway of Newark airport talking to Emmaline at Rhemalda for over an hour. They genuinely loved my story, they wanted to rush it to publication, and they made me feel like family. By the time we hung up I was so happy and excited that I called my mom in tears.
Do they have their own editors? If not, did you use any outside editors before submitting to them?
Yes, they have two fabulous editors, Kara Klotz and Diane Dalton. Diane is the editor for Tangled Tides.

What are they doing to promote your titles? 
Currently they have a Goodreads giveaway for U.S. readers and they’re hosting an International eBook giveaway as well. We’ve discussed promoting Tangled Tides through Goodreads and Facebook ads, possibly doing fun stuff like reading and signing at the Mermaid Convention in Las Vegas next summer, and hopefully signing at some writing conferences as well. And, of course, ARCs, a blog tour and exposure through Rhemalda’s website.

Do they have a formal contract? If so, did you have a lawyer review it before you signed?
They do have a contract and I did have a lawyer look it over. He had me question a couple points and Rhemalda patiently answered any and all of my questions and explained everything in detail until I was completely comfortable signing. They even added a special clause to accommodate my unique situation of signing one manuscript while another manuscript was still out with agents. Their contract is very author friendly.
Is Rhemalda also handling foreign, audio, merchandising, and film rights? Who has control of the subrights of your work?
Rhemalda handles the foreign and audio rights. I retained merchandising and film. If anyone approaches Rhemalda about subsidiary rights then we’ll negotiate a separate contract at that time.

Do you think you’ll still try to get an agent even after your experience with Rhemalda? Why or why not?
My honest answer: I don’t know. I always envisioned having an agent for my first deal and as a long-term teammate to guide and advise me throughout my career, but for now, the universe has led me down a different path. My experience with Rhemalda has been incredible so far. If all keeps going well then I’ll submit the sequel of Tangled Tides to them. However, a few agents and another publisher have a different manuscript of mine, so time will tell what will happen with that project. Rhemalda made it clear that they will be supportive of whichever route I end up taking.
What advice would you give writers who are considering finding a publisher without an agent?

It can be done. If I did it, anyone can. Oh, and expect the unexpected. It can come out of nowhere like a freight train and you’ve got to be ready to ride. 

For those of you who don’t know (and you might not because it was seeeeecret for a while), Karen is also part of a super cool YA blog team called YA Confidential, so do go check that out. 

Thanks again to Karen for sharing her publication story! Tomorrow we will end the week of interviews with Michelle Davidson Argyle, who has now been mentioned by two of our featured writers this week. (Not to mention she’s responsible to my awesome Glass Cases banner!) See you then.

Interview with Tracy Marchini

Self-Publishing Week continues with a visit from Tracy Marchini. As some of you may know, Tracy and I worked together at Curtis Brown, Ltd. when we were young and wide-eyed assistants. She was in the children’s department and then landed a real live literary agent of her own! Tracy’s roots (if you will) are in traditional publishing, and she took that knowledge with her when considering self-publishing. As you’ll see, she’s found a way to balance both and proves that there doesn’t need to be such a concrete divide between Traditional & Self.
How many agents did you query before landing one?
To be honest, I don’t really remember!  I’ve actually had two agents (though one was for a very brief point in time), so if you compile both searches, it was probably a bit over twenty or so.  My last agent and I parted ways when she was coming back from maternity leave and was consolidating her list.  I know a few authors who have terrible editor luck — every time they have a new book, their editor switches to a new house.  I am hoping that is not my destiny!  As someone who has worked at an agency, I certainly understand the value, and will probably start looking again in the near future.
What made you decide to self-publish as opposed to search for a new agent?
I had started working on Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms before my agent and I parted, but the book targets such a niche audience, that I figured it’d have a hard time attracting the attention of an agent or larger publisher.

I’d also been interested in exploring some alternatives to the traditional process, so I thought that Pub Speak would be a great opportunity for me to get my hands dirty and pub it myself.  The next day, I published Effie At The Wedding, a contemporary YA short story that had been waiting for an appropriate market for a while.
What was the first book you self-pubbed and what service did you use?
Pub Speak was the first, and I published directly to Amazon (using Kindle Direct Publishing), Barnes and Noble (using PubIt!) and Smashwords.  Through Smashwords, the book has been distributed to iTunes, Kobo, Diesel, Sony and Scrollmotion.  The print edition is being handled through CreateSpace, which is the print-on-demand arm of Amazon.

