Hi friends! We have Elle Lothlorien visiting with us! For friends in the states, it’s a holiday! And Elle is a perfect author to join us in celebration, because she is awesome. This is a great look into publishing in general, but of course self publishing specifically – interesting from a reader’s perspective, and I’m sure incredibly beneficial for authors too!
What made you decide to self publish?
Believe it or not, I used to be an aspiring thriller author! Way back in 2005, I had completed a historical/science thriller called Virgin. I queried for and quickly found an agent. My agent found an interested publisher almost immediately. Unfortunately, in the end the editor from that publishing house left to start a literary agency before a deal was finalized. Despite several rounds of submissions that lasted over a year-and-a-half, Virgin was never picked up by another publisher. To say that this was a huge disappointment would be an understatement. In 2008, I finally withdrew the manuscript from consideration, parted ways with my agent, and didn’t write another book for almost two years. That book turned out to be the romantic comedy The Frog Prince.
In June of 2010, after six months of querying, I had two offers of agent representation in-hand for The Frog Prince. One was from my “dream agent” who represented several New York Times bestsellers. Although the second offer was from an agent from a newer, smaller agency, I found her enthusiasm attractive. In the end, and for various reasons which aren’t worth going into here, I chose to pass on both offers.
Which, of course, left me right back where I was before I’d ever queried anyone: unpublished and depressed as hell about it. That was when my good friend and thriller author, Boyd Morrison, entered stage left. Boyd was the first author to leverage his indie-publishing success into a four-book, traditional publishing deal (with Simon & Schuster; he later returned to self-publishing after fulfilling his contract). I’m also very good friends with his wife Randi. She’d read The Frog Prince and really liked it, sure that it would be my “breakout novel.”
In any case, after my agent search hit a dead-end, Boyd called me and suggested that I upload The Frog Prince to Amazon for the Kindle. Honestly, I didn’t do it right away, because it seemed like the learning curve was incredibly steep (and it was). When I did finally take the plunge on July 30, 2010, I mostly did it so he’d stop harassing me about it. Four months later it became an Amazon best-seller…and the rest is history. I keep promising to buy him a drink someday to thank him, but I don’t really mean it (wink-wink!).
What do you wish you knew when you started self-publishing that you know now?
I wish I’d known the right questions to ask before I ever self-published. What did I think were “the right questions” in July of 2010? Oh, there was only one in my my mind at that time and it was this: “HOW do I self-publish?”
The problem for any aspiring self-published author is that if you’re scrambling around trying to answer the question “How do I self-publish?” you are already asking the wrong question.
Here are a couple of sobering facts for you:
99.5% of self-published fiction fails.
Out of a sampling of 1,000 “successful” self-published authors, a majority were earning less than $500 a year.
Given those facts, what is the question aspiring self-published authors ought to be asking? Quite simply, it’s this: “SHOULD I self-publish?” Because those two questions are not the same thing at all.
As a self-published author (and almost certainly one with no money), it’s important to understand that you are the proud new owner of a business–whether you know it (or like it) or not. You are now the widget-maker, the marketing director, the PR rep, the agent, the graphic designer, the accountant, the customer relations department—even the intellectual property attorney!
The bottom line is that not everyone is (personality/temperament-wise) of doing this–no matter how good their book is. That’s because not everyone is business-minded. And if you don’t have a knack for business, you’re probably better off querying for an agent and going the traditional route because you will never make enough money doing this to make a living and you will be absolutely and utterly wretched.
Luckily for me, despite not asking the right question in the beginning, I very quickly realized my error when The Frog Prince became a bestseller after four months and I was thrown into the reality of “running a business” very early on. And (even more fortunately for me) it turned out that I had a knack for it. Not every creative person has a business brain. Unfortunately, to self-publish and succeed at it, you need both.
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
Pros: The full creative control. You have a say in everything from book cover design to when to launch a marketing campaign.
Cons: The full creative control. When you succeed, you have the satisfaction of knowing it was all because of your own efforts. But when you fail, there’s no one to blame but yourself. That can be a crippling feeling.
How did you find your audience?
When I self-published in July 2010, there were very few self-published authors compared to now. Because of that, it was probably somewhat easier to “get noticed.” On the other hand, all that extra scrutiny could have very quickly worked against me.
That said, I actually didn’t find my audience—they found me. My first novel, The Frog Prince, became a bestseller in November of 2010, a mere four months after I published it, and with absolutely no marketing campaign whatsoever. I simply threw it up on Amazon to appease a friend and had no expectations that anything wonderful would happen.
