Author Janci Patterson Goes Indie

Posted by John Brown on June 18th, 2014

Everythings Fine by Janci PattersonI met Janci Patterson a few years ago when she was shopping her book Chasing the Skip to NY publishers. It’s about a girl named Ricki. Her mother flakes and runs off,  and so Ricki goes to live with her estranged Dad who happens to be a bounty hunter. I was hooked right there. But it gets better. Ricki gets to ride along and help and, wouldn’t you know it, develops a crush on a guy the dad is chasing.

I loved the premise. Traditional publisher Henry Holt loved it too and thought Janci had done a great job telling the tale, so they made her an offer that Janci accepted. It was published in 2012.

Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?

Well, Janci just released another book called Everything’s Fine, a mystery about a girl named Kira. Her best friend commits suicide immediately after her first date with her longtime crush, Bradley Johansen. Kira’s devastated and wondering why. She’s sure the answers are in her friend’s journal. As she searches for it she quickly learns she’s not the only one who wants that journal. Someone else is trying to keep the secrets the journal contains hidden.

Another great premise. And this book won the Utah Art’s Council award for Best Young Adult Novel. Clearly, Janci can tell a story. But Janci didn’t take this one to NY.

She’s publishing it as an indie.

Here are her own words explaining what helped convince her going indie was doable.

A Paradigm Shift

For years I refused to think about self-publishing. This wasn’t because of the stigma, honestly, but because of all the work I watched my self-publisher friends put into creating, shipping, and marketing their books. I couldn’t do that! I told myself. I wanted to be a writer, not a publisher.

When it became obvious to me that self-publishing was the next logical step in my career, I was terrified. Having published with a big publisher, I wasn’t willing to skip steps in the publishing process–it was my editor’s keen eye and the rounds of revision we did together that transformed CHASING THE SKIP from a messy dJanci Patterson - Chasing-the-Skip-webraft into a product I was proud of. I wanted to be just as proud of my independent work, and for that, I knew I’d need help.

I knew just enough about book and cover design to know that I couldn’t slap them together on my own and expect them to be instantly good. But when I did the math on what I’d have to pay an editor and a book designer and a cover designer to put out even one book (let alone the several I have waiting), I knew that I couldn’t afford it. Self-publishing felt even more impossible than selling books in New York–I knew how I wanted to do it, but I didn’t have the resources.

So it was with this trapped feeling that I attended the Precision Editing Group’s workshop on indie publishing last fall. The workshop was packed with great information, but the thing that impacted me the most was a presentation by Heather Horrocks. She was talking about the importance of editors, and as a side comment, said something to the effect of, “yes, all my books have now been edited, but when I first got started, I didn’t have an editor because I couldn’t afford it.”

It’s not my intention to suggest that editing isn’t important, because it is. But that one sentence blew my mind. I’d been working with the New York publishing paradigm for fourteen years. And in that world, there are very few ways to be published. You query agents. You send books to publishers. You do your very best to follow all of the guidelines and to do everything perfectly right, hoping to minimize the barriers that stand between you and success as a writer.

But this self-publishing thing was a whole different game. I sat in the audience at the workshop, stunned. That was the moment when I finally realized this truth: there are as many ways to publish as there are people who are publishing. There is no one right way to do it. There are so many things you can do that can help you succeed. It’s better to do something than nothing, because nothing is never the road to success. Even if that means you’re doing it wrong.

So when I got home, I made a list of my assets. Forget about what I lacked. Forget about what I didn’t know. What did I know how to do? What resources did I have access to? And, most importantly, who could I ask for help?

If you’re looking to self-publish, I’d suggest that you do the same. Because here’s the thing–your list of assets is going to be uniquely yours. You have a unique set of skills; you know a unique network of people. You don’t need to worry about who and what you don’t know. Instead, focus on what you do have, what you can do. If you’ve been writing for years, you probably have some book-related skills. If you’re part of a community of writers to which you regularly contribute, you probably have some friends who you’ve helped in the past, or can help in the present, who would be motivated to help you out in return. Start from there, and you can pick up the rest as you go along.

In the end, I did have my book edited (repeatedly!) and my cover designed by a graphic designer. I was able to do that because I had friends who believe in me who were willing to enter into financial agreements that didn’t involve them getting paid in full upfront. I wouldn’t have thought to work out those arrangements when I was focused on doing things right–it was only when I opened my vision to look at what was possible that I began to envision what shape my own unique path might take.

Each path to publication is different, not only for each writer, but also for each book. With all the options available to us, it’s not enough to focus on our feet, doing only the next “right” step. Opportunity is everywhere. Focus on what you have, and even if you don’t win the jackpot on the first try, at least you’ll be playing the game.




