It’s now over a month since the Sydney Writers’ Festival day long workshop prepared by NSW Writers’ Centre – Forest for the Trees. I wanted to post about the panel I facilitated, but it has been delayed because I was enjoying a lovely post-festival holiday on a tropical island!
The Author as everything
“Anna Maguire leads a conversation with self-published authors Chris Allen, Dionne Lister, and Elisabeth Storrs about how they manage to get their work published, printed and promoted while retaining their creative sprit.” Sydney Writers’ Festival program.
Firstly, can I just say what an absolute delight it was to have Dionne, Chris and Elisabeth on the panel! We had great email conversations up to the event and and thanks to them I felt as organised as it is possible to be. Although it can sometimes be a bit nerve-wracking talking to a large room full of people I can honestly say it was a lot of fun and we would have loved to have kept talking!
Secondly, kudos to NSW Writers’ Centre for organising a day on the state of publishing in 2013 and including a panel of self-publishers. We all know about the growth of this form of publishing and of course NSW Writers’ Centre run courses for those who wish to publish, both traditionally as well as delving down the digital path. If are you are a writer interested in finding out more, then I recommend the weekend workshop Digital DIY in November 2013. I’ll be speaking over the weekend, along with a great line up including Linda Funnell, David Henley and Walter Mason.
If anyone needs the growth trend of indie publishing confirmed, then reading this post from industry heavyweight Mike Shatzkin should be of interest. One point in this article highlights the different paths possible when publishing:
The “Wool” deal, where Hugh Howey sold only print rights to Simon & Schuster, hasn’t really been replicated yet for anything else that big, but it will be. (Successful indie authors John Locke and Bella Andre have done different versions of the same trick.) Extract from The Shatzkin Files
Hugh Howey originally self published his book, but retained the digital rights when he did his print deal with Simon & Schuster. Howey had already enjoyed success prior to signing his contract and had some negotiating power because of that.
However when Elisabeth Storrs published The Wedding Shroud with Pier 9, she only granted them Australian and New Zealand digital rights along with the print contract. Additionally, in order to have the title available on Amazon she granted them a one year global licence. When Pier 9 was taken over by Allen and Unwin she chose to take charge of her own publishing.
“After the initial euphoria of securing a contract I soon discovered the realities of traditional publishing – The Wedding Shroud had a limited shelf life and would disappear from sight if sales were not exceptional in the first six weeks. I was also required to market the book myself after this period. Going indie ensures that my ebook is always on a virtual bookshelf, and I receive higher royalties. As for paperbacks, an indie undoubtedly has a hard time selling them even with the advent of print on demand. The best of all worlds is to give print rights to a publisher but retain digital rights yourself. A publisher may be unlikely to agree to this though – unless you come to the table with a huge amount of bargaining power.” Elisabeth Storrs.
Dionne Lister outlines on her post about our panel the different paths to publication taken by Chris, Elisabeth and with her own books. It was very useful for people to hear these different experiences as it backed up one of the main themes of the day for me – there is no one path to publication. Everyone is different. Some people publish independently because they didn’t find a publisher willing to commit to their title. For some writers indie publishing may be how they hope to come to the attention of a publisher. And for some writers, self-publishing may be a path that the writer is fully commited to pursing. I would only add to that one variation – authors can choose to publish traditionally OR choose to self-publish depending on the manuscript and the offers from publishers. An example of this is author Felicity Pulman, and you can read my interview with her here. Indie publishing may be a choice that writers make on a book by book basis.
Because Dionne has written such a great post about the event, I’ll try not to cross-over too much with what she covered. Some information that I learned from the panel in the lead up to the event, as well as on the day:
- An author has greater flexibility to market their title when they self pubilsh. Not only are they not constrained by the publisher on pricing, but because the ebook is on-sale forever, they can continue to give it focus long after the original months of publication. It is worth noting that I have heard the Head of Publicity from a major publisher acknowledge this was a major shift in thinking at their end. However the reality is that unless it’s a big-name author, most books will not receive ongoing marketing focus. It’s just a numbers game.
- I dubbed Chris’s wife Sarah his ‘secret weapon’. Sarah runs a PR / Marketing / Communications and Social media consultancy – what all authors wouldn’t do to have Sar working on their books! You can read more about the work that Sarah has done to build Chris’s platform on her list of clients here.
- While Chris Allen was working on bringing his first title Defender of the Faith to publication (later expanded and renamed Defender when published by Momentum), he relied heavily on online communities such as planbig.com.au to garner feedback and build support.
“Plan Big was amazing. It is an initiative of the Bendigo Bank and Adelaide Bank and is an online community engagement platform for people to post their ideas or schemes and then others who were interested could follow their ‘plan’ and generally interact as required. Sarah ran my plan online and we engaged with supporters for everything thing from choosing the preferred cover design, to reading sample chapters and sending feedback. Many of the people who followed us on Plan Big have stayed with us all this time and have been my most loyal readers and supporters.” Chris Allen.
- When Chris and Sarah discovered that sales were strong in the US, they decided on a plan to target and attract more US readers.