I’ve also commissioned cover art.  The covers of Pub Speak, Hot Ticket and Effie At The Wedding were all designed by Michelle Davidson Argyle.
What was your experience like? Did you have to pay for their services?
The above services are all distributors and retailers, so as the publisher of the books, I pay nothing up front*, retain all my rights to the material and receive a percentage of each book sold.  

So far, my experience has been positive.  The reporting is significantly different from traditional publishing.  Where a traditionally published author receives royalty statements every six months for the period that ended one to two months prior, I can see how many books I’ve sold in (almost) real-time through KDP and PubIt!.  (This is both a blessing and a curse!)  Smashwords pays on a quarterly basis, and their partners are a bit more like a traditional publisher, in that they pay in periods, and then you get paid when Smashwords pays out based on their quarters.

There’s certainly more leeway to react to changes in the market.  If you write a new book and want to add a sample of it to your current best-seller, it’s easy to update the file without having to take it off the market.  It’s equally easy to update the cover art, rework your blurb, experiment with the price or take the book off the market entirely.  (That said, owners that have purchased the book will not have it wiped from their devices.)

* I did pay CreateSpace $39 for extended distribution, so that the paperback editions of Pub Speak and Hot Ticket are available at retailers beyond Amazon.  There is also a charge for proofs.
What editorial process did your books go through, if any?
Hot Ticket went through several revisions with agents, and the version that’s on sale today is the version that was shopped to publishers.  My other books all go through a group of secret, trusted friends and editor/writer colleagues.
How many titles do you currently have published & what type of books are they? Are you planning to self-publish more?
You are my hero for asking this question.  ::A-hem.::
I currently have four works available:

Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms (Reference/Dictionary) – A collection of 400 publishing and contract terms.

Hot Ticket (Middle grade mystery) – Nancy Drew meets Harriet the Spy in this hysterical romp through the sixth grade.
Effie At The Wedding (YA short story) – Described by one reviewer as, “Sixteen Candles meets Bridget Jone’s Diary,” Effie has a thousand reasons why she’s not thrilled to be at her sister’s wedding — and the hideous bridesmaid’s dress isn’t even on the list.

Haunting At Heidelburgh Mansion: A Hot Ticket Short Story (Middle grade ghost story) – Juliet crashes the Un-Halloween party of the most popular girl in school, only to risk losing her best-friend to the headless bride.

I’m working on two projects currently:

The Engine Driver (YA short story) – Brig has never been allowed to hear a sad song in her entire life. Her personal Playlist Treatment Plan, designed to control her emotions by playing appropriate songs in her head, isn’t working for her. But when her friend Annaby is chosen to go to Musician’s School and is given a Permit to Carry a musical instrument, Brig might have her one chance to hear a sad song, a love song – or a song that matches what her depression feels like, instead of what her feelings should be.

Luminary (Dystopian YA novel) – In a world where the color red is outlawed and time pieces are banned, 16 year-old Brady only wants to keep his head down, go to University, and pursue the vocation assigned to him.  But when the girl he loves endangers herself by questioning the State, Brady risks his entire world to save her. In a battle for love and freedom, Brady must choose between the life mapped out for him or an idea that could get him killed.

Luminary is a dystopian Young Adult novel set in a society that uses every effort to suppress violence… including violence itself.  Luminary is scheduled for publication in the Fall.  (You can win an early copy at LibraryThing.)

My next two will be self-published, but I do believe that most authors would be more successful through both traditional and indie/self-publishing, not one or the other.  I plan to pursue both, and currently have some projects that I am submitting traditionally as well as a story that’s being published in a trad pub anthology.
In terms of traditional projects, I have a middle-grade story that’s been accepted for publication in Highlights, and I have a short story that’ll be published in an upcoming trad-pub anthology, Bad Austen: The Worst Stories Jane Never Told (Adams Media, November 2011).  The short story in Bad Austen is called “Pluck and Plumage,” and is a scene from Pride and Prejudice as if they were all ducks on a pond.  (It is a truth universally acknowledged that any story can be improved with the addition of a few ducks.)

