3 S.R. Johannes: October 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Walking the fence in publishing

I can't help but at times feel that I still want it all.

Both a traditional path and self pubbing path.

Maybe it's my awkward need or my want to belong. Or maybe I don't like to be pigeonholed. Not force myself into one box or standard. Maybe I'm greedy. Maybe I have a dual personality.

I don't know what it is, but I find myself looking at my future with both sides of the fence in mind.

This side of the fence is hard!

Why do I still pine for the "old flame"sometimes ? Because indie publishing is soooo HARD!!!!! It's so fun and I love the control, but I'm exhausted.

I've had a great start. In 9 months, I've sold almost 15,000 books (5,000 just since September) but I admit I still feel a need to be a part of the traditional industry in some way.

As I've mentioned in the past - I wear soooooo many hats and with each book that comes out - those hats multiply exponentially. I have tried to put things in place to help to lighten my load but I'd admit - I over commit and there is always so much to do. Especially in marketing, which I have a hard time not doing. It's in my blood.

For example - today I want to do write but I have to gather and track my quarterly reports just to keep on top of my sales. And this is for every channel (which there are more than 5 for me right now)

My intern, Kate, has helped keep me stay organized. Love her!  But that is only a few hours a week. I miss those days of my agent cheering me on, giving me advice, complimenting my writing, and standing behind me. I miss having that one person on my side. At times, when I get tired, I find myself wishing I had someone invested in me again, someone that believed in me and my writing. Someone besides me and my mother :)

To keep self pubbing, I have to stay on it every day.

And some days I just want to write. Or breathe. Or watch TV or just be lazy.

But there are always many, many on my To Do list. And they all seem urgent with some kind of timeline. Besides PTA, family, personal, and girl scout stuff, there is all the other stuff that comes with self pubbing - the stuff beyond writing and promotion. And you have to do them all -  across several different projects. Keeping it all straight is almost impossible.

No matter what the opinion is, indie pubbing gets lonely and difficult. And it's HARD doing it all on your own. It's like owning your own business and it's growing but you can't hire any employees because it is not a guarantee.

I'm not saying traditional is not hard. But in self pubbing - you are a one man show. Always. For everything.

Walking the fence

Even as I pave my own way or find some level of success in this crazy publishing biz, at times, I still feel like the "odd man out" - on both sides.

In general, the traditional side of me questions some parts of self pubbing - how it is flooding the book world with a lot of "not so great" stuff. So, part of me wants a traditional publishing opportunity (that many self published authors don't agree with at all) so I can be the best I can be. I'm a good writer but I still make mistakes and I want to learn more.

But, then there is my self pubbing side which questions the validity of the traditional vetting process and the growth opportunities for authors (which of course many traditional authors don't agree with at all ).

So because of this outlook, I don't feel like I really belong to either side of the fence, therefore, always feel slightly awkward. Whether I am at a school visit or selling books at a conference. It's like high school all over again. I was a cheerleader but didn't really fit in b/c it wasn't quite me and you could tell. Yet because I was a cheerleader, other kids avoided me just because of the stereotype of a cheerleader. I should have just stuck with soccer or music.

It's hard to want both in this industry. It's like a war or something - everyone saying I "have" to choose. So what ends up happening is I sometimes get the feeling of walking down the middle and both sides firing because they don't know whose side you are on. Yet I don't want to put down either side and I want to be a part of both sides.

What about strategic decisions?

I believe there is a specific place for everything.

Why can't my decision to self pub just be a simple strategic decision in my career as an author? Why does it have to be one or the other based on opportunity or skill?

Self pubbing doesn't have to be a "way out" - you do skip the agent/editorial vetting process (no matter if you even want it) but it's hard to stand out. Hard to do it all on your own. The readers are the vetters. And trust me, indie authors can't get away with anything. Whether it is a couple of typos that slipped through your copyeditors fingers or the stigma, it always hangs over you.

Yet, trust me, for most self pubbing is definitely  not a "way in" either - generally it isn't a way in to traditional anyway so don't go into it for that. Agents and editors generally aren't seeking self pubbed books to redo. That is a very small percentage. And no matter what you hear, it's not 15,000 copies that gets you there, it is mostly luck or 100,000 sales with some press.

Self pubbing is about what works best. it's not always fair just like traditional pubbing.  In indie publishing - certain books sell better than others. YA suspense, contemporary, paranormal, and romance. New adult and adult romance as well as adult thrillers. Like it or not, you can have the best historical fiction but chances are it won't do great in indie pubbing.

