Guest post: Author Stacey Cochran
Stacey Cochran is an independently-published author of several books in the Kindle store, including his most recent, Claws 2.
In celebration of that release, Stacey has embarked on what he is calling a “blog tour”. There’s nothing to sign, so an e-book author can’t really do a book signing in brick-and-mortar stores. This is an equivalent…guest-posting on well-known blogs.
I thought my readers might find Stacey’s insight on publishing interesting. I am posting it here…any formatting issues are probably mine. I did read the post, so I was clear that I thought it was appropriate for my readers:
Stacey Cochran Guest Post for Bufo Calvin’s ILMK Blog
Pub Date: July 7
Thanks so much, Bufo, for giving me the opportunity to visit your ILMK blog while on tour to help promote my Kindle-exclusive thriller CLAWS 2.
Today I’d like to talk about the process and decision to self-publish and will break this down into the following categories: 1) Proof-reading and editing, 2) Cover Design, 3) Pricing, and 4) Selling to a traditional publisher
To Self-Publish or Not to Self-Publish
The decision to self-publish my books was not an easy one. I self-published my first novel in 2004 after querying traditional publishers and literary agents. Subsequently I have self-published five more books over the past five years, and during that time I have sent out roughly 3,000 query letters (via postal and e-mail). In the past half decade, I have signed on with two different literary agents who both worked extremely hard to sell my novels to traditional publishers. As yet, no publisher has made an offer.
I only self-publish a book after it has been pitched for many months to traditional publishers and everyone says “Not interested.” For most first-time authors, I recommend the same. Try to get a literary agent first. If that doesn’t work, pitch as many editors as you can on your own. If the net result after a year or two is that no one is interested, then you should self-publish your book.
Proof-Reading and Editing
For both CLAWS and CLAWS 2, I worked with a writing group to critique the manuscripts. My standard writing process is to revise as I go along. That is, I don’t usually move to Chapter 2 until I have edited Chapter 1 for quite a while.
Once I have the whole first draft of a manuscript done, I normally do a full-scale edit on my own that can take from one to six months. It is that revised version that typically goes in front of my writing group. The group reads the manuscript closely and makes both surface and content edits.
I then apply their feedback, a process that takes about a month. Then, I give the manuscript to my wife. She reads and critiques, and I apply her feedback. Another month or two.
With CLAWS and CLAWS 2, I had two different literary agents over five years, and both agents gave me thorough editorial feedback that went into yet another two rounds of revision. Additionally, nearly every major thriller editor in the business gave us feedback on the novels, and I applied all of their comments into the novels as well.
Finally, the novels went through two years of editing in the booking and formatting phase, once the decision was reached to self-publish the books.
Editing a novel this much is painstaking work, but it is essential if you’re going to put your work out to a paying public.
Cover design differs from book to book. I worked with a graphic designer friend on the first CLAWS cover, but I did CLAWS 2 on my own. For CLAWS 2, I first searched istock.com for the perfect photo. I knew I wanted to have snow in the image, but I wasn’t sure about how much to suggest. I first tried doing a trickle of blood in a snowy field, etc., but none of that worked well and I wanted to go for a “cleaner” noirish feel, since CLAWS 2 is more of a story about the character Angie Rippard.
I was totally inspired by the original Into the Wild cover for the runaway bestseller by Jon Krakauer. His book cover gave me the confidence to go black-and-white, and from there I did everything in PhotoShop.
Unless you have experience working in PhotoShop, I suggest working with a graphic designer. A fair price for a great cover should come in under $300, but depending on your network of friends, you may be able to find someone who will do it for less. Shop around. Ask questions. Get estimates.
How to price a book is one of the most hotly debated topics in the eBook world today. Most of you guys know what happened back in March when Macmillan and Amazon disagreed on the agency model. For the indie author, pricing a book the right way is paramount to success.
The best indie author I’ve seen who knew how to move prices around to the drum up business was Sam Landstrom. Using the now-defunct “Mobipocket Method” Sam would drop his price to free, blast up into the rankings, and then raise the price and sell like mad for several weeks. He did this effectively enough over the course of nine months to earn tons of positive reviews, visibility, and word of mouth, and he now has a contract with AmazonEncore.
Because I have four books available on Kindle, I can experiment with pricing. The new thriller CLAWS 2 is set at $2.99 to take advantage of the new 70% royalty rate. My other titles are all listed at 99 cents.
There is no iron rule that will work for everybody. That said, if you price your book reasonably you’re much more likely to increase sales.
At some point in your marketing process, you’ll need to assess whether your goal is to build a readership or to make money. It may be that you have to do the former before you can do the latter.
Mainstream Publisher Interest
So, if a mainstream publisher approached me and wanted to publish my novel(s), how would I respond?
I would be happy. One part of my own personal equation in building a writing career is establishing credibility. Credibility factors into success. That is, if readers trust you, they are much more likely to buy your book, and if you can get a mainstream publisher to publish your work, it is a sign to many potential readers that you’re a pretty good writer.
There are a number of mid-list authors on the web who are now weighing whether to accept offers from traditional publishers or to self-publish. They’re in a good position to be able to make that decision because they’ve already been established by the mainstream houses, and thus have the credibility that contributes to high reader trust.
For writers without that credibility, I would recommend going with a traditional publisher, even if you have to settle on a lower royalty rate. Consider a hardcover or paperback deal as a stamp of credibility that will be on your resume forever, particularly if it’s with a well-known and well-respected publisher.
Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University. His books include CLAWS, CLAWS 2, The Colorado Sequence, Amber Page, and The Kiribati Test.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.