How to be a hero in your own house

Posted by John Brown on June 17th, 2014

I have four daughters.

My four daughters have long hair.

That long hair finds its way into our drains. (Yes, despite our telling them to get it into that thing called a waste basket.)

Said hair might flow down the pipes. But said hair does not. Life is not that easy. Instead, some evil house spirit catches the hair just as it begins its voyage and turns it from a luscious thing of beauty into a gunky demon of drain death.

You would think that Drano could defeat this black magic. But Drano gets its butt kicked every time. Drano is in the pee-wee league against this thing. Drano is like a kitten. And gunk demons don’t listen to kittens.

So for the last few years, we’d blast with Drano and then still have to stand up to our calves in water when we took a shower. Or wait as the sink decided it might finally slowly empty and leave soap scum, whiskers, and toothpaste on the sides for everyone’s viewing pleasure. And then we had to do the slow clean (I hate the slow clean).

Recently, I was strolling along in a hardware store and saw this.

Zip-it drain cleaning tool

Click on the picture. Get a good look. I bought ye handy yellow flex sword. And I did verily slay the monster lurking in every drain in our  house.

I am the MAN!

If you have drain issues, let me suggest you be the hero and buy your own sword. It’s called the Zip-It drain cleaning tool. If you’re a weird-o, in addition to being the hero, you can also use it to draw forth disgusting things to scare nieces and nephews with. Just saying.


Indie Thoughts: Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

Posted by John Brown on June 17th, 2014

Your First 1000 copies by Tim GrahlDo you know what’s awesome about Your First 1,000 Copies by Tim Grahl?

He bases his advice on tests. Tests he’s performed with other authors and tests he’s performed with his own book.

For example, what’s more effective: advertising and posting our on places like Facebook and Twitter or a mailing list? Do authors really need to have a social presence? Or is that a bunch of bunk?

Tim has tested this question and shares what he’s found.

What about marketing? What’s the best approach to take to win new customers?

I think you’ll find his answer surprising. As a side note, I have to say I find his definition of marketing more insightful and practical than any I’ve come across. And I got a business degree!

How do you set up mailing lists and which ones should you use?

Tim tells you.

What should you blog about?

Tim shares his front-line insights.

What’s the quickest way to find new customers?

Tim discusses that as well. And it’s all put together in his framework or system he calls “Permission, Content, Outreach, Sell.”

If you’re an indie author, I think you’ll want to hear what Tim has to say. There are three books on indie publishing that I’ve found super useful. Your First 1,000 Copies by Tim Grahl is one of them.

Posted in On Writing

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Indie Thoughts: Lessons from Heather Justesen

Posted by John Brown on June 1st, 2014

From Heather Justesen, who writes clean romance.

Two years ago I was working full-time for peanuts (seriously, it didn’t even cover the mortgage–and we didn’t live in a palace.) I quit to write full-time before I went completely insane. By December 2012 I had replaced my c-store income. By April 2013 I earned enough to pay ALL of our bills. Since then I’ve been the primary wage earner for our family, allowing my husband to close the business that was sucking all of the life out of him, and for us to move halfway across the country. He does bring in some money still, but even in my worst month we can pay all of the bills from my writing income. I’ve sold (real sales, not counting freebies) over 60K books in the past eighteen months. I’ve got audiobooks for most of my indie titles and I’m starting to see sales into bookstores. I would have to have one heck of an offer to even consider a traditional publisher’s contract. I’m very happy the way things are.

* * * *

Kevin, don’t lose hope. I have books that sell in the single digits every single month despite great reviews. And I have books in a different genre that sell really well every month (not blockbuster well, not top 100 well, but enough for us to get by on.) I didn’t do it with the first or second book, or the fourth book, I had nine books out before I started to make pay-the-bills money, and most of the money, even now that I have 18, comes from a single series. The others make very little [emphasis added]. Maybe give the genre a twist and try something a little different, but still in your general area of interest. Try a different genre that interests you, or just hang on and keep writing. Get feedback, learn more, and keep working at it. I wrote for nearly a decade before I had a book good enough to be in print (before Kindle really took off, or I had enough trust in myself to go it alone, so it was with a small press.) This is a craft, you can’t learn it overnight and success rarely comes overnight[emphasis added].

Having three books out making six figures a month is crazy good, and definitely not the norm, and yeah those kinds of numbers can be discouraging, but a lot of the other stories here show that it can come. Most people who persevere eventually start to make decent money in indie publishing if they’re doing everything else right. Your covers are pretty good, so try changing up the descriptions and see if that helps. And keep writing.

More on The Passive Voice.

A series, lots of product, and an audience that has been under-served for years.