What is my future? (rhetorical question ;)

Well, I am not someone who can just write to sell. To stay with the same series even though it makes money. That is probably good business sense for self pubbers and works well for many but I have other ideas I want to put out.

From a marketing perspective - some of my books just don't make sense to self pub and some do. Not all of my work would fit on both sides anyway. So why not choose some for one side and some for the other side?

So today, I am making my declaration public to the universe - I want both! Is that so bad? There are pros and cons to both sides and I want to experience both because sometimes you can only go so far unless you learn failure and success in new ways.

Yet I wonder if there is a place in the middle for hybrid authors to take the best of both worlds.

That one special project

Now I have one special project that could go either way in this industry. It's now choosing the way that is the hardest thing.

I have a new project - a timely YA cyber thriller that I think has great potential - but which way do I go? Do I self pub it and continue down that path knowing how hard it is? Knowing that sometimes there is only so far you can get on your own? Possibly limiting my readership potential due to limited distribution.

Or do I query agents/editors and start all over again? Knowing the book is timely and probably shouldn't wait 2 years. Yet knowing it has huge commercial potential.

And then if I go traditional with this story... do I query under an alias and hide all my sale information to get away from the stigma? Because like it or not - there is a stigma - whether you have great sales or not. Or should I proudly use my name and sales, knowing it could impact my book's chances. Maybe I should just hope to find someone who can look past the stigma of self publishing and focus on my skill and the book's merit. See my self pubbing as a win/a strength more than a weakness.

I've decided I want to be a hybrid author. Someone who is on the fence doing both - but committed to putting out good out books in the best way. Whether that is possible or not is the question.

This is not a popular view. I tend to choose those somehow. Many self pubbed authors want you to commit to self publishing, while many traditional authors say you are a sell out if you choose self pubbing. In addition, many agents and editors say you can't have it both ways.

I say why not? I truly see benefits in walking the fence.

How is now my question.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lulu's Brew - Just in time for Halloween

Elizabeth Dulemba stops by to discuss the journey of LULU's BREW. I've known Elizabeth since high school and we recognized each other a few years ago at a Southern Breeze SCBWI conference. Small world! :)

 My new picture book, LULA’S BREW, did not follow the normal publishing path. Yes, the dummy made the rounds in New York - twice. But that’s not how she finally entered the world. I made her into one of the first iPhone children’s book apps way back in 2009, when apps were a new and radical thing. Later I adapted her to the iPad too. She earned me a lot of press. I wrote articles for trade magazines, did some very high-tech school visits, and received several invitations to speak on the topic. I was one page ahead in the manual and that made me an expert. 

But really, I was just listening to my radar. I’ve come to trust it over the years. And this is what it tells me...

Traditional publishing is going through radical changes right now, much like the music industry did several years ago. Everybody predicted the downfall of the big publishing houses when ebooks started taking off, but I’m starting to see a trend in another direction. 

Ebooks are just another way to read. Just like paperbacks were a cheaper way to enjoy stories when they first came on the scene. Just like Gutenberg’s press made books more widely available rather than killing the hand-made book. 

I watch my young cousins with my iPad. I used to download picture books onto it, but it quickly became apparent that an electronic device meant games to them - not books. And I watch my own reading habits. I love my Kindle because I don’t have the space to keep every physical book I read. But I don’t like reading on my iPad - a backlit screen. My husband, however, reads on his iPhone and his Nook Color all the time. 

What this says to me is people like to read in different ways and now we have options. And for every method to read there is another way to create or produce a book. One of the most interesting reactions I heard on the topic was from Shelli herself over a breakfast get-together. She said her audience isn’t the same that buys physical books - it’s a completely new and different demographic. Her audience gobbles up books like candy - fast and furiously, and electronically. Fascinating.

And yet, I am coming full circle. LULA’S BREW was downloaded over 10,000 times as an app. But even with all her success, I kept getting emails from fans asking “Where can I buy the book?” Picture books, it would seem, still have strong appeal in print. 

I did consider self-publishing, but following Shelli’s experiences with her novels quickly proved to me that was an area I didn’t want to tackle. (It’s hard work!) So I was thrilled when I came across an article in Shelf Awareness about an ebook publisher, Xist Publishing, who was turning successful children’s ebooks into print books. Why? They discovered their books sold better and for more money when they were available both electronically and in print. How’s that for turning technology on its head? I immediately got in touch and happily, they flipped over LULA’S BREW and took it on.

But perhaps even more interesting is how Xist publishes books. They are a traditional house using unconventional methods. They use print-on-demand resources like Amazon’s Createspace and/or Lightning Source to produce their books as orders come in. It’s a radical idea that saves money and resources - there’s no warehousing and no waste. Might this be the wave of the future?

