Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Questions Answered

Throughout the launch of Open Minds, I got a lot of positive feedback about the book, but also about the launch itself. On Friday, I asked if my loyal blog readers had any questions for me, and they came up with some great ones! 
Here are the answers ... 
Laura Pauling asks: “Me me! I have a question. What surprised you about this self publishing venture in a good and a bad way?
Biggest Positive Surprise: the enthusiastic reception of the book by book bloggers! I’m not sure why this suprised me. Maybe I’ve been conditioned by querying agents to expect lots of negative response. After all, these book bloggers weren’t my friends ... they were complete strangers that were the first “test” of the reception by the general public for the book. I couldn’t be more pleased how it went.
Biggest Negative Surprise: the utter pain that is print production and distribution. I knew ebooks were easier, but two weeks to get a batch of print books? It turned out okay, but I still wish I had built in more time for the print production part. And I was dismayed by how high I had to set my print price in order to opt into Amazon’s extended distribution (librarires and bookstores). I didn’t expect many sales from that channel anyway, so I kept my price low and opted out. Still, disappointing.

LM Preston asks: “You have done an awesome and impressive job publishing your book. You my dear are now a publisher. With that said, what areas of the process do you think is better off having someone else do or manage for you?”
Absolutely the cover. My cover designer D. Robert Pease is a genius and my attempts would have been laughably amateur. I’m also very glad I hired a copyeditor - I’ve had lots of positive feedback about how “clean” the book was of errors, which I think is doubly important for self-publishers. Most of the rest, I’m glad I had a hand in myself. Although I may seek out some help in marketing overseas.
Ansha Koytk asks: “Self-publishing and marketing require that you wear a lot of different hats. How do you stay so organized and timely? I’m in awe! :)”
Thanks! I’ve lost track of the hats I wear, but the most important one is still writer. I try to keep that front and center in my mind. Being timely has two parts to it: this isn’t my first book, so I had a sense of the process already, and being part of the blogosphere is like have a finely tuned antennae sampling the market all the time. As for being organized, I’m not sure how to answer that. I used spreadsheets to track my launch party and blog tour. I made a marketing plan before I decided to self-publish, but flexibly changed it as I went. Basically, I treated the book as a business venture, with up-front investments, marketing and (hopefully) a payback at some point (I have a P&L sheet for the book). I used a lot of the organizational skills that any business would need to get started. I also put gobs of time into it. Writing is my future career, so I’m investing a lot of effort into it.
Rachel Morgan asks: “My question... Do you have an approximate date when you plan to release CLOSED HEARTS?”
The earliest will be May and the latest November (2012). :) May is my target, but I won’t release the book until it’s ready. Thanks for asking!
Lisa Gail Green (seconded by LynNerdKelley) asks: “What did you find the most useful way to reach new potential readers in the age group you intended? :D”
This is a tough one, and I’m still working on it.
The first set of readers are definitely adults that read YA - not a small group, BTW. I’m reaching these readers through book blogs that target YA as well as Goodreads and other online avenues. The second set is the young adults that those adults (who are often gatekeepers: teachers, parents, librarians) have contact with. For example, my local teen librarian is beyond awesome and regularly invites me to give teen writing classes at the library, stocks my books in the YA section of the library, and just last week, gave her usual slideshow to the Jr. High students in our area, and touted my book with the likes of I Am Number Four and Matched. All of this was unsolicited ... she’s just that awesome.
I have a few teen beta readers, and many of my friends who came to my in-person book signing brought their teen readers, several of whom started reading the book before they left the signing. Each of these teen contacts, moreover, are passing the book around to their friends and talking it up (=buzz). I’ve contacted teachers, the writing club coach, and the librarian in my local schools, and they are in the process of having me in for author visits or to teach a workshop for the kids. I’m reluctant to approach teens on MySpace (or pretty much anywhere else), because as a parent, I would be wary of anyone approaching my teen child. This is why we have gatekeepers (who I think do a great job of being trusted purveyors of book recommendations).
Lately, I’m following fellow Indelible author Elle Strauss’s lead in posting on Wattpad and Figment. These are places where teen writers gather and post their works, and I feel like we have something in common (other than my book). I’ve posted a sample of my book, but I’m also doing an ongoing series about writing (based off my workshops) - and I’m getting lots of hits off both. While I have a presence there, I’m not actively seeking out teens (see above), but rather being available for them to find me. My teen librarian has also offered to connect me with other teen librarians in the area to do workshops, and I need to follow up on that. Reaching the teen market is a slow process, and difficult. But I think it will become a lot easier after Christmas, when I fully expect many teens to get shiny new Kindles in their stockings.
Mattew MacNish asks (rhetorically!): “Wow. You have been so busy. This kind of stuff terrifies me. If I can’t find time to finish a novel, how will I ever make time to promote it?”
Don’t worry, Matt, you’ll figure it out when you get there! Meanwhile, you’re doing the most important thing ... concentrating on your writing.
Leslie Rose asks: “I'll bet you are ready to put your feet up and enjoy a delicious flavored coffee. My question: What did you do that you'll toss next time, and what did you do that you'll amp up?”
I’m still working on the post-mortem (while writing a book and figuring out how to keep sales aloft until Christmas ... not much feet up time!).
Things I would amp up: Query more book bloggers, in particular more teen bloggers. In fact, I still plan to query more book bloggers, even though the book has launched, because most book bloggers won’t take the second book in a series if they haven’t read the first. I have a solid set now that have enjoyed the book and are actively seeking the second in the series, which is great! But each new blogger reaches new readers. It’s a powerful way to market the book.
Things I would toss: There isn’t anything that I would toss outright as a “failure” - overall, I think most of the things I did were successful on some level. For example, the guest posts during the launch took a lot of time, but I think they brought a lot of awareness of the book. A lot of marketing is building awareness, and it’s hard to measure the “success” or “failure” of it. That being said, next time I might look for something a bit less time intensive. I want to do something different for the launch of the second book anyway. Being a sequel calls for a different approach, something that hopefully will capitalize on the buzz of the initial book and amplify it. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but whatever it is, it will be fun ... for me and (hopefully) my readers. That was a guiding principal this time around, and it seemed to work.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions! Your questions make me organize my thoughts and really focus what I'm doing ... are you sure you're not all marketing coaches? :)

