Cynthia Echterling is a science fiction writer with a variety of works, including one in progress. As someone who has both worked with a print-on-demand publisher and self-published, she has a unique take on writing and publishing. Take a look at this recent interview where she discusses her books, self-publishing, marketing, and more. Her Web site is http://www.welikehumans.com.
1. Tell me briefly about your books – what are they about and what motivated you to write them?
This may seem odd, but I actually dream up my books. Help Wanted, Human was a dream about a guy working in a spaceport, teaching aliens how to use the restroom facilities. Scavengers was a dream about a primitive looking person picking through ruins and picking thing up out of the rubble. Torq was a tricky little guy in a very rough bar trying to keep people from discovering he was an alien. When I wake up from something like that, I start asking who is this and what is their situation? If it generates a good character and a plot, it gets to be a book.
The Help Wanted, Human series is about a typical blue collar, truck stop cashier who gets a job as an interpreter trainee at the first alien embassy in the US, where hilarity ensues. They are autobiographies published under the name Stephen Wytrysowski, Alien Interpreter. Scavengers is a post-apocalyptic novel about an anthropologist forced to live with the scavengers who inhabit the ruins of the Southern US. Not for the squeamish. Torqed: The Quest for Earth is a hilarious young adult/adult science fiction, fairy tale, dark fantasy mash up about a half-human orphan whose parents’ last request was that he go to Earth, but all he knows about it is what he learned from the fairy tales his father told him.
2. How have your sales been?
They are slowly building. Self publishing takes time to get the word out and build up a fan base.
3. Describe your experience with traditional publishers and how it compares to self-publishing.
The Help Wanted, Human series is published by an e-book, print on demand publisher, Whiskey Creek Press. The nice thing about traditional publishers is they do the editing, hire a cover artist and request reviews. You are still responsible for most of the marketing either way. The disadvantages are the increased cost of the product, lack of control, and the time it takes from submission to release date — usually a year or more. I self-published Scavengers because I didn’t want to wait. It has a message about modern society that is relevant now. I am also an artist and it was great being able to do my own cover too. With Torqed, which I plan to have out for Christmas, I am doing full color illustrations for the new Kindle Fire. I wouldn’t be able to do that with a traditional publisher. Basically what it boils down to is control.
4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?
There is a big difference in price for the consumer and my royalty rates are higher, so I make more, the customer pays less. I like that. I also like being able to track my sales. If I do something to market my books, I can see if that resulted in sales or at least people viewing the sample chapters. That way you have more information on what works and what doesn’t. Also, if a reader reports some horrible mistake you made in an e-book, you can fix it. Either way, you have to market — a lot!
5. What sort of marketing techniques have you used to sell your e-book, and which ones have been most successful?
Use both Amazon and Smashwords. Amazon’s the biggest, but Smashwords distributes to other sites. Even with sales tracking, it is hard to tell what exactly results in sales. Some methods take time. You should, of course, be on all the major social media sites especially Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. There are also the book sites, Goodreads, Library Thing, and Manic Readers to name a few. Shelfari links directly to your Amazon page and gives Amazon shoppers more details about your book. Manic Readers has a method to submit your book to a large number of reviewers too. You need to have a web page. I’m not big on blogging, but if you like doing it and have interesting stuff to share it’s great. I know a person who writes civil war historicals and blogs about interesting historical facts including recipes. Reviews matter whether they’re from professionals or readers who comment on Amazon. Most of them don’t. Twist arms!
Whatever you do, don’t spam social media. There is nothing worse than getting a friend or follow request, rapidly followed by “Buy My Book.” You need to actually communicate and be a friend. Also, other writers are great for sharing with, but they are not necessarily readers. They’re busy writing, remember? Find ways to connect with people who have interests that match your writing. I know an author who writes cozy mysteries. Her main character runs a flower shop and she connects with gardeners, flower shops, etc. A mystery writer I know has a detective who, along with her bloodhound, tracks down missing pets and tends to finds dead people in the process. He sells books at pet rescue and adoption events. On Twitter, I follow anthropologist and survivalist types. Besides connecting with potential readers, I learn interesting things like how to open a can with an ordinary spoon. I could use that in a book!
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
I avoid sites or groups that tend to be a bunch of authors screaming to each other, read my book! No, me! I also don’t like sites where publishers have writers reading each other and rating, in the hopes of getting seen by an editor if you rank high enough. It is free slush reading labor for the publisher and a game of survivor for the writers.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
It isn’t hard to use the tools on sites like Amazon and Smashwords. I already knew this, but don’t fall for the scams that charge a fortune to publish your book. Check Preditors and Editors for information on publishers.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, either online or in traditional media, what would it be?
Try to get the word out before you publish, and edit! If you know someone who can help with that, do use them. Another set of eyes is very helpful and people do notice.
9. Independent authors face the obvious challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie author just starting out?
Connect with a local writer’s group to get feedback from someone besides your spouse or mother. Use word of mouth and, if you can, try to schedule public readings and signings. Big bookstores may not accept you, but some indie book stores and some libraries will.
10. What projects are you currently working on?
I’m still working on the illustrations for Torqed and I’m researching my next book, Courting Corporal Coogan, which is also humorous science fiction that pokes a bit of fun at romance. It involves groups of people abducted by aliens from different times and locations on Earth and dumped together on a strange planet with the rule that if they try to hurt another person they will be “disappeared”. I’m having lots of fun with the research on Neanderthals, early European hunter-gatherers, 17th century pirates and a voodoo queen, Malaysian pirates, a Civil War doctor and his daughter, the flight crew of a WWII flying fortress and a group of peacekeepers who were being shipped to Mars to put down an insurrection among the miners there. One of those hunter-gatherers, the most eligible bachelor in the village, named Finds It Kills It, is madly in love with Peacekeeper medic, Coogan, and she thinks his gifts of things like raw animal hearts are yucky.
11. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
Exceptionally well-developed characters you can care about in stories that are thought-provoking, funny and heart-warming — even if the hearts are raw.
12. How can readers learn more about your books?
Visit my website at http://www.welikehumans.com/.