How are your books selling? What type of royalties do you receive?
I fear it’s a little too soon for me to be reporting numbers, having only been at this six months.  But I will say:

Effie, my YA short story, is outselling my writer’s reference book by a factor of 3:1.
– That said, I’ve recouped the entire cost of producing the print and ebook editions of the reference book, and will have to sell about 140 more copies to break even on what I spent to produce Effie.
Middle grade is a harder sell without the backing of a traditional house.  Even though Hot Ticket is highly rated on Amazon, it has only sold 25% of what the YA has.
– I’ve given away over 7,500 books to help build my audience.

In terms of royalty rates, I earn:

Amazon: 70% of every book priced between $2.99 and $9.99, 35% of every book priced under (can’t go lower than 99 cents) or over
B&N: 65% of every book priced between $2.99 and $9.99, 40% of every book priced under (no less than 99 cents) or over
Smashwords: Depends on if the book was sold directly through Smashwords, or through one of their partners. 

What are you doing to promote your books?

I’ve done Goodreads and LibraryThing giveaways, email blasts, blog tours, participated in writer’s forums, Twitter contests, free promotions on Amazon and other retailers, emailed review copies to book blogs and participated in a group contest with other children’s authors.  But if the average person needs to see something seven times before it sticks with them, then I probably have to reach the same people another five times before it’s truly effective!  

Another thing I’m doing though, is writing more books.  This is not only the part that I most enjoy, but is the part that will expand my list and my potential audience.  
The majority of success stories from self-publishing have been on the adult side. What are you doing to reach your target audience?
I am texting middle-graders all over the world with, “Buy my bk & I will gve u a pony!”  Once they do, the ponies are always “lost in the mail.”  ::BWAH HA HA!::

What I’m actually doing is not worrying about marketing to middle graders specifically.  Their parents are still buying most of their books, and so hopefully, they’ll be the ones that turn to their middle-schooler and ask, “This looks funny, do you want to read this?”  If that child likes the book, perhaps they’ll tell their friends.  Or if a librarian likes it, perhaps they’ll recommend it to parents and middle-schoolers.

Word of mouth takes time to build in any genre, so I may target different blogs (parenting blogs vs. YA blogs vs. writer blogs) but my marketing actions are about the same.
[Interviewer’s Note: I am 100% in favor of texting middle schoolers and promising them ponies in exchange for book sales.]
Were there any unexpected challenges in self-publishing, things you didn’t expect would be so hard?
Well, I can’t say it’s unexpected, but it’s amazingly difficult to build a fan base. 

The other day I was thinking about one of my favorite bands, and the fact that I immediately picked up their latest album without hearing any of it.  And that if they put out an album that was sound of one cat hissing, I would probably still buy it because I would assume that they would do something that made that hiss as enjoyable as all their other albums, or because I’m invested in having their entire catalog.  Cat hiss and all.

I’m the same with certain authors – I hear about a new book coming, I assume it will be as great or greater than the last one, and I get it as soon as I can.  I think it’s hard to build that connection though – where people not only like one story, but like the ideas behind your entire body of work.  My favorite authors and musicians are my favorites not just because of the art they produce, but because I like their philosophy.  I admire one author’s opposition to book burning and censorship, I admire another band’s political message.  

I can sometimes struggle with how much of my own personal philosophy I should share.  As a children’s author, I want to tell everybody how superior ducks are to ponies (Very. Superior.) and talk about the fact that I did indeed make a bear costume for Stephen Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive.  As a freelance editor and the author of a publishing reference book, I feel the need to be very careful about any advice I give that relates to books, or publishing.  I don’t write a lot of book reviews because I don’t want to offend authors who happen to be friends by not reviewing a book.  And I don’t go too much into my own personal philosophy, because an editor’s read should be focused on producing a better version of the author’s story, and not writing it as I would write it.  But the same whimsy that works for a children’s author, could be seen as silly by someone who is looking for a professional critique of their work.  (Would love to hear opinions on this!)

