Jennifer Roberson is the author of several traditionally published historical novels and many fantasy novels, including her SWORD DANCER series. Her most recent Indie release is SMOKETREE, a romantic suspense. Her website is www.jennifer-roberson.com.
Tell us a little about your background and publishing history.
I have been traditionally published since 1984, primarily in the fantasy genre, but have also written historicals and a few titles in other genre.
If you published with a traditional publisher before self-publishing, do you think having a following helped your Indie sales? Why or why not?
To a certain point, yes, but not significantly so. I think this might be different if the Indie titles were in my primary genre, fantasy, but they are early stand-alone novels in three different genres: a western, historical romance, and romantic suspense. Unfortunately these were the only three novels not encumbered by e-rights clauses. My fantasy and historical publishers—DAW Books, and Kensington—have contracts including e-rights clauses, so I have no control over those titles, and few of them are yet available as e-books. I do think that as readers discover my titles are available in e-book format, they will also discover the early works that are Indie books and sales may improve.
What led to your decision to self-publish?
The three early books would never be reissued by their publishers. I wanted to make those titles available, too—and make some money, also!
How long have you been self-publishing?
Since spring of 2012. I’m a baby in the Indie industry.
What were your goals when you began, and how have they changed since then? How do you measure success?
My original goal was to make the three titles available and to make some additional money. While some tradpubbed authors are still doing quite well, sales are down across the board. Those of us not in the rarefied air of Rowling, etc. are looking to maximize our income in a decimated industry.
There are components to success, and not all people weigh these components the same way. Book sales/downloads leading to income is probably #1 for a large percentage of writers, particularly those who would like to write full-time. But reader enthusiasm, good reviews, and an author’s satisfaction with the work itself—in any order—are also very important elements.
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?
I hired Elizabeth Campbell of Anti-Matter E-Press (http://antimatterepress.wordpress.com/ ) and worked very closely with her throughout the cover design process. It has been a very enjoyable partnership.
How have you spread the word about your work?
I post the covers and blurbs on my Facebook page once a month.
What has been the most effective thing you have done to promote your books? What has been the least effective?
My books lack enough reviews to make the e-book lists, so I’ve relied on FB posts. Each time I do this, there is a modest uptick in sales.
How did your Indie sales evolve? What should a new Indie author expect?
As readers are discovering my Indie titles when looking for my tradpubbed books online, sales are beginning to increase, but I believe sales of these titles will always be somewhat hampered by being stand-alone novels in three different genre. I did expect better sales of my historical romance, “The Irishman,” because the romance genre remains strong, but I am not known as a romance author and readers don’t look for this from me.
As with tradpubbed books, new authors must realize that while some break out with very strong sales, the majority do not. It’s important to keep in mind that this is a cumulative industry, regardless of format. With each subsequent book, sales should improve somewhat—unless, of course, readers just don’t like the first one! Indie authors have more control over promoting their books than tradpubbed authors, so that’s an advantage. But Indie authors should not expect immediate success. Except in a few cases, that just isn’t going to happen. And it’s exactly the same in tradpub.
What influenced your decision to price your books as you did?
These were old novels, shorter novels, and not in my primary genre. Also, two of the genres—western and romantic suspense—are not as popular as, say “regular” romance, and I knew these would reach a more limited market. I priced the historical romance $1 higher, but $4.99 is still about right, I think.
What are your top tips for new Indie authors? What do you wish you had known before you started?
Top Tip: Publish a series. Stand-alone novels do not sell as well. This is true in tradpub, too. Sales build as each subsequent title is published, and you’ll begin to sell more of the first volume, also.
I wish I’d worked harder to promote my novels, but I am so accustomed to having no input on my tradpubbed novels that I didn’t take advantage of the Indie marketing tools.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
I have heard that some Indie authors are becoming resentful of tradpubbed authors who go the Indie route, either with a backlist that is out of print or new books written specifically for Indie publishing. But Indie authors have many advantages. Tradpubbed authors receive perhaps 8% of the cover price on paperbacks, and 10% on hardcovers. Indie authors make significantly more money per download. Tradpubbed authors who don’t sell well are dropped by their publishers. Indie authors act as their own publishers, and they’ll never drop their titles. Brick-and-mortar bookstores keep midlist titles on the shelves for 1-2 weeks before stripping paperbacks and returning hardcovers. Indie titles are available forever. So while it is true that popular tradpubbed authors enjoy the marketing machine of traditional houses, longevity in book availability is firmly in the corner of Indie authors.