Laurie Gifford Adams began writing young adult novels during her career as an educator. Adams is the author of Finding Atticus, www.RUinDanger, Over the Edge, and Before I Knew. A former Prattsburg (NY) High School schoolmate of W2I Team member Darcy Hendrick, Adams has agreed to share her self-publishing experiences for our informational series of author interviews on the pros and cons of this publishing option.
What book did you first publish using a self-publishing provider or system? Title: Finding Atticus (2009); genre: middle grade contemporary.
What publisher or system did you use? I-Universe.
When was the book published, and how long did the project take from start to finish? I started writing the book in October 2008 and finished in February of 2009. I had planned to send it to agents and editors, but I used my English classes as first readers, and they liked it so much that they wanted copies. That’s when I decided to have a few available for them. However, subsequent events [led to my decision] to just leave it as self-pubbed because it had taken on a life of its own.
How many self-publishing companies or products did you investigate before choosing? Three or four.
What factors led to your choice? I-Universe was very easy to deal with. They took the guesswork out of the process. (However, their prices doubled after I published Finding Atticus, and I wasn’t thrilled about paying to have it published.)
How many up-front costs did you incur to publish your book? With Finding Atticus and www.RUinDanger, the family internet safety book that I co-wrote, it cost under $500 to have everything done . . . ISBN, cover, etc.
How long did it take to recoup these costs (if you have), or what is the projected time frame to recover them? Did the publisher give an accurate projected time estimate? I recouped the cost on both within a few months, but that’s not always the case. I didn’t receive an estimate from the publisher.
How much control did you maintain over the process (editing, revision choices, cover design, illustrations, book type (font, print size), and book description for marketing purposes? With the first two books through I-Universe, I didn’t have control over books size, type, font, or price. That’s the reason I switched . . . [to] Createspace. With Createspace, it’s more work, but it’s way cheaper to get a book out and you control almost everything—to a point. I’d still like my hard copy book prices to be lower, but I have them as low as I can go.
Did you hire a professional or use services provided by the self-publishing company for any of the following?
• Cover design: With Finding Atticus, I sent . . . a cover photo and [the publisher paid an artist to design] the covers. With Over the Edge and Before I Knew, I hired a cover designer, and for time’s sake, I also hired the interior designer because I didn’t have time to figure it all out. One of my critique partners did all of that herself, so she has almost no upfront money invested. Personally, I’d rather pay a professional who knows what they’re doing and can deal with any issues.
• Illustrations: N/A
• Editing: This was all me, my first readers, and a couple of people that were willing to edit for me. The important thing is to have others, not just one other person, go through your books for not only grammatical edits, but also for plot concerns. I can’t stress this enough. On the current book, I have nine first readers and two people working on edits and plot holes for me. I don’t pay . . . them, but I do acknowledge them in the books and give each a signed copy.
• Layout/design: I choose to hire someone to do this, because I just don’t have time.
Did you self-publish in print or e-book format, or both? Did the self-publishing company (if used) provide software services to create book files for printing or e-book conversion of your manuscript? I have books in both formats. The companies and designers I hired took care of all of this for me since they had the expertise . . . . My critique partners do all of this themselves.
What software or process was used? I have no idea.
Did you type the manuscript in this system, or was typing provided by the company? It was provided by the company.
If you purchased software yourself, what was the product? What was the cost? My critique partners have used Canva and other programs.
How much learning curve and time were required for typing/file preparation? Based on what one of my critique partners has done, it . . . could be a full time job. Hence, why I hire this out.
How many books (if print) did you have printed initially? Did you use/are you using print-on-demand? I use print-on demand, but I always order author copies (which you can purchase cheaper than the cover price) so that I have them on hand. The good part about print-on-demand is that they’re sold as people want them. The bad part . . . is that most bookstores aren’t willing to take a chance on the books because they can’t return them if they don’t sell. I do have a couple of [local] bookstores that . . . have had good success selling my books.
Is the book being marketed in stores (print)? Only in a select few stores.
Is the book being marketed online? If online, what sites offer your book? My books are available through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, Barnes and Noble, KDP.
Advice for authors who are considering embarking on a self-publishing adventure:
- Do read and re-read your story many times.
- Do have multiple “first or pre readers.”
- Do have a couple of people who are willing to go through and check grammar, spelling, etc.
