Recently I had a visitor to the website who asked several questions about my self-publishing experience. There wasn’t a good way to keep my responses short, though I tried at first. Instead I’m putting my answers in a regular post so that anyone else who is curious can read them as well. Here goes:
“Could you please talk about your experience?”
Publishing is a lot like riding a rollercoaster. Some days I’m on top of the world writing good stuff and hearing back from readers who enjoy my work. Thanks to all those awesome people who commented on my last post! Other days I might have trouble moving forward while working on a scene and/or catch some criticism of one of my books that makes me think I’m the most horrible writer in the world.
There are days I can’t imagine having any other job and that it’s the absolute best. Then I have days where I question why I released my stories for anyone else to read because, obviously, I completely suck. What was I thinking letting anyone see the crazy ideas that come into my head?
Writers have to be deeply in touch with their feelings in order to produce quality work. This is important, but can also make the whole experience more difficult from an emotional standpoint. If a reader is disappointed with your latest book you feel like you let them down though you honestly wrote it the way you believed it had to be written. I thank God for all my encouraging fans. They’re what has kept me releasing the next ones, though I’d probably never stop writing regardless.
“How you went about it. What was the process like? What pit falls did you encounter?”
For how I went about it, you must keep in mind I was writing for a few years before I published and that Darkness Haunts was not my first book. It was simply the first I thought worth sharing with the world. So when I made the big decision to publish I waited nearly a year from the time the first draft was completed before self-publishing it. I queried agents, entered it into ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards), and also learned everything about publishing I could.
I researched cover artists, editors, ebook formatting, paperbacks, and a lot on marketing. Though I refused to change to a genre that might be more salable (people were saying urban fantasy was a dying genre), I did study my market so as to gauge my expectations. I also followed other authors and read about their experiences, soaking up every bit of information I could. At the end, I even changed the title to something more fitting and catchy than the original. It wasn’t Darkness Haunts until two months before I released it.
Publishing is not a business you jump into one day. Just because you can write does not mean you are capable of doing it on your own, which is what you have to do with self-publishing. It’s sort of like being a good cook in the kitchen. Is that enough to qualify you to run a restaurant? No, you’d have to learn the business side of things first or you’d fail. Too many authors write books and then release them on Amazon thinking that’s all they have to do start selling. It’s only later you see them scrambling to figure out how to market their work—often months after they started publishing. They may have had good intentions, but they went into the business blind.
Before I published I had multiple beta readers and editors go over Darkness Haunts to help me make it as good as I could get it. I found a cover artist who had done work for many best-selling authors and whose style really appealed to me. She helped me create a cover that could grab readers’ attention because no matter what anyone says that’s the first thing people see. Readers don’t have time to look at the summary for every novel they come across, but if you catch their attention with the cover you might get them to look a little further. Maybe even buy your book. I also set up a marketing plan and followed it.
Altogether I think I spent close to $1500 on that first book (more since then) and went straight to work on the next one, Darkness Taunts, that cost me even more money. Publishing wasn’t cheap and has only gotten more expensive as I progress in my career. I didn’t buy clothes for over a year (not so much as a shirt or pair of socks), skipped meals, and sacrificed on things like going to the movies or nice restaurants. Whatever it took to have enough so I could publish and market my novels. Because I believed in them and wanted to give them the best chance possible. Maybe it was crazy to go that far, but you do what you think you must.
Even with all that sales were lackluster in the first few months. I think I only made a few hundred dollars, which didn’t come close to recouping my initial expenses. My husband was nagging me to give up on it and do something else. But then out of the blue sales picked up after I’d stopped marketing and gone on to focus on finishing Darkness Taunts (book 2). I’ll never know why other than possibly those initial readers helped spread the word (thanks to everyone who has been with me since the beginning).