Two years ago everybody was predicting the demise of the print book. But today, I think we can safely say the physical book is not dead - at least in children’s books. It’s just that now we have so many ways to read. If anything, it seems that reading is a growing past-time among a growing audience!

I’m thrilled to include LULA’S BREW among the print picture books available this Halloween season.

Elizabeth Dulemba
" During my graphic design career, I was often Art Director, but always in-house illustrator, creating art mostly for child-related industries such as Buster Brown Apparel (I drew Charlie Brown and Snoopy for many years), Brach’s candy, even the Stone Mountain Laser Show. My graphic design background gave me an intimate knowledge of the publishing process and enough web savvy to create my own web site. In fact, I embrace all things technological and create my illustrations digitally. I even created one of the first picture book apps available for the iPhone way back in 2009, LULA'S BREW(downloaded over 10,000 times)."

To find her, visit her web site.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Building the best self-publishing team

Miral Sattar (founder of Bibliocrunch, a service one-stop for self pubbers) stops by to talk about creating a great self pubbing team!

Why is building a publishing team important?

There is so much activity in the publishing space in terms of new platforms and tools that are accessible to everyone. There is no barrier to entry to publish a book anymore. The publishing industry is the last to go digital, hence it can be argued that it's going through the quickest transition. Because the tools are accessible to everyone there are a greater number of self-published and indie books published. Because so many books are being put out, there is also an increase in the number of “bad” books being published. “Bad” books have poor covers that someone used PowerPoint to create, or books that have clearly not been edited well. “Bad” books have grammar errors and are poorly formatted or not been proofed. Because of the rise of “bad’ books this has given self-publishers and indie authors a negative reputation.

So even though it's much easier to publish a book, it's even harder to get it noticed and make it stand out. By building a solid publishing team you make sure that you cover all your bases in the book publishing process. You don’t just need a good story but need someone to help you design a cover, you need editing (not yourself) from a professional editor, you need a proofer to make sure your book is free or errors and you need marketing for your book to help readers find you. You can pretty much get ‘Big Six’ publisher quality if you have put together a great publishing team because there are no publishing services that a big publisher can provide that you can’t get done through your own publishing team.

What is quality?

Quality is making sure that your book is in the best shape it can be for your reader: you have an eye-catching cover, a well-edited book without grammar mistakes or types, an error-free version that is converted correctly (you don’t want to run into the JK Rowling Last Vacancy situation J  where readers couldn’t adjust the font), a great landing page on Amazon which conveys what the book is about, having good meta data, and a good marketing plan. A lot of writers tell me that they don’t have any capitol to hire professionals for their book and can pretty much do everything for free themselves. Which is fine, if you don’t want anyone to buy your book and you just want to give it away for free.

Membership Special

We also have a special discount code for premium memberships. 
If you would like to join BiblioCrunch, use promo code UNTR to get 50% off a premium subscription with a number of bonus features.

BiblioCrunch helps connect authors and publishers with book publishing professionals to get new books and apps to market. With an exclusive community of professionals who have worked for some of the largest publishing houses, including Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Random House, and Harper Collins, BiblioCrunch authors can get access to resources that BIG SIX publishing have.

Miral Sattar
Miral Sattar is a NYC-based writer and tech entrepreneur. She is the founder and CEO of BiblioCrunch, a platform that connects authors with quality, vetted book publishing professionals. She has worked in the media industry for 11 years, most recently at TIME where she launched several digital initiatives including an iPad and mobile site, mobile apps, a video and podcast channel, blogs, and SEO. Her writing has been featured in TIME, CNN, NY Daily News, among other media publications. She has a MS in Publishing (Digital + Print Media) from NYU and a BS from
Columbia University in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. You can follow Miral on Twitter at @BiblioCrunch.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Novelettes on the rise!

I released #1 (Suffocate) in my Breathless Novelette series in June. At the time, I had no idea they would become so popular in the indie world! Choke #2 comes out the end of Oct and Exhale #3 comes out in mid Dec. They will all be packaged as a paperback for the holidays.

But Isobel Lucas wrote her Hell Bent series and is releasing them 2 weeks apart. Smart idea!

Novellettes are becoming popular to indies because they are faster to write, you can release them quickly, and they grab your audience for the series because they come out faster than novels.

Indie readers tend to not like to wait for follow ups so the fact that Isobel is releasing them back to back is cool.

Hell Bent, Heaven Sent novelette series starts in October and will release every 2 weeks until the end of the year. 

