For this installment of Publishing Platforms, where I’m endeavoring to talk to almost as many authors as I can find leading up to self-publishing my own work, Dark Queen of Darkness this fall, I’ve reached out to Brian S. Converse to discuss his experiences in publishing. I met Brian on Twitter, as one does, and have been following his progress in publishing and marketing his series Rajani Chronicles. Below are the questions I asked, in an interview format.
D: Hi Brian, thanks for joining me. Before I launch into my questions, could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your work?
BSC: Sure, Dave, thanks for inviting me. I’ve been writing for about 25 years now in various formats, both traditionally published and self-published. I’ve had poems, comics, and short stories published in various zines, both print and electronic. As you mentioned, I am self-publishing my first novel series, Rajani Chronicles.
D: I apologize, this one is solidly multi-part –In looking at where you’ve made your work available, one that stands out to me is Smashwords. I’ve only heard about this one peripherally and I don’t know anything about it. Was it difficult to put your book into the variety of formats available there? In terms of sales and things, how does it stack up to other platforms, such as Amazon? Would you recommend this platform to other authors?
BSC: Smashwords is probably the most difficult to get your manuscript ready for print. You have to have some patience with their Word format converter, which they call Meat Grinder, because it can be picky, but as long as you follow their style guide it should go smoothly. Smashwords then publishes it along [with] a few different platforms such as their own, KOBO, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc. You just need to pick those options when you upload the book. My Smashwords sales are inconsistent, and not as strong as my Amazon sales, but as you said, that may just be due to people being unfamiliar with the site. One thing I have found, though, is that they are easier to deal with than Amazon when it comes to changing the price of your book for sales and promotions. I would recommend Smashwords, but only if you don’t want to go exclusive with Amazon.
D: Another platform you’re available on is KOBO. Until I started seriously looking into publishing, I’d thought this was a fully deceased avenue. However, the more of the interviews I do and the more I learn about other authors, I’m noticing this is a pretty common publishing platform. Could you describe a bit of your experience there? Does it seem like people are finding your work and buying through Kobo?
BSC: I’ve only sold a few books through KOBO. Again, that may be due to people being unfamiliar with the site. I think readers naturally go to what is familiar to them, and Amazon seems to be it, unless they own a specific e-reader like NOOK.
D: Your books are available in paperback (and hardback!!!!) format through Amazon. Do you exclusively print through Amazon or did you use any other service, like Lulu, Blurb, IngramSpark, bookbaby etc… to print?
BSC: All of my paperbacks and hardcovers are printed through IngramSpark. It’s a fairly easy process to upload the book and cover artwork. They offer options for sizes, paper color, cover format (glossy vs matte) and hardcover and/or softcover. Once the novel goes live, then it’s automatically picked up by Amazon as long as you have an ISBN. Remember, you need an individual ISBN for each book format, hardcover, softcover, ebook, nook, audio, etc. And the only place to get them is through Bowker.
D: In sort of a follow-up to the question [If applicable, depending on how you respond] – did you consider using any of those services when you looked into publishing? Why/Why not?
BSC: I looked into a few of the book publishing services when I first began exploring self-publishing, but I wanted to know how to do it on my own, and the best way to learn is by doing. There was a definite learning curve when I first started, but the second book was much easier than the first.
D: Your novels are self-published, as is your work of poetry. Did you consider going traditional or reaching out to a small press before you launched? Why/Why not?
BSC: I did participate in a few of the Twitter pitches that are available (pitmad, sffpit) on the first book, and was not happy with the offers I got, or was not picked up by some of the publishers that “liked” my pitch tweet. By that time, though, I had already made up my mind to self-publish, so it was more of a novelty to see how it all worked on Twitter. The poetry book I decided to release exclusively on Amazon as an ebook knowing that there isn’t a great demand for poetry out there, but wanting it to be available to people that do read it. I also wanted it to be as low-budget as I could make it, which is why I used Canva to create a cover and don’t have it offered as a print book.
D: The illustrations on your covers are excellent. Who did the artwork and how did you find that person?
BSC: His name is Lawrence Mann, and he is a digital artist based in England. We follow each other on Twitter (I don’t remember who followed who first) and when I started the process of self-publishing, I looked at his web site (https://lawrencemann.co.uk/) and really liked his work, so I contacted him and we went from there.
