Friday, 3 June 2011

Self-publishing an ebook #2: TREESPEAKER by Katie W Stewart

Publishing is changing. With modern technology and ease of online communication many authors are turning to self-publishing ebooks as an alternative route to the traditional method via agents and traditional publishing houses.

In a three part series, three authors talk candidly about their writing journeys, experiences and their strategies for self-publishing an ebook.

Covering three different markets, my second post is from Katie W Stewart, author of Treespeaker, a crossover novel.


*  Hi Katie, and welcome to tall tales & short stories. Would you like to tell us about yourself?

Hi Tracy, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with you.
I’m an Australian, born in England. I’ve been a laboratory assistant, archaeologist, ethno-historian, archivist and teacher, and now I’m a school library assistant, IT support person, mother of three, farmer’s wife, illustrator and…something else…oh, yes, writer! In my spare time (yes, I do manage to have some) I play the harp and guitar – they keep me sane! Maybe.

I started writing seriously twelve years ago, after taking a writing course in an effort to replace all the angst I’d just been through to adopt our new son. I’d always made up stories, but vented my creativity through drawing and illustrating, rather than writing them down. My ebook, Treespeaker, has a special place in my heart because I wrote it when I was going through a rather difficult patch in my own life. It was quite cathartic to write.

*  Type of ebook publishing deal you went for and why?

I chose to publish with Kindle Direct Publishing first, mainly because I have a Kindle (a wonderful contraption) and could check what I was doing so easily. Once I got over the trauma of that, I went to Smashwords, which was somewhat trickier (*laughs with a note of hysteria*), but I got there in the end. It has now been accepted for their ‘premium catalogue’ which will allow for broader distribution to retailers like Kobo, Apple, Sony and Nook. I’m still waiting for that distribution though.

*  Reasons why you chose to self-publish an ebook?

I have three novels completed, all fantasy - one for children, one for Young Adults and the one I published, Treespeaker which I wrote for adults but am marketing as a “crossover” novel. For the last three years, my children’s novel has been doing the rounds of the traditional publishers. Each time it has been read in full, but each time it has come back with the ‘doesn’t fit our list’ rejection. On average it has been with the publisher eight months before I get it back.

With Treespeaker, I have to admit, I never sent it anywhere. There are very few literary agents in Australia who are taking on new authors and very few publishers of fantasy novels, especially not ones like Treespeaker. It’s not an epic. It doesn’t have all the usual adult fantasy elements like battles between good and evil or dragons or buxom maidens. One of my reviews called it ‘a different, subtle work of fantasy’ and that’s a pretty good description. I simply couldn’t think where to send it. The thought of all those months I’d waste waiting for someone to tell me it didn’t fit their list put me off, too. I’m not young. I don’t want to be famous for being the oldest author ever to be published for the first time.

Then an internet friend who’d read the book suggested I look into e-books. At first, I admit I was very cynical. No, make that extremely cynical. But after some research, the idea began to sound promising. I don’t aim to be rich from my writing, but I would like to be read. At the very worst, my ebook could be read by a handful of people. That’s a handful more than would ever read it while it sat on my hard drive. Besides that, I loved the idea of being in complete control; no one to tell me I had to change the title, no one insisting I have a particular front cover, no one telling me what to produce next. The control freak in me had a field day!

*  Did you employ any kind of editor / editing service before publishing your ebook?

I belong to a wonderful site called Critique Circle where people critique each other’s work without any form of competition. I put two complete drafts of Treespeaker through there before I started to get it ready for publication. Then a friend who is an English teacher edited the entire manuscript for me to ensure I’d got it as good as I could.

*  What kind of marketing did you do and how much time is spent promoting your ebook?

Before I published, in fact before I’d even made the decision to publish, I started a blog, Within the Veil. I wrote it as a diary of a character named Varyd Kohl. In my book, Varyd is an anthropologist who twenty years ago visited the village where my main character lives. So the blog is a sort of introduction to the book and the characters and a place where people can find out more about the world of the Arrakeshi people. Since then, I’ve added an author page, a page for pictures and a page for extracts of the book.

Since I published, I’ve concentrated on getting onto review sites, having interviews on blogs and generally networking wherever I thought people might be interested. You have to tread a fine line though, between promoting your book and being annoying. I think it’s probably more about being pleasant and friendly so that people want to know about what you’ve written.

