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“The Encouragement to Try”: Award Winning Author Dorraine Darden on Self-Publishing Novels

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Texas author Dorraine Darden wrote a stunning novel, Jack Rabbit Moon.  She had put a lot of work into it, learning the craft, researching the setting and generally preparing to be a published writer.  When she could not interest an agent or a publisher in handling the manuscript, her thoughts turned to self-publishing.  The resulting product, as well as all aspects of the story, are impressive in the best ways possible.

Consequently, I decided to ask her about her self-publishing experience:

Do you expect your book to be a financial success, or did you self-publish primarily to establish yourself as a fiction writer?

Self-Published Author Dorraine DardenAlthough self-publishing is not usually a sure or quick route to a financial windfall, one can always, hope, wish and dream. Behind that comes plain hard work. There are many successful self-published authors who have led the way, which gave me the encouragement to try. I’m not sure how it will end up, but the ride has been extraordinary. I did have an established Texas market for Jack Rabbit Moon, which was set in West Texas’ Garner State Park. This has helped regarding sales.

It’s difficult to establish yourself as a fiction writer without having your leg through the door, so yes to both questions.

What are your criteria for considering the book a success?

For me, hearing from readers is the best indicator. When I’m told someone couldn’t put the book down and another missed the characters when they were finished, it is touching on a level beyond monetary success. Many have also inquired rather I’m planning on a series for the novel. Although, I am not, it is splendid knowing I have given them something authentic, well researched and emotionally satisfying. In my mind, that is success.

Did you attempt to interest agent and/or traditional publishing houses in the manuscript?

Yes, to both. And there was interest in the book, but ultimately in each case I was told there was no market for coming of age stories even though the writing was worthy. No market for coming of age stories? I just didn’t buy it. There is nothing new under the sun and that goes for writing. What makes a book entertaining and worth being read is the way the author tells his/her version of the story. The passion in which they relay it. I felt Jack Rabbit Moon delivered, and so I moved forward with it. Writer's Digest believed so too. The novel was an Honorable Mention winner in this year’s Mainstream Fiction category of The Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.

Why did you choose to self-publish?

I have been writing for nine years and knew this particular book was ready. I’d taken classes on novel writing and had worked hard. This was actually my second novel. My goal was, and always will be, to share what I do. I’ve always hated the words no and can’t. They are dream killers.

Why did you choose the publisher you did, rather than the less expensive ones like Amazon services?

After much research, I chose my publisher because they turned out quality books. I’d asked for sample books from different self-publishers and in comparison their covers were striking. Covers do sell books. The fact that I had hands on with layout and cover design also appealed to me. All rights to the book were mine as well.

Will you go that route for your next book?

No, and here is why. Although the experience was mostly positive, and my book was well received, it has been costly. Both for publication and promotion. With writing retreats, workshops, classes etc…I’ve continued to perfect my craft, and hope to receive the backing of an agent and publisher. My subsequent novel, and a YA [young adult] series on the paranormal I’ll be working on soon will be making the rounds, hoping for that yes. Who doesn’t want to be paid for work infused with passion?

What other factors should first time self-publishers be aware of before embarking on a similar venture?

Have a business plan — You should know your budget and incorporate ways to promote your work long before it comes to fruition. It will cost you, in money and time, so know what you’re in for and be prepared.

Do your research — Make sure what you are getting into is right for you and your book. Ask others who have self-published to share their experiences. Take your time and learn as much as you can before you decide to publish your book.

Read the tiny print of the contract — Make sure there are no red flags before you sign. Remember, if you opt for a POD publisher, print on demand technology, your payment for sold books will come in the form of a royalty, which means you pay up front costs for the initial printing of your book, and then pay a fee each time a copy of your book is printed and sold.

Know your goals — Be aware of your strengths and limitations. Are you a people person who will be able to sell on the front lines? This means sitting at book signings and smiling until your face hurts, trying to entice perfect strangers to your table so they can not only see your book but buy it, too. A silver tongue is a plus. Charm is a must. Can you think outside the box and look for hidden opportunities? There are many layers to being a successful author. If that is your goal, make sure you know what it takes for every aspect of the process.

Major pitfalls:

Margin of profit — With rising costs, the authors margin of profit has decreased, making self-publishing a less attractive option.

Shoddy looking books — Let’s face it, there are tons of books vying for a reader’s attention. Why should they select ours? Really. Give them a reason. A clever cover design entices readers to pick up a book. An intriguing story, starting on page one, yanks them in.

Not being taken seriously — Here’s where it gets sticky. I’ve heard it said that self-publishing is where horrible writing comes to die. Dang, that hurts. But let’s be honest. We’ve all read some terrible, no good self-published books, have we not? Have we not also read some terrible traditionally published books? It happens. I think the best we can do is make our decisions based on facts, and put out an absolutely fantastic product. If we do it right, most won’t even realize our books are self-published.

What are you doing to market Jack Rabbit Moon?

I’m a hat-wearing mama. And boots and glittery shawls. These days an author must give it all they’ve got. Besides book signings, book club appearances, library workshops, blogging, writing forums, and writing for my community newsletter, I make wide use of the internet. An author website at www.dorrainedarden.com, along with twitter, face book, my space, your space, and the whole Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Right now, though I’m carving out time to write again. This is where it all begins.

Are you trying to get your book into libraries? If yes, how and how much success?

Most library titles are selected based on major library trade publications. Your self-published book will need to have a niche to have a shot at selection. Strong niche books are desirable regardless of being self-published. If you do decide to shoot for the library market, your chances will be improved if your book can be purchased via a wholesaler such as Baker & Taylor or Ingram.

Thank you.

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About Georganna Hancock

San Diego publisher, freelance editor and writer, blogged almost daily for eight years at A WRITERS EDGE. She helps writers on the path to writing success with critiques, edits and publishing advice. Find her author page on Amazon and her epublications in her Amazon Shop. Her business profile is on LinkedIn and her tweets on Twitter, where she's aka @GLHancock. Georganna's first writing appeared in print in the 1960s. She worked as a journalist for many years. She reviewed books for the FORT PIERCE NEWS TRIBUNE and THE LOUISVILLE COURIER-JOURNAL and wrote for THE MIAMI HERALD, regional publications, and many national magazines. She was a member of the National Book Critics Circle, the San Diego Professional Editors Network and the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild, for which she served as Web Manager. Books reviewed may have been received as gifts. All her writings are protected by U.S. copyright law.
  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    Great interview and just the information I look for. I’m still waffling on the self-pub idea. There are pros to it as the salesmen for the companies will tell, as well as cons which they don’t mention. To hear a first person account is always welcome.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Georganna –

    Thanks you very much for your article – the agent I approached literally cut me off the moment I said there was anything about terrorism in my novel…and I shut myself down about it since then, about two years ago, with the novel 4/5ths done.

    Okay then. Back to the mill. It’s a shame I didn’t get it published two years ago because H1N1 played a central role in the novel (I posted an article about H1N1 on Blogcritics two weeks before the infections started hitting the news earlier this year)…and what are we seeing today?

    But I can at least honestly claim in the preface I began the novel long before the current outbreak.

    Again, Georganna, thanks. I’m confident that the novel is that good – now to see if I’ve got the guts to put my money where my typing fingers currently are.

  • http://www.assemblagist.org Val MacEwan

    Interesting take on vanity presses… there are many avenues out there for publication. Many of my friends are quite pleased with Lulu. Marketing a self-published book is quite a task, very difficult. Good luck!

  • Dorraine

    Thanks for leaving your comments, and I hope the article helped regarding publishing decisions. Best of luck with your books!