Tag Archives: independent publishing

Pretty When She . . .

Rhiannon Frater

An Interview with Rhiannon Frater

Rhiannon is a successful independent horror writer who found her way to Tor through an interesting confluence of events. She was kind enough to take time out of her weekend and sit down for an interview.

Joshua Essoe: How long did it take you to get the steam going in your career? Did you ever feel like giving up?

Rhiannon Frater: I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, so I guess it took all my life to get to the point where I am presently. The journey wasn’t just about getting a big break and a publishing deal, but also developing my voice and finding my genre. For a long time I thought I was going to be a mystery writer like Agatha Christie. I was rather surprised when horror ended up being my niche.

JE: Did you ever consider giving up?

RF: I did for about nine years. My husband helped me get back on track. Being an author is a very tough business. You have to have a thick skin, a good support system, and a lot of ambition along with the talent to write, of course.

JE: Of course. Take that one as a given and work on the rest! Who did you learn from, or are you self-taught? Did you take workshops to hone your craft?

I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of books to discover my writing voice. I have also learned a lot from reading the editing notes from my editor at Tor and my indie editor. I also learned a lot about plot structure and character development from being an avid fan of Alfred Hitchcock and Joss Whedon. I’ve been told many times that I write cinematically. Readers tell me that when they finish one of my books they feel like they just watched a movie.

JE: You started indie, you put your books out yourself and collected a following with your As the World Dies Trilogy. Eventually Tor took notice. What was the process you went through to produce your books? Did you hire professional editing, cover art, and book design?

RF: As The World Dies started out as an online serial. It gained a huge following, much to my surprise. The original fans were the ones who wanted to have the series published so they could have physical copies on their bookshelves. It was with their encouragement that I tried very hard to find an agent or a publisher who would be interested in my zombie epic. Instead, I was met with rejection. My husband approached me about self-publishing utilizing the new media. I was reluctant at first, but after a lot of research we felt it was the best way to go about it. A friend did the cover art, I formatted the interior, my husband did the layout of the full cover, and some friends helped with the editing. This was back in 2008 so there weren’t the resources available then that there are now.
I’ve learned so much since those early days. I now have an editor who works with Permuted Press edit my indie novels, I have a professional formatter, and my cover artists are top notch.

JE: I loved the updated covers that you and Tor released. How did things change when you signed with Tor? What are the pros and cons of Indy vs. trad publishing in your experience?

RF: Well, the purchase of the trilogy allowed me to quit my day job and give the full-time writing gig a shot, but what keeps me writing full-time are my self-published novels. I have only seen one royalty statement since the books were published by Tor, which is the norm with big publishers. It’s my monthly royalty payments from Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Audiobook Creation Exchange, and Createspace (trade paperbacks) that pays my bills and keeps me happily writing at home. So even though the bigger lump payments come from the big publisher, the more consistent monthly earnings are from my indie works.
Creatively, the indie side of things is much more in my court. I can write a very long novel with no worries of a word count restriction. I can write whatever I want to write next and not worry about writing a synopsis, summary, etc., to pitch to my editor. The interior design, cover art, and layout are things I have full control over with my indie novels. Tor has been really kind with taking my suggestions for the covers of the As The World Dies Trilogy, but they have final say.
Both publishing paths have pros and cons. I happen to enjoy doing both, that’s why I’m a hybrid author.

JE: You’ve achieved what many indy writers strive for, that big publisher staring you in the face and telling you you’re good enough. First of all, it must have felt amazing. Second, do you think it’s necessary? What do you think of the gatekeepers and what is your advice for new authors trying to decide what route to take, and what steps along that route?

RF: In my case it has definitely been worth it to traditionally publish. The initial advance money gave me the freedom to pursue a full-time career. I have also enjoyed the editing process with my editor at Tor. I’ve learned a lot from her. Because the books were published by Tor, Publishers Weekly reviewed The First Days and it received a Starred Review. Also, many people who have never heard of me gained access to my books because they were on the shelves of local bookstores.
What’s nice about self-publishing is that the books that Tor may not want can still find their way onto the e-readers and bookshelves of readers. Big publishers have to buy what they feel will sell to a wide audience. I may come up with an idea that they think is awesome, but won’t sell. Those books don’t die in the back of a writer’s closet anymore.
The best advice I can give up-and-coming writers is in the F.A.Q. on my website.

JE: How big a part is the social aspect to the success of a writer’s career? Did you go to cons, workshops, seminars, meet particular people, pitch, plead or beg?

RF: Everyone’s path to success in writing is different. I know of people who have taken every writing class offered in their area, traveled to workshops, seminars, etc…. They even know a lot of writers, agents, and publishers from constantly networking, but they don’t have a book deal. There are also people who write their first book, send it to an agent, and have a seven figure deal two weeks later. There is no set path. There is no magic key.
In my case I self-published, a producer saw the cover of my second book and thought the character looked like his wife, he bought it, loved it, optioned the series, and the next thing I know I have an entertainment lawyer referring me to a literary agent in New York. I had an agent by Thanksgiving, she pitched in January, and I had a deal with Tor in early March.

JE: That’s amazing. Your latest, Pretty When She Kills, came out last month. How is it being received, and what is your next big project?

RF: I actually returned to the old vampires. My vampires are scary and kill people, but holy relics and sunlight are deadly. The series has been gaining quite a fervent following since True Blood gave us back the scary bloodsuckers. The reviews have been really awesome and I hope the third book will bring a fitting end to the trilogy.
I’m wrapping up my latest project for Tor right now called Dead Spots. It’s a really bizarre horror novel that I absolutely love. Once I turn that in, I’m probably going to return to the Pretty When She Dies universe and write the last book in the trilogy, along with a side novella.

JE: What is Dead Spots going to be about?

RF: It’s a horror novel, obviously. Not vampires, zombies, or anything like that, but I’ll let Tor describe it.

JE: Sounds intriguing. I love the title. Now, for the serious. Complete this sentence: “Like I said…”

RF: …kill all the things.


Guest Writer Bio: Rhiannon Frater is the award-winning author of the As the World Dies trilogy (The First Days, Fighting to Survive, Siege,) and the author of several other books, including the vampire novels Pretty When She DiesThe Tale of the Vampire Bride, and the young-adult zombie novel The Living Dead Boy and the Zombie Hunters. Inspired to independently produce her work from the urging of her fans, she published The First Days in late 2008 and quickly gathered a cult following. She won the Dead Letter Award back-to-back for both The First Days and Fighting to Survive, the former of which the Harrisburg Book Examiner called “one of the best zombie books of the decade.’ Rhiannon is currently represented by Hannah Gordon of the Foundry + Literary Media agency. You may contact her by sending an email to rhiannonfrater@gmail.com.

Eric Edstrom: It Worked, It Failed – Lessons Learned in Indie Publishing

Guest post by Eric Edstrom

On December 24th, 2011, I clicked “save and publish” on Amazon’s KDP platform to launch my very first novel, Undermountain. A few hours later the book appeared for sale on Amazon.

Relief and satisfaction washed through me. I had realized a life-long dream, a biggie from the bucket list. I had done it. I’d written and published a novel.

I relaxed and smiled. No more pages of edits to go through, no irritating “track changes” issues to deal with from an editor, no more “when will your little book be out?” questions from doubters.

I’ve done this twice since then. In January of 2012 I published a little non-fiction ebooklet about writing lyrics for the Nashville music scene. And on July 1st I released Afterlife, the sequel to Undermountain.

I don’t claim to be an expert. If anything, I’m an advanced beginner. But I do have enough experience to offer insights into what has and has not worked for me as an indie author.

1. Goodreads.

Although many authors fear Goodreads due to trolls torpedoing authors’ books, I’ve found a friendly and welcoming community there. I wouldn’t have half the reviews I have without them. There are a number of Goodreads groups (basically discussion forums) with dedicated topics for “Authors Requesting Reviews” or ARR. Join one, read the ARR rules, introduce yourself, offer up free copies, and be patient. And it’s pretty much a no brainer, give a free e-copy of your book to anyone who promises to review it. It worked!

2. Hiring editing and proofreading services.

I worked with two editors. The first one did an okay job, but mostly just pointed out that my book was crap. I rewrote a bunch of it and then worked with Joshua Essoe, who helped me beat it into shape. After that I hired a proofreader. Notice I’m not mentioning who did that. I should have done an extra proofreading round after that. It worked. Lesson learned: ask for references.

3. Sourcing cover art through Crowdspring.com.

This worked, but it made the cost higher due to Crowdspring’s listing fees. I listed a project there, set my price, and then waited for designers to submit concepts. I gave feedback and encouragement to some of them, and eventually chose the cover you see for Undermountain (which is awesome according to everyone). Since then I’ve worked directly with the artist on the sequels. It worked! Lesson learned: It’s cheaper to work with artists directly. Find unknowns on deviantart.com and conceptart.org.

4. Hiring services to prepare my manuscript to feed into Smashword’s infamous meatgrinder conversion software.

I did this for Undermountain because I was exhausted and couldn’t face reading Smashword’s style guide. I paid ebookartisandesign.com $50 to do it. It worked!

5. Preparing my manuscript for the meatgrinder myself for book 2.

It’s actually not that hard to do if you clear space in your calendar and mind to just do it. It worked!

