Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing

ROSEMARY HARRIS:  If anyone had told me five years ago - or even two  - that I would be self-pubbing a book, I would have said Absolutely Not! In fact, even a few years back there was still the faint whiff of disapproval or sympathy regarding self-pubbed authors.  And I was on the fringes of that camp.

I didn't come to my decision on a soapbox ranting about the evils of NY publishing.  I had - and still have - a great agent - and I've had four books traditionally published, including the one I have just self-pubbed in paperback. My first three books were hard/soft with MacMillan. Originally Slugfest, the fourth book in the series was to have been released in paperback by the hardcover publisher. There it was...listed on Amazon with a March 29, 2012 release date. My agent and editor confirmed it. I planned Spring 2012 accordingly.

And then, I got the news that they had changed their minds. O-kaaaayyyy. The reasons are varied and are best told at the bar at Bouchercon, but I didn't see why I shouldn't try my hand at self-publishing. All of the others had had some life as pbs. I wouldn't have the advantage of publishing the ebook, the original publisher had retained those rights, so I wouldn't be able to give my book away for free or sell it for .99 and then claim it was a bestseller. I was going the route that conventional wisdom said was a dead end - trade paperback publishing.

I investigated both Lightning Source and CreateSpace and truth be told their numbers, offers and potential were very similar. I chose CreateSpace because their website was slightly easier for me to negotiate, but that might not be the same for everyone.
They offered three cover design options which basically allow you to have as much or as little help designing your cover as you like. I took the middle road. I found the artwork, wrote the back cover copy and communicated via email with a designer who made numerous changes at my request. I'm pretty happy with the cover although if I had it to do over I might have made the title bigger (tough to do with an eight letter word but elongated type might have helped.)

Then I had to decide on price. If I wanted to avail myself of CS's Expanded Distribution (and not lose money on every book sold) I'd need a cover price of $11.99. Expanded distribution would enable me to be listed on Baker&Taylor's website and Ingram's. There was also the possibility of a sale to B&N. But no guarantees. And no salesperson except for me. And I'd be busy trying to let consumers know that the book was now available in paperback. If I said no to Expanded Distribution, I could go out with an $8.99 price point - more consumer friendly and more competitive with other cozy or light mystery titles - and it was trade, not mass market sized. So that's what I did. I felt it was a longshot that B&N was going to carry the reprint and most libraries that wanted the book had bought it in hardcover. I am sorry the book isn't going to be available through independent bookstores, but it wasn't going to be anyway (if I hadn't self-pubbed.)

The CreateSpace process was remarkable. Fast, easy and responsive to my frequent calls and emails. (There is a system in place that let's you click a button that says Call Me Now! and dang if someone doesn't call you about your book.)My out of pocket costs were about $500 - the lion's share of that being cover design, $350, so it could have been a lot less.

And it seemed to me that was a reasonable price to pay  to learn if any of the promotional activities, social media, mailings, etc. I was doing were generating sales or if it was all still about being on the front table at Barnes & Noble. Few things compare to getting that kind of exposure, but I'd only had that for one of my previous books anyway (Pushing Up Daisies) and over time the paperbacks had sold so why not try it for my self-pubbed book?

In the last two weeks since the book went live on Amazon, I've solicited reviews, written a few guest blogs, and sent out a newsletter and press release (cross your fingers that the fellow from the Washington Post likes it as much as he liked the first book which went into a second printing. And that Garrison Keillor actually reads it, likes it and chats it up!!)
I've also sent an email to about fifty writing pals asking for help in getting the word out. I confess that was a little awkward but I was absolutely heartened by the response I got (and I will flog forever books written by those authors who were kind enough to give me a shout-out!)

So that's where I am. I try not to obsessively check my CreateSpace or Amazon number but I am human. ;-) One interesting side note, sales of my first three books have seen a little spike since I started yakking about Slugfest
I have very realistic and modest sales expectations for the book.  If the shelf life of a traditionally released paperback is somewhere between milk and yogurt, I'm told a self-pubbed release is more like good scotch - but I certainly hope the book doesn't take 12-20 years to sell! I will make a determination on the success or failure of the project at the end of the year. And then we'll see. I still hope to have my WIP traditionally published, but I am keeping my options open.
So.. as Dr. Pangloss might say....any questions?


  1. Rosemary, that is interesting, that sales of your first three books have spiked a bit since you started promoting Slugfest.

    Do you think then, that blogs like this one, might have any part in this? I hope that they do, because I learn more about books and authors on group blog sites like JRW than anywhere else.

    Getting a sense of what a writer is about, in different facets than what might come out in their books, is something that tells me I want to read their work. I haven't been disappointed with this method of discovery.