Posted in On Writing


Indie Thoughts: Lessons from Marie Force

Posted by John Brown on May 31st, 2014

Some promo tips from mega-seller Marie Force.

I just changed the cover of a book (Maid for Love, book 1 in my McCarthys of Gansett Island Series) that’s been on sale for three years and free for two as a loss leader for a series that has 11.5 books (as of today–release day for book 11). I changed the cover (of books 2 and 3 as well) just ahead of a BookBub ad for Maid for Love. This book has been on BookBub quite a few times since it’s been free and lately, I could expect about 25,000 or so downloads across the platforms after a BookBub ad. This time, the number was closer to 70,000 downloads with a huge conversion to books 2 and beyond. Another thing we did before the BookBub ad was drop the prices on books 2-3 from $4.99 to $2.99 and books 4-6 from $4.99 to $3.99, leaving the front list at $4.99. I realized with 11 books and a novella in the series, it would cost a new reader more than $50 to buy the full series, thus the price break on the earlier books. Both the new cover for Maid for Love and the new pricing for books 2-6 yielded very impressive results. The series has sold more than 1.3 million ebooks since it debuted in 2011 and the last three have been top 10 NYT bestsellers. I was hoping to gain many more new readers from these strategies, and so far, it seems to be working just as I’d hoped it would. I love being able to try these things as an indie author!

Another poster congratulated her and said he’d gone and purchased the book. It was free; why not give it a shot?

Thanks, Bill. Hope you enjoy Maid for Love, and thanks for the congrats. The 1.3 million sales is especially thrilling when you consider that Maid for Love was rejected all over the place. Except by the readers. :-)

Find more at The Passive Voice.

What’s Marie using? A series with a number of titles in it, competitive pricing, loss-leader sampling that sometimes includes a free book, and BookBub.

More about Marie and her books on her website.

Posted in On Writing


Indie Thoughts: The Kind of Competition Publishers Want

Posted by John Brown on May 31st, 2014

David Gaughran puts it all into perspective.

Since the huge shift to online purchasing and e-books, a common meme is that there is some kind of “discoverability” problem in publishing.

The funny thing is readers don’t seem to have any problem finding books they love. Any readers I talk to have a time problem – reading lists a mile long and never enough hours in the day to read all the great books they are discovering.

The real discoverability problem in publishing is that readers are discovering (and enjoying) books that don’t come from the large publishers. What these publishers have is a competition problem not a discoverability problem.

They have reason to. I had a stab last year at estimating how much of the e-book market self-publishers have grabbed in the US, pegging it at around 25%. The much more rigorous Author Earnings reports have confirmed that estimate, showing that self-publishers had captured 30% of the unit sales on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

* * * *

So when large publishers say that the discoverability puzzle hasn’t been solved online, they are really expressing despair at retailers recommending books not published by them.

And when large publishers say that online retailers haven’t matched the experience of buying in physical stores, they mean that they wish there was some way to relegate all that stuff from small publishers and self-publishers to the warehouse, and have tables piled high with James Patterson and Snooki.

* * * *

The fear-mongers always forget Amazon’s core philosophy: recommend the product the customer is most likely to purchase. It’s interesting to note that this is the exact opposite of traditional co-op: recommending the book that the publisher wants purchased.

While it’s revealing to look at sites like Bookish and consider what Big Publishing would do with retail or discovery, we already know what it does with self-publishing. Exploitative vanity press Author Solutions runs self-publishing companies for HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Harlequin, is owned by Penguin Random House, and is now recommended by Publishers Weekly.

Large publishers want to decide what gets published, what gets distributed, what gets recommended, what gets discovered, and what gets sold.

Amazon – and the digital revolution it instigated – has made that impossible.

Anyone can publish. Distribution has been blown wide open. Large publishers have lost power over what books get recommended and discovered too, with the agnostic approach of sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub. And large publishers have definitely lost control of what is getting sold: self-publishers have grabbed a huge chunk of the market, and more and more writers are beginning to realize they don’t need a publisher to reach readers and make money.

This is the real reason why Big Publishing hates Amazon. Large publishers face real competition for the first time and they don’t like it one bit.

More at Let’s Get Visible.

Publishers have lost the barriers to entry that used to keep most of the competition out. Amazon set up a totally new distribution channel that has grabbed at least 41% of the book market.

Forty freaking one percent!

And of that 41% percent, it appears self-publishers have about as much of that channel as traditional publishers do.

Think about that for a second.

Almost half of book distribution is now out of publisher control. With no barriers, the hordes are running in to sell their books, pushing publisher books out of the good spots. The number of competitors is growing. And the publishers can’t get Amazon to relegate the riffraff to the back rooms. Can’t get them to feature only their books.

Worse still, it appears lots of readers don’t mind that at all.

Posted in On Writing