For the first year or so after the book became a bestseller, people would ask me, “What did you do to turn your book into a bestseller?” and I would have to tell them that I hadn’t done a single thing. Now, of course, after having a longer time to think about it, the success of the book isn’t as much of a mystery. It all came down to The Book Cover.
When I designed the cover for The Frog Prince, I did it without knowing anything about romantic comedy, cover design, or even the standards of the genre. (I’d spent almost ten years writing thrillers, remember?) I didn’t read romance so it never occurred to me to look on Amazon to see what other book covers in the genre looked like (something I do not recommend, by the way; I was incredibly lucky). In fact, it wasn’t until The Frog Prince became an Amazon bestseller in December of 2010 that I really took a look at other book covers in the romantic comedy genre. And what I saw was a lot of variations on the following: pink, pink, pink, followed by hearts, wedding cakes, wedding dresses, wedding rings, and pink.
Which is not to imply that those covers weren’t good; most of them were professional, eye-catching, clever, and lovely to look at—on a bookstore self or full-sized on the Amazon Product Page. However, most readers don’t see your e-book cover for the first tie at full-size, they see it as a thumbnail. When you shrunk those lovely pink covers down to thumbnail size, you had…blah. Soft pink blah.
In my case, the suggestive selling ribbon on Amazon did all the work for me. The Frog Prince, with that little green frog on the cover, stuck out like a sore thumb(nail) in a sea of bland colors, indistinguishable graphics, or cluttered covers too complicated to decipher at that size. Readers clicked through to The Frog Prince Product Page from that little thumbnail…well, because they couldn’t help themselves. Many of them were intrigued enough by the Book Description to buy the book. And they told their friends, and they told their friends…
What have been the most challenging issues in self-publishing?
For me, they have been two-fold, one business-related and one personal:
1. Giving up creative control. The realization that I would eventually have to let go of the full creative control that I’ve cherished for so long took some time to come to terms with. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for me to “do it all.” Writing novels is difficult enough—and fans expect more content from you than they do traditionally published authors—but the pressures of growing and maintaining a thriving social media presence while designing book covers and developing enhanced content and negotiating audiobook contracts and the never-ending marketing and discoverability campaigns…it’s just too much for one person.
2. Giving up your life. Self-publishing—whether you’re putting out your first book or your fortieth—is not just a full-time job, it’s a full-time life. Even after you’re lucky enough to hire people to help you, the more books you release, the more commitments you have and the less real free time you have. It can be very difficult to balance work with family, friends, and romantic interests/a significant other. Of course, it would be no different than if you were a successful individual in any other business but as a self-published author, it often comes as a surprise since you are technically “self-employed” and can “set your own hours.” (I had a nice, long laugh after I wrote that last sentence, by the way.)
[If you have been previously,] Would you go back to traditional publishing?
I was never traditionally published but I do have an agent (Kim Leonetti, Book Ends, LLC) who is shopping subsidiary rights (foreign, entertainment, for example) but who is also trying to raise interest in a “print-only” deal with a Big Six Publisher. A print-only deal allows the author to retain their e-book rights (and their only income stream, most likely) while accessing the distribution channels of the Big Six so that the book can be made available in bookstores—channels that are difficult, if not impossible, for a self-published author to access.
There is the perception it is faster to get a book to your fans if you are self-published – do you think this is true?
Yes. Once the ink dries on a traditional publishing contract (and this isn’t even counting the months or years it took you to find an agent and for the agent to find the publisher), it will be anywhere from nine months to a year-and-a-half before your book will available for sale anywhere.
The “time to market” for a self-published novel is limited only by how fast you can create a book cover (or hire a graphic designer or crowd-source it) and have your book edited. For example, I wrote Alice in Wonderland in thirty-seven days. As I wrote, my beta-readers and editors were churning their way through the chapters so that by the time I got to “The End,” it was only few days and some last-minute editing changes later and the book was up on Amazon. That book currently has 105 reviews and an average rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars.
Do you read the reviews on GoodReads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble? would you like Amazon to have a rate and/or review system like GoodReads?
I not only read my reviews on Amazon, I respond to negative reviews. My controversial blog on this topic (“When You Wish Upon a Star, You Get the Pointy End: Why Authors Should ALWAYS Respond To Negative Reader Reviews”) was named one of the “Top 10 Digital Publishing Stories of 2012.”
I do also read the reviews for my novels on GoodReads but I do not respond to them because my book is not for sale on that site.
