Indie Author Panel

by Ashlynmathews on November 27, 2012

As most of you know, I self-published a novella recently, and the release couldn’t have come at a better time. My contemporary novella, If Only, released almost two weeks ahead of schedule. Yes, it was my schedule, but once I put the release date out there, I wanted to stick by that even if no one else cared but me.

It takes a village to raise a child, and same goes for our babies, our stories. When I decided it was time to self-publish, I reached out to my Seattle and Portland RWA chapter members and my friend Christine McKnight. Through them, I was able to find a cover artist and an editor.

How much have I spent? Keeping in mind this is a novella, I spent approximately $300. And this number doesn’t include the subsequent money spent on promotion. From gleaning over the information off of the Indie Romance Ink loop, I believe I can self-publish for less.

But since this is my first time, I think I can get away with paying a bit more than the norm, and right now, I don’t regret the money spent. The process for me was seamless and fun. Isn’t that what it’s all about? To enjoy ourselves, or else why slave over something that might not ever pay the bills?

Today, I have with me a panel of self-published authors. I’ll let them introduce themselves to include how long they’ve been self-publishing, how many books they have out there, and what their upcoming releases are. Then we’ll talk shop. Feel free to leave comments. This is a group that loves to share their experiences.

 

Anthea Lawson/Sharp: Thanks for having us here, Ashlyn! I think it’s great you’ve jumped into the self-publishing pool – and that you took the time and did the research to do it right.

I write historical romance as Anthea Lawson, and have released four novellas and an anthology since I began self-publishing a year and a half ago. I also have two traditionally published novels out, but am happy being an Indie author these days!

I also write YA Urban Fantasy as Anthea Sharp. I have two novels out in my award-winning Feyland trilogy, and am just about to release the last book in the series, FEYLAND: THE TWILIGHT KINGDOM.

Vanna Smythe:  Hi everyone and thank you Ashlyn for inviting me to participate in this panel. Congrats on finishing your second novel! I’m a fantasy author, and have self-published my first novel, Protector (Anniversary of the Veil, Book 1) in March 2012. I’m currently working on Book 2 of the series, Decision Maker. I’m hoping to release it by Christmas 2012.

 

Christina McKnight: Thank you Ashlyn for having me! Well, I’m Christina McKnight and I self-published my 1st novel in September 2012, Only In Her Dreams (The Oneiroi Book 1). I knew from the time I started writing this particular novel that I would self-pub. I have two more novels scheduled for release next year, Shunned No More (Historical Romance) and Only In Her Nightmares (Urban Fantasy – The Oneiroi Book 2). Over the last few years I worked on networking with other writers and learning all I could about the world of publishing — both traditional and indie. Now I have a network of professionals I work with to release my novels, from an editor, cover artist, banner and wraparound designer, formatter and promotion specialist.

 

 

 

 

 

When people find out I self-published a book, the number one question is why? I won’t bore anyone with my longwinded answer and strategy, so guests, what are your answers?

Anthea Lawson/Sharp:  My friends are used to me being a big DIY gal. I’ve produced and recorded CDs of my Celtic music and done various other projects myself through the years, so I don’t get the ‘why’ question so much as ‘how does that work?’ I get to talk a lot about the changes in publishing, and how ebooks are making a big difference to the way books are bought, especially in the romance genre. And how much I love the control and freedom of being an independent author, especially after spending a few years being traditionally published.

Vanna Smythe: My debut novel started as a NaNo project in 2009 and took me over two years to complete and publish. Once it was ready, I decided to self-publish without first seeking the traditional publishing route. I’m a do-it-yourself kind of person and self-publishing gives me the freedom to do as I please 🙂

My primary reason for deciding to self-publish was to avoid the long wait associated with shopping the novel around with publishers and/or agents. I’ve been writing since High School, and have had short stories and poems published in magazines and anthologies before, but it took a long time to get accepted and the rejections were hard to deal with 🙂

I also heard a lot of stories about traditionally published authors still needing a day job to get by, which was another thing that put me off seeking a trad publishing contract 😉 I know I won’t make enough through my novels to live on for awhile yet, but I made back my initial investment of about $500 in the first three months of self-publishing, so the possibility definitely exists 🙂

Christina McKnight:  Ha! I get this question all the time. My go-to answer: I’m a control freak! I enjoy the advantages of selecting my own cover art and title, release dates, editing decisions, genre selection, and marketing plan. When you accept a traditional contract you also give up your right to make final decisions. With my 1st novel, Only In Her Dreams, I felt I was ahead of the trends…meaning people were writing about vampires, zombies, werewolves and witches…but not mythology! I wanted to capitalize on this niche market and waiting for a traditional publisher to actually publish my book (sometimes as long as a year!) was not an option I thought in my best interest.

