Wrap-up Self-Publishing Panel Sydney Writers Festival 2013

The 23rd May, 2013 came into being during a relentless autumn downpour. This was a tragedy! How was I going to walk from the Domain car park to the NSW State Library without my hair suffering ruination? How could I talk at the Sydney Writers Festival on The Forest for the Trees self-publishing panel if I looked like a smelly, old dog who’d just rolled in a muddy puddle?

With my umbrella glued to my head, I walked along the Macquarie Street footpath, cursing every raindrop. Just shy of my destination, when I thought I had survived nature’s onslaught and retained fabulous hair, some jerk, from the warm, dry comfort of his motor vehicle, swamped me with a wave of wet stuff when he (I’m assuming it was a man because they are always doing silly things) drove through a massive puddle and drenched my jeans. I think I actually growled and I definitely swore. Marching on, determined to ignore my plight, I reached my destination.

Okay, enough of the theatrics. I’ll get down to business now. I was honoured to be asked by the organisers of the Sydney Writers Festival (the biggest writers festival in Australia) to sit on the self-publishing panel. I love sharing what I’ve learnt in the last year and a half, with other writers who are dreaming of life as a published author and here was an awesome opportunity.

Chairing the panel was the kind and knowledgable author and crowd-funding specialist, Anna Maguire. She asked awesome questions of myself and the two other authors (who were also wonderful peeps), Chris Allen and Elisabeth Storrs.

From left to right: Elisabeth Storrs, Dionne Lister, Anna Maguire, Chris Allen
From left to right: Elisabeth Storrs, Dionne Lister, Anna Maguire, Chris Allen

Our roads to self-publishing were different: I have always (and probably always will be) self-published, Chris started as self-published but is now with Momentum Publishing, and Elisabeth started with a traditionally published book, but  moved to be self published and actually decided not to renew her publishing contract when her publisher was bought out by another company. We all agreed that professional self-publishing is a good avenue for aspiring writers to pursue. Here are some pertinent points from our discussion (some of them refer to trad published authors too):

1. Have a blog/website.

2. Interact in the social media forum where you feel most comfortable.

3. Have your book edited!!!! One of the questions was “How much does it cost?” Editors charge at different rates—I’d say as a general rule between $40-$80 an hour (depending on their experience,  reputation, and workload). The quote you receive also depends on the amount of time it will take to edit your work and the word count. When I edit, if the writing is good, I can edit up to 4,000 words an hour, if the writing is not so good, it can take an hour to edit 1,500 words, so prices for a 60,000 word book could range anywhere from $750-$2,500. If your writing is really not ready for editing, the editor should tell you and not take the job. If this happens with me, I edit a paragraph and tell the author to go away, learn what I’ve explained and apply it to the book before resubmitting. A good editor won’t want to waste your time or theirs.

4. Have your book proof-read.

5. Spend time creating a great cover which is relevant to your genre or set aside a budget to pay a professional.

6. Be patient: it takes time for the word to spread about your book and you want to be in it for the long haul.

7. This is a business so treat it like one and realise you will need to invest money and a lot of time.

8. Traditional publishing is not all it’s cracked up to be. Elisabeth felt that her original publisher supported her with editing and cover, but only provided marketing and support for six weeks after her book came out. She is much happier as a self-published author and she retains all her royalties (you have to sell three to four times the amount of books as a trad published author to receive the same royalties). Incidentally, Elisabeth was so happy with her editor that she now pays her on a freelance basis to edit her self-published books.

9. You have total control as a self-published author. You can see what marketing works because you have access to your sales figures and you get paid every six weeks to three months (if your book is selling). With a traditional publisher, you must wait six months to be paid.

10. As a self-published author you have the ability to price the book to sell. I have seen many (not all) of the big publishers price their authors’ e-books out of the market because they are trying to protect their print interests. If you don’t believe me, check out some of these books on Amazon. I buy a lot of e-books for Club Fantasci and I often have to pay between $10 and $15 for an e-book!

11. The support of other writers is invaluable. Connect with authors on Twitter or Facebook because they will answer your questions about how to upload to Amazon, or who is a good editor, they will spread the news of your book sales, and they will support you with a kind word or funny anecdote on the days you receive a bad review or the weeks when you’ve hardly sold any books.

12. The credibility of self-published authors is still suffering because too many of these authors write a first draft and press the ‘publish’ button. If we want to be taken seriously, we all need to follow the professional route (ie editing, learning the craft, doing good covers) and encourage other self-published authors we know to do the same.

Something we didn’t discuss on the day, as we ran out of time (we could have talked all day), was, in my opinion, the importance of learning your craft. If you can’t afford a university degree in creative writing or literature, there are many online or local courses you can take. If you live in Sydney, The NSW Writers Centre has loads of fantastic courses run by some of the most experienced and talented writers in Australia, as does the Australian Writers Centre.

I predict that many mid-list, traditionally published authors, will decide to self-publish in the coming years. Why wouldn’t you if you have an established fan base and great editing/cover contacts since you will earn a lot more money?

If you want your book to shine, to impress people, and to sell; if you want to survive in the new age of publishing, be professional and patient. I’m happy to say that self-publishing is no longer a dirty word (even though a lot of publishers still scoff at self-published authors) and it will continue to lose its negative connotations if we all work on doing the right thing. If you are an author considering self publishing, I wish you all the best. Feel free to contact me on twitter or through my facebook page if you have any questions on the subject. Cheers and thanks again to the organisers of The Sydney Writers Festival!

How Did This Happen? I’m talking at the Sydney Writers Festival

2013 is turning into a fantabulous year. First Shadows of the Realm reached number 1 in two categories on Amazon (albeit for a short while), then I was lucky enough to talk at the NSW Writers Centre, my second book came out last week (after months of hard work), and now I’m smiling my way through April and May—until I get to speak at the most amazing event of 2013 (at least for me) on 23rd May. The Sydney Writers Festival is a week-long event that attracts thousands of readers, writers and those with an interest in cultural things (hmm, things is such a low-brow, simple word, but all the excitement of this year has my brain lost for anything more appropriate).

Over 500 authors, journalists and creative types (including Molly Ringwald, Ruby Wax and Michael Carlton) are presenting. It’s an amazing festival to be a part of.  I don’t know how I got to be so lucky, but I’m going to enjoy it and hope it’s not the last one I get to natter at.

As an advocate for professional self-publishing, I’m sitting on a panel called The Author as Everything—Publisher, Printer, Publicist, which will discuss the ins and outs of self-publishing and is being chaired by Anna Maguire (who has many years experience in publishing and now helps self-published authors). Authors Chris Allen and Elisabeth Storrs will be joining us. It’s part of a day-long seminar on publishing in general, called The Forest for the Trees, which will be super interesting (trust me on this) and encompasses insights from publishers, authors and agents. If you can make it, it would be great to see you (well, ok, I also need some people to hold up the “I love Dionne” banners and cheer when I say something clever).

Tickets can be purchased from the Sydney Writers Festival site.

Okay, I’m going now: I have to book my hair appointment,  choose an outfit (there’s only five weeks to go you know) and practice not swearing. Bye!

The Future of Publishing Panel at NSW Writers Centre

Future of Publishing Panel
Future of Publishing Panel

I recently appeared at the NSW Writers Centre speculative fiction festival and sat on a panel—the Future of Publishing. I was honoured to be able to represent self-published authors. My co-panelists were Joel Naoum from Momentum Publishing and Zoe Walton  from Random House. It was an informative discussion and anyone interesting in self-publishing or just becoming a published author, should take a look. I’m the clever one on the right (your right ;)). Click on the photo for a link to one of the discussions and here for a short video  with me saying something that was probably very important ;).

The Day I Became a Self-Publishing Avocado … I Mean Advocate

Here I am with some exciting news! Before I tell you I’ll explain why my posts have been few and far between lately: I’m drowning in a champagne glass full of editing work, writing, and flitting about festivals. The sides of my self-imposed glass are tall and impossible to climb out of since they slope inwards, although I’m enjoying the invigorating bubbles (I’m hoping you can picture my imagery; if not you’ll be sitting there thinking this woman is crazy and I have no freakin’ idea what the hell she’s talking about.)

Did you like the suspense? Now that I’ve annoyed you long enough, I’ll get to the point. My exciting news is (da na na na na): I sat on my first writers festival panel on the weekend, and I didn’t get heckled, not even once! I attended the NSW Writers Centre Speculative Fiction festival and spoke on the publishing panel. I, of course, represented self-publishing. I was nervous at first, although the amazing and super-nice Kate Forsyth did her best to make me feel confident (thank you Kate, it worked).

Me on the panel (I'm on the far right: your right, not mine).
Me on the panel (I’m on the far right: your right, not mine).

Surprisingly, I managed to answer the questions like I knew what I was talking about, and the crowd was generous enough to pretend they didn’t notice I was pretending to know what I was doing; I in turn pretended they weren’t pretending not to notice my pretending—I’m sure you’ll agree, we all did a great job! The pretending was so out of hand at one stage, that members of the audience were tweeting quotes from me. Ha! I’m quotable. Who would’ve thought (not me, that’s for sure). I heard these tweeters were paid in slabs of rocky road but we’ll pretend they did it because I’m fabulous ;).

There were other great panels on the day, and I listened enthralled as Kate Forsyth, Ian Irvine, Juliette Marillier and Garth Nix (who, by the way, should be in country music with a name like that), among others, chatted about subjects ranging from writing fantasy, to e-books, their publishing journeys, to fairytale retelling. It was a fantastic festival and I would highly recommend it to anyone who writes or reads speculative fiction. I am also happy that I got to represent self-publishing. I’ve discovered that I enjoy being an advocate for professional self-publishing.

The gorgeous Kate Forsyth and I.
The gorgeous Kate Forsyth and I.

It was also awesome because after the festival I caught up with some writer friends (a couple of whom I’d only met online). We had a cheap pub dinner and held an impromptu writers group meeting. We read each others’ work while people around us got pissed. Ah, the life of a creative.

I have to go now, because other than the fact that you’re probably becoming bored (stop nodding), I have to clear these champagne bubbles out of my nose and finish the first draft to A Time of Darkness, the Shadows of the Realm sequel, so it can fly off to the editors on Tuesday. I’m so excited and will post an update next week. Cheers!

Me, on a Publishing Panel at a Writers Festival? Yes Please!

My continuing run of good luck, as foretold by the birds pooing on my car (it’s my new predictor of how my life is going to go) has led to one of the most exciting things I’ve done as an author.

I received a message from one of Australia’s best-loved and most successful fantasy (including adult, teen and children’s books) authors, Kate Forsyth. Kate, who is the organiser of the festival, asked if I would like to sit on a panel at the upcoming NSW Writers Centre speculative fiction festival. I was laughing and crying at the same time, I think because Kate, in all her modesty, informed me she was “an author just like you.” Um excuse me? First of all, no introduction needed as I have The Witches of Eileanan series on my bookshelf and ‘just like you’ I think not. I’m a baby at this and Kate has published around twenty five novels, some of them prize-winning and I’m sure all of them best-selling (thank you so much Kate).

I’m going to be sitting on a publishing panel and answering questions about my experiences with self-publishing. I’m nervous of course, but I’ve already been informed that a few of my interstate friends are coming up to support me and enjoy the day, as there are many awesome talks to sit in on by great Aussie authors. I’m super excited and thankful as these opportunities don’t arise often (if at all).

So, aspiring Australian writers, get along to the NSW Writers Centre at Balmain for what is going to be an exciting day (have I already said it’s going to be exciting?). Tickets are a bargain at $80! Go to the site, check out the program and book now before everyone else beats you to it. I hope to see you all there.

What’s Worked in my Self-Publishing Journey so Far

Hello again. Today I was bragging about the fact that Shadows of the Realm (SOTR) was still in the top 100 for teenage literature fiction books on Amazon after two weeks up there. Even though it’s liable to drop out at any moment, today was good because I was sitting ahead of one of the Twilight books and one of the Gossip Girl books—it just proves dragons still have some clout. After I tweeted it out, I had a comment from another indie author who wanted to know how I had made it this far. I’ve been meaning to write about my experience for a while, and that was a good reminder. So here’s some of what I’ve learned. I hope it helps someone, somewhere, especially when you feel like giving up—believe me, you’re not the first and won’t be the last.

Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 3.06.53 PMSelf-publishing is a tough business—you have to be self-motivated, persistent and thick-skinned, as well as media savvy, hard-working and willing to learn. I still have days (and I’m sure there are more to come) when I seriously question the sanity of what I’m doing. Publishing is one of the most competitive fields to be in and I don’t think anyone has worked out what makes one book a best-seller over another. And I won’t lie: seeing books you perceive to be not as polished as your own, selling much better than yours, is disheartening. But don’t get me wrong—I don’t begrudge others’ success, but wonder “how come I’m not successful too.” Other thoughts you’re liable to have are: “Why bother, no one is ever going to buy my book,” or “Out of all the books out there, why would someone choose mine?” The secret is: you are never going to be able to answer those questions, so don’t even try. Your biggest weapons are persistence and hard work. And as an indie author you are also battling the perception that indie authors are unprofessional. This perception exists because unfortunately many are :(.

