Mystery, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, horror & YA by "Cheryl Kaye Tardif" & romance by "Cherish D'Angelo". Cheryl is represented by Trident Media Group in NY.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest blogger: Author Stacey Cochran stops by during his CLAWS 2 Blog Tour to talk about publishing and more

Today's special guest blogger is author Stacey Cochran, author of CLAWS, CLAWS 2 and more. Welcome, Stacey!

Thanks so much for hosting me today during my CLAWS 2 Blog Tour. 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
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 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. 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 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 was first set at $2.99 to take advantage of the new 70% royalty rate. My other titles were all listed at 99 cents. After six weeks, I changed the price of CLAWS 2 to 99 cents and raised the price of the first book to $2.99 because my hunch was that the good reviews could move it at the higher price point.

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.


Cheryl Kaye Tardif said...

Thanks again, Stacey, for stopping by. This blog post is very informative! I wish you huge success on your tour.


Stacey Cochran said...

Thanks, Cheryl. I'll be checking in periodically in case anyone has questions. If y'all have questions about eBooks, feel free to ask.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif said...

Hi Stacey,

I have a question...or two. :-)

First, have you seen substantial ebook sales like some other authors reportedly have seen?

Since Amazon's Kindle Store only recently opened to Canadian authors/publishers, can you share with us three tips to increase ebook sales--other than having great covers, low prices and great content. :-)


Stacey Cochran said...

I have seen substantial eBook sales. Yes. Extraordinarily substantial.

Customer reviews sell eBooks in the Kindle store like they're nobody's business. If you can get 40 generally favorable reviews, your book will continue to sell for years to come.

Pricing is key, but you might experiment with super-low prices to get some early reviews. Once the reviews start coming in, you may consider raising your price.

I can't recommend Kindle Nation enough. Steve Windwalker can give you a 200-book bump alone if you manage to get featured on his blog.

Beyond that, make friends with the folks in the Kindle community.

Last year, I interviewed close to a hundred Kindle authors. That gets my name out there on their blogs and it helps lay the groundwork for a massive blog tour like this one.