All of the following is written by USA Today Bestselling Author Kallypso Masters. Let me preface this by saying Masters at Arms is FREE at Amazon Kindle. Click Cover to get it NOW.
From Kallypso Masters:
“Self-publishing is the best thing ever for those who have learned the craft, know to hire the necessary professionals, and can do social media well. I’m a little confused by the mentions (Previous blog post) of self-publishing “companies,” though. They sound an awful lot like vanity presses of old (which gave self-publishing a very bad name–and one we still have to overcome).
Earlier today, a fellow now-indie author was complaining to me about XLibris (which I hadn’t even heard of until she mentioned them). Beware of any company that takes your money in exchange for editing (apparently there wasn’t a lot of editing for her), formatting, cover art, and uploading. These are ALL do-able by putting together your own team–and probably for a lot less monetary output.
I published my first of four (so far) books in my Rescue Me series in August 2011. My third came out by late December 2011, then I didn’t get another one finished until September 2011. Over those 9 months, my readership grew and my word-of-mouth was great. (My fans will pimp my erotic romances everywhere–doctor’s offices, hospitals, teacher break rooms, bible studies, at the office, in line at the post office, hair salons, online, you name it.)
I wrote for 20 years as a hobby while a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) many of those years. I attended craft workshops regionally, took online and in-person classes, had a knowledgeable critique partner who was a great teacher, and I honed my skills, but my day job kept me from being able to pursue writing as a side career. I only submitted one manuscript to a publisher (Samhain) back in 2009. While rejected, they asked to see something else (which we call a “good” rejection). But by the time I got fed up with my day job and walked out the door in April 2011, self-publishing was all the buzz in my former RWA chapter.
Because RWA was slow to recognize self-published authors as fully published members for their organization, many of us started another group, the Kentucky Independent Writers group. If you want to learn more about indie-publishing, go here: http://kentuckyindiewriters.blogspot.com/. I let my membership to RWA lapse in April and haven’t missed a thing because of KIW.)
Anyway, needing to make a living fast. (My hubby gave me a year to pursue writing as a potential career while living off retirement savings–then it would be back to work as a technical writer or editor again if I failed to make enough to cover my previous salary plus my health insurance rates). In such a tight time frame, self-publishing was the only viable option to make ANY money writing.
I only grossed $6,000 in 2011 sales (for sales in August through October mostly, because Amazon and B&N don’t pay you for at least two months and some of the other booksellers like All Romance eBooks and Smashwords take much longer). But after my third book came out in December 2011, the following month, I grossed more than $12,000 (which I saw in March/April). That was almost triple what I sold in December. When I made my previously 99-cent book (Masters at Arms, the 58,000 introduction to the series) free in June, my sales doubled from what I made in January.
And since you mentioned the USA Today list, (Previous Blog) when I released Nobody’s Perfect (Rescue Me #4) in September (three months at least later than I thought I’d release it), I made the USA Today list at #115. Only lasted a week on the list, but I can now put “USA Today Bestseller Author” on my paperback and e-book covers for life–and “USA Today Bestseller” on the cover of that one, which should come out in paperback in a couple weeks.
By the way, if you’re wondering how many books you have to sell in a week to make the list, I sold about 6,000 books that week at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords (most of them at Amazon), which got me to #115 out of 150 fiction AND non-fiction books on the list that week. I know it was all of my fans dying to find out what happens next with these characters they first met in the introduction and hadn’t seen since they were reunited in book three, which had come out nine months earlier.
(I write a non-standalone series of highly emotional stories with cliffhangers setting up the future books and broken characters my readers are dying to see find happiness–even though, in my books, Happily Ever After doesn’t mean the end of all their problems, only that they now have someone to work on the problems to overcome them together.) My characters come to life in readers’ heads and remain with them long after (some of them even reporting visits in dreams), long after they finish the book. I’ve also heard that the series has been re-read by many readers numerous times–six I think is the highest number of re-reads I’ve heard.) And with that book, once again, my monthly sales figures doubled from the last peak.
I haven’t even hit it as big as SOME self-published authors like Ruth Cardello (who turned down a 7-figure contract with a New York publisher knowing she could make more on her own in the next two years and would actually lose money with them) and Kathleen Brooks (the other USA Today bestselling author in my KIW group). But I’ve sold more than 125,000 books (not counting almost as many free downloads) and am making more at writing than what any of my traditionally-published friends made with their NY and small-press contracts. That’s because I keep 60-80 percent of my royalties, rather than only receiving 11-19% of cover price per sale (usually 6-18 months later) like those with New York publishers do.
As you can see, traditional publishing is the real mill stone! And with the industry in its death throes (because they truly do NOT get e-book publishing), who knows how long those publishing houses will be around. The Big Six is not the Big Five, I guess. Who will fall or merge next? And when will they learn to hire professional formatters for their e-books and stop embarrassing their authors?
Oh, I did get approached by an editor from Penguin Group after I made the USA Today list. (She mentioned seeing me climbing the charts at Barnes & Noble, but I only do 13% of sales there, so I think she really noticed me making the newspaper’s list. But I told her I wasn’t willing to turn over any digital rights to Penguin, so the discussion ended abruptly at that point. (It would be nice to have someone handle print books and their distribution, as well as audiobooks and foreign translations and distribution–but I wasn’t going to give up my bread and butter for that trade off. I’ll get those things eventually. My paperbacks started coming out this month and I’m working on lining up translators for next year.
