Even though I’ve managed to get interviews from several writers at this point, there remains a tremendous number of unknowns as I march forward to releasing my first self-publication, The Dark Queen of Darkness, this fall. In an effort to bring more experiences into this series, I’ve reached out to another fellow Alaskan Writer – K. Jered Mayer (Though he’s recently transitioned out of state), to ask a few questions about his experiences self-publishing.
D: Hi K. Jered, thanks for taking the time to join me. Before I launch into my questions, I wonder if you could tell me about you and your writing?
KJM: Sure! I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. It provided an escape from a childhood I wasn’t particularly happy with, and as I’ve grown older it has provided a welcome break from the daily stresses of adult life, too. I’ve always been filled with a feeling of discontent and I’ve channeled that into traveling when I can and a number of jobs in customer service, something that allows me to get a peek into the lives of other people and sort of see[ing] what makes them work.
KJM: As far as my writing goes, I’ve always just wanted to tell fun stories. Maybe not the best ones, maybe not the most meticulously developed, but stories about characters that feel real in worlds that are often one step removed from reality. I’ve believed in creating compelling characters first, people you can root for or against, and that it helps drive the rest of the book–plot, setting, etc.– forward. I’ve self-published four novels so far (a steampunk-esque trilogy about revenge and ambition, and a standalone love story with a soundtrack), and I’m currently working on my fifth, a sci-fi adventure romp about three childhood friends turned intergalactic couriers, which should be out sometime this summer.
D: As an Alaskan writing non-Alaskana books, not to mention the distance between here and everywhere else, I feel like that puts writers like us at a bit of a disadvantage for marketing to a wider audience. It’s a lot of investment to try and set-up book signings or anything like that because there are few local venues and wider efforts like that mean out of state travel. Do you feel that this has put you at a disadvantage for marketing and selling your books?
KJM: Self-publishing has its advantages and disadvantages, of course. You get greater creative control, you get a higher percentage of your sales in profit, and you can get your product out immediately. But yes, the burden of marketing is entirely on you. You can pay for ad space on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, for example, and hopefully, that reaches a wider audience, but you’re banking on the hope that people will buy enough of your product to offset whatever it is you’re paying for advertisements. You can arrange a book signing, but again, you’ve got the cost of renting the space, the cost for additional advertisements in newspapers or online, the cost for ordering physical copies of your books if you have a printing option available. At that point, you’re hoping that whoever does show up MIGHT buy a book, MIGHT like it, and then MIGHT recommend it to others who will buy it down the line.
The biggest advantage of moving out of Alaska as a self-published author is genuinely that you have a higher chance of meeting people who know people, or that you just genuinely find a wider market of people to pitch to or who might be interested in arts or reading your books based off the concept and not because they know you or of you.
D: I noticed all of your work listed on Amazon is self-published, did you consider submitting to an agent or trying to go traditional?
KJM: I have! And it has sort of come and gone and come again.
D: Why, ultimately didn’t you?
KJM: Initially, I just wanted to get my book out as soon as possible. I was 22 when I wrote Waypoint, my first novel, and I was at a really rough point in my life. I was starting all over in a city where I didn’t really know anybody, and I had lost everything that meant anything to me. So I picked up a handful of chapters I had sort of been messing around with, knocked it out into a huge first novel, and just… put it out there into the wind to kind of see if anyone thought it was worth a damn.
Now, going back and rereading it nearly a decade later, there are several things I would change. The character’s good, the action beats are nice, the plot is pretty decent, but the writing could be tighter, some fat could be trimmed. I had a few advance readers help me edit it, but a professional editor would have done wonders. But, again, I was 22 years old and scraping by, trying to piece my life back together. Trying to find a publisher that accepted unsolicited manuscripts (that is to say, without a representing agent) or to write up a query letter to try and find an agent who would accept me as a client and then shop my book for me… it all seemed to be too much.
So. If I wasn’t going to do it for Waypoint, I wasn’t going to do it for the two sequels. Then Read in Denver rolled around, which is arguably my most marketable novel so far. That book was unplanned and came about after a pretty rough breakup of sorts. Again, marketing was the last thing on my mind when I wrote it. I didn’t even particularly like the book, though it has become my most popular since. In the last year or so, I have returned to trying to send out query letters to agents, but really? I’m just lazy. I don’t send out enough, and so I more or less have just been quietly writing, more or less, and just putting things out for whoever wants to take a chance on them.
D: I noticed at least two of your books available for print are printed through Amazon’s create space. Why did you choose this platform above others (thinking about platforms such as blurb.com, lulu.com, or IngramSpark.com)?
