Self-Publishing: An Author’s Experiences

Anna Belfrage photo 2

I am pleased and honored to welcome back one of my favorite writers, B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Anna Belfrage. Whom I will have the honor of meeting soon at the Historical Fiction Society in Denver at the end of this month. She always has a kind word, gives great advice and is so supportive of her readers and fellow authors. She is a treasure. Not only that, her stories will touch your heart and change your life. I can’t thank Anna enough for bringing such wonderful stories to us all and I am waiting calmly as best as I can for her new stories to come.

When she isn’t writing a novel, she is probably working on a post or catching up on her reading. Or standing about on a crossroads and wondering why time isn’t unravelling at her feet… Other than work and writing, Anna finds time to bake and drink copious amounts of tea, preferably with a chocolaty nibble on the side. And yes, now and then she is known to visit a gym as a consequence… Today Anna is talking with me about her self-publishing experiences and gives sound advice too!

Anna, when did you decide you were going to self-publish?

In 2011, I met a successful author at a work event. I complained a bit about how difficult it was to find an agent/publishing contract, and Michael just looked at me. “Umm…” I went, not sure why he was smiling like that. “You strike me as a person who generally takes control of her future,” he said. Yup. That’s me. I don’t believe in stuff just falling over you – and I am most definitely a control freak. “So self-publish,” he went on, and immediately forwarded me a number of links.

I spent the following months thinking – and sending out agent letters. Very demotivating, that was…So I sent the manuscript to a couple of professional editors, asking for feedback, and at their very positive – and constructive – comments I decided to go with my gut feeling and publish the indie way. After all, I was convinced I HAD written a series of very good books – and I am my own hardest judge. Besides, I had promised myself I’d publish a book prior to one of those momentous birthdays that end with a zero, and time was fast running out.

Three years on, I have eight published books, sales going on 35,000 and then some. Am I proud? Yes! Am I happy with my self-publishing choice? Yes!

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What has your experience been like along the way?

The single most important thing to remember is that self-publishing is a lonely venture. Ultimately, you have to make all the decisions yourself, no one will push you to kill your darlings (even if they really, really need to be murdered), no one will object to the length of your book, the content of your book. It is up to me, as the author, to set myself the standards I want to live by, and as all people have different standards, it follows that self-published books can be everything from absolute gems to dross.

I took the decision to go with a small publishing company, Silverwood Books. Why? Because they a) are selective as to what authors they take on b) are extremely professional when it comes to the final product c) are supportive and honest enough to tell you if they don’t think something works. The onus remains on me, but in the staff of Silverwood I have found some valuable sparring partners.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

The constant challenge is one of marketing and promotion. These days, traditionally published authors are expected to do a lot of that as well – many such authors are left very much to their own devices by the publishing companies, especially if their sales fall short of expectations. BUT with a traditional company, you generally get your book out to the bookstores, right under the nose of the browsers. That is a huge marketing advantage, and us self-pubs must be creative and resourceful to somehow compensate for this. Which is why we maintain blogs, are active on FB and Twitter, attend conferences and arrange giveaways – all in an effort to create visibility.

What have you learned in this industry?

First of all, the e-book has made books so much more accessible (and cheap), thereby allowing readers the opportunity of broadening their reading matter. I guess this translates into the conclusion that the market is big – but it is also price sensitive, and when I stumble across authors whose books are priced at 12 USD and more in the Kindle version, I shake my head. Who would ever pay that much for an e-book?

It is also a fickle market, and as an author this means you should strive to stay true to what you want to write rather than what you perceive the market might want. Yes, some things always sell – steamy romance has an established very large market, as does Regency romance and crime. But as an author, unless you want to drive yourself insane by always, always tracking how your books are doing in the sales charts, the single important thing is to be proud of what you’ve written – which requires that you know you’ve done your best.

It is important to remember that publishing is an industry. Thousands of excellent books are published through traditional venues every year, but we also have those less than fantastic reads: celebrities who can’t string together more than six words in a row get their books out there. Established authors get their books out there – even if the latest effort is nowhere close to what they’ve written previously. Why? Because ultimately, it is all about money – of course it is, the publishing houses have huge overheads and must invest their resources on “winners”. Sadly, winners rarely are unknown debut authors. Self-publishing gives all those talented voices a chance to be heard.

What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing?

The single biggest DO: Use an editor! The single biggest DON’T: Don’t publish without a thorough edit.

Other important DOs & DON’Ts: Think about visual identity, invest time and money on covers, don’t skimp on paper quality or on formatting of e-books. Always strive for an end product that is comparable to a traditionally published book including such obscure things as avoiding “orphans”, ensuring adequate indents and nice fonts. A major no-no is to clamber aboard another author’s band wagon and steal their promotional thunder for your own book. It happens, and it is very irritating when it does.

What advice would you give to a writer who is considering the self-publishing route?

It would be my recommendation to go for assisted publishing – at least for the first few books. Yes, it is more expensive, yes, one has to be very selective and do the research before choosing the provider, but it does help to have a hand to hold on to.

And once again: use an editor. Don’t assume that just because your mother, sister, cousins, best friend say they loved it that it’s a good book. After all, it is very difficult to look a starry-eyes wannabe author in the face and tell them their work is bad – especially if you love them.

Finally, stay true to yourself. Write because you love what you’re writing.

What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work?

I do a lot of FB, less Tweeting (should do more) and quite some blogging. I also am an active reviewer and share a lot of stuff from other authors. It is my experience it pays to be supportive of others, to be generous in recommendations, restrictive when it comes to negativism.

I’d guess I spend 10 – 20 hours a week on pure promotional activities. Some of it, like participating in this interview, is more fun than others, but ultimately it all detracts from that my most precious commodity: writing time.

My single most successful route to market are the blog tours I regularly book with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. This is a service run by Amy Bruno, and she does an impressive job pulling together reviewers and various spotlight opportunities. In fact, I consider Amy to be more or less “my” marketing department – not sure I should tell her so, as she may start demanding a recurring salary.

And, as a final comment, I think it is important to recognize the efforts of people like you, Stephanie, people who give generously of their time to support and promote writers. As I wrote recently in a dedication in a book. “People like me, need people like you.” Us authors most certainly do!

What are the different sites you use to promote your book?

To be honest, I don’t do much more than Amazon and Goodreads. Yes, I’ve listed the books with a number of promotional services, but I never know just how to measure the success of such efforts. I’d say the single biggest promotional impact is to maintain a good website and an interesting blog. I attempt to do both.

Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?

Well, I do believe the e-book is here to stay, but there is a resurgence in “real” book sales that I find interesting. In the long run, environmental concerns and the cost-efficient production of e-books will probably carry the day – assuming reading devices continue to develop. Personally, these days I read like 80% on my Kindle, but now and then I come across books that I just have to have in physical form.

As to trad vs self-pub, I believe there will be a blurring of the edges – there already is, with some of the larger publishing houses also offering assisted publishing services for indie authors. I believe the indie author is here to stay (I’m not going anywhere, and I am sort of counting on still being around 5-10 years from now) and I believe this will lead to lower average sales numbers for all books as readers will be able to find just their little favourite niche genre and the authors that cater to it. Which, coincidentally, brings us back to my initial comment regarding e-books and the cost-efficient costs…

If something can be improve upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?

I am a firm believer in supply and demand – i.e. a free market will always move towards the ideal equilibrium – and that applies for the book industry as well. I think the traditional publishing houses face some interesting challenges moving forward, in that they must assume lower overall sales volumes per published book – alternatively, blow their marketing budgets sky high.

What I do think has to change – and it already is – is the presumption that indie books are per definition of lower quality than traditionally published books. I can assure you there’s plenty of so-so stuff among the traditional catalogues, and as a voracious reader of historical fiction I sometimes just have to shake my head at some of the things traditional publishers allow to slip through: seriously, a princess peeling potatoes in 10th century Ireland??? A displaced Saxon noblewoman berating her Norman savior that he can put her down, it’s only a three kilometer walk back home? Sheesh!

How long have you been an indie author?

Since 2012. I probably need to start planning a celebration, right?

Yes, indeed!

For more info about Anna, visit her website or her Amazon page. You can also find her on her blog.

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