Many Ways to Skin a Cat | Denise Grover Swank

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.

Open Call

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 am very pleased to have the pleasure of Denise Grover Swank’s company on the blog. It is especially a pleasure because today is Denise’s Birthday – So Happy Birthday Denise!

Denise is not someone to be pegged into a square. She has written across genres, has been a self-publishing success and has just been signed to a top literary agency. As Denise will tell you in this interview, she did not go searching for the accolades, she writes for the love of writing. Her fans fell in love with her writing and she has proven what I have always believed that no matter what genre an author writes in – whether they stick to one genre or one market or diversify and cross genres and markets – the readers will continue reading your books. Once you have turned a reader into a fan, your success as an author is guaranteed.

1. Can you tell us what “being Indie” means to you? 

Denise >> I know there’s a big controversy about what “Indie” means.  Some consider Indie to be published with a small press. Others consider it to include self-published authors. I typically call myself a self-published author. I used to say defensively, now I’m proud of it. I’ve also begun to interchange the words “Indie” and “self-published.”
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 Indie route of self-publishing? 
Denise >>  I started out wanting a traditional book deal. I wrote three books in three different genres and actively queried them with agents but never got an offer of representation. Then Nathan Bransford wrote a post saying he thought there were valid reasons for self-publishing and it was the approval I needed to pursue it. I plan to write a series for my agent, Amanda Luedeke  with MacGregor Literary, to shop to traditional publishers, but even if I sell to a Big 6 publisher, I will continue to self-publish.
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 Indie Publishing and can you tell us what these routes were? 
Denise >>  I was very close to acquiring an agent with my YA Here. She was also reading Chosen, my urban fantasy. I knew the agent liked darker manuscripts and wouldn’t be interested in my rom com mystery, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. But I loved that story and the characters so the thought of the book dying on my hard drive upset me. I decided to self-publish it. During the process to prepare it, the agent rejected Here and I decided to self-publish Chosen. I’ve self-published five books and plan on a sixth in June. I’ve never regretted my decision. I am planning to write a new urban fantasy series for my agent to shop in NY, but I’m doing that to widen my reader base. It’s a business decision.
4. You have just recently been signed by a literary agent. Congratulations!
Can you tell us how this came about?
Denise >> Amanda found me. Chosen had climbed to the top 100 on the Kindle list and hovered in the 20’s for several days and Amanda emailed me and asked if I was seeking representation and said she’d love to chat with me. I really liked Amanda’s forward thinking and loved that she wasn’t threatened by my self-published works. During our conversation, she offered unsolicited career advice with no sign that I would sign with her. That spoke volumes to me. She was the one who suggested I write a new urban fantasy/paranormal romance series. She believes the success of The Chosen series will make me more appealing to New York.
5.  You have already gained huge success as an Indie author.
How will having a literary agent now change things for you as an author? 
Denise >> I’ve had foreign rights and production rights inquiries. I’ve handed all of those over to Amanda to take care of, which has been a huge relief. She’s going to actively pursue other foreign rights sales She also plans to try to sell my new series to a traditional publisher. But my self-published books are mine, and at this point, I’m deciding all my career options.
6. Do you plan on continuing to release books yourself now that you have an agent, or will you be looking mainly at the traditional publishing houses?
Denise >> Yes, I fully intend to continue to self-publish even if I get a traditional book deal. I love the control.
7. 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?
Do you also feel you are now more savvy about the Publishing Industry because of your Indie experience?