- Do listen to critiques, but don’t feel that every suggestion needs to be used. This is your story. You know what point you’re trying to make.
- Do listen if a reader tells you something just isn’t believable or it’s confusing. You know exactly what you’re trying to say, so it’s likely you’re not going to see it, even after it’s pointed out. Listen to them. If they say more detail is needed, take a good look at what you’ve written.
- Do work with other writers.
- Do join writers’ groups. The smartest thing I ever did was to get involved with other writers because, especially in the beginning, most of them knew way more than I did about writing, about publishing, etc. Surround yourself with these people.
- Do attend conferences. I have attended many local and national conferences, and I can hear the same thing five different times, and each time I take something different away from it.
- Do attend writing workshops. Everyone can learn, even those who are multi-published.
- Do read books within the genre you’re writing. It’s important to see what’s out there, and it’s also important to see what is appealing to readers. You can also study style.
- Do find a “platform” that helps your books stand out. For example, I’ve chosen to use an “education” platform. In my Finger Lakes Series, every book has dogs who are used as assistance, emotional support, or as therapy dogs. Think about the themes in your books and make sure you’ve backed them up with your plot.
- Do keep your audience in mind. Whom are you targeting for your books? Who do you think/hope will read them?
- Do expect to do a lot of self-promotion and marketing. People don’t know you have books out there if you aren’t out there yourself letting people know.
- Do take advantage of the multiple social network opportunities to market yourself and your books. (But don’t overdo it . . . see a response in the “don’t” section that addresses this.)
- Do accept opportunities like this one to participate in a blog interview, speak at a library or bookstore.
- Do donate books to causes. Even though this seems like a loss, I write this off as “marketing and publicity.” I occasionally run contests either on FB or on Goodreads.
- Do realize I am not an expert in this. I am still learning so much all of the time, but I listen and explore. I’m always looking for new opportunities to share my books.
- Do realize that it will take a while to build a readership.
- Do encourage others to promote your books and to write reviews for you. These are extremely important in raising an author’s profile on Amazon, etc.
- Do write reviews for others as well. It matters. It’s important to give more than you take.
- Don’t listen to every critique or comment you get. Every reader is coming from someplace different and will have a different opinion. Listen to them, but be picky about how much you really believe you need to change your story. If you hear the same comment more than once, then it’s definitely a concern.
- Don’t give up. This is not easy. You have to constantly be looking for ways to market your book, get attention for your writing, etc.
- Don’t jump all over in genres if you can help it. It’s difficult enough to build a readership without confusing them. If your readers are expecting your books to have a hometown, folksy feel, and you suddenly have a book that is about city life, you might lose readers. If your readers are expecting a nice contemporary story and the next one is . . . vampire, unless they like to read across genres, you’re probably going to lose them.
- Don’t make your only contact with readers about your writing or books. Readers like to get to know the authors, too. You don’t have to go crazy with personal stuff, but readers like to know you’re “real” and they like to be able to identify with you in some way. If all you do on social media is market your books, people will quit looking.
- Don’t buy hundreds of books thinking they’re going to be easy to sell, because you’ll probably have that inventory for quite a while unless you happen to get lucky with an event.
- Don’t think every opportunity to go somewhere with your book is going to result in hundreds of sales. Sometimes you . . . sell one book — or none. But you’re putting yourself and your name out there.
If it’s . . . going to cost you a lot to be involved with, seriously consider the ROI (return on investment). If you have to pay an [event] entrance fee of $100 to have a table, when you figure out your profit, [don’t] figure it based on how many books you sold that day. . . . [I]f you paid $10 for [each] book from the publisher, and you’re selling it for $13, you’re only making $3 profit on each [sale]. So, in order to break even at this $100 table, you have to sell 34 books (. . . [to] be $2 ahead). Too many people don’t think about their initial investment . . . instead, in this scenario, they’ll say if they sold 34 books then they made $440, but they didn’t. They actually cleared $2 because they have to figure in the initial investment of $340 (34 books x $10 the publisher charges them), then $100 for that table. . . . [Y]ou already have $440 invested in this event before you sell anything. (That looks convoluted, but it’s the case.)
In this scenario, the author has earned $2 above expenses, but it has yielded possibly 34 more readers and name exposure, and there’s no telling how valuable that might be.