Debra Borys stays busy with a number of writing projects: from freelancing to writing novels. Having experience working with a start-up press, she gives insight about the amount of promotional work all authors must do, and some of the methods she’s already adopted.
1. Tell me briefly about your books – what are they about and what motivated you to write them?
The short stories I had self-published are Red Light, Green Light, Peeling the Onion, and Weeping Widows, a collection of mini-mystery stories. The mini-mysteries are written for fun – I call them my cynical stories because of the narrative “author” Evelyn A. Archer. Three of the stories in the collection were previously sold to print magazines. Also previously published in magazines were Red Light and Onion. Both are about street kids, one story set in Chicago, one in Seattle, both cities where I volunteered with the homeless.
Painted Black is a suspense novel about a missing street kid named Lexie Green, who at fifteen years old is selling her body to survive. When reporter Jo Sullivan realizes no one seems to care about what might have happened to her, she teams up with Lexie’s friend Chris to learn the truth. When Jo and Chris investigate Sloan and Whiteside’s funeral home, they put themselves in danger of becoming part of a bizarre collection of freeze dried corpses.
The original idea for the suspense plot for Painted Black came from a news article I read years ago in the Chicago Tribune. It was about a new method of preservation being used by taxidermists who freeze dry people’s pets to produce lifelike replicas that would last indefinitely. One person they interviewed stated that freeze drying could be used on people as well, and compared the process to cooking pizzas in an oven. He sounded so bizarre and unconcerned that it immediately sparked an idea for a character based on him and became the premise for my story. In my research, I actually found an article in a mortuary magazine about a firm that did preserve a man in this manner.
The idea to use homeless kids as important characters came about from my experience volunteering with The Night Ministry in Chicago. I was struck by how many times homeless people are treated as sub-human, like they don’t matter. Some people seem to have only contempt for someone who is homeless even when they know nothing about the circumstances. Most people just want to pretend that the homeless don’t exist, walking by them with averted eyes. I would like to make these invisible people visible so we can find solutions to the problem, not ignore it.
I want my readers to understand that the important thing to recognize about homeless people is that they are people. The homeless part is incidental. I’m hoping that while my readers are all wrapped up in the suspenseful story in Painted Black, they will somehow subtly have their eyes opened up a little to see that the street people I’m writing about – the same people they walk past on the street without looking at – aren’t really all that different from themselves.
If even only a few people get that, then I’ll feel happy. I’d be even happier if it inspires someone to make a move to do something about it – volunteer at a local soup kitchen, advocate for improvements in social services, or even just say hi to that homeless person they pass on the corner every day on their way to work. I am donating 10% of any author profits from Painted Black to The Night Ministry and to Teen Feed In Seattle, in appreciation for the work they do. I encourage anyone who reads my books to also support any program working to eliminate homelessness.
2. How have your sales been?
Since Painted Black was not self-published, and also because it was just released this month, I don’t have access to any data right now. New Libri Press will provide data periodically once the book has been up a while. I had actually intended to self-publish Painted Black, but New Libri offered me a contract before I got that far in the process.
The short stories have not even earned enough to generate a minimum payment. They are currently available via Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Kindle has the most sales, but even that has not reached the minimum $10 limit. Part of the problem, I think, is that they are short stories. With so many full-length novels being sold for $0.99, why buy a short story for the same price? Another factor is that I really have not done anything to promote sales for the stories except for letting friends and family know they are out there. And I have a lot of friends and family who are not techy enough to want to download an e-book.
The short stories were intended as experiments in self-publishing. I chose stories that had already been published but the rights had reverted to me. After the novel got picked up, I directed my energies on getting the book ready and promoted so have not spent any time promoting the short stories since that happened. I am curious to see if the short story sales will pick up now that my name is getting out there in relation to the novel publication. I think they might.
3. What has your experience been like with traditional publishers?
Since New Libri is a small, start-up press, I believe it is probably more unique than most publishers. They have been very open to author involvement, with edits, cover design, publicity, and in New Libri itself. I feel like I am a part of the publishing company, rather than employed by one. So much so that I’ve even offered suggestions such as company website changes that they’ve put to use. They’ve encouraged their authors to form a community and support one another.
4. You’re relatively new to self-publishing. How have you liked it so far?
I found the process of getting the manuscripts ready and getting them loaded to the sites very doable. If New Libri had not picked up Painted Black, I would have moved forward with my original plan to self-publish that, I feel certain. I’m not convinced the book would be as well-written as it is now because my editors at the publishing house made some really good suggestions for edits which make the work read smoother.
5. What sort of marketing techniques have you used to sell your books, and which ones have been most successful?
We are just starting out, so I’m not sure I can tell yet which have been most successful. I am feeling my way as I go, and am always surfing for new ideas and venues to use.
Here is how I am rolling it out so far: I have a website for the book at paintedblacknovel.com and an author website at debra-r-borys.com. I keep both sites updated with the latest news and press releases.
On the novel site, I post occasional teaser blog posts like excerpts from the novel, links to articles related to homelessness, etc. On my personal site, the blog postings are usually a little longer and more thoughtful, but also can be about the book or issues related to it. All blog posts for both sites are sent to Facebook and Twitter.
I also try to maintain a social presence on Facebook and Twitter. I try to act like a human when networking, not a publicist, posting personal thoughts and not just promotions. I’ve also compiled an email list to send out occasional news on upcoming releases, etc.
Thanks to LinkedIn, I’ve also been researching interview opportunities like your blog, radio blogging, podcasting, etc. I’ve only touched the tip of this iceberg, but feel this kind of networking may be one of the most useful.
I was planning to do a book trailer, but because I support myself as a freelance writer I haven’t been able to find the time yet. I do plan to send out email and snail mail press kits to news sources in Chicago and Seattle and my home town back in Illinois. That will coincide with the release of the trade paperback, which should be ready by this spring.
Lastly, once the paperback is actually in my hot little hand, I will research and do all I can to set up author signings, attend conferences, etc. Whew! I’m exhausted already just thinking about all the work I have to do.
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
I’m not sure I’m going to spend the time on the book trailer because I’ve heard they don’t really make that much of a difference. I’m not sure I can justify the amount of time it would take me to learn how to do one of the caliber I would want, and I don’t want to spend money for someone else to do it when I’m doubtful it will affect sales significantly.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
That it is hard work and takes a lot of time. Getting the books up and available can be challenging if you’re not tech-savvy, but even that pales in comparison to how much marketing you need to do to make sure someone sees it. Those people I know who are relatively successfully spend tons of hours per work for pennies on the hour in order to get noticed. Though I guess that is really what I expected.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
I wish I had paid someone to do a cover for my Weeping Widows collection. I’m fairly happy with the other two that I self-published, but I experimented with Widows and it didn’t work well and I’m too discouraged to try to redo it.
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?
I think you would be surprised about the lack of resources available to authors even through traditional publishers. Unless you’re well established or the house is pinning their hopes on you. So it’s better to stop thinking things would be easier if a traditional publisher was representing you. Whether you are self-publishing, or released by a small or large press, if you want to be successful, you will have to work your behind off and do everything you can to call attention to your work.
10. What projects are you currently working on?
I am mainly working on the second novel in my suspense novel series, Bend Me, Shape Me. However, the bills must be paid and so I also spend a full work week on freelance projects or looking for freelance projects. I am editing a business e-book, ghostwriting a series of mystery stories, editing a collection of sci-fi stories, and just recently signed up with a personalized novel company to write novels that can be personalized with the reader’s details.
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?
If there is one unifying theme to my written work, it is an attempt to look the real world in the face, the good and the bad, and keep going no matter what. Like the character in one of my short stories says, “It’s how you deal with the darkness that counts.”
12. How can readers learn more about your books?
I would love for people to check out my websites: paintedblacknovel.com and debra-r-borys.com. There’s lots of info there on the novel and all the work I’ve done, short stories included. They also include links to all the venues were you can buy copies.