Over the next few weeks I am going to be looking at all the ways “to skin a cat” in publishing. I am going to interview and feature guest posts with different authors from different publishing options. So if, like me, you are at that painful and exciting point of trying to make the most informed choice…stick around and watch this space. Perhaps one of the options will stand out for you and perhaps one of these authors that I interview or who guest-post will inspire you down the same path.
I am coming at this with a completely open mind and non-judgmental attitude. I am doing this series as much to get more information for myself and educate myself as I am any reader whom finds this interesting or useful.
Also if you want to be one of the authors to be interviewed or guest post on this topic in this series, please shout out.
*My Guarantee: No Cats will be harmed or skinned in the writing of this series!*
😼 😼 😼 😼 😼
Today I have the great pleasure to kick off this series of “The Many ways to skin a cat” Talking Publishing options with a prolific YA Author and one of my closest friends and writing mentors: Patti Larsen
Patti Larsen is a YA author with 15 books published. Her readers love her and other authors respect her. She is an author first and foremost and writing is her business.
So pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable as Patti talks about her business, the business of writing and publishing, with me on Dragonfly Scrolls.
1. Patti, you have made yourself a well-known and well-regarded name amongst Indie authors & YA authors. Can you tell us what “being Indie” means to you?
Patti >> Being an independent author/publisher means I’m able to be my own boss, just how I like it. There was a time when having a publisher (and I’ve signed with two in the past) was the best thing in the world, the core of the dream I’d been longing for my whole life. But times are changing and my inner entrepreneur (I’ve owned three businesses) just couldn’t tolerate not having the reins in my hands. I’m the type of person who has to try every single job in a profession in order to understand that profession, and working with a publisher simply didn’t give me that flexibility. I like to get my hands dirty as well as know exactly what’s happening day in, day out, with my business–from sales to pricing, marketing to production, cover design, editing, you name it. I often found myself in the dark and waiting on one publisher (I’ve now parted ways with the company) for even the most basic answers. The realization I had lost control, that signing away my rights meant I no longer had the ability to see how the process advanced, I put on the submission brakes and dove back into what I love–being a writer AND a businesswoman. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
2. Nowadays there are so many options for authors but the sheer amount of publishing options can create confusion. Why did you decide to go the pure Indie route of self-publishing?
Patti >> Think of it this way: you can have a boss (traditional publishing) who assigns you work and gives you a paycheck based on what they think you’re worth at the end of every quarter(if that frequently), with no transparency on accuracy of profit reporting and no input into how your work (cover design, final edits) is produced. All while expecting you to do the majority of the marketing, relying on you for the success of the work while keeping the majority of the profit. Or you can open your own small business (indie publishing) and take the project on yourself, hire a team of professionals to come together as a partnership, ensuring the final product is exactly what you wanted. Track day by day the amount of money you’re making and keep the profit for yourself, minus expenses. I’m not bashing traditional publishing. For some people, the first scenario is what they are looking for. And that’s okay. But to me it’s a no brainer.
3. You hear of authors switching methods of publication from seeking traditional representation from agents & the Big6 to small press to self-publishing. Did you try any other route in publishing before settling on self-publishing and can you tell us what these routes were?
Patti >> Settling seems like a harsh word. I feel now like had I signed a large contract, that would have been settling. None of us are immune to the call of the dream, however: write a best seller, find the perfect agent who signs you with the big publisher for the seven figure advance and everyone lives happily ever after in a nirvana of creativity and public accolades. It’s been thrown in our faces over and over again as the only way to be successful. Thank goodness the lie of the dream is finally being challenged. I spent years querying and submitting to agents and publishers, signing with two separate presses. I’m so glad it happened that way first–had I signed with the Big 6, after all I’ve learned, it would have been like selling my soul.
4. On the converse side of the debate, are you a dyed-in-the-wool Indie author or would you ever consider the lure of a Big6 publishing contract?
