Evan Witmer uses online sales and in-person events to reach his audience. He discusses that and how members of the writing community can help one another.
1. Tell me briefly about your latest book – what is it about and what motivated you to write it?
Originally I was trying to traditionally publish another book called Long Stories. It’s a new version of the Grim Reaper who’s created by God to hunt down all the immortals on Earth. But, having never published before, it was a hard sell to publishers.
Simultaneously, I was writing short stories and publishing them for free on my blog, oddfiction.com. At some point, I thought it might be a good way to show my sell-ability as an author through example and I decided I would self-publish the ten stories I had online in a short story collection. This became Pages from the Pizza Crows. The framing device was recycled from an old concept I wrote, but never released, originally intended to frame a collection of children’s poems. The overarching story is that a crow keeps stealing my breakfast in the morning through an open window. I decide to befriend the creature and discover that by feeding him slices of pizza, he will reward me with short stories one page at a time.
2. How have your sales been?
Pages from the Pizza Crows has sold forty books. That includes both online sales and sales I’ve made at various indie bookstores, coffee houses, and book signing events. It’s a small start, but I’m optimistic that as I continue with live performances and start raking in reviews, I’ll see a massive increase soon.
3. You’ve chosen self-publishing. How have you liked it so far? Talk about some of the positives and negatives you’ve encountered.
Well, the ultimate positive is that you can publish anything you want, which is great if you want to be experimental or prove a point to the industry on what sells. Short story collections are often on the list of hard noes for publishers alongside erotica and rhyming poetry. I wanted to prove that this notion is incorrect and that anthology is more popular than ever.
The negatives are obvious though. I have to do all the marketing by myself, which lucky for me is pretty fun actually. But considering I have a life outside of writing, it would be nice to have somebody else take over.
4. Talk a little about the sort of marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been most successful?
I’ve created profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in order to create a good social media platform. It’s necessary to create the visage of professionalism in this day and age, but there’s no argument that most of my sales have come from in-person events. Once I’m out there in front of a potential reader, I shine, especially if I get to do a live reading. I often choose samples from my work that I know will get the biggest reactions.
I pay for advertisements on Facebook that link to my free stories on oddfiction.com. Technically, this doesn’t lead to sales, but my website visitors shoot up into the hundreds whenever I put out an ad. And in the end, as long as people are reading my work, that’s what counts way more than sales.
5. Are there any marketing or networking techniques you’ve intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
No. I actually don’t want to discontinue any strategies. I found they all wax and wane. If one became completely joyless, I’d probably stop. But overall, online sales lead to meeting a lot of new virtual friends, and in-person stuff leads to meeting a lot of in-person friends. And I love making friends.
6. What are the most important things you’ve learned about publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
Don’t stress so much about the losses! I’ve had people completely go cold on me mid-way between getting my books in their store. At first, I took it personally. “My book must suck that bad.” But then, after I got good reviews and words of encouragement, and lots of yesses, I realized weird things just happen. And ultimately, your work just won’t appeal to everyone. Celebrate your wins, learn from your criticism, and ignore the folks that ghost you, they’re not worth a minute of your time.
7. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
Pay for a real editor. I couldn’t afford one with my current lifestyle, so my mom has been kind enough to make corrections, but she can only do so much. Shout out to mom though, she really helped.
Also, I tried to be cheeky and leave the spines of my books blank at first. It’s fixed now and I’m never doing that again. I thought it was cool and minimalist. All it did was make bookstores really miffed at me.
8. New authors face the challenge of getting their books into the hands of readers. What advice do you have for an author just starting out?
Email like crazy. Email coffee houses. Email book stores. Email book bloggers. Email YouTubers. Email anyone you can email. Ask what they can do for you and what you can do for them in return. The whole writing community wants to help one another. Don’t be shy, go take advantage of that!
9. What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m constantly adding free stories to oddfiction.com. Once I put ten new stories up, I take ten old ones down and turn them into a new short story collection to publish. The next one is called Digest: Ten Short Stories from Convicted & Plausible People-Eaters. The framing device this time is that each story is written by a different cannibal. A short biography of the author will precede each story.
10. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
Outlandish concepts taken deathly seriously.
11. How can readers learn more about your books?