On Self Publishing

Edith Maxwell here. I invited two New England SINC members, Susan Cory and Anne MacDonald, to talk to us about their recent experiences in self publishing.

Welcome, Susan and Anne. You each have a new mystery novel out. Tell us a little about your books.

Susan: Thanks, Edith. Hi Anne, sitting on the cyber-podium with me. CONUNDRUM is a traditional mystery about an architect, Iris Reid, going to her 20th Harvard Architecture School Reunion. She’s hoping to learn something about an incident from their graduation party when a classmate/friend plunged off a balcony. The opening night dinner is being held at a Modernist house that she has designed. But when her long-ago boyfriend is murdered on his way to the dinner, all the incriminating evidence points to her.

Anne: Hi Edith, thanks for talking with us today. My mystery novel, Deadlines Are Murder, is a contemporary mystery story set in Boston with a more or less accidental amateur sleuth.  Samantha ‘Sam’ Monroe is laid off from her banking job and comes home unexpectedly early one day to fine her husband, Rick, with his grad assistant, Ariella Fantini, in their bedroom. Once she kicks them out, Sam pursues her lifelong dream of writing a romance story and getting her life in order.   When Ariella is found murdered Sam, considered the jealous wife, is the lead suspect.  Once Sam proves her innocence the investigation needs to start over. Dominic Fantini, a mob boss under investigation and in hiding, contacts Sam to help investigate his daughter’s murder.  When the murderer starts looking for evidence Ariella hid, Sam’s life is in danger.  The police and Dominic Fantini try to find Sam before the murderer does.

Edith: You both decided to self publish your books. Tell us about your path to that decision.

Anne: My plan had been to follow the traditional path of finding an agent and a publisher. As I was doing research on agents who might best represent my work, I was reading more and more about some of the Sister’s in Crime members who were deciding to e-publish. As I was noting how long it took some writers to find an agent and then a publisher and how rocky this path was becomeing, I noted how quickly those who were e-publishing were able to get their book to market. The more I was turned down by agents with form rejections, the more intrigued I became with self-publishing. I decided to prepare by researching how to publish on Kindle and on Smashwords. Eventually I gave myself a deadline for finding an agent, which was June 2011. In July, I made plans to e-publish by October. When real life intervened, I changed my plans to publish by Decemeber and had my book available on Kindle on December 15, 2011.  In January, 2012 I published on Smashwords.

Susan: After researching different options, self-publishing seemed like the best fit for me. Many posts shared on the SinC sites demystified the process. I was comfortable hiring professionals to provide the support I needed (mainly formatting), but, being trained in the visual arts, I had definite ideas about how I wanted the book to look. I also wanted the possibility of eventually making a living writing books in this series and self-publishing seemed like the best means to that end. As an unknown author, I figured that I’d have to do my own marketing anyway. Barry Eisler’s talk at Crime Bake last Nov. gave me the final shove off the fence.

Edith: Are you out in both paperback and eformats? All eformats? How are you distributing your book?

Susan: I had the book formatted for CreateSpace, Pubit and Smashwords. I simplified the print cover for the e-book version. CONUNDRUM is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon and for Nook on B&N. I think it’s at the Sony and Apple stores by now. It will be available on Indiebound in a few weeks and, hopefully, available for libraries in a month. I paid for extended distribution on CreateSpace.

Anne: My book is available on Kindle and Smashwords in e-formats and on Amazon in paperback Print-On-Demand format. My book is available on Amazon Kindle for Kindle users and on smashwords.com for all the non-Kindle formats, including Sony and iPad/iPhone. The Print-On-Demand format is through CreateSpace.

Edith: How did you find the process? Did you do it all yourself? If so, where did you find guidance to assist you? If you hired help, how did that go? Was it worth the price and the freedom from headaches?

Anne: e-publishing definitely has it’s own headaches and its own rewards.  Except for the cover, I did all the work myself. Because I know HTML, I was able to handle the Kindle conversion and file clean-up myself. Smashwords was easier to format, they have file optimization directions on their web site that have you working in a word processing and/or text file to get a clean copy for upload. From there they create all the file formats that they support.  Similarly, Createspace made the file creation for print on demand easy to complete. I did a lot of reading to find best practices for file creation on each format. I definitely hired out my book cover and I’m very happy with the results, I could not have done that myself.

Susan: It was a mixed bag. I knew that I wanted a photograph of a model of the house that Iris designed on my cover. I built the model myself and had my husband photograph it. I just needed blood photoshopped onto it. I sent the ms. to Kirkus ($425 = my biggest expense) for a review and was able to put a blurb from them on the cover (although getting a decent review is NOT guaranteed). For the e-books I hired an e-formatter (mentioned on some web-site) who turned out to be a bossy nightmare. When he wanted to give himself a giant credit on my copyright page, I put my foot down. In a snit, he embedded 4 page breaks on that page and it took forever to discover what he had done and how to get rid of them. However, for my print copy, I hired a formatter (mentioned on a guppy post) who was a total angel. She patiently helped me push my book through the convoluted hoops of CreateSpace. I probably spent under $900. total w/o the Kirkus part. I have 2 friends who are professional editors and an English teacher sister-in-law who helped edit the WIP, bless their hearts, so I was able to save that expense.

Edith: I know that even authors who have publishers big or small do most of their own promotion these days. What avenues have you found most fruitful, reaching the most customers (or do you even have those numbers?)?

Susan: No numbers yet, but here’s what I’ve done so far since end of March: trotted out the blurb from Kirkus ad nauseum in all P.R., set up author Facebook page and web-site for legitimacy. As a self-published author, you have to project a polished professionalism to counteract any lingering stigmas. I had the person who crafted my architectural website do the author’s website although I laid it out and took the photos. I’ve started guest blogging. I’ve had some private book parties/readings and a high-end kitchen cabinet store mentioned in the book has offered to have one in their Newbury St. showroom geared to architects. I’ve notified my college and grad school newsletters and sent  ARCs (advanced review copies) to their magazines. I have a pile of SinC and Guppy posts with P.R. tips and am trying to do one thing a day to spread the word. But I do have to keep up with my day job and fit in time to write the next book in the series as just having several books out there seems to create an important synergy.

Anne: Promotion is important and I could certainly do more of that.  My initial outreach was to family and friends, creating a Facebook author page, using Facebook and Twitter posts to promote my book, creating a Goodreads author page, and posting on my undergraduate school and graduate school alumni pages.  My next steps are to promote on Dorothy L ad other listsrvs, try Facebook ads, contact my local library to list my book and looking for some book reviewers to do reviews. I considered but decided not to try Kindle Select because it limits you to just this service for 3 months and my plan was to do both Kindle and Smashwords so I stuck with my original plan.

Finally, what’s next for you?

Anne: I am working on my next two stories in the Sam Monroe series, Weddings Are Murder, and one tentatively titled, Relationships Are Murder. I’m also working on an historical story but that is moving along a little more slowly. My writing has been sidetracked for the last 7 months due to the demands of my day job but I’m getting back on track and writing regularly again.

Susan: Book Two! I have a lot of pieces of the next story on scraps of paper but need to start the first draft to get it to coalesce. I’ve signed up for Seascape in September, so I need to have some chapters ready to pull apart.

Edith: Thank you both so much for stopping by! I know this information will be useful to our membership, and hope they’ll all run out and pick up your books.

SUSAN CORY is an award-winning residential architect in Cambridge, Ma. Like the sleuth in her debut mystery, CONUNDRUM, she runs her practice out of a turreted office and has a brown belt in Karate. She even went to her own 20th GSD reunion, but no one was murdered. She lives with her architect husband, Dan, and has a grown son in the Peace Corps. Visit her author Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/authorsusancory or her website at http://www.susancory.com

ANNE MACDONALD is Assistant Chief Information Officer at Suffolk University in Boston. During her working life she has been a researcher for an author, sold mutual funds, been a mutual fund administrator and owned her own craft business. With a BA and an MA in History, she currently lives in Melrose, MA, with her husband Sean and loves to write, keeps her garden looking good and occasionally dabbles in genealogy and tennis.