Potential writers thinking of self-publishing like to have an idea of costs. Can you give us a ballpark figure for the costs you’ve incurred?

Anthea Lawson/Sharp: I hired the fabulous Kim Killion (thekilliongroup.com) to make the covers for my Urban Fantasy series, and I love them! I also do print versions of my novels, so the full cover design for both digital and print runs around $200 a book. Add another $25 for expanded distribution in CreateSpace, and a little more for buying stock photos and making up book release promo items, and I’d say my novels run around $250 each. I’m fortunate to have a fabulous critique partner, beta-readers with keen editorial sense, and eagle-eyed proofreaders among my circle of friends, so my cost there is some fancy chocolates, free books, and copious thanks.

That said, my ebook novellas and short stories run me around $5 each for the stock photo license, and that’s it.

Every project is different, and I encourage anyone contemplating self-publishing to think hard about where you’d like to hire help, and what you feel you can do on your own. Just remember, the point is to build a loyal readership, and you owe it to those readers to put your best work out there.  🙂

Promotion is another cost – from giving away copies of your books to buying ads. I’ve heard top-selling authors recommend you put 25% of your profits back into promotion. I’ve heard other top-selling authors recommend you don’t worry about promo and just keep writing. It’s also a good idea to wait until you have at least 3 titles out before hitting the promo hard. I’ve run a lot of book giveaways, and just recently bought a few ads to ramp up excitement for the release of this 3rd book in my trilogy – but I’ve still spent less than $200 on promotion. I’m pretty frugal and choosy about what I do, though, and don’t anticipate spending a lot in this area. Other people’s approaches may differ.

Vanna Smythe:  Like I already mentioned, I spent about $500 on editing, cover design (which I ended up not using, but that’s another story), books and courses on marketing and writing craft, and the initial promotional blog tours and advertising. Since then, I spent about $200 more on further blog tours, ads and sponsored posts on ebook blogs.

Christina McKnight:  Sure!

Editor: $450.00 — For an editor you can estimate between $400-$1,200. I know this is a huge range but it depends how much work you think your novel needs. Basic proofreading all the way to line edits.

Cover Artist: $75.00 — You can plan between $50-$200, depending on what you are looking for. Many artist offer pre-designed or discounted covers. I opted for a completely original cover.

Wraparound/Banner Designer: Wraparound $25.00 / Banner $35.00 — Many writers think all they need is a cover to publish but if you want to have your book in print (which I highly suggest!) you also need the wraparound designed and fitted. Banners are great for promoting and marketing your book.

Formatting: $75.00-$150.00 — I formatted my own book for print but hired a professional to format my novel for Kindle (mobi) and B&N (ePub). You can do this yourself but it is very time consuming and in the end you may still have to hire someone.

ISBN Number: $250.00 (for ten numbers)

This was a cost I knew nothing about until about 10 days before I published…and I completely freaked out! Many writers use the free numbers issued by Creat Space. I opted to purchase my own universal numbers so my book could be carried in a few local bookstores. Remember: you will need a different number for your ebook and paperback.

Promotion/Marketing: $120.00 — I set up a release day blitz and month long blog tour for my novel. While I’m not completely sure this was worth the money spent, my name and book cover was seen by a large amount of readers.

If you can credit one person, website or organization in influencing you to pick your chosen path of self-publishing, who or what was it?

Anthea Lawson/Sharp: A trio of active bloggers gave me the courage to go forward on the Indie path: The Passive Guy (at the fabulous Passive Voice blog, thepassivevoice.com), Kris Rusch (kriswrites.com), and Dean Wesley Smith (deanwesleysmith.com). Those three individuals blog regularly about all things publishing, and how an author can find their path during these rapidly changing times. I owe them a debt of gratitude!