Denise >>  I think one benefit to being an indie author is that I can make immediate changes. If I want to change the price of my book or change the cover, I can do it. I don’t have to seek anyone’s permission. I can change the price within hours. I can put a book on sale or set up a free promo. I can decide where I sell my books or if I make them exclusive somewhere. That being said, I really don’t play with prices other than when I raised the price of Chosen and Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes from $0.99 to $2.99. I’m also raising the price of Here to $3.99 after it goes off its $0.99 sale.  (Here is on sale on Barnes & Noble and Amazon until June 1.) Still, I change the price with strategy in mind. I’ve also made both ebooks free for several days but all three times were carefully thought out and calculated.
I feel like I’m very much more savvy about the publishing industry. Amazon distributes 98% of my books, so I’m constantly keeping up on the theories behind current algorithms. I also study pricing in my genres, rankings, the rise and fall of similar book’s sales. I read multiple articles and blog posts a day to keep on top of the latest news and theories. I spend one to four hours a day on research and marketing.
8. 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”? 
Denise >> Yes, I think I have a brand even if it’s not really an actual written concept. I think my “brand” is that I’m somewhat sarcastic and funny (even if in my own mind LOL) I hope people see me as a usually positive person and that I’m generous to my readers. Romance authors typically have a “tag line” or brand for themselves. If I have one it’s: I keep my sanity by creating characters to talk to and worlds to live in. What did I say about my sanity?
9. 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? 
Denise >> I don’t think I’d be here right now without social media. Social media sold my first 200 books when I released Twenty-Eight last July. I was told to expect to sell around 20 books the first month, if I was lucky. But I’d stopped writing my family blog, There’s Always Room for One More, to write novels. I had encouraged all my readers to friend me on Facebook. So when I released my book last year, several people bought it to see what in the world I’d been done for the last two years. Thankfully, most loved it and recommended it to their friends. I watched the book sell in ripples. My friends bought it, then their friends bought it. By last August and September, I was getting reviews on Amazon, B&N and Goodreads from people I didn’t know.(Confession: That actually kind of freaked me out at first. People I didn’t know were reading my book!!!)
As you know, Kim, I’m a big Facebook user. I usually make multiple updates a day. I encourage readers to friend me. I talk to them. I’m forever amazed at the authors who never interact with people on Facebook and Twitter. It’s social media. That’s the point of it. I love talking to my readers and anyone who friends me is “fair game.”  If you’re my friend on Facebook, I’ll comment on your status update if I have something to say. I want readers to know I’m a real person, just like them.
I also use Twitter, but less so than I used to. Most of my readers seem to be on Facebook and I like that we can carry on a “conversation” with relative ease. On Twitter, I have to scroll down MULTIPLE tweets to keep up with a conversation unless it’s in real time.
I have a Tumblr account but haven’t used it in ages. I have a Pintrest account but usually use it to pin pictures associated with my books, like characters and locations.
I try to answer every email, Facebook message, post on my Facebook timeline and tweet. If someone took their valuable time to reach out to me, I want to let them know I appreciate it.
Thank you so much, Kim!
Thank you Denise for taking the time to talk to me and my readers about Publishing Options and the routes you have chosen. You will soon straggle the worlds of both NY Publishing and Self-Publishing and definitely have a unique perspective on the options open to authors today. I especially love the fact that you are a writer who has stuck to your guns on writing the stories you way to and need to write regardless of whether they are in the same genre or different genres than your others. I knew the agent liked darker manuscripts and wouldn’t be interested in my rom com mystery, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. But I loved that story and the characters so the thought of the book dying on my hard drive upset me. I decided to self-publish it.” – I love that you refused to let your story die on your hard drive and decided to self-publish anyway. I wish you even greater success with all your next books.  – Kim

