I’ve wanted to write a series of blog posts about self-publishing for a while but haven’t had time. Now that BOUND is out and I can breathe a little easier between deadlines, I thought this would be the perfect chance to share a little of what I’ve learned about publishing and how the market is changing. Hopefully, some of what I share will be of help to those of you who are looking at your publishing options.
First off, I have to say I am by no means an expert when it comes to self publishing, but I’m happy to pass on what I’ve learned because I had great authors who shared (and continue to share) with me. Authors like Bella Andre, Marie Force, Tina Folsom and Gemma Halliday. What’s fabulous about the industry these days is that authors are willing to help each other. When I started writing everything was hush-hush. You didn’t ask what authors got paid because every publishing house treated their authors differently. Some amazing writers were handed BIG contracts, and some amazing writers got paid next to nothing. It all came down to which authors a publisher wanted to push. When I first told my husband I wanted to seriously pursue my dream of being an author, he said, “Well, what kind of income do authors make?” I answered, “I don’t know. It’s all different. No one talks about money.” He was shocked. “What? How can you not know what to expect?” I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to work on my laptop. He was right to be horrified, of course. Part of the reason authors have been treated as non-essential to publishers for so long is because we never stood up for ourselves. For years authors took crappy contracts all for the “prestige” of saying they were published (and I know this is true because I was one of them). I wrote for four years for traditional publishers and spent more money on marketing and promotion and conference travel than I ever made in profit. Something’s wrong with that. Thanks to self publishing, though, that isn’t the case anymore. Instead of publishers deciding who sinks or swims in this business, readers are now choosing who to support. And authors who write books readers want to buy are the ones who are succeeding. For a determined writer, for someone with book business sense who wants to make a living doing what they love, this is a fantastic time to be an author.
To give you a little background, I began writing in 2003 with the goal of one day becoming a published author. It took me five years to sell to a New York Publisher. When I finally got “the call”, I thought I’d made it. Yeah, the contract wasn’t that great, but I was PUBLISHED. My dream of seeing my name on a book had finally come true. STOLEN FURY was my debut book and released in 2009. It got great reviews and was nominated for two RITA awards in 2010 in both best first book and best romantic suspense. Over the next few years, I wrote four more books for Dorchester–two more romantic suspense books in my Stolen series, then the first two books in my (ongoing) Eternal Guardians series. I did a novella for Kensington which linked back to my Stolen books and could spur a new series. When Dorchester started having problems I moved to Sourcebooks and continued my Eternal Guardians series by writing three more books for them. From a professional standpoint, I was doing great. I had all the accolades of being a published author–my books were on store shelves and in airports, I was getting rave reviews, I was a top seller in romance for Sourcebooks, I even hit the USA Today bestsellers list! But what no one saw was the hard reality: I wasn’t making any money. I was working my ass off for a couple thousand dollars, which I was then spending on promotional materials, conference travel and expenses to write MORE books. In fact, I was spending more money than I was making. It was a vicious cycle, one I kept convincing myself would one day pay off. But the truth is it didn’t change. Not because of traditional publishing, at least. It changed because of self publishing.
In late 2011 I got my rights back on my Dorchester books and wasn’t sure what to do with them. I was continuing my Eternal Guardians series with Sourcebooks, but what about books one and two–MARKED and ENTWINED? I didn’t want to see these books disappear. Sourcebooks was willing to put these books back into print, but for a ridiculously low advance. I wasn’t sure what to do. Luckily, self publishing was just starting to take off, and I’d been watching what my friends were doing. One phone call to Marie Force was all it took to convince me to give it a try. In December 2011, I put MARKED and ENTWINED back up online. Did I know everything about self publishing right away? No. I learned by trial and error. It took me a while to get the metadata right, to play with pricing and to advertise that the books were once again available to readers, but I slowly figured it out. To this day, that was the decision that changed my career in ways I never saw coming. If Sourcebooks had offered me the same advance they were giving me for my other books (which wasn’t much at all) I would have handed those two books over. I would not be writing this post today.
Just after I self published the first two Eternal Guardian books, I also decided to publish another book a few agents had told me would NEVER be published by a NY Publisher. WAIT FOR ME was actually the second book I wrote, but it was the book of my heart–the one I revised over and over every time I learned something new about writing. I never pursued a publisher with this book because I thought those agents had to know what they were talking about. The book straddles genres, it’s not a typical romance, it’s got an amnesia plot! But I loved that book and I wanted readers to love it too. So, when I decided to self pub my backlist books, I took a chance and put it out there.
