Jeff Vande Zande

Jeff Vande Zande has had success with small press publishing, an experience which has helped him positively adjust his expectations about success.  Jeff discusses that along with his thoughts on book signings and reaching your target audience.

1. Give me the “elevator pitch” for your book in five to ten sentences.

It’s a novel about poetry, Theodore Roethke, fathers and sons, and coming of age in America as an artist.  It’s the story of a young man who comes back to his hometown after an absence, only to find that he hasn’t grown up as much as he thinks.  Denver Hoptner graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in writing poetry.  He returns to his boyhood home in working-class Saginaw, Michigan, and discovers just how little the world of work cares about his degree.  He struggles, too, to come to terms with his widower father.  After he hears that there’s been a fire in the attic of poet Theodore Roethke’s boyhood home, Denver commits himself to saving the historical residence, even when no one else seems to care.  It’s in action that he finds his true poetic self.

2. Why did you become an indie writer?

I didn’t really have luck with agents.  I received a few letters that said something along the lines of “Beautiful writing, but not sure how to market this.”  In my experiences with smaller presses, I just found that the editors were more interested in the “beautiful” part and didn’t worry so much about the marketing part.  My experiences with small presses have been positive, if not overwhelmingly lucrative.

3. Have you been traditionally published? Why or why not?

I suppose getting published from a small press is “traditional” publishing, just on a reduced scale.  So, yes, all of my books are traditionally published, but all from small presses.

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Kevin Kierstead

1. Give me the “elevator pitch” for your book in five to ten sentences.

We are focused on small-time threats in America right now: terrorists, “lone-wolf” scenarios, gangs, etc.  We don’t see a real threat in the way of an entire country attacking us.  China, though, is fully capable of attacking us and they have a massive amount of strength–the only thing holding them back, if they decided to do it, would be the threat of a nuclear strike, so this book ponders what might happen if they could figure out a way around that problem.  Ultimately, though, with that as the background story, this is a story about survival after a devastating tidal wave that was over 100-yards tall.  One young man, one young dog, one young woman and one old man come together in unlikely ways and begin to fight through their struggles together.

2. Why did you become an indie writer?

Honestly?  I have a problem with authority!  But it wasn’t just that.  I did the whole agent/publisher dance on and off for 20 years.  Back in 1994, when I finished my first novel, I had it accepted by an agency called the Thornton Literary Agency and it was scheduled to be published under the Electric Umbrella but their company went into a hiatus and the rest is history.  That kind of unpredictability along with the growing trend of agents/publishers chasing “what’s hot” vs. looking for new talent in any genre is what pushed me here.  I love nothing more than having total control over my work.  Except for writing.

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Victor Dandridge

Victor Dandridge is a cartoonist at heart, and channels his creative energies through his publishing outfit, Vantage:Inhouse Productions.  Find out the surprisingly simple marketing methods that work for him, and why he doesn’t like doing public readings of his work.

1. Pretend for a moment I’m a reader looking for my next book. Pitch me your book in five to ten sentences.

The end of the world began eight minutes ago.  You didn’t know, you can’t stop it, and now the end is here.  What story would the last eight minutes tell of you?

2. What motivated you to become an indie writer?

I’ve been a fan of comics since I was a kid and have always wanted to work in the industry, initially with the goal of being an artist.  And through the years, I started writing my own stories for the comic universe I had created and things just spiraled from there.  I’ve been a part of the small-press comic community for some years and took the opportunity to challenge myself by writing something different.  With my roots already being so tied to self-publishing, it was only natural to pursue doing even a novel that way.

3. Have you been traditionally published?  Why or why not?

No, my plan has always been to establish myself on my own a bit more before I attempt to go traditional.  I want to see what I can amass on my own so if I did decide to try something more mainstream, I know what I’m bringing to the table.

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Patrick Turley

Patrick Turley has worked to create a niche for his Marine-based book and to give it the publicity effort it deserves.  Learn more about which methods work particularly well for him and why he feels every marketing approach should be considered.

