For this week’s installment of “Starting out as an indie author” I offer you an interview with new writer Kate Sparkes, who — to judge by her rankings in the Amazon store — “did it right.” She published her first novel, Bound, in June 2014. The novel is a YA fantasy and the first in a trilogy – and has a beautiful cover that makes me drool. :)
As of today, the book already has 88 reviews with an average of 4.7. The rankings in the Amazon US Kindle store are also impressive:
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,212 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery
#4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Coming of Age
#17 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery
Especially for an author just starting out, those are excellent numbers. I think we can all learn from Kate on what and what not to do when self-publishing. On to the interview. :)
Welcome, Kate, and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. First off, please tell us a little bit about your work.
I write stories.
More specifically, I write stories that I want to read, and that usually means there’s a good dose of magic or other-worldliness in my stories. I’m easily bored by real life, so I write Fantasy and Urban Fantasy. The first series I’m publishing is the YA Fantasy Bound Trilogy. Bound (book #1) came out at the end of June, and Torn (book #2) should be out in late February or early March.
How do you go about plotting and world-building?
It took me years for “my” world to come together in my mind. For the physical aspects of the world, I used a heavy dose of Earth, and Newfoundland specifically. It’s not my home province, but it’s where I live and where it feels I was meant to be. The landscapes here are rugged and beautiful, and seem to already be filled with magic. Geography doesn’t translate directly, but people from here who read Bound sometimes comment on how familiar the land seems. Things like cities, the Grotto, buildings and such come from my imagination. Often it feels like I’m exploring them as I’m writing, which is fun. As for the creatures in that world, I use many that are familiar from our legends and stories, but try to put my own unique twist on them.
What kind of magic systems do you use?
I suppose I use something between a hard and a soft magic system. Things tend to be well-defined, but there’s still a sense of mystery and wonder. Magic as it relates to humans is something like electricity. It’s there and available to be drawn on, but the amount a person can use and what they can use it for depend on the individual. Most magic-users will have at least one natural gift, but they can work and study to learn other skills. They do have to be careful, though; trying to work unfamiliar magic can lead to unexpected and even deadly consequences.
I could go into a lot more detail about ways that magic can be used and controlled, how Potioners differ from Sorcerers, how lineage affects power, and the effect of ambient magic, but it would take forever! And that’s just humans. Creating the magic system was a huge challenge, but a rewarding one.
Do you have a writing routine?
I hope to soon! Up until now, my routine has been “fit it in whenever I can.” I have two kids, and even during the school year always had at least one home most of the time. It made it difficult to set a routine. Starting this month, I hope to write in the mornings (plotting, drafting, revising, editing), and work on business and promotion-related things in the afternoons. My routine could also use a tweak in that right now it tends to start with WAY too much distraction before I get down to work.
What made you decide to go indie with your first book?
A lot of things factored into that decision. I thought I stood a better chance of finding an audience and making decent money by publishing independently, even if it meant never seeing my books in stores. The odds of getting an agent and a good contract were just too slim for me to invest time into that path. It was also important to me that I have full creative control over my work, that I be able to choose the cover and decide which advice to take from an editor. I also knew that as an unproven author I wasn’t likely to get a big advance or much promotional help from a publisher. There are risks and benefits with any road to publication. It’s a personal choice, and indie isn’t right for everyone. I respect and support writers in whatever path they choose. I certainly have no regrets about my choice for this trilogy.
How did you prepare for getting ready to publish a book on your own, i.e. what resources were most helpful for you in learning the ropes?
Ooh, big question! I list a lot of resources on my blog that helped me make the decision to go indie and that taught me the ropes. I read a lot of blogs and a few books, listened to podcasts, and asked experienced authors questions when I needed to. I didn’t focus on publishing too much while I was drafting. In fact, I didn’t know anything about indie publishing until less than two years ago, and assumed I’d go the traditional route. The information is all out there, and I’ve found indie authors to be incredibly helpful.
