Indie Publishing: Four Authors Dish
I recently had the idea of hosting a virtual roundtable among authors who have dabbled in indie publishing to share their experiences and thoughts. I invited three of my author friends. As is not unusual among writers but might seem odd in other professions, I have not actually met any of these women in person, but we have either corresponded or chatted online over the years. All three ladies accepted, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them.
Here’s our conversation. I hope you enjoy it! Please forgive the formatting glitches, font changes, highlighting...this is what happens when you try to piece together information from different sources into one document. This would be unacceptable in an eBook, of course, but this column is 100% free!
Feel free to ask us questions, either individually or collectively, or contribute your own opinions.
Feel free to ask us questions, either individually or collectively, or contribute your own opinions.
At the virtual roundtable:Angela Benson
I listed everyone alphabetically, and I must say that this is the first time in my life that I, with a pen name that starts with the letter “G,” am listed last! As an aside, the fact that the participating authors' last names are either B or G (my own initials) is purely coincidental...
Authors, let’s start by having you introduce yourselves to everyone who’s reading this:
ANGELA: I'm Angela Benson. I've written 12 novels, two novellas and a nonfiction writing book for six different publishers. My first book, Bands of Gold, was published by Kensington in 1994 as part of their Arabesque line of African-American romances. My thirteenth book, Delilah's Daughters, will be published by Avon sometime in 2012 if I make my January due date. (That's a big ‘if.’) I've been fortunate to receive several industry awards in my career, including awards from Romantic Times Magazine, Affaire de Coeur Magazine and the Romance Slam Jam. I recently indie published five of my backlist fiction titles, three contemporary romances and two Christian romances, as well as my nonfiction writing book
SHELIA: Hi, I'm Shelia Goss. I write in multiple genres: romance, women's fiction, suspense, Christian fiction and young adult. I have over thirteen books published, and I'm currently indie publishing my romance stories.
BETTYE: My name is Bettye Griffin, and I’m a compulsive writer, LOL. I write women’s fiction and contemporary romance. I had six mainstream novels and ten romances traditionally published, plus I’ve independently published three more romances to date (2011). I am strictly indie publishing now, with my titles available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and the Sony eBookstore. I have never won a single award, have been dropped by two publishers, and have never been able to legitimately claim bestselling author status, but regardless of these factors I'm doing reasonably well.
CHICKI: My name is Chicki Brown. I write multicultural romance and women’s fiction and have been self-published for eighteen months. My latest release, I Can’t Get Next to You, a faith-based romance, is available on Kindle and Nook.
I won Grand Prize in the Black Expressions Book Club Fiction Contest in 2004 and 2011 Fiction Book of the Year and New Author of the Year from Shades of Romance Magazine.
QUESTION: Why did you make the decision to indie publish?
SHELIA: Before I got with a traditional publisher, I started off as an indie publisher. Last year, after visiting J.A. Konrath's blog on a regular basis, I decided to publish my unpublished romance stories as eBooks independently to test the waters.
ANGELA: I'm only publishing backlist. I did it because I had the rights to the books and I wasn't doing anything else with them. Also, because of some health issues, I haven't published any new work in the last two years. Bringing back some of my old titles was a way to keep my name and work in front of readers.
BETTYE: I think it’s important for established writers to stay active in terms of output. My own production is nothing to write home about, but I can say that I’ve been actively publishing since my first book came out at the end of 1998.
CHICKI: I guess you could say I made the decision to self-publish when I just got sick and tired of the traditional submission process. I’d been writing for almost ten years before I published in June 2010. After signing with two well-known agents and still not being able to get a contract, I chose to try my hand at the new option author Joe (J.A.) Konrath was raving about on his blog at the time–electronic publishing directly to Kindle. Nook wasn’t in existence until several months later. Looking back, I can say without hesitation this was the best decision I’ve ever made.
BETTYE: I started self-publishing when I couldn’t sell what I felt was a charming contemporary romance that I called Save The Best For Last (the problem, I suspect, was that readers were demanding that sex occur earlier and earlier in books, and this particular story called for it to happen in the latter part of the book). I felt the story deserved to be read, so I published it in June of 2009, initially as print on demand (POD), and soon after that for Kindle. At that time I already had the rights back to my first two Arabesque novels, which I planned to reissue (I’ve since done one of them). In the 2-1/2 years since, I was dropped by the house who was publishing my women’s fiction titles (the second time that happened to me in my career). A writer with less confidence might have gone away quietly, but I’ve never had any doubts about my abilities. I kept writing and now publish exclusively through my own imprint, Bunderful Books.
