This is an excerpt of L.J. Sellers’s Q&A in Everyday Book Marketing, in which she talks about self-publishing and her path to an Amazon book deal. For more book promo information, and to read L.J.’s complete Q&A, check out Everyday Book Marketing.
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/thriller series as well as standalone thrillers. A Readers’ Favorite winner, L.J.’s novels have been praised by Publishers Weekly, Mystery Scene, and Suspense Magazine, and her Jackson books are the highest- rated crime fiction series on Amazon.
Q: Tell us about how your first book came into the world, and how this led you onto the path of being (and remaining) an independent author.
A: I self-published my first Detective Jackson novel in 2007 after receiving rave rejections from major publishers. That was before the Kindle was released and print-on-demand publishing became available to individuals, so I spent a small fortune on a print run of 3,500 mass-market paperbacks. Then I worked like a madwoman to find a distributor and reach out to bookstores. I got lucky, and the novel was well received and reviewed. So I wrote two more books in the series, which were picked up and published by a small press. I spent ten times as much money promoting the books as I made in royalties. Despite the wonderful reviews from readers, I strongly considered giving up the series and even wondered if I should continue writing fiction. Then I was laid off my newspaper job, and the year 2010 looked very bleak for me.
But during those years, e-books had emerged as a growing market, and POD became a viable option for print books. So I started looking at my options and decided to upload my unpublished stand-alone thrillers to Kindle to see if I could generate some income. I quickly realized I needed to leave my publisher, get the rights back to my Jackson series, and self-publish every story I had—both as an e-book and as a POD print offering. Which I spent a good chunk of the year doing. After I uploaded the fourth Jackson novel in late October, I turned down freelance work for nearly a month and spent eight hours a day promoting my novels. I wrote blogs and articles, posted in forums, bought a few newsletter ads, and gave away hundreds of e-books on Goodreads and LibraryThing.
The results were astounding. By the end of the year, my series was a Kindle bestseller, and I was making a living selling e-books. Since then I’ve published another five books, and I’m living my dream of being a full-time novelist. But that term is a little misleading. Because I was self-published with ten books on the market, I spent as much time running my business as I did writing the next novel.
But all that has changed. Last year I signed an eleven-book contract with Amazon Publishing—nine backlist titles and two new novels. For the record, it’s the only publisher I even considered selling to. Amazon’s contracts are writer-friendly and generous compared to other publishers. And now that the new versions are on the market, Amazon is heavily promoting them, and my sales have doubled. I’m finally free to write full- time. My lifelong dream.
Q: What has been your biggest marketing challenge?
A: The biggest challenge in marketing is to keep finding new opportunities. Because what worked in 2010 quit working in 2011 when every other author started doing the same thing. And what worked six months ago is no longer as effective now. The market is constantly changing, and the competition is fierce. So I continuously have to find and try new marketing ideas, and it’s time consuming.
Q: What advice do you have to offer authors who plan to self-publish?
A: The first thing is to have your work evaluated by objective professionals in the industry to determine if it has commercial potential. If your novel is marketable, then you have a green light to make the investment you need to be competitive. At that point, you need to decide what your goals are. Do you simply want to publish your book to see it in print for family and friends? Will fiction be a sideline, or do you want to make a living from it? Determining what you want out of the self- publishing experience will help you decide how much time and money to spend. Because if you want to sell well and earn a living, the next step is to invest real money in editing, cover design, professional formatting, and promotional spots. You also should commit to spending a couple hours a day on promotion—social networking, blogging, posting in forums, and querying book reviewers. If professionals don’t consider your work to be marketable or you don’t have the time and money to invest at an appropriate level, then you may need to accept that writing novels is a hobby and whatever you invest may never be recovered. That may sound harsh, but it’s the reality of a very competitive market.