A Q and A with Historical Fantasy Fiction Co-authors Renee Peters and Rae Stilwell
It’s not easy to self-publish…
Choosing to self-publish, to be an Indie author, is hard work. Period. Especially since you only have yourself to be accountable to for your choices, your successes and your failures. When you get it right, you’re on top of the world and happy to take the credit. But when it seems to go wrong, there is a selfish (and sometimes lazy) part of your writing nature that’s tempted blame anyone or anything else for the reason. It’s easier to believe you nailed your storytelling the first time around.
We’re Starting over
I’ll be the first to admit that in our co-authoring duo, Rae is way more willing to embrace the re-writing or revising process than I am. The past year, however, has really opened my eyes to how exciting and rewarding the process of honing our craft and learning our readership preferences can be.
Ten novels, a reader magnet and two short stories were reborn from our original chunky trilogy. That’s a collection that should not only feed a hungry readership in our niche, but also provide a greater income stream once we release them. It’s a new beginning; one we did not chart alone.
It takes a team.
We have always used editors. Especially for the services of developmental editing and manuscript evaluation. While Rae and I are confident in our ability to copy edit and self-publish our own work, it has always helped to have another pair of professional eyes to help refine the rougher edges of our storytelling. We know our world and characters so well that it’s easy to forget that our readers are only now being introduced to them. Somebody has to ‘mind the gap.’ (That might sound familiar to our metro riders out there).
Our Editor Jennifer
Our current editor is Jennifer Dinsmore of Jennifer Dinsmore Editorial in Canada, and she recently interviewed Rae and myself for a Q and A on her website blog, (along with some of her other clients who self-publish). With her permission, I’m reposting that interview for you. It’s as good a way as any to begin our dialogue with each other.
Her original posting can be found here, on her website.
From the Blog of Jennifer Dinsmore
A Q and A with Historical Fantasy Fiction Co-authors Renee Peters and Rae Stilwell
You’ve done it! You’ve written a book. You’re excited, and you want to get it into reader’s hands as soon as possible. But with so many publishing options to choose from, how do you know which is right for you—and your career.
Jennifer Dinsmore: What made you choose to self-publish? Did you try the traditional route at all?
Renee & Rae: After completing the first novel in the original incarnation of the series, we looked at our options and decided from the get-go we would self-publish.
A significant deterrent from taking the traditional route was our realization that if we did get picked up based on our first title, we might have to cede the rights to our story’s universe to the publisher. Given we were still at the developmental stage of our world-building, we didn’t want to get boxed in. There was some concern we would be told what stories we could tell based on someone else’s idea of what would sell. We just wanted to be able to tell our own stories.
There’s a freedom that comes along with the decision to self-publish; from the cover design to choices about the story to how we choose to market. Of course, that also means a lot of work comes along with it.
JD: What platform did you use to publish, and why?
R&R: We did plenty of research and decided the best way to reach the most readers was through Amazon. Having access to the Kindle Unlimited e-reader community, and the resources Amazon provides to monitor your sales and trends directly, were benefits unrivaled by other platforms for a first-time author. Fortunately, the platform makes it very easy for new authors to self-publish, with step–by-step directions for formatting and uploading books as well as categorizing them to reach target audiences.
In addition, we’ve also tried Smashwords for branching out to larger retailers, such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, but Amazon and the Kindle Unlimited service have by far been the most profitable.
JD: Where did you find your publishing team of editors, designers, and so on?
R&R: With Renee’s background as an English teacher, and Rae’s background as a graphic designer, we had a strong in-house team to start. We floated between different editors for the first couple of books and short stories. Fiverr, the service-provider website, was attractive to us as first-time publishers on a tight budget, but we had more negative than positive experiences on the platform when it came to compatibility and the quality of editing services especially.
We did find the artists for our map and book trailer voiceover artists there, but it can be a bit hit-or-miss for long-term planning.
When our editor left Fivver we bounced around, searching the web for long-term editors and learning things ourselves. A year later, we’re still learning and developing our design and editing abilities, and we’ve finally found a home with Jennifer.
JD: Self-publishing involves a lot of self-promotion. Tell us a little about your author platform.
R&R: We’ve found exposure the most effective way to promote. The more we can get our content in front of readers, and use it to direct them to our website and mailing list, the more successful we are.
To that end, we’ve used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as tools to push our content, with our Facebook pages being our main hub. We have also written short stories to offer free to readers on sites like BookFunnel, Reedsy, and our own website. We learned the hard way that without the means to having direct personal contact with our readers we’d have no way to alert them to our releases or build an ARC review team or a social media “street” team. (Made up of people who subscribe to the mailing list and opt to receive ARCs for an opportunity to read early and share honest reviews.)
This year, we’ve made it a goal to more effectively implement our newsletter and leverage our author website. We also hope to turn our Facebook Group into a communication hub for our readers.
JD: What do you find most rewarding about self-publishing? The most challenging?
R&R: The most rewarding thing has been the sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing a book develop from its first draft through to being published and available for purchase. It has been a bucket-list item for both of us to be published authors, and there’s a sense of pride that comes along when community members approach you to ask about your book.
The most challenging thing has been accepting that we are still learning. What began with our first draft of The Best Book We’ve Ever Written has become hundreds of hours of learning how to write and plot a tighter story, and how to make use of the feedback we’ve received to work toward improving.
JD: Are these different than you first anticipated? What do you wish you knew when you started?
R&R: We expected we might not make a ton of money, but we did not anticipate that sales would flatline after Amazon’s new-release exposure boost ended. Learning from others how to work with Amazon’s tools to maximize exposure and profits would have been super helpful the first go around. On January 21, 2018, we published our first title and it wasn’t the bestseller we dreamed.
We’ve since found resources we wish we’d had starting out. One of them is the 20BooksTo50K Facebook group, which we cannot recommend enough for all the advice available to authors just starting out. We also liked Save the Cat Writes a Novel, a guide for plotting out story beats.
JD: What advice would you give to those considering self-publishing?
Anyone thinking about self-publishing will discover pretty quickly that writing is only a small part of what you’ll need to do.
You’ll have to do research to figure out your market and build a team to help with cover design, cover blurbs, and editing. By the time you hit Publish you’re going to be exhausted. Then, the new work of effective marketing will begin—all while you’re beginning the next round of writing.
Basically, there are no “off” days. The most important part is to be willing to admit that you are always learning and always improving—and that’s okay. Success comes in every step, even the ones that feel backwards. 🖉
I LOVE Renee’s and Rae’s attitude and work ethic. Combined, anything becomes possible!
The Best is yet to come…
My co-author and I are so appreciative of Jennifer’s willingness to share her blog space with us. Many of our current mail list members found our website organically through her posting of this interview. She is my inspiration for returning the favor in giving other Indie authors the opportunity to share my own platform. If you’re out there, Indies, I’d love to hear from you.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced in your own efforts to self-publish? Share in the comments.