What services did you outsource before publishing Bound? (editing, formatting, cover) Were you happy with the results? Would you do it the same way again?
I hired an editor (Joshua Essoe) for developmental and line editing, and I will absolutely be using his services again. I knew I had a good story, and my beta readers were amazing, but I also knew it could still be better. My editor saw opportunities I had missed, helped me get my magic system in order, pointed out errors and character inconsistencies that I and others had missed, and slapped my fingers when things got too melodramatic. I’m glad I went for the full editing package, even though it was a bit of a financial gamble at the time.
My cover artist, Ravven, was amazing. I had no idea of what I wanted, except that I didn’t want a character on the cover. We tried to find something symbolic that worked, and she did mock-ups, but it just wasn’t working. She suggested a few ideas and we talked about how character covers might sell better, and worked together to come up with a cover that I love. I’ve lost count of the people who have said they gave the book a chance because of the cover. Obviously it was money well spent, and I’ve already asked her to do Torn.
I was going to do my own formatting, but when the time came, the learning curve was just too steep and I couldn’t get the professional look I wanted. Colin F. Barnes is an author and a friend of a friend who stepped in and gave me a beautiful book for a reasonable price, and I’m so grateful for that. I still want to learn the skill some time so I can go in and make changes myself (adding links, fixing typos, etc), but for now I’m happy using someone else’s skill.
The one thing I’ll do differently next time is that I’ll pay a proofreader. ARC readers were helpful with that, but a few typos still slipped through.
What steps did you take leading up to the book launch of Bound? Did you contact book reviewers? Use Facebook? Twitter? Blog? Did you organize or book a blog tour?
I didn’t plan a lot of promotion. Bound was my first book, and it didn’t make sense for me to put a lot of money into promotion when I had nothing else to offer to people who loved the book, or a lot of time that I should have spent writing the next one. I contacted a few reviewers, but most advance copies went to blog readers, book-loving friends and acquaintances, and fellow authors. Several wonderful author/blogger types helped host the cover reveal and announced the release to their blog followers, which was wonderful. I posted chapter one on my own blog, and set up a Facebook author page about a month before release. I shared that first chapter and cover image on Twitter and Facebook (and the cover copy when I finally had it), but was careful not to spam.
There was no organized blog/book tour. I think the best promotion was word-of-mouth recommendation from people who read the book early on and loved it. I frequently thank those people, but it never feels like I manage to express just how grateful I am!
I did have a launch party, just for fun. I live in a tiny town and don’t have enough local friends to have an in-person party, so Facebook it was. We had a great time, I gave out some e-books and a signed paperback. It might not have led directly to sales, but I think it helped drum up some interest in reading the book, and got the ball rolling on recommendations and reviews.
I’m doing a Goodreads giveaway for a signed paperback now, and that’s got a bunch of people to add it to their TBR list, but I’m not sure whether it’s had an impact on e-book sales. I think reader awareness is always a good thing, though.
What are you working on now?
I just sent Torn (Bound Trilogy book #2) out to beta readers. Now it’s on to planning and drafting Book #3, which is both exciting and terrifying.
What advice would you give to an author considering going indie?
Do your research, and then follow your instincts. I did a lot of things “wrong” (I actually have a blog post about that), but it has all worked out so far. I didn’t let myself feel pressured to do it anyone else’s way, but I did keep my eyes and ears open to learn from other people’s experiences. I would also say to try to put out the most polished, professional work you can, out of respect for readers if nothing else. This is your career, and it’s worth investing in.
Thanks for the informative and inspiring interview, Kate! I wish you the best of luck with Torn. :)
How to get in touch with Kate Sparkes:
Blogs: – Disregard the prologue- http://disregardtheprologue.com
– Sparrowcat Press- http://sparrowcatpress.com
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8282527.Kate_Sparkes
Google+ page: https://plus.google.com/+KateSparkes
Pinterest board for the Bound trilogy: http://www.pinterest.com/k_sparkes/bound-trilogy/
Other posts in this series:
Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers
Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores
Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)
Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing
Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all
Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers