Over the last two weeks of Author Crush Month, we heard from James Scott Bell about self-publishing his short story and novella collections, and Jacqueline Diamond shared her experiences self-publishing formerly out-of-print titles in her backlist. I asked today’s guest, my friend Debra Holland, to share her journey self-publishing all of her fiction (though her nonfiction is traditionally published). She expanded on a blog she wrote earlier this year. Please welcome Debra!
Debra Holland Looks Back At Her Self-Publishing Journey in 2011
What a difference a year makes! Last January 1st, I’d hadn’t even considered self-publishing. In fact, I had a negative view of self-published books. I was deep the process of writing my nonfiction (traditionally published) book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving. At this point in the process, I’d had my two sample chapters accepted by my editor and was looking at writing 18 more in the next two and a half months. I had secret doubts that I’d be able to write a GOOD book by the deadline. I used every motivational trick I knew to keep myself positive and on track. It was the one of the most difficult things I’d ever done. But the book is out now, I’m getting stellar reviews and making an impact on people’s lives, so it was all worth it!
Around February, Delle Jacobs posted her monthly self-published sales numbers to our group of friends, The Wet Noodle Posse. I was blown away. I made a mental note to self-publish my novels (that two agents hadn’t been able to sell) and wished I wasn’t buried in the grief book so I could do it now. Once the grief book was turned in, I knew I had two weeks before my editor would get the revisions back to me. So I did a read through of each of my two fiction manuscripts, paid Delle to do my covers, and made a 10 minute attempt to format the first book, Wild Montana Sky, before giving up and paying someone to do it for me.
Wild Montana Sky went live on the evening of April 28, and the next day, Starry Montana Sky followed. Of course I had hopes for some sales, but I never dreamed that they’d catch on and I’d sell so well: 27,069 (Wild Montana Sky) and 10,207 (Starry Montana Sky) for the year. These numbers are a combination of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. There are probably another 100 or so sales through Smashwords, which reports quarterly. (Monthly numbers below.)
I’ve been flabbergasted, excited, and humbled at the success of these two sweet historical Westerns. After the grief revisions were done, I began working on Stormy Montana Sky (which I’d begun in 2004 and stopped writing after 50 pages.)
I became a self-publishing cheerleader, speaking to my chaptermates and writing blogs because I wanted other writers to know they had options besides traditional publishing. I also began preparing the first two books in my fantasy romance trilogy for publication.
Sower of Dreams went live on July 31 (799 sales) and Reaper of Dreams followed on August 7 (243 sales.) As you can see, they didn’t take off like the Westerns did, but they are selling steadily at about 100 and 50 a month. The covers are by Lex Valentine. They’ve paid for themselves by the end of the year.
Although I’d finished Stormy Montana Sky by late November, it had to go to my editor. After my revisions, I sent it to several copyeditors, and didn’t get it back in time to self-publish the book in 2011. (Although it’s self-published now.)
In the meantime, I decided to self-publish my Romantic Space Opera, Lywin’s Quest, (a 2005 Golden Heart Finalist.) I hesitated to self-publish it because it’s EPIC at 140,000 words and the next two books in the trilogy are going to be a lot of work. It also didn’t have the copyedits finished in time to self-publish in 2011, although it’s now available.
Self-publishing has reawakened my creativity. When my books didn’t sell, I became discouraged. I stopped writing fiction and switched to nonfiction. What I didn’t know I was doing was stifling my creativity. I’d get a story idea and squash it, thinking, “It’s too much work to write a book that doesn’t sell.”
Now ideas are flowing. The Montana Sky series has expanded (in my head and in notes) to two more full-length books, 3 novellas, and a collection of Christmas stories. I’m having fun playing with story ideas.
The way I write is by starting with the “bones” of a scene. At the end of the day of writing (or during the next day or two) I print it out, and read over it, editing mistakes, making changes, and fleshing it out. Then, when it’s time to write again, I start by making the changes. This gets me into the story and starts the flow. I’m usually doing this several times with each section, so by the end of the book, I have a fairly good draft.
My weekly writing routine tends to vary. After finishing the grief book, I felt burned out about writing, even though I wanted to finish Stormy Montana Sky. But at the rate I was going, it would probably take a couple of years. I asked another writer friend who lives in my area (whom I knew also wasn’t writing) if she’d be willing to come over to my house (which is quieter than hers) and write a few times a week. She agreed, and for the last five months, we’ve gotten together for two and a half hours, two days a week. That has given me enough motivation to write more between times. And as my creative inspiration has returned, I’m more eager to write.
I’m still not writing nearly what I should be, but I’m a psychotherapist, corporate crisis counselor, and martial arts instructor. Also, working out (women’s fitness bootcamp) is a priority three times a week. However, the income from self-publishing has allowed me to cut back on my psychotherapy practice from two days a week to one day, which is a good thing because I was also feeling burned out from a couple of difficult clients.
So far, I haven’t put that extra day to good use because crisis jobs keep dropping into my schedule. It’s hard to turn them down when I know people need me. However, I’m better at refusing the ones where they want me to drive to the other side of LA during rush hour traffic, only to be on site for an hour or two. I know I might have to start turning down crisis jobs in order to write more, but I’m just not there yet.
Having an income from writing, instead of spending money on it through taking classes, going to conferences, buying books, belonging to writers’ organizations, and paying for editing, is wonderful! And I do intend to put the freedom from working that extra day into writing more. Soon. Really.
Here’s my sales breakdown by month:
WMS 11 (.99)
SMS 5 ($2.99)
SOWER OF DREAMS (SOD) 3 (July 31)
SOD 97 (.99)
REAPER OF DREAMS (ROD) 45 (Aug 7) ($2.99)
During this time, I’ve done very little promotion. I’ve written some blogs and done some guest blogs. I’ve requested reviews from about 10 review sites and the books have been favorable reviewed by all those who said yes. I had a brief pop of sales in October from Pixel of Ink picking up the book. If you look back through my blogs over the last six months, you can read about other things I think work. http://drdebraholland.blogspot.com
Barnes & Noble sells very few of my books in comparison to Amazon. I’m frustrated with that company because there’s so much more they could do to improve sales for all their authors. (But that’s another blog post.) However, in adding up the numbers for this blog, I was able to see how the consistent (although small) sales can add up over time.
I’m more grateful than I can express to all the readers who bought my book and to the authors who led the way on the path of self-publishing and to those who continue to support and educate me.
I hope you are all taking the time to reflect on what you can do to make 2012 the best year ever! Best of luck with keeping all your New Year’s resolutions. Here’s to a wonderful, healthy, and prosperous 2012!
Dr. Holland has a master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy, and holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern California, and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has twenty-five years of experience counseling individuals, couples, and groups. Dr. Holland is a popular psychotherapist, consultant, and speaker on the topics of communication difficulties, relationships, grief recovery, stress, and dealing with difficult people. She is a featured expert for the media, and does entertainment consulting.