Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Indie Publishing: How Five Self-Starters Did It

rsFour indie authors, whose work I've grown to admire, have shared their perspectives with me on self-publishing. It's a great pleasure to have N. Gemini Sasson, Michelle Gregory, Peter Johnson and Kristina Emmons join me on the blog, to talk about do-it-yourself publishing, and the DIY services they used.

N. Gemini Sasson, who writes historical fiction, is the author of The Crown in the Heather, The Bruce Trilogy: Book I, published on June 1, 2010. I've known Gemi for a few years now through online critique groups, and from the start, I knew she was an amazingly gifted, naturally talented writer.

Gemi: "I went with Lightning Source, which allowed me access to Ingram’s distribution channels and online worldwide sales through Amazon. The set-up cost per title is slightly higher than if using CreateSpace, but if enough copies are sold, then using Lightning Source actually yields a higher profit per book sold. My biggest investment was in purchasing a block of ten ISBNs for $250, but I knew I was very likely going to release more than one title, and each in multiple formats. It can seem a little intimidating as an independent author to work through Lightning Source at first, but whenever I had a question they were always very courteous and professional."

Michelle Gregory, a fantasy writer, is the author of Eldala, which was published in 2007. Michelle's a prolific blogger, whose warmth and sense of humor always comes across in her posts.

Michelle: "I used At first, it was because my husband suggested Lulu, thinking I might want to have one copy printed just to show I’d written a novel. But as I told more and more people I was writing, they all showed interest, and then I realized I would need to go with a good POD company. I did a lot of research about PODs and ended up with Lulu because I decided it would be the best fit, based on the ability to pick and choose their services. Also, their prices for the ISBNs and their commission from sales seemed reasonable."

Peter Johnson, who also writes historical fiction, is the author of Grant’s Indian, which was published in 2009 in paperback, on audiobook and for Kindle. When Gemi interviewed Peter earlier in the spring for the Historical Novel Reviews blog, she raved about his writing.

Peter: "I used CreateSpace because it is Amazon’s DIY service. Amazon owns, the publisher of the audiobook version of the novel. I wanted an integrated Amazon page that would link the print and audio versions. I suppose I could have done this using a different DIY service, but using CreateSpace seemed most practical. For the audiobook, I considered DIY, but that would have involved podcasting or some other technology I’m not happy with. As it happened, once I narrated the recording and had it professionally mastered, accepted it for publication as part of their own list, so the audiobook isn’t really an example of DIY publishing (just DIY recording)."

Kristina Emmons, is the author of Roeing Oaks, also historical fiction, which was published in 2009. I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing her book, and after eagerly sharing my praise, we struck up a friendship.

Kristina: "I used I was looking at using a traditional publisher but found that Lulu was a better fit because I wouldn’t need a lot of money upfront or have to worry about what to do with boxes and boxes of inventory. Lulu is print on demand; there is no minimum order, so you can print one copy if you like, or hundreds. I especially like that I can go to my account to find a spreadsheet that tracks the number of books I’ve sold and how much profit I’ve made. Lulu charges a printing cost per book, which goes down with larger orders, and from there it’s up to me to set the price per book. They do take a percentage off the top of each sale as well, but in the end I am still able to make a fair profit per book.

I like that my customers can order directly from This means I don’t have to go through a separate web channel to sell my material, which would cost me extra money. Lulu also has an e-book feature and a customizable product page where you can list your products. Lulu also offers services like professional cover design, professional editing, and marketing packages. I ordered promotional materials but I wasn’t happy with them.

There are helpful tutorials on the site for formatting and uploading your files. You can upload a refreshed file at any time if, for instance, you’ve had to make spelling corrections to your work, and that has been so helpful. The downside to Lulu is that shipping costs will be high on small orders.

One thing to be aware of is your ISBN number. You can independently file for your own ISBN so that you are the listed publisher, or you can use an ISBN issued by Lulu, which makes Lulu the publisher. It is more expensive to go about it independently, and Lulu will help you use alternative channels to sell your work if you use a Lulu ISBN, but remember that if you are ever offered a contract in the future by a large publishing entity, being your own publisher means that you are free to do what you want with your work without any legal hassles getting in the way. You have all the rights to it. I’m not sure if Lulu still offers this option, but I chose to independently file."

Well, I guess that just leaves me. Like Peter, I choose CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon to publish my historical, On Falcon's Wings in paperback, and Amazon DTP (Digital Text Platform) for the Kindle version, both available in the summer of 2010.

