Those Who Can’t – Self-Publish. Really?

A lot of people put ‘write a book’ on their bucket list. Thanks to Amazon, Smashwords, and fee-based publishing companies, having a book with your name on the spine is easier than ever. There’s never been a better time to be an author, never been more options, but simply being published means very little now.

When everyone is special, then no one is.

The Author Is Now In Control
Authors are entrepreneurs. Gone are the days of the solitary writer holed up in a writing cave never interacting with readers. There’s no longer a stigma attached to self-publishing, the stigma is attached to books that do poorly. Your book must earn respect now with sales and Amazon rankings determining value, not the name of the publisher on the spine. Indie and self-publishing avenues (digital especially) have leveled the playing field. But with privilege comes responsibility. For the first time writers have choices – you can traditionally publish or self publish or both, but either way the burden of responsibility for success rests with the author.

A Leveled Playing Field
Traditional publishers have always offered distribution, something authors couldn’t get anywhere else. The cover art, editing, interior design are all services that many publishers are outsourcing anyway, but with digital there’s no longer any need for distribution. Barry Eisler made publishing news a few months ago when he turned down a BIG (I mean, never have to write again big) deal from St. Martin’s Press. He was then approached by Amazon to publish with them first digitally and then in paper at a much higher royalty rate. He didn’t need either St. Martin’s or Amazon for distribution – he already has a substantial platform, but Amazon offered direct to consumer marketing he could tap into. At the Writer’s Digest Conference (WDC) in New York, Eisler claimed he’s made more on the book published with Amazon, than on any of his traditionally published books. Self-publishing was the smart business decision for him.

Writing Is A Business
Traditional publishers typically offer 17.5% royalty rates, but with self-publishing authors keep upwards of 75% royalties. Writing is a business and the business is connecting with readers. Traditional or self-published doesn’t matter because the self-published or indie author can hire an editor and the same cover designer as the big publishers, and put out a comparably packaged product. But not all books are created equal – and whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, failing to connect with readers will be reflected in customer reviews and sales numbers. Just putting a book out there doesn’t mean anyone will buy it – or find it in this crowded marketplace.

Read more about The Business of Writing with this exclusive GWP interview with author and writing teacher James Scott Bell.

A New Business Model
A new business model is emerging. Previously, a traditionally published author would put out 1 new title a year (or less than that), and then build a speaking and teaching career beneath the writing career. Indie publishers are telling new writers to publish 3-5 books a year to keep readers coming back. Writers must be entrepreneurs. Many of the successful independent authors have a team of writers writing for them – their name has become a brand – almost like a fashion label. But this also opens up markets where previously there were none – like short stories and poetry.

In Summary
If you don’t have a top-notch product (book), don’t have great packaging (interior design, cover art, binding, cover copy), and a social network who will share and recommend your work – you’re playing the author lotto (and the odds aren’t in your favor).

The average self-published title sells 80 copies. You can’t live off that. But the good news is that those are all things you can control through hard work. It’s a lot of trial and error, learning from what didn’t work as much as what did. These authors spoke of testing titles with Facebook ads, and monopolizing a word through Google ads. It’s a serious, purposeful business model being planned up to two years in advance.

Being traditionally published gives you instant credibility with retailers and to a certain extent readers, but that’s overcome with reader reviews, blogger reviews, Amazon rankings, etc. This is a really exciting time to be a writer. Authors no longer need the brick&mortar bookstore, the agent or New York publisher to be a success (whether publishing digitally or not) and that’s changed a lot of things.

Read more about self-publishing from these successful authors:

Debora Geary – paranormal author
LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author


Subscribe to Marcy’s new blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s new blog Through the Fire.

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Tips for Writers Thinking of Self-Publishing – Guest Post

We’ve decided to go the traditional route with our novel and are currently querying agents (as you may have guessed from our trip to the Writer’s Digest conference in New York a few weeks ago), but we know that many of you are considering the self-published or indie publishing route. So when self-published author Darlene Jones asked if she could do a guest post for us here at Girls With Pens, we knew exactly what we would ask. Could she give some practical starter tips on things that writers considering self-publishing need to consider? Take it away Darlene . . .


Darlene Jones self-publishingI did all the things writers are supposed to do: joined a writers’ guild, attended workshops, participated in a critique group, had a few short pieces published, started a blog, sent out queries to agents, received rejections, and built up a thick skin.

At the Willamette Writers’ Conference (August 2011), my writing partner and I heard much rumbling about self-publishing. We agonized during the drive home. Self-publish? Oh, but the stigma. Our pitches were successful, so should we wait to hear from those agents and then decide? What to do? What to do?

