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A Traditionally Pubbed Author Wades into the Waters of Self Publishing

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Another reason for self publishing is the ability to exercise more control over my “intellectual property.” Yes, the middle man still exists (in my case, Amazon’s digital publishing arm), but outside of providing a “storefront,” the guy in the suit mostly sits back and collects his cut.

Crossing Over, Homepage Sub  •  Dec 05, 2012

PROLOGUE

(I know…writers beware of opening with a “prologue,” but I think you’ll find back story is relevant to my decision to enter the world of self publishing).

 

In 1993, I signed a four-book contract with Bantam Books. A year later, my first medieval romance, Warrior Bride, was released and another three “bride” books followed. As I continued to write for the general market, publishing three more medieval romances with HarperCollins and Dorchester and earning awards and placement on national bestseller lists, I infused my growing faith into my writing (much of which fell prey to red pen-wielding editors).

In 2004, I committed to writing books that not only reveal Christianity to non-believers but serve as inspiration to believers. In 2006, my first inspirational romance, Stealing Adda, was released. In 2008, my second inspirational romance, Perfecting Kate, was optioned for a movie and Splitting Harriet won an ACFW “Book of the Year” award and was nominated for a RITA award. In 2009, Faking Grace was nominated for an ACFW “Book of the Year” and RITA award. In 2011, I concluded my “Southern Discomfort” series that launched with Leaving Carolina, continued with Nowhere Carolina, and ended with Restless in Carolina.

That makes seven general market medieval romances and seven inspirational market contemporary romances for a total of fourteen traditionally published books. Hence, the purpose of this “prologue” is to show that I come at self publishing from the angle of an author with a reader base as compared to an unpublished author lacking a reader base outside of supportive friends and family. That’s not to say unpublished authors shouldn’t explore and venture into the world of self-publishing—absolutely not!—but neither should they blindly jump into it. More on that later

CHAPTER ONE: WHY?

Though I feel blessed to have had my books published by traditional publishers for seventeen years, another path to publication is now viable due to the rise in popularity of e-readers and those fearless and driven authors—both previously unpublished and traditionally published—who struck out on their own years ago. This past March, I joined the ranks of traditionally published authors who have embraced the electronic format by releasing out-of-print books in hopes of finding new readers who missed their titles “way back when” a book’s shelf life was severely limited by physical space (hello!), revamping old titles to give them new life (hmm…), and offering new titles (hello again!).

When I transitioned from the general market to the inspirational market, it was with the intention of continuing to write medieval romances. However, despite interest in my three-book “Age of Faith” proposal (two full manuscripts and then some), inspirational publishers were wary of novels set during the medieval time period due to the stigma of corruption within the Church, the Crusades, the Inquisition, etcetera, etcetera. Thus, my agent encouraged me to get my foot in the door by writing “something different.” And did I ever—contemporary romance with a splash of humor.

Unfortunately, though I now have a “foot in the door” of the inspirational market, the climate for medieval romance hasn’t changed in the intervening years. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing contemporary romance, my longing to return to the medieval setting finally made me take a serious look at self publishing and brave this new world. However, rather than start with my “Age of Faith” series, I decided to “test the waters” with Dreamspell, a manuscript written in the space between leaving the general market and committing to the inspirational market. This clean- read time travel romance that moves between the twenty-first century and the Middle Ages now stands as my fifteenth published book and my first book to debut via virtual bookshelves. So there’s my first reason for self publishing: finding a home for a story that didn’t fit the inspirational market due to its setting or the general market due to its inspirational/clean read status.

The second book I self published was my first inspirational romance, Stealing Adda, the rights to which reverted to me after the book went out of print several years ago. My reason: finding new readers. Then this past July, I decided it was time to go from testing the waters of self publishing to wading in them with another book that didn’t fit either market—The Unveiling, the first book in my “Age of Faith” series.

Another reason for self publishing is the ability to exercise more control over my “intellectual property.” Yes, the middle man still exists (in my case, Amazon’s digital publishing arm), but outside of providing a “storefront,” the guy in the suit mostly sits back and collects his cut. Yet another reason for self publishing is the opportunity to make a better living by earning a significantly larger percentage of the sales price. Mind you, I haven’t yet realized this opportunity—and I may never—but you have to love the possibility.

CHAPTER TWO: HOW?

Up to this point, I’ve limited my self-publishing venture to digital books available on Amazon since I haven’t had the time to explore other sales outlets and print-on-demand. What does “going it on my own” entail? First and foremost, writing the best story possible just as I would for a traditional publisher. Second, enlisting the services of an editor to evaluate content and polish the story. Third, hiring a graphic artist to design a professional cover that doesn’t shout “self published.” Fourth, educating myself on the mechanics of self publishing (formatting, etc). Fifth, marketing.

A little history on that last one: When I was first published in 1994, publishers weren’t keen on authors contributing to marketing efforts. In fact, they could get downright upset about it (do I have a tale to tell). By the time I was published in the inspirational market, much of that responsibility had been passed from the broad shoulders of publishers to the narrow shoulders of authors. No longer was I simply (yeah, right) expected to write books and attend signings. I was expected to contribute to marketing efforts. This meant not only carving time out of my writing schedule but money out of my advance. Now if you’re undertaking publication on your own…well, it’s going to cost even more of your writing time and, most likely, a bigger chunk of a non-existent advance. The good news is that social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads makes it easier than ever for authors to reach the reading public without a painful and sometimes impossible outlay of money—that is, at the most basic level. The not-so-good news is that if you take it beyond the basic level, doling out dollars for paid and targeted advertising and further cutting into your writing time with increased promotional efforts, the increase in readership may prove insignificant. My own ventures beyond basic social media have included advertising on Facebook and Goodreads. Though I’ve seen very little change in sales, still I will press on and test other advertising options—as time and funds allow.

CHAPTER THREE: WHO?

Now the question of who should self publish. I’m too new at self publishing to claim to be any kind of authority, but I don’t believe it’s for every writer. Even with my established reader base, sales have been relatively slow. Fortunately, with the release of each successive ebook, sales have gradually increased and, hopefully, will continue to do so. As for those lovely little checks from Amazon, they certainly won’t pay the mortgage, but they do pay more bills than the unpublished manuscripts that once inhabited the bottom of my desk drawer. Hence, for me, it’s a win-win situation. In my opinion—and it’s only that—the writers most likely to benefit from self publishing are:

1)      Traditionally published authors with an established reader base

  1. whose manuscripts aren’t a fit for traditional publishers or
  2. who have had rights to previous works returned and are looking for new readers or
  3. who would like to exercise more control over their writing and are in the enviable position of foregoing an advance and
  4. who are willing and financially able to secure the services of a professional editor and graphic artist and
  5. who have the time to tackle marketing (or the funds to hire a professional marketer)

2)      Unpublished authors

  1. who have disciplined themselves to learn the craft of writing by writing and rewriting and writing again, joining critique groups, entering contests, attending writing conferences and workshops, garnering agent and/or editor interest, implementing feedback, and for whom “timing” may be the only thing that’s off (this depth of discipline is almost always a long-term commitment, as in: years and years) and
  2. who are willing and financially able to secure the services of a professional editor and graphic artist and
  3. who have the time to tackle marketing (or the funds to hire a professional marketer)

In conclusion, viable self publishing is here to stay, so even if you’re not ready to “test the waters,” do explore this new and exciting (yes, at times frustrating) road to publication.

EPILOGUE

A wife, mother, and cookbook fiend, Tamara Leigh lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and sons, a Doberman Pinscher that bares its teeth not only to threaten the UPS man but to smile, and a Shih Tzu with a Napoleon complex and something of an eating disorder. To learn more about Tamara and read excerpts of her books, visit: www.tamaraleigh.com. For recipes and musings, visit her Kitchen Novelist blog: www.tamaraleighauthor.wordpress.com