07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Taking Control

Patricia Watters
Going indie is frowned on by many, who assume we're just not good enough to sell traditionally so we had to resort to selling our books ourselves. This puts the burden on us to prove the merits of our writing to skeptical readers who've been burned after buying books filled with typos and formatting issues and just plain bad writing. So we start with several strikes against us. But if we get past those, we also collect a 70% royalty instead of the typical 6% from a traditional publisher, which also means turning over 15% of that to an agent. So for our $2.99 books on Amazon we get to keep $2.00. That's definitely a plus. I was fortunate in that I'd already sold to Avon and Harlequin Superromance, so I was over the hump of having to prove that my writing was at least good enough to sell to a traditional publisher, so I make sure that's noted in my bio.

For me, going indie also meant I didn't have to convince an editor to let me keep the title I'd chosen, or wait in dread to see what the art department would come up with as a cover for my book. More important, I'd never again be mortified on reading a back-cover blurb like the one written by an editor for my lady-logger story, Sweet Promised Land (now Broken Promises on Amazon), that referred to a track of timber as a track of lumber (only in New York do trees grow as 2x4s). Nor would I have to worry about a line editor changing active voice into passive voice—she informed me after the sale that she was just out of college and I was the first author she'd worked with. Gag! On the other hand, I'd also be solely responsible if my books crashed and burned with 1-star reviews.

Deciding to take the chance, I began the process of preparing my books for publication since I was determined to be a do-it-yourselfer and keep total control. So, I went through the whole learning curve, starting by downloading Mark Coker's free book on Smashwords on how to format for ebook publication. Learning how to format books and post them myself has really served me well, especially since I re-read all of my books about every four months and always make some editorial changes, whether it's changing dialog that hits me wrong after some time has gone by, or tightening a slow-moving scene by chopping words, or just cleaning up "glitches" such as extra words that remained after revising. Whatever the reason, I want to be able to upload my books at any time. As a do-it-yourselfer, I also have the option of changing covers and/or titles if a certain book isn't doing well. Which brings us to the matter of covers.

Doing my own covers has been a gradual learning process, which is still in the works. I'd been a portrait photographer in the past so I already knew Adobe Photoshop, which meant I was halfway there. Still, my first attempts were pretty amateurish, and I also had seven covers to prepare. I was fortunate in that I had a pet peeve. Prior to the indie revolution, when the only option for a writer was to submit to editors, I hated having to prepare the required 3-chapter, one-page synopsis proposal, so after finishing a manuscript, I'd set it aside and go on to my next story. But while I was busy writing, I began to hear success stories about authors who'd gone independent. By then I had seven manuscripts completed, so I began to toy with the idea. The more I thought about NOT having to prepare those proposals, the more I liked the indie idea.

So one morning, as I was mulling over which way to go—write the dang proposals and send them out and wait months, even years to hear back, and possibly get an acceptance, but more likely get a rejection, or go indie—the choice seemed suddenly simple. So, after learning the how-tos of formatting and preparing covers, on May 6, 2011, I posted all seven books, which was key to future sales. If readers don't have follow-up books they'll go on to other writers. Sales started right up. Colby's Child, one of my five historicals, shot out of the starting gate and is still my bestselling historical. For some reason readers seem to like heroes who have soft spots for babies and kids. Other books did okay, but a couple seemed to languish. Because I was in control of my writing career now I had the option of changing covers and/or changing titles as a means of generating interest in lagging books, which can make a big difference.

