Today, author J Bennett is at Book Savvy Babe! J Bennett is a self-published author who recently published her debut novel, Falling: Girl With Broken Wings. (Read my Review) Today’s topic is about Self Publishing, a topic I know many readers and authors are curious about.
Falling is J Bennett’s debut novel and the first book in the Girl With Broken Wings series. It is currently available as an ebook for $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Learn more and read a free sample at www.GirlWithBrokenWings.com. J Bennett is a professional copywriter and copyeditor. She also writes the blog www.ShyWriter.com
With that, I turn the blog over to J Bennett:
Behind the Scenes of Self-Publishing
Thank you to Heather for hosting me and for supporting so many talented authors. Since this blog is geared for savvy and passionate readers, I thought it would interesting to write about the self-publishing revolution that’s going on in the writing world as we speak…er, as I type and you read. Specifically, I thought readers might be intrigued to learn about my self-publishing process. Unfortunately, what started out as a perfectly normal little blog post somehow got hit by some gamma rays and turned into a huge monster blog post. It’s all good stuff though, I swear!
Long long ago, (we’re talking about three years), the only realistic chance most authors had of getting any reader love was to go through a well-defined and traditional publishing process that involved sending out a flurry of query letters to literary agents, praying, sending out more query letters, praying even harder and rinsing and repeating.
A lucky author would get “The Call” from a literary agent who wanted to represent their novel and shop it around to publishing houses. If a publisher bit, the author was expected to drop their baby at the publisher’s doorstep and let the experts take over. Makeover big time. The publishers created the book’s cover, determined the book’s release date, suggested editorial changes and even developed the back cover copy. Sometimes the author got a say. Most of the time, not so much.
What’s not to love about that situation?
Now leap forward to the present day, and we’ve got a touch of anarchy going on in the publishing world. With the advent of the (amazing, wonderful, life-changing) Kindle, Nook, iPad, and other eReaders and tablets, authors suddenly have a half-decent way of getting their books out to readers without the whole querying, praying, rinsing and repeating process.
Authors have power. Life is good. Kinda.
That’s what this blog post is about. The publishing world is changing…a lot. We’re talking monumental shifts in how readers find and consume books and how authors get a shot at glory. We’ve practically got a revolution on our hands.
The whole eReaders part of the equation is pretty obvious (just scope out any airport longue), but I don’t think most readers have much of a sense about what’s going on in the author’s world. Well, it’s a’ spinning, baby. Big time.
Below is my self-publishing story. Readers take notice. I am not alone. You’re going to see more and more authors following this path and more and more books coming from the self-published crowd. If you’ve ever been interested to see how it’s done, then read on.
Step One: Holy Crap, Look What I Wrote!
So I had this idea about a girl named Maya who feeds off human auras. It’s an addiction, and she has to constantly struggle not to go all monster on crowds of innocent people. On the up side, she also has some pretty cool enhanced senses. Through intense, finely-writ circumstances, she gets caught up in an underground war with her two vigilante half-brothers who hunt and kill other creatures like herself. Only the angels her brothers kill don’t exactly have Maya’s guilt complex about killing innocents (yes, we’ve got some evil angels going on).
I wrote, and that was the easy part. Then I read what I had written, and, well, let’s just say I could have entered it into an ugly manuscript contest and probably won. I edited. And edited. And edited. Around draft six, seven, or eight (I don’t even remember now), I started seeing hints that maybe there might be a diamond somewhere underneath all that rough. It was time to bring in the heavy hitters.
Step Two: Wait, My Novel Isn’t Totally Awesome? I’m Confused
Heavy hitter number one was my sister. You may think that she would go easy on me because we share blood and have made a pretty solid organ donation pact in place (we’re twins). Nope. She thoroughly and a little too gleefully for my taste, eviscerated my novel. Next up was my incredible critique partner, a fellow writer, who helped me iron out flow, character development and active dialogue. She was much, much nicer than my sister. There were others after that, each providing an important perspective that helped me keep polishing and polishing the rough away. It was not a fast or easy process. It shouldn’t be, at least in my opinion. What came out of it was Falling – Girl With Broken Wings, the first novel I’ve written that I think is actually worthy of outside viewing (there have been other novels, but we shall never speak of those). It was time to…well, that’s where things get interesting. So far, the process of my little novel that could is identical to that of a traditionally published book. Next up is where the two paths diverge.
Step Three: 70% Royalty vs. 15% Royalty. So Hard To Choose
I did a lot of research, and learned all about the publishing revolution. Not that I wasn’t completely unaware of it, but I didn’t realize how revolutioney the revolution really was. Authors could now publish their books themselves on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and many other sites that get books into the hands of the readers. By “publish” I mean ebooks and soft covered books through print on demand (Amazon and many other online publishers offer POD services). The process was actually kind of easy (a little too easy some people think, but that’s a whole different blog post).
The traditional setback for most self-published authors was the difficulty in getting their novels into traditional bookstores. However, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s not that many book stores left to get your books into anyway. And those eReader thingeys and tablet thingeys? People are buying a lot of them. I mean a lot of them.
There are some downsides to self-publishing. Self-published authors have to create their own cover, edit their own book, make sure they upload the files correctly to the publishing sites and do all their own marketing to get people to actually reader their book (apparently readers don’t just magically find your book, buy a thousand copies each and gush about it to all their friends and family. You can’t know how disappointing this realization was to me)
However, there are many upsides to self-publishing. Firstly, authors get to create their own cover and book summary. This can be a very empowering process that allows the author to keep creative control of their baby.
The marketing thing is kind of rough (authors are not typically known for their outgoing personalities), but it’s a consolation to know that many traditionally-published authors get very little marketing support from their publishers. You’ll see traditionally published authors writing blogs, going to book signings, holding library talks and generally shilling with the rest of us.
There is one more compelling reason to self-publish, and it all comes down to money. You’d think that traditionally-published authors would get a big percentage of each book sold. After all, they did sweat and bleed and cry tears of alternating joy, rage and agony (in that order) to get the words on the page. You’d be wrong. Authors get around a measly 15% of the profits from each book sold (sometimes less), and that’s before their agent takes out their commission. If an author doesn’t sell enough books to cover the advance the publisher gave them, they may never see a penny of royalties.
Compare this with the major online publishers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords which offer self-published authors royalty rates of 65% (B&N), 70% (Amazon) and even 85% (SW) if their books meet certain pricing standards. That’s a big, big, BIG difference (assuming you can actually sell books). In other words, not exactly a hard decision. At least not for me, especially when I learned how extremely difficult it is to get agent representation. So, I made the decision. Falling was going to be self-published. I wasn’t letting go of my baby, and whatever happened, I’d only have myself to blame.
Step Four: The Difference Between “To” And “Too” Is Just To Confusing
One of the nice things about getting traditionally published – at least in my opinion – would be having your manuscript copyedited. No writer is perfect. I’m not even close. After I decided to self-published, I realized that, holy cow in a barn, I was actually responsible for this thing (I make up really lame curses when I get nervous). People would one day read it and judge me for it. That means I needed to put my best face forward, or my novel’s best face forward…I mean, it’s not like my novel has a face, but you know what I mean. I ended up hiring a professional copyeditor to go through my manuscript, and it’s a good thing that I did (you did catch the error in this headline didn’t you). My English teachers would weep if they’d seen how much read came back.
Step Five: Doing Your Own Cover Is Just Plain Awesome
I actually feel kind of bad for traditionally published authors, because many of them get little or no say in what their cover looks like. Covers are a big deal. They are the first thing most readers see related to your book, and we all know how important first impressions can be. In many ways, books are defined by their covers. I would hate to lose that control over something I spent so much freaking effort on, even if I did have to pay for it.
Yes, I definitely paid someone to create my cover for me. There is no way in the world that I would trust myself to create my own cover. Maybe one day if I write a book that takes place in a magical land full of stick people I might consider it…even then, probably not.
So, I brought in an expert. Marcella Smith of Paradigm Design did the most amazing thing during our first meeting. She listened. I blabbed. She kept listening and nodding and not pointing toward to exit. I was lucky to have found her. The cover came together rather quickly (Marcie may disagree), and it didn’t take a lot of editing. I think it was because of Marcie’s mad listening skills.
I can’t describe how amazing it was to see my cover come to life. There was my main character Maya, crouching front and center, and her two brothers looming behind her like shadows. (Are they protectors or enemies…you’ll have to read to find out). In other words, the cover was perfect. It was Falling. Money well spent.
Step Six: Uh….Can I Just Say Cool Stuff Happens?
I kind of thought that I would like writing the book summary because I didn’t have to pay anyone to do it, and I did write the entire book and all. After writing and rewriting a 70,000-word manuscript over a dozen times, a 100-word blurb should be a piece of cake…right? Writing a summary is SO SO SO hard! At least for me. How do you squeeze the essence of a book into a few measly paragraphs while capturing the adventure, the humor, the very soul of the prose? Easy answer, I’m still working on it. I came up with something, but, yeah, it needs work. (Suggestions anyone?)
I guess that’s another great thing about self-publishing – we’re not chiseling into stone tablets here. Descriptions can be updated. When I do write the best summary the world has ever known, I’ll just log into my various author accounts, paste in the new description, and my book page will be updated in a few days or less.
Step Seven: Moment Of Truth (Bolting Not Advised)
After the copyedit, cover and description were done it was time for me to take a deep breath and heroically…turn once again to the ever-patient Marcella Smith of Paradigm Design. I need her help to format Falling for the final step – uploading to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.
I’d already decided to only epublish my book, so I imagine the process was much simpler than if I had decided to also go with print on demand.
Not that uploading was a walk in the park, unless it had rained the day before and the park was all muddy and difficult to walk through. Someday, when all the children of the world are holding hands and singing a song of peace, love and happiness, all of the publishers may be inspired to request the same file format for ebooks. That day has yet to arrive. Marcie presented me with three different files (Mobi for Amazon, Epub for B&N, and Word for SW), and we spent a few hours loading and testing.
During the uploading process, I had to fill out all the essential information: author name, book title, book description and price. I chose to price Falling at $2.99 to maximize royalty rate potential but also to encourage readers to take a chance on me. I figure if someone spends $4 on a cup of coffee, they can spring $2.99 for something I spent years of my life writing and polishing.
A few days after the uploading process, lo and behold, there she was. Falling was chilling on Amazon with the likes of, well, almost every other book known to mankind. Go ahead and check. It’s there. Really there (no, seriously, you should stop reading and check it out right now. I’ll wait).
That’s another big difference between self-published books and traditionally-published books. Authors who go the traditional route have to wait months to see their books hit the market, and this is after spending months finding an agent and publisher. It could easily take a year or more from the start of the submission process for a first-time author to see their book hit the shelves.
Of course, self-publishing is just the beginning. Just because you have a book out doesn’t mean it’s going to sell. The onerous is on the author, especially the self-published author, to tell the world about their book…by writing monster blog posts.
As readers, you’ll be seeing a lot more self-published books on the market. This could be both a good and bad thing. There’s no quality control, which is kind of a bummer, but it also means there’s no restrictions from you and a huge pool of authors. It should also make you feel a little warm and fuzzy inside to know that whenever you purchase a self-published book, the majority of your money is going straight to the writer. I encourage you to seek out self-published authors and support this growing community. In fact, I happen to know of this quirky, paranormal fiction book that I think you’ll really like…
Thanks for stopping by and reading everyone!