Hi Carolyn and thank you so much for taking the time to share with us! I just discovered you recently, actually, Tuesday the 16th of December, 2014. I ran out of Karen Moning, Jim Butcher, Diana Gabaldon, Ilona Andrews, and Kevin Hearne books so I asked the Googles which indie authors were similar to Ilona Andrews, I think. Your name popped up so I went to Goodreads and read the cover copy for Mind Games.
OMG. Love at first sight! If any of you readers haven’t discovered Carolyn yet, here’s a link to her Goodreads page. You’ll thank your lucky stars. I have finished the whole trilogy and I’m totally fangirling.
--April!! Thank you so much for this fabulous intro! And for taking my series for a spin and having me to your blog!! Wow, those are some of my favorite authors up there that you listed off. How cool that my name popped up. Especially Diana Gabaldon – she is who kind of who got me into genre fiction and helped me rediscover my passion for reading exciting books.
Anyway, I saw on your Goodreads profile that you used to be main-streamer, published with Random House and Samhain, but now you have gone the indie route. I would love to hear your story. I’ve put some questions below but feel free to offer any additional bits you feel like.
Here we go:
Q: Your first book was Mind Games, right? I’m assuming The Disillusionists trilogy was published through a major publishing house. I indie published a trilogy, my first books ever, and was considering querying agents for my next one but I can’t decide. Can you share with us a bit of what the main-stream experience was like from query to contract?
Yes, my first book (published) was Mind Games. I’d written a few before that were not picked up. ( A good thing now that I look back!) I found my agent, Cameron McClure, on Agentquery.com and queried her cold in a group of 10 agents for the Mind Games manuscript. She asked to see it and then she wrote back that she liked it, but she wanted to see things changed (it was set in the future! And she was like, why does it have to be the future?) Her comments on that and other things made sense; I converted it to present time and she took it on. It was sold to Spectra, an imprint of Random House. At the time—it was sold in 2008—going indie was not a very viable option in my mind. So it was huge for me.
There is something really wonderful about being published by a big publisher when you’d been dreaming of it for a long time. Every step was kind of fun, from the editor interaction to the cover design stuff and talking with my agent. I really felt like Cinderella for a lot of it, though the waiting was just excruciating (20 months!) However, I was a small fish in a big pond, less than a midlister, and so, it was a little sink or swim. It was a two-book deal, and when Mind Games didn’t sell that big after a few months, they decided to drop the series at two books. I was devastated. And, I’d written it as three, and I could not change it. So I published the third through Samhain.
Q: What made you decide to go indie?
I got a taste of it doing an anthology with Jill Myles and Meljean Brook. It was 2011 and it seemed so radical to me at the time, and fun. And I liked the immediacy and excitement, so I kept doing it. I sort of look at being dropped by Spectra as a blessing in disguise, because I enjoy the freedom of being an indie, and I feel I’m suited to it.
Q: As someone with experience on both sides of publishing, how does self-publishing compare to being backed by the big guys?
I think the decision between going indie or the publisher route is sort of a temperament thing, like, asking which is better? City or rural living? It depends on the person. There is something seriously wonderful about only having to write a manuscript and do promo (because, indie or published, that promo will fall on you. I think my publicist at Spectra sent the book to RT Magazine and that was pretty much it). But they did a lovely editing job and put out a nice product and it got into stores where I could go see it. That was wonderful.
With self pubbing, you’re in charge of everything. You control it all. It’s exhausting and it can be scary, too. I made tons of mistakes starting out. Just dumb stuff, like awful covers. But you learn, and when you have control, you can support your books in the marketplace in a way you can’t when they belong to a publisher – you can make bundles and play with the pricing and cover and stick it in anthologies and all kinds of things. So you win or die by your own sword, kind of. I like it, though. And you make way better money per book, of course. I make way more money on a 2.99 book compared to a $5.99 copy of Mind Games. I think if I wrote faster, I’d try to get a series with a regular publisher in addition to the three I’m writing nowadays. Because I like diversity.
Q: Speaking specifically about PR and marketing, do you feel that being main-stream helped get your brand out there? As an indie, what has worked and not worked for you?
I think being first published mainstream helped lend me credibility, in a way, but I don’t think it did much marketing-wise. Also, when I went indie I jumped genres from urban fantasy to romantic suspense, and so I was starting over with a new group, in part. Some people followed me, but not all of them.
As for what works…with both my series (The Associates spies books and Taken Hostage by Kinky Bank Robbers) I just hit 3 books, and that has been important. Consistent quality, a strong visual cover look, and at least three books is kind of where the game starts. With the bank robbers, I created a 3-book bundle with an attractive price, set the first free with a strong plug for the bundle in the back (creating a sales funnel) and advertised the hell out of the freebie, like with email ads like freebies listing and bookbub type ads. I took a huge price hit, but I made more that month than I ever expected and my newsletter list built like wildfire. That worked miles better than anything I’ve ever done. So I’m going to do something similar with my RS series once I have the 4th out. I learned about sales funnels in Write Publish Repeat. I don’t agree with everything in that book, but the sales funnel info is great. I’d also recommend The Naked Truth About Self Publishing.
