THE REAL SCOOP ON SELF-PUBLISHING (no BS. Talking to my successful indie author friends.)


If you read books then you know that things they are a changing in the publishing world. A lot of folks are up in arms over the advent of independent publishing, or as it is know more commonly, self publishing. Now I have dipped my toe in that water. I have a self-pubbed little crime collection out. It’s full of these tiny crime stories that I love and think are kick-ass. They are too short for anyone to pay me for publishing them traditionally so I did it myself. It sells well and I had fun.

But I’m not a self-published author. It’s a ton of work and I do love my publisher. Kensington has been very good to me. So I am not an expert on what it’s like to really be a self-publisher. However, I am lucky enough to have many wonderful friends who self-pub. I chose three of them to interview for you today. Now I picked these three folks because of a few reasons.

1) They are all very talented. These are folks who are self publishing because they CHOOSE to, not because they suck.

2) They are actually making a livable wage (and then some) by self-publishing.

So without further adieu:

Q: Tell the readers a bit about yourselves.

Annabel Joseph: My name is Annabel Joseph and I’ve been writing for publication since about 2007. I started out at the two largest e-romance publishers and moved to self publishing after my 5th book. I have fourteen books out now with two more on the way, and I’d classify myself as a successful self-published author since I make a good living at it. I’m so thankful for my readers, because a lot of my success has come through word of mouth.

Jennifer Malone Wright: I write mostly paranormal fiction, you know…the kind with vampires and people who have special powers. My book that sells the best is The Vampire Hunter’s Daughter. I may delve into other genres, but for the most part they will always have a paranormal twist.

John Hartness: I’m John G. Hartness, author of The Black Knight Chronicles urban fantasy series from Bell Bridge Books, and the creator of Bubba the Monster Hunter and his series of short stories. I’m a professional writer, lighting designer, theatre director, writing instructor, poet, drunkard and knight-errant. Some people call me Maurice, ‘cause I speak of the pompatus of love.

Q: Why did you choose to self-publish?

Jennifer Malone Wright: The Decision to self publish was a huge decision and it was not made lightly. Seriously, I was researching publishing, agents, query letters and also the process of self publishing for years before I finished my first book. I finally chose self publishing because of the ebook boom and wanted to see what I could do with it before I pursued an agent.

Annabel Joseph:  It was a convergence of several things. First, I got a terrible cover for one of my traditionally published books. And when I say terrible, I mean, people went out of their way to write to me and say, “I did not buy your book because the cover was THAT bad.” When I complained to the publisher I was basically told to shut up, which smarts. I mean, that’s my book I labored over, and their cover sunk it. I’ll never get over it.

Around that same time, a friend convinced me to self publish one of my edgier books on Amazon. It started to sell–really SELL. By the second month it climbed to number one on the erotica bestseller list and stayed there for over a week. I had priced it at $2.99 and I sold thousands of copies at that price. I’m not saying that’s normal, but for whatever reason, the book generated word of mouth, and I made $12,000 on it that month. Meanwhile, my traditionally published book with the awful cover was priced at 11.90 and sold, I don’t know, maybe 30 copies.

I did the math in my head…hmmm…do I want to sell 30 copies a month and make $30 in royalties, or sell 6000 copies a month and get $12,000 in royalties? I was actually in contract negotiations with my next book and pulled out. The publisher got mad and it was a bad scene, but I’ve never looked back and I don’t regret it. For me, it was a matter of making a living at what I was doing, or not making a living, and I wanted to make a living.

John Hartness: I got impatient with the traditional publishing process. Not understanding the sheer volume of submissions agents and publishers receive, I waited a month after sending out my first few query letters and pulled the trigger on self-publishing.

Q: Do you love self-publishing or do you wish you were with a traditional publisher?

John Hartness: Even now that I am with a traditional publisher, I can’t foresee ever selling all my properties to traditional publishers. I love the editorial support I get from my publisher, but I love the control of self-publishing. And I write so much faster than any publisher could keep up with, so I will always keep at least one foot in the self-publishing waters. I look at all of it as stops on the journey. I learned a ton self-publishing that I’m now able to apply to my traditionally published works. Then I’m learning a ton through working with a traditional press that I can apply to my self-pub work. So it all flows back and forth.