Author Notes

Denise Grover Swank lives in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. She has six children, three dogs, and an overactive imagination. She can be found dancing in her kitchen with her children, reading or writing her next book. You will rarely find her cleaning.

 

You can find out more about Denise and her other books at www.denisegroverswank.com or email her at denisegroverswank@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deniseswank

Twitter: @DeniseMSwank

Book links:
The Chosen Series:
Rose Gardner Mysteries:
On the Otherside Series:
Denise Grover Swank
Author of The Chosen series: Chosen , Hunted and Sacrifice (The Chosen Series) adult urban fantasy, Redemption, (The Chosen #4) October 2012
Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishesa humorous southern mystery, Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons release June 29, 2012
and Here (On the Otherside, #1) a young adult science fiction/romance, There (#2) Late December 2012

The Many Ways to Skin a Cat | Jonathan D. Allen

Upcoming Blog Series: Researching “The Many Ways to Skin a Cat” in Publishing

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.

Open Call

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!*

😼   😼   😼   😼   😼

Are you a writer who writes in a hard-to-market genre? Do you cross or blend genres in your stories? Have agents and editors told you they love your work but don’t know how to market it because it is so “different”? Don’t fear…here’s one author’s take on how he made his writing style work for him and how he took the publishing reins into his own hands…

In interview #2 on The Many Ways to Skin a Cat I have the pleasure of Jonathan D. Allen’s company. He kindly agreed to sit down with me and chat about Publishing, the route he chose and  the tips he has learnt along the way. Jonathan found that his talent for blending the genres of dark fantasy and horror didn’t necessarily translate well to the Big6 but this did not stop him. He took matters into his own hand and decided to go the Indie route.

1. Can you tell us what “being Indie” means to you?

Jonathan >> It means being the master of my own destiny. That can be a good and a bad thing – if things go well, not only am I able to take the kudos, but most of the profit comes back to me, and can be re-invested into things like covers and editing. Of course, if things go badly, I also take the burden of those losses and mistakes. It’s enormously freeing but also scary and depressing at times.

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?

Jonathan >> After a round of rejections from literary agents (most of them friendly and personal – some even praising the writing but saying they didn’t quite know how to sell it), I realized a few things. One was that, in the old model, the traditional route might well have worked for me. It also answered a burning question that’s plagued me throughout my career: when would I be ready? Those responses told me that I was now ready. At the same time, I realized that the kind of fiction I write has limited mass appeal, and I have no interest in changing what I write. If I really wanted to blend genres in the manner that I’m currently pursuing, it made a lot more sense to go it alone, at least for a while.

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?

Jonathan >>As I said above, I did try the agent thing. That had been my dream for years – close to 23 now: get the agent, get the publishing contract, and then see my books in stores. I was 13 years old when I figured out that whole equation, and it was just “what you did” if you wanted to be a novelist. I still toy with the idea of going back to the old way of doing things, but sooner or later something occurs that reminds me that things have changed forever. I won’t lie, part of me misses that old system, but I’m also excited about the future of this industry.

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?

Jonathan >>Right now, I’m flexible. I would prefer to stay indie or possibly move over to a small press that gets what I’m trying to do, but I also won’t lie: I’d love to be able to do this full-time, and if a large six-figure advance dropped in my lap, I’d have to snap it up. I don’t necessarily see that as “selling out”, as I would never accept a contract, no matter the size, that changed what I’m doing. Of course, my current path makes that dream contract a lot less likely, anyway.

5. What would you say is the most important piece of advice you were given in your dream to become a published author?

Jonathan >>”You know, you can do this.” I can still hear that in my head all these years later. Those came from my 10th grade English teacher, who encouraged my creativity at a critical time. She allowed me latitude in the papers that I wrote for that class, and showed me ways that I could use my imagination in not just creating stories, but in my everyday life. I learned from her that I had…well, an exceptional imagination, but I had always believed that either others were better at it, or I was wasting my time with it. She showed me quite the opposite.

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?

Jonathan >>That I’m not a very good marketer. Actually, I’m not so sure how I’ve done, as I’ve followed a lot of the “conventional wisdom”, consumed marketing books for self-publishing, done book blog tours, etc. and seen very little bang for my buck. I’m slowly realizing that the only real conventional wisdom that works is the oldest one: the best marketing for your books is writing and releasing another book (or short story these days).

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”?

Jonathan >>To some extent, I do agree. I couldn’t tell you exactly how my “own brand” would be packaged, but I do know that my stories have certain themes in common, and I can see how they’re evolving as I write them. I think sometimes writers fear that establishing a brand means they won’t be able to write what they want, but I tend to disagree. Look at Stephen King. He’s written sci-fi, horror, straightforward literary fiction, and fantasy, yet each of those stories have an undeniable “Stephen King quality”. It’s all about establishing a signature quality. I’ve focused on that and keeping my book covers consistent as a way of building a brand. The other stuff seems like wasted time.

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?

Jonathan >>I think it’s incredibly important, but not in the ways that a lot of social media marketers would tell you. Sure, it’s a way to advertise your work and maybe get more people aware of your existence as an author, but I think it’s far more important as a tool to connect with other authors, publishers, and readers on a personal level. I’m a total Twitter junkie, and I always shake my head when I see people who spam a link to their book, with no other information, over and over. I think it’s fair to expect a little of that when you follow an author, but the whole point of something like Twitter is carrying on a conversation or giving micro-blog updates to friends/readers. The same applies to Facebook.

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?

Jonathan >>Marketing. Hands-down. I’m in a difficult-to-market genre, which makes getting across the unique aspects of my story even harder. Many times I wonder if the issue is really my approach or just that I’m writing material that is difficult to package.

10. Considering the question of editing, how important do you think it is that all books (Indie or Big6) be edited professionally?

Jonathan >>Extremely. I will not allow a novel to be released under my imprint without it having been edited professionally. The same goes for the beta reading process – nothing leaves without at least one level of beta reading (usually two). Would you want to buy a product that hadn’t been quality tested at some level? I think it’s the same thing here.

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?

Jonathan >>I’ve found that deadlines are counterproductive to my own creativity. That’s not to say that I “wait for inspiration”, I’ve set a goal of writing at least 1,000 words a day, but just that when I have a set deadline, I feel pressure and begin to worry too much over mechanical aspects of the work. That’s fine in my day job as a technical writer – in fact, it’s desirable, but fiction is a whole different beast. I keep myself motivated simply by knowing that I’m mentally healthier when I’m writing on a regular basis. That and the 1,000 word goal are enough to keep me going.

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?

Jonathan >>

  1. Think about what you want – what you really want – out of your career. Be brutally honest with yourself. Are awards and associations important? Would you rather make more money at the risk of appearing less “legitimate”, or would you like to have someone help you chart the waters? There are lots of pros and cons to both traditional and indie publishing.
  2. Ask lots of questions. Talk to people who’ve been both places, whether it’s one person who has done both or several who only have experience in one or the other. Get a feel for what their experiences have been like. Ask them about their pros and cons, and weigh those against what you want from your career.
  3. Remain flexible. Over the course of my first year, I’ve already gone back and forth between which I would prefer, and while I’m fairly settled at this point, I still have some doubts from time to time. What you want may change as your career evolves – try to be open to those changes.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and my readers today Jonathan. What really resonated for me was: “in the old model, the traditional route might well have worked for me. It also answered a burning question that’s plagued me throughout my career: when would I be ready? Those responses told me that I was now ready. At the same time, I realized that the kind of fiction I write has limited mass appeal, and I have no interest in changing what I write. If I really wanted to blend genres in the manner that I’m currently pursuing, it made a lot more sense to go it alone, at least for a while…” So often we as authors want to stretch our wings and pursue a genre that is perhaps a little more off-the-wall than others. Understandably traditional publishing is generally speaking less willing to take a risk on a hard-to-market genre or a blended genre story. This is when Indie is sometimes the best option. At the end of the day, readers will read stories that keep them turning the pages, not caring whether it is an Amazon imprint or a BIG6 imprint. Good stories trump marketing and genre-marketing any day. As you have said Jonathan: “I’m slowly realizing that the only real conventional wisdom that works is the oldest one: the best marketing for your books is writing and releasing another book…”. No matter what route a writer chooses to publish, Keep Writing. ~ Kim

Author Notes

Born and raised in the rural Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Jonathan wrote his first fantasy/sci-fi novel at the age of 13. After studying writing and communication at James Madison University, Jonathan turned his passion for writing into a full-time technical writing career in the DC Metro area, working for companies like Sprint/Nextel, Time Warner Cable, and Sirius XM Radio, where he had an opportunity to combine his love of music with his love of writing.

 He may have drifted away from fiction at times, but it was always his first love – and he always returned to it. Now living in Bethesda with his wife, two cats, and two quirky guinea pigs for whom his publishing company is named, he crafts the kinds of stories that he had always hoped to read but just couldn’t quite find.

You can find him at: