Jennifer Dinsmore Editorial
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Why We Chose to Self-Publish

A Q&A with historical paranormal fiction co-authors, Renee Peters & Rae Stilwell

You’ve done it! You’ve written a book. You’re excited, and you want to get it into reader’s hands as soon as possible. But with so many publishing options to choose from, how do you know which is right for you—and your career. 

Renee Peters, co-author of The World of the Aegeans series

Renee Peters, co-author of The World of the Aegeans series

After a bit of research, Renee Peters and Rae Stilwell chose to self-publish their historical paranormal series, The World of the Aegeans. They saw it as a way to retain creative control and ensure they told the stories they wanted to tell.

They’ve put their heart and soul into the work that first goes into writing, then promoting, a book. Below they share tips on marketing, the importance of always learning and keeping an open mind, and why they wouldn’t choose any other way of achieving their dreams.

Jennifer Dinsmore: What made you choose to self-publish? Did you try the traditional route at all?

Renee & Rae: After completing the first novel in the original incarnation of the series, we looked at our options and decided from the get-go we would self-publish.

A significant deterrent from taking the traditional route was our realization that if we did get picked up based on our first title, we might have to cede the rights to our story’s universe to the publisher. Given we were still at the developmental stage of our world-building, we didn’t want to get boxed in. There was some concern we would be told what stories we could tell based on someone else’s idea of what would sell. We just wanted to be able to tell our own stories.

There’s a freedom that comes along with independent publishing; from the cover design to choices about the story to how we choose to market. Of course, that also means a lot of work comes along with it.

JD: What platform did you use to publish, and why?

R&R: We did plenty of research and decided the best way to reach the most readers was through Amazon. Having access to the Kindle Unlimited e-reader community, and the resources Amazon provides to monitor your sales and trends directly, were benefits unrivaled by other platforms for a first-time author. Fortunately, the platform makes it very easy for new authors to publish, with step–by-step directions for formatting and uploading books as well as categorizing them to reach target audiences.

If you plan a release well enough to have a steady trickle of increasing sales, Amazon’s algorithm (affectionately known as Zon Bot in our community), will do much of the heavy lifting by displaying your work to readers they believe might be interested. In addition, we’ve also tried Smashwords for branching out to larger retailers, such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, but Amazon and the Kindle Unlimited service have by far been the most profitable.

JD: Where did you find your publishing team of editors, designers, and so on?

Cover: Rise of Anowen

R&R: With Renee’s background as an English teacher, and Rae’s background as a graphic designer, we had a strong in-house team to start. We floated between different editors for the first couple of books and short stories. Fiverr, the service-provider website, was attractive to us as first-time publishers on a tight budget, but we had more negative than positive experiences on the platform when it came to compatibility and the quality of editing services especially. We did find the artists for our map and book trailer voiceover artists there, but it can be a bit hit-or-miss for long-term planning.

When our editor left Fivver we bounced around, searching the web for long-term editors and learning things ourselves. A year later, we’re still learning and developing our design and editing abilities, and we’ve finally found a home with Jennifer.

JD: Self-publishing involves a lot of self-promotion. Tell us a little about your author platform.

R&R: We’ve found exposure the most effective way to promote. The more we can get our content in front of readers, and use it to direct them to our website and mailing list, the more successful we are.

To that end, we’ve used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as tools to push our content.  We have also written short stories to offer free to readers on sites like BookFunnel, Reedsy, and our own website. We learned the hard way that without the means to having direct personal contact with our readers we’d have no way to alert them to our releases, or build an ARC review team or a social media “street” team.  (Made up of people who subscribe to the mailing list and opt to receive ARCs in exchange for reviews.)  

The most effective ways of getting our stories into the world have been through Amazon’s and Facebook’s advertising platforms, as well as through submissions to book review blogs. This year, we’ve made it a goal to more effectively implement our newsletter and leverage our author website. We also hope to turn our Facebook page into a communication hub for our readers.

JD: What do you find most rewarding about self-publishing? The most challenging? 

R&R: The most rewarding thing has been the sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing a book develop from its first draft through to being published and available for purchase. It has been a bucket-list item for both of us to be published authors, and there’s a sense of pride that comes along when community members approach you to ask about your book.

The most challenging thing has been accepting that we are still learning. What began with our first draft of The Best Book We’ve Ever Written has become hundreds of hours of learning how to write and plot a tighter story, and how to make use of the feedback we’ve received to work toward improving.

JD: Are these different than you first anticipated? What do you wish you knew when you started?

R&R: We expected we might not make a ton of money, but we did not anticipate that sales would flatline after Amazon’s new-release exposure boost ended. Learning from others how to work with Amazon’s tools to maximize exposure and profits would have been super helpful the first go around. On January 21, 2018, we published our first title and it wasn’t the bestseller we dreamed.

We’ve since found resources we wish we’d had starting out. One of them is the 20BooksTo50K Facebook group, which we cannot recommend enough for all the advice available to authors just starting out. We also liked Save the Cat Writes a Novel, a guide  for plotting out story beats.  

JD: What advice would you give to those considering self-publishing?

Anyone thinking about self-publishing will discover pretty quickly that writing is only a small part of what you’ll need to do.

You’ll have to do research to figure out your market and build a team to help with cover design, cover blurbs, and editing. By the time you hit Publish you’re going to be exhausted. Then, the new work of effective marketing will begin—all while you’re beginning the next round of writing.

Basically, there are no “off” days. The most important part is to be willing to admit that you are always learning and always improving—and that’s okay. Success comes in every step, even the ones that feel backwards. 🖉

I LOVE Renee’s and Rae’s attitude and work ethic. Combined, anything becomes possible!

Would you choose to self-publish, or are you still on the fence? (If so, check out my Q&A with historical fiction author Naomi Finley on why she too chose the DIY route.) And don’t forget to share any new insights in the comments below.

Until next time, keep creating!

Jennifer