At a signing I did on Dec. 20 at the New Yorker hotel in Manhattan, a reader asked when I’d be translating to Portuguese. With the new Amazon-Brazil store, I told her it’s definitely on the list! Another reader in Mexico wants Spanish–and both of them want them so their MOTHERS can read my books. I have readers from 18-93, I think. (There are probably some under 18, but they’re being naughty, so we won’t mention those.)
By the way, USA Today bases their list on actual book SALES, not just books ordered by bookstores, like the New York Times. So even though the latter is more prestigious for an author going the traditional route, it’s really hard for a self-published author to make the NYT list given how it’s rigged to publishers’ paperback and hardback orders by bricks-and-mortar bookstores.
I think the NYT has an e-book list now, too, but making the USA Today list of ALL books sold that week–and not just the Romance or fiction ones–was a huge honor.) But indie authors like Sylvia Day and Ruth Cardello HAVE made the NYT list, so it’s not impossible.
I hire lots of professionals to make my product look better than what NY can put out. (And, yes, I do believe it looks better.) My cover artist is actually a friend of mine who has discovered a knack for it and hasn’t done anyone else’s covers EVER. She agreed to delay payment until AFTER I was making some money (or gave up) so I could keep costs down that first year and show a profit sooner. But I paid her this past January when sales went through the roof.
I also hire professional editors. For the first three books, I originally had one editor (who was new to freelancing after leaving a publishing house in New York, and quoted me ridiculously low rates, thank goodness, or I wouldn’t have been able to afford her either). But with my last book, I paid her full rate (now $1500 for my epic-sized novels). But I also hired three other editors to do various types of edit–content, line, subject expertise–so I paid over $3,000 in editorial fees for that one book. (In comparison, I only paid $900 for editing my first THREE books.)
I also have been blessed with really great beta readers from before the first book was published. (They found me and my characters on Facebook last summer and fell in love with my Doms, who often paid them virtual visits when they needed one.) I’ve even gotten several editors in training who volunteered to work on my books and are now taking on other clients. (I’ve since hired them, too.)
I also have an awesome formatter who does an amazing amount of work on my books to make them look great. I’m happy to give referrals! And I hired a Personal Assistant in March who helped get me ready for my first big Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, and contracted to get my Web site up and running (seven months after I published my first book–I didn’t say I did everything the way I was supposed to!). She also started my newsletter (which now has almost 3,000 readers–oh, and I need to get one out tonight!), and my street team (Kallypso’s Street Brats), avid readers who get lots of swag to hand out to those they meet, pimping out my books.
I’m a strong advocate for self-publishing and have talked other authors into ditching their small presses and go out on their own. Many have experienced similar successes. But I’m proud to say I was NEVER published by any company. (I don’t call the small or tiny presses where someone else does the work for you self-publishing–sorry. And the only point in which Fifty Shades was self-published was when it was published free on fan fiction sites, not when it was with the small press that put it on the map.) I do all the work myself (writing, hiring professionals, uploading them, promoting them–well, my street team and personal assistant do a lot more of that than I do). I’m TRULY self-published and happy to guest blog and do an interview answering any questions you might ask. Just as I am when talking about my books, I don’t hold anything back and will gladly answer any of your questions, including giving income figures. (J.A. Konrath, who writes in a different genre, but is VERY successful at self-publishing, is very forthcoming in that way, too. Knowledge is power.) I like getting information out there so that others can make an educated decision for themselves. Brit, please contact my PA, Leagh at Romance Novel Promotions (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set up a guest blogging date, if interested. (It’s best that she get the questions, too–then she can remind me when I need to send them back. I’m very needy that way. LOL)
Is everyone who is talented and went the self-publishing route doing as well? No. Do I know why mine took off while others didn’t? No. (Some of them COULD do better if they would hire professional editors and take a little more time to learn their craft; we all need about 5-10 manuscripts we practice on that will NEVER see the light of an e-reader, but on which we learn our craft. I have 8 in a box on a shelf.)
My success has to do with a lot of things, including the fact that I just happen to love to write in a very popular (for now) area–erotic romances with a BDSM club in it. But first and foremost, I write compelling stories with characters who are imperfect, broken, and who you won’t forget. BDSM is secondary to the emotional and romantic journeys in the books. But it’s also about being at the right place at the right time–and having my first three books available when the Fifty Shades hype hit the fan in March/April helped, although not as much as I’d have liked. Other bigger stars of the genre were in a much better place to get recognized by media and readers than were mine this past spring. But it’s always hard to know if my own marketing resulted in sales or it’s just a happy coincidence like the media attention of Fifty Shades.
However, Fifty Shades made the reading and discussion of erotic romances (and even erotica) acceptable conversation in just about any social setting now. Whenever one of Kallypso’s Street Brats hears someone mention that trilogy, they whip out one of my bookmarks and happily send them off to read my series–even downloading the free book to their e-reading device, if necessary.
All the best in the New Year, everyone! I wish everyone great success!
Here the books are again in sequence order: