Note from Jane: The following post by CJ Lyons (@cjlyonswriter) is the second in a series sponsored by Nook Press, offering tips and advice from successful authors about self-publishing. Read the first installment from Colleen Gleason on the importance of your book cover.
Since 2009, after the release of my second novel, I’ve been a so-called hybrid author, working with New York publishers as well as self-publishing. I’m often asked why I chose to combine these two seemingly disparate publishing careers, juggling twice the work.
The answer is simple: It’s not twice the work or two different careers. It’s one career—my career.
But that’s not even the right question to ask. It’s not about me or New York. The right question—in fact, the one I asked myself before embarking on self-publishing—is: What is the best way to get my books in front of my readers?
At the time I had two books in a series published, but the books were being brought out one a year and readers were clamoring for more. My agent and I had many discussions with my editor, including a face-to-face meeting with her and the publisher. We explained the difficulties of building a readership and keeping my name prominent in their minds with such a slow release schedule.
Their answer: that’s the way their production schedule worked.
We begged for my books—fast-paced mass market medical suspense with romantic elements that were clearly marketed as “beach reads” and aimed at the 18-34 year old demographic—to be moved from their current shelving in “Literature” to the “Mystery-Suspense” section where my readership would have a better chance of finding them. After all, how often do 18-34 year olds pick up their pleasure reading from books shelved beside Moby Dick? They declined, saying only their “traditional” mysteries were shelved in that area of the bookstore.
I had been following the rise of e-books and suggested using them as marketing tools. I talked to my publisher about bundling e-book with print purchases (remember, this was in 2009, so I was way ahead of my time!), giving away or discounting the first book in the series for a limited time with the release of the new book, or at least allowing me to offer free books to select members of my mailing list. Their reply: we’re in the business of selling books, not giving them away.
Frustrated at my inability to provide my readers with what they wanted—more stories from me—when e-book self-publishing opportunities arose, I jumped right in. I never considered making money; I only wanted to get more books out to my readers in the hopes that they’d remember my name by the time my next New York–published book eventually hit the shelves.
With that decision, I not only created a massively successful way to grow and serve my readership, I also took control of my career. I finally realized it wasn’t up to New York to decide how many books a year I published or what genre my books were categorized as or even how they were distributed.
These were all my decisions. No one in the world was going to be more passionate about my success as an author or my readers than I was.
So I made my choice. To embrace the world of possibilities and form my own Global Publishing Empire. As CEO, I decide whom I want to partner with.
Those partners include:
- my agents (a traditional agent, foreign rights agent, and two TV/film agents) who profit from selling my subrights and negotiating my New York contracts
- a small press who handles my non–New York print creation and distribution
- a variety of audio producers and voice talent who create my audiobooks
- a cadre of international translators
- several print and e-book distribution channels (including Nook Press, Kindle, Apple, and Kobo, among others)
- relationships with indie bookstores, graphic artists, formatters, marketing specialists, developmental editors, copy editors, proofreaders, and—yes—even my very own charity foundation.
Currently, my strategic partnerships also include New York publishers. Why? Because they can still serve my readers via their distribution channels and marketing as well as serving me via their editorial guidance to take my craft to the next level. And traditional publishers are still the best at turning a book into an event.
Two weeks ago I launched my first YA medical thriller with Sourcebooks and, although BROKEN is my twentieth book published, it’s been as giddy and exciting as launching my very first book back in 2008. There’s a wonderful synergy in working with professionals as passionate about your readers as you, the author, are.
Sourcebooks created stunning packaging for BROKEN’s hardcover, from the dust jacket to the foil embossed cover that’s like getting a secret, special surprise inside each book. Their marketing and publicity departments have worked tirelessly to get the word out while their editorial staff helped me transform a good book into one that has already won awards and is on the shortlist for several more.
That’s what I’m talking about with strategic partnerships—and note, I didn’t mention money once in this entire discussion! Yes, as authors, we need to carefully review any contracts we enter into and weigh potential profit and loss from a partnership (just the same as New York publishers when they decide if authors are worthy of their time and effort), but in my experience, using money as a benchmark for decision making has always ended in failure and regret.
Instead, my guiding mantra as I consider each of the myriad choices that an Author, CEO is faced with is: Will this make my readers jump in delight and tell their friends?
Keep my readers happy and you’ll keep me happy.