For example, my book, Never Too Late, started out as The Lady Takes a Lover, with a cover that had the silhouettes of a couple on a beach against a sunset. It was selling at a snail's pace. So I changed the title to Suddenly Single and moved the couple in closer, but with the same image. Still nothing. The next title I tried was One Hot Hunk. I was sure that would attract sales. Nope! So I looked for other cover images and found one with an interracial couple. Wanting to crack into the black romance reader market I decided to go with that cover and revise the story accordingly. After running some new titles past an author friend, we came up with Never Too Late, but I also categorized the book on Amazon as a black romance. Sales started up. But then I had two variables: a new title and a new cover. I decided it was the interracial couple that was doing it. And I'll pick up on this later because there's more…

So going back to preparing covers. I do a lot of moving things around after buying an image from a stock agency, such as merging a subject from one image with a subject from another image as I did with the cover of Uncertain Loyalties, which is Book 4 in my Dancing Moon Ranch Series, and the cover of The Lies Uncovered, which contains the complete first trilogy of my Dancing Moon Ranch Series. The blond-headed woman and the dark-headed cowboy were two different images and the background a third. You can see both covers on my website. In addition to masking couples and moving them against different backgrounds, I also flip images, redress models, change hair color and make other modifications because these are stock photos that are not exclusive to the person who buys them, and I don't want another book to show up with the same cover image as mine. In addition, I make all my books available in paperback through Createspace, and they are in turn linked with the kindle editions.

As for hiring people to edit my manuscripts, I do it myself. I'm a fast writer, and a panser, so when I'm writing a 70,000-word book in a month, which means 12-14 hour days, it's impractical to pass a manuscript on to someone to read at a slower pace, plus I don't want to impose on my writer friends, so that's why I do it myself. Reading the manuscript aloud is also highly recommended because you can't help but stumble over typos and other editing problems.

Being a take-controller also means doing your own marketing. However, my approach has been the opposite from what everyone says is necessary, so when I'm asked how much marketing I do in the form of blogging and spending time on Facebook and Twitter, my answer is zero. I don't have a Facebook account, and although I signed up for Twitter I haven't been on it once, and this is the first blog I've been on. Other than readers liking my books, my only marketing is my website, which displays the covers and blurbs for all my books, along with covers and blurbs for books in progress and those coming in the future, since I'm always thinking ahead.

My biggest marketing tool, however, is to keep writing. Since I posted my seven books in May of 2011 I've written nine more books, six being those in my Dancing Moon Ranch Series. It's my first series and I loved having my characters stay alive through six books. It's also a two-generation series complied of two trilogies: Living With Lies, and The Lies Uncovered. To give an example of how this plays out, my heroine in Book 1 of the series is pregnant with the hero of Book 5, and the 3-year-old boy in Book 1, and the 5-year-old girl in Book 2, are the hero and heroine of Book 4. But throughout the series I don't lose sight of my original hero and heroine, who become the parents of six sons and a daughter, all of whom play important roles throughout the series, just like characters do in a television series. But these characters don't just parade in and out of books to let readers know they're still alive. They have important roles in moving the plots forward. My hero and heroine in Book 1 are every bit as important to the plots, as secondary characters, throughout all six books, as they were at the outset of the series.

In capitalizing on the series as a marketing tool, at the end of each book in the series, I include the first three chapters of the next book, to get readers into it. With the advent of Kindles, if they like what they're reading, at the touch of a few strokes on their Kindles they can download the rest of the book and keep reading, which also brings them to the next book in the series, etc. At the end of all books I also include the titles and blurbs for every book I've written, along with my About the Author bio and my web address.

I'm counting on readers wanting to read more, and I want to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. So far it seems to be working. My sales since I first posted in May of 2011 are triple what I made from Harlequin and Avon combined, and if sales continue as they are, that figure could double when my Dancing Moon Ranch Series is linked with my Kincaid Ranch Trilogy, which will then be linked with my Zydeco Trail Ride Trilogy, which will still be cowboy heroes (a very popular hero) but in a Louisiana setting. My plan is to have yet another of the six brothers from my Dancing Moon Ranch Series come to life in the last book of my Kincaid Ranch Trilogy, and then he'll arrive in Louisiana and become the hero in Book 1 of my Zydeco Trail Ride Trilogy so that the readers I've built up through nine books will keep reading. It will also expand my black romance reader base with a Creole cowboy theme.

