Meet Sarah Wynde. Self published author of the delightful novel, A Gift of Ghosts.
Akira Malone believes in the scientific method, evolution, and Einstein’s theory of relativity. And ghosts. All the logic and reason in the world can’t protect her from the truth—she can see and communicate with spirits. But Akira is sure that her ability is just a genetic quirk and the ghosts she encounters simply leftover electromagnetic energy. Dangerous electromagnetic energy. Zane Latimer believes in telepathy, precognition, auras, and that playing Halo with your employees is an excellent management technique. He also thinks that maybe, just maybe, Akira can help his family get in touch with their lost loved ones. But will Akira ever be able to face her fears and accept her gift? Or will Zane’s relatives be trapped between life and death forever?
As soon as I finished reading A Gift of Ghosts and its sequel, A Gift of Thought. I contacted Sarah through her website. I wanted to know when the next book would be out and I wanted to know how she produced such an excellent self- published book. I loved these books so much that after buying them on Kindle, I also purchased hard copies so I could lend them to my friends who don't have a Kindle App.
Why did you decide to self publish?
I never made any attempt to get traditionally published, because...well, I think I listed my reasons once as "time (mine), money (yours), and freedom." Doing the whole query letter/agent search takes a lot of hours that I'd rather use writing. And I like the price of self-published books. I like the idea that they are a treat like a Starbucks latte, instead of a movie. But mostly I like the freedom to do things that traditional publishers would have a hard time with, such as mix-and-matching genres and letting my hero not be very heroic.
Did you use an editor?
Ooh, trick question. First of all, if you’re thinking of self-publishing, you should definitely consider hiring an editor. Editors are great and a wonderful way to both improve your work and learn ways to make your writing stronger. That said, I didn’t use an editor.
Here’s what I did instead: first, I published all the chapters as I wrote them to fictionpress.com, giving me a chance to get feedback as I wrote. Next, I published a few chapters to critiquecircle.com and sent the full book to anyone who expressed interest. I had four or five beta reads that way, from people who had no relationship to me and wouldn’t be afraid to tell me where they saw problems. I also sent the early drafts to everyone I knew who was willing to read it: my sister-in-law, my sister, and a couple of friends all read my manuscript and told me when they had issues. When I’d reached the stage where I thought I might self-publish, I ran all the chapters through an online editing program, specifically prowritingaid.com. That helped me notice word repetitions, over-used phrases, weak sentence structure and sometimes grammatical issues. Finally, I read the entire book out loud, twice. If I’d been truly dedicated, I would have read the book backwards, which is a great way to notice mistakes that you’ll otherwise miss. The reason I know that last trick is because I used to be an editor – reading backwards is a proofing style that I used on books which included computer code, where a minor error such as a misplaced comma could cause major problems for a reader.
As a former editor, I absolutely believe in the value that a professional editor can add to your work. I didn’t hire one myself mostly because I was a struggling graduate student with no budget for my writing hobby. And also – well, I’m terrible at commas. I place them practically at random. But apart from that, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. (People who know my work as an editor are scoffing madly at the “a bit” in that sentence.) I put a lot of time, energy, and experience into making my books as close to perfect as I could. Going forward, I’d love to find an editor to work with, but I’m always going to rely on my own obsessiveness as the final line of defense against typos and other errors.
How did you choose your cover artist? How much does this cost?
Another trick question! I made my own covers. In Powerpoint, no less. For the first book, A Gift of Ghosts, I used a photograph that was in the public domain. For the second and third, A Gift of Thought and A Gift of Time (not yet out), I spent $10 each on photos from Shutterstock.
Again, I had an advantage: I worked as an acquisitions editor for a traditional publisher for ten years, so I’d spent a lot of time in cover design meetings. Even better, the imprints that I worked with were focused on graphic design, so I’d worked with a lot of designers. Many self-publishers worry about trying to make their cover convey the entire story, but I focused on having a simple, clear image that would look good in a thumbnail, with typography that would be readable but also represent (as much as possible) the genre of the stories. My covers aren’t perfect and someday I might see what a professional designer could do for them, but for now, they work for me.
Which company did you choose to do it through?
I published digitally through Amazon and in print through CreateSpace. I keep thinking that I should broaden my horizons and expand to some other distributors, but at the moment, I’m mostly focused on writing.
Did Amazon help you in any way with a mailing list? Do any publicizing?
Nope, nope, and nope. I am enrolled in KDP Select, so I can set the books to be free for five days out of every 90 and I’ve done that, but that’s all I’ve done.
How much time do you spend marketing the book?