1. Give me the “elevator pitch” for your book in five to ten sentences.

The only existing first-person, insider account of Marine Corps Boot Camp, documenting the good, the bad, the ugly and the hilarious in the making of the Few and the Proud.  A microcosm of how the “slacker generation” responded to a nation in need in the shadow of terror, Patrick Turley walked, ran and double-timed through the place and captured it in his book Welcome to Hell: Three and a Half Months of Marine Corps Boot Camp. From the moment the drill instructor said “Welcome to Hell!” Turley and his fellow recruits felt a sense of foreboding that proved well founded. The author, who endured and survived the foreboding, looks back and captures those anxious times with a sharp line for detail and a smile for the people, DI’s and all, who shared the three and a half months.  Former Marine and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright John Patrick Shanley, after reading a draft of Welcome to Hell, put it in complete perspective: “It’s great to have gone to Marine Corps boot camp.  It’s terrible to be in Marine Corps boot camp.  It’s fun to read about Marine Corps boot camp.”

2. Why did you become an indie writer?

I feel like this is an important story to be told and a niche one that can carve its own market out as well as being an excellent and well-rounded story for a much broader mass appeal.

3. Have you been traditionally published? Why or why not?

No.  The industry for traditional publication is evaporating before our eyes.  Without a big name to command your own audience, mainstream publishers aren’t particularly interested in first-timers anymore.

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Mike Madden

British indie author Mike Madden has written several books in several different genres and finds success and challenges in each one.  He details his success with Amazon’s KDP Select and discusses the other ways he’s marketed his work.

1. Give me the “elevator pitch” for your book in five to ten sentences.

Mmm…No1…Cookbook was originally conceived so that I could keep all of my recipes in one place.  I am an avid cook (not chef!), and have around 40 cookbooks, as well as newspaper and magazine cutouts and handwritten recipes handed down from my mum.  This way all of my recipes are in one handy place, on my Kindle, and I can easily take that to the shop as my shopping list.  The recipes can be described as “Every Day Cooking For Every Day Lives”, there’s nothing too fancy in there, and they range from starters and soups, to main meals including lots of curries, and finally desserts and cakes.  I find that television chefs use too many obscure ingredients, and they seem to have every utensil under the sun to aid preparation.  These recipes are essentially very simple, and are presented in an easy step-by-step format.  The book was originally designed for the Kindle, so even in the paperback version there are no pictures, but do you really need to know what Key Lime Pie or vegetable soup look like before cooking it?

2. Why did you become an indie writer?

I am only an indie writer because I have not yet been “discovered” by a major publishing house!  Seriously though, I do not choose mainstream formats, preferring instead to challenge the market.  A cookbook on Kindle?  On Amazon.co.uk there are less than 1,000 available compared to 90,000 paper cookbooks.  No market or a gap in the market; I’ll let the market decide.

3. Have you been traditionally published? Why or why not?

As I mentioned earlier, I do not write in mainstream formats so am unlikely to appeal to a traditional publisher just yet; however, I have had plenty of praise for my writing.  My adult humorous novel Stags! reached number 1 on Amazon’s Free Kindle Humour list, and is currently in 3 Amazon bestseller lists for paid books.

4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?

Self-publishing is great for getting your work out there quickly and relatively easily, but it is also a great tool for learning.  I knew nothing about fonts until I self-published Stags!, and I knew nothing about Kindles until I started to look at that medium too.  You quickly realize that marketing is the hardest thing in the world, and the realization that no one will buy your book just because you believe in it is a harsh lesson, but one that all indie authors must learn quickly.

5. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books. Which ones have been the most successful?

I have tried book signings; for instance, my children’s picture book Ole And Zac And The Port Of Tumbattle has a pirate theme, so I sat outside a couple of local Tesco supermarkets dressed as a pirate and signed copies.  A book signing for Stags! was featured at the Levenshulme festival, as a result of which I got coverage in The Irish Post.

These are fine for small coverage, and I realized how much fun it can be to dress up as a pirate, but by far the most successful marketing technique has been via KDP Select.  This allows you to offer your book free for up to 5 days every 90 days, but during this time you must push it.  Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Goodreads, anything you can think of.

But it can’t just be a one way thing.  Follow blogs and they will follow back, but you must participate.  Download other free books and engage with other authors.  Contact Pixel Of Ink, Kindle Nation Daily, Digital Book Today, and others, and consider a paid promotion which can be done for as little as $29.99.

If you are successful you will get thousands of downloads.  Stags! got around 5,000 in 5 days, and then the fun really starts.  If you have done it right you should continue to push, push, push when it is a paid download again. Stags! hit around 200 paid downloads in the first week and then sales started to taper.  Bear in mind that the more sales you get, the more Amazon will “recommend” your book.