Patti >> They would have to change their model drastically for me to consider it. Drastically. For instance, I’d need full transparency on all financial matters. They would have to prove to me the value of publishing with them beyond putting my books in brick and mortar stores. That’s my new rule of thumb–what can you do for me I can’t do for myself? 99% of the time, the answer is nothing. As things stand now, I would turn them down. I’m a highly prolific author with a structured release schedule. Having to veer from that because of their demands or being forced to go from publishing two books a month to one a year would simply not work for me. And since most publishing contracts (especially coming out of New York) now require a non-compete clause (meaning I’d be unable to publish on my own while under contract), that would put a serious damper on my schedule. There are a number of other reasons, but mostly because I’m a businesswoman and see the pure benefits of being in charge. Besides, signing a contract and receiving an advance doesn’t mean anything until you earn out that advance. I recently read of an indie author who is being forced to pay back his sizeable advance to his publisher because of low sales. No thank you!
5. What would you say is the most important piece of advice you were given in your dream to become a published author?
Patti >> I hate to beat a dead horse… my dear friend and incredibly talented writer, Joseph Paul Haines, (www.josephpaulhaines.com) was the one who broke the last thread of control the dream had over me. We butted heads over the issue at first, me the champion of traditional publishing and he the level-headed voice of reason. He finally asked me what the hell I, a capable and seasoned businesswoman, was thinking (it still makes me laugh). I will be forever grateful to him.
6. Being Indie means that you have to be your own Marketing guru and Public Relations expert, what have you learnt about marketing your own books as an Indie Author?
Patti >> This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. A career. Like any business, it takes time to grow. We’re actually in an enviable position as writers/entrepreneurs. With the connectiveness of the world through the internet, building our business is much easier than ever. Bear in mind, most small business don’t see a profit for up to five years. Meanwhile, I’ve been selling independently for eight months and I’ve made back my investments already. Am I typical? No, I know I’m not. But the other side of the equation is production. Dean Wesley Smith, (www.deanwesleysmith.com) an advocate of indie publishing, himself the author of over 100 novels and a veteran of the publishing industry, puts it like this: think of your business like a bakery. If you make awesome cookies, fantastic. People will rush out to buy those cookies. But if you only have one kind to offer, eventually folks will get sick of them and you’ll lose business. But, if you have a fully stocked store with new merchandise available all the time, your customers will keep coming back over and over again. He’s so right. When I do a special promotion of one of my novels, I see a wonderful upswing in sales of that book–but I also see an equal rise in sequel sales. Meaning I’m not just benefiting from one book, but many. Readers then peruse my store for more goodies, driving up sales of my other series. The more you have to sell, the more money you make. It’s simple math. So many writers put all of their time and effort into marketing one book. And while it works for some, the majority come out disappointed. Marketing is important–but if you don’t have much for sale, you’ve pretty much thrown your efforts out the window.
7. Everyone keeps on about the importance of developing “your own brand” as an author. Do you agree and how have you built “your own brand”?
Patti >> Yes, I agree with branding, though I know for some it’s a dirty word. As authors, we’re notorious for being introverts who hate coming out into the sunlight except for book signings and grocery shopping (and both begrudged!). I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a lifetime of performance experience, so I’m very comfortable and even welcome media attention and the connections that come from networking with readers and other authors. I make sure to use the same bio image for all of my sites, promos and posts, as well as on the backs of my books. My flagship series, The Hayle Coven Novels, has a very distinctive look, allowing me to use the imagery as an easily recognizable symbol representing me and my writing. I guest post as frequently as possible and am always available to other writers as a helping hand as well as doing frequent giveaways to readers. And I’m everywhere I need to be as often as I can be, at least virtually, from Facebook to Twitter, Goodreads and my Amazon author page as well as many other sites like LinkedIn and Pinterest. I if you’re just getting started branding, I highly suggest you not overwhelm yourself with a million different sites. Pick one, get really comfortable with it, then add another. First and foremost is a webpage/blog. Second is Facebook. Third Twitter. And so on. Don’t frustrate yourself by taking on too much at one time. Remember what I said? This isn’t a sprint. You’ve loads of time to build yourself and your books into a visible presence.
8. Nowadays the world is a smaller place through social media and the internet. How important a tool do you believe social media is to an author today and what tips would you give an author in how to use it effectively?
Patti >> My biggest tip? Don’t use social media as a sales avenue. I know this sounds counter intuitive, but think about the name: social media. It’s a place to connect with people, not sell them things. A place to make friends from around the world, not annoy the ones you already have with BUY MY BOOK. The only times I post my books on social media are A) when I have a new one released. I alert everyone once, on all networks. And B) when I’m doing a freebee or giveaway. The rest of my status updates are either links to other people’s free books, witty (I try anyway) stuff I think might make people laugh (I’m sure I’m way less amusing than I think I am), one-time shares of blogs I’m guest posting on and occasional updates on how my writing is going. I do have a Facebook fan page: this is where I update folks on book progress, cover reveals and all things Patti Larsen Books. But again, I don’t overload them with marketing. I offer a page where they can find links to all of my books. And on my webpage, instead of pushing sales, I offer an Amazon trailing widget (www.pattilarsen.com) that scrolls my books past you on the top of the page with clickable links to each novel. The best way to market your books is to be accessible, friendly, open and willing to help others. Making connections with people, friends even, comes first and foremost. Because when you do, they automatically jump on your bandwagon when the time comes to sell more books. Please don’t get me wrong–I don’t see my online friends as tools, not in the least. Our relationships come first. But I’m happy to know they think enough of me to pimp me out.
9. What would you say has been the biggest learning curve for you in Indie Publishing, and would you say the greatest challenge was the publishing aspect or the marketing aspect?
Patti >> This is such a huge question. The learning curve has been enormous and I’m still at it (and always will be). In fact, it’s had such a huge impact on me, I’ve created a course on the subject, which I’m teaching more and more frequently. That said, I love a challenge, so this evolution has been the most fun I’ve ever had. If I had to choose one thing that was the hardest, marketing would be it. Not because it’s hard, but because there is so much conflicting advice on the subject and every book requires a different approach. Trial and error, experimentation rather than sticking to one method has served me well, though I feel like I’ve finally found a good promotion strategy for myself. But even that is ebbing and changing all the time! Best advice? Have fun with it, seriously. Don’t look at it like a job (this goes for social media and building your brand, too!) or a drudgery. This is an awesome part of the process that should leave you happy.
10. Considering the question of editing, how important do you think it is that all books (Indie or Big6) be edited professionally?
Patti >> I can’t stress enough how important a good editor is. If you find one (I guard mine jealously and hope she never, ever leaves me) do the dance of joy. You’ve just found a partner who will help you take your work above and beyond, into a place of greatness. Always, always, always (did I say it enough times?) put out your very best work and only your very best work. And an excellent editor is a vital component to that end. How do you find one? Start auditioning them. I know having a few edit your first chapter won’t help you know if they are good at content edits or not, but you’ll at least see how fast they are, their take on grammar (so important!!) and how comfortable you are with them. Ask around as well, to other Indie authors. Many great editors are leaving publishers to freelance. But be cautious: there are more bad editors out there (with good intentions, don’t get me wrong!) who don’t really understand what you need than there are good ones. Choose wisely!
11. If you have a Big 6 contract and/or an agent – you have project deadlines to keep you motivated to finish that draft and keep you from procrastinating. How do you, as an Indie author, keep yourself motivated to keep finishing those drafts?
Patti >> I’m a very structured and organized person. I track my progress daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly. I know what my plan is well in advance, balancing cover design delivery with editing on the last book while I write the next one, etc. Without a plan, if you don’t treat writing as a career, it’s easy to fall into the procrastination pit and not get anything done. Trust me, I have my days. But I also have very firm goals and readers to please, so I have to focus. It helps I love what I do so much I can hardly stand it. This is what I’ve always wanted, ever since I was twelve years old. And while life can get in the way of my passion, there’s no silencing the voices.
12. If an unpublished writer came to you to get advice on whether they should go the Indie route or a more Traditional route in publishing, what 3 tips would you give that writer?
