By Evan Carmichael on October 4th, 2012
I’m going to be heading to the Self-Publishing Book Expo in New York City on October 27th. In advance of the expo we’ve interviewed a few of the experts who will be presenting.
Up today is Barbara Freethy, the New York Times Bestselling Author of 31 novels ranging from contemporary romance to women’s fiction and romantic suspense.
I had a successful traditional publishing career for over fifteen years. I published 28 novels with four different houses and at various times in my career, my books were considered “lead” titles at the house. Like most authors who publish for many years, there have been peaks and valleys in my publishing career.
2) What advice can you give a new author who wants to take the traditional publishing route?
In traditional publishing, most houses will require authors to have agents in order to submit. Writers who want to go this route should understand that it is a longer process. Submissions must go first to agents and then to editors, which can take many months. Once a book is sold, it may not come out for a year or two. So it’s a lot slower process, but writers will have a support team at their publishing house. Working with a traditional publisher is much more of a collaborative process, which can be great or not so great depending on whether or not everyone is on the same page. Traditional publishing allows an author to gain a bigger print distribution, although print runs have been falling in recent years with the lack of diminishing shelf space, so that’s all part of considering which path an author wants to take.
I began self publishing my backlist, books that had gone out of print, and for which the rights had reverted to me. Those books were basically taking up space in my closet. I had tried to sell them to publishers at various points in my career, but backlist was a hard sell, especially when physical book shelf space began to get smaller. It was not surprising that retailers would want to focus on new frontlist.
I was amazed and thrilled when my digitally converted backlist books took off at B&N and Amazon, followed by the other retailers, selling literally millions of copies. To date, I’ve sold over 2.7 million ebooks since January 2011. As the books took off in the ebook market, I realized that my books were finding an entirely new readership. While I had a fan base, I was shocked at how many people wrote to me to tell me that they had never heard of me before. So I know that the sales were primarily to new readers.
With the fantastic results, I decided to self publish an original series of contemporary romances entitled the WISH Series. The books are connected by the theme of wishes and the titles are: A SECRET WISH, JUST A WISH AWAYand WHEN WISHES COLLIDE. I’m now beginning to write a longer family series that I think the readers will hopefully really love.
For me, I love the business of publishing. I like being able to control what goes on my cover and in the book description, and I like being able to put my books out more frequently than the publishers could do for me. I also enjoy taking home a bigger percentage of the money. I’m comfortable hiring my own support team, and I would certainly encourage anyone who is self publishing to make sure they hire professionals to edit and do whatever else they need to have done.
A lot of factors have come into play. I spent quite a bit of time in the beginning working on my covers. I changed the first few books several times until I found the right look and then I began to brand that look. Because I started with backlist, I had several books to put up within the first year. Having more than one book is really critical to success, in my opinion. I know a few authors have done it well with one book, but I think it’s more likely that most authors will find it takes a few titles to gain momentum and build a readership.
I also spend an enormous amount of time on the publishing side of my business. I’m very focused on the numbers. I’m not afraid to make changes if something isn’t working, and I’ve directed a lot of attention toward building relationships with retailers. I have personally learned how to convert books, how to upload, how to do all the nuts and bolts of this digital business, mostly because when I started there were far fewer professionals offering those services. But I think the knowledge is empowering and once authors understand how self publishing works, it becomes much more exciting and less intimidating.
Write more than one book! Writers need to think in terms of a career, not just one book. Just as in traditional publishing, nothing is guaranteed. You can do everything right and still flounder. You need to keep writing, keep trying new things, network as much as possible, stay up to date on what’s happening at the various retailers, and don’t give up. It can be a slow build, but the great thing about digital publishing is that nothing will go out of print or off the shelf. You don’t have to “make it” in three weeks as was the case in traditional publishing for a very long time. Now, an author has years to build a readership and develop a library of books.
I would also caution writers who are starting out in self publishing to be careful who they contract with for services. There’s no reason, in my opinion, to give away percentage of royalties forever, when you can hire many professionals for a flat fee. If a writer is considering giving up a percentage, I would suggest that there be a term limit to the contract. In self publishing there are many options for writers. There are no rules for how it has to be done. Innovations are happening every day by writers with great creative and entrepreneurial vision!
And don’t forget digital publishing is a global market. Foreign translations are just beginning to take off. There are also now options for authors to produce audio versions of their books. Having been in publishing for a very long time, I can honestly say I don’t think there has been a better time to be a writer, because there are options everywhere!
6) What session are you most looking forward to at the Self-Publishing Book Expo and why?
I’ve travelled all over the world this year, from Copenhagn to London to Berlin to New York to San Francisco to speak at writing and publishing conferences and I’ve met the most remarkable, intelligent, wonderful people. It’s a thrill to be surrounded with people who are as excited about the publishing business as I am — and have so many new and innovate ideas to share. I can’t wait to meet everyone at SPBE!