There are also things that quickly built a fan base for past indies but that aren’t as effective now.  For example, pricing a book at 99 cents used to be an instant sales boom, but due to a flood of 99 cent books, it doesn’t move books as quickly as it used to.  Free books are great, but people are filling their Kindles with more free books than they’ll ever read.

Free and 99 cent books are like a shotgun — you shoot a large blast, maybe something will hit.  But there is a downside as well, because people will leave angry 1 star reviews if they feel like they’re being obviously marketed to, the story (though free) wasn’t worth the time it took them to read, or sometimes it’s just not their preferred genre.  Basically, don’t give anything away for free that you wouldn’t feel comfortable charging someone for later!

I’m not against this approach.  Eventually though, I think people that buy books are going to stop looking at free/99 cent ones because they’ll get tired of wading through books they’re uninterested in, and people that don’t buy books at all probably won’t be convinced to buy the three dollar sequel, no matter how much they liked the first one that they got for free.

Conversely, coming from a position in traditional publishing, did you see anything self-publishing can offer that traditional publishing hasn’t figured out yet?
I think traditionally published authors can definitely learn a thing or two from indies in terms of online retailers. Independent authors dissect Amazon and other retailers constantly.  How do they rank books?  How do they recommend books?  How can I make my book more likely to show up when xx phrase is searched?  How does having a new book affect my old books?  What does a sales ranking of xx,xxx mean in terms of books sold?  Nobody but Amazon knows exactly how they rank and recommend books, but there are ways to make yourself more likely to be seen by the right audience.

In terms of traditional publishing at large, I think it’s the ebook royalty rate that is really going to change things.  It has to be competitive enough to keep authors with a large fan base from leaving to produce their own backlist and frontlist ebooks.  But it has to work in a long term model, where publishers will eventually make most of their money from digital sales.  Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how the standard rate changes.

What advice would you give writers who are considering self-publishing their work?
Produce the best products you can, figure out a marketing strategy instead of putting out tweets willy-nilly, take the time to analyze what has and hasn’t worked for others, make sure that you’re not considering self-publishing for any of the wrong reasons, and be patient!
Huge thanks to Tracy! Tomorrow we will briefly transition out of self-publishing and hear from Karen Hooper, who will tell us about what it’s like to sign with an indie press when you don’t have an agent.

Interview with Marilyn Peake

I’m beginning Self-Publishing Week with a familiar name to those who read this blog regularly. You may remember Marilyn Peake’s appearances on Glass Cases when she shared Bright Moon and Tiger in Plum Blossoms. Marilyn was an early reader of my little blog and continued to support it as it grew. What Marilyn doesn’t know is that she’s actually the first person I thought of for Self-Publishing Week. 
Marilyn writes science fiction and fantasy, both of which I am huge fans of. I was familiar with her work and even though we didn’t development a working relationship, I was aware of her foray into self-publishing through Twitter. That’s when my own preconceived notions about self-publishing started to change. I knew Marilyn was a good writer who had a passion for her work, and she clearly had a grasp on self-promotion and social media. To me, that made her the perfect candidate for exploring self-publishing, and from her interview below, it sounds like she’s happy she made that decision. I’ll let Marilyn take over now.

How many agents did you query before deciding to self-publish, and for how long?

I queried agents for a couple of my books, THE FISHERMAN’S SON (which is now self-published) and GODS IN THE MACHINE (which I’m in the process of rewriting for the third time).

THE FISHERMAN’S SON has an interesting history.  Years ago, I signed a six-month contract with an agent who was later listed as not recommended by Writer’s Digest.  After she held onto the book for six months, I decided to self-publish it, way back when self-publishing wasn’t particularly respected.  Shortly afterward, I was offered contracts for the complete trilogy of THE FISHERMAN’S SON by an indie publisher who published the trilogy in paperback and eBook formats, and invested money in a professional recording for the audio version of the first book in the trilogy.  Between self-publishing and indie publishing, I sold hundreds of copies of THE FISHERMAN’S SON, accumulated some really great reviews and was interviewed on radio shows across the United States and in Canada.  Eventually, the publishing market changed and sales slowed down, so I requested my rights back, and the indie publisher agreed.  Several months ago, I tried self-publishing each book in the trilogy for 99 cents on Kindle, and THE FISHERMAN’S SON has started selling on a regular basis without much advertising at all.  After a few months, I also started seeing an increase in sales for the second and third books in the trilogy.