QUESTION: Angela and Shelia, both of you still traditionally publish. Have you encountered any flak from your publishers for doing your own thing?
ANGELA: I haven't had any discussion with my publisher about it. I think they'd appreciate me doing something to keep in touch with readers who like my books.
SHELIA: No one has talked to me directly. I've heard that some don't like you doing things independently, but a person has to eat. Since there's no contract violation, I don't see why it should be a problem.
BETTYE: It seems to me that if readers discover new writers whose work they enjoy, they are highly likely to look at their other books, so it sounds like a win-win all around to me. But I do wonder if having indie published makes a writer persona non grata. In my own experience, an editor at a major New York house who demonstrated an eagerness to see a project I queried her about was never heard from again and did not respond to requests from neither myself nor my agent, and I wonder if my having gone the indie route had anything to do with that cold shoulder. At any rate, it soured me on the idea of trying to get back into trad publishing.
QUESTION: Chicki, your situation is unique among the four of us in that you were previously unpublished and did not have an established audience. Yet you had success with your very first eBook. I’m sure there are aspiring writers who’d love to know how you did it, so do you have anything you want to share?
CHICKI: First of all, let me make one thing clear. I am not selling huge numbers of books like Amanda Hocking or some of the other Kindle millionaires, but as an unknown without an established audience, I am thrilled to have developed a faithful following in less than two years. I attribute this to having spent two years studying the changes that were taking place in the industry. Reading the blogs/sites of those authors paving the way in this arena taught me the details of the process e-publishing process. Joe Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing became my bible.
My advice to aspiring e-book authors is to learn everything about e-pubbing before you even consider putting a book out there. Now there are scads of great, informative sites out there which offer free education. The amount of information you need to know about formatting, cover art, differences between e-tailers, and marketing can be overwhelming. It’s not something you can learn in 30 days.
I’m glad I created a website and blog three years before I published. It was a place for me to share my thoughts and also helped me to develop a following.
BETTYE: Yes, I do believe that previously unpublished writers should have a strong web presence; it will help with their sales. And, just as there are eight million stories in the Naked City, there are varying degrees of success.
QUESTION: What are the things you like and hate the most about indie publishing?
ANGELA: I like having control over my work—everything from content to pricing—but it’s more work than I imagined. I hate the work involved in having control over my work. To sum it up, I have a love/hate relationship with indie publishing.
Reading and enjoying my old books has been an unexpected reward of indie publishing. I had a really bad experience with the publication of my second book and since that book I've never read any of books after they're in print. So reading Friend and Lover, The Nicest Guy in America, The Way Home, Awakening Mercy and Abiding Hope was pretty emotional for me. I laughed, I cried, and I fell in love with the characters all over again. It was as though I was meeting with old friends after being separated for a long time. I know that must sound weird, but it's how I felt. It was especially gratifying to read the romances I'd written before I transitioned to writing Christian fiction. I was able to experience a little of the life journey that I was on at that time. I was able to see how my writing has changed over time in some ways, but how many of the elements in the stories I write today were present in my early works. Overall, getting those backlist titles ready for re-publishing was a very insightful experience.
BETTYE: I know what you mean, Angela, in terms of falling in love with stories you’d written ages ago. I had the same fond feeling come over me when I was preparing the document for my second book, A Love of Her Own, which remains one of the most poignant love stories I’ve ever written.
SHELIA: I'm in control of all aspects of the book (cover, content, publication date). I get 100% of the profits and get a true sense of how my books are selling. I also sometimes write outside of a normal genre, but there's still an audience out there for those books so as an indie publisher I can publish those books that don't fit the "norm."
CHICKI: I absolutely love the freedom to write what I want without having to follow the traditional rules. To give you an example of what I mean, when I first began submitting the manuscript for Have You Seen Her? I received several rejection letters from major romance publishers saying they couldn’t publish it because my character was involved with another man at the beginning of the book. What?? The story is about a woman that makes the decision to escape from an abusive marriage. The whole point of the story is that she’s bound to a hateful, violent man. Even though she doesn’t realize it at first, her heart is longing for true love, and she meets a man who offers her everything her heart has been longing for. I don’t want to give away the entire plot, but if that’s not a romance, what is?
Now I can write the stories in my head without fear that they might not fit the so-called rules.
