Over the years, I wrote a lot of work for hire and finally sold the Haunted series, about a brother and sister who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. Aladdin released the first three books—The Ghost on the Stairs, The Riverboat Phantom and The Knight in the Shadows—but between the poor economy and major changes at the publisher, they decided not to continue the series. I had a nearly complete fourth manuscript, The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, so eventually I started looking into self-publishing for that title. I still plan to do that, but I’ve gotten distracted by other opportunities. I recently released The Eyes of Pharaoh, a middle grade mystery set in ancient Egypt, and my first adult novel, a romantic suspense set in the wilderness of New Mexico, titled Rattled.
How has publishing changed in the years you’ve been an author?
You hear about what is selling or not, but regardless of the supposedly hot trends, getting a book deal is hard. I started with historical fiction but then found I couldn’t sell my Egypt book. Though editors liked the story, they said either that historical fiction wasn’t selling well, or that they already had an Egypt book in their backlist and didn’t want to compete with themselves. A few years ago, you didn’t have many options for this situation, or for a canceled series. Self-publishing only worked if you were a great marketer, or you just wanted enough copies for your family and friends. Plus, you had a big initial financial investment.
Recent technology changes have provided new opportunities for authors. You can publish your work in e-book form or print on demand. The process can be inexpensive, depending on how much of the work you can do yourself (layout and formatting, for example).
For The Eyes of Pharaoh, I traded a manuscript critique for professional proofreading, did the POD layout myself with the help of my graphic designer husband, and got a great price on cover art and design from a local illustrator friend, Lois Bradley. I made the book available for $6.99 in paperback or $2.99 for the Kindle or Nook. I get over $1 per book for the paperback and $2 per book for the e-book, so it doesn’t take too many sales to make back my low initial investment. And finally the book is available to interested readers!
I know many traditionally published authors who are looking into self-publishing for their out-of-print books, for new books in a series that has been dropped by the publisher, and sometimes even for new works that could get a traditional publishing deal.
You have recently self-published with the blessing of your agent: Can you tell us how you decided to do this?
I explored self-publishing as an option for some of my children’s books that didn’t interest big publishers. But the more I read, the more I recognized the opportunities for adult genre fiction. I’d written my first book for grown-ups, under the name Kris Bock (to separate it from my children’s books). Rattled is a romantic suspense involving treasure hunting in New Mexico. Romance and mystery novels do very well as e-books. It still helps to have a publisher behind you, but by self-publishing, I could price the e-book lower ($2.99) to lure in new readers, while keeping more of the money per book. It’s also available as a print on demand for $7.99, but I expect most sales to be as e-books.
Timing was a big factor in my decision. I have an agent who had read and liked the book, but he didn’t know a lot of romantic suspense editors, so I figured it could take six months to a year to find a publisher and negotiate a contract (assuming it sold). Then figure another year or two to get the book out. The publisher might not want to buy a second book until they saw how well the first book did. It’s hard to run a business on this kind of schedule. Working on my own, I had the book published in six weeks—in time for a mystery convention I just attended. I don’t get an advance, but I start earning money on the book right away.
I was worried about telling my agent I wanted to self publish, since he had already put the time into reading the book and giving me feedback. But he said he absolutely supported me in that decision—he knew mid-list romance novelists who get decent advances but are turning to self-publishing because they could do better that way. If the book does well enough, I may still need an agent for foreign rights, movie rights, etc., or if a traditional publisher wants to pick up the paperback rights. I don’t see agents going away in this publishing climate, but I expect their roles will change. Fortunately, my agent sees this too.
How do you plan on promoting your self published books?
I started by making sure I had good descriptions of the titles on Amazon, with sample chapters. I added tag words, and I’m asking friends to “agree with these tag words” so that the books show up earlier in searches. I’m also asking people to post reviews once they’ve read the book. At the mystery convention, I gave out several review copies and asked people to review the book on Amazon, their blogs, etc. in return. I spoke at the convention so I had a chance to mention the books a few times, and I gave out bookmarks and postcards. I also built a separate website for my Kris Bock alter ego. I posted the first three chapters on that site so people can read a sample before they commit.
From my many years in children’s book publishing, I have connections around the country and the world. I’ve helped people publicize their work in the past, so I’m hoping they’ll return the favor. I’ve also gotten involved in a listserv for mystery writers and fans, and I’ve already been invited to guest post on a couple of blogs. I’ll get more active in the Kindle forums, where a lot of Kindle users find out about new books.
The first step to publicity is making sure you have a great book. Next is letting people know about it. Online social networking is a way to do that. Many traditionally published authors are doing this kind of promoting as well, so I don’t consider this a disadvantage to self-publishing. It’s just the way our world is today.
What are some advantages to self-publishing? Disadvantages?
