October 3, 2012

Writing Club Wednesday: Interview with Indie Author Jen Meyers

The idea of self-publishing has always been scary to me. I know we can all agree that there are some people who do it well, and some people who....don't. It's not something I'd ever considered doing, mostly because I wanted to be sure I could do it the right way, and to be honest I've never felt like I know enough about the process to have any confidence in my ability to pull it off.

A friend of mine introduced me to Jen Meyers after she read both of our books and noticed some funny similarities in our stories. I'm so glad she did- Jen is so fabulously friendly and a lovely person to know. We vlog together at ParentheticallyYours. She's also a huge advocate for self-publishing, as it's the route she's taken with her book, Intangible.

Twins Sera and Luke Raine have a well-kept secret—she heals with a touch of her hand, he sees the future. All their lives they’ve helped those in need on the sly. They’ve always thought of their abilities as being a gift.
Then Luke has a vision that Sera is killed. That gift they’ve always cherished begins to feel an awful lot like a curse. Because the thing about Luke’s ability? He’s always right.
And he can’t do anything about it.

I know that personally, most of my focus is on finding a literary agent to represent my work. I also know that as writers, we all choose different methods of getting our work into readers' hands because when it comes down to it, all we really want is to share our stories, right? I've always thought Jen is a great example of self-pubishing as it should be done, and she was nice enough to answer some questions about the process!

1. What made you decide to self-publish?

Originally, when I started writing Intangible, I planned to publish traditionally so I was checking out all these agents' blogs, reading Query Shark voraciously, and constantly stressing about the vampires in my book because EVERYONE (i.e.. agents and editors) was saying vampires were so Yesterday and was not interested in those kinds of stories. Even though EVERYONE (i.e.. readers) continued to buy books with vampires in them (which struck me as odd that agents and editors were not interested in what was selling and has been selling/popular for decades...but I digress.)

In the middle of my vampire crisis I started reading/hearing more and more about self-publishing. But I pushed the idea away. It was too scary to me and totally lacking in the prestige of a traditional contract--a publisher who gives their stamp of approval of my writing talent? I wanted that!

At the same time, ebooks had just exploded and indie authors were MAKING money. I started reading everything I could about going indie and the more I read, the more it didn't make sense to me anymore to go traditional. I mean, for ebooks alone--which, let's face it, no matter how much I adore paper books, the future is ebooks--traditional authors get only 14.9% of the selling price. That means that for a $9.99 ebook, the traditional author only sees $1.49 of that. The indie author gets $6.99 of that at the same price. Or even better, the indie author controls the price and can sell her book at a lower, but still respectable price of $3.99 or $4.99 and sell a lot more books at that price while STILL making more per book than a traditional at $9.99. (About $2.80 and $3.50, respectively.)

Math like that (and keeping in mind that the future is ebooks, ebooks are forever and will never be taken off the virtual bookstore shelf) made me feel like I would be insane to go traditional and that prestige comes with too high a price (literally). PLUS I may attract the attention of a publisher if I sell well and prove there really IS still an audience for stories involving vampires (if I still wanted that). In the meantime I can be reaching readers (an AMAZING experience) and making money. Win. Win. WIN. 

2. Editors- how many did you hire, how did you decide on them?

You MUST have two different kinds of editors: a story editor and a copy editor. The story editor does an intense overhaul of your manuscript, looking for holes, inconsistencies, pointing out places that need tightening up, etc. Ideally you'd have this editor go through your manuscript after you've polished it up to a high shine and have been through all your critique partners and beta readers and you think it's a perfect as possible (the state you'd have it in to submit to agents or publishers). Let the editor have a go at it, make revisions based on his/her comments, and send it back for a second go through. (I think it makes a BIG difference to have an editor go through your book TWICE.)

Once you've gone over the comments again and made more adjustments and have finally decided it's PERFECT, then you hire a copy editor to go through and clean up all the typos, grammatical and punctuation errors. (They're in there. Believe me--as a writer and a former copy editor.) Do. Not. Skip. This. Step. This is essential for having a (virtually) error-free book. (Also? Once you've had a copy editor clean up your book do NOT make any more changes to it or you will introduce new errors. Format it or get someone else to format it for you and then click Publish!)

How do you find an editor and copy editor? That can seem a huge challenge--because how can you possibly know whether someone's any good?--but it doesn't have to be that hard. I'd suggest finding other indie authors whose work you've looked at and found to be high quality and on par with traditional books. Contact those authors and ask who they used. The indie community is very open and helpful. We're always happy to recommend people whose work we value and respect! 

Also, consider this--your story editor could be another writer (because editors often are). You could develop a partnership with another writer in which you serve as each other's editors. You need someone who will look very closely at your manuscript, going through it line by line (who ideally feels a strong interest in your manuscript being as perfect as possible and your book succeeding). Writers KNOW story, right? They are good at identifying plot holes and can point out inconsistencies and wording that trips them up. So maybe a critique partner you particularly respect could serve as your editor, if she's willing. But you'd still need to find a separate copy editor to comb through it at the very end. Again, a fellow writer might be able to do this--I do it and used to do it professionally. You need someone with an eye for detail and who knows grammar, punctuation, spelling, and writing rules. Your copy editor, though, must be someone who has NOT already read your manuscript. You need someone with fresh eyes to be able to find all the little mistakes still lurking there. This is all just to say, you may already know the people who could be your editor and copy editor. 