 

Vanna Smythe:  That’s a tough one. I guess the success of Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath had a lot to do with it.  While I researched self-publishing I also found that there were a lot of authors who weren’t making crazy money off their self-published works, but were making enough to live on. After I found out about them I decided to take the risk and self-publish. I’m really happy I did too 🙂

Christina McKnight: Oh, gosh! I would say it was an article I read about the measly amount of money that Harlequin Romance authors made off each book they published. I can’t locate the article at the moment but it stated that authors for this publisher were making 24 to 32 cents per $8 book sold! Really?! Does this seem extremely low to anyone but me? I make 70% royalties on every ebook that is purchased.

 

Ok, ladies, one last question. We all know the work isn’t done once our books are out there and so we promo like crazy. And going on very good and tried advice, we write our next books, and the next. So besides promo and writing the next book, any thoughts on what to do next for any author, self-published or traditionally published? I know that’s a hard last question, lol. But it beats my Resident Evil apocalypse question?

Anthea Lawson/Sharp: Bring on the apocalypse question! J  I think networking with other authors is crucial – whether it’s through a local RWA chapter, an online group, going to conferences, or even just reading publishing blogs and commenting. The publishing industry is changing so fast right now, I think it’s essential for every author to stay *informed* about what’s happening, and to keep connecting with other writers.

Vanna Smythe:  Never fall asleep on promotion! I did, once my sales reached about 6 a day and I thought the sales growth would continue without my effort behind it. My sales have since declined a lot. After I release my next book, I won’t make the same mistake.

I’m planning on trying to keep my name out there through regular (weekly) appearances on blogs, tweeting and working on my Facebook fan page.

I also have plans to write and release a prequel to my series, which will be a stand-alone book, and will hopefully work to drive the sales of my series. I’m pretty sure now that the only guarantee of long-term success is keeping your name out there through new releases, though sacrificing quality for quantity is never a good idea 😉 Thanks for having me, Ashlyn! Good luck with your new release!

Christina McKnight:  Get your book on Goodreads! I didn’t know about this site until three months before I published. As soon as I had my release date scheduled I started a giveaway for 3 signed paperbacks…over 900 people entered! Imagine—900 people saw my cover and entered before my book was even released. These people add it to their TBR list. My book got a ton of visibility from this. Next, I entered my novel in several Read 2 Review groups which started readers buzzing about it. I really think Goodreads is a viable option for spreading the word about your book.

 

Thank you all for stopping by my blog. I hope we were able to give readers some insight into the self-publishing world and also more options for aspiring authors in these rapidly changing times of publishing.  I had such a great time hosting this panel of talented authors. Feel free to leave comments and questions.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Vanna Smythe November 28, 2012 at 7:52 am

The post looks great 😉

Good point about Goodreads, Christina. I haven’t really done much marketing on there, but I plan to.

And yes, Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith truly offer some awesome advice on self-publishing and writing.

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Ashlynmathews November 28, 2012 at 11:56 am

Thank you Vanna! Ok, now, I’m gonna need to check out these guys- Kris and Dean. They seem like awesome bloggers to follow 🙂

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Mary Merrell November 28, 2012 at 9:37 am

Great interview, Ashlyn. This comes at a crucial time for me as I write for NaNoWrimo and feel sad about my low sales. All the advice and encouragement makes me excited about getting back on the Promo band wagon and stop feeling sorry for myself. Love you indie writers. And thanks. Mary

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Ashlynmathews November 28, 2012 at 11:57 am

Awww, thanks Mary. I’m glad my post was helpful and I’m so lucky to have these three authors as a resource. They’re awesome!

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jamie November 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I’ve done both routes and the sales are all over the place. One influential friend can cause a spurt of sales… then nothing. I’ve heard numerous indie authors say it takes 5 titles to brand yourself, and 20 titles to make a living. Thoughts?

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Christina McKnight November 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm

You have a great point, Jamie. I think it takes 3-5 books to complete your brand…and if your write a series, all the better.

