Monday, April 25, 2011

Going Solo: One Author's Publishing Experience

by J. Lea Lopez

I am lucky to have met many writers at various stages in their careers through social networking and online writing sites—every one of the Write Angle Crew is an example of that! One author, Drew Cross, recently did a guest post for me at Jello World and was kind enough to do an interview for us here at FTWA.

Drew's novel, BiteMarks was recently released by the indie publisher Night Publishing. He has also self-published another novel, and is working with a different publisher for a middle grade fantasy novel, The Scarmap. This is what he has to say about his journey to becoming a published author.

JL: I don't think it's any secret that the traditional publishing industry is in the midst of a lot of changes right now. As a new author, what are your thoughts on this? There are some writers (and let's think mostly of new writers, not the established writer who has a fanbase and household name already) who look exclusively to go with indie presses or to self-publish (sort of a stick it to the traditional publishing man camp). There are others who still put every last bit of their stock in traditional publishing and turn their noses up at anything self-published. And of course there are more 'moderate' writers who seek to use the success and knowledge gleaned by agents/publishers in the traditional marketplace to their advantage while still trying to position themselves favorably for the future. Where do you see yourself?

DC: I'm a literary dilettante—I dabble with all routes into print! The way I see it, the big boys are taking fewer chances on new writers due to the economic climate that we find ourselves in (the same with agents).

Self-publishing is bloody hard work (mainly the marketing, the formatting doesn't seem to be all that bad), and you run the risk of putting out books that are poorly edited, or making elementary mistakes that cost you time and sales. Having said that, the experience is useful—you get a feel for what can and can't be done—as well as making valuable contacts (and friendships) along the way. Don't underestimate the power of what your friends can help you with!

Indie publishers are hit and miss; I'm extremely fortunate that Tim Roux at Night Publishing seriously knows his stuff, which is why they're flourishing. However, there are many other Indies going out of business when they've got aspects wrong—it's heart-breaking to see your publisher disappear from view when you're preparing for launch; not to mention messy! I like Indies—they're happier to take a chance on newbies, and the right ones can still be a valid place for career-minded writers. You'll work harder to get noticed than if you're with one of the big names, but you'll learn from that experience, and nobody's working harder than Tim is right now!

JL: I know you can't name your U.S. publisher for your MG novel at the moment, but can you say whether it's a larger house, an indie imprint or small press? Did you submit directly to the publishing house, or did you use an agent for that deal? I'm just wondering how you would compare your experience working to secure that deal vs. your experience with BiteMarks and eventually Night Publishing.

DC: The U.S. publisher is part of a larger publishing group, and I snuck in by the backdoor (I was dealing with another good-sized Indie in the US who turned out to be broke, another author jumped ship and suggested that I follow suit, and together we jumped the queue to the commissioning editors desk!). I've never had an agent, since they seem to be largely uninterested in newbie writers at the moment, so I've focused on networking with fab writer friends who've been kind enough to suggest publishers for direct submissions on occasion. And I've submitted to others that caught my interest because of their back catalogues. I'd love an agent, but only if I felt they could add value.

JL: What type of value would you be looking for?

DC: By value, I guess I mean that they could introduce me to publishers that I couldn't approach myself. I'm not interested in sharing a cut of my earnings with somebody who can't justify that cut by getting me bigger opportunities.

JL: How do you stay abreast of industry changes and news?

DC: I don't think you can beat social media for industry changes and news. I pick up most of that from Facebook and Twitter—another thing to thank my many wonderful friends out there in the ether for!

JL: You co-wrote a book with another author and you two self-published. What did you learn from that experience? How did you know when the book was ready, editorially? Did you pay for an editor, or did you do all the editing and proofreading yourself? What about cover art—do you have talented friends, do it yourself, or hire someone? How difficult/how much work was it to self-publish the book? Would you do it again in the future? In other words, tell me EVERYTHING!

DC: The self-published work (Eternity by AJ Cole and Jenni James) is available through kindle and smashwords. It's been a steep (and continuous!) Learning curve so far! We did our own edits, formatting, cover, pricing, marketing etc, etc...and in retrospect, whilst we saved money that way, we also put ourselves under a lot of pressure in the process.

The book was read by friends and acquaintances to gauge initial reaction (this is, of course, only an indication, since friends are unlikely to tell you it's atrocious, but we wanted them to point out anything that jarred more than anything else!). I'd self-publish again, but ideally once I'd begun to establish a modest 'name' for myself—since it takes more time than I've got at the moment to build a healthy amount of sales. I'd also probably pay for professional edits—they make a LOT of difference to the reader's enjoyment of the finished product.

JL: You mentioned to me in a previous conversation that you think there is a definite formula for success when it comes to e-publishing. Any idea what that formula is, because I'd love to know!

DC: The bits you need to get right for a 'formula' are: Pricing, editing, cover design, tags, availability for ALL e-formats, and a logical structured approach to marketing (don't do them all, unless you intend to neglect your family and friends and live online forever! Focus on Goodreads, kindleboards, guesting on popular blogs, featuring interesting guests on your own blog, regularly tweeting and FB contributing to a continuously growing network of friends...). Don't keep shouting BUY MY BOOK—it's irritating and gets ignored anyway—instead be generous with details about yourself and keep updating day in and day out to build momentum. Getting reviews in the right places is extremely important for getting visible too.

JL: With regards to marketing the book, what has been/will be your approach? Do you feel your presence on twitter/fb/social media in general is valuable or important in this aspect? Do you place any importance on blogging or an author website to build a readership and promote the book?

DC: From a marketing point of view, you can't go too far wrong with reading JA Konrath's blog for starters. He basically pioneered self-publishing marketing strategy, and regularly shifts tens of thousands of books each MONTH! Social media is absolutely at the heart of your strategy if you're serious about selling e-books in volume; but not simply spamming your friends and family! Writers are only going to form a small part of the audience that you want to reach—you need to engage readers (not necessarily the same demographic!). 
Drew is a married father of two from Nottingham, England; he has been a model and a police officer (but never a model police officer!), and now masquerades as a financial adviser for a large banking group while dreaming of one day writing full-time for a living. When he's not reading, writing, toddler wrangling or weimaraner wrestling, he enjoys martial arts, cooking various cuisines (South East Asian a particular favourite) and meditating.
 Be sure to check out Drew's books, and if you'd like to hear more of what he has to say, follow him on Twitter @authordrewcross.

Have you, or are you considering, self-publishing or signing with an indie publisher? We'd love to hear your comments about the experience!


Jarmara Falconer said...

A very interesting read. It's great to have the chance to read other people's views on the publishing industry.

Thank you

Richard said...

Drew is absolutely correct about e-publishing. It's a time consuming job if you intend to do it all youself.

I found this interview helpful and informative. Thanks.

J. Lea Lopez said...

Thanks for stopping by Jarmara and Richard! I've been considering self publishing myself, and it is a lot of work, so I like to pick the brains of people who've been there, done that!

Josh Hoyt said...

Great interview. Very informative.

Jemi Fraser said...

Terrific interview. It's so interesting to hear about the journeys of authors in this ever-changing industry. Thanks so much for sharing.