Profit Margin or Pride? The Stories of 2 Self Published Authors

Written by M.J. Moores | March 13, 2014

Self-publishing is a tangible and viable option in this evolving digital age.  Knowing that traditional publishing houses no longer have the only say in who does or doesn’t get their book into print (physically or electronically), opens up a new landscape for writers and authors.

But the question remains, “Will I be successful?”

The answer isn’t so simple.  However, presuming there is a good market for your writing, it’s been edited well, and is professional in appearance there’s still the matter of your definition of success – realistically speaking that is.  We all dream of being the next big discovery where the money floods in and we’re praised for our creativity and ingenuity.  In reality though, you also have your modest goals, right?

If you have never been published or have never self-published, take a moment and consider the experiences of two authors who realistically represent what it means to be successful in the indie book industry: Erin Keyser Horn and Roy McConnell.

Never heard of them?  I’m not surprised.  Over 300,000 books were published in the United States alone, in 2010, and the numbers grow every year.  Bridging the gap between our dreams and reality, Horn and McConnell share their misconceptions and accomplishments in order to help new and aspiring writers.

First and foremost both authors spoke to me of their initial expectations about the entire process.  Horn admits it started out as a hobby saying that she had, “no tangible goals.”  Like so many authors, she just wanted to get the book out there and didn’t know what to expect.  McConnell’s response was also common, “I was naive.  I thought I would be published within a year.”  After pursuing traditional publishing and gaining nearly 30 rejection letters, he too wanted to be able to simply get his book out there.

Horn decided to publish through a printer/distributor, whereas McConnell decided to use an assisted publishing company with distribution options.  While their initial cost output was dramatically different, the end results were surprisingly similar – they both broke even.  Horn published 2 books selling just over 1000 copies between the two.  McConnell published 1 book selling nearly 2000 copies.  Here’s a breakdown of time and expenses:

Horn

Workshops    – $1500 & 5 years (courses & conferences)

1st Draft          – $0 & 2 months (wrote 50,000 words with NaNoWriMo then expanded)

Editing           – $0 (bartered & traded skills) & 7 months (off and on)

Publishing     – $0 for services fees & 1 year (approx. for research into the industry)

Print Run        – $1400 for 400 books

Design                      – $500 approx. (big discount from a friend on cover design)

Layout                        – $0 (learned internal formatting and did it herself)

Marketing      – $850 (including business cards, etc. & cost for travel to and from signings)

 

McConnell

 

Workshops    – $300

1st Draft          – $0 & 2 years (averaging 5h/night)

Editing           – $900 (content edit by friend & copies for beta readers)

Publishing     – $1500 (package with assisted publishing for 1yr)

Print Run        – $2200 & 300 books

Design                       – $0 (included in assisted publishing services)

Layout                        – $0 (included in assisted publishing services)

Marketing      – $550 (in addition to what the assisted publishing services offered)

Now, it’s important to note if you don’t possess certain skills that you can barter and trade for help, then you will need to pay for services.  Note that cover designs tend to range from $150 (e-book) to $500 on average with a $75 print option for POD services.  Layout for interior design and manuscript formatting goes for around $200, while editing holds a wide range of options.  An all-inclusive package with content, line edit, & proofreading will cost $1000+ depending on how much work your book needs.  If you are proficient with the English language and are able to lean on the occasional colleague’s shoulder, giving your work a basic proofread before publishing will run you anywhere from $1-$3/300 words depending on your source (English student, amateur, professional).

Knowing the costs you face is half the battle.  Finding ways to save money and publish on a tight budget is a scenario many 1st and 2nd time authors face.  Utilizing your resources and planning ahead will help you reach your goals and find success.  With a lot of personal time and effort, Horn and McConnell managed two very different publicity campaigns on the road to recognition.

Since both authors have day-jobs, finding time to publicize was not an easy task.  Horn relied on her savvy social media skills.  She already had a blog, she built a facebook author page, slid into bed with goodreads, and made sure her public profile on Amazon and LinkedIn reflected her new status – published author.  She did both a physical and virtual book tour, wrote her own press releases, and submitted her first novel to RONE (Reward of Novel Excellence) for consideration in 2013.  But mainly Horn focused on the book itself, “Self-publishers have to worry a lot about producing high-quality books. A professional-looking cover, front and back, is the most important investment an author can make.  Your internal formatting comes in at a close 2nd.”  She devoted the majority of her time and resources to making the best book possible and let the work speak for itself.

