Janis is a seventh-generation Texan and a third-generation wordsmith who writes mysteries as Janis Patterson, romances and other things as Janis Susan May, children’s books as Janis Susan Patterson and scholarly works as J.S.M. Patterson. Formerly an actress and singer, a talent agent and Supervisor of Accessioning for a bio-genetic DNA testing lab, Janis has also been editor-in-chief of two multi-magazine publishing groups as well as many other things, including an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist. Janis married for the first time when most of her contemporaries were becoming grandmothers. Her husband, also an Egyptophile, even proposed in a moonlit garden near the Pyramids of Giza. Janis and her husband live in Texas with an assortment of rescued furbabies.
- What was the deciding factor in self-publishing your book(s)? Did you decide on ebook or print only or both?
The deciding factor was I wanted to make money, and my backlist books were just metaphorically sitting under the bed doing nothing. Admittedly I was naïve as to what was involved; I thought you just popped a book up. It doesn’t work that way – the process is more work than I expected. Right now I’m only in ebooks because of the expense and my own utter incapability when it comes to things computer. I have the files for doing paper and may do them later. Or maybe not.
- What went into the process? Writing, editing, cover design, formatting, etc… Share your ups and downs and how you went about it. If you used a service from a someone, could you share who?
As all my backlist books were done back in the days when the dinosaurs browsed outside the cave and books available only in paper, I had to get them into electronic format, and I was soooo not going to retype! I found the best scanner in the world (more later) but even with the best scan possible there are mechanical glitches (/ for I, Ii for h, that sort of thing) that must be found and caught. As I was checking the scan (two times – once overall for continuity, once word-by-word for typos) I realized that there were things I wanted to tweak. Styles in reading and writing change. These books had been professionally edited, so I didn’t want to do too much, but there were tweaks.
Then there was the formatting. As before stated, I am a techno-naif. I know there is a learning curve to formatting that can be mastered, but I didn’t want to. There are some things that are more time-sensible for me to hire out. My time is best spent writing, not in being beaten into submission by a new computer program. I was lucky enough to find the best formatter in the world (again, more later) and she is great!
My first discipline was graphic art, so I knew I would have no trouble designing a cover, and I didn’t. QUARTET is my design. Why don’t I do any more? Number one, it’s a time suck. You start looking at images, and wondering what you can do with them, and then you find more images, and there are so many lovely fonts and… before you know it, an entire day is gone and you have precisely one half of a cover designed. Again, you have to be time-sensible. So I looked and found that some people were paying several hundred dollars to have covers made. Yikes! I don’t have that kind of money, especially doing four books at once. So I looked some more and found the neatest artist (more – oh, you know…) who has both pre-made covers for ebooks and print, and does custom work as well. She’s also very very reasonable, as are all of my dream team.
And who are my three paragons?
Scanning – Melynda Andrews – email@example.com
Formatting – Vickie Taylor – firstname.lastname@example.org (she also does fantastic editing, too!)
Covers – Dawn Charles of BookGraphics – email@example.com
I have had wonderful results with all three of these ladies, and recommend them wholeheartedly. If you contact them, feel free to use my name.
As for writing directly to self-pubbing, I fully intend to do that in the near future and have already started a rather interesting series that will probably ‘hit the shelves’ sometime next year.
- What did you do to promote your work?
- What was the hardest thing you’ve found in the process of self-publishing? What was the easiest part of self-publishing?
The hardest thing was paying out money, of which I do not have very much. I began writing in an era when the publisher paid you an advance (usually a good sized one) and all you had to do was produce a book. Now however we are published – self, trad or whatever – we’re expected to do so much more than write. It is difficult to turn the switch in my head that turns me from an artistic creator into a businesswoman. I am not now and never really have enjoyed business, but it must be done. I do know enough about business – any business – to know that you have to invest in it, so I am investing in myself, but it is difficult to pay out money when there is none coming in.
Another difficult thing was keeping track of everything. I make zillions of lists and checklists and my desk is so covered with sticky notes that it resembles a very peculiar plant, and still I forget stuff. But it all has to get done and go together, and as I do it everything gets easier. Not easy, never easy, but easier.
The easiest part? What’s always the easiest part – writing the book.
- Can you list some Pros/Cons of self-publishing?
PRO – you get to control everything yourself
CON – you have to do everything yourself
PRO – no gatekeepers; your book will be judged on its own merit by the reader
CON – no automatic editorial support
PRO – no arguing for your points
CON – no check/balance system; you are literally both sides – writer and publisher; in a way it’s a travesty of the basically adversarial system of trad publishing. (Explanation – I say adversarial because you want to maintain the integrity of your vision; the publisher wants you to subscribe to their vision of what will sell.)
PRO – total freedom
CON – total responsibility
- How long have your book(s) been out? How long between books if you have multiple sales—and if you have multiples did you see a bump in sales with subsequent publication?
I sold my first novel (trad) in 1979. I self pubbed QUARTET:FOUR SLIGHTLY TWISTED TALES sometime in the summer of 2012. It’s a short story anthology and my ‘test’ for self pubbing. I put it into Kindle Select, which has to be exclusive to Kindle, and that was a total bust. I did not re-enroll it nor put anything else in Select. After doing all the business things (cover, formatting, scanning et al) I released all four books (QUARTET, THE AVENGING MAID, THE DEVIL OF DRAGON HOUSE and LACEY) across the board – Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Smashwords (with distribution to several smaller places) and All Romance Ebooks (with distribution to Apple). That was done within two or three days in November 2012
- Can you give a rough breakdown of your sales numbers from your first month to the present?