Then…only a few months into my self publishing venture…I found myself up for contract renegotiation with my publisher. At this point I was just starting to see an income from my self published books. It wasn’t a lot, but it was growing every month, and I was starting to see how exciting it was to have total control. To be able to play with pricing, to be able to advertise how I wanted, to adjust metadata or change covers…it was liberating. And I was getting paid monthly instead of biyearly! That right there was a huge plus. I found myself with a decision to make: keep accepting what would be considered less than minimum wage for my work if I broke down all the time I was spending writing by hour, or take a chance. I chose to take a chance. I decided to continue my Eternal Guardians series on my own. I didn’t announce to readers that I’d left my publisher because the next book in my Eternal Guardians series (ENSLAVED) hadn’t even come out yet, but I told my writer friends. And as my revenue from self publishing continued to grow, I knew I’d made the right decision.
BOUND (Eternal Guardians #6) is the first book in my Eternal Guardians series that is straight-to-Indie published. I know that some readers are frustrated this book is not available in mass market form or on store shelves like the others in the series, but when deciding what to do, I had to take a lot of things into consideration. Book stores are closing, store shelves are shrinking, and my print run between ENRAPTURED and ENSLAVED (only six months!) dropped by 20,000 books. There was no guarantee Wal-Mart (who was the biggest buyer for my print books) was going to pick up the next book in the series, and at 4% royalties (most people don’t realize authors get reduced royalties from sales at Wal-Mart, so at a $4.99 sale price, I make less than 20 cents a book on my Wal-Mart print sales) I couldn’t come up with a valid reason to take a crappy contract JUST to say I was “traditionally” published. Especially when I looked at the fact the MAJORITY of my sales were coming in digital form. If there’s one thing I want readers to understand, it’s that this was not an easy decision for me to make, but at the end of the day I realized that if I wanted to continue writing this series (which I do!), I couldn’t do it for free anymore. It was a business decision, plain and simple. My books are still in print, they’re just not in MM size. And though you can’t casually pick one up in a grocery store, you CAN order them in print version online. My books–my writing–hasn’t changed. All that’s changed is where you can buy the print versions.
And that brings me back to a little book called WAIT FOR ME. The book that most people in the industry consider my “break out book”–the one that pushed me onto the NY Times list–was not a traditionally published book. Remember, I self published WAIT FOR ME in late 2011. Of all my books, it had the most amazing reviews, but it had the least visibility, so one day I decided…what do I have to lose? I made WAIT FOR ME free with the distinct goal of garnering a few more reviews. Readers started downloading it. Incredible reviews began popping up. I was thrilled. Then I took it off free, and because the book had generated buzz, it shot to the top of the paid charts. No one was more surprised than me. The book of my heart, the book no one wanted, catapulted me into a new publishing category. It spent nine weeks on the USA Today list, five weeks on the NY Times list and hit every other bestsellers list out there. My agent has sold numerous foreign rights for this book, it will soon be released in audiobook, and other exciting things are happening for the story (tho I can’t share details just yet.) The bottom line though is simple: if this had been a traditionally published book, it never would have reached the level it has reached. No publisher would have left WAIT FOR ME free for four weeks. No publisher would have GIVEN AWAY 500,000 copies with no promise of making those sales up somewhere in revenue. Because I self-pubbed this book, I had control over it, and I was able to let readers decide what would happen.
Every author has to look at his/her career and decide what is best for them. Self publishing is not for everyone. It’s a lot of work. Since I’ve done both (traditional publishing and self publishing), I see the pros and cons of each. I’m not trying to sway anyone toward self publishing here. I’m very thankful for the years I worked with traditional publishers because during that time, I learned a lot about the industry, about formatting and editing that I now find invaluable information as I self publish. But don’t let a publisher tell you self publishing is “hard”. It’s not hard. It’s more time consuming than anything else. How much time do I spend on publishing versus writing? I will be honest and say that I spend as much time wearing my “publishing” hat during my work day as I do writing, but it doesn’t bother me because I know I get the payout at the end–not someone else. To me, the work is worth the time spent because at the end of the day the profit is all mine. I mentioned before that I spent more money in expenses as a traditionally published author than I took in. (And this was even after hitting the USA Today list with one of my Eternal Guardians books). To give you an idea of how my life has changed since I began self publishing, in 2011 (traditionally published only) I reported a negative income on my taxes. In 2012 (after I began self publishing–and it’s important to note that the majority of my income that year came from self published books, NOT my traditionally published books), I reported six figures. In 2013, we’re projecting I’ll be approaching the seven figure mark. To me, that’s a HUGE difference.
