- What was the deciding factor in self-publishing your book(s)? Did you decide on ebook or print only or both?
For me, the advent of self-publishing was like someone throwing open the door to an amazing and exciting world that I had only dreamed existed. I have been writing since I was 10 but was never really enamored with traditional publishing. I’d been to writer’s conferences, pitched to agents, and attempted a very small handful of submissions, but the whole thing left me cold. I never felt comfortable with the exclusivity of the traditional publishing world or the harshly subjective nature of the submission process. I was told that my writing was very good but that no one was interested in publishing historical romance that wasn’t set in the Regency or Georgian eras. And since I’ve never been one to blindly follow the rules I gave up on traditional publishing.
Then last year I attended the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference and was swept up in the buzz about self-publishing. It was seen as an exciting new author-centric alternative to traditional publishing, which a lot of writers, new and established, were beginning to see as stubborn and behind the times. The growing popularity of eReaders in particular had everyone talking. So I figured, why not? I had a book, The Loyal Heart, all but ready to publish (or so I thought) and I was eager to give it a try. I decided to self-publish in eBook only format as an experiment and a challenge.
- 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?
So yeah, like I just said, I thought I had The Loyal Heart all ready to publish. And that’s where the learning process began.
First of all, I set up an online presence. I already had a Twitter account and had blogged off and on for year, but I needed more. I started following a lot of other writers, traditional and self-published, on Twitter and listened to what they were saying. Many of them pointed me in the direction of a truly awesome book by Kristen Lamb, We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I absorbed that and followed its advice. I set up a blog on WordPress and started posting like mad.
It was through all this social media hoopla that I picked up a lot of advice about the process of self-publishing, especially the importance of hiring an editor and a cover designer. I was really, really lucky on both accounts. I have a friend who is a graphic designer, Jonathan Longstaff of Pehr Graphic Designs, who gave me a fantastic deal on some truly beautiful covers. Perhaps more importantly, fate drew me to my editor, Alison Dasho.
Okay, let me take a moment to step back here and say that if you’re going to be serious about self-publishing works of genuine quality and substance you absolutely must hire a professional editor. Yes, they can be expensive, but it is not only worth every penny, it’s essential. I sent Alison my manuscript and a few weeks later got back a 12 page critique letter. She told me everything that I had done wrong, everything I had done right, and made me super excited for all of the hard work I still had to do to make The Loyal Heart publication-worthy. She did the same thing with an even longer letter for The Faithful Heart, and again with my longest letter yet for my next novel, Our Little Secrets. Alison has made me a much better writer. There is no substitute for professional editing.
Formatting was surprisingly easy, although it took about ten times longer than I thought it would. I went to Smashwords.com and downloaded Smashwords Style Guide, which more or less walks you through everything you need to know to format a Word document in preparation for conversion to eBook formats. Then I simply uploaded my formatted manuscript to Smashwords’ “meat grinder”, which automatically converts your book to all eReader formats. I think I can count the number of books I’ve sold on Smashwords on one hand, but their “meat grinder” is the reason that’s the first place I go when my novels are ready to roll out.
- What did you do to promote your work?
Promoting is the hardest part of self-publishing. I’m not a salesman or marketing expert, so I’ve been figuring things out as I go. Being active on social media helps a lot. I have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a blog. I think the blog is the most important tool I have because it keeps people coming back for fresh content every day. I’ve found that Facebook is the most useful tool for directing people to the blog, Twitter less so.
More importantly, I have joined several online writers groups. Most important of those are the Novel Publicity Network, which is a tremendous support system on Facebook, and the Hearts Through History chapter of the RWA. Belonging to groups like these is so important because they teach you a lot about the industry and the craft of writing, and members become friends and network with each other, which has led to some amazing opportunities for me.
I’ve also found that when I set up an active presence on Goodreads message boards and Kindle boards, when I participate in discussions as a reader without trying to push my books, my sales go up. I just wish I had more time to join the discussion!
Another really useful tool I’ve discovered for promoting is giving away books for reviewers. At first I was uncertain about whether giving books away would help me or mark me as an amateur. It absolutely helps. I’ve gotten some fantastic reviews from well-respected reviewers … who have gone on to buy more of my books. But you have to be patient. Just because you give someone a book one day does not mean they will have a review for you next week, or next month. I just got a really wonderful review from a highly ranked reviewer to whom I had given my book six months ago. It was worth the wait.
My other piece of promotional advice that might not sound like promotional advice is to be really, really nice and supportive of your fellow authors. We’re all in the same boat. We all need each other’s help. Bending over backwards for your peers not only helps the whole self-publishing milieu to expand and succeed, it helps you to build good faith amongst some really wonderful people who will give you advice, help you grow, and help promote you. Because writers are not just wonderful people, they’re readers too.
- What was the hardest thing you’ve found in the process of self-publishing? What was the easiest part of self-publishing?
