I’d like to welcome my friend and fellow writer, Ruth Ann Nordin to the blog today. Some of you may know her as the romance writer who referred you to my site. I’ve known her for fifteen years, since we met in college. We met because we were both writers, and I just happened to have gone to UWF for school that year to get out of North Dakota (but that’s a story for another time).
Ruth has found a niche in romance untapped by the larger publishing houses and has self-published all of those books. I picked her brain about her experience in self-publishing and why she went that route. She’s built a reputation for bringing information together that all authors can use.
Q: How many books have you written? How many of them are available and where can people find them?
Ruth: I have written 18 books that are published. Some have been revised or rewritten, four are in the process of being revised. This is because I did not get serious about the quality of my work until last year. The books that have been revised and I can proudly claim my own are on my website, www.ruthannnnordin.com.
Q: Why did you decide to self-publish your books? What made you decide to offer them free from your website vs only print publication?
Ruth: I started out self-publishing because I was tired of seeing my story in notebook form. When I found out that I could put my story into an actual book, I jumped at the chance to do so. I have continued to self-publish because I like having full control of the content, cover and copyright of my work.
I decided to offer my books for free because I wanted to get my work out there. As an unknown author, people had no reason to believe that they should pay for my book when they could buy a known author instead. People want value for their money, and with this shrinking economy, people are finding reasons to not buy a book from someone they aren’t sure about. Very few people take a chance on someone they don’t know. They primarily rely on the past authors and then rely on word of mouth. I could present my book as “for sale” all day long, but I rarely got any interest. Since I discovered that authors don’t typically make enough money to live on (esp. those who self-publish), I figured that it’s be better to gain an audience than hope for a $30 royalty check twice a year (which is what I made). Now I make more about $50 per quarter. Not a lot, but offering my books for free has actually increased paperback sales. I think that is because people have read my work and realize that they like it. Then we go back to the primary reason why people buy books: they already know they like the author. So for me, free books have boosted my exposure and sales. As you can see, I’m still not rich from doing this. LOL But it feels good to know people are reading and enjoying my books. And if they don’t like them…Well, at least the price was right.
Q: You’ve told me that your stories don’t follow the standard romance formulas. Do you think that has hindered your efforts to gain an audience?
Ruth: No. It’s actually boosted it. I am surprised by how many women have emailed me or posted comments on my book trailers and blog posts or requested to friend me on Myspace or Facebook because they like what I’m writing. The traditional publishers and agents consistently rejected me because I did not produce the typical romances: which I believe are either too lust driven (in the secular market) or too squeaky clean and perfect (in the Inspirational market). I wanted something in the middle.
And I will say that I had a couple of friends and family members who protested my decision to mention God in a book where I actually allowed the married couple to have sex. They said that I was “straddling the fence” and that both couldn’t be together. But the positive feedback from those reading my books are proving them wrong.
This is why I believe the market and maybe even some people in a writer’s social circle really are not aware of what readers are craving. I think that people are craving something different than what is currently out in bookstores. And I do get comments from my readers who thank me for writing romance as it really is, instead of what the traditional publishing houses are producing. So people, in my opinion, are hungry for something new. I will even go a step further and say that people are hungry for values too. In our society we are swamped with messages that go against traditional values of the family and personal morals. I think most people are sick of Hollywood telling us how to think.
Q: What do you do to market your work?
Ruth: I don’t like the high pressure sales technique. That will never be me. Instead, I approach from a “if you want” angle, and I think that has helped because people don’t see me as a used car salesman. I get emails from authors who are only plugging their book to me. I hate that, and I immediately put them on my “do not buy” list. So for people like me, this method doesn’t work. What works for me as a reader is to build a relationship with people. Not everyone I come across will read my book, and that is fine. I still like them and want to communicate with them. But there are some people who, because they like me (as a person), will actually read my books. I think the most effective tool for any author is to be a human being and care about the reader.
Other things I do to market my work…
I make my books available for free and give out free paperback copies. Yes, the paperbacks can get expensive, which is why I only do this for a select time. You know that $50/quarter I mentioned? This is where it goes. Right back into the system. This method could lose you money if you don’t recoup it in sales, except for the free ebooks.
I will mention my website or books on my blogs and (rarely) on Twitter. I discuss what I am working on and let people get a “behind the scenes” look at why I wrote something into a book. It’s like the “Special Features” section on a DVD.
I have started up a WordPress blog dedicated to posting a story. It’s about 500 words a day and the goal is to make a novellette or novella. This way, the reader can actually communicate with me as I’m writing a story. I thought it turned out to be fun and will start my next story… I love interaction with readers. I have a couple of readers I bounce ideas off of and they get a free paperback for this.
I post my books and information on good free ebook websites. This has drawn 90% of my readers. The free ebooks has been the most effective tool to date. I suggest shorter stories if you don’t want to give a novel away for free.
I don’t tell anyone to spread the word about my books because I think it’s tacky. If people like your books, they’ll tell others. I will say that word of mouth does work…and much better if it’s voluntary. This is where you definitely want to give a free book to someone because they will show it to others and tell them how great it is. So if you can find a couple of readers like that, definitely put them on the free book list.
I do what I can to promote other authors because chances are the people who know that author will check me out. If nothing else, they want to know who is giving the author a mention. I also go to blogs and sites of people who share similar interests to mine (whether it be personal, political, religious, or professional) and make a positive comment. I never make a negative comment because that labels you as an unlikable person. Instead, I keep it nice and supportive, and I have received a little attention from readers because they happen to agree with me. I know I am more inclined to read a book from someone’s whose views line up with my own. I think others are like that too. I also answer questions or try to be helpful to other authors. I’ve found that I can get emails from someone who read my comment to help someone and developed a relationship that led to them reading one of my books I’d say about 10% of these people actually read my book. So you can’t look at it from a marketing perspective. It’s just one of those things that surprised me.
I have things on my website (like “Useful Writers Links”) that have gotten some people to read my books (that one surprised me too.) So it could be that someone checks out your blog or site to get information and decide that your stuff looks pretty good.
If I had time, I’d go over to Good Reads and get on the forums to talk to other writers and readers. I’ve heard it’s a great marketing tool.
Here are some sites I regularly go to for marketing information because these people have really done their homework and are doing much better than me in terms of sales.
www.thecreativepenn.com (I’d also follow Joanna Penn on Twitter because she frequently shares more marketing tips from others.)
Q: What have you found to be the most effective marketing tool for ebooks?
Ruth: Putting my books up on free ebook websites. Most of my hits come from those.
Q: What advice would you give to writers who are not yet traditionally published?
Ruth: If you want to traditionally publish, the first step is to build an author platform. What I mean by that is you need to establish a presence on the Internet. This is where free reads can be a big plus. You gain the maximum exposure for the least amount of effort and money. You will need either a blog or website (preferably both). Your first order of business is to build your audience. That way when you query an agent/publisher, they can see that you are serious about promoting your work. The days of having someone else do the bulk of marketing are long gone, unless you pay them. Today authors are expected to market. The agent/publisher may do some of it, but the author will have to do his/her part. If the agent/publisher does a google search and finds you, they know right away that you are out there working already. That doesn’t guarantee publication but it at least moves you in the right direction.
Research the publishing market. What is it specifically that a certain agent or publisher wants? If you can give them what they want, you will be more likely to sell your book. The publishers are looking for formulas. I don’t think it’s confined to romance. I think it’s across the genres. If you go outside the box, you probably won’t get accepted…unless you go with a small publishing company. They seem to be more likely to take on new ideas. Still, you need to know exactly what they want and make sure your work fits their bill.
Read all of the submission guidelines carefully and follow the instructions. Most queries are done online these days, so it’s gotten easier than it has been in the past. Go ahead and do multiple queries. What’s the worst that can happen? Two places will be bidding for you? Just pick the best one.
Never treat an agent/publisher badly. Be polite at all times, even if you don’t like them. The problem is that agents and publishers talk to each other. The way you treat them will be passed along for others to hear about. With the Internet, we have actually become a smaller world. I’m surprised by how much places and people are connected and how I keep running into the same people. In some ways, it’s nice to see someone familiar but in others…it’s hard to get away from something if you need to. I actually heard about a writer who had submitted to a publisher have her friends send emails to the publisher demanding that they get back to her about a response to her query. This writer did not get published with them and now has a bad reputation among other places. The irony in this? She was about to get accepted. Yep. That’s got to hurt.
This leads me to my next point: understand that agents and publishers are busy. Submit your work and be careful to read how long it can take to receive a response or if sometimes they don’t even send a response if you’re rejected. Some places can take months to a year to respond. Again, know the agent/publisher.
Understand that traditional publication is not the only thing out there. If you can’t traditionally publish, the world doesn’t have to come to an end. You can’t take the rejection personally…unless the agent/publisher specifically writes, “Wow. You really suck. This rejection is personal!” A standard form is not personal. They need a standard form because of all the submissions they get. Only about 1% of all submissions get accepted. It’s probably a higher amount for small publishing houses. These people are busy, so they aren’t dissecting your submission and finding everything that can possibly be wrong with it. They are rushing through them and as soon as something doesn’t fit (say it’s a good idea but their house doesn’t take those kinds of stories or if you single spaced your synopsis when they requested a double spaced one), they reject it. So try not to take them personally. I know, it’s easier said than done, but if you mentally put yourself in their shoes, you’ll get a better perspective of it.
That being said, there are other options. There is self-publishing. If this option makes you cringe, don’t do it. No one should self-publish unless they can fully embrace everything that comes with it. There shouldn’t be the expectation that this is it. People will flock to your book and you’ll become famous and a Hollywood producer will give you the movie contract. Then you’re rich! Yes, it has happened…but rarely. It rarely even happens for the traditionally published authors out there. Now, what is possible is that if you self-publish and build up your audience, you might get the attention of an agent who’ll offer to represent your book to traditionally publish. Here’s an example: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2009/04/28/podcast-seth-harwood-podcasting-platform/.
Seth Harwood couldn’t get published so he did his book Jack Wakes Up as an audiobook and posted it for free. He built up enough of an audience of people who wanted the paperback—which he didn’t have. Well, an agent found him (because of his popularity on the Internet) and now he has the book available through Harper Collins. Self-publishing is not the death toll on your book. It could be the beginning. It’s all in what you do to build that demand for your work.
Q: If you could do anything different, what would that be and why? Or, to rephrase that, if you could go back in time to your younger self and give them advice, what would you say?
Ruth: The first thing I’d tell myself is to STOP wasting money on vanity presses. Do the formatting for my book and cover myself. Places like Lulu and Createspace make it easy to do this. Microsoft Word 2007 comes with a PDF converter. There’s software to make covers. If you don’t want to make covers, then Lulu and Createspace have templates. These places don’t charge for this either. I spent an average of $800 per book up until last year to publish all of my books (roughly 13 at that point). That’s a lot of money wasted. Now I go through Createspace and pay them $40 to lower the price on my books so I can make them more affordable to myself (when I buy author copies) and to my readers. I do pay for the cover pictures (about $10). But $50 is a lot better than $800.
Another reason to go through a place like Lulu or Createspace: maintain full control over your book. I cannot change anything in one of the books I have through iUniverse or Outskirts Press without paying someone to do it. Then, like with iUniverse, they didn’t get it right no matter how many times I called. I know that Amazon has its problems, but at least you don’t pay for those problems like I did with iUniverse. And when you have to rely on someone else to make changes or do something, who knows what will actually happen?
Another thing I’d tell myself is to write my best work, even if I was thinking of it as a hobby back then. Now people are asking about my fantasy novels and other books I’ve done that are not on my website and I beg them to avoid them. Please do not read anything that is not on my website. That is sub-quality work, but I cannot cancel those titles because iUniverse has control over them, and despite my letters, they are still available. You just never know what the future will bring.
I’d write from the heart instead of letting other people’s opinions influence my work. (Note: if you want to traditionally publish, you will have to worry about what the other people want because you are writing for the publishing house. If you don’t write what they want, you won’t get them to buy your book. This is not about individual expression with traditional houses. It’s about sales and what they think will be popular.) For me though, writing what was in my heart was more important. I let those family members and friends who shrieked at the idea of me putting God and sex in the same book influence my earlier romances, and right now I am going through and rewriting them to fit my original vision of what they should have been. You just can’t let others hinder where your writing spirit is taking you, if you plan to self-publish.
Thank you, Ruth!