I’ve wanted to write a series of blog posts about self-publishing for a while but haven’t had time. Now that BOUND is out and I can breathe a little easier between deadlines, I thought this would be the perfect chance to share a little of what I’ve learned about publishing and how the market is changing. Hopefully, some of what I share will be of help to those of you who are looking at your publishing options.
First off, I have to say I am by no means an expert when it comes to self publishing, but I’m happy to pass on what I’ve learned because I had great authors who shared (and continue to share) with me. Authors like Bella Andre, Marie Force, Tina Folsom and Gemma Halliday. What’s fabulous about the industry these days is that authors are willing to help each other. When I started writing everything was hush-hush. You didn’t ask what authors got paid because every publishing house treated their authors differently. Some amazing writers were handed BIG contracts, and some amazing writers got paid next to nothing. It all came down to which authors a publisher wanted to push. When I first told my husband I wanted to seriously pursue my dream of being an author, he said, “Well, what kind of income do authors make?” I answered, “I don’t know. It’s all different. No one talks about money.” He was shocked. “What? How can you not know what to expect?” I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to work on my laptop. He was right to be horrified, of course. Part of the reason authors have been treated as non-essential to publishers for so long is because we never stood up for ourselves. For years authors took crappy contracts all for the “prestige” of saying they were published (and I know this is true because I was one of them). I wrote for four years for traditional publishers and spent more money on marketing and promotion and conference travel than I ever made in profit. Something’s wrong with that. Thanks to self publishing, though, that isn’t the case anymore. Instead of publishers deciding who sinks or swims in this business, readers are now choosing who to support. And authors who write books readers want to buy are the ones who are succeeding. For a determined writer, for someone with book business sense who wants to make a living doing what they love, this is a fantastic time to be an author.
To give you a little background, I began writing in 2003 with the goal of one day becoming a published author. It took me five years to sell to a New York Publisher. When I finally got “the call”, I thought I’d made it. Yeah, the contract wasn’t that great, but I was PUBLISHED. My dream of seeing my name on a book had finally come true. STOLEN FURY was my debut book and released in 2009. It got great reviews and was nominated for two RITA awards in 2010 in both best first book and best romantic suspense. Over the next few years, I wrote four more books for Dorchester–two more romantic suspense books in my Stolen series, then the first two books in my (ongoing) Eternal Guardians series. I did a novella for Kensington which linked back to my Stolen books and could spur a new series. When Dorchester started having problems I moved to Sourcebooks and continued my Eternal Guardians series by writing three more books for them. From a professional standpoint, I was doing great. I had all the accolades of being a published author–my books were on store shelves and in airports, I was getting rave reviews, I was a top seller in romance for Sourcebooks, I even hit the USA Today bestsellers list! But what no one saw was the hard reality: I wasn’t making any money. I was working my ass off for a couple thousand dollars, which I was then spending on promotional materials, conference travel and expenses to write MORE books. In fact, I was spending more money than I was making. It was a vicious cycle, one I kept convincing myself would one day pay off. But the truth is it didn’t change. Not because of traditional publishing, at least. It changed because of self publishing.
In late 2011 I got my rights back on my Dorchester books and wasn’t sure what to do with them. I was continuing my Eternal Guardians series with Sourcebooks, but what about books one and two–MARKED and ENTWINED? I didn’t want to see these books disappear. Sourcebooks was willing to put these books back into print, but for a ridiculously low advance. I wasn’t sure what to do. Luckily, self publishing was just starting to take off, and I’d been watching what my friends were doing. One phone call to Marie Force was all it took to convince me to give it a try. In December 2011, I put MARKED and ENTWINED back up online. Did I know everything about self publishing right away? No. I learned by trial and error. It took me a while to get the metadata right, to play with pricing and to advertise that the books were once again available to readers, but I slowly figured it out. To this day, that was the decision that changed my career in ways I never saw coming. If Sourcebooks had offered me the same advance they were giving me for my other books (which wasn’t much at all) I would have handed those two books over. I would not be writing this post today.
Just after I self published the first two Eternal Guardian books, I also decided to publish another book a few agents had told me would NEVER be published by a NY Publisher. WAIT FOR ME was actually the second book I wrote, but it was the book of my heart–the one I revised over and over every time I learned something new about writing. I never pursued a publisher with this book because I thought those agents had to know what they were talking about. The book straddles genres, it’s not a typical romance, it’s got an amnesia plot! But I loved that book and I wanted readers to love it too. So, when I decided to self pub my backlist books, I took a chance and put it out there.
Then…only a few months into my self publishing venture…I found myself up for contract renegotiation with my publisher. At this point I was just starting to see an income from my self published books. It wasn’t a lot, but it was growing every month, and I was starting to see how exciting it was to have total control. To be able to play with pricing, to be able to advertise how I wanted, to adjust metadata or change covers…it was liberating. And I was getting paid monthly instead of biyearly! That right there was a huge plus. I found myself with a decision to make: keep accepting what would be considered less than minimum wage for my work if I broke down all the time I was spending writing by hour, or take a chance. I chose to take a chance. I decided to continue my Eternal Guardians series on my own. I didn’t announce to readers that I’d left my publisher because the next book in my Eternal Guardians series (ENSLAVED) hadn’t even come out yet, but I told my writer friends. And as my revenue from self publishing continued to grow, I knew I’d made the right decision.
BOUND (Eternal Guardians #6) is the first book in my Eternal Guardians series that is straight-to-Indie published. I know that some readers are frustrated this book is not available in mass market form or on store shelves like the others in the series, but when deciding what to do, I had to take a lot of things into consideration. Book stores are closing, store shelves are shrinking, and my print run between ENRAPTURED and ENSLAVED (only six months!) dropped by 20,000 books. There was no guarantee Wal-Mart (who was the biggest buyer for my print books) was going to pick up the next book in the series, and at 4% royalties (most people don’t realize authors get reduced royalties from sales at Wal-Mart, so at a $4.99 sale price, I make less than 20 cents a book on my Wal-Mart print sales) I couldn’t come up with a valid reason to take a crappy contract JUST to say I was “traditionally” published. Especially when I looked at the fact the MAJORITY of my sales were coming in digital form. If there’s one thing I want readers to understand, it’s that this was not an easy decision for me to make, but at the end of the day I realized that if I wanted to continue writing this series (which I do!), I couldn’t do it for free anymore. It was a business decision, plain and simple. My books are still in print, they’re just not in MM size. And though you can’t casually pick one up in a grocery store, you CAN order them in print version online. My books–my writing–hasn’t changed. All that’s changed is where you can buy the print versions.
And that brings me back to a little book called WAIT FOR ME. The book that most people in the industry consider my “break out book”–the one that pushed me onto the NY Times list–was not a traditionally published book. Remember, I self published WAIT FOR ME in late 2011. Of all my books, it had the most amazing reviews, but it had the least visibility, so one day I decided…what do I have to lose? I made WAIT FOR ME free with the distinct goal of garnering a few more reviews. Readers started downloading it. Incredible reviews began popping up. I was thrilled. Then I took it off free, and because the book had generated buzz, it shot to the top of the paid charts. No one was more surprised than me. The book of my heart, the book no one wanted, catapulted me into a new publishing category. It spent nine weeks on the USA Today list, five weeks on the NY Times list and hit every other bestsellers list out there. My agent has sold numerous foreign rights for this book, it will soon be released in audiobook, and other exciting things are happening for the story (tho I can’t share details just yet.) The bottom line though is simple: if this had been a traditionally published book, it never would have reached the level it has reached. No publisher would have left WAIT FOR ME free for four weeks. No publisher would have GIVEN AWAY 500,000 copies with no promise of making those sales up somewhere in revenue. Because I self-pubbed this book, I had control over it, and I was able to let readers decide what would happen.
Every author has to look at his/her career and decide what is best for them. Self publishing is not for everyone. It’s a lot of work. Since I’ve done both (traditional publishing and self publishing), I see the pros and cons of each. I’m not trying to sway anyone toward self publishing here. I’m very thankful for the years I worked with traditional publishers because during that time, I learned a lot about the industry, about formatting and editing that I now find invaluable information as I self publish. But don’t let a publisher tell you self publishing is “hard”. It’s not hard. It’s more time consuming than anything else. How much time do I spend on publishing versus writing? I will be honest and say that I spend as much time wearing my “publishing” hat during my work day as I do writing, but it doesn’t bother me because I know I get the payout at the end–not someone else. To me, the work is worth the time spent because at the end of the day the profit is all mine. I mentioned before that I spent more money in expenses as a traditionally published author than I took in. (And this was even after hitting the USA Today list with one of my Eternal Guardians books). To give you an idea of how my life has changed since I began self publishing, in 2011 (traditionally published only) I reported a negative income on my taxes. In 2012 (after I began self publishing–and it’s important to note that the majority of my income that year came from self published books, NOT my traditionally published books), I reported six figures. In 2013, we’re projecting I’ll be approaching the seven figure mark. To me, that’s a HUGE difference.
Some authors don’t want to be publishers and that’s ok. If all you want to do is write books–then traditional publishing is for you all the way. But some of us–those of us that have that business savvy and want more control over our careers–can see amazing results through self publishing. Will I ever traditionally publish again? I’m contracted for three books with Montlake (a new RS series that links back to the novella I did for Kensington, with release dates in 2014), but after that…honestly, the contract would have to be enticing enough to draw me away from the income I’m now making. Thanks to self publishing, I have the time to write the books my readers are eager to get their hands on (like the sequel to WAIT FOR ME, which I’m working on, and the 7th Eternal Guardians book–Nick’s book!–which I’m in the process of plotting.) I get to write the books I want to write, the way I want to write them, and I get to release them when I want…not when a publisher can fit me into their schedule. For me, self publishing is a perfect fit and no matter where I go from here, it will definitely be part of my career plan.
Of course, this all seems fabulous and it sounds like I’m making tons of money, doesn’t it? But you have to remember that I wrote for ten years without making a penny. Three plus of which as a published author. If you add up what I’ve made self publishing and divide it by ten years, trust me, it’s not much in the long run. But the growth potential is there, and that’s what keeps me going. There was a time not long ago when I was pretty sure I was going to have to go back to teaching because I wasn’t making any money writing. I was even looking at job postings online, trying to find a science position in my area. Now that’s all changed. I get to keep doing what I love. I get to keep writing the books readers love because of self publishing.
I’m happy to share what I’ve learned, so if you have questions about self publishing, post them in the comment section and I’ll try to answer.