Very few authors are successful right out of the gate. I knew that going into it and kept my expectations low. Some authors have to release a dozen books or more before they find their audience. Some remain forever in obscurity. The odds of making a living at writing are very slim and I’d be generous to give it a five percent chance. That’s for all authors as a whole. You can’t go into this business thinking you’ll be rich and successful and even if you do hit it big you can always come back down. Nothing is guaranteed to last. Do it because you love it, but not for the money.
I’ve been extremely lucky. My expectations have been met far beyond what I’d imagined, but I stay grounded because it can end at any time. The market shifts and favor only follows you for so long (unless you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts). Maybe I’ll release a book everyone hates or something that’s not appealing to them. Just because we think our story is a great idea doesn’t mean anyone else will agree.
In the end you have to be true to yourself. Some people will do their best to write what they think the market wants. That may very well work for them. For me, I write my stories in the way I think they need to be told and refuse to compromise (unless my editors are pointing out plot holes or inconsistencies). I’ll never please everyone and would go insane trying.
Some will say there isn’t enough romance, some will say there’s too much (grins naughtily). Some people tell me they love the amount of description I put in my stories, others say it’s barely in there. I’ve had numerous people tell me my books are fast-paced, but the occasional person says they’re too slow. It can get downright confusing to hear so many conflicting reports. There is no formula out there to make a story perfect. There is no book (at least among the well-read ones) that has nothing but glowing five-star reviews.
We’re human and we all go into books with our own pre-conceived notions and expectations. That’s okay because the world would be a dull place if everyone liked the exact same things. God knows I’ve picked up some popular books only to be baffled why anyone likes them and vice versa. Sometimes I enjoy stories many others don’t.
Write the story you love and give it every chance to succeed should you choose to publish it, but be prepared for it to fail. We all want to make a living at our work. That’s normal. But in a creative industry it can be ten times harder to achieve.
“What recommendations would you make for others who are considering doing the same thing?”
Learn everything you can. Below are some websites I recommend all writers check out and follow for publishing tips and news. I don’t necessarily agree with everything said in them, but I think it’s important to understand the market as a whole. Stay informed and never assume you’ve learned all there is to know.
Hope all the above helps and that I’ve answered your questions thoroughly.
Oh, and I’m totally stealing the below video off of Hugh Howey’s site because it is a true representation of what writing can be like:
What she says!
And this… sometimes, if someone asks me if they should start writing, I tell them not to. I then explain that if my opinion is the only thing that they’re going to base their decision on, it’s the wrong decision for them. You need to want to write. If you want to write enough, then no one else’s opinion matters.
(All of which is nothing to do with how you get people to read it, but that’s the second step).
Very true, Mark. Writing is definitely a personal choice.
Thank you for the insight into a little of how much you have to put into self publishing. For me as a reader it makes me appreciate the book as a finished article even more. I can really tell with your books that heart and soul has gone into them. And I feel very priviliged to have picked up your first book near the beginning!
Thanks, Sarah. I definitely count you as a wonderful supporter 🙂
I really appreciate, as a reader, all of the effort you put into your novels. I had countless people tell me they would never read a self-published author, because often the editing is terrible and you cannot get through the book because of inconsistencies and grammar and spelling errors, but then I introduce them to your series. They always come to me and say, “She’s self-publish? No way!” It’s kind of been funny since over the years, I have definitely seen poor self-publishing, but I always give those authors a try because sometimes, like with your series, I find something amazing.
I really appreciate you recommending my series to others, Kathryn. Thank you! I do know what you mean about the number of poorly written books and can understand reader frustration with that, but it is such an amazing feeling when you discover a self-published author who can really tell a story. That’s where word-of-mouth can be so important. Though I have a lot less time to read than I used to, I do try to recommend those hidden gems I find. You’d hate for people to miss them!
You’re making it because you not only have talent, you also get the big picture and realize that being a successful writer takes a lot of hard work. There are many wannabe writers out there who think they are so special that readers will be begging them for a chance to read their books. You understand that you have to sell readers on giving your books a chance. Keep up the good work!
Thanks, Urs. Glad to see you stop by!