D: One of the things I decided to do with The Dark Queen of Darkness was to hire an editor. This was a pretty expensive undertaking, but one I felt necessary for my own work. What approach did you take to editing for the Rajani Chronicles? Why?
BSC: Always get a professional editor to go over your manuscript. This shouldn’t even be a choice. As a writer with many years of experience, I’ve found that no matter how polished you think your work is, it’s not a good idea to rely on just yourself. Sometimes you’re too close to the work; you’ve read through it so many times that you overlook something. Again, my editor was someone that I found on Twitter. One thing I will tell people, though, is shop around for the editor that best fits your work and your budget. They don’t all provide the same service (proofreading vs copy editing vs line editing – know the difference!) and they don’t charge the same (usually its done per word, but some charge a flat fee that may be cheaper or more expensive, depending on the size of your manuscript.)
D: I’m going to diverge from publishing topics a bit and ask about advertising, as it plays an important role in publication choices. I once asked an author about the best way to advertise. Her response was: Publish a second book. You’re now preparing to release your 3rd book in the Rajani Chronicles series. Thinking about the release of book 2, would you say that this other author’s advice was your experience?
BSC: It is true that the more books you have out, the better the sales are for earlier books. Just having books out there shows that the first book was not a one-time thing and helps the reader to trust that you’re serious about your work. But there is also the fact that many people won’t buy the second book until the third book in the trilogy is published, which I’ve discovered after book two came out. They want to make sure you finish the series. My sales on the second book are not nearly as strong as the first, unfortunately. We’ll see if they pick up once the third book is available.
D: One of the things you’ve done for advertising was host a Facebook release party, where other authors popped in an held a conversation. Would you describe that as a success for marketing or a bit more trouble than it was worth?
BSC: I believe it was successful. I think everyone enjoyed the book release party, both authors and readers, because it was more than just some writer speaking endlessly about his book. It was a bit of work contacting other authors and juggling their schedules to make sure that everyone had a time slot that worked for them while still keeping the release party on time.
D: Do you do any direct-marketing, that is, do you or have you approached book stores in your area for book signings, events, or shelf-space?
BSC: I talked to some local stores in person about the book, but most of my direct marketing came through contacting independent bookstores by email. I created an information sheet that showed the book cover, the ISBNs for hardcover and softcover, a brief description of the book, the fact that it is returnable, which is very important to bookstores, and my marketing plan for the book laid out so they could see that I am serious about selling the book using my social media presence and select promotions. Any information to the book buyer is helpful so they see where the book fits into what they sell, is easy to order, and doesn’t take up much space on the shelf. I purposely keep my novels around 80,000 words so they are not too thick. As an indie author, every trick helps. Many authors also don’t realize that libraries buy books and that if you contact their books buyers as well, you can have a respectable income from that. You just need to get your book registered on WorldCat.org. The easiest way I’ve found to do that is by donating the book to my local library for their use, in exchange for them listing it on the site, which is where most libraries go to get books. Most book stores offer signings for local authors. Many provide a space for you to set up in exchange for a flat fee and/or percentage of sales of your book resulting from the signing. Again, do your homework to make sure the patrons for that bookstore are the same that buy the genre of book you’re selling. The closest bookstore to where I live hardly sells any science fiction, so they were not a good choice for me to have a book signing.
D: I could keep asking questions all day long, but think I’ve quite taken enough of your time. Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to share to authors looking to self-publish for the first time?
BSC: As I said above, do your homework before you jump into the self-publishing business. It’s not for everyone, due to the up-front cost (cover art, editing services, ISBNs, marketing plan, etc.) and time commitment – it takes a long time to contact indie bookstores in every state. Know that success doesn’t come easily in most cases. It takes dedication to build an audience and get your work noticed. But also, don’t give up hope. It’s a tall hill to climb, but persistence will get you to the top.
Thank you Brian S. Converse for taking the time here. Brian S. Converse is the Author of the Rajani Chronicles, which you can find on all manner of platforms, including Amazon https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B06XXQVGMF, and Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rajani-chronicles-i-brian-s-converse/1125998486?ean=2940157391652