Tuesday, June 22, 2010

12 Self-Publishing Q & A: The Answers

Last week, you gave us your questions about self-publishing. And this week, YA author Kiera Cass has the answers. Kiera has a great foundation for comparison between starting through the self-publishing route and going the tradition publishing method via an agent. Her first novel, THE SIREN, was self-pubbed, while her second novel is currently being offered by the Caren Johnson Literary Agency. her agent Elana Roth of the Caren Johnson Literary Agency just sold (6/22/10) her second novel to HarperTeen in a three-book deal!!!! Congratulations, Kiera! Her story of perseverence is amazing and inspiring.

Hello all! I hope that I got all the big questions, and if anyone needs to follow up, please feel free to email me at kierasfriends at gmail.com. I can be a bit slow sometimes, but I will answer.

Q: Why did you self-publish?
A: Mostly because I’m impatient. I did go through several rounds of query letters and got a few nibbles from some agents, but no one fell in love with The Siren. No one said my concept or writing was awful, and I was too in love with the characters to not do something, so I went with self-publishing. It was something I’d considered from the very beginning, and since I already had a following, it worked out pretty well.

Q: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
A: The big pro is control. No one can make you edit out things you love, you get to choose your cover art, and you get to be hands on with the inside design. The speed is also helpful. Traditional publishing usually takes a year and a half from the submission of the manuscript to the book making it to the shelves. If you’re writing something time sensitive, that can be a little too long. Also, if you’re planning to market to a small group, self-publishing might be something to consider.

The big con is the immediate assumption that what you’ve written is crap. Because anyone can do it, there’s A LOT of bad stuff out there, and you will be lumped in that group. It’s also damn near impossible to get your book into a store. Independents will be more flexible, but you can pretty much kiss Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million goodbye. You have to rely on online sales, and if you can’t make that work, it’s tough. It’s also a lot of work to do on your own. Even with traditional publishing, you’re going to be responsible for giving your book legs, but it’s magnified when there’s no one there to back you up.

Q: If I want to self-publish, how do I even do that? Where do I go?
A: Do your research! Since you’re paying for a service, you should be getting exactly what you want. Have a plan and know what you need. I went with iUniverse because their fees were very straightforward and their services were the ones I needed. In fact, they let me trade services I didn’t need for ones I did and expedited my printing. iUniverse is a print on demand company, so you don’t have to pay to have thousands of books printed (which some places ask you to do), and then not know if you’ll be able to sell them (do you have garage space for ones you can’t?). I paid the original printing fee, and that was it. They make money at the same time I do: when I make a sale. If you choose to go with someone who asks you to pay per printed book, I’m very sorry, but I have no wisdom for you. Personally, I don’t think I could have done it that way.

Q: What about going digital?
A: Lots of places will have that as an option, and that’s really up to you. Sometimes it’s simply part of the package you get. I’d say if you had to add it on to not bother with it. That’s just my opinion.

Q: Who was your editor?
A: Me. And I was literally changing things until the very last second. Most companies will offer editing services (and tons of other options) for an extra fee, and now that I’ve been my own editor, I would suggest springing for a real one. It was too stressful. You can always look up independent editors who may be less expensive or are local so you can actually meet with them. Recently a friend of mine started a business specifically for editing with self-publishing authors. Check out www.snowediting.com, it might be a good home for you.

Q: How did self-publishing effect querying agents? Did it hurt you in the long run?
A: After I decided to self-publish, I didn’t try to pitch The Siren to any other agents. To me it was a done deal. However, I did ask everyone I knew to go buy the book on Amazon on the same day. If you self-publish, DO THIS! It helps get your book up the rankings so that people who don’t know who you are see your book. For me, this worked so well that two agents saw the book and asked to read the manuscript for possible representation. Again, neither of them fell in love with it, and that was fine. In my mind, it was out there, and I was happy. But it does happen that way for some people. The Shack, Still Alice, and Eragon were all originally self-published and picked up by traditional printing houses. I asked my agent, and her feeling (and mine as well) is if you’ve already self-published your book, then that’s it. It’s out there and available, and agents would rather have a fresh idea. If you’ve got remarkable sales, then maybe you could try querying it again, but you’ll probably just need to count that book as a learning experience and move on to something new.