blog: http://anneswritinglife.wordpress.com/

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AnneMacdonaldAuthor

twitter: @anne_macdonald
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13507388-deadlines-are-murder

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About Edith Maxwell

Agatha- and Macavity-nominated and national bestsetlling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing) and the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries (Midnight Ink). As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries series and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries (both from Kensington Publishing). Edith has also published award-winning short crime fiction. She lives north of Boston in an antique house with her beau and three cats.
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30 Responses to On Self Publishing

  1. What an intriguing interview with this daring pair of author-publishers! I predict both “Conundrum” and “Deadlines Are Murder” will do well, because their authors have already shouldered the assignment of speaking up for their work. And I like the premise of each book? Thanks, Edith, for bringing this together.

  2. I’m very glad to see someone finally mentioning the “convoluted hoops” of Createspace. I’m jumping through them right now. On the surface it seems very easy and straightforward but – guaranteed – the one question you don’t ask will turn out to have unintended consequences. The hardest part, of course, is getting the word out, but that’s the case with traditionally published books, too. Having gone down the facebook ads road last year, i’m not sure i would do that again. hard to say. People told me they saw the ads all the time and they got me a LOT of Likes, but not sure they sold books. Good luck, ladies!

    • edithmaxwell says:

      Interesting info, Rosemary. I have heard that tech support at CreateSpace is, well, very supportive!
      Also about the ads: I wonder if there is any good way to track which effort brings in how many sales?

      • They are very responsive and cheerful, but they don’t volunteer any information and if you neglect to ask something it can come back to haunt you – at least that was my experience. For example I didn’t TELL them to put the CreateSpace ISBN on the copyright page of the book, so they didn’t. I had to go back in and pay $50 for a change. Stuff like that. Technically they’re right, but cheesh!

        I tested two facebook ads – the pic of me with my dog got me a ton of Likes!

  3. Mary Sutton says:

    Great post, Edith – and thanks to both Susan and Anne. I am nowhere near being able to make these decisions for myself, so I’m learning all I can while I polish the ms. I’ve liked both your Facebook pages and I’ll be looking for the books!

  4. Susan Cory says:

    Anne and I made some responses off-line that Edith suggested we share so here goes:
    Anne: ” I realized as I was reading this that I didn’t answer the number question and I’ve sold about 200 copies of my book. I’ve also learned that many people have learned how to break through code on their Kindle to share stories they have purchased with others. I found out when my cousin did that.”
    Susan’s response: “Wow, 200 copies. That’s great. I’ve sold around 60 since April, I think.
    What is your most effective marketing do you think? Twitter? That’s annoying when people proudly tell you that they’re sharing your book by passing it around or breaking through code.
    Hey, we’re trying to sell these puppies!”

    • Thanks for posting this Susan. I was listed as a recommended book on Kindle one day. i’ve promoted on Facebook a lot and to emailed family and friends and both of these seem to have helped. I’m selling about one book per day. Twitter doesn’t seem to have been as helpful but it’s hard to tell.

  5. J.R. Reardon says:

    Great post, Edith – and congratulations to Susan and Anne on your work! My TBR pile is growing by leaps and bounds yet again! The world of self-publishing has its challenges, but if the passion is there, it can be rewarding!

  6. Susan Cory says:

    Hi Rosemary,
    I think that every customer service rep at CreateSpace knows the name of that cyber-ninny, Susan Cory. I would run up against red notes like :”You have 2 problems with your interior!” with no clue how to find out what those problems were. Luckily the CS reps would just fix them/override them and I’d go on to the next roadblock. And let’s not forget changing the ISBN no. and copyright wording for the expanded distribution… Um, why should that be necessary? It sounds like Anne is more tech saavy.
    Thanks Rosemary, Mary, and Beth for the words of encouragement.
    Susan

    • Hi Susan,
      And they probably know the shrieking rosemary harris! I just flip-flopped on Expanded Distribution since the hardcover of my book was already sold to retailers and libraries by Minotaur and I thought it was more important for me to sell to consumers at a price that was comparable to other cozy mysteries. I’m sure that whichever way i went I would have second-guessed my decision! (This was prompted by the two ISBN bomb that dropped yesterday.)