I released The Loyal Heart at the very, very end of September 2011. Its sequel, The Faithful Heart, was released on Christmas Eve. I was able to release the two books that close together because I had both of them more or less written before I started publishing. Although The Faithful Heart underwent massive revisions. It was my intention to release the third book in the trilogy, The Courageous Heart, in May of 2012, but as I started writing it in January I realized that I just wasn’t ready to tell that story yet. I am a firm believer in the fact that a story has to be ready to be told to be really good. So I set it aside to work on revisions of Our Little Secrets, the first in a four book series set in Montana in 1895, that I had drafted last summer. I intended to publish Our Little Secrets at the end of April, but then a family emergency yanked me away from writing altogether for way longer than I had anticipated. I think I’m on track to get it out there in early June, and I plan to finish The Courageous Heart and have it available by the end of the year. My hope is to have at least two books published every year.
I did see an increase in sales once The Faithful Heart was published, but it was a small one. I expect more once the other two books are out there. I’ve also heard that in general it takes four books before you start to see an exponential increase in sales. I’d love to put that theory to the test.
- Can you list some Pros/Cons of self-publishing?
I started from scratch, without any former publishing credits or publicity behind me and with a platform that was under development, so I’ve started relatively small. I sold about 35 copies of The Loyal Heart in the first month it was out. Sales dropped in the month after that, but when I published The Faithful Heart in December they trended up again. I’ve been averaging in the upper 20s each month with a few spikes higher. From what I understand, that’s slightly better than average for a writer starting out where I did. I have a joke with a fellow self-published author that as long as we have our 8 sales a month we’re happy.
But I also haven’t been super aggressive with my promotions. I haven’t paid for advertising space or gone on any blog tours or the like. I consider self-publishing a long game. Since my books will be available indefinitely I’m waiting for the real push. Once I finish my Medieval trilogy by publishing The Courageous Heart later this year I intend to promote the entire series heavily. I don’t have a ton of money, so I would rather be patient and efficient about how I spend it on promotions than burn out too soon. It’s all about strategy.
- 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?
Make friends. I can’t stress that enough. Traditional publishers have a marketing machine at their disposal. Self-publishers need to rely on grass-roots word of mouth. You can’t do that alone. Seek out online networking groups to learn from and to get the support you’re going to need. And vary your approach while you’re at it. One of my big faults is that I get comfortable with the work I’ve done and stop looking for new groups, new opportunities, and new forums for Indie books. We self-published writers have to be like sharks: we can’t stop moving or we’ll die.
Oh, and keep writing! That’s why we’re all doing this, after all, right?
- What genre(s) do you write in? How many books do you have out? Titles?
I write Historical Romance. Currently I have two books, The Loyal Heart and The Faithful Heart published. They are the first two books of a Medieval trilogy set in Derbyshire in 1192, when King Richard was away fighting the Crusade. They were inspired by the true history of the era of the Robin Hood legend. And let me tell you, the actual history of the time is very different from the way the Robin Hood legend tells it! The third book in the trilogy, The Courageous Heart, will be published sometime later this year.
I am also about to publish the first novel in a new series set in Montana in 1895, Our Little Secrets. (In fact, it may be published by the time this interview is posted?) I hesitate to call it a Western because the hero is not a buff cowboy, but rather a glasses-wearing shopkeeper with a dubious past and the heroine is a women’s rights advocate running away from a few secrets of her own. They get married less than 24 hours after they meet. You’ll have to read it to find out more.
I also have a sci-fi series that I might dust off and publish someday.
- What do you love about the genre?
I majored in History. Twice actually. One degree wasn’t enough for me. I am very much in love with love and adore writing about it. I also am a firm believer that History is far more interesting than the way most teachers present it. People really lived those lives in times gone by. I also happen to love writing sex scenes, so be ready for some steam if you pick up one of my books, especially Our Little Secrets.
- Where can readers find you?
My website: http://merryfarmer.net
My Facebook page: www.facebook.com/merryfarmerauthor
My Twitter handle: @merryfarmer20
- Where can readers find your books? Print/Ebook?
- There is a rumor going around that all self-pubbed books are shoddily created. What do you say to that?
To that I say pssht! Yes, there are a lot of second-rate books being thrown out there in a rush by self-publishers. Way too many, actually. But I think it’s the result of this avenue of publishing opening up. I think that for a while we’ll see a lot of crap on the market, but once the people who aren’t serious about it and who don’t put the appropriate amount of effort into their work get bored, and probably discouraged as their sales fall off to nothing, they’ll give up. Then those of us who are dead serious, who hire editors and cover designers and really work to produce quality books that make the traditional publishing world salivate and seeks us out for the rights to publish, then things will even out. We’re at the birth of a new subset of the publishing industry so there are bound to be a few sacrificial pancakes while everyone figures it out.
- What advice can you offer readers of self-pubbed books in making a decision on what to read?
Always read the free excerpt before buying a book. You should be able to tell if what you’re reading is worth the price from that tiny bit. If it’s not good, don’t buy it. I really hate to throw my fellow self-published authors under the bus like that, but I believe it’s important for us to be realistic about what we’re creating and that it’s our obligation to you, the reader, not to cut corners, especially in editing, and to create the best books possible.