To promote the release of BLAZING A TRAIL: Your Self Publishing Journey I’m sharing some of the interviews with Indie authors that are in the book. From my perspective, knowing how self publishing has worked for a variety of people who have written different kinds of books is much more valuable than knowing how it worked for just one or two outliers. Today’s interview is with Tom Watson.
Thomas Watson is the author of THE LUCK OF HAN’ANGA and FOUNDERS’ EFFECT, the first two books in The War of the Second Iteration series. His website is http://underdesertstars.wordpress.com .
Tell us a little about your background and publishing history.
I was a freelance writer from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. I wrote fiction as well as articles and essays, but had no luck selling novels or short stories during that time. While that was going on, I worked a variety of retail jobs to make ends meet, read a lot of science fiction, and was involved in science fiction fandom in the Phoenix area. It was a rewarding, but not always easy, way of life. In the mid ‘90s, burned out by constant financial struggles, and a persistent lack of success with fiction, I went back to school and finished a degree process set aside many years before. By 2000 I’d pretty much stopped writing, and shortly after actually admitted that I’d given up. The possibilities presented by modern forms of self-published revived my interest in writing for publication in late 2010.
What led to your decision to self-publish?
The rejection letters I received from fiction editors in the ’80s weren’t always form letters, simply signed and sent. On the contrary, I received enough encouragement to believe that I would sooner or later be published, yet it never happened. I eventually, after trying for twenty years or so, gave it up and moved on to other things. I was never happy about that. The modern form of self-publishing made possible by the digital age provided options that motivated me to try again. The results so far have kept me motivated.
How long have you been self-publishing?
Not very long, at the time of this writing. My first book, a short memoir about star gazing, MR. OLCOTT’S SKIES, was released in March of 2012. THE LUCK OF HAN’ANGA followed in June.
What were your goals when you began, and how have they changed since then? How do you measure success?
The only goal I had in the beginning was to master the process of producing and publishing a book. Beyond that, I’ve avoided setting arbitrary goals or specific milestones and don’t worry much with how I might measure success. To my mind, it’s simply too soon for that. Something I learned the hard way in my first attempt at writing for a living is that expectations raised by a writer are seldom realized and rarely unfold quickly if they are realized. The discouragement that sometimes follows unrealized expectations can suck the creative impulses right out of you. So for now, I’m concentrating on the work of getting the next book out there and will then redirect a bit more of my energy toward self-promotion.
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?
Because of financial constraints, the only production related work I’ve paid for was some formatting early on. I’ve since learned to do all of that for myself. I haven’t done this on my own, however. Several people have played the role of beta readers for me, providing critical evaluations and much needed reality checks. Believe me when I say I am grateful for both, and that my books would not be anywhere near as readable as they are without that input. I am also fortunate enough to be married to someone who is not only an excellent proof reader, but also is not at all shy about telling me when something I’ve written just doesn’t work. My biggest production challenge has been cover art. I’ve managed to work that out on my own, so far. I have been quite pleased by the results and have seen no complaints so far regarding production values.
How have you spread the word about your work?
I’ve actually made only limited efforts to actively promote my work. I use Twitter as a quick and dirty promotional tool and keep people up to date using Facebook and a weblog. I have promotional “threads” running on the Kindle Boards, Shelfari, and Goodreads. Being focused on getting books out there, I have not really explored the possibilities of self-promotion. When the second book of the series is out, I’ll shift my focus a bit toward such matters.
What has been the most effective thing you have done to promote your books? What has been the least effective?
Two things have worked especially well for me, so far. First was a giveaway I ran on Goodreads. Five signed copies of The Luck of Han’anga were made available. Before the event ran its course, more than 250 people had added the book to their “Want to Read” lists. The second is a short story I wrote, set in the Second Iteration universe, which is available for free. More than three hundred people downloaded it in a month, with only Twitter and Facebook to announce its availability. Several readers of the short story have since purchased the novel. As for least effective, the weblog might fit that characterization, but a bit unfairly, as I neglect the blog in favor of using my writing time to work on books.
How did your Indie sales evolve? What should a new Indie author expect?
Sales have so far not evolved in any meaningful way. The books haven’t been out there long enough, and I’ve spent too little time promoting them. With only a few months of availability, this is hardly a surprise. As for expectations, I’d tell someone just launching right now to have absolutely NO expectations of any kind whatsoever regarding sales. There’s too much luck involved in this business, no matter which tricks you are inclined to try. People out there hustling and “gaming” the system for the most part don’t seem to be doing much better than those who focus on the writing. So, save your strength for the keyboard!
What influenced your decision to price your books as you did?
A great many things, from numerous blog pieces to discussions online. In the end, though, I looked at the prices of a large number of books in my genre, independently published, and took a rough average. That matched the range presented by blogs and discussion groups, and so I picked a price from the middle of that range.
What are your top tips for new Indie authors? What do you wish you had known before you started?
I wish I’d known a little earlier that independent publishing had changed so dramatically, in the digital age. I’d have started writing again sooner! As for tips, don’t sweat formatting. You do need to make the effort to get it right, but it isn’t nearly as difficult or complicated as some people would have you believe!
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Patient Indie authors are fond of saying that this is a marathon, not a sprint. They are right.