What I dislike the most about being an indie author is the amount of time I have to spend marketing. Writing is creative, and it feeds my soul. Marketing is logical, and it drains me, but I realize it’s a necessary part of being a published author. What I need is to find a healthy, productive balance between the two tasks.
ANGELA: Chicki, I have to agree with you about the marketing and promotion. I’d much rather spend the time writing. I’m not comfortable asking people to buy my books. I’m trying to be active on twitter and facebook, but they don’t feel natural to me. I’m much more comfortable blogging, so I’m trying to integrate that with twitter and facebook. I’ve also started a mailing list to keep in touch with readers who like my work. Wish me luck!
CHICKI: I'm just the opposite, Angela! LOL! I struggle when it comes to blogging and trying to come up with something fresh to write about. I really don't enjoy any of the promotion chores, except Facebook and Twitter, which have become my addictions. What I absolutely love about Twitter is how easy it is to get a "tribe" of people who will faithfully retweet for you. I need all the help I can get. The secret to Twitter is give and take. Follow other authors and retweet their messages a couple of times a week. Facebook is slower, but reaches a different audience. Hang in there, once you meet folks you enjoy chatting with, you just might end up in a Twitter 12-step program with me.
BETTYE: I also love the freedom to write what I want without restrictions. My upcoming eBook, Isn’t She Lovely? (which will be my 20th title!), features a hero who is involved with another woman at the start of the book and a heroine who is still involved with her ex-husband (although this is alluded to rather than shown) when he visits town. Both involvements stem from loneliness and vulnerability on the part of the hero and heroine, and I feel it’s important to include because this is how real people behave. I will never write a romance where either party goes without companionship for years because they only had one true love; this is simply not believable human behavior to me. I also love being able to check and track my sales numbers and getting paid within 60 days after the close of the month.
In terms of dislikes, I’ve always done my own promotion, so that’s no big deal. I initially had a hard time with formatting, but I now use the same template for all my eBooks. The Nook’s requirement for section breaks rather than page breaks can be a painstaking process, though, but I take the time to do it because it makes my product look better if there are clearly defined breaks between chapters.
QUESTION: Any predictions for the future of indie publishing?
ANGELA: I'm still figuring out the present so I haven't thought much about the future. That said, I do believe the eBook revolution really is a revolution. Anybody who wants to be a writer can see their work published. People can accomplish different goals with their writing. No longer does your book have to meet some publisher's sales goals; all you have to meet are your own goals. That's very liberating. I see more young people publishing. I see more older people who thought their time had passed publishing. And I really believe there is an audience out there for all of us. Finding them will be a chore, but I believe we're up to the task.
SHELIA: I think we will see more and more authors go the indie route. Writers now have more options than what we had, say, about ten years ago.
CHICKI: The publishing industry is changing so rapidly it makes my head spin. I honestly don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know this is the first time in modern history where authors are in charge and not editors and agents.
With so many changes and options available to today’s scribes, I believe it will become increasingly more important for the creators to be knowledgeable about their legal rights. For example, just recently Amazon introduced a new option, which has many authors questioning the value of such a radical idea as far as their literary and financial goals are concerned. Beyond that, I’ll leave the predictions to the “e-prophets.”
BETTYE: I wouldn’t warrant a guess, because I didn’t even see the current conditions coming. I just hope the freedom and ease of indie publishing is a lasting thing and not just a fad.
QUESTION: I suspect many of us will say the same things, but what tips would you give to those considering indie publishing, whether new writers or those who formerly wrote for trad publishers?
ANGELA: 1) Indie publishing is not a "get rich quick" scheme. It requires hard work, dedication and perseverance.
2) Cross-promoting with other authors is effective and can save you a lot of money.
3) I paid to scan and format my backlist titles, but I think authors can do this for themselves if they have the time. It's not hard but it is time-consuming. I don't recommend doing your covers yourself, though. If you're going to spend money, spend it on covers first.
BETTYE: I just tried the scan thing myself. I did find the original manuscript for A Love of Her Own on a 3.5 disk (remember those?) and managed to get that old 3.1 version of Word read in my current version of Word (thank heavens I saved my external 3.5 drive!). Aside from grammar corrections here and there, the editor at Arabesque changed just two words in that entire manuscript, so I felt pretty comfortable reading over my original draft and making improvements here and there. My other books required more changes, so I decided to have other titles scanned so I can work from the actual published book rather than from my manuscript. They did a good job, but it isn't 100%, so the manuscript will require a thorough going-over before I ask the public to shell out their hard-earned dollars on it!