If you can get it into the top 20 in any category this will generate more sales.  When a potential customer looks at a bestseller category the first page has 20 entries.  A few will go to the next page of 20 entries, but after that visitors dwindle.  It’s a bit like getting on the first page for a Google search.

The next phase is to drop the price to less than $1. This hits the bargain promotions and sales will get an uplift. Continue to expand your network, and make use of your free KDP Select days every quarter.  There is no such thing as overnight success.  You have to work at it.

6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?

I disregarded local newspapers and trying to get book reviews.  There is just simply not enough coverage.  If you have enough friends they will cover the local area for you, and even in your own area, if someone does not know you personally they will not be inclined to buy your book.

7. Which services or vendors do you recommend for the marketing methods you used?

Business cards and flyers are invaluable, but cheap and cheerful will do fine.  Make sure they have your email address on, mobile number if you really must, book details including website and blog details, and Amazon, Amazon, Amazon.  Amazon is king and is a very trusted site.  If your book is on Amazon people trust it.  In terms of internet marketing there are tons of free sites that will push your free days, including Pixel Of Ink, Digital Book Today, etc.

8. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?

It’s all about the marketing.  Apart from your family and friends no one will buy your book – you have to sell it to them. Or get Amazon to sell it for you by exploiting the free KDP Select feature as described.

9. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?

For paperbacks I now exclusively use Createspace.  I have used Fast-Print, but only because Createspace did not support UK distribution.  Now they do.  Createspace is quicker and easier to use, produces a better quality product, and the finished book gives more profit to the author.  The only caveat to this is that the Createspace cover designs are limited, but I would not be surprised to see them expand these in the near future.

10. Indie authors face the challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie just starting out?

Start slowly and dedicate at least an hour per day to it.  Don’t expect it all to happen overnight, and do not disregard any channel.  It is a learning exercise as much as a marketing exercise, and by the time you get to book number 10 you will be well on your way to becoming an expert!

11. What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a sequel to Stags!, the working title of which is Infidelity.  I got some really nice fan mail after my latest marketing exercises, and that prompted me to finally put pen to paper, metaphorically speaking.  I am also looking to produce a book of dark poetry in collaboration with a friend who does some terrific illustrations.  In the pipeline there is the biography of an English rock and roll singer, but he is based in Madrid so there are a few logistical issues with that one!

12. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?

Having launched three books in three very different genres, each one challenging the market in a different way, it would have to be “Laughing in the Face of Tradition”.

13. How can readers learn more about your books?

You can visit my website at michael-madden.co.uk and my blog at mmm-number-1.blogspot.com.

Shaun J. McLaughlin

Shaun J. McLaughlin believes every writer must be in it for the art, and strives to make his writing stand out from the rest.  Shaun discusses his success with blogging and what he believes it takes for a writer to succeed.

1. Give me the “elevator pitch” for your book in five to ten sentences.

My self-published novel, Counter Currents, is a story of smugglers, river pirates, rebels, love, and war.  Most scenes are set against the grandeur of the Thousand Islands during the drama of North America’s forgotten war, the Patriot War of 1838.  Among the raiders was Bill Johnston, the Thousand Islands legend.  The protagonist, Ryan, a young immigrant, is drawn into Johnston’s world of piracy and secret societies.  Ryan falls for Johnston’s daughter, Kate.  Tugged by the opposing currents of romance and war, Ryan struggles to reconcile his troubled family history, his duty and his heart. Counter Currents is history illuminated by fiction.

2. Why did you become an indie writer?

I worked as a writer – journalist and technical writer – for over 30 years.  Since my teens, I wrote fiction on the side. For my first novel, I queried dozens of agents and publishers in Canada and the US.  Over half never responded. One small publisher in Iowa offered to publish it, but they closed down shortly after I signed the contract.  Weary of rejection, I studied the self-publishing arena and the related technologies, and made a decision to be my own publisher.

3. Have you been traditionally published?  Why or why not?

I do both.  In the same month (March 2012) that I self-published my first novel, my first history book, The Patriot War Along the New York-Canada Border, was published by South Carolina-based The History Press.  It covers the eastern half of the Patriot War of 1838.

