Maven – An Experiment in Self-Publishing

by Doc Coleman on June 27, 2013 · 1 comment

in Novels, Pimpin' Your Friends

[Today, we have something special for you. And by “we” I don’t mean just my wife, the cats, and myself. Today we have a guest post from Author Starla Huchton, as part of her Blog Tour to promote her newly released book Maven. Starla has been all over the place with this blog tour, doing interviews, giving character interviews, sharing pre-release blurbs and talking a lot about the book. Well, I had to be different. I didn’t want to bring my readers the same kind of material that you could find at other blogs. So I asked Starla to write a guest post about what it took to bring Maven to print. All too often in the writing world, people focus on that first draft. Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg  As you’ll see below, Starla put a lot of work in just to get her story ready to publish, and then she had to do all the publishing parts, too. It’s a little longer than your typical blog post, but I think Starla paints a fascinating picture of the process of self-publishing. Enjoy! – Doc]

In sitting down to write this post, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. The topic here is supposed to be how I self-published Maven from start to finish. Looking back, I realize that I was probably more than a little disorganized about the whole thing and that I am now better equipped to do future books as a result of all my flailing at all the things simultaneously. In as small a nutshell as I can tell you, here’s a look at the work that went into making Maven a reality.

1. Write the first draft. A given, you’d think, but there are a lot of folks out there who start thinking about the marketing and cover and everything before they’ve finished the first chapter. I am not one of these people. I couldn’t think about anything else until I knew what the book would be and, thus, at whom I would have to concentrate my marketing flails. The first draft of Maven took almost a year for me to complete, but mostly because I put it on a shelf for 9 months when I was at the 85% done mark. In that case, pre-marketing the book would have been a huge mistake, as I’d have been building up “buzz” for a book no one would see for 18 months. So, first draft came first.

2. I read the completed first draft at least 15 times before anyone saw it. I hate typos. Hate. Them. Homophone errors make me stabby and incorrect pronouns send me into fits. These are incredibly distracting to me when I’m reading so I‘m hesitant to let anyone see anything I write before I’ve sifted through it at least 3 times. Maven got more attention, I think, because I was so nervous about the content.

3. I wasn’t really sure what I would do with Maven, or whether or not it was even worth the pixels that comprised it. It was my first foray into Romance territory, so I needed outside opinions. Enter the beta readers and critique partner! These people were my first line of defense for any horrors that might have made it onto the page. They are invaluable. All total, I think about 10 people saw Maven in its infancy. Every one of them made contributions to the final draft.

4. After being reassured a million times that the book didn’t suck, I sent out a single round of queries. Seven, to be exact. That’s an exceptionally small number for most authors. I think this reflects some of the fatigue I’ve been feeling about traditional publishing. From those seven, I had one full request and three partials from agents/editors. Additionally, an agent I know was intrigued by the premise I posted on my blog about the problems I was having defining the genre of Maven initially, and she requested the full manuscript based on that alone. While none of these resulted in offers (for various reasons I won’t talk about right now), one thing was very clear to me: something about this story had appeal. If highly selective agents and editors were reacting to this, surely there was a market with readers.

5. This led me to make a decision on Maven. Based on the above, I thought it was very likely I could do this on my own. I saw opportunity in the community of authors and bloggers I’ve been building over the last few years and thought: why not? Why not do this scary thing and strike out on my own? After making the call, I made a small list of what I thought I might need to do to make this happen successfully. It included cover, in-depth editing, and marketing (this spawned its own list). While this was going on, I also started writing book 2, Nemesis, followed immediately by book 3, Progeny. Book 4 is in the works as well.

MAVEN_halfsize6. Covers are what I do. People pay me for it, which leads me to believe I’m pretty good at it. Maybe it’s telling of my ultimate decision regarding Maven, but I designed the cover for it even before all of my query rejections were in. Books 2 and 3 covers were completed shortly thereafter and I love the way they turned out.

7. More editing. My critique partner and I went through and did a very, very thorough line edit with minor plot/character changes. When that was done, I bartered my cover design services with an editor to do an additional pass on the book.

8. Pre-launch! The marketing stuff was probably the most foreign (and the scariest!) part for me. I’d never done this before and I wanted to ensure I was doing everything I realistically could to give this book a real chance at success. For this, I turned to some of my more experienced friends, some of whom are writers, some whom are bloggers, and some whom are both. I paid attention to what others were doing (there are certain things in Romance you don’t see anywhere else that leave other genres scratching their heads), things like cover reveals and character interviews and playlist posts and giveaways. I did things like reading various blogs and leaving comments to engage with the bloggers when I had something to say (also reading posts to see where their reading interests lay). This helps build familiarity with your name, so when you approach them for a review they don’t wonder who the heck you are. I only did this when I had something of value to add to the conversation, though, so don’t try to force this if it isn’t natural for you. Little by little, the pieces fell into place. I started off with a cover reveal, which included a few excerpts from the book. When the day came, I was stunned to find over FIFTY SITES going live with the cover on reveal day. It was an incredible rush just thinking about all the eyeballs potentially seeing information about my upcoming book. I had no idea how it would translate to sales, but it was exciting nonetheless!