I’m also trying to do facebook more. Some of the most successful authors seem to be great facebook users and I believe it is important, kind of to gather a tribe. Honestly, just getting out there and trying to do anything and seeing what works is important. You never know what will lead somewhere. And getting on indie loops or reading something like the kindleboards is key, too. There is so much to know.
Q: What advice would you give indies regarding the mystical “platform building” concept?
Lol it is mystical!! I am not that good at this stuff, either! My “author brand” is a little slapdash.
Q: What parts of the publication process do you outsource? Examples: Covers, editing, website?
I outsource covers—I’ve had good results with Book Beautiful, Earthly Charms, and Novak Illustration. I have several critique partners where we exchange early drafts, I run the spy books through a developmental editor, I typically use 2 proofreaders after that. I’ve just started having BB ebooks Thailand do my formatting—I was doing that myself. I’m pretty good, but you can’t beat BB for excellence and cost.
Q: What self-publication service do you prefer and why? Have you tried others?
I would not recommend those services. I feel like with a bit of education you can do a better job yourself.
Q: How do you feel about the whole Kindle Select and Kindle unlimited schemes?
Oh, that is quite the controversy! I can see where KU feels like a leg up to authors, but I don’t like it for my own goals, which are long term. I feel it is not in my best long term interests to ignore other vendors, especially iBooks, in order to cater to people who want cheap books and likely won’t convert into real buyers. I feel like it’s critical to get a foothold with the other vendors early and build an audience—iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, B&N—they’re all important. I have actually gotten emails from people who have said things like “I don’t read, but I tried your free book from my iBooks app and went on to buy the others.” Like, iBooks is creating new readers! I will not be ignoring them.
Q: What about bookstores? Are you doing mostly online sales or have you approached brick-and-mortars like B&N?
I haven’t tried. I tell people they can order mine from a B&N, but I don't know if they do. So, I’m all online.
(If you don’t use Createspace skip this question)Q: It seems that most bookstores want a 40% wholesale discount with returns. Createspace seems to be standard at 20% or so and defaults to non-returnable. Do you know how to change that?
Hmm – I haven’t tried this route! Maybe skip this. I guess I’m passing over the brick and mortar game.
Q: What do you feel has been the most important factor of your success – aside from your overwhelming talent and skill, of course.
You are so lovely to say that!! Xoxo. It’s been really hard for me to let go of the idea that if you write a good book, it will just do well. It has been important for me to work against it embrace the more methodical, boring business side. Or, like, to study what successful authors do and just do that. (Because, If I have free time, I want to be writing!) So, it’s a process I’m in now, but I feel like, that’s where doing this funnel came from.
Q: What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as an author/publisher?
Doing my own covers. They weren’t bad, but they were not good. Also, ignoring genre niches.
Q: Are you a member of any book clubs, writer’s guilds, or associations of any kind? If so, which ones would you recommend?
I’m a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America). I love them, and they’re very indie-supportive. I just joined NINC.
Q: What is your biggest pet peeve regarding self-publishing?
I hate when traditionally published people automatically think I look down on their choices. I think there has been too much “I’m right, you’re wrong” self pub talk by a few people and it has created a climate of polarization.
Q: Regarding income, both in general and per book, do you feel like you earn more as an indie than you did/do being backed by a big name?
I know I earn more per book now. You get 70% on a typical self pub book, but In NY publishing, you get 25% …meaning of that 70%, so what is that? 18%? And print is less. With smaller pubs like Carina or Samhain, you do a bit better and get more personal treatment, and that’s a nice route for a lot of people. I didn’t get any really huge advance from Spectra, so I think I matched my NY pub income after two years. And I feel like the opportunity to make more is there as an indie. For me, anyway. Some people thrive with a publisher. Somebody like Kevin Hearne is probably doing better with a publisher than he would on his own. That’s just my opinion but they have him in stores in a way you don’t see as an indie.
Q: Have you considered/attempted adapting any of your books for TV/movies or pitching such a prospect?
Omg, the Disillusionists was optioned by a production company to pitch to CW as a TV series!! It didn’t get picked up but wow, was that ever exciting!! They took Kim Harrison’s series instead.
Thank you so much for your time. I’m sure your answers will help both aspiring and veteran indies out there.
Hey, I’m so glad you reached out! This was fun and you asked such great questions. And I so appreciate the kind words about the Disillusionists—you’re an author, you know how much that means.
It’s been an honor to have you with us, sharing your experience. I wish you JK Rowlingesque success!
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I am a RITA-winning author of romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and other tales of love and adventure. I’ve been published by Random House and Samhain, and I presently go the indie route. I work a straight job as a marketing writer, I love to run and read in bed, I’m passionate about helping animals, and I make my home in Minnesota with my husband and two cats.