After nearly two months of comparing Lulu, Lightning Source, and CreateSpace, I decided on the latter for a variety of reasons. Amazon's status as the predominant, online bookseller and the development of its Kindle technology immediately made its CreateSpace subsidiary a suitable option. I knew I didn't want to publish only an e-book or just a Kindle version. I wanted to hold a paperback copy of my book in my hands, and Amazon allowed me to offer both. I pestered talked to Gemi in great detail about the process for her and bugged asked Kristina for advice. The ability to retain my rights, the length and terms of a DIY contract and the turn-around time were some of the most important factors in my decision-making, but one other huge consideration was the associated cost. That's the next topic the indie authors tackle - Indie Publishing: What About the Costs?

Thank you, Gemi, Michelle, Peter and Kristina for sharing your thoughts on DIY. Each of them brings varied approaches and reasoning to the process that I hope blog readers will find helpful. If you're considering DIY, please research all your options, and the benefits and disadvantages of the varying routes to publication before making a decision. This is a commitment to your future as a writer. Isn't it worth the same thought and dedication as your writing?

Please share your thoughts and comments on today's post. In particular, are you a self-published writer or considering non-traditional publishing routes? Also, as a reader, what is your perception of self-published books?


Sheila Lamb said...

So many choices! Waiting to see the next column regarding cost - that would be a big factor in my decision.

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...

Thank you so much for doing this feature! I'm very, very interested. Having just received my first (dismal) royalty statement through a small ebook publisher (which I sent to you) I'll be watching with interest to see if self-publishing helps turn a profit.

It looks like each of you spent about $500 + so I'm anxious to see if you make your money back and maybe even earn a little.

Dawna Rand said...

Hi Lisa and all,

I've occasionally wandered by your blog - of course, I wish all of you much success in your ventures. I hope you end up profitable and famous!

I hope that by asking my next question, y'all won't consider me a troll. So here goes, OK?

Why doesn't anyone address the oversize elephant in the room?

As a reader, there is NO WAY - NONE - that I will pay $12 - $25 for a paperback book by a self-published author. Why would I? I can get books by best-selling (read = known quantity) authors at MUCH lower prices. Some of these are even hardbacks. It would be like somebody offering to sell me an unknown car brand for more than the amount that I would need to pay to own a Corvette.

Case in point - somebody in a recent workshop mentioned that my writing reminded them of Stephen Lawhead's BYZANTIUM. I never read it. But oh well. He's published 20 novels. I bought the hardback from Amazon for $2.50 and shipping was another $4.00. So I got a heck of a deal at $6.50

Again - I am wishing you guys EVERY success. I'm just wondering how you plan to convince your readers that your books at $12 - $25 (not even including shipping) are better reads.

Why not offer ONLY Kindle versions at like $.99 - $1.99? Wouldn't this encourage people to try your books? I don't even have a Kindle, but I have the Kindle for PC app. I would probably buy the books then.

Again, I hope you don't think this is negative. However, I work in a corporate job and I'm surrounded by market analyses, P/E statements, cost benefit analyses, etc. As a writer, I can understand wanting to have a "book in your hands". As a businessperson, well, I wonder if this is really going to be that good for the BUSINESS of building a readership.

Much love -

Lisa Yarde said...

Hi Dawna, I think your post is great! It addresses one of many concerns that any indie author has - why should someone pay this price for my book?

There's a common perception that self-published books are the rubbish that no acquisitions editor in their right mind would take on. About five months ago, I received one of the best rejection letters I have ever had. No, that's not a misnomer - it really was a great rejection. The editor raved about my writing, laid out all the things she admired about it. But she also said because of the prevailing climate and the uncertainty facing publishers taking on new authors, they wouldn't be acquiring my book.
I believe in the strength of my writing and that it can sell, and I've spent years trying to convince publishers otherwise, but guess what? So has every other writer. Writing is one business where supply will NEVER outpace demand.

The common perception I mentioned is just one many things I wanted these recents posts to address. The authors featured here are great storytellers - right now, I'm wrapped up in Gemi's 13th century Scotland. Why isn't her book, or any other where an author has spent untold hours perfecting their craft, and editing, worth $12- $25? I hope you won't find that answer combative, but I suppose I can't understand why a self-published author is any less likely to have written a book that is worth that price than a traditional author.

You've quite rightly talked about how the cost of a self-published book can affect our ability to build a readership. When an indie author makes their books available at a particular cost, it usually signifies one thing: the bottom line. Each DIY company takes a percentage of our sales. For instance, with my sales of $12.99, Amazon takes $10.13 as part of its retail royalty calculation. How much do I get of that $12.99? Two dollars and eighty-six cents. Yes, you read that right. With Kindle, I do much better, with 70% royalties on a $5.99 sale. A friend suggested that I make the book available for free, to introduce my writing to the world. But as you can see in my earlier post on costs, I've laid out enough to want to recoup some of that money.

