RWA 2013: Discussing Self-Publishing With Bella Andre And Barbara Freethy

The biggest news in the publishing industry today is the success of self published authors. From becoming bestsellers, to selling to NYC houses and winning over millions of readers, there has never been a better (or more lucrative) time to be an indie author. At the 2013 RWA National Conference, self-published authors Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre held several workshops on how to become a self-pub success and why you might want to consider being your own boss. In the panel "Self-Publishing Chat with Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre" these authors answered audience questions on the nitty gritty that goes into self-publishing. Here is an overview on what was discussed.

Authors Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre

Beginning the workshop, Bella gave some bullet points of what authors ready to self publish should do. These included:

1) Write your next book!

2) Get a content editor and copy editor

3) Don’t price your work too low

But out of all of these tips, Bella says that the first is the absolute most important because there is no better way to market yourself than to publish that next book. And for her, this means continuing to write her popular Sullivans series. She describes the process:

“You start with one book and it can be difficult [for readers] to find. A second gives you more visibility and people who read the first book continue with the second. Then there is the third book and three starts to be the magic number. At three, you can play with things with the first book, like 99 cent promotions and offering it for free. Then the 'aahhhh' happens at book four and five. For me, the Sullivans sales got better and better and then at book five, the ceiling blew off and people were hooked."

Barbara, an author with a backlist of dozens of books, says that she has a lot of standalone stories that are “big, long books of over 100,000 words,” and she has found success because she has so many books and even though they are not part of a series, they all support each other creating a “snowball that takes on its own momentum." 

So the most important tip of the entire workshop — WRITE THAT NEXT BOOK!

But if the next story is a writer's goal, how does marketing fit in? Bella didn't mince words when she announced that authors shouldn’t "waste" time promoting their books. “The best self promotion is your next book. And the book after that and after that .... ”

Barbara suggests that if you want to promote, do as much as you can for free. Things like writing guest blogs and participating in a Goodreads giveaway don’t require a lot of money. However, she was also very clear that if any of this takes time away from writing, then it is best to let it go.

What does this focus on writing mean for fostering relationships with fans? Barbara says to keep in touch with your readers, you might want to either have an assistant to answer emails or have a message on your website sending fans to Facebook or another social network. You can also think about starting an online group so that readers can talk amongst themselves and you can “pop in on them every now and then” to answer questions. 

But before you have these fans, you need to start selling books and with this comes a big question of pricing strategies. Bella says that she prices her books depending on the word count. So she might sell a novella of 25,000 - 35,000 words for around $3-4, and a full length book of 75,000 - 90,000 words between $5-6. Bella says to remember that the price indicates the worth of you book, so don’t underprice it. She also pointed out that a lot of break out books started out at the 99 cent price point and have stayed 99 cents. Everyone needs to make this choice for themselves, but it is important to do the math. She asks, “Do you want to make 35 cents from a 99 cent book or $1.75 from a $5 book? That's five times the money.”

Barbara says that there is no one answer to the pricing game, but she warns against falling into believing the myths that she calls the “indie absolutes.” These myths include: pricing at $1.99 is dead and $3.99 is the only price point. Or summer is not a good time to sell. Or if nobody has heard the author's name then the book's price has to be cheap. She says that there are always variations in publishing. And while she agrees with Bella not to underprice, Barbara does think that sales have a place in an author's pricing strategy. For example, “If nothing is happening maybe drop the book’s price. Sales can be used on limited basis to get bloggers and reviewers talking.”

And so how do you know if your book is doing well? There is always the royalty check sent from retailers, but these may arrive only every few months. So how do you go about figuring out a retailer's analytics? Bella joked that she can't tell the secrets of Amazon's analytics, or system of discovering data patterns, because "there is only one guy that knows exactly how they work and he is under constant security!” While this is an exaggeration, she is correct in pointing out that these are complicated systems and uncertainty should not stop writers from self publishing. 

Barabra reiterates that analytics are the kind of thing that you will learn when you enter this publishing world. And as for metadata and analytics, she says for the first two years didn’t know about these and still sold millions of books. Her best advice? “Just start.”

However, one thing that authors should be familiar with are keywords — this is how search engines and online retailer customers find books. The main keywords tend to be genre (i.e. Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal) while secondary words may be the historical period you set your book in, topics (i.e. sisters, wedding, roadtrip), etc.  

Keywords, pricepoints, social networking — is your head spinning yet? Probably! This self publishing gig will take plenty of time and effort, so how do Bella and Barbara find balance in their life? The truth is, they don’t. 

Never one to talk around a subject, Bella made it clear that, for her, balance is overrated. "This is just one more thing as women we are told to do. Take over world, become a CEO and a bestselling author. If there is one easy thing to take off the list, it is balance." She continued that she has been on a sprint for the last three years and she is slowing down a little, but she doesn't regret a thing. "There is a lot of worth in taking advantage of an industry that is changing. I have a wonderful support system and I love that my children see their mother thriving." 

For more discussion on self-publishing, Bella and Barbara suggest connecting with other authors at WritersCafe, Yahoo groups (search for 'self publishing') and downloading a copy of The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, a free guide written by Smashwords founder Mark Coker. If you are a self-published author with tips, feel free to leave them in the comments below!