BLAZING A TRAIL Interviews: Doranna Durgin

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image8529767BLAZING A TRAIL: Your Self Publishing Journey includes several interviews with authors who are Indie publishing. I love hearing about how others are getting their books out there. I hope you do, too. In the days leading up to the release of BLAZING A TRAIL I’m sharing some of those interviews with my readers.

Doranna Durgin is the author of numerous books, both traditionally and Indie published. Her most recent Indie release is THE CHANGESPELL Series. You can learn more about Ms. Durgin and her books at her websites: http://www.backlistebooks.com/author/doranna-durgin/ and http://doranna.net

Tell us a little about your background and publishing history.

First novel at age twelve…first sale in ’93, won the Compton Crook Award for the best first SF/F/H of the year. Since then, I’ve written across genres (franchise/mystery/SF/F/action romance/paranormal romance) and publishers (many of the big six, medium and small press, plus Indie), to the tune of forty front list books.  I got into self-epublishing my backlist early, but not quite leading edge.  Very early in that process, I co-founded (with Patricia Ryan) the Backlist eBooks presentation platform for other traditionally published authors.

If you published with a traditional publisher before self-publishing, do you think having a following helped your Indie sales? Why or why not?

I’m not sure how much it directly influenced sales, especially not at first.  Discoverability is the crucial factor behind ebook sales (in traditional terms, is your book on the shelf where people can stumble over it?  And if it is, is it faced out on the shelf, or just spine out?)—and my backlist is in a different genre than my current front list—boy, does that matter.  That being said, my traditional experience helped immensely because I already had a deep understanding of the industry (harking back to all that cross genre/cross publisher work) as well as an understanding of how a professional writer behaves in public.  My traditional experience also affected my big picture approach to the Indie process.

What led to your decision to self-publish?

  1. Have rights to backlist titles
  2. Have additional books I’m aching to write (including plenty that won’t be of interest to publishers, either because they’re the next in an older series or because I’m not quite coloring between the lines.)

How long have you been self-publishing?
Since early 2010

What were your goals when you began, and how have they changed since then? How do you measure success?

  1. Make enough dollars to fill in the publisher gaps that occur even in an active traditional career (like the time I waited a year to be paid for on-delivery, from one of the big 6).
  2. Then make enough to provide a modest but supportive income so I can spread publisher obligations just enough to…
  3. Write the books I yearn to write for ME.

Measuring success by those standards is pretty easy.  Either it is, or it isn’t.  Some of my friends have succeeded wildly and are into #3; I’m between #1 & #2.

Did you do a lot of the production process yourself, or did you hire people to do it for you? Were you satisfied with the outcome?

For the most part, I’ve relied heavily on what’s currently sixteen years of active work designing and maintaining author and dog breeder web sites to do the work myself (many of the skills are overlapping).  I did have help with covers during a time I was too overloaded to deal with it, for which I was so grateful.

Am I satisfied with the outcome?  Yes, in general.  Because I started early, I experienced a certain amount of evolution along the way—evolution in the industry, I mean.  What was expected in a cover, the exact process of the book conversations…that sort of thing.  As a result, I’d currently like to replace several of my early covers, but not because I wasn’t happy with them at the time they hit distribution.  And some of my earliest releases have been reformatted to keep up with changes.

Also, because I’m involved in writing the books, I am an active ebook reader (Nook), and am managing my own production, I think it’s helped me to develop a thoughtful presentation of the books.  At the same time, I would never urge anyone to go learn all the production stuff from scratch.  If it calls to someone, go for it.  If not, then use that energy to write.

How have you spread the word about your work?

Backlist eBooks, evolving sales strategies, Facebook promo co-ops and presence, newsletters, and freebies.

What has been the most effective thing you have done to promote your books? What has been the least effective?

The most effective thing has definitely been the freebies.  It’s all about discoverability—to the point that every time Amazon messes with algorithms, I pretty much have to start building sales all over again.  Freebies are not about failing to value your work away; they’re about changing store algorithms.  However, exactly how one uses freebies as a tool depends on the books involved (genre, series or not, length, etc.).

The least effective?  Amazon KDP Select, which to me is by no means worth the cost of losing a broad retailer platform in exchange for five days of easy-to-schedule free downloads and the lure of payment for free library downloads (which won’t happen until you’re discoverable).

Twitter is my least effective social platform, barring the occasional broad spectrum campaign.

Everything else falls in the middle ground.  Newsletters can help but not as much as I wish they would, and blogs should be something a writer truly wants to do.  I personally have found blog tours to be a huge investment of energy for little return.

How did your Indie sales evolve? What should a new Indie author expect?

Sales are heavily affected by algorithm changes, and one thing new Indie authors need to understand is that this is a business for Amazon.  If it suits them to do something that cuts Indie sales in half, they will—and DO—make those changes (just as they’ve always done to traditional authors.  This relationship goes back a long way for some of us).  They do not “owe” Indie authors as I’ve heard some complain, and it’s a waste of time to fume and act entitled about it.  Traditional authors have been in this same relationship with publishers for far too long.  What’s in their best interest is not necessarily in an author’s best interest.

Other than that, there’s no telling.  Some folks hit a sweet spot with steadily building sales.  Others don’t.  Content, length, genre, and single title/series status all matter.

What influenced your decision to price your books as you did?

I wanted to be paid for my work, but also wanted the books to feel like an easy-to-absorb purchase within perceived market value.  As a reader, I do not buy publisher ebooks that cost the same or more than paper books.

What are your top tips for new Indie authors? What do you wish you had known before you started?

Well … since I was working with backlist, there wasn’t much I could do to change my self-produced titles.  But if I’d been able to wave a magic wand …  Series matter.  (This is all part of the discoverability factor.)  Readers discover the first in a series and want the rest.  Single-title sales don’t necessarily feed each other.

Regular releases are important; number of releases matter.  If I was just starting out, I’d write several books in a series and release them all at once.

Also, if this is the first foray into publishing, learn the industry.  Don’t look at what the seething masses are doing in terms of publicity and presence.  Find some authors you admire, those who are classy and engaging.  Always put yourself in the reader’s shoes when you put yourself out there. Imagine being told you’ll like something or watching someone compare themselves to this or that bestseller and how it sounds like boasting instead of enticement.  Don’t sound desperate and don’t sound pushy.

Treat it like a business and invest in it.  Get good help with covers, editing, and proofing and expect to pay for it.  Understand that self-publishing and traditional publishing aren’t the same and that Indie authors should expect to prove themselves, just as publisher authors have to.  The difference is that Indie authors are starting from scratch, while traditionally published authors have already jumped through many hoops to get where they are (and then still have to continue to prove themselves to stay there).  Anyone who feels defensive in reading that sentence isn’t in the right place with the whole thing to start with.

Understand that Indie isn’t Small Press, isn’t Big Six (Five, now!).  There are different obstacles in different steps along the way, and different filters to success.  Different marketing strategies and needs, different outcomes.  Understand this before you choose which path is best for you and know why it’s best, relative to the other choices—and that means knowing your ultimate goals.  One path is not a stepping stone to the other, aside for those occasional and aberrant lightning strikes.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

I think I hit the good stuff. 🙂

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