I got a two paragraph response from agent number one—to say “No.” I opened the next email, which was from my writing buddy. She’d received a rejection from the same agent. Two different genres and two very different writing styles. Both professionally copy edited. The rejections were identical except for our names.

That was it. Self-publishing here I come.

Tips from my experience:

Make the decision to self-publish.

This is the biggest step, and you must be committed to going that route. Self-publishing is as hard or harder than going the traditional route.

Set yourself up publicly.

I already had a blog and was on Facebook. I joined Twitter and Goodreads since they were the social media sites most often mentioned in my research as good for author support. I also built a website using Webstarts, who I’d worked with before. Be sure to choose a user-friendly platform if you want to be able to revise it as you go without a web guy.


I spent over a month trolling the Internet, reading everything I could find on self-publishing. John Locke’s “How To” was a must and reading that really inspired me to “go for it.” Many of the sites I visited were ones recommended on Twitter, so follow other self-published authors there.

Make lists.

Make a list of websites to go back to when your book launches—sites where you can ask for reviews or interviews. I’m still adding to that list as I find sites. I also have a long list of marketing ideas and a long list of personal contacts to announce my launch to.

Hire professionals to help you.

I already mentioned I’d had my work professionally copy edited, but there are other professionals you’ll need to hire.

Unless you are a total computer whiz, I think the headache of formatting isn’t worth it. Concentrate your energy on writing and marketing.

You must also have your cover done professionally. Look at the covers of other self-published authors to find a good graphic designer. I was reading an author site and liked his covers. I contacted the artist he listed, and we emailed back and forth discussing possibilities. The deal was cemented for me when she refused a deposit, saying, “You’ve worked hard on your book. You should see my work and decide if you like it before we talk money.” I also wanted to work with her because she could do the formatting as well as the cover

Decide where you’ll publish your book.

By now, with all your research, you should have some idea of who you want to publish with. I went with Createspace for the print version, and with Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for all other formats. I chose these largely based on advice from speakers at the Willamette conference. All three have been very good to work with. The instructions on their sites are easy to follow, and their support people were prompt in answering any questions I did have.

Be patient. This all takes time.

I launched my book a couple months ago. I’ve had wonderful support from family and friends. I’m doing guest blogs like this one, and I have people lined up for reviews. I believe my book deserves readers and hope that I can market well enough to attract those readers. But I don’t expect overnight success. Gaining readers takes time.

Self-publishing tipsWant to know more about Darlene? You can find her on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter, and you can check out her book at Amazon or Smashwords.

How many of you are considering self-publishing and how many of you want to traditionally publish? What’s your number one reason for your choice?

Self-Publishing Week: Guest Post with Jenny Lee Sulpizio

This is the final segment of our self-pubbed author blitz. Today’s guest poster is Jenny Lee Sulpizio. Jenny has self-published a children’s book in the Christian market, has another self-pubbed children’s title about to be released, and is agented for her non-fiction work in progress.

Take it away, Jenny.

Jenny Lee SulpizioYou’ve written something. You think it’s good, maybe even really good but like many others in the same boat, you might be unsure as to what steps to take next. Maybe you’re an author who has pursued traditional routes of publication before, but may have discovered that agents and editors alike haven’t responded to your work like you had originally hoped. No doubt, you have heard a lot about self-publishing as well but may have no idea as to where to begin or how to start such a process…or what exactly is involved.

So, what do you do?

For me, the decision to self-publish occurred on a whim. In fact, my children’s picture book manuscript had literally sat in a drawer for six long years prior to even considering the notion that I could publish the book myself.  At that point, my work had already been rejected by agents (and publishers too), and rather than continue down “Rejection Road,” I simply stopped pursuing it all together. But I (like many authors), desperately desired to see my words in print, and obtain the opportunity to share the message of my book with others. I knew that self-publication was the path for me and in 2010 (by the recommendation of a good friend of mine), I found myself signing with a vanity publisher to produce my first children’s picture book titled, Mommy Whispers.

But I had absolutely no inkling as to what I was doing. I was naïve, clueless, and slightly misinformed.

You see, like most authors, I really believed in my work and felt that the story I had written combined with the book’s beautiful illustrations would instantly propel it (and me) to the bestseller’s list…maybe even overnight. In retrospect, this evokes laughter within because even though my heart was in the right place, my head was definitely not. Sure I had just put a lot of work into producing my book but was I prepared for the road that lay ahead? Not in the least. I had no idea what this journey would require or expect of me. And at the time, I didn’t have a firm grasp on the reality of what I had just signed myself up for. Indeed, it would be one of the toughest tasks I would knowingly possess and assume: the role of a self-published author.