SHELIA: 1) For those who wrote for trad publishers: Don't knock it unless you've tried it. As long as it's not violating any of your current contracts, I would encourage writers to test the waters.
2) For new writers: If you go the Indie route, realize that this is a business. Only go the indie route if you're prepared to be the CEO, CFO, Bill Collector, etc. :-)
BETTYE: Shelia, there are quite a few veteran writers out there currently without contracts, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s no picnic being dropped. But no one can stop a true writer from writing. I like to think that inactive, previously published authors aren't knocking indie publishing but rather prefer to have the support of a publisher. There can be a number of reasons for this: The ability to say they have a publisher, for one. So many people are putting out less-than-quality books, and even established authors have published backlist titles riddled with errors--probably using their original manuscripts rather than the edited versions--and the number of poor quality books creates a stigma that all indie published titles are bargain-bin crap. I do believe that a well-produced eBook will eliminate this, at least on an individual basis. Also, a lack of confidence, a need for validation, and what I suspect is probably the #1 reason, an unwillingness to take on the definitely daunting role of indie publisher. It can be bad and hideously ugly, but also very rewarding.
CHICKI: 1) Don’t put the very first book you’ve written up for sale. Put it away and begin working on book #2 while you’re learning the craft and the business. You will be amazed at how much your writing will have improved from that first book. Have You Seen Her? was the first book I published, but it was the fifth one I’d written.
2) Join a local or online critique group, so you’ll have other eyes looking at your work. We all think our writing is golden, but when you get impartial opinions on your work, you start to see what needs to be improved. There are loads of online critique groups. Just be sure to find out how critiquing is handled before you join.
3) Once you have a completed, critiqued project ready, have it professionally edited. I didn’t have the money to do this with my first three books, and believe me, I heard from readers about typos (even though the manuscripts had been read by five other people) Once the royalties started coming in, I was able to hire an editor for books four and five.
4) Figure out how and where you will market your book before it’s published. The average e-book author spends several hours every day marketing and promoting their work. Do you know how the world will even know your book is among the one million+ books on Kindle? A young aspiring author said to me recently that she planned to have her marketing done by Kindle. She had no clue that there is no such animal. Getting your book on book blogs, reader forums, e-book sites, social networks, etc. is the author’s responsibility, and it’s not an easy task. There are posting rules, and if they’re not followed, you will be banned from these sites.
BETTYE: Excellent advice, all. I did want to point out, even though I know Chicki is already doing this, that new and improved eBook files can always be uploaded as errors are identified, so new readers won’t see them. I’m always changing the excerpts in my titles to reflect new or coming soon eBooks, or just books I’d like to give a push to.
I discuss my experiences in indie publishing in more detail in my blog column of this past fall, Clawing My Way to the Middle: Lessons in Independent Publishing.
QUESTION: If you want to give a shout-out to anyone who helps you present the most polished product possible, here’s your chance! Aspiring indie authors are always looking for reputable cover designers, editors, formatters, etc.
BETTYE: My covers are designed by Sean Young of Young Creations. Kimberly Rowe-Van Allen (be sure to get rid of the underlines in the linked email address, which I had to add to deter spammers) does my edits. I hope to have an interview with her up on the blog soon. I do my own formatting, but I recently used Blue Leaf Book Scanning to scan print versions of my books. This allows me to work with my books as they went to press and revise from there rather than from my original manuscript.
CHICKI: I also do my own formatting, but I have to give props to Kimberly Matthews-Hooker, who created the cover for my upcoming release and to T.J. Walp for her excellent editing.
ANGELA: Cheri Paris Edwards of Purely Paris does my covers. I've used Nina Paules at eBook Prep and Pam Headrick at A Thirsty Mind for formatting. Both are great.
SHELIA: I do my own ebook covers and format my manuscripts for the different ebook distribution sites. I would love to know about someone who formats for print, though, because some of my clients ask me and I don't know who to refer them to.
BETTYE: Shelia, formatting for print is pretty easy. There’s information out on the Net to guide you through this, telling people what margins to use, how to set the printer offset for binding, etc. I'd suggest the support boards at Create Space (I think a no-obligation registration is required for access). I did my own before I moved exclusively into eBooks. Thank heaven for the Internet; I also found instructions on how to take a manuscript written with the ancient Word 3.1 and open it with Word 2007.
QUESTION: Tell everyone not only about your new or upcoming projects, but why you decided to do that particular story, where the idea came from, etc. When is the scheduled or anticipated available sale date, and is it indie or trad?
ANGELA: My new project is my indie published backlist title, Telling Your Tale: A Beginner's Guide to Writing Fiction for Print and eBook. It’s only available for the Kindle for now. This book was originally published by Berkley Books as Telling the Tale: The African-American Fiction Writer's Guide. I've updated it since the original publication to reflect the eBook revolution and to broaden its appeal but the content is essentially the same.
Telling Your Tale is for the person who really wants to write a good book. It's not a marketing book; it's a writing book with exercises and activities that help the reader hone their writing skills. I'm also publishing a companion workbook with all the exercises and worksheets downloaded in a Word document.
CHICKI: My January 2, 2012 Kindle/Nook release is an interracial, inspirational women’s fiction. Isn’t that a mouthful? The title is Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing (love those old school R&B song titles). It’s the story of a happily married couple who faces the ultimate betrayal in their marriage.
The Real Thing is the second book I ever wrote, and needless to say it took some major rewriting to get it into publishable condition. I decided to finally publish it, because this was the sequel to my first manuscript, which was a “book of my heart.”
BETTYE: Chicki, I admire you for giving a publication date ahead of time. I so wish that Amazon would allow indie writers to make our work available for preorder. I don’t see the big deal if we download a file (so they know the book is finished, which I see as the major obstacle to offering this) and give an on-sale date at least three weeks in the future. Personally, I’d be willing to postpone my on-sale date to build some interest and get preorders. By the way, I like R&B titles, too. I have a great one for my mainstream to be published later in 2012, but I’m not ready to reveal it yet...not even a hint, LOL.
My next project, Isn’t She Lovely? is a politically themed (appropriate for an election year) mainstream romance that is sure to tug at your heartstrings. The eight-year-old son of a struggling divorced mother is hit by a car driven by the troubled fifteen-year-old son of the Illinois Attorney General, who is running for governor. The lives of the divorcee and the widower begin to intertwine as their children forge a friendship, and both learn that there is much more to the other than what they originally believed. This is the most emotional story I’ve written. I expect it will be available around late January or early February of the new year. An excerpt is posted at my Bunderful Books website (Bunderful Books...because good writing is always in fashion).
SHELIA: UnAuthorized is a suspense novel I collaborated on it with another author, John A Wooden. I've always wanted to challenge myself and write a novel with another writer. The story idea originally started with my web series. John liked my storyline and we decided to create a full length novel based on my original concept. As one of the reviewers said, "UnAuthorized is an engaging read and a great ‘whodunit’ tale of love, deceit and murder." I like to write what I like to read. The book is indie and is currently available for Kindle, Nook and other ebook reading devices for $2.99. I'm excited about 2012 because I plan on writing more suspense novels.
BETTYE: You did a fabulous job with that cover, Shelia! I do think that indie writers have the best chance of success with suspense, thriller, and interracial romances.
ANGELA: Bettye, another author friend talks about the large audience for interracial romance e-books. The response to her interracial romance was great, but it didn’t seem to spill over to her other books. She’s now writing another interracial romance.
BETTYE: I was disappointed initially to see that I had no spillover, either. Even now, two months after I published A Kiss of a Different Color (which was selling before I even announced to the world that it was available for sale), only The Heat of Heat (a sexy story but not an interracial one) is listed on the "Customers who purchased this item also purchased..." list. Most of the titles on that list are other interracial titles. But while I'm enjoying AKOADC's success, I'm not going to make a career out of writing strictly interracial romances because of the earnings potential. I have no plans at the moment to even write another one. Personally, I can't imagine being that limited in either my reading or my writing. And while I like money as much as the next person, but for me it's not about the money, it's not about my ego (obviously, LOL), it's just about the story. Writing purely to make money takes the joy out of it, and if there's no joy, there's no point. But that's just me.
QUESTION: How do readers keep up with you?
ANGELA: The best place to start is my web page. I'm also on Facebook (angelabenson or angelabensonbooks) and twitter (eAngelaBenson).
CHICKI: I have a website and a blog. Twitter: http://twitter.com/@Chicki663. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/chicki.brown.
BETTYE: Through this blog, my author website, my publisher website, and my personal and Bunderful Books Facebook pages.
SHELIA: Readers can find out more about me at www.sheliagoss.com. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter. Both can be accessed via my website.
BETTYE: Thanks, everybody, for your participation! I wish all of you a happy, healthy, prosperous, and productive 2012!