Tracey Edwards writes books. She has dealt with publishers, had books on the Best Seller list and even self published some of her books (one of which I am reading- Urban Darkness under one of her pseudonyms, Tabatha Levins). In this interview, Tracey discusses the advantages of publishing versus self publishing and the hard knocks of being a writer in this day and age.
For those who are considering a writing career themselves, they should check out her website, TraceyWritesBooks, in which she talks freely about the business end of self publishing frankly and honestly.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started writing. What things do you have “under your belt”, achievement wise?
I’ve always written, from an early age I preferred writing to most other pursuits. I remember one time in primary school that all my friends wanted to go outside to play and I wanted to stay in the library and copy passages out of an encyclopaedia. Yeah, I was weird like that. So it was of no surprise to my friends and family that I studied Journalism and Media Communication at University.
Since then I’ve had jobs working in the publicity department of Channel 9 (television station in Australia), have written numerous articles for different magazines, and of course had two books traditionally published (and many self published).
2. I’d imagine one of your biggest achievements would be your book that hit the best sellers list. What process did you go through to get your book published (was it self published)? What were the main stumbling blocks you encountered?
The first book I wrote was a guide for women on investing in the Australian Stock market (something I had been doing successfully for a number of years). I wrote a query letter and sent that, a chapter outline and one full chapter of the book to three publishers. Two of them contacted me wanting to publish it, so for me it was very easy to get a traditional contract.
I think people believe it’s much harder to get a book contract because of all of the rejection stories that are bounced around. I agree that writing fiction would be harder because so many more people want to do that, but with non-fiction – it’s not as difficult as you might think. Of course it probably helped that I had a new angle (women investing in stocks) and that I had previously published articles in magazines to back up my credibility as a writer as well.
That book became a bestseller in Australia (a great achievement to be sure, but not quite the same as a NYT bestseller). I had to do television and radio interviews galore. It was a crazy time.
But prior to getting my first book, my main stumbling block was my own self confidence. I never thought I could be successful so I never tried. During university and for a few years afterwards I was involved in a bad relationship where I was constantly told I wasn’t good enough, clever enough, or pretty enough to be anything special. Even after that relationship ended, those words prevented me from following my dreams for a long time.
But that’s all history and things are good now. I just wanted people to remember to believe in themselves first and foremost.
3. You’ve worked with publishers before. What was the process you took to get a publisher? How did you get a publisher’s attention? Did you have to deal with multiple rejections?
As I mentioned, for me, it was very easy to get a publisher. All I did was write a query letter and send a sample chapter and outline to them. To be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so simple. But it was.
I didn’t bother with agents; I simply went to bookstores to see which publishers were publishing books in my genre. Wrote down a few names and sent my proposal to three of them. I ended up going with John Wiley & Sons.
4. Can you talk about the pros and cons of having a publisher versus self publishing (I know you have done both).
Getting a traditional publishing deal gives you credibility. Every person that I’ve met that has found out that I’ve written books seem instantly impressed that I’m a published author. The perception is that only the truly smart or truly talented will be lucky enough to write a book. I don’t see myself as either. I just see myself as someone who likes to write.
There is also the thrill of going into a bookstore and seeing a physical copy of your book sitting there on the shelves. I still can’t walk past a bookstore without going in and seeing if they stock my book.
However there is one big con of having a publisher. Author’s make virtually no money out of the deal. Unless you are one of the biggest bestselling authors, you probably won’t be making enough to live on. Many people seem surprised at how modestly I live since “I’m a bestselling author”. My book’s sold for around $25, and out of that deal I made just over $2 per book.
With self publishing, the con’s of traditional publishing are the pro’s of self publishing. You don’t get as much credibility (and sometimes you are even looked down upon) but you make a lot more money, and have a lot more control.
5. So, Tracey….publishing or self publishing? Which is better?
Publishing is simply a way to get something you’ve written to its audience. A few years ago you couldn’t do that any other way than go through a traditional publisher. Now you have options.
For me, I couldn’t see myself signing another publishing contract unless the terms were outstanding. I like the control that I have with self publishing. I get to hire my own editors, tell my cover designer exactly what I want, and write whatever the hell I please.
I now write both fiction and non-fiction. eBooks and print books (pBooks?)
And I like the fact that eBooks are forever. It’s the closest to passive income I’ve come across since I’ve been online.
I love this new world.
6. You are brand new to writing, and are ready to publish. Given what you know today, what steps would you take to publish? How would you market it?
Decide first what is most important to you. Money or credibility. Because it’s rare that you can get both with either publishing option.
For most people though, going the self publishing route is the smartest option – even if your heart is set on a publishing deal, if your book is popular enough you’ll be offered a traditional publishing deal once they notice you (many successful self pubbers have done just this).
But for most people, the control and money will be enough to keep them independent.
The biggest hurdles to publishing really are writing the book or story to begin with. The rest is a piece of cake. It’s simply a matter of getting someone to check it for errors (I recommend hiring a professional editor for this and not relying on your husband), getting a good looking cover design (covers do sell books) and then uploading to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple (as a minimum).
I use a simple Word document that I upload to both KDP (Amazon’s publishing arm) and Smashwords (who distribute to the other bookstores). Formatting can be tricky but you really just need to keep it simple. No fancy fonts or headings. No tables or left aligned images. Simple, simple, simple.
Most e-readers are really just a simplified html browser in a nice package. If you remember that, and the fact you can’t control the size and type of font the reader has set on their e-reader, then it’s much easier to remember to keep things simple.
I also recommend getting either a Kindle, or Kindle app on your iPad/iPhone/computer and emailing your document to your special Kindle email address – as that way you can see how it looks on screen before hitting the publish button.
Marketing your book is another thing altogether. Non fiction is easy – set up a blog targeting your keywords and attract an audience, funnelling them to your book, but fiction – I’m still figuring out that one.
Right now I’m playing around with how to influence the Amazon search results. As far as I can tell, there are three main components to ranking higher in the Amazon results, and two minor ones.
The three main factors are title, sales ranking, and the seven search words you are allowed to choose when first uploading your book. The book description and tags are a lesser component that don’t influence as much but can help give a small boost.
Working out which phrases and keywords to target is tricky. You can get ideas from Google Keywords Tool but what people type into G isn’t always the same that they type into Amazon to look for books like yours. The best I’ve come up with is simply typing phrases into the Amazon search bar to see what auto suggest phrases come up – but again it’s hard to know how popular these would be.
I’m still playing around with this, but so far I have managed to increase search results for a few books for certain phrases. I’ll continue to be testing this over the months to come.
7. Aliens have abducted you and have teleported you to a remote island. You can only take one thing. What would you take?