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Secrets of a Self-published Author: Options, Steps, Tools, Trolls and Online Retailers

Interviews with self-published authors R. W. Harrison, and T. N. Jones.  


Two writers share the ways in which they are utilising technology to advance their careers, primarily through ebooks. These authors are self-publishing novels online for their audiences and using marketing strategies on social media and other platforms to make sure their novels reach as many readers as possible. 


T. N. Jones has recently published Johnie Irish with Phoenix Jones Publishing LLC. She has ranked #338, 243 in bestselling novels on Amazon, #4, 901 for black & African urban fiction, and #32, 105 in suspense. 

R. W. Harrison also shares his experiences with his ebooks, Onyx Trilogy, available exclusively on Amazon. Harrison's novels have garnered a 4.4-star rating out of 5 and is amongst the occult horror genre. 


1. Are you a part of any online groups that made finding literary agents easier? Or used any groups (e.g. Alliance of Independent Authors) that give you advice?  


Jones: Unfortunately, no. I haven't been able to get past any gatekeepers to find myself a literary agent, or any groups that will grant me access to one. I'm still doing my research and I could just be looking in the wrong places but for now, I am an independent writer. 

Harrison: Not currently a member of any writing organization.  


2. Which online retailer did you decide to self-publish through and why?  


Jones: Honestly, Amazon and Google weren't even on my radar when I began writing, being an '80s baby. This amount of technology wasn't even a thought to me until I fully invested myself in this process. As my career has progressed, I've been able to optimize a hybrid model where I can create my own publishing company (Phoenix Jones Publishing LLC.), as well as take the self-publishing digital route with technology. 


Harrison: I publish exclusively through Amazon, through their Kindle Unlimited (KU) program. KU gives me additional exposure and income, plus Amazon makes up roughly 90% of the total market, so it makes sense. 


3. Is there a particular reason you opted out of traditional publishing?  


Jones: I haven't completely opted out of self-publishing. I am pro-hybrid publishing, where I can use a traditional publishing model that incorporates self-publishing techniques and doesn't rely so much on the company to do the bulk of the marketing and advertising. At the end of the day, as an author, you need to be able to market yourself and that's what publishers want, so it doesn't make sense to exclude the self-publishing model, especially if you want to write in multiple genres.


Harrison: When I was writing my first book, The Onyx Seed, I weighed the pros and cons of each and decided that self-publishing made the most sense for me. Unlike traditional publishing, I controlled everything, including the timeline, pricing, cover decisions, editing, formatting, etc. New writers often dismiss self-publishing because they believe that a traditional publisher will promote their book, but that’s rarely the case unless you’re an A-list author. So whether traditionally published or self-published, the author is responsible for the promotion of their book. Although this was not the deciding factor, the profit margins for self-publishing are greater than traditional publishing. 


4. What would you say to people who believe self-publishing online is easier than signing with a traditional publishing house?  


Jones: I would say they're absolutely mistaken. No matter which route you choose, you have to be able to market your product and grow your audience. There is no way around an author marketing themselves, it just helps when you have a publishing company that has the connections. You still have to do the work. You still have to do the book tours, the interviews, promote the books, social media content- it just helps a little bit more when you have an experienced machine behind you. Then again, the way that technology is changing, some of these companies are almost like dinosaurs and they're aging themselves out of the market.


Harrison: Traditional publishing might actually be easier in terms of not having to worry about finding someone to edit and proofread the book, format it, and work on the cover. I enjoyed those elements of the process, so it was easy for me to go the self-publishing route. All that being said, if the author doesn’t place a priority on quality, i.e. producing a finished, polished work, self-publishing is definitely easier. Just upload your files to Amazon and you’re done. But your book will appear amateurish and won’t garner good reviews, so the chances of success are practically non-existent. That’s why it’s important to invest time and money into having the manuscript professionally edited and an attractive cover designed that properly reflects the genre. Each author has to decide what is best for them. 