9. Next came the formatting. Fortunately, Scrivener makes this very easy when you’re talking about creating ePubs and Kindle files and PDFs, but Smashwords continues to be a problem for me even almost a month after launch. Maven is still not in the premium catalog (which means it’s not in the iBookstore yet), and it’s all because of one little link in the Table of Contents that refuses to work after going through the Smashwords meatgrinder. But whatever. After I formatted all the major things, the first thing I did was get the print copies proofed as it takes the longest simply because I chose to order a proof copy, which takes a few days to arrive. I had to do this twice as my font was too large the first time. Smashwords was the most time intensive as I followed the instructions to the letter. Despite that, I’m still getting that last stupid error. So, it’s a mixed bag there. I chose not to go with KDP Select this time, as I wanted to reach as wide an audience as I could and for that, you can’t limit yourself to one file format.

10. That done, I began the task of soliciting reviews from book bloggers. I did a lot of searching for these folks on my own, but I also used my contacts to put me in touch with reviewers I didn’t know. Personal connection is everything. If you’re approached by two people, one a stranger and one a friend of a friend, and you can only choose to help one, which would you choose? This is also where the blog commenting comes in handy. If you can prove you can write a coherent sentence in a comment, those folks will know that you’re probably not handing them a pile of brain-breaking grammar and typographical errors to review. When you’re new in a field (or genre), proving yourself is a requirement. Personal connection and interactions lay the groundwork for this. That’s no guarantee that the awesome blogger you’ve been talking to will have time to take on the book, of course, but it definitely helps!

11. Maven has been one giant experiment for me, and not just because it’s my first Romance novel. Everything I’ve done so far (and will continue to do), has been done to see what works, what’s worth the time and effort, and what helps sales the most. The over-arching experiment will be how the fast release of a series works. The books are coming out about at 3-month intervals, which is hopefully quick enough to keep my name at the front of everyone’s minds. The smaller experiments are still ongoing, but some of the data is coming in already. The first thing I did was a pre-launch party on Twitter and Facebook the Friday before Maven’s Monday launch. I spent five hours on social media doing an internet scavenger hunt. Every 30 minutes I asked a question, then selected someone with a correct answer to win an ebook copy of Maven at the end of the period. At the culmination of the event, I chose one person to win a print version. Results were mixed. Facebook got little participation, while Twitter had a nice steady participation rate. I reached a few new people this way, but mostly they were folks I was already familiar with. I can’t say I won’t try this again, but it was a heck of a lot of work and I’m not yet sure how successful it was. Experiment number 3 is also ongoing. I’m doing not one, but TWO blog tours for Maven. The first (of which this post is a part) was organized by myself with an assist from an author/blogger friend of mine, Dani Morales. It’s an insane amount of work and coordination, and I only have a small reach right now. Enter blog tour number 2. After hearing about Bewitching Book Tours from several sources, I decided to give them a go as well. It’s a chance to reach new blogs I have no connections to, and thus readers I couldn’t access before, and all for the meager sum of $40. I don’t know which of these will prove more fruitful, but hiring someone to arrange the tour is significantly easier.

12. And now comes the task of starting all over with book 2, Nemesis. Even before blog tour the second kicks off, I’ll likely be sending away review requests again and figuring out how to approach the marketing for a sequel. Doing the series this rapid-release way ensures I will be perpetually busy, but also that I stay prominent with readers. Stay visible. Stay connected. Stay in the game. These are my strategies.

Will all this be worth it in the end? I suppose that depends on what you value. As yet, I haven’t seen the monetary success, but it’s very, very early and backlist is everything when you’re playing the long game. If nothing else, I’ve met some really great people as a result of this and my writing improves every day. If I want to continue on in this business, those things are important. The rest will come in time, but only if I’m patient and continue to work at it.

Starla[Starla Huchton started her writing career with the release of her first novel, The Dreamer’s Thread, as a full cast podcast production in August 2009. This production earned her finalist status for the 2010 Parsec Awards, and launched her on a voice acting career that includes The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine, The Drabblecast, and Erotica a la Carte. Starla is a voice talent for Darkfire Productions, and is the narrator for The Emperor’s Edge series, This Path We Share, and others. Her writing has also blossomed, with stories appearing in Erotica a la CarteThe Gearheart, and earning her a second Parsec Awards Finalist badge for her Tales from the Archives story in 2012. Her second novel, Master of Myth won first place in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category of the Sandy Writing Content held by the Crested Butte Writers Conference. Maven is her third novel, and the first in a planned series of four released under the name S. A. Huchton.

If you are interested in Maven and would like to buy a copy of the book, it is available in print at Createspace, and Amazon, and as an e-book for the Amazon Kindle, and in other formats through Smashwords and Barnes & Noble. You can find out more about Maven on Goodreads, and at Starla’s website.

In the same period of time, Starla earned a degree in Graphic Arts and opened up shop as a freelance graphic designer focusing on creating beautiful book covers for independent authors and publishers. She currently lives in Virginia where she trains her three Minions and military husband.

If you’d like to find out more about Starla, please check out her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter!

Would you like to win a copy of Maven? Then enter to win one of these giveaways!

Domestic US only:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And be sure to check out the Blog Tour post and all the other stops along the way!]

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