  7. Barb Ross says:

    Great interview, Edith. Susan and Anne, thanks so much for coming by and sharing your experience. I know many members are self-publishing or are contemplating it and this will be very helpful.
    Best of luck!

    Barb

  8. Barb Ross says:

    For physical books, I have to put a plug in for Lightning Source which we use for Level Best. Lightning Source is owned by Ingrams which gets you into B&N stores. Lots of other bookstores buy from Ingrams (even though we actually give them a better deal if they go through us).

    Lightning Source doesn’t do the ebook, so we do those separately. Thank goodness we have the services of amazing editor Kat Fast who does all the formatting and file prep, cover, trade paperback and ebook for us!

  9. An excellent post from you guys. The fact that we can self-publish either out-of-print books we wrote years ago or brand new ones that we just want to get out to the public, the Internet has made this possible. You both tell the truth that it takes time and dedication, but it’s doable. Great job and great covers, too.

  10. Excellent post! Susan and Mary, thanks for sharing your journeys with all of us. I will be bookmarking this article for future reference.

  11. Gloria Alden says:

    Interesting post, Edith, Ann and Susan. Especially since this is the route I’m choosing to go as soon as my cover is finished.

  12. Cindy Sample says:

    I’m following everyone’s journey in awe and admiration and hoping by the time I have my next manuscript completed you’ll all be able to tell me which kinks to watch out for. I had no idea the ISBN was on the copyright page. Both of your series sound wonderful and I’m going to check them out right now. As for FB, I did a 2 week ad campaign for DYING FOR A DANCE geared to fans of DWTS and ended up with lots of likes but who knows if they’ll also become book buyers or if they just liked watching me trip over my own feet dancing in pink fringe. I’d love to have an update from you gals in 6 months. Now get back to writing!

  13. Just to give you some info on my experience. I started my Parlez-Moi Press in 2006 printing paperbacks using Lightning Source. In 2010 I started making my books available in digital as well through Smashwords and Amazon. At the present time my digital books are selling much, much better than the print books. I have a total of 18 titles only 8 of which are also in paperback. As of this month I’ve sold over 40,000 digital books — 12,000 in January alone.

    Marketing is tough but social media is a great asset. Two of my digital books, The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, and Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter, spent over 20 weeks each in Amazon Top Ten Best Seller categories — Horror and Psychological Thriller, plus Ghosts for the latter one. I think my blog is my biggest sales asset but I’m really thrilled with the results so far.

  14. edithmaxwell says:

    Kathleen, wow! Give us a link to your blog. Congratulations on your success. Despite the fact that we live not too far apart, we’ve never met, but I do follow you on Facebook with great interest. We’ll have to connect Ipswich and Gloucester/Rockport one of these days!

    • My blog is: http://parlezmoiblog.blogspot.com/

      Six of my titles are enrolled in Amazon’s Select programs which provides some good tools for authors to promote their books. In April I used a Select promo to have my cookbook/memoir, Fry Bacon. Add Onions, go free and in three days it was downloaded 11,000 times. Of course I don’t get paid for those but what I noticed was a nice increase in sales of the paperback after the promotion (the book wasn’t selling at all before the promotion.)

      I often host guest blogs by fellow authors if anyone is interested. I am currently accepting posts for my Writers On Writing series in which I ask authors to write about one of the books that most influenced them. Plus I have a Saturday series for home-related non-fiction books — cooking, crafting, gardening, etc. if anyone is interested just contact me through my blog.

      • Thanks Kathleen, I aspire to having as many copies of my book sold or downloaded as you have done. Keeping up with the social media and marketing aspects of book promotions does pay off.

  15. I’m wondering about how much professional editing either of you had done. I’ve found editors to make all the difference in my books being publishable. If so, do you think it was worth it?

  16. Pingback: On Self Publishing « Anneswritinglife Blog

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