3. To me, especially when I look at self-published books, the cover is EVERYTHING. Who designed yours? 

I actually did the cover design myself. But I would have hired it out in an instant if I'd been unable to pull off a professional-looking design. The lovely thing about cover designers is that you can find someone whose portfolio makes you drool and hire them to make you a drool-worthy cover. I have several bookmarked that I'd like to use someday for future books because I'm really not a cover designer.  

4. How long did it take after you finished your book for it to be up and ready for sale?

After my copy editor cleaned it up, I did the formatting, tested it out on my Kindle to make sure it was perfect (it took several go-rounds to get it perfect) and had it up for sale probably within a week. 

5. Where can your books be purchased?

Intangible is available at Amazon US & Amazon UKBarnes & Noble, and Kobo. My free short story, Intuition, is available at Amazon US & Amazon UKBarnes & Noble,SmashwordsiBooks, and Kobo

6. Do you have hardcover or paperback copies available for purchase also? If so, how did you go about having those printed?

Currently I have paperbacks offered through Amazon and my website. My only distributor is Createspace, which is an Amazon company. I chose them because there were no upstart costs. However, I am limited because libraries and bookstores can't/won't order from Amazon (which is totally understandable). I'm hoping to start distributing through Lightning Source at some point, which will make my paperbacks available to libraries, bookstores, and open up my international reach. (But Lightning Source comes with a hefty upfront cost, which is why I haven't done it yet.)

7. What marketing strategies work best for you? 

The absolute best marketing strategy for me was putting out my free short story Intuition. People love free books and will download them hand over fist. Intuition introduces the premise of Intangible as well as the main characters and really serves as a teaser to lead readers to Intangible. It's a brilliant marketing tactic (one used by big publishers as well) that has worked well for me and I HIGHLY recommend it, especially if you are a new author with only one book to put out to begin with like me.

And book bloggers are brilliant, too! There is a HUGE community of YA book bloggers and they are a really wonderful group of people. Contacting and getting them to review your book is an essential step in getting word out. PLUS these are legitimate, honest reviews and you need that as an indie author. 

8. What marketing strategies seem to be a waste of time?

Ads, from what other indie authors has said. I haven't bought any ads, so I can't speak from experience on this, but I trust others when they say it was a total waste of their money. (And I believe it because I am one of those people who NEVER clicks on ads and consistently ignores them.)

9. In the self-publishing process, have there been any big surprises along the way? (Good and/or bad)

Not for me, but perhaps that's because I've worked in publishing and have been traditionally published a couple of times already (in nonfiction) so I'm really well versed in the publishing process.

10. What advice do you have for an author who is considering self-publishing?

DO IT. :-) Seriously. I wholeheartedly mean that. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. There really isn't any risk in self-publishing if you approach it like a professional--put out your very best work and be polite. Make connections with other indie authors and advertise each other's books in the back matter (just like publishers do). If you're wildly successful, publishers will come calling and you can decide whether you want to go with them at that point (you'll also be in a better negotiating position than an unproven author). If you're mildly successful, selling books at a regular pace, you're at least making some money and building a following slowly. Each book you put out will draw in more readers. Until one day, a few years down the line, you may become an overnight success ;-) or you may just be making anywhere from some extra spending cash to a good living off of all of your titles. Either way you'll be reaching readers, finding people who enjoy your story telling. And that's why we do this, right?

Also? All that stress I had over the vampire crisis when I was planning to go traditional? Totally GONE once I made the decision to go indie. I suddenly didn't have to worry about what other people thought would sell or what industry people would reject because of their view of trends. I could write what I wanted and see what happened, find out whether readers would like it. And that's HUGE. I'm not having to please agents, editors, and publishers. I'm having to please readers (which is a stress all unto itself and present regardless of which path you choose) and that's the way it should be.

Keep in mind that even if your agent or editor convinces you to take the story in some direction you never intended or change your vampires to leprechauns because vamps are so passé and leprechauns are the new mermaids, in the end readers will hold YOU responsible for the story and the writing. I'd rather be completely responsible for it and stay true to my vision, my story. (Also, I just don't like being told what to do...or write. I never have.) ;-) 

Thanks for having me, Megan and the rest of the YA Misfits!

Jen is currently polishing the second book in the Intangible series, IMAGINABLE. You can visit her web site at www.jmeyersbooks.com and follow her on twitter: @jmeyersbooks.


Carrie-Anne said...

I've been seriously considering some kind of indie or self-publishing for my superlong historical sagas, and focusing on trying to get an agent for my shorter historicals. I like how it gives one complete creative freedom and control, and a bigger piece of the pie.

Dahlia Adler said...

This was so interesting and informative, thank you! One of the really great things about self-publishing you touched on is that you really don't need to conform to any market, and as such, some of the hardest-to-get-published categories or genres (particularly NA) have really blown up in the self-publishing world. Ask for an NA recommendation and you'll inevitably get at least one self-pubbed title in response.

It's so nice to see people doing a fantastic job at it and really going about it the right way - as a copy editor, I definitely second your advocacy! Copy editing makes a huge difference for me between self-pubbed authors I'll buy from again and ones I won't. Great interview!

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