I’m beginning Self-Publishing Week with a familiar name to those who read this blog regularly. You may remember Marilyn Peake’s appearances on Glass Cases when she shared Bright Moon and Tiger in Plum Blossoms. Marilyn was an early reader of my little blog and continued to support it as it grew. What Marilyn doesn’t know is that she’s actually the first person I thought of for Self-Publishing Week.
Marilyn writes science fiction and fantasy, both of which I am huge fans of. I was familiar with her work and even though we didn’t development a working relationship, I was aware of her foray into self-publishing through Twitter. That’s when my own preconceived notions about self-publishing started to change. I knew Marilyn was a good writer who had a passion for her work, and she clearly had a grasp on self-promotion and social media. To me, that made her the perfect candidate for exploring self-publishing, and from her interview below, it sounds like she’s happy she made that decision. I’ll let Marilyn take over now.
How many agents did you query before deciding to self-publish, and for how long?
I queried agents for a couple of my books, THE FISHERMAN’S SON (which is now self-published) and GODS IN THE MACHINE (which I’m in the process of rewriting for the third time).
THE FISHERMAN’S SON has an interesting history. Years ago, I signed a six-month contract with an agent who was later listed as not recommended by Writer’s Digest. After she held onto the book for six months, I decided to self-publish it, way back when self-publishing wasn’t particularly respected. Shortly afterward, I was offered contracts for the complete trilogy of THE FISHERMAN’S SON by an indie publisher who published the trilogy in paperback and eBook formats, and invested money in a professional recording for the audio version of the first book in the trilogy. Between self-publishing and indie publishing, I sold hundreds of copies of THE FISHERMAN’S SON, accumulated some really great reviews and was interviewed on radio shows across the United States and in Canada. Eventually, the publishing market changed and sales slowed down, so I requested my rights back, and the indie publisher agreed. Several months ago, I tried self-publishing each book in the trilogy for 99 cents on Kindle, and THE FISHERMAN’S SON has started selling on a regular basis without much advertising at all. After a few months, I also started seeing an increase in sales for the second and third books in the trilogy.
For GODS IN THE MACHINE, I queried a lot of agents for at least a year. To my great delight, Sarah, you had requested a full for that novel as well as some changes to it; although, in the end, you decided to pass on offering representation. You had mentioned not caring for the main character, which I’m actually changing considerably in rewriting this novel – I even changed the main character’s name. My plan is to eventually self-publish this novel on Kindle. It’s a somewhat quirky science fiction novel, so I’m thinking there’s a chance it will do well in the self-publishing Kindle market.
Even though I don’t have a literary agent, I should add that I’ve been referred by another writer to a top Hollywood movie agent who works by referral-only. This agent has read all my work and has left the door open for me to submit all my future work to him. At the same time, books that I still have in indie publishing are being considered for a possible TV series through a Hollywood Producer.
How many books have you self-published?
So far, I’ve self-published four novels and four short stories on Kindle, and have a lot of other work published through indie publishing.
[Note: You can find all of Marilyn’s available titles here.]
Was the genre you write a contributing factor in your decision to self-publish, given the success of other self-published books in that genre?
No, it really wasn’t. I’ve seen books in every genre selling well as self-published Kindle books, and I’ve personally purchased so many wonderful self-published Kindle books with great reviews and awards, I felt excited about jumping into this arena to see what might happen with my own books.
What self-publishing service did you use? Did you have to pay for their services?
Right now, I’m only self-published through Kindle, and I haven’t had to pay anything.
Did you use outside editors/beta readers/writing groups for your work before self-publishing?
THE FISHERMAN’S SON has been reviewed by many people, including bestselling author Piers Anthony, and the reviews are posted on my website. At this point, I’ve received enthusiastic responses from people all across the country who have read it, even a couple of librarians who devoted display shelves to it as a book to be read by children who enjoyed HARRY POTTER.
Sending my work out after it’s been published is usually how I approach having my work assessed. My husband’s a great beta reader prior to publication, but afterward I seek out professional reviews and enter my work in book award contests in order to provide potential book buyers with an impartial assessment. Waiting for the first review after publication is always nerve-racking. For GODS IN THE MACHINE, I paid a well-known editor for his assessment. His advice was awesome and I’m including some of it in the rewrite, although I probably won’t include all of it because he thought I should remove several characters which other people – including you, Sarah – happened to like. As far as editing for grammar and spelling, so far I’ve done that myself, since I’ve edited books for other writers, including several who work in Hollywood.
What do you do to publicize your book? How do you reach your target audience?
I have a website where I post my publications, reviews and awards, and other information related to writing. I enter book award contests and seek out reviews because that seems to sell books and also because I like that kind of feedback about my work. Also, I’ve hired professional artists for most of my book covers, because I think that an awesome book cover is one of the best forms of advertising. Since self-publishing, I haven’t done much additional advertising other than being on Twitter, purchasing one ad, and having my books reviewed on a couple of indie book blogs. At some point, THE FISHERMAN’S SON and my short story BRIGHT MOON (which was originally published on your blog) were listed by Amazon under several bestselling Kindle books in the space labeled “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”…and that seemed to work like free advertising to keep my Kindle publications selling.
I decided not to begin book promotion in earnest until after I finish the final rewrite of GODS IN THE MACHINE. However, I think that some of the book promotion I did years ago for my books is still paying off. I receive around 10,000 hits to my website every month, much of it coming from my book titles, from an article I wrote years ago called Archetypes in Fantasy Writing, and other things like that. Years ago, I did quite a bit of book promotion. I got to the point where one book promotion led to another, and I eventually had my work featured on a CD that was handed out by two Stargate novelists to Stargate actors and fans at a convention, I had a two-page interview in a print fanzine associated with the University of Glasgow Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, and other really great promotional opportunities like that.
What have the sales been like for your books? Are you happy with the royalty rate you’ve received?
I’m happy with my royalty rate for now. Pricing my Kindle books at 99 cents each, I’m only seeing about 35% of 99 cents per book. However, I plan to increase my book promotion substantially after I finish the final rewrite of GODS IN THE MACHINE. I’m hoping to build a fan base with the low price of my self-published books, and hope that, once I start doing book promotion, my sales will increase. Eventually, I might try pricing a couple of my novels at $2.99 each, a price at which Amazon pays 70% royalty.
I’m happy to supply my actual sales numbers here because I know writers like to see sales statistics for self-publishing ventures. I self-published my first Kindle novel, THE FISHERMAN’S SON, on March 21 of this year and most of my other Kindle titles in March and April. Since self-publishing on Kindle, I’ve sold 447 copies of my novels and short stories, with 209 of those being copies of THE FISHERMAN’S SON novel. Since I simply uploaded my publications on Amazon and haven’t done much book promotion at all, I’m pretty happy with those sales.
Did you face any unexpected challenges in self-publishing?
Not really. This has been one of the easiest, most rewarding things I’ve ever done. (My husband works in computers and formats all my publications for Kindle – that would have been a huge challenge if I had had to do that myself. Also, I’ve hired artists for professional book covers and my husband created a few clip art book covers, because book cover artwork would have been another huge challenge for me.)
Do you think you’ll ever make the switch to a more traditional publisher if presented with the opportunity? Why or why not?
I would consider it, but the offer would have to be a really good one because I’m very happy with my self-publishing experience.
What advice would you give writers who are considering self-publishing their work?
I highly recommend polishing your work, making it the best it can be. I strongly recommend having a website. I also recommend accumulating great reviews from professional reviewers who don’t know you and entering your work in book award contests. When self-publishing, I think it’s important to never spend more money than you can afford. Expect to sell zero books, but hope to sell a million books. Don’t count on any specific number of sales because luck and timing have so much to do with how many books you’ll actually sell.
I want to thank Marilyn again for contributing and hope her experience has been helpful to you all. Come back tomorrow to read about my former colleague and MG/YA author, Tracy Marchini.