There is an interesting story behind that.  I created a history blog in January 2010 in advance of my novel to help promote the book and the era.  An editor at The History Press discovered the blog and asked me to write a book about it.  I said yes, of course.

4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?

I am astounded at how simple it is to be self-published.  Between Smashwords, CreateSpace and Kindle/Amazon, anyone who can follow step-by-step instructions can produce books in multiple formats.  There is no barrier to publishing.  Technology has sidelined the gatekeepers and unleashed writers.  You’ve got to love that.

5. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books.  Which ones have been the most successful?

I have tried most of the popular marketing techniques: blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and guest posts on other blogs and e-magazines.  I had both books reviewed, and even paid for an ad on Goodreads.

My history blog, raidersandrebels.com, is the most successful.  It gets over 600 visits per month from history lovers. The key is to provide readers with free, interesting content.  That blog links to my imprint blog where I describe my books.  A small percentage of visitors become customers.

Two history articles that I wrote for the Thousand Islands Life e-magazine early in 2012 did well, as did a book review on that mag.  The magazine’s audience is in the heart of the region where both my books take place.  The exposure led to a regional spike in sales, especially for the history book.

6. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?

My research into the business of self-publishing taught me that my book is one of millions available.  It is one leaf in a forest of 10,000 trees trying to be noticed.  You cannot be in this business for the money.  Like a painter or musician, you must be in for the art.

7. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?

Next time I will spend no time trying to find a publisher for my fiction.

8. Indie authors face the challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie just starting out?

From my observation, the authors that succeeded financially did not hit the big time with their first book.  They built up a fan base, good book by good book, until they broke out.  In brief: write well, write often, be patient.

9. What are you currently working on?

I have a detailed outline for the sequel to my novel.  It will be set partly in Australia, which I will visit in the fall of 2012 to scout locations.  I plan to research a second history book on the Patriot War to cover events along the western front.

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?

I write about history (and by extension, historical fiction) like a good journalist covers current events: how people face their trials and triumphs never gets dull.

11. How can readers learn more about your books?

My publishing imprint has info on both books: raidersandrebelspress.com.

Anderson O’Donnell

Anderson O’Donnell specializes in dystopian fiction and constantly feeds his healthy addiction to the art of writing.  Anderson talks about making the most of social media and going beyond its superficial uses to enhance his marketing efforts.

1. Pretend for a moment I’m a reader looking for my next book.  Pitch me your book in five to ten sentences.

Kingdom is a thrill-a-minute, bio-punk myth that manages to wrestle with the most pressing issues of the new millennium.  It’s a novel of tomorrow night, when the big party gets raided by the monsters we’ve been building for the last half-century.  Hip and hellish, wild and weird, Tiber City is the dystopian megalopolis into which we will all soon move—whether we know it or not.  Toss William Gibson, Andrew Vachss and David Fincher into the petri dish, irradiate them, then infuse the result with Transylvanian meth, and you’ll have some sense of what the reader can expect.

2. What motivated you to become an indie writer?

Frustration with how risk-adverse the traditional publishing industry has become.  I get it: sales margins are razor thin, and the natural inclination, in any industry, is to reduce risk.  But for the writing and publishing industry, risk reduction means going all in on books by a recognizable brand name—Snookie, for instance.  I mean, that’s their answer…Snookie.  But like I said, I can’t blame them.

3. Have you been traditionally published?  Why or why not?

No, I haven’t been traditionally published, but not for lack of effort.  I sent out query letters to a number of agents and publishing houses, and while Kingdom attracted some interest, nothing panned out.  But I received good feedback from a few other traditionally published authors, enough so I decided not to stick the project in the desk drawer.  I believe in Kingdom; and I think readers are going to respond to the world I’ve created.

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K. Ford K.

K. Ford K. went from freelance writing to indie publishing, finding frustration along the way with traditional publishers.  Now enjoying the freedom of self-publishing, K. discusses the varied tools she uses to reach readers.

1. Give me the “elevator pitch” for your book in five to ten sentences.

What if a timid, sexually-inhibited woman suddenly developed the psychic ability to see what everyone else needed to be blissfully happy in bed?  And what if she started blurting out sexual advice against her will?  That thought was the seed for my new novel, The Concubine’s Gift, and the poor, long-suffering character of Bernice Babbitt was born.

2. Why did you become an indie writer?

I became an indie author by choice.  I was a freelance writer, publishing articles and short stories in newspapers and magazines and had several near misses with major publishing houses.  Many times they decided to publish my novels and then changed their minds at the last minute.  I was starting to feel like I was in an abusive relationship.  Editors told me they loved my work; I cozied up to them and then they slapped me with a rejection. After awhile I was back and the same thing happened all over again.  ‘Indie-authorhood’ has been wonderful.  I love being in charge of my own career and being able to make all the editorial and marketing decisions about my novels.  I’ve been lucky in that readers have been very supportive.

3. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your books.  Which ones have been the most successful?

Some of the marketing techniques that have been the most successful were getting book bloggers to review my book and being active on the Goodreads site.  I have hosted lots of book giveaways and those are always fun.

4. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?

I have my novel listed on Amazon’s KDP Select.  The best thing is the free days of promotion but I think I will discontinue after one more month so that I can list the book on other sites such as Smashwords.

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A.D. McLain

A.D. McLain writes across a variety of genres, most notably in paranormal romance, and has seen both the indie and traditional sides of publishing.  She discusses her latest work, Suriax, and explains the variety of direct marketing tools she uses to reach new readers.

1. Pretend for a moment I’m a reader looking for my next book.  Pitch me your book in five to ten sentences.

If it was legal to kill, would you?  Welcome to Suriax, a city where killing is accepted as normal and laws mean everything.  Kern must grapple with questions of morality, destiny and a queen who wants him dead.  Throw in a pact with a god and you have an event that will change the people of Suriax forever.

2. What motivated you to become an indie writer?

I love the freedom to set my own prices, run my own contests and free promotions, design my own cover and have control over when the book is released.  Whether you self-publish or go through a publisher you have to do almost all your own marketing.  The only difference is how much you get paid for your work.

3. Have you been traditionally published?  Why or why not?

I went through publishers and agents for my first two books.  That experience was disappointing.  The marketing my publishers did for me was miniscule, and I was constantly sent emails on how if I just paid them x amount of dollars they would do some additional marketing.  After six years of doing all my own networking and learning everything as I went along, I met other authors who went the self-publishing route.  The free services provided by sites such as Smashwords and Createspace are a far cry from the vanity publishers of the past.  There isn’t as much of a stigma now in self-publishing.  I don’t think I will ever go back to the old way.  I learned a lot from my other publishers, and I don’t regret the experiences, but I am glad I have another option.

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Diane Schochet

When Diane Schochet befriended another writer who in turn started her own publishing company, she was able to publish her book and see her literary dreams realized.  Diane talks about her book, the specific marketing tools she uses, and a tip that worked for her son’s book as well.

1. Pretend for a moment I’m a reader looking for my next book.  Pitch me your book.

Cog Stone Dreams is about Dessa and her mystical, magical, humorous love story.  It is about the bow and arrow murder she witnesses, 9,000 years of history she encounters in her dreams, and includes Jewish themes and the perfection, degradation and restoration of wetlands in California.

2. What motivated you to become an indie writer?

I’m not an indie writer.  A couple of years ago, I took an online advanced UCLA novel writing class.  A classmate liked my writing.  I liked hers.  We met and became friends.  Then in 2011 she informed me that she was becoming a publisher.  Her deceased aunt, Carol Fenner, had left her literary collection to my friend.  Carol, who had won Newberry awards, a Coretta Scott King award and two other awards, had one book that hadn’t been published.  My classmate decided to publish her book, my Cog Stone Dreams book, and some books that she had written, and opened Red Phoenix Books.

Doctor Claudia Alexander, my publisher at Red Phoenix Books, is a scientist.  She says my genre is environmental fiction.  But I’m not a scientist so I say my book is Jewish magical realism.  (Think Isaac Bashevis Singer.  I’m aiming high.)  However, the environment may be a better selling point.  The story is mostly set on Southern California wetlands.  Amazon.com puts books about wetlands in their Lakes and Ponds category.  Today the Kindle Edition of Cog Stone Dreams is the number 17 bestselling and the number 1 best rated in the Lakes and Pond category.  It has been among the top three Lakes and Ponds book for three months now.

3. Have you been traditionally published?

Yes.  Non-fiction articles in magazines.

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