Robert Szeles wears many hats, including music producer, graphic designer – and, of course, author. Robert discusses the hard work that goes into self-publishing and offers bountiful advice for the new writer just starting out.
1. Pretend for a moment I’m a reader looking for my next book. Pitch me your book in five to ten sentences.
When a monogamous guy and a polyamorous gal are brought together by two of the least respected gods of Los Angeles, Love and Romance, they find themselves on the bumpy five-lane freeway to love, contending with a vengeful ex-girlfriend, a dominatrix boss, an irresistible TV star, an egomaniacal TV producer, Hollywood backstabbing, and the greatest obstacles of all: themselves! A sexy romantic comedy set in Los Angeles, where even gods are only as good as their last gig.
2. What motivated you to become an indie writer?
The state of the publishing industry is in tumult and I thought I had a better chance at publishing myself. Then if I have some success, I can always approach the major industry later with a successful track record, if that seems worth doing.
3. Have you been traditionally published? Why or why not?
I have had a couple short stories published. I haven’t pursued traditional publishing beyond that for the above reasons.
4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?
Liked? It’s hard. I imagine any kind of publishing is hard. There are things that are wonderful, like the freedom and creative control, and there are things that are terrible, like the long work hours, lack of budget and lack of support from a company and its resources. I can’t say I’ve liked it. I like being a writer and author. The publishing part is necessary if I want to be read, which I do. But some of it is fun, like creating the book covers, which I do myself because I’m a professional graphic designer. And my book trailer turned out fabulously, but it was two months of purgatory.
5. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been the most successful?
The most interesting thing I’ve done is create a site for book readers to connect with the most talented Los Angeles indie authors. We’re taking submissions now. Requirements for being included on the site can be found at laauthor.com. It is free to be on the site (unless authors choose to pitch in to pay for monthly hosting).
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
I avoid spending money accept where absolutely necessary. Once the book is released (before, actually) I become the businessman, the promoter for that book. And then, everything comes down to numbers. What is cost-effective? Specifically, I have found Facebook (which is free, of course) to not be a very effective promotional tool. But others may have a different experience.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
There are far more technical hurdles than I expected. And I’m a graphic designer and music producer that knows a lot of programs and basic html, etc. I’ve had to learn at least six new programs in the last three months, not to mention formatting ebooks for specific vendors. The formatting has not been fun. Learning InDesign and Final Cut Pro was very difficult, but worth it in the end. They’re powerful tools that have helped me create excellent finished products.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
If you’re talking about something within my control, I can’t say I’d do anything differently yet. Like I said, it’s early in the game. I just want to sell a thousand books a month or more eventually. I’m totally flexible about how I do that (as long as it’s legal).
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?
First, make sure you’re absolutely sure you want to do this, because it’s a ridiculous amount of work that often has little or delayed results. Apart from a few best sellers, authors work incredibly hard, putting far more into it than they get back, at least from society.
Second, don’t publish until you’re ready, meaning your work is as good as the stuff you read in bookstores by major publishers. Develop your craft and style till it’s at a professional level (and you’ll know this not only by your own honest assessment, but by honest feedback from supportive, but critical people). Revise your work until you can’t think of any way of making it better, then always get good feedback and revise again and then proofread carefully, hopefully with an outside proofreader for the second go. Most of the self-published work I’ve sampled reads like amateur writing or like a plot outline for a book, not the book itself. All that sub-standard work is creating a lot of noise that makes it harder for readers to find talented, hard-working, dedicated authors. And that sucks for everyone (including the writer who isn’t ready to publish, because no one will want to read their work).
Third, make sure your book cover looks professional, again, like the stuff in bookstores. If you worked for a year on your novel and aren’t willing to pay a couple hundred bucks or so to a professional graphic designer (or take classes and learn for yourself), you’re being very stupid. The cover is the first way that someone judges a book. When I see an amateur book cover, I assume the writing inside will match and don’t give it another look. Have a really small budget? Find a talented college student that will do it for their portfolio and maybe fifty bucks a cover. There are some great college student designers. I know. I went to school with some of them.
Four (I’ll make this the last), if you’re not willing to put the incredibly hard promo work in after the incredibly hard writing work, no one’s going to read your book, so don’t even start. Just send it to your friends and enjoy writing.
10. What projects are you currently working on?
I’m finishing revision of some science fiction stories, most of which are part of a series called Tales of Tomorrow Girl, which will be released in March. They mostly have a retro, mid-twentieth century vibe to them. People that like older science fiction (think Fritz Leiber, Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick, Bradbury, Cordwainer Smith) will especially like them. I’m also finishing work on a sci-spy series, which will be released this fall. I’m keeping the name under my hat. I’ve started a contemporary gothic mystery sci-fi romance novel (yeah, easy to market, right?) and I’m also about three chapters into the next Jack & Dora novel. Plus, I just started a sword and sorcery series that’s rather ironic and whimsical, similar in vibe to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories and Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories.
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?
Fanciful, imaginative, humorous character-driven tales that explore human perception, the nature of reality and the dynamics of romantic relationships.
12. How can readers learn more about your books?