I did decide to go the traditional way for my new project, The Selection, and I expected to have as difficult a time pitching it as I did with The Siren. My experience was much different this time around. I think the timing just happened to be right, and I now have an agent who is pretty much walking awesomeness. When I queried this time, I was upfront about self-publishing. I think you have to be. Your relationship with your agent is hopefully one you’ll have for a long time, and it should start out honestly.

And while we’re on the topic of agents, if you’re going to start querying, please go to agentquery.com, stop by their website, and/or follow them on twitter. They tell you exactly what they want if you only listen.

Q: How many copies did you sell of The Siren?
A: I don’t have an exact number right now. If I did, I’m not sure I’d share. I will tell you that the average self-published book doesn’t make it to 100 sales. I went well beyond that, but nothing close to what a traditionally published book could do.

Q: What did you do for promotion? Any suggestions?
A: Whew. Okay. I made a website before my book was published. You should have one. I promoted The Siren on my YouTube channel, Facebook, and (now) twitter. I asked everyone I knew to buy it at once for the sake of sales rankings. I went and found book blogging sites and sent them free digital copies of my book to review. Do not underestimate virtual followings. I researched book festivals and got into their author’s tents. There are TONS of festivals out there, and it’s a great way to meet people. I had contests that helped promote my book (awards for people who left reviews on Amazon, a Facebook flair making competition). I got a local independent store to carry my book. I considered doing a small tour of independents, but I was getting to be very pregnant, and it wasn’t possible. I made a zazzle.com store, so people could sport Siren goodies if they wanted to… there are tons of things you can do. Be creative.

Q: Would you do it again?
A: No, I don’t think so. Not because I had a bad experience, but because I’ve had a taste of what it’s like to have a team now, and I couldn’t go back.

Q: Any other advice?
A: Again, do your research. There are quite a few places you can go with (check out Writer’s Digest List for 2009 http://www.writersdigest.com/article/directory-of-self-publishing-companies/) so know what you want, and find the right place for you.

Work on your platform (your social presence). You need to have a website, at least one social networking site that fans could have access to, and should align yourself with organizations that have something in common with the topic you’re writing about.

Keep track of yourself. Get a Google alert for when your book is mentioned places and watch your Amazon, B&N, and BAM rank numbers. It helps to know when people are buzzing about you and when you make sales.

For goodness sake, since you have control over your cover art, please don’t do something ugly. Actual picture with naked people you drew in Paint over it with a random rocket in the background is NOT okay. http://www.amazon.com/Last-King-England-Realms-Territories/dp/0595335519/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276964804&sr=8-1#noop

And have fun. The reason you’re doing this is because it’s your dream to publish a book, right? So enjoy it. If every step feels like death to you, back out now.


  1. Wonderful post! Kiera has the down to earth, basic information that everyone needs before making this decision.

  2. Wow, thanks for this! Whether or not I decide to self-publish, I know I've gotten some really good advice. :)

  3. wow. this was fascinating to read. a huge thank you to all of you for putting this together!!

  4. This is a great post! Kiera, thanks for sharing all your knowledge. You're obviously very savvy and you've given us a realistic view of self-publishing.

  5. Ha ha - LOVED the comment about the cover art!!!

    Very practical and realistic advice Kiera - THANKS LADIES for sharing this with us. It DOES sound scary to me but I appreciate the down to earth spin on SELF PUBLISHING.

  6. Great interview - lots of honest, helpful information. Thanks so much :)

  7. I never knew much about self-publishing as it was an option I didn't really consider. But I found the information very interesting and thorough.

  8. Loved the interview - lots of great info. Best of luck with the upcoming release!

  9. Congrats, Kiera!!!! Great interview.

  10. Thank you so much for answering all these questions! This is fascinating to me, especially since I plan on releasing my self-published book in August. It's a scary thing!

  11. Great tips, great interview, and great work! Congrats on *making* your dreams come true, rather than waiting for them to happen. :)

  12. Thanks for the shout-out Kiera! Can't wait for The Selection. :)


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