I prefer Amazon’s review system over GoodRead’s system—the latter of which allows a reader to give a book 1-5 stars and not write a review. A rating with now review is, in my opinion, not helpful for either readers looking for a good book or authors trying to gauge reader reactions to their work.
Word is that Amazon is starting to delete reviews that say they got the book from the author; what are your thoughts on this as a self-published author? (Especially since most people disclose they received an ARC for review.)
I think this is silly. Traditional reviewers (i.e. from Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus) have been receiving Advance Review Copies (ARCs) from publishers for decades—and continue to do so. I have never felt that by providing a book to a reviewer (which I have done) in any way affects their review. If it did, I would be insulted, quite frankly.
What advice might you have for someone who is considering self-publishing?
To do whatever you can to be the Wizard of Oz. What do I mean by that? When Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow go to see the Wizard of Oz, they want to believe that he is real. In the same way, readers want to find your work and love it. The majority of them don’t care about the turmoil in the industry—self-published versus traditionally published, pricing wars, sock puppetry, etc. By and large, they’re just looking for a few hours of escape in a good book.
So your job as a writer, and as a business owner, is to make sure that you never have to say “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” In other words, your self-published novel should be indistinguishable from a novel published and packaged by a Big Six publisher.
In practical terms, this means four things:
1. Create an eye-catching, unique, instantly descriptive cover. You have approximately three seconds to capture the interest of the reader, and get them to “click-through” before they move on, so make sure your book “pops,” and is professional-looking at-a-glance. Ideally, you should get compliments from people within the industry on the “professional-looking” cover you’ve created.
2. Edit your novel. And then edit it some more. And then edit it again. This is most likely going to require that you hire somebody. Yes. Does this cost money? Yes, but again—your aim is to never allow the reader to wonder, “Is this is self-published novel?” Self-published novels are notorious for being riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, continuity errors, and the like. And that’s just the copyediting problems! Ideally, you’ll be able to find someone to do hard editing on your novel, which means someone who can tell you where the story drags, or where the plot falls apart, or who will point out characters that were not fully developed, or who serve no purpose.
My novels go through three phases before they hit the virtual bookshelf:
1) Beta-readers: A group of anywhere from 5-10 trusted friends and fans are invited to beta-read my latest novel, usually as I’m writing it. They offer “gut reaction” feedback—basically a thumbs up or thumbs down for each chapter.
2) Hard editor: I have a team of three “hard editors” who whip the novel into shape as described in “Edit your novel” above.
3) Copy editor/proofreader: I have a personal friend who is a crackerjack proofer. She is the last person to read my books before they’re uploaded to Amazon. She finds any remaining continuity errors, misspellings, grammatical disasters, etc. that the 10+ people who had the book before her missed.
3. Write a good novel. Notice that I did not say that you need to write a great novel. That’s because for better or for worse, even a mediocre book will sell if readers perceive that your book is professionally edited and packaged. Such is the nature of consumer purchasing psychology.
4. Price your work competitively using “Goldilocks Pricing.” Ideally, you’ll find the “sweet spot” of pricing for your genre—one that’s neither too high nor too low. And notice my use of the word “work” here. You worked hard on your novel, and you must believe that it has value, because if you believe it does, then readers are more likely to believe it. In my opinion, a 99 cent novel (except during short promotional periods) is a flashing sign that tells the reader that they may end up getting what they pay for.
Have you noticed changes to self-publishing since you started?
Oh, my God, yes. I don’t even know where to start. Here are just a few:
1. There are millions more self-published authors now than there was when I started. The competition is cut-throat and fierce!
2. The “stigma” of being a self-published author disappeared the moment their novels were admitted to the New York Times bestseller lists.
3. The opportunities for enhanced content for e-books are exploding. (You can read about a memorial service video I created, produced and embedded in my best-selling novel Sleeping Beauty here or you can simply watch the video itself here.)
Do you think there are any particular new trends that are emerging?
1. Enhanced and interactive content within e-books. This is definitely a big one.
2. “Hybrid author.” This is an author who has a foot in both the self-published world and the traditionally published world—and who makes no apologies for it. (I would consider myself a hybrid author.)
3. Self-published authors taking control of and monetizing subsidiary rights. For example, instead of waiting for an audiobook deal to come along, I simply hired voice talent Leah Frederick to voice The Frog Prince myself (it should be out later this month on Audible.com). I negotiated the contract myself. This not only allowed me to keep the audio rights, but my royalties are much, much higher than if I had sold my audio rights to another company.