KJM: In all honesty, convenience. At the time, they were partnered with Amazon, and since I was putting my books on the Kindle, it was a convenient way to tie the two (digital and paper copies) together. Amazon has since purchased CreateSpace and consolidated the whole process even more.
D: As I’ve been investigating various self-publishing platforms, one of the ones I looked at was ingramSpark, which has a great cost calculator that doesn’t require registration or anything. One of the things that struck me is that if I want to order a stock of books for direct sale, the shipping costs for Alaska run about that of the printing costs. Has this been your experience with CreateSpace, or is this sort of thing even possible with CreateSpace?
KJM: I haven’t looked too much into any alternatives (again: lazy), but I’ve found that ordering in bulk from CreateSpace tended to be pretty financially viable. I would get discounted rates on the books themselves and I would order multiple copies of multiple books at the same time to basically be time and cost efficient both. The books I would sell for around $10 a copy ($20 for Waypoint because of its size), and I’d still make my money back plus 50%.
D: Are your books available on any other platforms, besides Amazon?
KJM: You should also be able to find digital copies for the Nook.
D: Thinking again about being an Alaskan writer, are there local venues where you can market or promote your books?
KJM: Bosco’s Comics and Collectibles is usually pretty open to working with local talent, though they do charge a commission, last I checked. I know that the owner, John, is a pretty avid supporter of the community. You might also check places like Title Wave or whatever the new little book/cafe place is called that opened up last year or so.
D: Are your covers your own work, or did you hire someone?
KJM: Oh, no, I’m a terrible artist. The covers for my first few novels (the Convergence trilogy… in five parts!) were made pretty hastily and very basically with some stock images. Which should be pretty obvious, honestly, once you look at them. The cover for Read in Denver was a piece titled “As We Become One” by Pennsylvanian artist Kaitlyn Page. I actually stumbled across it on Tumblr about halfway through writing the book and thought it was perfect, so I worked out an arrangement with her to use the cover for the book, and just slapped my title and my name on the front. I also commissioned her for an original piece for my upcoming sixth novel, Lunargirl.
For Absolute Zeroes, the book I’m currently working on, I bought some premade cover and again slapped my title and name on it. There are better tools out there for people looking to publish work. I’m pretty ambivalent about my own stuff, so I go for something that works, is quick, is relatively affordable, and then I move on.
D: How do you promote your books?
KJM: Short answer: I don’t. Long answer: I really, really don’t. I’ll put excerpts and the cover on Instagram and Facebook, and when the things are published, I’ll put links on Facebook where you can buy it. I get uncomfortable discussing my own work at length, though, and it feels a little arrogant to just bring it up to strangers, so I mostly keep mum. It’s out there, I’ll point you at it, but that’s really it.
D: That’s the meat of the questions I have right now before we wrap this up if you had any one piece of advice for a writer looking to self-publishing, what would it be?
KJM: Well, I can only really go off of things that have held me up. 1. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t judge the merit of your work by the quality of other books that you enjoy or that you don’t but are popular anyway. Your style is your own, and it will resonate some people, but not with everyone. The sooner you embrace your own writing style, your own stories, your own characters, and what it is you bring to them that makes it work, the sooner you’ll feel more comfortable in completing the work and sharing it with others. 2. Try to write every day. It doesn’t have to be 2,000 words like Stephen King. A lot of self-published or aspiring writers are working full-time jobs or have families or both, and writing can be an emotionally exhaustive process. But writing 250, 500 words a day even will keep your mind working on your story. The minute you start putting it off, the easier it is to set the whole thing aside for days or even months at a time. 3. Keep reading. With books you like, study sentence structure or plot details or pacing, figure out what it is that makes it appealing and accessible to you, and find ways to take those.l processes and integrate them in a way that works for you. In books you don’t like, study the same things, figure out what it is that turns you off, and stay away from those things. Most importantly, enjoy yourself. 4. Remember why you’re writing. The process is work, and it can be daunting and tiring and stressful, but you have a story in your head that you think is worth telling to others. That’s exciting! You are creating lives and a world and a lot of little moments that make up a big whole, and that is thrilling. Keep that in mind whenever you feel discouraged.
D: Final question – and you can say no, your Amazon profile says you live in Anchorage with your characters and some whiskey, AND your blog is called wordwhiskey. I wonder, would you be interested in doing a guest whiskey-review blog post on my other site bakedgoodsandbourbon.com?
KJM: Of course! It might be a while, but I promise I’ll get around it. And thanks for reminding me I need to update my author profile: I’ve been living in Denver for nearly a year now.
Thank you K. Jered Mayer for taking the time. K. Jered Mayer is the author of the Convergence trilogy (beginning with Waypoint), Read in Denver, and the forthcoming Absolute Zeroes, which are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also check out his writing at https://wordwhiskey.wordpress.com/