p.s. If you missed the chance to post a question before, feel free to leave one in the comments. I'll either answer you personally or post about it soon! :)


  1. I saw your questions invitation but was so busy helping hubby with a cultural fair I couldn't ask more than the ones you answered for your interview on my blog. BTW, those were great answers. I never knew such a thing as Watpad or that other existed, and you've really cemented in the importance of book bloggers which I only found out a couple weeks ago. Did you make a twitter list? If not, would you post them on your blog? Even if I end up going with traditional publishing, I need to start visiting and commenting on those. I got your review posted on Goodreads last night. I'd love to be on your critique or beta list.

  2. LOL. Yay for questions asked (or implied) and answered!

  3. Fantastic questions and wonderfully thorough answers. Thank you!

    You did a fab job, BTW. I'm so impressed!

  4. Thank you so much for your answers. I need to make a more concrete marketing plan besides the list of have! (Book bloggers are already included). Did you see the SCBWI article on International Book bloggers. Def. worth a read.
    see page 14.

  5. Great answers to a bunch of self-publishing questions! Thanks, Susan :)

  6. Thanks for taking the time to really answer the questions. Great Q&A session.

  7. I learned so much reading these answers--thanks so much for sharing the journey!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  8. Such a thoughtful post! I love it when authors take the time to answer questions in such an honest way:)

  9. Most helpful information, Susan. I suspected as much about the print copies, and I think you made a wise choice as many, like me, are strapped for cash and look for a lower price; and with your current expertise with marketing and the venues you have, I think the 9.99 price will be good for sales.
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  10. Great questions AND answers! Thanks :D

  11. @Ann I know,right, with this economy? I just couldn’t see having anything over $9.99 – and I know a lot of people who are borrowing my book from the library (it’s currently on hold) or requesting it to borrow on Kindle, all because money is tight. I totally understand … it’s one of the reasons I self-pubbed in the first place. So I could keep my prices low.
    Thanks for the great comment!!

  12. Thank you for answering :-) I've learned quite a bit from the anser to aother people's questions. And I have another question! What is a P&L sheet? (referred to in your answer to Ansha Koytk)

  13. @Rachel A P&L sheet is a Profit&Loss sheet. For me, it's really just a tab in my spreadsheet that has all my expenses in one column and all my revenues in another. Plus a box that subtracts one from the other (veeery fancy!). Twenty one days after launch, I'm still "in the red" (at a loss), but I'm looking forward to the day that box goes into "the black" (profit).

  14. Me too (in the black :) Thanks for the mention and great answers! Bottom line it's hard work but with many rewards.

  15. I'm still in awe of your energy and organizational skills. Wishing you all the best!

  16. Great questions. It made me wonder how much $ one normally spends to self-publish. That's been the part that dissuades me from considering it the most.

    Can't wait for my copy to arrive!

  17. These are great questions and answers. And I totally agree that you've done a brilliant job marketing your book.

    How soon do you think you'll release another?

  18. @Theresa The amount you want to invest in self-pubbing is entirely up to you. The process can literally be done for free, but without a professional cover/editing, you're hampering your ability to sell the book, even if it's great! You can spend more or less on those things, or if you're lucky find someone who will swap services with you. I believe you'll do better if you invest in those things, but I know people who have put zero cost into it - and of course they make money right away.

  19. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I'm feeling out the self-publishing route, so any information is good at this point. Congrats!

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  20. Your answers are so insightful and helpful. And you deserve props for the way you're handling the entire process. What an amazing journey. Thanks for sharing all about your experience.

  21. My hat goes off to you, Susan. You are an amazing woman and an incredible writer. I know marketing is critial, but honestly the writing and story sells itself!

  22. Awesome! Very informative. Can't wait to see what the next launch looks like!

  23. @Susan Thanks! As Bob Mayer says, Content is king, but promotion is queen. (something like that; I probably just massacred it)

  24. I think I'm going to hire you to do my blog tour. I'll sit in the background and sip Mai Tais.

  25. This was great! You did a fabulous job organizing your blog tour. It did not look like an easy feat!


Erudite comments from thoughtful readers