Some authors don’t want to be publishers and that’s ok. If all you want to do is write books–then traditional publishing is for you all the way. But some of us–those of us that have that business savvy and want more control over our careers–can see amazing results through self publishing. Will I ever traditionally publish again? I’m contracted for three books with Montlake (a new RS series that links back to the novella I did for Kensington, with release dates in 2014), but after that…honestly, the contract would have to be enticing enough to draw me away from the income I’m now making. Thanks to self publishing, I have the time to write the books my readers are eager to get their hands on (like the sequel to WAIT FOR ME, which I’m working on, and the 7th Eternal Guardians book–Nick’s book!–which I’m in the process of plotting.) I get to write the books I want to write, the way I want to write them, and I get to release them when I want…not when a publisher can fit me into their schedule. For me, self publishing is a perfect fit and no matter where I go from here, it will definitely be part of my career plan.
Of course, this all seems fabulous and it sounds like I’m making tons of money, doesn’t it? But you have to remember that I wrote for ten years without making a penny. Three plus of which as a published author. If you add up what I’ve made self publishing and divide it by ten years, trust me, it’s not much in the long run. But the growth potential is there, and that’s what keeps me going. There was a time not long ago when I was pretty sure I was going to have to go back to teaching because I wasn’t making any money writing. I was even looking at job postings online, trying to find a science position in my area. Now that’s all changed. I get to keep doing what I love. I get to keep writing the books readers love because of self publishing.
I’m happy to share what I’ve learned, so if you have questions about self publishing, post them in the comment section and I’ll try to answer.
April 7th, 2013 at 5:12 pm · Link
Elisabeth–Congratulations on your success. Wonderful. I also bought WAIT FOR ME and think it’s a greatstory. Well done!
April 7th, 2013 at 5:14 pm · Link
I loved Wait for Me–the freebie got me to try a new author. Glad to hear it’s the book that was a home run.
Thanks for sharing the journey in such an inspirational way.
April 7th, 2013 at 5:22 pm · Link
Thanks so much for being open and honest and sharing your story. I had no idea that someone who was published and succeeding the way you were was in reality not making enough money to survive. That’s terrible. As someone who has decided to take the plunge into self publishing it is encouraging to see your success. Wishing you much more success in the future!
April 7th, 2013 at 6:29 pm · Link
I love hearing stories about nice people hitting it big. I’m so happy for your success. You deserve it!
April 7th, 2013 at 7:03 pm · Link
Thanks for writing this blog. You have given me a lot to think about. I wish you much success.
April 7th, 2013 at 7:39 pm · Link
Congratulations — I’m THRILLED for you! And I loved reading your journey…thank you for sharing it. I’ve greatly appreciated what I’ve learned from self-publishing a few books, too, along with my traditional releases. I hadn’t realized how much the industry would change in just a few years (and WOW has it changed!), but every day I get more excited about the opportunities for authors to be able to reach our readers more quickly and more directly. Wishing you even more success!!
April 7th, 2013 at 8:02 pm · Link
Great, honest story — thank you for sharing, and CONGRATULATIONS on well-earned success!
April 7th, 2013 at 8:31 pm · Link
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in publishing. As a new author who has just submitted her first manuscript, this certainly does give a lot of food for thought.
Knowing what you do now, would you still have gone through the traditional publishing route to learn and grow as a writer before trying to self publish? My husband tried to convince me to self publish, citing the same reasons you’ve posted for doing so, but I worried that an unknown writer would have a difficult time of it.
April 7th, 2013 at 9:01 pm · Link
When you decided to start self publishing, did you come up against any resistance from your agent?
Thanks for the new view!
April 7th, 2013 at 9:28 pm · Link
Thank you for sharing your story. It was incredible to read about how hard the traditional publishing experience is by someone being quite honest. I hope you even more luck and sales. You write some great books and I look forward to seeing more!
April 7th, 2013 at 11:24 pm · Link
Congratulations to you Elisabeth on your success with self publishing. You have given me much to think about. Thank you for being so open and honest about your journey. And I ordered Bound from Amazon, so it should be arriving in my mailbox next week, and I am so happy that you will be telling Nick’s story. He is an intriguing character.