So, are you ready for this? Here’s what you need to know:

If you’re thinking that “self-pubbing” is your publication path of choice, then you must become an informed and well-researched author prior to finalizing this decision.  Believe me when I say that there is a lot to learn and research, and you must be willing to spend a lot of time doing so. Do not jump into this task lightly and be fully aware of what this process will require from you (both financially and emotionally). Keep in mind that as a self-published author, you will literally be in control of the entire production of your book, and while this may sound tempting at first, there is a lot to consider before you proceed.

Think about these points before you jump in:

1.)   The Moola. Do you have the money to finance this project? Now, I’m not just referring to the actual book itself but also to the editing, illustrating (if applicable), and marketing fees you will need to invest in. You must plan accordingly and make sure you have enough money for each of these areas and more.

2.)   The Time Factor. Do you have the time to devote to this endeavor? Getting your book to print is only half the battle. You have to be prepared to spend a significant amount of time marketing (and pushing) your book so that it gets seen, reviewed, and noticed.

3.)   The Market. Do you know how to market your project? Social media sites, personal websites, and blogs are just the beginning. There is an art to marketing and you need to begin your research on how to do so effectively.

4.)   The Prep Work: Have you been to writer conferences, networked with other authors, researched the writing realm? Are you prepared and is your work ready for publication?

5.)   The Reality: Even though you might see your book on Amazon, be prepared not to see it in stores. Understand that self-publication is hugely (and mostly) an online business due to the way in which books are distributed (in conjunction with traditional publishing houses).  Know this upfront.

So, was it all worth it?

In one word: Yes. So much so, that I’ll release yet another children’s picture book by means of self-publication this November (There’s Just Something About a Boy, Ajoyin, 2011).  But this time, I am fully prepared and understand the expectations required of me.  I am no longer completely clueless and Amen for that!

On a final note, remember this: Self-publishing as a whole, is not an easy process but if you are dedicated, determined, and willing to dedicate an enormous amount of effort, it may just be the route for you.

I wish you all the best of luck in your publication pursuits.

Jenny Lee

Jenny Lee Sulpizio, M.S. is a wife, business owner, and mother of three residing in Boise, Idaho. She is an active member within her church and community, and enjoys tapping into her creative side whenever she gets the chance. Mommy Whispers, an ode to mothers and daughters everywhere was the first children’s picture book released in a series that will also include, There’s Just Something About a Boy, set to release this fall. Jenny is a member of SCBWI and is currently represented by The Seymour Agency for her Women’s Christian Non-fiction works-in-progress.

Please visit Jenny at to learn more about the author, her blog, and upcoming projects.

So, this concludes our self-pubbed author blitz. We had a number of readers send us questions about self-pubbing – did you find your question answered? If not, share it below. Would you consider self-publishing for your own work?

Did you miss the other posts in our series? Find them here:

Day 1 – Debora Geary paranormal author
Day 2 – LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
Day 3 – KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Self-Publishing Week: Guest Post with K.C. May

Our self-pubbed author blitz continues with K.C. May, a speculative fiction author. Her first self-published book The Kinshield Legacy received 2nd place at the Kindle Book Review Indie Award in September 2011. Read how she took a title a small-press publisher struggled to sell, and made it an Amazon bestseller.

L: Tell us about your self-publishing journey

Back in 2009, I asked my publisher to make my book The Kinshield Legacy available in Kindle format, but he refused, saying it was available as a PDF, which can be read on the Kindle.

That didn’t make sense to me — if most ebook buyers bought direct from online retailers like and Amazon and Kobo, why not provide the books in the format best suited to the ebook readers? Ereaders were becoming more popular, and I knew this market would be growing.

I asked again in 2010, and his response was to cut me loose from my contract.

A New Direction

In 2010, I self-published The Kinshield Legacy. I bought a new book cover, took a crash course in ebook formatting and uploaded to Amazon and Smashwords. The first month, I made ten sales, mostly from Smashwords. I think I had 2 sales on Amazon that month.

For the first nine months or so, I did all the usual promotional things — jumped on every new review blog to get reviews, did give-aways, tweeted and Facebooked, etc.

L: When did you see your sales increasing?

A few things happened:

– I put The Kinshield Legacy on sale for 99c on April 1. Sales started picking up.
– On April 8, it was featured on Pixel of Ink. Sales went from 4-5 per day to 15-25 per day.
– Game of Thrones aired on HBO on April 17. (My book isn’t that similar, but it’s in the same genre.) Sales went from 15-25 per day to 25-40 per day.
– On May 7, it was featured on Ereader News Today. Sales went from 25-40 per day to 50-70 per day.

The Kinshield Legacy sold over 2000 copies in May, over 4600 in June, almost 6000 in July, 7700 for August… The sequel, The Wayfarer King, came out August 3, and it sold 6300 copies its first month! On August 24, I reached my 25,000-sales milestone (across all books, all venues). On September 9, I hit 40,000, and by the end of September, I’d sold over 50,000 books.

The Snowball Effect of Word of Mouth

Once Amazon starts to recommend your books, an enjoyable story professionally presented can enjoy months and months of excellent sales while the writer develops a loyal readership. And that’s really what we’re after, right?

When I first got the rights back for The Kinshield Legacy, I initially thought I would shop it around to another publisher, but I’d heard that Amazon offered a way for authors to upload their books to sell on Amazon.

“They” say that most self-published books sell about 100 copies in their lifetime. I sold more in the first three months than the original publisher had sold in the five years he had the rights. Ironically, his other titles are now in Kindle format. I like to think I was a lesson to him. 🙂

L: What happened then?

cover of Venom of VipersWhen I finished my second book in November 2010, The Venom of Vipers, I did query my agent, just in case he wanted to try selling it to a traditional publisher. When two weeks went by without a response, I proceeded with my plan to self-publish it. By then, I knew that self-publishing was for me.

The day-by-day feedback on book sales is so much better than the quarterly reports my publisher *cough* sent (or didn’t send, as the case may be). I knew which days of the week were the biggest sales days and could focus my marketing to take advantage. One thing I learned since self-publishing my first book: spreadsheets are my friends.

L: What advice would you give new writers thinking self-publishing may be the way to go?

Decide what your goals are and hang out on forums where self-published writers go, such as the Writers’ Cafe at the Kindleboards. I learned a lot by reading the trials and tribulations of others with the same goals. There’s a lot of work involved, and it’s not for everyone. Reclusive writers may not want to self-publish when they find out how much interaction they need to engage in to get word out about their book. Writers who aren’t very computer savvy might be intimidated by the effort in formatting, uploading and managing their books online.

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and don’t mind the expense and hassle of self-publishing, it can be extremely rewarding!

Thanks K.C.! You can follow K.C. May on her blog, subscribe to her newsletter off her webite, or follow her on Twitter.  To read more about K.C. May and her upcoming work, check out this fabulous post she wrote for Nathan Lowell presents.

Your turn. Do you look at the publisher before you purchase a book? Does it matter to you if it’s self-published? What sells a book to you?


Did you miss the other posts in our series? Find them here:

Day 1 – Debora Geary paranormal author
Day 2 – LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
Day 3 – KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author
Day 4 – Jenny Lee Sulpizio – children’s author – Christian market

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Self-Publishing Week: Guest Post with LT Kodzo

To continue our self-publishing blog blitz, guest poster #2 is LT Kodzo. I connected with Loralee in April of 2011 at a conference, and was there when she decided to self-publish her YA novel. Her story is unique because she was one of those self-pub naysayers. She impressed me with her business-like approach to publishing. Her book’s been out for about a month – does she regret self-publishing?

Never Say Never: A Writer’s Journey to Self-Publication

One of the most difficult things to do in life is confess a prejudice. In this past year I had to do just that.

My firmly established bigotry started in 1985, when I began my process toward publication. With a flat out proclamation of, “I will never self-publish,” I set my sights, strapped on my blinders, and focused wholly on the road to royalty publishing. All “Vanity Press” requests, or anything that didn’t offer to buy my book, went ignored.

Afterall, self-published books, in my opinion, were:

  • Unedited
  • Low quality
  • Unmarketable
  • Rejected by bookstores
  • Drivel

The only exceptions I made to these ideas were non-fiction books sold by the likes of Suzie Orman or Dr. Phil. Anyone with huge public exposure could market their books, but not me.

So, I finished drafts for two novels, attended critique groups, and completed my BA in English. In 2008, I attended my first set of workshops at Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. I pitched to agents and publishers only to find out what I was writing wasn’t marketable in the CBA [Christian Booksellers Association]. My reality-based topics weren’t what they were looking for in YA. “Change your characters to adult.” Or “Do you write fantasy or romance?” And “Buyers want softer topics.”

But I left the conference motivated. After trying their suggestions, I discovered that my passion was to write contemporary (real issues) for young people. I attended both Mount Hermon and ACFW [American Christian Fiction Writers] conferences for two more years while completing drafts for two additional novels.