There is a learning curve to self-publishing, though no worse than learning to write query letters and research publishers for traditional publishing. You have to do all your own publicity, or hire someone. Many traditionally published authors do this, but some manage to avoid it. The main disadvantage is probably for children’s books—the e-book market isn’t strong yet, especially for younger readers, though I expect it will improve over the next 2 to 5 years.
I think the primary challenge to self-publishing is making sure you have a worthy book. Many beginning and intermediate writers think their work is better than it is. Publishing bad work can hurt your career worse than not publishing at all. Anyone considering self-publishing should get a couple of professional reviews first. Even previously published authors should get feedback on their manuscripts.
You also need to make sure that your cover art and design, copyediting, and layout are professional. Some authors are banding together to form conglomerates that review and approve each other’s work, which will also let potential readers know that the work is up to a professional standard.
The big advantage is control. You decide what gets published and when. You approve the cover art. You determine the pricing. You can play with your book’s description, price, and even cover over time, for real-time market research. It’s exhilarating to feel like I’m in control of my career! It’s also an opportunity to release books that might not have a large enough audience to tempt a traditional publisher, but may still do well enough to pay a few bills and help promote the author’s reputation. It’s a venue for novellas or short story collections as well.
Do you think you’d try this again?
Absolutely. I’m planning to continue self-publishing my romantic suspense books under the name Kris Bock. Other authors have shown that having more books available exponentially increases sales as people who are tempted by one title then get interested in others. I’m not saying I would absolutely turn down a traditional publishing deal, but it’s no longer my first priority for my adult books. My agent is shopping around a middle grade boy suspense book. If that doesn’t sell, I may self-publish it. I’ll see how well The Eyes of Pharaoh does first. It’s all an experiment and a gamble, but isn’t that true of traditional publishing—and the rest of life?
The Eyes of Pharaoh, set in Egypt in 1177 BC, brings an ancient world to life. When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt? Then Reya disappears. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time? For ages nine and up.
Rattled, by Kris Bock, brings romantic suspense to the dramatic and deadly southwestern desert. Erin isn’t used to adventures—except those in books. But when she uncovers a clue to one of the greatest lost treasures ever, she and her best friend Camie head for the New Mexico desert to search for a secret cave. They’re not the only ones interested in the treasure, however, and they’ll face more dangers than Erin ever imagined, from wild animals, wilder humans, and the wilderness itself. Fortunately Erin and Camie have help, in the form of one sexy helicopter pilot and a surprising orange cat.
Learn more or buy the books athttp://tinyurl.com/4sdn3h4.
Natalie Aguirre says
Great interview. This is such new territory. It’s so interesting to see what goes into the decision to self publish and how it’s done.
Laura Pauling says
Great interview! I can’t wait to see where this goes. I can’t help but think that eventually midlist books won’t be published at all and will be self published. I hope not but…. I do love hearing stories about why writers turn to it.
Tricia J. O'Brien says
Fascinating. I’m intrigued by how many possibilities there are now. Thanks for an interesting, in-depth look at the process.
Jenny Lundquist says
Love this. I’m interested to see where all this goes in the next ten years. I love writing, but dealing with cover art, layout, etc., not so much, so I’m not sure self-publishing would be a good option for me.
I love the desc of Eyes of Pharaoh I’ll have to check it out
Carol J. Amato says
I, too, am a traditionally published author who turned to self-publishing for some educational books that would have yielded little compensation from an educational publisher. I’ve since sold 65,000 copies of one of the books. Self-publishing definitely pays off!
The Pen and Ink Blog says
You mentions getting professional reviewers to review the book and a groups of authors who are getting together to check each others work. Where can I find out more about this?
I have always been in the children’s market, but now I have an adult romance to shop.
Chris Eboch says
Please start following my blog for more information/updates on things like self-publishing author coalitions and resources.
It can be hard to find qualified editors, especially in your particular genre. You might see who teaches local classes or check through an appropriate organization (SCBWI for children’s books, Romance Writers of America for romance, etc.). Be sure to ask for a sample and/or recommendations.
You can also stop by my website for critique prices, if you’d like an opinion on whether or not your manuscript is suitable for publication — and advice for improvement.
holly cupala says
Very interesting – thanks, Chris, for telling us about your journey! I’m reading RATTLED right now and loving it.
Thanks Caroline for the great interview and thank you Chris for the terrific insight into self-publishing.
Last year I had the opportunity to listen to Stephen Roxburgh speak about his new publishing company namelos, which only does e-book and POD publishing. I’d be interested to know what you think of that business model or if it’s basically akin to self-publishing. I blogged about it here:
Solvang Sherrie says
I’m impressed with how much thought and research she has put into this. I’m also amazed that she has her agent’s blessing because for another author I know it ended up being a choice between self-publishing OR having an agent. The market is changing so fast. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out. Thanks for sharing your insight, Chris!
Lauren F. Boyd says
This is SO helpful – thank you for this interview! I’ve been thinking about experimenting with e-publishing if I can’t get a traditional publishing contract for my first novel. This information encourages me! So thanks again!