(NOTE: Due to sex and language, this is New Adult recommended for readers 17 and up!)

Hell Bent, Heaven Sent - #1 is On Raven's Wings (10,000 words)

Mary Joseph's family is going through a financial crisis and now she's forced to finish out senior year at the local public school. In an effort to erase her Catholic school girl image, she joins a rock band, gets a makeover from her best friend, and changes her name to Raven.

Ian, the hottest guy in school, notices her and she's plunged into a world she never expected to enter. His kisses are as steamy as his body, but Raven doesn't know if he's telling her the truth about his bizarre family or if he's just saying anything to convince her to go all the way.

When disaster hits Raven's family, she has to make a decision: ignore Ian's wild claims or take a leap of faith.

On Raven's Wings is the first episode in a series of five novelettes (10,000 - 15,000 words) releasing every two weeks starting October 23rd. Due to sex and language, this is recommended for readers 17 and up.

To celebrate, head to her blog - she is she is running a huge giveaway.

Can free books help your sales?

First - here are a few updates/winners of a few contests I am behind on:

1) Mundie Moms Pinterest contest for Untraceable/Uncontrollable is still going on until 10/16. Huge Nature of Grace package is at stack.

2) The winner of my Nature of Grace contest for helping spread the word is Daisy at daisykr_99@yahoo.com . I will email you!

3) The winner of the 20 ebook giveaway last month - is Susan Sowers Light at books4susie@aol.com. I will email you!

Free ebook experiment

So 2 weeks before I put Uncontrollable out, I decided to put Untraceable free for 2 weeks. This takes some effort and adjusting since Amazon doesn't allow free pricing. My thinking? Maybe if I open up the readership more, it will drive up interest for Uncontrollable.

Many thought I was crazy for giving Untraceable away for free. Some thought it was a mistake, afraid it would cheapen my book. And I must admit, the thought of my book being free was horrible. My book is worth more than free. I've seen some of the books on free and I felt my value justified a higher price. But I kept telling myself it was an experiment. It was only 2 weeks. (a long 2 weeks).

This is what I tell people about marketing - sometimes you have to experiment and see what works for you. I have a couple other experiments going on so I'll update on those when I can.

So here is how it went:


  • Over 65,000 downloads on Amazon! (my goal was 25,000 so you can imagine my surpriseI was #2 in all Amazon ebooks on the free list
  • Over 40,000 downloads on Apple. I was #2 in all ibooks on free list just under the Ipad user guide
  • Under 1,000 on Kobo/Smashwords/Other combined

That's over 100,000 people that have my book in a queue. If I get a 10% conversion rate (which is high) that could be 10,000 in potential sales for Uncontrollable.

Aftermath (week after untraceable went free and uncontrollable was launched)

  • Over 500 reviews on Apple (I had about 20 to begin with)
  • about 100 emails in last week asking about the series
  • 400 downloads for Unspeakable (free short story in the series)
  • increase in sales of my other books
  • 1600 sales for Uncontrollable (actual monetary sales in a week)
  • 1200 for Untraceable (actual monetary sales in a week) - securing my 10,000 in sales in one year goal.
  • This was my biggest week in sales and money yet since I published 9 months ago.


  • 100,000 downloads I didn't make money on :( I wish!
  • My first 1 star review on Amazon (and it is a doosey ;) - I consider this a battle scar to be proud of.
  • Question of "does going free diminish the value of my book?"
  • Pissing off people who paid.
  • It doesn't work for everyone or every book. Some of it is pure luck of the draw.
  • It takes time to contact all the sites and they don't always pick it up.
  • There are thousands of books that are free so it's hard to stand out.

Lessons learned
Now, tons of people put their books for free and don't get this many downloads. Here are some tips.

  • Have a good cover!! Get people who don't know you to look at it. It's amazing how many self pubbed authors really think their covers are good but they are not. If your book is not selling, chances are it's your cover.
  • Let ebook sites know. There are many sites that post about free ebooks to their readers. I had 20,000 downloads just in the first day I submitted/contracted to about 30 ebook sites sales.
  • Keep it short term. Going free is a good SHORT term marketing technique where you set an end in mind. Unless you have a longer series out (over 3 books) and then maybe the first book for free would bleed into your others.
  • Upload directly. Make sure you upload to Apple and Kobo yourself. This gives you the freedom to control your pricing. Amazon price matches so if anyone has it free. If you are only on Smashwords, you cannot control when the price gets distributed to the sites. 
Here are some other articles that discuss advantages and disadvantages of going free.