6. Hire Createspace services to create the interior layout for the POD version of my book.

I got my POD book done and ready for sale. It worked . . . but I was extremely disappointed with the speed and quality of their service. Their mistakes added three weeks to the process.

7. Create the interior layout using Word for Mac.

I did a superior quality layout for my second book in about four hours by following a tutorial I found online. If you’ve done your own prepwork for the Smashwords meatgrinder, you have the perfect starting point, BTW. It worked!

8. Dictating the first draft.

Once I got over the idea that dictation wouldn’t work for me and just did it, I found that it was insanely fast and the quality was good. I wrote a blog post on this. It worked!

9. Reserving an editor time slot before the book has been written started.

I did this on my second book because I knew Joshua’s schedule was filling up. I treated this date the same way I would a deadline for any other editor. I worked backward from that to figure out my schedule. I worked forward from that date to figure out my launch date. As a result, I launched an awesome book on time. It totally worked!

10. Tweet spamming my book.

I couldn’t help myself at first. I was so proud of my book and thought all fifty-seven of my followers would rush to Amazon and buy it. I do tweet my buy links occasionally, but for the most part I’m trying to build relationships on twitter. I have no evidence that I’ve sold a single copy due to tweeting. Tweet spamming: Fail!

11. Being afraid to push my book.

I just got done saying I was a Twitter spammer, but in real life I wouldn’t bring it up with anyone. Fail! Lesson learned: You’re not selling your book so much as you are selling yourself. Some people are good at this, some are like me. I can say with 100% confidence that I never sold a book to someone who didn’t know it existed.

12. Advertising on Facebook.

Fail! I sold nothing. I’m not saying it couldn’t work, just that it didn’t work for me. Why? Because I had no idea what I was doing. Advertising is an skill, and to do it right you really need to A/B test everything and tweak headlines.

13. Amazon Select.

Fail! (for me) I gave away thousands of free ebooks. There was no post giveaway sales boost and I got only one review as a result (it was very positive, BTW). I think my absence from other platforms set back my growth there and my sales on the big A did not go down once I left the Select program.

14. Creating a printed version of my book to boost sales.

Fail! I’ve given away way more copies than I’ve sold of my POD book. From a return on time/investment standpoint, POD was not worth it for Undermountain. And yet . . . there is nothing in the world like holding that book. Now that I know how to do interior layout myself I will continue to do them. Lesson learned: when you hire your cover artist, make sure they agree to tweak final dimensions for the wrap-around cover and placement of back cover text, etc. The issue is that you won’t know the spine dimensions until you know how many pages the book will be. And you won’t know that until the book is finished and the interior layout is complete.

15. Create an awesome book trailer that will go viral, resulting in huge sales and movie options.

Fail! I did all the work on my awesome trailer myself. It was far more expensive than it had to be because I licensed stock video and sounds from istockphoto.com and pond5.com. I already owned Final Cut and had video editing experience, so at least that didn’t cost me extra. Lesson learned: having an awesome book trailer is its own reward.

16. Speaking to a bunch of eighth graders at a local school.

It worked! Many were very interested in buying my book. Lesson learned: Make sure your your POD book is ready. This may be different now, but not one of the 100+ kids in the audience owned an ereader at the time. Due to Createspace design services slowitude, I did not have any inventory on hand. Fail!

17. Ringing up sales by obsessively refreshing the KDP, Pubit, Smashwords, and Writing Life dashboards.

Fail! I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that this is ineffective. If it was, I would be the best-selling writer in the history of the world.

Guest Writer Bio: Eric Kent Edstrom is an author, songwriter, and guitarist. The first two volumes of The Undermountain Saga, Undermountain and Afterlife, are available in ebook and trade paperback from all online retailers. Eric lives in Wisconsin with his wife and daughter.

Twitter: @ekdstrom
Facebook: facebook.com/EricKentEdstrom
Web: ericedstrom.com

The greatest YA science fiction series about bigfoot of all time: The Undermountain Saga. Book 1: Undermountain and book 2: Afterlife. The final book will launch 24 December.

Is it still worth trying to get an agent?

This month we’re talking publishing in all its shapes and sizes.  Like many of you, I am an author struggling to reach that huge milestone of my first published workd.  I’m very optimistic this is the year it’s going to happen.  I’ve been writing for seven years, and although I have two novels I could self-publish, I’ve opted to sign with an agent and pursue a traditional publishing route, if possible.

Several people have asked me why bother?

With the advent of ebooks and the ease of self-publishing novels, why not just throw my manuscripts out into the ether like so many other people?  Maybe I could become one of those few to really succeed with it?