- One: Do your research. Check out The Passive Voice (www.thepassivevoice.com), a legal eagle blog that dissects contracts into human terms, as well as Dean Wesley Smith and his wife, Kristine Katherine Rusch (www.kriswrites.com). Both have been in the industry for years and years, been publishers themselves, have had Bix 6 deals and have independently published. They know their stuff.
- Two: Ask yourself–what can a publisher do for me I can’t do for myself? Right now, the only things are a) free editing (but bear in mind you then have no control over that editing–they get what they want, not the other way around), b) free cover design (see previous) and c) placement in brick and mortar stores. Is that worth 90% (in the case of the Big 6) of your royalties? Not to mention the 15% your agent will take from that measly 10% you receive once or twice a year with no idea if your publisher is tracking and reporting your sales correctly (I’m not blowing smoke, here. There’s an inquiry happening right now on just this issue, involving ebook reporting).
- Three: Decision time. Are you the type of person willing to put in the work necessary to make this happen? I’m in the enviable position that this is my full-time job. And yes, I work hard at it–but that’s why I’m doing so well. Effort out, success in, like with anything. But many people are succeeding while working full-time. So, are you excited about doing it yourself but a little scared/daunted? Then go for it. If, however, you’d rather just write and have everything done for you, traditional publishing is your way to go.
Patti, thank you for your time and your advice. I especially love “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. A career. Like any business, it takes time to grow. We’re actually in an enviable position as writers/entrepreneurs. With the connectiveness of the world through the internet, building our business is much easier than ever. ” I could not agree more. This is a marathon and us writers are in it for the long term. This is also our business. It’s serious. You gave some really great tips and gave us all a great peek into the world of publishing Indie-style. Definite food for thought there. ~ Kim
Patti Larsen is a middle grade, young adult and adult author with a passion for the paranormal. Her YA thriller series, The Hunted, started it all, released in August, 2011. The first four books of The Hayle Coven Novels, Family Magic, Witch Hunt, Demon Child and The Wild are also out now, with book five, The Long Lost, due for release this May. Her YA steampunk series, Blood and Gold, can be found on Amazon along with The Diamond City Trilogy. Her YA paranormal novel, Best Friends Forever, is also due in May along with more of the Hayle Coven Novels. Two of her books, Family Magic (Hayle Coven #1) and Run (The Hunted #1) were recently shortlisted for the PEI Book Awards. Patti is a full-time writer and a part-time teacher of her Get Your Book Done program. She lives on the East Coast of Canada with her very patient husband and four massive cats.
You can find her:
- On her website www.pattilarsen.com
- On Facebook www.facebook.com/pattilarsenauthor
- On Twitter www.twitter.com/#!/PattiLarsen
- On Amazon.com and Goodreads
XOXOXO thank you 🙂
- There’s more than one way to skin a cat…Part 1 (kimkoningink.com) – Introduction to this series
- Giving books away successful for author (cbc.ca) – Patti Larsen – sales strategy
- Family Magic Trailer – Behind the Scenes (riteshkala.wordpress.com) – Patti Larsen on book trailers
- Independent Publishers Reciprocate Information (allthingsfulfilling.com)
- Traditional…POD…Indie – OH MY! Publishing Choices, Part 2 by Susan Spann (writersinthestorm.wordpress.com)
- Publish vs Self-Publish – A Voice of Reason? (fakeplasticsouks.blogspot.com)
- Logic Error (undiscoveredauthor.wordpress.com)
- Are Self-Published Authors Happier Than Traditionally Published Authors? (chazzwrites.com)
- The Lady Or The Tiger – Publishing Choices Part I (writersinthestorm.wordpress.com)
- “Rejection by publishers no longer has the same power” (leegoldberg.typepad.com)
- The Benefits of Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing (amarketingexpert.com)
- Self-publishing vs traditional: Which is better? (robot6.comicbookresources.com)
- Financial Indie: Financing Your Writing Career (worldadventurers.wordpress.com)