Mary Tate Engels is another of the authors who was kind enough to share her experience with me for BLAZING A TRAIL: Your Self Publishing Journey, and I’m sharing some of those interviews in the days before the book comes out.
Mary Tate Engels is a best-selling author, editor, and teacher. Her most recent Indie release is the rerelease of a contemporary western, SPEAK TO THE WIND. Coming soon, her brand new Irish Heart Series, CLAIRE’S EMBRACE, DARK EMBRACE, and EMBRACEABLE YOU. Meet her and find her books at www.marytateengels.com
Tell us a little about your background and publishing history.
Short Version: Lived in Houston, started writing poetry, discovered fiction and fell in love with it, became a charter member of Romance Writers of America, first traditionally published in 1982. More than thirty books later, I am still writing women’s fiction and now publishing eBooks.
If you published with a traditional publisher before self-publishing, do you think having a following helped your Indie sales? Why or why not?
Realization of the Game Change:
It’s great to have readers who like what you write and share their opinions with friends. But we’re in the transition between people who love print books (me, too) and won’t even try digital readers and those who are open to eBooks. Right now, I’m working to engage both. My market, however, is digital. That’s the future, whether we like it or not.
What led to your decision to self-publish?
Accepting the Game Change:
I retained the rights from Dell and Harlequin to my backlist in 2009-10 with the idea of converting them to eBooks … sometime. Fast forward to the RWA Conference, summer 2010. In a roomful of writers, editors, and agents, a prominent agent was asked about the advisability of self-pubbing eBooks. At that time, the conference presenters and editors were ignoring any substantial change in the industry. The room grew deathly quiet when he said, “Go ahead. What do you have to lose?”
I wasn’t sure how e-pubbing would affect my writing career. The question struck me—what, indeed, did I have to lose? I could take my books from the out-of-print shelf to selling again. That’s win-win for me!
I had met Joe Konrath, Bob Mayer, and CJ Lyons and watched what they and others did to take charge of their careers. They didn’t lose a thing by e-pubbing. With all the changes in the publishing industry, this just seemed the right way for me to go. What did I have to lose?
How long have you been self-publishing?
What were your goals when you began, and how have they changed since then? How do you measure success?
Commitment to the Game Change:
Initially, my plan was simply to bring out my backlist. Now I see e-pubbing as the wave of the future. This is the game changer in publishing, just as iTunes changed the music industry. I base my success on reader satisfaction, leading to more sales. A big bonus is the larger, international market. Sharing my stories beyond the U.S. is awesome!
Did you do a lot of the production process yourself, or did you hire people to do it for you?
For me, coming from the old school, agent-model, my learning curve has been huge. It started with realizing, then accepting the changes in the industry. Now I’m committed to continue doing what I love—storytelling—whether online or in print.
So far, I’ve e-pubbed eight books from my traditionally-published backlist with 21 to go. The process began with scanning the books, then correcting, revising, and editing to update. Then, there’s cover designing, for which I had no experience. I studied fonts and the appearance of everything from magazine ads to big-name author’s books. I decided how I want my name to appear on all the books and a few specific design elements, like the cat in my name and the zigzags on my Southwestern books. My cover designer is http://www.digitaldonna.com and I love working with her. Assistance from the other digital stuff, including my website, is done by my husband and two of our techy sons.
Were you satisfied with the outcome?
Oh yes, very! I’m in control of the final outcomes. If I don’t like a cover, or the depiction of a character, I can change it. In traditional publishing, you seldom have that option. I have the responsibility but also the satisfaction. And I love that, more than I ever dreamed I would.
How have you spread the word about your work?
Therein lies the biggest obstacle for most writers. We are interested in writing books, not promoting them or ourselves. I’m still learning about marketing. My books are published on Smashwords (for Kobo, Nook, and iBooks) and I have offered free books there. I’m published on Amazon for Kindle, but was not that pleased with the requirements and promotional results of KDP.
I feel that the best thing a writer can do is to write and produce a good book and then do it again. So that has been my priority. I’m working on establishing my platform as a women’s fiction author who writes good books about chasing dreams and finding love. I change my website landing page monthly and am considering a blog. I have a 99-cent special book each month. See my website, www.marytateengels.com, for details.
What has been the most effective thing you have done to promote your books? What has been the least effective?
Most effective: a beautiful website with links to buying my books, and a personable Amazon Author’s Page. Least effective for selling books: Facebook. The interchanges on FB are fun, but I’m not certain that it helps me sell books. Some writers have shunned social media altogether or just use it sparingly. It can be quite consuming and takes away from writing time.
How did your Indie sales evolve? What should a new Indie author expect?
Expect that sales will be slow at first. The more books you have out there, the better you can survive the slow times. There are natural peaks and valleys in sales, but I haven’t figured them out yet. I expected an uptick around Christmas, when people got new eReaders, but that didn’t happen for me.
My best sales are in summer. Others, including Konrath, have said the same. (This is true for me, as well. ~Frankie) My sales are fairly steady, better than last year. About one-third of my sales are foreign, which is delightful. A new Indie author should chart his/her own course, and not be influenced or dismayed by others. No one really knows what works. It’s a very fluid business right now. The best thing you can do for your Indie writing career is to write another book better than the last.
What influenced your decision to price your books as you did?
I want my books to be accessible to readers. I always have a ’99- cent special’ available.
What are your top tips for new Indie authors? What do you wish you had known before you started?
What do you have to lose?
Just this: Your reputation as writer.
Make a commitment to produce the best book possible. If you produce crap, even once, you risk losing readers. Give them a good story, entertain them, excite them, and inspire them.
- Make sure your writing is stellar—hire an editor if necessary.
- Craft your story the best it can be.
- Ensure the formatting is correct so that you’re giving the reader the best quality in a book form that they’re accustomed to.
- Choose a book cover carefully and wisely, something that looks excellent in thumbnail size.
- Then, do it all again with another book.
Remember that it takes time to build a fan base, develop your own marketing plan, design the best website you can afford, and enjoy your writer’s journey!
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
These are some of my pro-con considerations before I started Indie publishing. Some of the outcomes surprised me, but I determined what I want out of this writing career.
Big Picture vs. Bottom Line
- Perpetuity of my book vs. a shelf life determined by a traditionally-published sales force that doesn’t know me and is only looking at the bottom line.
- Global sales vs. limited sales determined by publishing house distribution centered on their own bottom line.
- Full control for the writing and publication of my books vs. full responsibility. I like the control, perpetuity, and reaching readers globally, but it’s a lot of responsibility and hard work.
My biggest reward is hearing from my readers, many in foreign countries, that my stories or characters touched them. That’s my bottom line.