20 books to make a living, wow. From what I’ve read, indie authors need to publish 3 books a year to make a decent living. I can give you a for sure answer in 2014, LOL. I have three books planned for release in 2013.

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Vanna Smythe November 28, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I hope that stat is not true. At my rate it will take me 10 years to write 20 books. Though I guess 3 books a year is doable. I’m planning to conclude my series (one more book and a prequel) next year, so I’ll be able to say more about it all then 😉

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Anthea Lawson November 28, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Hi Jamie,

It really depends. I started to see stronger sales after my 4th title released. But keep in mind, shorter works count! And it’s really a good time to write and release shorter works, like novellas or short stories. People’s lives are busy and they like having a bite-sized story at times. Sales of my short works have been strong.

You never know what title is going to take off. It might be your first, or your fourth, or your 20th. Nobody knows much about indie publishing right now, so I’d take any ‘rules’ with a grain of salt. 🙂

My advice is to keep writing and publishing the best work you can, and after you have a handful of titles out, do some promotion.

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Stephanie November 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Great interview everyone! You have given me lots of helpful hints. I will definitely be looking into the book give aways on Good Reads.
Thanks

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Ashlynmathews November 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm

I’ve heard from others that Goodreads giveaways are great exposure but found out recently that my enovella didn’t count because I didn’t have a print copy to give. Sigh.

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Anthea Lawson November 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

There’s always LibraryThing, which allows ebook giveaways. 🙂

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Ashlynmathews November 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Oooh, I’ll give that a try. Thank you!

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Maggie Jaimeson November 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Ashlyn, that’s a change to their policy. I did ebook only giveaways for non-U.S. members last spring along with print books for U.S. members. I checked their support network today and it says they haven’t found a way to make it work yet.

However, there is a GIVEAWAYS GROUP on GoodReads http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/50149-giveaways which is run by a group that has formed as a social group within the site. On that group, if you join, any author can post a giveaway of any type, including ebooks. The difference is that your reach is only the number of people in the group which right now is around 2,700 instead of the millions of people on GoodReads as a whole. But hey, it’s better than nothing.

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Ashlynmathews November 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Every little bit helps 🙂 Thanks Maggie for sharing!

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Christina McKnight November 28, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Ashlyn,
Thank you so much for including me on your panel. Your readers are free to email me if they need further advice.

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Jenny Twist November 29, 2012 at 1:34 am

I have so far only self-published one book. It sold more in the first few days than all my conventionally-published books put together do in a quarter, and it cost me … nothing. Dear friends edited it, did the original painting and did the cover art. Obviously, I will pay them for the next book, but it was a great start for me. http://amzn.com/B009DNXCSW

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Monica Britt November 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm

What awesome information here, ladies. Thank you! I’m going to save this page for reference! One question – unless it was asked above. How do you determine ‘wrap around’ dimensions?

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Vanna Smythe November 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Hi Monica, you will get the wrap around dimensions from the book printer based on your page count, margins, paper quality, and so on. Hope this answers your question!

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Maggie Jaimeson November 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Nice panel, ladies. I agree that Kris and Dean have lots of advice. For those who are not familiar with them, the blogs are: http://kristinekathrynrusch.com/ for all the business info and http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/ They are both good about linking back to previous posts.

I’ve self-pubbed three books so far and one is at a traditional digital/print small press. I’ve definitely made more on my self-pubs than at the small press. However, I am nowhere near making a living at it. Because of the plethora of titles being released and the general inability to get wide notice, I think that self-pubbing is a “long-tail” game. Word of mouth will eventually win out, but I think it is easily 12-24 months before a book begins to get that kind of word of mouth. Also, every time I do a new release –and it gets decent review–then previous titles are also purchased.

Thanks for sharing all your info.

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Rebecca J. Clark December 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm

This is perfect timing for me as I’ll be releasing my first indie book this next week (or so). Trying to figure out the CreateSpace thing first. I didn’t know about the Goodreads giveaways either, so thanks for that info. I’ll go check that out.

Thank you all!

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Sarah Raplee December 17, 2012 at 9:09 pm

What a great idea! Thank you all for sharing your experiences.

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