If there's one lesson I've taken from the business, it's that publishers are always aware of the bottom line. Why should an indie author do anything less?

Peter Johnson said...


This is a response to Dawna's thoughtful comment and question. Unlike cars (or, say, jewelry), books aren't priced according to the quality of the writing, which is why a paperback by William Faulkner costs as little as a paperback by Peter Johnson. Faulkner and other famous authors aside, however, I expect people buy books (self-published or not) for similar reasons - a friend's recommendation, a good review, etc. I just checked around & discovered you can buy my novel "Grant's Indian" for $10 used, $15 new, $10 Kindle, $7.50 audiobook download. That's the same as a few gallons of gas, a few pints of really good ice cream or a couple of roller-coaster rides. And . . . you get to keep the book!

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Hi Dawna - Actually some of us do have Kindle versions available.

I also have Kindle for PC, but still prefer paper books - as do most of the people I know. In fact, even as much as e-books are growing in sales, paperbooks are still prefered by the majority of readers. So for me, it was important to offer that option and have a paper version available. As for cost, I priced it comparable to other trade paperbacks in my genre. Eventually I suppose you may be able to find a used copy listed for even less. I can also sell my paperbacks at Celtic festivals, which I wouldn't be able to do with an e-book.

While I do pay full price for many of my favorite authors (heck, I've even been known to *pre*-order them), I also love a bargain and buy many used books through Amazon - or better yet borrow them from my library. Recently, I donated one of my books to my local library. Went back a week later to look for it and it had been checked out!

Dawna Rand said...

Hi Lisa,

I'm going to respond to you as a businessperson (my day job), rather than as a writer.

You say "I suppose I can't understand why a self-published author is any less likely to have written a book that is worth that price than a traditional author."

You hit upon the CRUX of the issue.

From a BUSINESS perspective, it's not about what YOU (the seller, the creator, the producer) thinks about the value of your work.

Price point is about the CUSTOMER'S PERCEPTION. In fact, it's about NOTHING ELSE. So it's not about what you, or I think it's worth - it's what your CUSTOMER thinks it's worth.

This is why some people (like me!) pay for Corvettes, Louis Vuitton, Versace, etc. We could argue all day whether Corvettes are REALLY better than other GM cars (LOL!) but it's about my (the customer's) PERCEPTION.

And right now, I would suggest that self-published authors, in their hopes to recoup costs and maybe make a small profit, have set their price points so high that they will never gain a significant number of customers (readers).

I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY with your friend who suggested that you give away your Kindle book (or at least, charge a nominal price).

You see this every day - buy one/get one free offers, give away the razor so that razor blades can be sold later, etc.

Bottom line - people will spend some nominal amount if they think they're getting a BARGAIN (so, I spend $2.00 on a Kindle book, and it turns out to be AWESOME, then I'll go tell everybody). If I spend $20 on a paperback (like that would ever happen!) and it turns out, well, average, I'm going to toss it aside and chalk it up to experience. And never buy another one.

Again - this is just me with my business hat on. And I see companies every day that are trying to sell to customers. But as any salesperson knows, you have to convince your customer of your value FIRST - then you can charge for it later.

Anyways - just a thought!

Much love, much luck :)

Lisa Yarde said...

Hey Dawna,

Sorry if I wasn't being clear in my last post, but when I talked about the self-published book being potentially the same worth as a traditional book, I did mean in my estimation as a consumer, a person who buys tons of books.

This is all a matter of taste, which we all know is very personal. If a writer's style suits my tastes, I don't care whether that person is self-published or not - they've got a good product that I'll buy. Again, I think the problem is that self-published automatically seems to imply worthless, over-priced crap, and I'm trying to understand why that belief persists.

Dawna Rand said...

For me, the belief persists because I've (too often) found it to be true. LOL! I went to the Historical Novel Society conference last year and bought a few books. Didn't realize they were self published. They were absolute, expensive crap. Not that there isn't crap in the traditional market. We all know that :) But this took me by surprise.

This isn't a reflection on any author here. Just my experience. But, $84 later, one that I remember :)

Again, as a businessperson, I would ask this - do you really need to know WHY the belief persists?

Isn't it enough that it DOES?

So - knowing that the belief persists, what's an effective way to combat it?

Is it to start out by charging high book prices, and trying to convince people to buy the books at these prices?

Or is it to HAVE CONFIDENCE in your work (y'all have that confidence, right???), charge nominal prices to gain readership, and then let that large reader base do your marketing for you?