For GODS IN THE MACHINE, I queried a lot of agents for at least a year.  To my great delight, Sarah, you had requested a full for that novel as well as some changes to it; although, in the end, you decided to pass on offering representation.  You had mentioned not caring for the main character, which I’m actually changing considerably in rewriting this novel – I even changed the main character’s name.  My plan is to eventually self-publish this novel on Kindle.  It’s a somewhat quirky science fiction novel, so I’m thinking there’s a chance it will do well in the self-publishing Kindle market.

Even though I don’t have a literary agent, I should add that I’ve been referred by another writer to a top Hollywood movie agent who works by referral-only.  This agent has read all my work and has left the door open for me to submit all my future work to him.  At the same time, books that I still have in indie publishing are being considered for a possible TV series through a Hollywood Producer.
How many books have you self-published?
So far, I’ve self-published four novels and four short stories on Kindle, and have a lot of other work published through indie publishing. 

[Note: You can find all of Marilyn’s available titles here.]
Was the genre you write a contributing factor in your decision to self-publish, given the success of other self-published books in that genre?
No, it really wasn’t.  I’ve seen books in every genre selling well as self-published Kindle books, and I’ve personally purchased so many wonderful self-published Kindle books with great reviews and awards, I felt excited about jumping into this arena to see what might happen with my own books.
What self-publishing service did you use? Did you have to pay for their services?
Right now, I’m only self-published through Kindle, and I haven’t had to pay anything.
Did you use outside editors/beta readers/writing groups for your work before self-publishing?
THE FISHERMAN’S SON has been reviewed by many people, including bestselling author Piers Anthony, and the reviews are posted on my website.  At this point, I’ve received enthusiastic responses from people all across the country who have read it, even a couple of librarians who devoted display shelves to it as a book to be read by children who enjoyed HARRY POTTER.
Sending my work out after it’s been published is usually how I approach having my work assessed.  My husband’s a great beta reader prior to publication, but afterward I seek out professional reviews and enter my work in book award contests in order to provide potential book buyers with an impartial assessment.  Waiting for the first review after publication is always nerve-racking.  For GODS IN THE MACHINE, I paid a well-known editor for his assessment.  His advice was awesome and I’m including some of it in the rewrite, although I probably won’t include all of it because he thought I should remove several characters which other people – including you, Sarah – happened to like.  As far as editing for grammar and spelling, so far I’ve done that myself, since I’ve edited books for other writers, including several who work in Hollywood.
What do you do to publicize your book? How do you reach your target audience?
I have a website where I post my publications, reviews and awards, and other information related to writing.  I enter book award contests and seek out reviews because that seems to sell books and also because I like that kind of feedback about my work.  Also, I’ve hired professional artists for most of my book covers, because I think that an awesome book cover is one of the best forms of advertising.  Since self-publishing, I haven’t done much additional advertising other than being on Twitter, purchasing one ad, and having my books reviewed on a couple of indie book blogs.  At some point, THE FISHERMAN’S SON and my short story BRIGHT MOON (which was originally published on your blog) were listed by Amazon under several bestselling Kindle books in the space labeled “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”…and that seemed to work like free advertising to keep my Kindle publications selling.

I decided not to begin book promotion in earnest until after I finish the final rewrite of GODS IN THE MACHINE.  However, I think that some of the book promotion I did years ago for my books is still paying off.  I receive around 10,000 hits to my website every month, much of it coming from my book titles, from an article I wrote years ago called Archetypes in Fantasy Writing, and other things like that.  Years ago, I did quite a bit of book promotion.  I got to the point where one book promotion led to another, and I eventually had my work featured on a CD that was handed out by two Stargate novelists to Stargate actors and fans at a convention, I had a two-page interview in a print fanzine associated with the University of Glasgow Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, and other really great promotional opportunities like that.
What have the sales been like for your books? Are you happy with the royalty rate you’ve received?
I’m happy with my royalty rate for now.  Pricing my Kindle books at 99 cents each, I’m only seeing about 35% of 99 cents per book.  However, I plan to increase my book promotion substantially after I finish the final rewrite of GODS IN THE MACHINE.  I’m hoping to build a fan base with the low price of my self-published books, and hope that, once I start doing book promotion, my sales will increase.  Eventually, I might try pricing a couple of my novels at $2.99 each, a price at which Amazon pays 70% royalty.