Jennifer Malone Wright: There are some days I would disagree with the statement I’m going to make, but for the most part I totally love self publishing. I love being able to keep track of all my sales and know what works and what doesn’t. I love the creative process of picking covers and stuff like that. I actually like marketing so doing that doesn’t bother me either. The only thing I really don’t like is the accounting part of it.

Annabel Joseph: I only miss one thing about traditional publishing, and that’s the “prestige” factor. It doesn’t matter how many books you’re selling or how much money you’re making…a self-published author still appears “lesser” than a traditionally published author. There’s a stigma attached to it, the assumption that you’re self publishing because your work’s not publishable, and that’s not always the case.

I should mention here that I do believe it’s beneficial to put out at least a book or two the traditional way– if you can–because you learn a lot about what and what not to do. You learn a lot of things about writing and editing. If you’re determined to begin your career as a self publisher, do yourself a favor and hire an experienced editor to help you through your first few books. You need it. It’s costly, but I can’t stress this enough…everyone needs editors. Everyone. Every. One. Pay the money.

Q: I know each of you spend money on your covers. How important is a good cover to the sellability of the book?

Annabel Joseph: I know from experience they have a massive effect on book sales. My best covers have my best sales. My worst covers have my worst sales. Publishers will tell you–when you don’t like your cover–that covers don’t matter. It’s such a lie. When I talk to readers, they tell me they judge the cover before the blurb. You can have the best blurb in the world, but if that cover pic doesn’t compel them to click, they aren’t going to get to the blurb. Books live and die by the Amazon thumbnail, so not only do you need a great cover…it needs to be compelling in itty-bitty thumbnail form.

John Hartness:  I think a good cover is critical, particularly in paperback. I know I lost sales before I re-did all the covers to my books last year. I spend less money and time on my ebook short stories, but I can almost get away with that. But when I’m asking someone to shell out money for my novels, they need to get a professionally presented product.

Jennifer Malone Wright: Oh my goodness. A good cover is sooo important. I have seen several of my friends change their covers to something better and see their sales jump dramatically. I never did my own covers, The Vampire Hunter’s Daughter sells really well and the covers are great. My other novel, The Birth of Jaiden, doesn’t sell so well so we are going to try and come up with a new cover when we do the re release after it has been re edited. Think about how many books are out there, if yours doesn’t have an eye catching cover people will scan right on past it.

Q: What’s the best thing about self-publishing?

Jennifer Malone Wright: The best thing about self publishing is that I am in control of all my own work and I get a pretty good royalty compared to what traditionally published authors get.

Annabel Joseph: Control of your work is the number one best thing. A self publishing author controls the cover, the subject matter, the release date, the price, the formats, everything. Until you get a bad cover, or have an ebook out there priced at $11 totally tanking, you don’t understand how important that control is, or how powerless you are at a traditional publisher. Basically, you have NO power and no rights to your work, even though you’ve written the book. It’s difficult. With self publishing, you never have to surrender your rights or your power.

Self-publishing also allows you to bend genres and tiptoe around the outside of various genres, because you can put out things publishers don’t want to take a chance on. I’ve come to realize there are a lot of things readers want that publishers won’t touch. Self publishing allows authors to fill that niche. I had a historical called Lily Mine that a publisher kicked out a week before the release date because they said the ending was too implausible. It was a Cinderella-type story, and I believed readers would love it, so I published it myself. It climbed to number 12 on the erotica bestseller list and has continued to sell well for over a year now. Publishers aren’t always right about what people want to read.

John Hartness: The control.

Q: What’s the worst thing?

John Hartness: Having to do it all myself. I’m a team of one on my self-pub stuff, and with my traditionally pubbed work I’ve got a group working with me.

Jennifer Malone Wright: I said it before up there, the accounting. I freaking hate the whole save this for your taxes and make sure to claim this and blah blah blah… I hate it!

Annabel Joseph: Lack of respect, lack of opportunity. I have to kiss a lot of butt and do a lot of networking to get a spot at conferences or author panels, or to get reviewed on the bigger blogs. I’m not welcome at big romance conventions like RWA or RT, even though I imagine my sales match or exceed their published authors. It’s a constant struggle to be taken seriously, to prove yourself.