Here’s another example: since I own the rights to my book cover images and they are so popular with fans, I created an online store, DIVA Ink, where fans can buy merchandise with the images and taglines from the novels. This gives me yet another revenue stream.
Have you encountered the sentiment that self published books “aren’t as good”? If so, how do you go about overcoming that impression?
Of course! Unfortunately, it’s a sentiment that’s often justified. I don’t work to overcome the impression (how can you when some of them are so terrible?), I simply try to make sure that my work is the best that it can be and I try to teach other self-published authors how to do the same. Besides, the market usually very quickly takes care of sub-standard self-published books all on its own. Readers are very quick to share the news of a dud with their 600 friends on GoodReads, so it doesn’t take long to separate the wheat from the chaff.
And Elle also was kind enough to add her own “FAQ” section:
I would love a sequel to the The Frog Prince! I’ve seen the reviews on Amazon and GoodReads and I know I’m not alone. Will you ever write a sequel?
Since its release in August 2010, I’ve received many, many requests (some might characterize them as “desperate pleas”) for a sequel to The Frog Prince. My tongue-in-cheek explanation for not doing it is this: “Roman and Leigh will never be happier than they are at the end of The Frog Prince. They will never be more in love, never have better sex, and never be in better shape than they are in Chapter 32. What happens next? They get married, he starts leaving his dirty underwear on the floor, she never puts the lid on the toothpaste, they both let themselves go, and over the next 20 years they slowly start to despise each other. If they have children, it happens in half the time.”
My serious answer used to be that I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t jump the shark. They have a baby? Been done. Their pending nuptials are threatened? Done. The kingdom comes under attack by Mongol warriors transported through a wormhole? Hmm … maybe.
Recently, a fan on my Facebook page suggested that I do a Midnight Sun-like project for The Frog Prince. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Midnight Sun, it’s the Twilight story…told from Edward’s point of view. Stephanie Meyers abandoned it about half-way through after one of her friends leaked it on the internet but she put it on her website so you can still read as much as she wrote before she quit. I actually enjoyed Midnight Sun far more than I did Twilight. Reading about the man’s motivations in courting the woman was far more interesting to read about than the other way around.
When I read the suggestion that I re-write The Frog Prince from Prince Roman Habsburg von Lorraine’s point of view—well, let’s just say that I sat up a little straighter and I was DEFINITELY interested! In any case, I began writing Gilding the Lily-pad on June 29, 2013 and plan to publish it at the end of July in honor of the three-year anniversary of the publication of The Frog Prince. You can read Chapter one of Gilding the Lily-pad here.
Bio: Elle’s first self-published romantic comedy The Frog Prince became an Amazon bestseller in December 2010—a distinction it kept through the summer of 2012 when it peaked at #2 on Amazon’s Top 100 List for Humor. On Valentine’s Day 2012 her second novel, Sleeping Beauty, catapulted to Amazon’s Top 100 List for Romantic Suspense. In March of 2012, she published an alternate ending version of her rom-com Sleeping Beauty in response to fan feedback. In December 2012, both versions were named to Kindles & Wine “Best Reads of 2012.”
Elle’s appearance on Digital Book World’s (DBW) Successful Self-Published Authors panel in January 2012 was noted in Publisher’s Weekly. In February 2012, she was named to Expert Messaging Group’s “25 Self-Published Authors to Watch.” She is considered a “reluctant expert” on the topic of self-publishing and is well-known for taking advantage of her full creative control by pushing the envelope—and advising other self-published authors to do the same.
Elle has contributed to articles on self-publishing for both TIME Magazine and Writers Digest. She’s been interviewed by USA Today’s Happy Ever After with Joyce Lamb, GoodEReader with Mercy Pilkington, the Trash Talk Show with Barb Tobias and Your Book Is Your Hook with Jennifer Wilkov. In August of 2013, she will begin hosting her own radio show—“Dear Digital Diva”—on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.
In April 2012, Elle was invited to be a regular contributor to DBWs Expert Publishing Blog, an industry blog with 20,000 subscribers. She almost immediately created a firestorm of controversy by blogging that authors should respond to negative reader reviews—a blog that was later named one of the “Top 10 Digital Publishing Stories of 2012” for its “importance.”
And guess what? One lucky person who comments will get her (or his!) choice of a signed paperback from Elle’s back list! Whoo! And, I can’t promise this – as it’s the holiday and >.< everything is crazy so I haven’t had a chance to ask, but Elle might be willing to answer questions you might have too! So you know, nothing ventured, nothing gained! Go go go!