5. Have you been rejected by a publishing house or literary agent? Are there any online resources to help writers deal with rejection? 


Jones: Absolutely. I've been rejected several times, but I haven't personally sought out tools to cope with that online so I have no idea if there are any.

Harrison: I knew I wanted to self-publish, so I never submitted my work to an agent or a traditional publishing house.  


6. Do trolls often target self-published books by sending nasty reviews? 


Jones: Absolutely. There's a certain amount of jealousy that people don't realize is inside them. With trolls, knowing that somebody else was able to accomplish something that either they wanted to do and haven't been able to do, or that they never even considered was possible. So the very fact that writing a book is far more accessible and somewhat easier to do on your own, almost makes people envious of another person's journey. That's with just about anything, it just seems that trolls, in general, are envious of other people doing things that they want to do when they have held themselves back, so they lash out. 


Harrison: I’ve never received any negative reviews because of self-publishing. If done correctly, a self-published book is indistinguishable from a traditionally published book, at least to the casual reader. 


7. How did you manage the production side of publishing an ebook? What digital resources did you use? 


Jones: With patience, understanding, and knowing that there are humans behind the process, so things come up. Delays happen, adjustments need to be made. You cannot be rigid when it comes to publishing a book because anything can happen. It's hurricane season, people's homes may become damaged, power may go out, then all of a sudden, editing some book isn't a priority anymore. You have to be flexible. 


Harrison: I studied and read as much as I could on how to produce both the e-book and printed versions of my books. For interior formatting, I use Vellum, which produces professional-grade pages. Before that, I used InDesign. I design my own covers, as I also have a background in graphic design, and use the Adobe products for that—Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc. 


8. Did you hire any outside staff to help you with your manuscript, e.g. cover design, or an editor? Are there any online resources you used for this?  


Jones: I utilize freelancers because that was my bread and butter. That was my career at one point, and I feel like, in this economy, it's a lot easier to solicit someone for a service, especially when it comes to editing in different genres. I use resources like Upwork and read The Discovery, to find editors and other freelancers in case I need them for formatting and cover design when I can't delegate tasks to myself. 


Harrison: I had professionals edit and proofread my books. I created my own covers, although I hired a professional photographer to shoot the scene I had in mind for my first book.   


9. Would you say self-publishing online is more expensive than signing with a publishing firm?  


Jones: I believe that the cost of self-publishing and traditional publishing is comparable. Self-publishing forces the author to put up the expenses that a traditional publisher would incur. On the flip side of that, an author gives up a lot of time and money if they go to a traditional publisher, because everything that that publisher has paid for when they signed that author, binds the writer to their company for x amount of books, or whatever the contract demands. The publisher gets their royalties, so they get their money one way or another, so I wouldn't say it's more expensive, it's just an expensive cost upfront. 


Harrison: If an author signs with a legitimate, traditional publisher, it shouldn’t cost them anything. The publisher pays them for sales of the book. Self-publishing is inherently more expensive than traditional publishing, because the things that a publisher would pay for, such as editing, cover design, and formatting, the author is responsible for. It doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive, however. Pre-made covers are available for most genres, which are very reasonably priced. Authors can also use Canva, which has book cover templates and stock imagery. There is a premium membership, but plenty that can be done for free. Formatting can be done for free directly in Word (although it can be complicated and not intuitive). Reedsy.com also offers a free formatting app. 


10. What online resources do you use to market your work? Has the digital community made it easier to share your work with the world?  


Jones:  I utilize Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reedsy, to market my projects and make it somewhat easier to get my books into the hands of readers. This way, at least people know that I've written a book, I'm a writer and give them access to my content. 


Harrison: I primarily use Facebook (FB) and Instagram to market my books. I’m active in several FB groups and it occasionally comes up that I’ve written books that are relevant to the group. I will also run ads on FB targeting my main readership. 


11. Did you hire beta readers online or did you rely on your family? Did online resources aid in sharing and distributing your manuscript for feedback?  


Jones: I have a core group of readers that include COD Leagues and personal friends, so I get both feedback from a reader standpoint, and a professional standpoint. Fortunately for me, I didn't have to hire them, because they believe I'm a good writer. Yes, online resources aid in sharing my manuscript because it makes the world a smaller place and it's easier to send someone a PDF rather than mailing an 800-page double-spaced manuscript in a padded envelope. 


Harrison: For my first book, I relied on family and friends to be my beta readers (before I even knew the term existed). Since then, I’ve found beta readers through several Facebook groups. We swap manuscripts or chapters and it’s been very helpful. 


12. What's one of the biggest obstacles you've come across when self-publishing?  


Jones: The biggest obstacle that I've run into with traditional publishing is still having to put in the same amount of effort marketing myself as I would if I self-published. I still have to grow my audience, I still have to do the bulk of the legwork on my own. The main thing that traditional publishing helps with is getting your books. There are definitely some gems left and getting access to bars is a wonderful privilege and tool that is more easily accessible with traditional publishing. The biggest disappointment is finding out that I still had to market myself as hard as I was when I self-published. 


Harrison: Probably the biggest challenge is marketing. I would have the same challenge if traditionally published, but it seems that there’s never enough time in the day to devote to marketing. I’d rather be writing! 


13. Do you agree self-published novels are targeted by trolls and given nastier reviews than self-published novels? How did you combat stigma, such as that self-published ebooks are lower quality than traditionally published novels?  


Jones: Of course there's a stigma. There's always a stigma when you break the rules and go outside of the normal way of doing things. People hate change and having to read books by self-published authors (that essentially don't have the stamp of approval of some multi-million dollar conglomerate). It makes people feel a certain way about them, even if they're better written than what's being put out traditionally. 


Harrison: By making sure that the books I write and produce are top quality. They go through several rounds of editing and proofreading and I’m proud of what I offer to my readers. I’m not immune to the stigma, of course. I know it’s out there, but it’s fading. I think in the end, readers just want a well-crafted story with characters they care about. They don’t care how the book ends up in their hands. 


14. Would you agree that many ebooks can be of low quality?  


Jones: "Many" is subjective, so what I will say is that ebooks are the easiest things to put out without any thought, or any constructive process at all. You can have an idea in the morning and have it published that night. So, I would have to agree that many ebooks can be of low quality simply because the ease and access allow them to be. 


Harrison: eBooks can certainly be of low quality, especially if the author doesn’t format them properly. There’s no reason they have to be, however. There are plenty of resources available to writers who want to produce quality books, both in print and for e-readers. The online writing community is vast and incredibly supportive.  


15. What would you say to writers considering taking the route of self-publishing?  


Jones: My advice to writers considering self-publishing is to do it because there are genuine authors out there who do self-publish when they're not under contract with their traditional publishing companies. Again, what's best for you is for you, and no matter how you get there you have to take steps, so take the step and put yourself out there. 


Harrison: I realize that most new authors dream of landing a big publishing deal, and while it can indeed happen, I would advise them to consider being the master of their own fate. Avoid the rejection slips from agents and publishers, avoid waiting potentially years for your book to see the light of day, and self-publish. That doesn’t mean just slap something up on Amazon. Do your homework, find beta readers, an editor, and a cover designer that do your work justice, focus on writing quality stories, and publish! 


Thank you once again to T. N. Jones and R. W. Harrison for discussing the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing ebooks, and giving us some information about all the options available.  

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Becky Robinson

A Creative Writing graduate with a love of modern classical literature. Currently sharpening her editorial skills and working to help others improving their writing abilities.

LinkedIn: Rebecca Robinson

Website: Rebecca's Fiction

Email: rebeccarobinsonwriter@gmail.com

Secrets of a Self-published Author: Options, Steps, Tools, Trolls and Online Retailers Reviewed by Rebecca Robinson on Friday, September 17, 2021 Rating: 5
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