I’m happy to supply my actual sales numbers here because I know writers like to see sales statistics for self-publishing ventures.  I self-published my first Kindle novel, THE FISHERMAN’S SON, on March 21 of this year and most of my other Kindle titles in March and April.  Since self-publishing on Kindle, I’ve sold 447 copies of my novels and short stories, with 209 of those being copies of THE FISHERMAN’S SON novel.  Since I simply uploaded my publications on Amazon and haven’t done much book promotion at all, I’m pretty happy with those sales.
Did you face any unexpected challenges in self-publishing?
Not really.  This has been one of the easiest, most rewarding things I’ve ever done.  (My husband works in computers and formats all my publications for Kindle – that would have been a huge challenge if I had had to do that myself.  Also, I’ve hired artists for professional book covers and my husband created a few clip art book covers, because book cover artwork would have been another huge challenge for me.)
Do you think you’ll ever make the switch to a more traditional publisher if presented with the opportunity? Why or why not?
I would consider it, but the offer would have to be a really good one because I’m very happy with my self-publishing experience.

What advice would you give writers who are considering self-publishing their work?

I highly recommend polishing your work, making it the best it can be.  I strongly recommend having a website.  I also recommend accumulating great reviews from professional reviewers who don’t know you and entering your work in book award contests.  When self-publishing, I think it’s important to never spend more money than you can afford.  Expect to sell zero books, but hope to sell a million books.  Don’t count on any specific number of sales because luck and timing have so much to do with how many books you’ll actually sell.
I want to thank Marilyn again for contributing and hope her experience has been helpful to you all. Come back tomorrow to read about my former colleague and MG/YA author, Tracy Marchini. 

What’s the Deal With Self-Publishing?

I’m very excited to begin a new week on the blog with a very important, very specific theme. It will be a week-long series of interviews and stories, and I hope you all learn a lot from them. But first – some back story.

Since 2008, the publishing industry has been… confused. Technology caught up with it just in time for the recession, and it was left not really knowing what to do with itself. Since then, there have been who-knows-how-many articles and blog posts predicting the death of books. These rumors have been greatly exaggerated. It took publishing a while to recover, but we’re doing just fine now, thank you. No matter how books will be read in the future, there will always be an industry responsible for making them.

It’s still uncertain, the way every business is uncertain in times of economic instability, and it’s competitive as ever to get your book published. While publishing was at its weakest, technology allowed a new viable option – self-publishing. And it sure looks attractive these days. Self-publishing has been around long before 2008., for example, began almost ten years ago, even before self-publishing was as simple uploading a PDF and having your book immediately available for download.

In a way, self-publishing is a bit like internet dating. First, it was only for those who didn’t have what it took for “the real world.” The stigma was massive; it was something to be ashamed of. Then you hear about your friends doing it, and suddenly you become less skeptical. And now it is practically commonplace.

Commonplace, but not without stigma that is.

I’m not going to pretend I haven’t been guilty of looking down at self-published authors. After all, it’s my job  to make sure authors aren’t doing this alone. No one in publishing wants to see an author get taken advantage of, which is why we’re always telling writers how much value there is in traditional publishing. In fact, I like the tradition. Agents are important. Editors are important. Publicists and copyeditors and subrights managers are important.

There are writers out there who believe agents and publishers are “threatened” by self-publishing because it bypasses the steps we usually handle. They claim that’s why we in the industry “hate it.” I can only speak on behalf of myself, but that is not why self-publishing makes me nervous.

There are three things about self-publishing that scare me, actually.

1) There are still writers out there who aren’t aware that companies like PublishAmerica and AuthorHouse shouldn’t be charging them to publish their books, and that they should be the ones paying the writers for the privilege.

2) Too many forums and comments online have enforced an idea that agents and publishers are greedy or want to hinder writers’ creativity. This turns many writers against traditional publishing, making them take matters into their own hands. And that’s when writers can do themselves a disservice without even realizing it. Writing takes a lot of time and then even more time to get right. All writers need an editor. Then, even once the book is finished and you press that Publish button, the work doesn’t stop. You become your own accountant, publicist, agent, and assistant. Where’s the time to write your next book? It’s a lot of responsibility that most people are not experienced in having all at once.

3) Then there are the success stories. We’ve all heard them. Amanda Hocking and John Locke are self-made millionaires. Barry Eisler walks away from a $500,000 advance to self-publish instead. These success stories are wonderful for the authors involved, and they serve as proof that self-publishing is no longer a dirty little secret among writers. The stigma, however, remained in a way that was even more polarizing. The allure of self-publishing was even greater because now, in addition to avoiding rejection, there was a chance of becoming a millionaire. Doing anything for money is always a bad idea. Always. Chances are, you won’t become rich. Like the person on the news who won the state lottery, success stories can be great and inspiring. But they are too rare to rely on.

For every writer who uses self-publishing to become success story, there’s one who is just sick of being rejected. Those are the two extremes, and unfortunately they have clouded the judgment of many, myself included. I also believe that most people don’t fall under extremes. Most writers have nothing against tradition; they just want their stories to be heard and found a way to do it. Truthfully, sometimes self-publishing is the better option (as explained in more detail by literary agent Meredith Barnes), and if traditional publishing can have mid-list authors, why can’t self-publishing?

These smart, talented, tech savvy mid-list authors are who I’m devoting this week to here on the blog. Self-published writers Marilyn Peake, Tracy Marchini, Michelle Davidson Argyle, and Karen Hooper, who did not self-publish but decided to go indie without an agent, will all share their experiences on going it alone.

NOTE: Yes, I am still a literary agent. Yes, I will always tell writers to exhaust all traditional options before looking into self-publishing. This week isn’t about me. This blog is, and always has been, for writers and as a place for writers, it’s important to me that I present any helpful information I can offer. Glass Cases is mine alone, and does not represent the agency I work for in any way, shape, or form. I cannot stress that enough.

Hope you enjoy this break in our regularly scheduled programming, and check back in tomorrow to hear about sci-fi writer Marilyn Peake’s road to self-publishing.

Rags to Riches

In the words of those old poets, the Backstreet Boys – “Oh my god, I’m back again!”

That’s right, friends. I am back from my hiatus – and a little earlier than expected, no less. Thank you for bearing with me during these busier-than-usual weeks. I’m very happy to be back!

Actually, there’s a reason I came back early. See, there’s been a rash of self-publishing stories recently and for the most part, I don’t really have much to say about them except, “Hey, good for them.” But then I read something that made me want to respond in more than 140 characters, and I didn’t think I should wait to post it for the sake of waiting.

Future (current?) publishing superstar, Meredith Barnes, recently wrote in a blog post (which you should read), “Agents today, if they have one forward-thinking bone in their body, consider self-publishing a viable option.” Very, very true.

Much like online dating, self-publishing is no longer attached to the stigma that it should be only considered as a last resort. There are many reasons why I’d suggest taking the traditional publishing route. Self-publishing means you will be unedited, unmarketed, and generally only sold via a few retail outlets – among other problems. If you’re fine with this or you are willing to put in a LOT of work in addition to writing the actual book, then who am I to stop you?

Like I said, there have been a lot of self-publishing success stories lately, especially in this past month. I think this is a great boon to this often chastised method of publication. But it’s also dangerous to writers who may not have the same resources or popularity to make their self-published book rank up there with Amanda Hocking and J.A. Konrath.

That’s why when I read this post on Mr. Konrath’s blog last week, I felt that the self-publishing rags-to-riches stories needed to be addressed. (I had been letting others, who are much smarter than I, handle this ’til now.) Like I mentioned above, there are TONS of blog posts about how self-publishing is hard and that you probably won’t be as successful as the authors who are benefiting from it. Most writers know this and will still turn to self-publishing because they just want to see their book in print.

This is perfectly acceptable, writers. And it is especially fine for the writer who wanted to thank J.A. Konrath for “saving her life.” Sometimes all we need is to retain our creativity in order to feel we still have self worth. This writer was frustrated with rejection and became depressed because she did not see a point to keep writing if it could not be her career.

I feel for this writer. I do. And I’m happy she found peace again by releasing her book on her own terms. But there is more to this story. Or at least, there is more to this blog post.

More than the writer’s own feeling of rejection, what’s referenced several times here is the lack of money in traditional publishing. She laments that with “rock-bottom advances,” she saw no point to keep writing. Mr. Konrath also admits that he had been counting on his next advance to “feed his family.”

Now, writers. I don’t mean to cheapen anyone’s financial concerns here, but… seriously?

I will elaborate.

No one – I will repeat: no one (not agents, not editors, not publicists, and not booksellers) – goes into the book business for the cash. Writers are a huge part of this business; they are not excluded from this list. All books, even ones destined to be bestsellers, are passion projects. We do this because we love it. We love writers and we love the written word and we love stories. Despite our four-walled offices and health care, we are all just starving artists who believe you can’t place monetary value on what we do. Hence the lack of money being passed around.

But on a less idealized level, we already know about the notoriously low wages in publishing and the dwindling advances that have only gotten lower since 2008. The fact that our cups do not exactly runneth over is not news, which is why published author, J.A. Konrath should not have relied on an advance to avoid malnourishment.

If publishing is a business, which we constantly remind people that it is, then debut writers are our entry-level employees. For those of you with day jobs, try to remember what your entry-level salary was. Sucked, right? Well, whatever that salary was will probably be more than your debut advance. People like Amanda Hocking exist, of course, but if you are expecting publishers to play tug-of-war with two million dollars over you, you might as well just play the lottery.

I will take this opportunity to pause once again and say I’m sorry if this comes off harsh. I hate playing the role of the realist because rags-to-riches stories are supposedly what “the American dream” is all about. Crushing dreams is not fun for me. Plus, I like you.

Moving on.

If you are a writer waiting for your advance to “save you,” remember that publishing takes forever (as we learned in more detail from Jennifer Laughran). If you sold a book (yay!), you might receive half of your advance upon signing the contract. This comes relatively quickly. When the advances are split like this, the rest of your money could come after the publisher receives the full manuscript (most common with sequels in a series or nonfiction projects) or upon publication. Friends, publication might not happen until two years after you sign the agreement.

Ask yourselves if you’re financially secure enough to wait that long in between paychecks. If you have a day job, you may want to keep it until you no longer need to worry about when your next royalty check is coming. If you don’t have a day job, and are impatiently waiting for an advance, it probably wouldn’t hurt to call a temp agency. 

The reality of this situation is sad for those who want writing to be their career. That’s why I get self-publishing. It’s a way to avoid inevitable disappointment. Plus, it is awesome to see your book in print. I get that too.

But I guess my point is this – why be disappointed in something you already know to be true? Most jobs won’t pay you enough in your first year. You’re expected to prove yourself and work up the ladder and break ceilings. Then, usually, you’re able to get a raise, some extra perks, and eventually a summer home. So why should your first year in your new career as “writer” be any different?

Restless employees can go on to do great things. Biz Stone left a sweet gig at Google to help create a silly little start-up called Twitter. Pretty much everyone drops out of Harvard and becomes gazillionaires. And Barry Eisler can walk away from half a million dollars in traditional publishing to go rogue.

When these things happen, they are newsworthy. And the reason they become news stories are because they are rare and they provide hope. The millions of writers who continue to do their jobs well and stay loyal to their companies (i.e. publishers and agents) aren’t reported on so much because, well, they are the norm. Likewise, the millions of writers who go directly to self-publishing and don’t make a million dollars by far outweigh the writers who do make millions, so they tend to go unnoticed in the media too.

Like in any career, you want to get paid for what your work is worth, but rarely is that reflected in your paychecks (aka: royalty checks) when you are new to the game. Just because a system should change doesn’t mean it will change. At least not any time soon. Publishing is not Wall Street. Most of us (writers included) won’t be able to retire after our rookie year. If you were expecting to, then maybe you are in the wrong business. But if you’re willing to accept the realities of most new employees, advance on your own merits, and continue to be awesome at what you do, then we’d love to have you.