McConnell was unfamiliar with the social networking scene but with help from a professional in the industry he got set up and worked to get his voice heard.  Most notably though, were his word-of-mouth tactics and salesmanship.  For a year and a half after being published he ate, slept, and breathed his book.  He did not write much, only publicized.  He was interviewed on radio and TV, he was featured in a couple of local newspapers, he worked with a big book store to get his novel on the shelf, did several local readings & book signings, and hocked his wares where ever he went.  He would even give copies of his book to used book stores just so readers were aware of his existence – and he made sure if an indie book store took him on consignment, anyone he knew in the area would be directed to that location to buy the book.  If you stood in line with him at the grocery store, you would have gotten a business card.  He even did a book signing at his office Christmas Party!  “I would walk up to anyone everywhere, to perfect strangers – guerilla marketing.  I did that kind of thing all the time.”

Now, neither one of these authors is making a living with their writing.  Horn hopes to one day make it that far but McConnell sees it as a second career after retirement.  The amount of time and effort they feel is needed to do justice to their work is vital for continued success.

And are they successful?

Yes and no.  There are three ways to define success in the self-publishing world: personal, professional, and Pulitzer (getting rich doing what you love).   Horn and McConnell both admit that they have accomplished a major feat.  They wrote excellent quality books they love, broke even with their expenses, and are happy with what they’ve accomplished.  And even though you may not know who they are professionally, Horn’s Honorary Mention Award with RONE shows the world that she is a contender whose books are worthy of reading.  McConnell was on Amazon’s top 100 Books List a couple of times, receiving praise from two renowned authors for his triumphs.  This is success.  McConnell said it best when quoting a workshop advisor, “Don’t expect to make a living writing fiction.  You’ll either get rich or you won’t – unless you write romance; then you might stand half a chance at a career.”

After bearing their souls, and their pocket books, I asked Horn and McConnell what they would do differently the next time around.  One of the great things about being human is our ability to learn from our mistakes and better ourselves.  I got two very different responses and I’m sure had I spoken with a different set of authors, their responses to this question would have been just as varied.

Horn is interested in taking a different approach with her next series of novels.  She doesn’t want the stress and pressure of having to meet a deadline, she wants to enjoy the process and make sure everything is done right.  Her idea is to complete all three books first – 100% – and then release them a few months apart all in the same year.  She believes that this will help fuel her readers’ interest in the series and would follow the mantra, “provide it and they will come.”  The more you write and publish quality work, the more your next book, and your next book, will help advertise you and your previous works.

McConnell is interested in researching the various free or low-cost self-publishing options more prolific in today’s market.  He’s also interested in the possibility of going all e-book.  He’s been inspired by a crime writer, ex-cop, who does exactly that.  The man produces several books a year and markets them at the low end of the pricing spectrum – he’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars this way and refuses to sell the rights to traditional publishers.  Apparently he would take a pay cut if he accepted an offer.

Lastly, each author left me with excellent parting advice.

Horn

1)    Find a writing partner who compliments your style and balances out your writing abilities.

2)    Don’t rush.  You need to learn the craft before you dive in otherwise you might hit your head on the rocks in the water.

3)    Don’t compare yourself to other writers.  It’s best to focus on yourself and what you’re capable of.

 

McConnell

1)    Be prepared to emotionally distance yourself from your work.  Edit with fresh eyes and keep an open mind.

2)    Know what you’re getting into.  If you choose an assisted publisher like I did, don’t let them up-sell you on things you don’t need – it’s their business to make money after all.

3)    Don’t let anything stop you from reaching your goals.  They say you can’t afford to be shy in this industry, so find new and exciting ways to reach your readers without having to talk to them in person!

After spending time with each author I would also add: Recognize your personal accomplishments, for they are the true markers of success.

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M.J. Moores began her career as a high school English teacher with a passion for creative writing.  Recently, she left the teaching profession to work as a freelance writer as she prepares her science fiction novel for publishing.  Unimpressed with the lack of straightforward, simple (and free) resources available to new and emerging writers, she started her own online editing company and writers’ blog (Infinite Pathways) to help her fellow compatriots.  M.J. is the author of Publicizing Yourself: A Beginners Guide to Author Marketing available through Smashwords. http://infinite-pathways.orghttp://facebook.com/AuthorMJMoores