Did you try to publish the traditional way before embracing self-publishing? Can you talk a little about your experience and frustrations?
When I was hawking my first manuscript, traditional publishing was the ‘only’ way to be legitimately published. I sent out the requisite query letters to about 40 publishers in NYC, LA and the various odd places. In addition, I tried unsuccessfully to find a local agent. I called at least five that were advertising in the local yellow pages. Every one of them had a disconnected number. Ultimately, eight publishers looked at the manuscript and suggested why it wouldn’t sell in a rejection notice. The rest of them rejected it outright due to the manuscript being an unagented submission. So, I was left between a rock and a hard place. I felt I had a good story but couldn’t get any takers. I should point out that I was targeting a gay male audience. Thus, I did indeed do my homework and submitted the manuscript to well-known gay-oriented publishing houses. Regardless, at the time, they were in the midst of shutting down or turning away new business.
Did you ever hawk your work to agents?
Since I live in Chicago, I thought it would be easy to find a literary agent. Not so. After not finding a local one I decided that it would seem rather odd to try to go to another large city (NYC or LA, for example) just to find an agent. So, I didn’t try that route.
So how did you finally end up choosing the POD (print on demand) route?
I submitted the manuscript to a website that was touted to be something like a clearing house for prospective publishers to be able to peruse manuscripts. I got no bites there either. During a conversation with one of the other prospective authors on the site, the person suggested that I go the POD route. I was instantly turned off to the idea. I wanted to be paid for my work, not have to pay someone else for it. But the idea grew and I started investigating. I finally settled on iUniverse. I must point out that I’m positive that gay publishing houses and publishers in general don’t really know how to determine if a book is good or not. After all, they said my story wouldn’t sell and…well…it has.
What made you choose iUniverse?
Easy. They were the least expensive of the PODs and I was completely unfamiliar with the process. I didn’t know what would happen or how the process would turn out. So, I wanted to limit my losses if it turned out to be a flop.
Can you tell us a little bit about the editorial process?
The editorial process is pretty straightforward. An author is assigned a rep at iU that basically guides one through the process. Everything is done through email. You submit the manuscript and pay your money. They format your manuscript (ie, justify the book block, create the chapter section, etc.). You read through the galley after that’s done. You make corrections as needed on their provided form. You get to request a certain type of cover art. Eventually, after all the approvals, you simply wait for the novel to be available and printed. They will send you your initial one copy or more, depending on what kind of package you’ve purchased.
How did you become a Star Author?
It was purely due to sales. The original figure, if I remember correctly, was that an author with 500 or more unit sales was considered a good moneymaker for the company. After all, iU gets 80% of gross book revenues. (The remaining 20% is your royalty figure.) My sales figures started out slowly, but within a few months, sales took off. So, I was singled out, along with about two dozen other authors in their first batch of Star authors who had those kinds of sales figures.
Do all iUniverse titles have an ISBN, and are they all listed on websites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble?
Yes, all published novels or novellas get an ISBN. There are various levels of market penetration that one can purchase now thru iU. One of them is to be listed with the major retailers like Amazon and B&N, etc. It was a given that I had to have that kind of market penetration if I were to have any chance at getting my story noticed.
Did you hire someone to do your cover? Could you tell us a little bit about that process?
The original cover art was a photo I took and submitted along with the manuscript. Any author has that opportunity if they have a good piece of non-copyrighted artwork (drawing, photo, etc) that they’d like for their cover. If they don’t submit a piece of art, iU has a full art department that will provide photos or drawings. Once I became a Star Author, they gave me a small budget for new cover art and an opportunity to rework the manuscript. My main goal was to make the cover more sexy. I went to a stock photo website and looked for the ‘perfect’ photos (by this time I had published the sequel to my first novel and it was included in the Star program because it also was a bestseller) for the covers. After finding the photos, I requested that they be purchased by iU. They did so.
How long did it take your book to become available for sale after signing up with iUniverse?
After I submitted my first manuscript, it took about five or six weeks. The process takes far less time nowadays, though.
How many copies have you sold?
Nearly 10,000 copies. I will hit that number by the end of 2005. And believe me, it was a complete surprise that my sales figures would even come close to this number. Yet there are other iU authors that I know personally who have surpassed that. It’s entirely possible to not only make a name for oneself but to also generate some very nice revenue using POD.
Do you get a percentage quarterly, monthly, etc.? How do you receive payment?
I get 20% of gross revenues. That is my royalty. I receive quarterly checks and can check on monthly progress (sales numbers and royalties figures) by logging on to the iU site.
What marketing technique generated the most sales?
The vast majority of them have been sold to top-level distributors. This is where major outlets such as Amazon, B&N, etc. draw from to purchase a particular quantity for their stock. This includes brick and mortar stores as well. Although iU has an online bookstore, only a tiny percentage of the novels are actually purchased directly from them. Most books aren’t purchased that way anyway, so it’s no surprise that market penetration has been through the ‘normal’ channels.
Can you outline some of your marketing plan?
I purchased an expensive enough package that would push the titles into the most markets without breaking my budget. Then, I went to the local gay bookstore (Unabridged Books in Chicago) and begged the owner to take my books on commission once they became available. He agreed. I purchased the books in bulk from iU, signed them and he displayed them. They started to sell like mad (and he cut me a monthly check). In a short while, the books were on the Star program and thus had the standard return policy as well as normal discount available to brick and mortar bookstores. So the bookseller started purchasing them through his normal channels instead of through me. I will still occasionally stop by and sign fresh batches – they constantly sell out, even today. I also sent postcards to every gay bookstore in the
I also set up an extensive website that has loads of information about my background, the stories, and sample chapters. The majority of my sales (at least 80%) come from online sources: Amazon, B&N, other large and small online bookstores, and my website generates some sales, too. Next is brick and mortar stores because I don’t have as much market penetration there (that’s where the real effort occurs). For me the majority of those sales are specifically from gay bookstores. Lastly, sales are generated from other sources such as the publisher’s bookstore, book signings, and silent auctions. Any author has the exact same advantage I do if they’re willing to spend the time, effort and some money. But sales ultimately depend on at least two factors (that I’ve been able to identify). One, is that a writer must have a good story or it won’t sell to readers. There are plenty of awful stories that writers feel are good but don’t have the proper elements in them that make for a successful story. There are tried and true elements that must be in a dramatic story for people to want to read or finish them. Second, you have to be willing to market yourself and your product.
How did you become willing to market yourself? Do you have an abundance of self-confidence, or did you develop the ability out of necessity? Are there any suggestions you can give to writers who feel ‘shy’ about marketing themselves?
A writer must be willing to work hard at marketing or their story will just sit and do nothing. I really pushed. That part came naturally for me since I own a computer networking business. I’m constantly marketing my business, so putting on my salesman hat when it came to promoting my stories was also important. I have a natural enthusiasm and exuberance; plus, I don’t mind selling or self-promoting. As for suggestions for ‘shy’ authors, well, I’m not the right person to ask. Perhaps a person is naturally gregarious or they’re not. I can’t say for sure. I can only recommend that if you believe in your story (and it has the right elements in it!) you should knock on every door available to you.
Writing for me is a process of self-discovery, not a retreat from the everyday world. It’s a place where I can ‘vacation’ in my head during the time I’m writing (which can last for hours during my fugue-like writing jags). But it’s a bit difficult for me to sustain that ‘mode’, if you will, since I’m normally an extroverted person. I suspect that I may be the exception to the ‘normal’ writer in that respect.
What are some of the advantages to POD?
An advantage to POD over traditional publishing that I’ve discovered over the years can’t be overlooked. As long as your story is in their database, the book is available for printing and purchase. In the traditional route a publishing run of, say, 5,000 books is most likely all you will ever have in most cases. Not all authors can boast Stephen King-like sales and most will never approach that number. So, if you want to have long-term exposure it’s important to have your novel(s) available as long as you want them on the market. POD allows that. Plus, there are almost no carrying costs (due to almost no warehousing costs) for POD publishers, so they can carry quite a few titles. POD sort of reminds me of music file-sharing in one respect. Music file-sharing allows little-known or virtually unknown musicians to be heard by a wide audience. People who might never hear of an artist or band because they’ve been by-passed by record companies (for whatever reason) have the opportunity to hear music they might never have the chance to hear otherwise. Record companies are just like book publishers. If they can’t ‘guarantee’ a specific number of sales, you’re toast. POD doesn’t necessarily allow one to share an electronic version of the book, but rather it allows a totally unknown and bypassed writer to finally get their due. It worked for me!
Desert Sons, Into This World We’re Thrown and Stealing Some Time Vol. 1 and 2 can be found thru all major and minor distributors and retailers throughout the world.
For more information on iUniverse, go to their website at www.iuniverse.com.Powered by Sidelines