April 8th, 2013 at 12:14 am · Link
Thank you so much Elizabeth for your candid and informative write. I’m in that shady place waiting to officially emerge as a writer. It all seems so overwhelming at this point. Self-publishing demands tons of knowledge, setting up a platform, looking for the right wood–expensive too. But I know nothing will happen unless I make a move and take the power into my own hands. I can do this! You are so kind for sharing.
April 8th, 2013 at 4:49 am · Link
Elizabeth – so thrilled for you. What a wonderful, inspiring blog, and I found success the same way. I had a romantic comedy book, Replacing Barnie, the first in a 3 book series, with a small pub house, made zero money on it, and got my rights back. I put it up on Kindle for .99 in 2011, and we were in the process of moving. When I came up for air and checked my sales, I found that I was around 3000 out of a million books. I sold around 15,000 books and that jump started my career. Now I have a 3 book contract with Montlake and couldn’t be happier. I also have 10 self pubbed books still making money. Isn’t it fabulous! Love having control.
April 8th, 2013 at 5:24 am · Link
I, too, had dreams of being published by a publisher. But reality set in as 1) I couldn’t get time off for any writer’s convention and 2) if I could do 1, I couldn’t afford it.
Now, I’m trying to learn all I can about self publishing. Again 2 is a major factor. I feel though more than ever that self publishing and being in control is the way for me to go. I’m joining a group of self published writers this month. I’m taking advantage of 5 free books published by CreateSpace through a contest I was in Nov.
I look forward to reading all your posts about your journey.
April 8th, 2013 at 5:43 am · Link
Thanks for sharing all that info. It made me appreacite even more your talent as a writer. I’m so proud of him, of what you – finally – accomplished. I’m so glad that self-publishing was the answer for you and started giving you the due income for your work.
My best wishes for you.
April 8th, 2013 at 8:07 am · Link
Hey there. i followed a link to your site from Hugh Howey. I am working on my first novel, and your success story is very motivating. Thank you for sharing, and I’ve book marked your site so that I can come back and read more.
April 8th, 2013 at 9:52 am · Link
Congratulations on your success and a huge thank-you for sharing your story. These types of stories are such an inspiration for new writers like me. They’re the light at the end of my tunnel. They literally keep me pushing forward.
April 8th, 2013 at 2:29 pm · Link
Very informative. Thank you for sharing. It’s great to know the behind the scenes of books I’ve loved!
April 8th, 2013 at 11:35 pm · Link
Hi Elizabeth, thanks for this inspiring post. I need to stop telling myself I’m too busy to self-publish and to get going! Would you mind saying if you have someone edit your self-published books or not?
April 9th, 2013 at 4:18 am · Link
I am not a writer, just an avid reader, so I had no idea how hard it was to get published and make an income. Thank you for sharing your story and taking a chance on the self publishing route. I am hooked on your Eternal Guardians series and am looking forward to reading Wait For Me. I’m a big fan!
April 9th, 2013 at 7:55 pm · Link
Elisabeth – congrats on your self-pubbing success. I’m thrilled to hear how well you are doing!
As a writer, the more I hear about traditional publishing, the more disappointed I become (oh, the pedestal I had them up on!), but it’s wonderful to hear how good writers taking control and earning the success (and pay) they deserve through self-publishing.
As a reader though…I’m thrilled to have found a new author!! 🙂 I read “Wait for Me” last night…Wow. Wow. Wow!! I’m so glad you published that story – it’s beautiful!!
April 9th, 2013 at 10:42 pm · Link
Thank you so much for posting this. I’m at a crossroads in my own career, though I use “assisted self-publishing” through my agent (Jessica Faust-bookends.llc/Beyond the Page Publishing)_ and I have to admit, I love the freedom. I’m excited about writing again, and that’s a very good thing!
April 10th, 2013 at 10:53 am · Link
Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! 😀
I self-published my first novel, Soul Meaning (Seventeen Series Book #1), last year and have learned so much AFTER publishing. My biggest learning curve has been the marketing side, which as you say, is a helluva lot of trial and error. I’ve found book pricing somewhat challenging! 😉
I do have a question for you!
I am currently doing a book tour for the first book, in anticipation of the release of Book 2 in May. I have been toying with the idea of making Soul Meaning free for a period of time to garner more exposure and boost its ranking up Amazon’s listing before Book 2’s release.
