Rick Bylina is the author of One Promise Too Many and A Matter of Faith. A NaNoWriMo winner, Rick explains what marketing techniques have worked for him as well as why he chose to not traditionally publish in the middle of talking with an agent.
1. Tell me briefly about your books – what are they about and what motivated you to write them?
My background is in technical writing and project management, and One Promise Too Many started as a short story written in 1991 about a technical writer being laid off. The story sucked, but the idea stayed with me and grew. In 2004, I wrote the majority of the book that currently exists and then spent a long time “getting it right.” The first draft (83,000 words) of A Matter of Faith was a NaNoWriMo winner in 2007. I had this one-page idea of what I wanted to write, plus the ending, and then, after about 6,000 words, I was bored with it. That’s when I introduced another character that didn’t exist in the original outline. I couldn’t write it fast enough after that.
In One Promise Too Many, Roger Stark, Marshfield’s newest detective, is paired with ex-NYPD detective, Ed Jones, “…fresh from a boring retirement…,” to investigate the abduction of a volatile CEO’s five-year-old daughter. Despite past entanglements with the CEO, Stark promises him that he’ll find his little girl by the 42-hour deadline imposed by the kidnapper. However, Stark doesn’t count on an elusive schizophrenic suspect or that the kidnapping is a ruse to divert attention from another far-reaching crime by a vengeful person playing by a different set of rules.
Told from Stark’s and the schizophrenic’s point-of-view, the story explores the collision of styles between Stark and Jones as the stress of the investigation intensifies. It shows the struggles of the schizophrenic as his hold on reality slips away while trying to solve the kidnapping the police suspect him of having committed, and his uncertainty about whether or not he could have done it. One Promise Too Many also demonstrates the depths to which someone will go to extract revenge on people once loved, regardless of who gets hurt. It combines strong elements of a police procedural with the soul of a literary classic that should keep readers turning pages fast enough to create a breeze.
A Matter of Faith: After the sudden death of her father, Faith Moreno has to cope with newly revealed family secrets, navigate church politics and prejudices to keep her job as the music director for St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, and overcome religious dogma to pursue the man she loves — the broodingly handsome Father Pat, someone she has had a crush on since high school. Is his kindness and attention to her Christian compassion or does he have an agenda of his own?
When someone vandalizes the Moreno house, Detective Roger Stark is called to investigate. He starts to wonder if something bigger and more sinister is going on. With his partner on his honeymoon, Stark weaves his way through scant and conflicting clues, a chorus of suspects, and whether or not God has already predetermined the outcome. Does Faith Moreno’s romantic pursuit of Father Pat help Stark bring a murderer to justice or just mark her as another victim? The meaning of the shocking outcome is all up to a matter of faith: Faith’s, Stark’s, and the reader’s.
2. How have your sales been?
That’s an interesting question. Most self-published writers, indeed most writers, seem rather reticent about publicly stating sales numbers. I suspect it’s because there are few identified benchmarks for success in publishing, because success, and the reasons for publishing, are so personal. I want more sales and have no idea if I’m doing well or not in comparison to my peers as an unknown author just starting out. As of January, I’ve sold 250 copies of One Promise Too Many from all outlets. The only benchmark I’ve ever seen is that 500 sales of a self-pubbed book is considered a best-seller. I’m halfway there in five months, so I’m okay with that. This is a marathon not a sprint, and I know of anecdotal stories of now famous authors whose first books sold little until a later book kick-started them into becoming “overnight” sensations.
3. You have not been published by a traditional publisher. Why?
It’s not from a lack of trying. I have 527 rejections from agents for three books. Many have liked the novels. Some have been very positive with suggestions that strengthened my novels even further: a positive point often overlooked by many writers who just see the “No” answer as final. I was working with one agent when I decided to self-publish. Why the change of heart? I couldn’t see spinning my wheels for perhaps another two years before the book would be available. The lead time for the traditional business is absurdly long in light of the technological advances over the years. Whatever minor enhancements they would have injected into the book just weren’t worth the additional time not being out there establishing my presence.
4. You’re relatively new to self-publishing. How have you liked it so far?
There’s an old saying I like: you can’t lose what you don’t have. In my case, I’ve never been traditionally published. So, I have no comparison to which to compare self-publishing. I’m a DIY (do-it-yourself) person. I designed and built my own home. So I’ve enjoyed the journey so far. Smashwords.com, Kindle, and CreateSpace have reasonably clear instructions on how to publish through their systems. And in my case, I’ve done all the additional work myself: cover design, backcover design, marketing materials, etc. It’s like a big puzzle to pull it all together. And yes, there were some big challenges and learning curves, but in the end there is a strong sense of satisfaction in doing it yourself. Would I ever consider publishing through the traditional route? Yes, but I want Amanda Hocking’s deal!
5. What sort of marketing techniques have you used to sell your books, and which ones have been most successful?
I’m a very small fish in a very small pond seeking the outflow to a bigger pond. Therefore, I’ve been a social networking whore these past few months, reconnecting with past friends and business associates via Facebook and LinkedIn along with meeting many new people on Twitter and through my blog. But nothing beats meeting people face-to-face. I sold 55 novels at my book launch party and carry my books and business cards everywhere. I’ve made dozens of sales that I would have lost had I not had my books with me. Yet, I’m still searching for that golden ticket to be punched to get me to the next level. I’ve had several interviews like this and look forward to more. Additionally, a book trailer will be made. I see many, many trailers that have “pretty slides” with “nice” music but lack the punch needed to enhance sales. I’m biding my time trying to create something not just to be there, but to create true buzz beyond the friends and family plan.
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
After less than six months of marketing, I’ve discontinued nothing. In fact, I’m looking to add to my arsenal over the next several months. Eventually, there will be a prioritization of effectiveness, but it’s still early in the game.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
It’s kind of funny in a way. I was warning others about the marketing time-sink that would occur once they published their books. So I was aware of it. However, even I’m surprised at the amount of time I’ve been marketing my books; it has drastically cut into my writing time. Being able to manage one’s time is the most important thing new authors need to deal with. As a fisherman, I’m used to the old conundrum of fish or cut bait. With writers the balance has to be with marketing the old versus writing the new.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
I used an independent editor. I should have been more picky. I’ve found several minor grammatical errors in both my novels that should have been caught, but weren’t. None are story killers, but now I’ve found someone for the third novel in whom I have much better confidence.
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?
Based on what has happened to some of my friends who have published with traditional publishers, they are just as challenged as the self-published authors. There is a strata in the traditional arena. Some writers, once traditionally published, are barely better off than an independent self-published writer. Unless the traditional publisher truly believes in them, the traditionally published writer is as much a regional writer like myself, struggling to become a bigger fish. The best advice for an indie author is to have a strategy long before publishing. As much as I planned ahead, I should have had even more ducks in a row when the book landed out there in cyberspace.
10. What projects are you currently working on?
I have three major projects at the moment. I have a book of short stories that should be ready soon, a book of poetry scheduled for National Poetry Month, which is April, and the third novel in the Detective Stark Mystery Series, Meteor Magic, that should be out in the May/June timeframe.
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?
Good question for which I have no answer, but that I’m going to work on.
12. How can readers learn more about your books?
I blog, I Tweet at @Rickbylina, and I yak on Facebook as Rick Bylina. You can also email me at email@example.com. My books are available at most online book sites, including Amazon and Smashwords. They are also available at Quail Ridge Book Store in Raleigh, NC, one of the top 25 independent bookstores in America according to Newsweek.