So to get back to my single title, Never Too Late, with the interracial couple… I found a great black couple image when perusing a stock agency, so I changed the story to an all-black romance, and with a little revision and yet another cover change, I posted my first all-black romance  on Amazon and Smashwords, and followed up with the paperback edition through Createspace—one of the great benefits of learning formatting early on. So now I'll wait and see what happens.

Meanwhile, I invite you to check out my website and see my covers and read about my books. I've even posted the covers for books I haven't yet written—five more cowboy stories and a multi-generation, double trilogy entitled Ties That Bind, and Daughters of Privilege. This 6-book series will be set in Louisiana in the early 1800s and move up to pre-Civil war days. During this period there were many wealthy black plantation owners who owned slaves, and whose children married the sons and daughters of other black plantation owners, but only through marriages arranged by their fathers—a BIG taboo being that the children of these wealthy plantation owners never mingled with slaves. So naturally, the last heroine in the series will fall in love with one of her father's slaves. Those covers are posted too, so please check them out, and if you drop me a line I'll respond. All that being said, I guess I'd better get back to writing…

Patricia's Author Bio:

As a kid I hated to read and avoided it if I could, but I loved to write, so whenever there was a writing assignment at school I gave it my all. But I also loved the Saturday movies, and Tarzan was my introduction to the concept of hunks. Now, I live in a little hand-built log house located in the middle of thirty acres in the woods of Oregon. Still loving to write, I spend my time living a life of romance and adventure through my fictitious characters and the hunks are in my stories. Being published in both historical and contemporary with Harlequin and Avon-Harper Collins, I vacillate between wanting to write both, but I love whichever I'm writing at the time. When not writing, I share the "real" world with my husband, Ed, two cats, and a German shepherd who thinks her sole purpose for being on earth is to play ball. I invite you to visit my website at www.patriciawattersromances.com and if you drop me a note I'll respond.


Judith Ashley said...

Hi Patricia,

You are an inspiration to me. You've taught yourself all kinds of skills on the road to self-publishing which I totally admire.

I love the way you've woven both the characters but also the book covers of your series.

Thank you for guesting and sharing your knowledge with us at Romancing The Genre!

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with us, Patricia!

It's so helpful to hear different authors' approaches to Indie publishing. I hadn't thought about many of the points you raised, although the thought of not writing proposal packages DID occur to me early on, LOL. I hate them, too.

Diana Mcc. said...

Thanks for sharing your journey with all of us. Wonderful that you had a fan base to follow you to Indie. Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Hi Judith and Sarah.

Thank you for having me here today. I hope what I've written will be helpful to others in this crazy profession we've chosen. This is an incredible time to be a writer and FINALLY have control of our careers, even if it's sink or swim. Marketing is challenging for the indie author but when it works it's very rewarding. I'll be around today so if anyone has any questions I'll try to answer them. Please excuse me for responding as Anonynous but like I told you earlier, this is my first blog contact and I'm at the bottom of the blogging learning curve. I suppose I'd better figure it out though since it's another great marketing tool.

Patricia Watters

Barbara Rae Robinson said...

An inspiring story. I wish I could write that fast. Thanks for the how-to ideas.


Paty Jager said...

Patricia, You have really dove into the self publishing with both feet and it has paid off for you. Congrats! I too like the idea of having full say in covers and when the book is published. And the ability to fix things later on.

Great post on going Indie!

See you on the Indie trail!

Anonymous said...

Patricia, You are absolutely right that the best promotion is more books. I'm impressed with your output and your enthusiasm for romance. I went to your site and looked at all your covers. Wow! You are very good with cover creation as well. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience. You are certainly a great model for all those who wish to go Indie.

Karen Duvall said...

Really interesting stuff, Patricia! Thanks so much for sharing. I love the idea of being in control of my own writing career. Maybe I'll try it someday. It helps to hear the stories of others who have. :)