Anyhoos - just some words from somebody who spent a WHOLE lotta time in sales. Right now, we've got several of our salespeople (authors) commenting on this discussion...

But where are our readers?

Hugs - success!

Michelle Gregory said...

i've been trying to come up with some response and for the life of me, nothing i think of sounds as good as what everyone else has said.

book prices are what they are. it's just one of the many hurdles to being an indie author/publisher.

one thing i do want to say is, at least POD and e-books are saving paper. as much as i love bookstores, i've researched what happens to books that don't sell in bookstores and it's not pretty. they typically go back with covers stripped, or they're returned in tact to be re-sold. i know this is the publishers' fault to some degree because they let the bookstores over-order. maybe some of them get recycled, but many are just thrown away.

as far as how to overcome the prejudice of being self-published, the only solution i can think of is to keep doing what we're doing. indie publishers/authors need to keep writing good, well-written stories, find good proofreaders, and use good cover art. and keep doing what Lisa is doing. get the word out that there are good writers who decided that the traditional route wasn't the way they wanted to go. it wasn't about being a bad writer.

Kristina Emmons said...

Dawna makes a good point. I've slowly lowered the price of my book because I realize the perception is strong about self-publishing. Let's face it, there is a lot of self-published crap out there. I agree with doing e-formatting because it's less expensive (or free) to get the name out. I will be doing that in the future.

I'll say that with Lulu I keep a lot of the profit, so I can be flexible with cost and still make a buck.

Krisitna Emmons said...

Another comment I meant to add was that I'm sure we've all spent lots of money on traditionally published books that we thought were rubbish....

Christine H said...

Just my two cents on the whole debate: I have no money. So I only read books that are in the library or that I get for free or almost free, like the $.50 sale when the library is clearing their inventory.

UNLESS it's a book I have already read and know I want a copy to keep forever. I might buy a traditionally published paperback for $6.99 to read on vacation, but I'd have to really, really want it and give up something else to compensate.

This is too bad, because I would like to support other writers. But it's just a fact of life right now. This being said, the cost of independently published books puts them entirely out of range for me.

The whole e-reader thing is also out, because I am very turned off by the idea that I would purchase it and it would expire after a certain amount of time.

Nikole Hahn said...

I'm more pro-traditional, but if the self-published book is good like Michelle Gregory's Edala, I would buy it as long as budget allows. Considering that it is a trade book size, the price is fair. I'm still waiting for part II of her Edala series. I think if self-pub would allow amazon to show the first chapter for free and if you do your research on the book (i.e. read the teaser, find the author blog, see the writing style) you won't be disappointed in buying a book. However, if you simply buy a book sight unseen without researching it, then its your own fault for throwing away your money.

Usually, you can tell if the self-pub book is good by the first chapter. If it doesn't grab me or the characters don't elicit my sympathy, I won't buy it.

Case in point, a traditionally published book by a best selling author was newly out. I bought it without really reading the first chapter in the store.

I hated it. I didn't finish it. I sold it at a garage sale for 50 cents. Ugh. His other books were great, but this one was horrible. It wasn't the writing in this case, but the how he portrayed the characters. If you can't relate or sympathise with the character, you won't like the book no matter how good the writing is...

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks again for the posts, I'm enjoying the discussion.

@Christine H: I wasn't aware until a few months ago that some e-book purchases expire. I was told that the downloads on Kindles and Sony eReaders never expire. Reading e-books is very new to me; just bought my first two today; Ken Follett's Pillars of Earth and David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

@Nikole Hahn: I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of sampling a work before burying. Luckily Amazon gives buyers that opportunity; all but one of the books profiled in this series on indie authors can be sampled. Like you, if I'm not hooked by the first chapter, dying to know what comes next, I won't buy either.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

I just wanted to add a quick note in response to Christine and Nikole. You can download *free* Kindle for your PC at Amazon. Simply go to the Kindle store and you should find it there somewhere. I have it on my laptop and don't own a Kindle or other e-reader, although I would dearly love to.

Also, if you click on the Discussions tab at the top of an Amazon page, or scroll down to the bottom of any Kindle book's page, you will find the Kindle Books forum. There are always threads there listing Kindle books for $2.99 or less, and indie author books. Another place to find discussions on Kindle (or other e-books) is over at (very reader-friendly place, btw).

A lot of paper book listings on Amazon have Search-Inside-The-Book. Just click on that and you can read the first pages or random pages, which will give you a good idea whether you might like the author's writing style or not. I never buy a book without looking through it first. Hope that helps.

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