The Ultimate Question – What to do when editors say they don’t see a market for your work (but have no issues with the writing itself)

After my 5th conference in 3 years [receiving the same response from editors and agents], I shifted my focus. As a professional business woman I asked myself one very important question: “If I owned a publishing company, how would I sell a book to teens?” And as a person accomplished in talking to myself, I responded, “Easy. Teens read what they are told to read. Get the book into schools.” Now that answer won’t work for all YA books, like romance or fantasy, but it was a perfect fit for my book about bullying and suicide.

In 2011, I attended Mount Hermon again. This time, I didn’t meet with publishers to pitch my books. Instead, I met with them to pitch my marketing plan. And guess what? It worked. Not only did two royalty publishers request proposals, I heard the following:

  • Good self-publishers require edits
  • Reliable self-publishers can produce great products
  • Authors must self-market, and some self-publishers will help promote
  • Print-on-demand, Amazon, etc. have practically replaced bookstores

A Change Of Mind…

Now if you’ve been keeping track, this covered all the bullets I listed earlier except one. The one I thought I’d left back in 1985. It didn’t reappear until I sat with WinePress Publishing and agreed to self-publish my first book. I left the meeting thrilled. The dream I’d had since I was a little girl in pigtails winning the “who read the most books” library contest each summer was about to come true.

The excitement lasted a total of fifteen seconds. Enough time for me to think, “Who should I call with my good news?”

The answer: I didn’t call anyone.

What was there to celebrate? I wasn’t chosen. In fact, I had to pay to play. I was about to be drivel.

During the rest of the conference I asked every professional I’d met over the previous 4 years what they thought of my decision: published authors and professional editors who have critiqued my work, even the two publishers who asked for proposals on other books. They all gave me the same response.


That’s right. It wasn’t a matter of quality, it was a business decision. The publishers actually liked that I was willing to invest in my product, and self-market it. It made sense, my future work could benefit from sales (if the book did well). Authors, editors and publishers didn’t consider what I was doing as drivel.

So, why was I still unsatisfied?

For 25 years, I believed other authors would look down on me, the industry wouldn’t take me seriously, and the public would never read my book. Those narrow-minded judgments belonged to me. I was a bigot. And I’m sorry for that. Quality novels like The Shack and legitimate authors like John Grisham started in self-publishing.

My Success?

book cover Locker 572In the end, I was so wrong. Not just about my false opinions related to drivel, but about the ability for my book to succeed. Within the first month of release, my YA novel, Locker 572, sold over 1,500 books. (See the book trailer for Locker 572 here.) The results came from self-marketing. In addition, I learned an important lesson. By letting go of my discrimination, I discovered personal validation dipped in a thick coating of humility.


Locker 572 is connected with iMatter with 10% of all proceeds going to the charity.

As an additional note to Loralee’s post, I asked her two follow-up questions. Here are her responses:

L: How many schools have you gotten your book into?

A county mental health department purchased books for a public high school in New York, and may buy more books for a second school if the assemblies have good results. There was also a large purchase for a high school in Maryland, an entire district in a large metropolitan area, so I’m not sure how many schools my books will be in there.

L: Do you also do speaking engagements to promote your book in schools?

I do assemblies and speak in schools. What opened the door to the schools above was my willingness to travel there and speak to the kids about bullying. I’m happy to travel, even up into Ontario.

Loralee has promised to hang out here for the day. Any questions for her? What’s holding you back from self-publishing?

Did you miss the other posts in our series? Find them here:

Day 1 – Debora Geary paranormal author
Day 2 – LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
Day 3 – KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author
Day 4 – Jenny Lee Sulpizio – children’s author – Christian market

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Self-Publishing Week: Guest Post with Debora Geary

Marcy and Lisa are hosting a self-publishing week with 4 fabulous guest posters each with their own unique journey of success in self-publishing to share. Come back every day this week for a new story of how a writer found success through self-pubbing.

Debora Geary writes paranormal fiction and has her books available online well… everywhere. I as told that if I only interviewed one self-pubbed author, Deborah had to be the one. Enjoy!

debora gearyWhat’s involved in being a successful self-published author? What advice would you give new writers thinking self-publishing may be the way to go?

Those are the questions Lisa put to me when she asked me to do this guest blog post.  To those, I’ll add one more:  why the heck should you listen to me?

Let me start with that last one.  I’m a very new author – this time last year, I had yet to write a page of fiction. Ever. I was a reader – and much of my perspective on being an author comes from that lifelong reader hat.

I’ve had some success. My first novel, A Modern Witch, published mid-March of this year, has sold over 15,000 copies so far. Selling at $3.99, it’s provided enough income to quit the day job. I have two more novels out now, with more on the way.  I may have come to writing late, but I fully expect this to be the work of the rest of my life.

So of my short and non-typical journey, what advice do I have to give?

1)     Figure out your strengths. 

As a writer, as a marketer, as a businessperson. Use them. They might be very different than the person currently giving you advice.

My day job was data analysis. I’m an analytics geek. I’ve spent a lot of time watching what happens on Amazon in particular, and learned as much as I can about the algorithms driving sales on their site. It’s been a huge benefit – more on that below.

You might not be a data geek. What are your strengths?

2)     Find your readers.

I had no audience when I started. I read a lot of ideas about marketing and advertising, and a lot of conventional wisdom that says you have to get your book cover in front of readers a lot. Be out there.  Learn to love social media.

My data analyst background (and my inner terror of social media) said “hooey”. I could spend $100 on an ad to get 1,000 eyeballs on my cover. Or, I could gift 80 copies of my $3.99 book through Amazon, to people who expressed an interest in reading my book. (You only end up out of pocket for 30% of that – 70% of that comes back in royalties). 1,000 sets of eyeballs, or 80 readers? I vote for readers, every time. And the goal is to turn as many of those 80 readers as possible into fans. See #3.

3)    Keep your readers.

I reach the end of countless books (indie and trad-published) where there’s nothing. No way to contact the author. No email address, no website. No links to other books.

If your book has done its job, lots of readers will want to find you. They want to know what else you wrote. And that’s the start of converting a reader to a fan – one of those amazing people who wait for the next book you’re writing, tell people all about it, vault you into visibility on Amazon the instant you hit publish.

You want them to be able to find you – and you want to be able to reach out to them. Remember #1 – figure out your strengths.  I’m no blogger, and I dropped out of Twitter. But I have a new releases email list, and a Facebook hangout where I chat about really important stuff like how many times you can throw a brownie before it crumbles. (Book research.  Really).

So figure out where you want to hang out with your readers. Build those relationships. Why? A) You’ll never have to “market” again. B) It’s awesome fun. Readers rock. Knowing your readers rocks even more.

4)   Love the Amazon algorithms.

Okay, I know I’m a geek. Not everyone will be as fond of watching what goes on at Amazon as I am. But here’s what I’ve learned. You need to launch quickly – Amazon gives you 30 days on something called the “hot new releases” list in your genre. It’s a lot easier to get onto than the bestseller list, and in most genres, it gives you nice visibility – avid readers like the hot new releases list. They troll it for new books.

How do you launch quickly? It’s hard with book one. But if you find your readers and keep them, it will happen with book two, or three, or four.

And once you get visible at Amazon, magic happens. Books start to sell to readers you didn’t find. Amazon puts your cover in front of readers who like books like yours. Be smart, collect as many of those readers as you can as they finish reading (see #3), and soon you will have a real audience – one you didn’t have to work grinding hours to find.

Second thing I’ve learned – you need to launch often. Amazon has made changes in the last six months to make books less sticky. They appear to want turnover in the bestselling books, maybe to increase variety offered up to readers. Whatever the reason, new books get a lot of advantages. And readers like lots of new books 🙂

5)     Start with a “core” offering. 

Quick – in five words or less, what kind of books do you write?

Me? Happy books about witches.

Why does that matter? Because as you build your audience, you want as many of them as possible to traverse from the first book you publish, to the second. And the third. And the fifteenth.

I see some authors with three books in three totally different genres. It’s easy to do – I have so many ideas for books. Ask me whether my little chick-lit, non-witch novella is my bestseller… I wrote it right after A Modern Witch. I didn’t know yet that I was the author that writes “happy books about witches.”

Is that all I’ll ever write? Heck, no. But I intend to focus on my witches for at least a couple of years. I want to collect an awesome group of loyal readers, some of whom will try out my sci fi trilogy, or my artsy chick lit book, or… You know. The stuff without witches. The stuff I can write once I’ve got myself firmly established as a writer.

You can build an audience lots of ways, but I think the most efficient way is to write a “core” of books first. A trilogy or series – something for readers to fall in love with. Something where you can discover the awesome power of releasing book two or three, and seeing your book fly off the virtual shelf simply because you put it up there.

6)   Brand the hell out of your core offering. 

A modern witchCheck out my A Modern Witch series covers ( Individually, they’re not the kind of covers you want to touch and hold and sleep with under your pillow.  (Alas.)  But they’ve got awesome drive-by recognition.  The cover for A Hidden Witch, book two in the series, does a great job of catching people’s attention as they browse Amazon.

A hidden witchBecause here’s the deal. 0.5% (totally making these numbers up, but you get my drift) of your readers will become true fans. 5% will volunteer to be on an email list or give you some other way to reach out to them. That leaves 94.5% of the people who read your first book out there, with no idea you wrote book two.

Some of those people are lost forever. Some didn’t like book one. But the rest? You want them to notice you. How? Use the reader base you can reach (mine’s my email list) to get visible in the Amazon algorithms. Then offer a book highly related to your first, with a well-branded cover (the visual equivalent of “yo – I wrote another one!”).

7)  Filter advice carefully.

There’s lots of advice on self publishing. Some of it’s awful. (Okay, a lot of it’s awful). Some of it’s good – for last year. Some of it’s good – for a different kind of book. Some of it’s good – for a different kind of author.

Be smart. If something I’ve said above makes sense, think about it, and try to make it your own. If it doesn’t – go find someone else to listen to. Nobody else can lay it out for you. They can only offer hints.

Or an obnoxiously long list of opinions 🙂

Thanks Debora, great advice. You can find A Modern Witch (A Modern Witch Series: Book 1) on Amazon, or a variety of other outlets through Debora’s website. Are you thinking of self-publishing? What’s stopping you? Have a question for Debora – post it below. We’re hoping she’ll drop by at least once and respond.

Keep writing!


Did you miss the other posts in our series? Find them here:

Day 1 – Debora Geary paranormal author
Day 2 – LT Kodzo – YA author – Christian market
Day 3 – KC May – sci-fi/fantasy author
Day 4 – Jenny Lee Sulpizio – children’s author – Christian market

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish

To self-publish or not to self-publish–if you’re a writer, you’d better be thinking about your answer long before someone else asks you the question. The two paths eventually diverge, and traditional publishing is quickly becoming the road less taken.

Coming out of Mount Hermon, Lisa and I were asked if we’d considered self-publishing, rather than going to the ABA.  We’d both previously wrestled with this question, but now found ourselves faced with it once again because of the uniqueness of our book. So, like the planner I am, I decided to do some research on the pros and cons of both (and share my findings with you of course).

Benefits of Traditional Publishing

Traditional PublishingIf you’ve been following along with our story and our past posts, you’ve probably already guessed what I see as a major benefit of traditional publishing–validation. Even though the stigma around self-publishing is rapidly fading, a large part of me still feels like I need a traditional publisher to prove to my extended family that I’m not a fool and a failure.

Self-publishing advocates will say readers can provide validation by loving your book, but I’m not sure that will be enough for me. I’m honest enough to admit that I need more than that. To feel like a success, I also need to earn the respect of my family or earn enough respect in the industry that I no longer crave it from my family. Traditional publishing gives me the best chance for that.

No up-front investment is also highly appealing. I’m a newlywed whose American husband isn’t able to work in Canada while waiting for his permanent residency, and Lisa is a mother of three. We sacrificed to make it to California for Mount Hermon. We’re not sure where we’d find the money to self-publish. We need to get paid for what we write, rather than paying someone else to publish it.

If we go with a traditional publisher, we’ll have their marketing, publicity, and distribution clout behind us (or as much as they’re willing to invest in us). We’re willing to hustle. We’re ready to market and promote our work. But we don’t feel capable of doing it all on our own, and hiring someone would, again, involve a bigger financial investment than we’re capable of making.

Finally, we want the confidence that we’ve put out the best possible book, and we feel that having an agent and an editor review our book and suggest improvements gives the best chance of doing that. An agent will also be able to give us the long-term career advice that we can’t get anywhere else.

Industry professionals who’ve spoken out in support of traditional publishing include . . .

Rachelle Gardner in Five Reasons to Pursue Traditional Publishing

Steve Laube in his Defense of Traditional Publishing Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five

Wendy Lawton in Broken Things: Self-Publishing and Broken Things: E-books

Benefits of Self-Publishing

Self-PublishingSelf-publishing, however, makes an awfully convincing case as well.

Authors who self-publish get more of the profits from their books. They don’t have to give 15 percent to an agent and the majority of what their book brings in to a publisher. People with the ability to sell large quantities of books on their own can quickly make back their initial investment.

No gatekeepers in self-publishing can be a blessing as well as a curse. Not all of us love bonnet fiction. Some of us love edgy space adventure. Or fantasy. Or historical fiction set somewhere other than eighteenth century Victorian England or the Wild West of America. (No offense intended if you love those. To each his own.) A self-published author only needs to please their target audience. They don’t have to worry about a publisher dropping them because too many readers complained their novel was too gritty.

You can move quickly with self-publishing. Books produced by a traditional publisher often take two to three years to reach the public. If you’ve written a non-fiction book on a topic that’s currently in the news, you might need to get it out within months rather than years. Even if you haven’t, who doesn’t find a shorter wait appealing?

Industry professionals who openly support self-publishing include . . .

Jane Friedman on self-publishing.

Joe Konrath in his post that asks Are You Dense?

Nathan Bransford in Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing: Which Way Will Make You More Money?

What We Decided

In the end, we ended up back where we started. Our choice is to seek a traditional publisher. Our decision isn’t the right one for everyone, but we believe it is the right one for us at this point in our individual and co-writing careers.

Time for you to chime in. Which direction are you taking your career and why? Do you think we’ve overlooked something important in making our decision?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Right Kind of Wrong

If you came here expecting Thursday’s traditional author interview/book review, you’re in for a surprise. (I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s a good surprise or a bad one.) We felt that this week a little “rant” was more important.

Yesterday I mentioned to Lisa that sometimes it feels like we’re doing everything right and still getting nowhere. We both got into this career with the end goal of getting paid to write novels. While we’re grateful to be working full-time writing and editing non-fiction, that was always meant as a means to an end, not the end itself.

Unfortunately, John Lennon was right when he said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” And instead of getting us where we wanted to be, we’ve gotten really good at something neither of us have any interest in continuing long-term. Worse, we’ve done all the right things and don’t seem to be any closer to our goal than we were at the start.

I grew up dreaming about writing a novel for Bethany House. The older I got I expanded the dream: Kregel, Waterbrook, Multnomah, Harvest House. Because I was determined to succeed, I chained up my misfit leanings and played by the rules. So I did my “internship.” I read every book on writing I could afford to buy or borrow, and I attended Write! Canada every year. (I still do because I believe writing is a skill you need to constantly sharpen.) I “paid my dues,” building up a body of published work and winning fiction competitions. I networked even though I’m naturally a painfully shy introvert.

And I took every opportunity that came my way to get whatever novel I was working on looked at by the “right people.” I got some rejections, but more often I was asked for more. A manuscript critique led to an invitation from the fiction editor from Bethany House to send him the entire manuscript . . . but after I sent it, he disappeared. Another manuscript critique on a different novel led to another invitation to send the full manuscript to a respected agent . . . who I sent a polite follow up to six months later. He still wanted to consider it and asked for my patience. Another six months, another polite follow-up. No response. One more try six weeks later. I accepted that the silence meant I’d been blown off. Would a Dear Joan Writer letter have been so difficult?

I thought maybe the problem is that I’m writing too far outside the box. I’ll be more conservative in my content instead of pushing the boundaries. So I started a contemporary romance with the full intent of “doing everything right” once again. And I followed the same pattern, and I got the same result. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity?) It’s only been six months of silence this time, but I can see the writing on the wall. Probably for the best since my heart wasn’t in that one.

I’ll admit at this point I’m passing disappointed and heading straight towards frustrated. What’s left to try?

Some writers decide to self-publish when they get to this point, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, it’d actually mean that I was giving up. My dream was to be paid to have my novel published, not to pay someone else to do it. (Even if I did have the money for it, which I don’t.) As much as I hate to admit it, I also need the validation that comes with traditional publishing. I have something to prove, and I won’t have proved it until I’ve reached that goal.

Lisa and I have now begun a novel together that we think might be the right mix—quirky and unique yet written with the necessary rules and conventions in mind. And maybe this will be the one that breaks down the door. And maybe we’ll then be able to give new life to those other stories that we still believe in.

And maybe doing everything right will finally pay off.

But I have to admit that doing everything the wrong way is starting to look really appealing. If the in-person meetings aren’t working, maybe I should have sent the entire manuscript unsolicited to someone. Maybe I should have cared less about trends and genres and submission packages. Maybe I should have accosted agents in the bathroom. Maybe I could have been one of those broke-all-the-rules-and-got-a-million-dollars writers. (More likely I’d have just looked like an idiot, but I have a feeling you’re nodding your heads. You know what I’m getting at.)

Maybe the solution is that it’s time to let the misfit out and take some more risks. It’s time to find the right kind of wrong.

This is one time we’d especially love to hear from you. Lisa and I have agreed: It’s a good thing we’re both fighters or we’d have given up long ago. Why do you keep fighting? Why do you keep chasing traditional publication? Why have you decided to self-publish? What do you think is the key to finally succeeding? When will you know that you’ve “made it” as a writer?

Leave a comment or email us at marcyandlisa [at] If we get enough replies, we’ll collect the best into another post so that you can hear what everyone else is thinking and saying.