Q: Do you still get flack for being self-published, or has that day passed us by?

Annabel Joseph: No, it hasn’t passed us by. I do feel like the red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry. A lot of doors are closed to me because of the choices I’ve made, but I remind myself that I’m making a living at writing because I’m self publishing. The checks I get from my publishers are about 1/10 of the checks I get from my self-published work, and I don’t want to go back to those slave wages over an issue of pride. I have to remember it’s about the success, not the prestige. It’s about reaching readers and being able to stay home and do this as a full-time job. It’s worth a few people looking down their noses at me.

John Hartness: We’re not quite past that day, but we’re close. I still get a few snubs from cons and book festivals that won’t look at self-pubbed authors, and some agents and editors still look down their nose, but more and more people are travelling the hybrid author road, so it’s starting to look less like a decision people are forced into and more like a viable career path.

Jennifer Malone Wright: I do think, to an extent that that day has passed us by, but not completely. When I was first published I did get flack. You know, like when someone says “Oh, your published! With who?” then you tell them you are self published and you can see their whole facial expression change and they say “Oh.” Yeah, that has passed us by. We still have a long way to go to overcome the stigmas and stereotypes of self publishing over the years.

Q: Any predictions about the future? What will happen with traditional publishing? What will happen with self-publishing?

John Hartness: I think the picture of the author of the future will be different from the author of today. I think with a hybrid career (some trad pub, some self pub) we’ll see more midlist authors able to actually make a living off their writing, and writing will become a viable profession once again. I think the mass market paperback is dead within five years unless you’re a top 20 bestseller, and it will be replaced by ebooks and trade paperbacks. And I think we’re in the midst of a renaissance for small press and micro-press publishers.

Jennifer Malone Wright: I think we are always going to have traditional publishing, I don’t really have a prediction about them. For independent publishing, I think it will keep rising up and eventually a lot of these independent authors will be very, very well known. However, independent publishers must realize that we must have our product be equal or better than the traditional publishers or the self publishing industry will fall again.

Annabel Joseph: I think publishers will have to become more service-oriented to keep authors in the fold. The exodus to self-publishing has already begun, and to retain authors, publishers will have to cough up some perks to offset the low royalties they pay, like more author control. They’ll have to cater more to their authors and maybe even offer to do the promo legwork that has traditionally fallen into the author’s lap.

Otherwise I don’t see how they survive, how they remain relevant. Once the digital market overtakes the paper book market, and mass distribution of paper books loses importance, all publishers really have to offer is prestige and whatever perks they can think up to convince authors to share their royalties with them.

All I know is things are changing like crazy. It will be interesting to see where they end up.

***********

WOW! Thank you all for being so open and up front. I appreciate it.

See, dear reader, this is what you DON’T get from other blogs. I bring you the straight dope from folks who are LIVING this. Now do your part. These are all PHENOMENAL authors. You like to read so go buy one of their books. Follow them on twitter, like them on faceybook, repost their stuff. These fine folks are worthy of your support. Love them like you love me and buy their shit. 🙂

Here are your links:

ANNABEL JOSEPH

Website: www.annabeljoseph.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/annabeljosephnovels

Twitter: @annabeljoseph

Fetlife: Annabel_Joseph

Latest release: BURN FOR YOU

JOHN HARTNESS

Facebook : facebook.com/johnghartness.

  Website: www.johnhartness.com

Twitter:  @johnhartness.

Latest Release: SIXTEEN TONS A Bubba the Monster Hunter short

JENNIFER MALONE WRIGHT

Website: www.jenniferwrightauthor.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thevampirehuntersdaughter

Twitter:https://twitter.com/Jennichad217

Goodreads:http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4824985.Jennifer_Malone_Wright

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Malone-Wright/e/B00508KU4I/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

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3 Comments

  1. That was an amazing interview and quite helpful! I have always wanted to hear from self-published authors to get their perspective on the choice to self-publish, so this was extremely informative. Thank you so much! I’m already a huge fan of Jennifer Malone Wright, but I will definitely look into Annabel and John’s work now.

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