Maybe I should.  Perhaps I still will.  The publishing industry is going through very difficult times, and there are many people who argue an author is doing themselves terrible damage by signing a traditional publishing deal.

I’m not convinced it’s all bad.  First, I want confirmation from industry professionals that I’m really ready, that I’ve mastered the craft to the point where I can approach publishing a work with confidence that it can compete and not waste my time, or the time of my readers.  Having an agent say, “Yes, I love this manuscript and I believe it is written to a professional standard and is ready to submit to publishers” is a huge milestone in my career.

Now it’s no longer just me and my close circle of relatives and friends who think I’ve got what it takes.  I need that confirmation.  Without it, how do I really know I’m ready?  After four years and several drafts, I completed my first novel, a 300,000 word behemoth I was convinced was awesome.  Thankfully the e-publishing bubble hadn’t hit yet, so rejection letters from agents started piling up.  Eventually I progressed in my mastery of the craft to where I could recognize the novel’s flaws.  I made the hard choice to throw it away and re-start from the ground up, saving only some of the worldbuilding and characters.  The resulting novel is worlds better than the original, and that’s the one my agent accepted.

So yes, the first huge benefit of agents is that confirmation by the industry that I’ve at least got a shot at a deal.  Another undeniable benefit to traditional publishing is getting your physical book distributed to physical book stores, hopefully around the world.  That distribution has value, and especially for a new author, I’d love the help of a publisher in getting my book out to readers.  I know there’s still tons of work to be done to market it myself, but at least I’d have a physical product to sell.

We all know authors who have self-published, and most of them sell few copies, despite how well deserving their books may be.  So, a traditional publishing deal might help establish a reader base to build off of.  I know it’s not guaranteed, but it’s something worth investigating.

Another big reason I am still pursuing a traditional route for my first book goes back to my agent.  John Richard Parker with Zeno Agency knows the industry and players far more than I can since he’s worked with them for many years.  His expertise is invaluable, and even though we have not landed a deal yet, working with him has already brought valuable insights I could not have gained otherwise.

The other reason I’ve hesitated to self-publish is that after working for years on my books, I want them to be the best they can be.  I’ve read e-books that could have been great, but fell short of their potential because their authors failed to wait just a little longer and complete a rigorous editing process.  Landing a traditional publishing deal, and working with the professional editors there, will be wonderful when it happens.  I am eager to learn from them all I can.

With all this said, I am not ignoring other publishing options.  My YA fantasy novel, which my agent is reviewing now, is scheduled to be professionally edited by Joshua Essoe (see his post on editing here)  later this year after I complete a third revision.  If the traditional route falls through, that novel is a prime candidate to be e-published through an e-publisher like MUSA, or directly self-published after it’s fully vetted and ready to go.

And while I complete preparing my two novels for some type of publishing, I’m busy writing the next one.  I also plan to explore e-publishing for a novella and related short story I wrote.

It’s an exciting time to be an author, with so many options out there.  I encourage everyone to learn as much as you can about each avenue, and explore multiple options.  But whatever way you choose, make sure your finished product is the best it can be.  Anything less is nothing short of a tragedy.




Sunday Reads: 24 June 2012

Well, Publishing Month is drawing to a close.  We’ve got just one week left to go.  Stay tuned for our  final Publishing Month guest bloggers, Brandon Sanderson and Gini Koch.

In the meantime, here’s 10 reads worth your time:

Rachelle Gardner talks about what to expect from your agent in Understanding Your Agent.

Also on the topic of agents, Red Sofa Literary lists some basic mistakes writers make when approaching an agent in How to “win” over an agent.

Lois H Gresh discusses the necessity of submitting your work in Rewriting Treadmills: Traditional Publishing versus ePublishing.

Philip Goldberg talks about the benefits of traditional publishing in Who Needs Publishers? We All Do!

Writers In The Storm discusses how a writer’s business needs should affect his choice of publisher with Gettin’ Busy With It.

Dean Wesley Smith dispells a few common myths in The Secret Myth of Traditional Publishing.

The Intern discusses Five Signs You’re About to Land an Agent.

At The Art and Craft of Writing Creatively, Cheryl Shireman guest blogs about the prejudice against indie writers with Dear Traditionally Published Writer.

Rainy of the Dark looks at Just What Percentage of Book Sales are eBooks?

Ashley Barron discusses lessons learnt during the indie journey with A Self-Publisher’s Dilemma.


Missed any Fictorians articles this week?

Moses Siregar III – So, You’re Considering Indie Publishing…

Nancy DiMauro and Colette Vernon – Women Writing the Weird: Publishing in an Anthology

Joshue Essoe – Editing Saved My Life. And It Could Save Yours