I started my self-publishing journey in October 2011 when I arrived on Twitter knowing absolutely zilch about marketing and social media. I always thought Twitter was for those wanting to follow the latest reality celebrity moron (OK don’t hit me; they’re not all morons) and to be honest, I really don’t give a crap about what famous people I will never meet are doing. After working out how to tweet and follow people, I was off and running (I’m technically challenged so if I can do it, anyone can). And boy was I surprised.

I only followed writers, and what an amazing and wonderful bunch of people I met. This was my first smart (and lucky) decision. The good friends you make on Twitter are the ones who will encourage you when you’re having those I feel like giving up days. They are the ones who will help you when you are wondering about how to upload your book to Amazon and Smashwords, and they are the ones who will put up their hands when you need someone to beta read your book or tweet your book sale (I just want to take a moment to thank all those who help me every day; without you I would not have done as well as I have, and when I’m not doing well you make me laugh).

Facebook and Google plus are also great ways to connect with writers. There are loads of writers’ groups you can join that will answer your questions, and I find writers are generally a fun lot of people to interact with (it’s true—we are all crazy).

So after being on Twitter for a couple of months, one of the amazing Tweeps I met (Peter Hobbs) asked if I had a blog. Of course I didn’t have a blog. “WTH is a blog?” I asked, and when I found out I thought, “Well who in the hell wants to read what I have to say?” Luckily for me, it turns out some people (I haven’t confirmed numbers but I’m pretty sure it’s more than one) actually find me amusing and/or informative. Other people’s blogs are also a source of valuable information about writing and self-publishing. Go visit them because what you learn will help (it helped me).

I hope you’re taking notes. Get on social media and do a blog—it not only gives you a support network, but this is where you build respect for your work and your brand (in other words,  you). The next thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is learn your craft. Not everyone can afford to study full-time but in case you haven’t already figured it out, it’s rare for anyone to be born with the ability of a literary genius. I found that out after the first draft of my book was rejected by publishers all over the world (how embarrassing; I can picture them laughing while reading the first paragraph). And here I was thinking I was going to sell millions without even trying. Thank God I realised I had a lot to learn and I enrolled in a creative writing degree. You can, at the very least, join a critique group or find a cheap, basic online course to do. Having said that, there are unedited, poorly written, self-published books that sell well, but for the sake of your own pride, and the reputation of indie authors, please aim to write well.

Hmm, I’m waffling a bit so I’ll hurry up. I improved my writing, employed an editor and went through my book three more times (that made it a total of eight) to proofread and make sure I had banished as many redundant words and passive language as I could. I paid a professional artist to do the cover, and I still get comments from people who love it.

Because I did all this, when I paid for a mail-out to announce my recent book sale to fantasy readers, it resulted in me selling four times as many books in two weeks as I had in the first eight months of my book’s public life. When the readers saw the cover and blurb it was enticing, then when they clicked on the link to Amazon there were a lot of good reviews for them to read, plus the book reads well in the sample because I went about it in a professional way (I am by no means suggesting it is the best writing you will ever read, but it doesn’t have typos or grammar and punctuation errors in every sentence). My support network also helped by announcing the sale on their blogs and tweeting and facebooking it.

The sales of my book to date and the Amazon rankings I’ve achieved in the last two weeks might be the best I ever do, but they wouldn’t have happened without hours each day promoting myself and helping others by giving feedback on their work or just encouraging them when they feel like giving up. When you go three weeks without one sale it can have you ready to pull your book off the internet and going to get a job where you ask “Would you like fries with that?”, but don’t. If, like me, you love writing, you will never be able to give it up. Just surround yourself with good people who understand what you’re going through and be patient and persistent. If it was easy, everyone would be a best-seller, right ;).

And take heart—apparently it takes between two and three years to build your platform to the point where you achieve consistent sales, and the more books you have out the better. It’s a steep learning curve being an indie author, but when you do have some success, it’s satisfying because you did it through your own hard work and because of the support from your friends. I can honestly say I’ve learnt more in the last two years than I ever have, and I’ve met incredible people I admire. I still have a way to go but I’m more determined than ever. I hope this post has given someone some kind of information they can use, if not, it was good writing practice for me ;). And feel free to contact me if you have any questions (I don’t know everything, but I’ll answer what I can and point you towards others more knowledgable than myself if I can’t). Happy writing!