As I do every second Sunday of the month, I attended the Redwood Writers Club (RWC) meeting in Santa Rosa. I took a writing class Jordan Rosenfeld co-taught several years ago at the RWC Conference. We have corresponded via Facebook, so it was nice to make that personal contact. Beyond that, I found her talk fascinating. She spoke about a writers’ collective to help indie authors publish and market their work. More on that later this week. Until then, this was a particularly hopeful article for us self-pubbed scribblers that appeared in Sunday’s Press Democrat. I LOVED that the author, Crissi Langwell attended the meeting. –Thonie
There’s hope for indie authors
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Three years ago, Jenn Sterling, 35, of Petaluma got fired from her job. At the time, it felt like the worst thing that could have happened to her. But in fact, it ended up being the best.
“The first thing I did after getting the boot was go out and buy a laptop and start writing,” Sterling said. “I had this one particular story in my head for over 10 years and it wouldn’t stop nagging at me. Getting fired was the perfect time to start writing it.”
Three years later, Sterling’s third novel, “The Perfect Game,” has sold over 100,000 copies, has hit multiple bestsellers lists, and has created a buzz among her fans with the announcement of the upcoming sequel, “The Game Changer,” publishing in June.
What makes Sterling’s story remarkable, however, is she did all of this by starting out self-publishing.
Like most self-published, or “indie,” authors, Sterling attempted to get her book published by a traditional publisher.
“I got too many rejections to count,” she said. “And I remember thinking that when the next rejection comes, I’ll cave and just self-publish. Thank God for that next rejection.”
The ability to self-publish isn’t a new phenomenon. But it has been making waves in the way books are published, thanks to a few notable self-published authors who have found their way to larger success and recognition.
Amanda Hocking, 28, a Minnesota writer of paranormal fiction, decided to self-publish a few books just to earn a few hundred dollars. Almost three years later, she is a multi-millionaire with five book series under her belt.
Hugh Howey, 37, a writer in Florida, began sharing his “Wool” series on Amazon in 2011, originally self-published as a novelette. His short stories soon hit high demand, and all of his books can be found among the bestsellers lists on Amazon.
And, of course, there is E L James, the London author who took a story written as fan fiction and turned it into the huge, self-published success story we know as the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. All three books have dominated the bestsellers lists and are being transformed to film.
But despite the inspiring stories of indie authors making it big almost instantly, the grim reality is that it takes a lot of work to make a career out of self-publishing, and success isn’t necessarily instant – or guaranteed.
“I think the only people who bought my first book were all of my friends and family,” Sterling admitted. “My first book barely made any money. And by barely, I mean nothing.”
Helen Sedwick, the 37-year-old Santa Rosa author of “Coyote Winds,” credits books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” with turning the tide for self-published authors.
“Will people take you seriously if you self-publish?” she mused. “The thought process is changing. Thanks to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ people are more familiar with self-publishing.”
Sedwick’s paperback book sales and eBook sales are close to even right now, due in part to a recent book signing she held. But she acknowledges the advantage eBooks have over physical book copies.
“There’s a lower risk involved with eBooks, and they’re less expensive,” Sedwick noted. “Readers can download a sample before they buy. And authors make more money on an eBook,” she said, noting the lack of printing costs and middlemen.
However, those who decide to bypass a traditional publishing house in favor of self-publishing have their work cut out for them. Without a traditional publishing house, publishing a book is more than just writing it. For Sedwick, this meant hiring an editor and copy editor, a web designer and a publicist. She attended classes on self-publishing, emailed everyone she knew about her recent accomplishment, conducted book giveaways, and created a book trailer with the help of a videographer. She even took part in a blog tour, a popular alternative to book tours, by writing blog articles then re-published by other bloggers — thus expanding the self-published book’s reach.
The latter form of promotion is just one example of how indie authors are banding together as a community to help their success grow.
“The worst thing you can do is to self-publish in a vacuum,” said Jordan Rosenfeld, the 38-year-old author of “Forged in Grace,” a story that takes place in a fictional version of Drake’s Bay. Rosenfeld co-founded indie-visible, a collective of 16 independent authors who publish under the indie-visible name, acting as a small publishing press but still holding all the rights to their own work.
“I’ve seen enough self-publishing authors make mistakes that added to their lack of success,” Rosenfeld said. “Poor cover design, not enough editorial feedback or marketing” are some of the reasons books don’t do as well as an indie author might hope. Rosenfeld stresses the importance of making independent publishing a collaborative effort to further success, joining forces to further promotion and offer support.
And the best thing an indie author can do?
“Create the audience first,” Rosenfeld said. She advised setting up a marketing plan before the book is even published, building a platform through blogging, social media, and more so that there’s someone to pitch to when the book is published.
(Crissi Langwell writes about entertainment and family at the Press Democrat, and is the indie author of the novel “A Symphony of Cicadas.” You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)