  2. Reine, it's so hard to know which of our activities generate interest (i.e., sales) in our books. Conventional wisdom used to say touring did it, meeting booksellers, readers. That's been replaced by social media for all but the biggest names. Conferences too have become slightly less important IMO. Unfortunately a lot of the promotional burden falls on the author these days - blogging is one of the more fun ways to do it, but it is indeed an integral part of the process.

  3. What did McMillan say about you doing you down trade paper? Anything? And will there be another Paula Holiday, or is that up in the air? I have more questions, but I have to finish reading a very entertaining novel...

  4. I tried to feature Slugfest as my Beach Reads choice for the panel I'm moderating in Newburyport in two weeks, but the independent bookstore said they couldn't get it. Now I see why. But I'll mention it anyway, and it's close to the top of my TBR pile!

    Thanks for sharing your process.

  5. I asked MacMillan for the rights back and they said yes. I think they wished me good luck...it was very civilized ;-)
    Edith..you're a doll! The decision to forego indie book store sales was a tough one. BUT, my feeling is that if I get any kind of a pulse on Amazon I would approach a few indie bookstores and make an arrangement with them where I sold them the books directly on consignment. I'd be happy to do that for the bookstore you mentioned!

  6. Plus, SLUGFEST in real life is gorgeous! There's absolutely no difference in the look and feel between this version and a version that another publisher would have done!

    Garrison Keiller, huh? Is he the NUMBER ONE person who you'd like to hear talking about Slugfest?

    So are you shipping? Or how does that work?

  7. I self-published a novella that's a prequel to my Blackbird Sisters mystery series. I had given it away for free on my website for a while, but took it down and eventually decided it wasn't doing anybody any good just sitting on my desk. So I self-pubbed it (well, not exactly. I used Book Baby, a company that did all the formatting and loading and stuff I really didn't want to have to learn.) So now it's up as an ebook, and it's selling. Not in huge numbers, but it's something to tide over my readers----something to tell them about, too--while they wait for the new Blackbird hardcover. For me, it's more of a marketing strategy than a way to sell the novella. It has worked, too---my series backlist continues to sell steadily. (Which is astonishing to me. The first book was pubbed 10 years ago!) The bottom line is I think avid readers are always looking for more books like the ones they already enjoy. So I'm writing like mad now--maybe the most entertaining writing of my career---and it feels good. So I wish you luck with this venture, Rosemary, and I hope you'll keep us posted on your trajectory. There are so many options today. Finding a way to dip your toes in other ponds without jeopardizing what you've already accomplished--that's a smart strategy.

  8. Rosemary, I just posted a review on Amazon for Slugfest, the first I've ever done. It's grand fun, and a good read, and I'd never have known (or cared) that it was self-pubbed without this blog post. Well done.

    Nancy, I don't know why it should be so surprising that your backlist is selling. After all, taking books off the shelves is just a publishing conceit, anyway, to make room for newer books. One of my biggest issues with traditional publishing was that they assume no one wants to read the first books in the same series they're flogging today. That really makes no sense to me. Not everyone discovers authors when they are first published.

    Rosemary, it will be interesting for you to see how well this book does in comparison to your other ones, especially to your bottom line. I know I made several times my publisher advance when the rights reverted to me and I self-pubbed. And that was on CD, and in .pdf format. My guess, and my hope, is that you'll do very well with it.

  9. I wrote my own press release which I sent via Constant Contact and offered review copies and someone in GK's office was on the list I had cobbled togtether. If he didn't request it someone who works for him thought hew might like it. Heck...I would have hand-delivered!

    Karen, Self-pubbed may mean different things to different people. i did have the benefit of a professional editor since the book had originally been published by a "traditional" publisher.

    Great to read that established authors like Nancy are finding new life in their backlist titles. It's all FRONTLIST if you haven't read it yet!

  10. Rosemary, I'm very interested in your experiences with CreateSpace. I recently self-pubbed three novellas (which are doing quite well) with KDP Select, so they are only available at Amazon for 90 days. The three stories have an overall plot arc and I plan to publish them, with bonus material to further link the stories, in paperback this fall. I have readers who don't do digital. While I'm still pursuing traditional publishing options, I know MANY authors who've had the same thing happen as what happened to you--series dropped in the middle which is a huge disappointment for their fans. I'm really glad you took the plunge with SLUGFEST. I'll be sure to pass along the word. Best of luck with it!

  11. Ro,
    I wish I'd had your good sense and even thought to ask my rights back to do a paperback of Teaser.

  12. Rosemary, I’ve always admired your marketing skills, so I have no doubt that this paperback edition of Slugfest will do well. As you mentioned, this book was already professionally edited. Does Create Space offer editing services?

  13. Thanks, Ang. Createspace does offer editing services but of course for this book I did not need them.

    Lil, my WIP is not a Paula Holliday book and however it is published it will be a while in between books before it comes out. Part of my decision to self-pub was to not have that long a gap. I have two more Paula Holliday stories in various stages of completion. What I do with them depends in part on what happens with the Slugfest pb. So Paula lives!

  14. Yay! I'm considering self-pubbing a Christmas novel since it's seasonal and not worth the "cut" taken. You inspire me! I worry about cover art and descent formatting. Sounds like you had a good experience. I think I'll take the dive.

  15. Rosemary, your experience with your publisher gives me the shivers (same publisher). I applaud your taking the chance on self-pubbing the trade paper version of Slugfest.

    MJ Rose, who's a NYT bestseller as well as a book marketing professional, says the old days of "sell high in the first few weeks or die" are gone. With all the self-pub options, our books can be selling for the remainder of our lives, so we need to plan our marketing to run every day all year round--and keep writing the best books we can.

  16. I'm following this with interest, Ro, because I think this may be the new norm. But I shudder at the amount of effort it's going to take you to hand-sell it.

    And I noticed a huge leap in sales of my Molly Murphy series (the first eleven years ago) when Hush Now made the NYT list. So it's great the way a series feeds itself.

    Wishing you great success with the book!

  17. We've used Lightning Source to publish the Level Best Books anthologies for the last two years and will use them again this year.

    It's been a great experience, totally economic, great tech support and since it's a division of Ingrams, does get you into indie bookstores.

  18. Rhys, I think the big difference is that my efforts are more consumer-oriented since no bookstores or libraries. Actually one library has bought a bunch for their reading group. At $8.99 it was less expensive for them than buying the discounted hardcover!
    I have no beef with MacMillan - in fact they were wonderful - but we're all grownups here. They made a business decision and so did I. I would still be thrilled to be published by them under circumstances that made sense for both parties.

  19. Nancy M. - that you and Rosemary, and other authors can offer such books to us, I love.

    I worry about books the same way I worry about medicine or formal education. All are becoming subject to the great leveling out via the rule of the most profitable.

  20. Thank you for writing about this, Rosemary. Like you, I never thought about self publishing, but the publishing sands under our feet are shifting, daily it seems. I've seen people do well on their own and I've adjusted my attitude. I am planning to e-publish a short story/novelette that is outside my series, hopefully soon, just to test the waters and see what the e-market might be.

    I wish you all the luck in the world.

  21. Rosemary, I'm in much the same boat. I had 3 novels traditionally published (along with non-fiction with other publishers.) The demise of the small press I was with left me with 1 more novel in the series that was unpublished, and just this week, I put it up on Amazon (createspace to follow). It feels odd to be doing so, but so far the experience has been positive. I hope your experience is great, and I just ordered your latest. Best of luck..

  22. Rosemary, I noticed that Chestnut Hill Books is listed as your books publisher. Is that a name you created for yourself?

  23. Rosemary,I love your books and just cannot understand why anyone else would NOT. I have read all of them and always look forward to the next one. I'm glad that we will continue to see Paula in the future. (PLEASE promise that we will!) I want to reread them all! Since I do not own my own copy of Slugfest I ordered it this afternoon. I can't wait for it to come so that I can revisit Paula's world. I love the cover design, by the way.

    It's always sad fo me when a series ends. It makes me feel as though there has been a death in the family. When I discover and like an author who is new to me, I look for everything I can find that has been written by that person, and I check to see what is forthcoming. I always want to read a series of books in order of publication. It is so frustrating when a favorite author seems to drop off the radar. Thanks to this and other blogs, I have been learning why that happens. I don't like it! Like Reine, I have discovered lots of authors through this and other blogs. I,too, have wondered how helpful it is to authors to participate in group blogs. Since I began reading blogs,I have been so impressed with how authors support each other's efforts and help to spread the word about each other's books. Is that something that is more common among mystery writers,or is it common among all genres?

    I will try to make an effort to write reviews of my favorite books in the future. My life is somewhat complicated right now so I can't say how long it might before I do it, but I do want to do it. I don't want to lose any more characters!

  24. Congratulations on finishing this book and on venturing to self-pub it !!

    Wishing you great sales of this book and continued sales of the first 3 !!

    WTG !


  25. Love the cover, Rosemary! I have to say I am in awe of how you and your publisher reached terms on this and how you approached this with such fabulous business acumen. I am so sick of reading the rants of self-publishers versus traditional. Your experience shows there a way to do both. Thanks for sharing it.

  26. Deb R., I think you're right when you note that mystery writers seem to be more supportive of each other than others. I can't speak to sf/fantasy or romance authors, but I've had years of experience on the lit side, and I've been bowled over by how wonderfully helpful mystery authors are to me and to each other. In the lit world, you find that level of mutual support primarily in the Latino, Native American, Asian American, LGBTQ, etc. groups--because they were locked out for a long time and still have difficulty in getting the same opportunities as the mainstream lit writers. I wonder if Sisters in Crime hasn't played a large role in this kind of atmosphere in mystery writing.

    Rosemary, would you like to do an interview on my blog?

    If so, email me at lindalynetterodriguez (at) gmail (dot) com, and I'll send you questions.

  27. You're a pioneer, Ro! It doesn't hurt that you write great books.

  28. Rosemary, after three agents expressed interest in my first book, but kept putting me in the maybe pile with suggestions like, "I really like it, but could you put in a zombie or werewolf?"I decided to self-pub. I had 10 people read my paranormal cozy ms, followed up on all their tips, micro-managed a cover illustration and had it professionally edited and published with CreateSpace. The hardest part for me was learning how to format the book and it took several proofs to figure it out, but I'm so glad I did. Am about to publish book 2 of the series and am happy with the results so far. Good on you for taking the plunge; I love you cover and all the best for SLUGFEST!

  29. Rosemary, thank you for sharing your experience with CreateSpace. After years of traditional publishing, I recently made the decision to forego shopping my latest book and jump into self-publishing. This decision was based on several friends who had already made the leap and were very successful at it.

    But I chose to go the digital route, publishing my book through Amazon's KDP program. And fortunately, the book spent its first month as an Amazon bestseller.

    It seems, however, that self-publishing a book in print form is still an iffy situation. And I'm wondering what made you decide to go print rather than straight to ebook?

    I realize it's not all about money, but ebooks seems to be where midlisters are making the biggest splash.

  30. Rosemary, good for you! Createspace is great, and I'm sure the book will sell well. I was one of those writers who self-pubbed early when my ebook publisher went belly up. Your book will NEVER go out of print, and it will be available in England, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. I got my first German sale this week. And I do compulsively check the numbers, and you're right, my first book spiked a bit after World of Mirrors was pubished in early June. I dig your novels and think the voice and humor are just totally loveable. Sell a millions copies!

    Judy Copek

  31. Rosemary,
    Thanks for taking the plunge. I am an indie author, and your ability to tackle both the traditional and self-publishing worlds helps us all. Those of us who are indie often get snubbed, when we really need the support of established authors to help us navigate and be successful in a very challenged industry. Good luck!

  32. It's good to see the stigma of self-publishing is diminishing each passing day.

    I wish you the best success with Slugfest.

    Though for self-publishing, the money these days is in ebook.

    The "200,000+ self-published ebooks sold" club:

    Barbara Freethy - over 2 million ebooks sold (April 2012)
    Amanda Hocking - 1,500,000 ebooks sold (December 2011)
    John Locke- more than 1,100,000 eBooks sold in five months
    Gemma Halliday - over 1 million self-published ebooks sold (March 2012)
    Michael Prescott - more than 800,000 self-published ebooks sold (Dec 2011)
    J.A. Konrath - more than 800,000 ebooks sold (April 2012)
    Bella Andre - more than 700,000 books sold (May 2012)
    Darcie Chan - 641,000 ebooks sold (May 2012)
    Chris Culver - over 550,000 (Dec 2011)
    Heather Killough-Walden - over 500,000 books sold (Dec 2011)
    Selena Kitt - "With half a million ebooks sold in 2011 alone"
    Stephen Leather - close to 500,000 books sold (Nov 2011)
    CJ Lyons - almost 500,000 ebooks sold (Dec 2011)
    J.R. Rain - more than 400,000 books sold (Sept 2011)
    Bob Mayer - 347 sold in Jan to over 400,000 total sold by year's end (Dec 2011)
    Rick Murcer - over 400,000 ebooks in one year (May 2012)
    Tracey Garvis-Graves - sold more than 360,000 copies of her first novel
    Tina Folsom - over 300,000 books sold (October 2011)
    J Carson Black - more than 300,000 books sold (November 2011)
    Terri Reid - 300,000 sold (May 2012)
    Marie Force - 300,000+ sold (June 2012)
    Liliana Hart - "my total sales for one year have now exceed 300,000 books (June 2012)
    T.R. Ragan - 293,202 books sold (May 2012)
    B.V. Larson - over 250,000 books sold (Dec 2011)
    Kerry Wilkinson - more than 250,000 books sold (Feb 2012)
    M. R. Mathias - "I'm up to nearly 250k (in just two years) (June 2012)
    H.P. Mallory - more than 200,000 ebooks sold (July 2011)
    Scott Nicholson - Just guessing, I'd put my worldwide sales total between 200k-250k
    David Dalglish - more than 200,000 (May 2012)
    Antoinette Stockenberg - total sales stand at 216,686 (June 2012) - private email
    Cheryl Bolen - 200,000 sold (June 2012)
    Jennifer Ashley/Ashley Gardner - 200,000 sold mark in early June 2012 - private email
    Nick Spalding - "I'm lucky enough to be in the 200,000 + total sales club now (June 2012)"