If you don’t mind me asking, how many days did you make Wait For Me free for? I was thinking of making Soul Meaning free for 3-5 days but I’m curious to see how long it took to get 500,000 downloads!
Thank you again for talking so freely about your experiences!
April 12th, 2013 at 5:49 am · Link
Wow, just wow. Your story truly moved me. Thank you so much for sharing it, for putting out there that which not many talk about, for putting to words that which serves to inspire all of us, authors and readers alike. Because it is an inspiration. What you’ve done, what you’ve fought to accomplish furthers the future for authors and literature as a whole. So thank you for writing this, and for being the amazing person that you are. Congratulations on all your success–I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it as I know there will be many, many more to come. It is so very well deserved. 🙂
Violet Duke (aka Nina)
April 12th, 2013 at 1:54 pm · Link
What an amazing post! I’m thrilled for you, Elizabeth.
Like you I’ve been taking advice from Gemma Halliday and Bella Andre. My first self publishing book came out almost twelve months ago. The first of the series, which is free, has had over 250,000 downloads and books two and three are doing well, selling in four figures each month across all distributors. Book four is out at the end of the month. I also write a paranormal romance series and book one is in the top ten paranormal romance category in Amazon.com. No way would a traditional publisher let me do both.
This is such an exciting time for an author. Self publishing isn’t for wimps. It’s damn hard work, but the rewards are great as long as we put the reader front and centre of all we do.
Congratulations for your amazing success.
April 19th, 2013 at 6:27 am · Link
I can’t begin to tell you how you have blessed me with the information regarding “self-publishing”, thank you for sharing. It was what I needed to hear at the moment, and you have been honest and informative. I am in the process of self-publishing my children book for e-book format.
I discovered you as an author from the book “Wait for Me” and you already know that is one of the best book you have written. My sister and I read a lot of books and rate them from 1-10, then share the book titles with others to buy and read; but I must tell you, that book, “Wait for Me” went off the charts. It was a while since we read a really, really, great book and “Wait for Me” was it. It had so many intricate details and stories going on that it was impossible for me to put the book down. I think my sister read it three times, she’s going to be ecstatic that a second one is coming out.
You absolutely “out did” yourself on “Wait for Me” it was so well-written and entertaining that it should definitely be made for a movie.
You are a blessing, thank you.
June 2nd, 2013 at 10:35 am · Link
Thank you, thank you!!! I am still under traditional contract but start putting up books “no one would ever read” in Jan of this year. At this point, I’m making more a MONTH than I made all last year from traditional publishing. And I love Marie’s incredible vision for us as authors and this industry. Her transparency has been an absolute GIFT.
September 16th, 2013 at 7:54 pm · Link
Just a heads up…your picture link to Wait For Me is getting a 404 error.
Most of all, thanks for this wonderful blog.
February 27th, 2014 at 5:56 pm · Link
What you wrote really resonated with me. My first book (under a different name) was a national bestseller. It was laughable how little money it made, at least in the US. You could make more money teaching Kindergarten. Seriously. I won some reader awards, published more books…and got nowhere. I had many issues with my publisher that I won’t get into, but among them was complete lack of creative control and a willful ignorance of what my readers actually liked about my books. I was forced to change the content of my books to add a bunch of stuff my readers DIDN’T like, with predictable results. And there were issues of rights and (non)payment of ebook royalties and other things that were a huge deal.
Anyhow, after a lot of wrangling, thought, and several other abortive attempts, I’ve decided to go indie–and start a new name because I can’t get my rights back and I don’t want more of my old books to sell because I’m not getting paid for them even when I should be. Ahem. (And my publisher is much bigger than Dorchester, who got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, was.)
It’s weirdly much scarier than the days of sending out endless manuscripts and getting endless rejections.
November 26th, 2015 at 3:04 am · Link
I am a fledgling writer and am currently keeping a blog with some fledgling others. I have just put a post quoting from you with a link back to you. I really appreciate what you have said (love your books, also important and needing to be said) and find your story inspiring. I love how you are able to play with genres and love that you carry your talent over into great advice. Can I add your website to my blog (right hand side)? I may not have a lot of readers at the moment but we live in hope and your books are worth spreading the word about,
December 21st, 2015 at 7:35 pm · Link
Excellent commentary . I was enlightened by the facts – Does anyone know if my assistant might grab a fillable IRS 1040 – Schedule E copy to edit ?
December 22nd, 2015 at 3:58 am · Link
Grab it from its.gov and go to tax forms. Any form you need should be on the it’s website.