On Being an Indie (aka ‘self-published’) author…

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I started writing in earnest when my son was just a newborn babe in arms and I had a personal epiphany of the ‘I could die any moment and so I better get my ass in gear and start doing what I really love‘ variety.

I approached it methodically, being the geek that I am. I started off reading about it, buying every book on writing fiction that I could find. I joined writing workshops online. I found a few writer’s groups and started writing fanfiction as a way to practice the art of the story.

After a few years of writing other people’s characters and trying to find interesting storylines to flesh out, I tried my hand at original fiction. I took classes on novel writing, screenwriting and film production. Anything to help me with writing and storytelling. I wrote a few short stories in the fantasy and science fiction genres. I got a couple published in small paying venues, earning enough to buy a few rounds of drinks for myself and my hubby. Nothing to build a career on though.

I tried my hand writing a novel and it was a monster. An historical fantasy with gods and kings and warriors and a widowed princess who is taken captive by the conquering warlord. Typical bodice-ripping high fantasy romance.

I wrote another novel set in ancient Rome with a feisty temple virgin who gives herself over to a Roman god and becomes his favourite slavegirl. 😉

You know — my kind of romance with lots of sex and a very alpha-male god.

I did not try to sell these novels. They were creaky and very amateurish. But they were fun and gave me a chance to try to see if I could actually write 70,000+ word novels. I could. Not very good ones, but I could do it.

Then I tried my hand at a serious YA High Fantasy along the lines of Game of Thrones — perhaps one of my fav all time series since Dune and Lord of the Rings. I put my heart into this novel, with plans to do a trilogy. There is a love triangle, a heroine who is caught between cousins who are sworn enemies, and she becomes key to the fate of the four kingdoms. There was no sex on screen, but off. It was heavy in the plot and action department and light on sex, although the romance is central to the story.

I shopped it around the blogs where it won several agent query contests and I had requests from multiple agents to read the first chapters or the whole manuscript. I’d say that a total of 15 agents saw it, some of them quite prominent in the YA category. Good feedback but I was told it was too adult for the YA market and that I should rewrite and target adult fantasy agents.

I considered it but felt like so much of the story was coming-of-age that it would be completely different if it was to be adult instead of  YA.

So I shelved it.

I had started a paranormal romance with an ancient vampire turned in medieval Budapest during the conquest by the Ottoman Empire. He meets and falls in love with a young vampire hunter…

That morphed into a story about twin-vampires who were turned during the Crusades and who both fell in love with a young vampire hunter.

I wrote Ascension first — the Hungarian vampire who takes a young vampire hunter under his protection and falls for her. Then I decided to do the twin story and wrote Dominion second as a kind of prequel to introduce the former-priest vampire. Voila — Books 1 and 2 of the Dominion series were published within 3 weeks of each other.

So why did I go the self-publish indie route?

I considered trying the traditional route, and sent off queries to 5 of the top agents who represented Paranormal Romance novels like mine.

Not a bite.

I read someone commenting that even Sylvia Day was told by her agent that her FINISHED vampire novel would not sell. SYLVIA DAY! If Sylvia Day couldn’t get her own agent interested in a vampire novel, how could I, no-name writer, hope to get my novel, let alone a trilogy, considered? I did enter a few contests with Dominion in various incarnations, but although I got good feedback for the writing, I was told that the agents were really hesitant about vampires because the market was so saturated.

So, here I was with two finished vampire romance / suspense novels and very few prospects for getting them read.

Do I just shelve them like I did the YA High Fantasy? Or do I just put them out there, and see how they do?

I figured what have I got to lose? I write under a pen name so my professional reputation is protected (I work for government and run a climate blog that is read by serious climate scientists) and published my books through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program.

I’ve done fairly well for a self-published author, although not well enough to quit my day job and I’m certainly no Amanda Hocking. I WISH! I have had an enquiry from a publisher but so far no contract. My books have been listed on some paranormal romance best of lists, they have been featured in some groups, and I have some pretty good reviews (and some not so good ones). But I’m still just an indie author trying to break through.

It’s an uphill battle getting your name and books out there. It requires daily dedication to maintaining a presence on social media, like Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and others. Self-promotion does not come naturally to me. In real life, I am a very shy geek girl, socially quite a bit reserved, although those who know me intimately know I am a total nutcase and crazy, but in public, I wear a sober suit to work, glasses and am very quiet with people I don’t know well. I find self-promotion very hard, but if I don’t do it, there is no way I would have had the readers I have, some of whom have worked very hard promoting my books for me.

The key to success, whether you are an indie author or part of the traditional publishing world, is word of mouth. Traditionally published authors have a leg up on indies, because they do get advances, and they have the power of the publishing house behind them, and the chance to get early reviews and buzz, editorial services, cover design, get into brick and mortar stores, and get press and advertising. All those cost money that an indie author lacks. But even traditionally published authors need word of mouth to carry their book to success. In that way, a book that resonates with readers will gain word of mouth regardless of how it was published. Readers care about story and character and less about the label or publishing house. I have yet to hear any reader say — Oh, I hear Penguin has a new book out this month… They talk about story and author names.

There are literally tens of millions of women who read paranormal romance and thousands of paranormal romance novels in existence, with hundreds of titles published each year. Rising above the background noise is a feat. I’m not there but I have been placed on shelves along with writers I admire who are successes.

It has been quite an experience. I’ve made mistakes along the way, have tripped and fallen at times, and have picked myself up and dusted myself off.

What I have learned as an indie author:

1. Write the best book you can and work on the blurb and cover – spend money on a good cover.

2. Get it edited! Typos and grammatical mistakes will turn your readers off. I had to revise my novels because of typos in early versions of my books and wish I had met my current editors sooner. The one I had was not a detail person and my first versions of my books showed it. Even if you go over it a dozen times, even if two people edit it several times, you will miss mistakes.

3. Find book bloggers who will blog about your book. If they like your book, you will get more readers.

4. Amazon’s Kindle Direct program is great because it allows you to do promotions and that got me a lot of readers who might never have seen my books.

5. Use social media like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads, but try to be yourself, be real, and although you will flog your books, you should try to be interesting in your own right to those who follow you. Offer something they want — advice on writing, your own book reviews, whatever you have to offer.

6. Give up the rest of your life outside of your major responsibilities.

I use every spare moment that I am not at my full-time job or doing mother-goddess duties working on my books — writing, revising, planning, promoting, and other book business tasks. I have no life outside of these three things. Paid work, family and writing business. I watch barely any television with the exception of a few shows (TVD, SPN, The Following, Girls, Game of Thrones, major sports games only) and I rarely go out to the bar or socialize. If I do go out, I feel the pressure of missing writing and promotion time. I still do go out — with a few friends or family members, but it is maybe once a week.

My dream is to give up the day job and write full-time, live off the avails of my writing, but there are many authors I personally admire who still work for a living so I won’t hold my breath. How I admire those writers who can do it full-time! I have a half-dozen novels planned but can only hope to publish at most 3 books a year.

Maybe in three years I will be a success. Maybe I will get that call from the publisher and the offer. Maybe I will still be chugging away, selling my books on my own.

Indie publishing is a very unlikely path to success for a writer. But for some of us, it is the only way that our books will get out there simply because of the reality of publishing in the 21st Century, and given the rise of eBooks, online retailers like Amazon and self-publishing.

The true successes are as rare as a blue moon. Speaking of which, have you read my novel Ascension? 😉

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You can buy all three books in the Dominion Series at Amazon.com:

Dominion: http://tinyurl.com/7btsfjy

Ascension: http://tinyurl.com/bmve9zl

Retribution: http://tinyurl.com/bmve9zl

One thought on “On Being an Indie (aka ‘self-published’) author…

  1. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed reading all 3 books. I am looking forward to your next book. Thank you for NOT putting them on the shelf and taking the chance on us vampire romance groupies like me would be drawn to your stories. Keep going cause one day you will be the known writer like Sylvia Day!

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