A few days ago, I had a great conversation with Heather Choate, a self-published author with over 250K books sold, here’s the advice she had for me:
1) What made you decide to self-publish?
After completing my first novel, Blackwing Angel, I sent out query letters to over 120 agents. I had only 3 request to read the manuscript. All came back with rejections. 120 rejections was a lot to take! I felt pretty low and doubted myself as an author wondering if I could even do this. I remember sitting at my computer and thinking, “Is this a good story.” I still thought it was, despite what the “industry authorities” were telling me. I knew I loved writing and I wanted to keep going. I determined I could keep the book on my desktop where no one would ever see it or I could look into publishing it myself and if anyone enjoyed reading it, then all the better.
I spoke to a friend who had independently published his own books and had been successful doing so. He gave me some great information and I dove right in. I published my first book in 2012 and have published over 15 books since, hitting the #1 Amazon Bestseller’s list over 27 times! I had no idea when I made the decision to keep going anyway that I would be where I am now.
2) How did you find a printer? I publish through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) which is Amazon’s affiliated Print On Demand (POD) publishing service. It is free to set up an account and get your book onto Amazon. There are no up-front publishing costs. So, when someone orders your book, you make money. Amazon takes 70-35% fee (depending on your price point) and the rest is yours after that.
a. Editor? I have a great editor I knew in college, Josh Levitt. He has edited the majority of my recent works and has done a fabulous job. I’m a writer, not an editor and it is a MUST for anyone wanting to publish their own works to hire a good editor. You want your work to be as professional and polished as possible.
b. Illustrator? I used Elance.com to hire a great illustrator for my Jonas Flash Chronicles series. I used Photoshop to do several of my covers myself (not recommend though unless you are proficient at graphic design and formatting- best bet is to hire a professional).
c. Distributer? KDP does this.
3) How many books did you have printed? Again, POD means I didn’t pre-print any books. I have since sold over 250,000 copies.
4) How much did it run you? $300-$400 per book for editing, $80- $400 for graphic design. $100-$300 marketing (this is optional)
5) How did you cover the initial costs? First, my husband agreed to pay for it, then I rolled over profits from books to cover the other book expenses. Now, it completely sustains itself.
6) Did you make a profit? Recoup the costs? Not initially. But now, 5 years into it, it covers its own costs and has a small profit. Most books do not make a lot of money, so you have to have realistic expectations going in.
7) What would you do differently if you could do it again? I would have researched more about how to market it and built up my social media following sooner, but really, I’m very happy with how it all went and how I grew.
8) What was the worst part of the process? Rejections from agents and nasty reviews. I would get dozens of positive reviews and then get a handful of negative reviews and those were the ones that stuck in my head. These played with my doubts and fears. I had to quiet those voices and choose to go forward anyway.
9) What was the best part? Having control over the creative process and doing what I loved. It was great to know that others appreciated what I do and that I was able to help inspire, uplift and entertain people with positive messages. There is a great need for clean, positive and uplifting literature (especially young adult) and I feel like I’m serving my purpose and on my path when I create stories and books that can fill that need.
Heather has a new book coming out, Fighting For Our Lives, about her experience being diagnosed with breast cancer while 10 weeks pregnant. I haven’t read it yet, but here’s the synopsis from the website:
True stories of survival: Mother and unborn child beat cancer through faith and determination
One of the truly remarkable Mormon stories of faith and determination: At age 29, Heather Choate was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was ten weeks pregnant with her sixth child. Her unborn baby became victim to the fast-spreading and highly dangerous cancer in Heather’s body that already spread to her lymph nodes. Doctors told her she needed to abort her baby to save her life. Heather told them, “I’d rather die than take the life of my baby.” Heather and her husband set out to find a way to save both mother and baby. The journey pushed them to the fringes of their stamina, tested the strength of their familial relationships and found them clinging to their faith like it was the last bit of thread on a lifeline.
I’ve been following Heather’s story for years, it’s such an inspiration. Her family is all doing well and growing strong. She stood up to her doctors and stood up for her beliefs. Even if she would have lost the battle with cancer, her whole family would be stronger because of her faith. But she even beat the cancer and now she is able to be an inspiration to so many more.
I hope her story can strengthen your Faith, and I hope that her advice can help you write your stories as well.