I don’t want to talk about any of it, because it would be terribly embarrassing. I have good editing, good formatting, good covers and good stories, and still my books just lie there like dead marmots. At this rate I shall probably break even with what I have spent so far sometime around the next presidential election.
- What advice can you offer to anyone deciding to self-publish?
Be prepared to work hard and become very detail oriented. Don’t check your sales figures several times a day – it’s depressing; twice a week is enough. Be prepared to spend a little money – do things right – but also be prepared to never earn it back. Even among good novels some flop and some soar and no one really knows why. Develop a thick skin and make yourself do lots of publicity. And, most importantly, never give up!
- What genre(s) do you write in? How many books do you have out? Titles?
A better question would be in what genres do I not write? As Janis Patterson I do cozy mysteries. As Janis Susan May I do romance and horror. As Janis Susan Patterson I do children’s. As JSM Patterson, I do non-fiction and scholarly works. In total, I don’t know how many books I have out – seems around 25 total over the years, but I’m not sure. I do know that I sold 6 novels to two major publishers (Carina Press and FiveStar Gale/Cengage) in 2011 (LURE OF THE MUMMY, TIMELESS INNOCENTS, INHERITANCE OF SHADOWS, THE HOLLOW HOUSE, BEADED TO DEATH and EXERCISE IS MURDER), that two of my favorite books came from the wonderful Vinspire (DARK MUSIC and ECHOES IN THE DARK, as well as the children’s DANNY AND THE DUST BUNNIES), that I have some truly fun over-the-top books with Red Rose (THE OTHER HALF OF YOUR HEART, WEDDING DAY, PASSION’S CHOICE, and SING A SONG OF SPYING). These have all been done and sold since 2005, when I returned to writing after a ten year hiatus. Before 1995 there were eight or ten more,
For self-publishing, there is QUARTET: FOUR SLIGHTLY TWISTED TALES, LACEY, THE AVENGING MAID and THE DEVIL OF DRAGON HOUSE. As soon as I have time from the unending crush of deadlines. I intend to self publish two more from my backlist, LEGACY OF SHADES and FAMILY OF STRANGERS.
And for what it’s worth, I’ve just finished a non-fic guidebook called A FIELD GUIDE TO TEXAS MUSEUMS and am just starting on another guidebook called A FIELD GUIDE TO TEXAS WINERIES. (Did I tell you that great amounts of research are important?) I’m also working on a section of a college-level archaeological textbook for world-wide distribution; my chapter is called “The History of Archaeological Illustration Before the Napoleonic Paradigm of 1798.” It’s going to be a real grabber!
- What do you love about the genre(s)?
Which? In general, I think genres are not only guidelines, but reassurances. Yes, sometimes we want something different that blends two or three genres, but other times we want the security of a guaranteed read. We want to read a nice sweet romance (or sexy – your taste, your choice) where we are assured that the hero and heroine will get their happily-ever-after in the end. With so many genres – and so many genre-bendings – the reader can find exactly what makes them happy.
Personally, I like cozy mysteries because I love seeing a villain caught and justice prevail, even though I dislike too much blood spatter and graphic violence. I like romances because they make me feel good. I like guidebooks because they make my wallet happy, and support my habit of self-publishing. Children’s – that was done on a dare and doesn’t really count.
- Where can readers find you?
Just about anywhere. I’m on all my publishers’ sites and my books are in all major markets. My websites are www.JanisSusanMay.com and www.JanisPattersonMysteries.com. On Twitter, I’m @JanisSusanMay. I regard Facebook as a privacy-devouring tool of the Devil and avoid it assiduously.
- Where can readers find your books? Print/Ebook?
All my books are available at the publishers’ sites, and on Amazon and B&N. Some – all of my self-pubbed ones – are also available at SmashWords, Kobo and Apple.
- What works do you have coming out in the future?
I’m going to self-pub LEGACY OF SHADES and FAMILY OF STRANGERS before long. As for trad-publishing, I’m currently negotiating with several publishers regarding several books. (I never work on less than three books at a time – you see, I bore very easily.)
- There is a rumor going around that all self-pubbed books are shoddily created. What do you say to that?
And all New York publisher books are paragons of perfection? I get very nervous when the word ‘all’ comes into a conversation. There are good books and bad books, shoddy books and should-never-see-the-light-of-public-day books. I admit, and I think most would agree with me, there is a higher percentage of rubbishy books in the self-published sector, simply because there is a certain kind of person who wants to be a Published Author whether they can write or not. Being able to use that title is more important to them than writing a good book. What might potentially be a good book is ruined by being put out too soon and with insufficient editing, etc. Some things out there are painfully bad and embarrassing to everyone. Except perhaps the author, who should be mortified but probably won’t be.
But everything has two sides. While self-publishing has made it possible for terrible wannabes to put their stuff out there, it has also given good writers (not necessarily known or even trad published) the chance to put their stuff out there – books that are good, yet for one reason or another failed to get past the (usually terribly self-important) gatekeepers of trad publishing. Genre-bending stuff. Regency vampires on an alien planet who like to knit – that sort of thing. Such freedom to cross, mix and generally destroy genre lines can only be a good thing, because it helps to explode the eternally constricting niches constructed by trad publishing in their pursuit of the bottom line. All too often their cry has been “to heck with literature or even good writing, such-and-such is selling now so let’s market only that.“
Ooops, I’m pontificating again. I’ll stop now.
- What advice can you offer readers of self-pubbed books in making a decision on what to read?
Who am I to tell anyone else what to read? (Other than read all my books – please!) Seriously, all I can say is read what pleases you. Self, trad, e-, paper – those are just delivery systems. Read the stories that grab your heart and/or your intellect. Read the stories that touch you. And – sometimes – read a little outside your comfort zone. You never know what treasures await you there.