“This was in the form of my own blogging schedule on intrepidallen.com, blog interviews and reviews on specifically US sites, podcasts and guest-posts, competitions and forums, targeted Facebook advertising, pitching to online media, and warming up journalists with long lead pitches. The result (and beauty of this approach) is that we can track exactly how many clicks come to my website following each new piece of online coverage, including where from, and who refers each website visitor. The clicks and engagement that are occurring each day is fantastic – well worth all the effort we put in to connect with readers overseas in so many different ways.” Chris Allen.
- I asked each of the panellists how they managed the multitude of tasks along with the creative process. After all, as the name of the panel indicated, when you self publish you do it ALL, or at the very least you are managing suppliers for the parts that you outsource:
“It is hard to focus sometimes but when I have to, I just get it done. Making time for writing can be difficult but I tend to write and then tweet or visit facebook when I’m having a break—maybe once every half an hour or so. I tend to work seven days a week at all hours. At least uploading books only happens every six months to a year.” Dionne Lister.
“If you’re talking about the juggle of editing the book/s (and re-editing) combined with typesetting, cover photography and design, website design and build, social media channels, liaising with CreateSpace and Smashwords, organising the launch event and all the media outreach – it was exactly that, a juggle! Sar did the marketing, PR, brand and event-based work (and still does) while I worked on the edit with my editors, and did the typesetting for the print-on-demand and the final review, working closely with CreateSpace and Smashwords client services teams.” Chris Allen, now published by Momentum.
“I basically take myself off air when I am concentrating on my writing. Marketing the book through social media and blogging is very distracting and time consuming. Producing more books is the key to success. This is also the strategy of mainstream publishers. The most effective way to promote your book is having another one to sell as you provide a link to each one at the end of the ebook. I’ve found that free promotions for a limited time on Amazon is a great way to drive sales, gain reviews and achieve visibility. My new book, The Golden Dice, is the second in a series. so once it is released, I hope to piggy back sales for it off The Wedding Shroud. Now I need to write the third so I can do the same. So back to the question as to my priorities – writing comes first – next comes production then marketing.” Elisabeth Storrs.
- Every professional author understands the need to outsource services. It’s just not possible to do everything!
- Although Dionne is an editor she always has her own titles edited. She’s realistic about the fact it is impossible to work on your own title. She also has her covers designed as the quality is important to her and she values what an artist and designer can create.
- Chris has outsourced photography, website design and build, editing, cover design, eBook production and print-on-demand technology. Naturally now that he is published by Momentum, the books are edited, designed and produced by them.
- Elisabeth said “The most expensive but essential cost is hiring a professional editor and proof reader to ensure my sequel is the best it can be.” Interestingly enough, as so much of her readership is in the US, she is now producing an edition with US spelling. Although she eventually aims to be as conversant as possible in the ebook production side as possible, she has initially outsourced all this, along with producing the slight variations required for Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords. She has also hired a professional cover designer as she recognises how important this is.
- And what brings each of them the most pleasure?
- Elisabeth said “Writing and editing my books. Then research. And I love being able to connect with readers, bloggers and authors all over the world through social media.”
- Dionne told me “The process of writing the first draft, also having someone tell me they loved my book.”
- And for Chris it was “Working hard to realise the vision for my books in the marketplace, and creating an author brand that was an accurate reflection of all the things I’ve grown up loving and experienced in order to write convincingly. It’s the equivalent of seeing a childhood dream come true (albeit with a lot of work, early mornings and late nights).”
I hope this post has given you an insight into the world of these authors and the work that is involved in being a professional self-publisher. I could keep writing about all the things they were generous in sharing with participants. Thank you so much to NSW Writers’ Centre for asking me to facilitate this session. Thank you also to Pantera Press for supporting the session and of course, the wonderful Sydney Writers’ Festival for making Forest for the Trees part of their program.
In the lead up to the Sydney Writers’ Festival I researched each of the authors. I encourage you to support Australian authors by reading their work and getting to know them on social media:
Chris’s series of thriller novels feature Interpol’s ultra secret, black-ops sub-directorate, Intrepid, and star agent, Alex Morgan*. While preparing for the panel I read Hunter, published by Momentum. You can Like Chris’s Facebook Page, follow him on Twitter or visit his website or blog.
Dionne writes fantasy and suspense. While preparing for the panel I read Dark Spaces. You can Like Dionne’s Facebook Page, follow her on Twitter or visit her website to find out more about her many books. As mentioned previously, Dionne published a post on the panel that covers a lot of the discussion – Wrap-up Self-Publishing Panel Sydney Writers Festival 2013.
While preparing for the panel I read The Wedding Shroud. It is the first novel in the Tales of Ancient Rome series set in Ancient Rome and Etruria. The next book in the series The Golden Dice is due to be released on 3 July 2013. You can Like Elisabeth’s Facebook Page, follow her on Twitter or visit her website or blog.
Did you learn something new about the work involved with self-publishing? Let me know in the comments!
*An interesting trivia fact? Chris Allen’s first son is called Morgan after his protagonist Alex Morgan in Defender and Hunter!