I haven't done any publicity. I'm terrible at Facebook and Twitter and all that stuff, I never know what you're supposed to say. I know most successful authors highly recommend doing a mailing list, so I put my email address on my website, but I haven't really pushed the list or even gotten organized about it. (People are apparently more likely to sign up if they can just enter their name into a field, instead of sending an email, so you're supposed to use a widget.) In other words, I think I'm probably as bad at publicity as an author could be.
That said, one important element of good marketing is the blurb, the marketing copy that sells the book online. I see a lot of books by self-published authors where the blurb is basically the type of synopsis that you’d write for a query letter. I think that’s a huge mistake. A blurb shouldn’t tell the story: it should raise questions that the prospective reader will want to discover the answers to. If I was going to give a single piece of advice to fellow self-published authors, it would be to spend more time on their blurbs. For my blurbs, I’ve written and re-written and edited and revised and edited again – and I’ll probably continue tweaking them. I’m pretty happy with the blurb for A Gift of Ghosts now, but I still think I can do better on my other blurbs.
How did you get reviews?
When I first set A Gift of Ghosts to be free via KDP, I told all of my online connections about it. I wrote a fanfic and left a note at the end saying that the book would be free on Amazon; I mentioned it on a post at critiquecircle.com and in an online mom’s group; and I posted a note on my Facebook page. I even told my WoW guild. And I asked for reviews. Of my first twenty reviews or so, I know that at least five came from people who’d been reading my fanfic for a while and another four came from people who’d read chapters via critiquecircle. One was from a fellow WoW player, another two were from fellow moms. A few more were from people that I know in person – a friend, a cousin, a co-worker.
People in the self-publishing community disparage “friends and family” reviews, but my background is in traditional publishing. Our expectation was generally that all the first reviews of a book are going to come from people who are connected in some way with the author, usually because the author sent them review copies. But we don’t assume – or at least as an acquisitions editor, I never assumed – that people are going to lie just because they know someone. To the best of my knowledge, every person who wrote an early review of Ghosts did so honestly. Would they have reviewed it if they hadn’t been acquainted with me online? Probably not, because they wouldn’t have known about it or read it.
Beyond those first messages, though, I haven't tried to get people to review it, because it always feels so awkward to ask. I think I put a note in A Gift of Thought asking people to write reviews and then took it out and republished because it just felt weird to me to ask strangers who have paid money to then give me their time and energy.
A number of readers felt the book was good enough to warrant their time and energy. You have 114 reviews on Amazon for A Gift of Ghosts. 76 are five star and 34 are four star, as of this interview. You have another 55 reviews for A Gift of Thought. 34 are five star and 21 are four star.
Yep! The reviews are both unexpected and really nice. Writing for me is a labor of love – I do it because it’s fun. Knowing that someone else has enjoyed the results is glorious icing on a tasty cake.
Fifteen years ago, I earned my living as a freelance writer. Then I sat down, looked at the numbers, and promptly went and found myself a job as an editor. Writing is a lovely hobby, but it’s a brutal career. I’ll be absolutely delighted if I can make a living at it someday, but the Tassamara stories are for pleasure, mine and (I hope) yours.
Are you satisfied with the sales?
Self-publishing is really easy if you don't take it very seriously, and I didn't. I figured I'd sell 20 copies of Ghosts to the people I knew who'd read it, mostly friends I'd met online from writing
fan fiction, and then maybe the occasional sale after that from someone who stumbled upon it on Amazon. I'm a single mom and was in grad school on a very tight budget, so my idea was that any money I got from selling Ghosts would buy us the occasional treat--gingerbread
lattes at Starbucks, I hoped.
My plan, to the extent that I had one, was to write a million words that I was willing to share with other people, and at the end of that, decide whether writing was something I wanted to try to make money at again. Fast-forward a year, and between both books, I've sold about 3700 copies and made over $9000. Am I satisfied? Absolutely!
That’s a lot of lattes!
Seriously! Not to mention the calories. At 320 a pop, I had to quit drinking my book sales a while ago!!
A treat for you, dear readers!
Sarah is generously making today one of her Free Days on Amazon. So click on the link for A Gift of Ghosts and grab your free copy. You do not need to own a Kindle to take advantage of this offer. Kindle has free apps for all your electronic devices. I have Kindle on my PC, ipad and Droid phone. (great for reading in long lines.) If you enjoy the book, please consider writing her a review on Amazon as a thank you.
The Management would like to thank Sarah Wynde for granting this interview and for the gift of a free day on Amazon..
For more of Sarah Wynde, visit her website: http://sarahwynde.com/