I’ve been on Facebook for quite a while and I’ve made a Page for Treespeaker. I’ve also joined Twitter, but I’m less active on there. In Australia we suffer a little from being so many hours ahead. When everyone’s nattering on these sites, I’m snoring in bed. Well, no, I don’t snore… It does take up quite a bit of time, but I do it mainly in the evenings when I don’t really feel like writing anyway.

*  Costs versus sales revenue.

I’ve been something of a Scrooge so far on this venture, so all sales revenue has been profit (if you don’t count my work time). Of course, publishing on Amazon and Smashwords costs nothing. Fortunately, the manuscript was very simple, so I could muddle my way through the formatting (and I mean muddle) rather than paying someone to do it, but something with a lot of pictures or other complicated formatting would probably have sent me grey. I mean more grey.

I set the price of Treespeaker at 99c US, mainly because I wanted to attract as many readers as possible. I’m not sure now if I shouldn’t have set it higher, but I’ll leave it there for now and maybe put it up when I publish the sequel, hopefully by the end of the year. Or maybe even before then. With Amazon taking out all but 35c of that and then taxing it at 30% and then Australian banks charging to cash the cheque, I don’t see myself ever being rich, but that’s not why I did it. I want to be read. I’m not saying I wouldn’t accept a million dollar deal if someone offered it, of course! I will sort the tax thing out eventually. I definitely need to see my accountant about that one.

I’m beginning to think that some outlay on advertising is going to be necessary, because trying to get onto review and interview blogs is getting harder and harder (which makes me all the more grateful for this chance). How cost-effective that advertising will be, I’ve yet to find out, so I can’t really comment, but I did seem to sell well the week I won free advertising from a site I had appeared on, so I probably will give paid advertising a try somewhere in the future.

*  Cover design – did you design it yourself or use a professional?

Ah, another part of my Scrooginess: I designed it myself. Being an artist as well had definite advantages. Actually I designed about twenty covers, during a severe bout of procrastinitis and used it as an excuse to buy the latest version of Photoshop. Then I put the five I liked best on my blog (my personal blog, not the Treespeaker blog) and let my readers decide – with a free copy of Treespeaker as an incentive to vote. This cover was a clear winner amongst those who voted.

*  Final ebook costs – how competitive are they in the real world?

Most independently published ebooks are priced under three pounds. Most have been produced at minimal cost. The perception of many though, seems to be that they are not worth buying because they’re not professionally produced. In some cases that is probably true. There does seem to be a philosophy of quantity over quality with some authors. But the truth is that there are a lot of very good books being published as ebooks, ones that have maybe not made it at the publisher’s desk simply because they don’t fit a particular trend. With the ability to sample these books without buying, there’s no real excuse not to try them. There are ‘indie’ published e-books on the NY Times Best Sellers list, so they can’t all be bad. I think the attitude will change over time, as those who are in it in the hope of a quick dollar lose enthusiasm and word of mouth becomes the best way of marketing.

*  Self-publishing forever or still keen on pursuing the traditional route?

With my children’s novel, I’ll keep sending it out to traditional publishers for a while longer yet. Ebooks for children are not great sellers at the moment. I may keep trying to get my YA Fantasy published traditionally, too, but it is tempting to epublish that as a crossover novel as well. They do say that the more books you put out, the more your readership will build. I’ve got at least four more novels planned in my head, but they’re very long term projects. I’m not going to belt them out in a year.

*  Pitfalls and perils – what have you learned along the way. What would you do differently?

One thing I’ve learned, as I’ve mentioned, is that there is still a strong anti-self-publisher feeling amongst some readers and you really have to be better than perfect to get your book noticed. It can be pretty depressing sometimes, to be painted with the same brush, simply because you’ve self-published. I think, too, that if I’d been more organised, I would have made sure I had a second book ready to e-publish within months of the first. As it is, I’m still plugging away at the sequel to Treespeaker. There’s no way it’s going out until it has been polished as shiny as possible.

I have to admit that the formatting part almost got the better of me, too, especially for Smashwords. But I had joined the Kindleboards and there were a lot of very helpful people on there, willing to talk me through it.

*  Would you recommend following the ebook route based on your experiences?

If someone has a story that they really believe in, that they’ve really polished and yet still not been able to get published, then yes, I’d definitely recommend this route. It’s not easy. It requires a lot of time and energy. It can be very frustrating and slow. But as I’ve heard so many times since I started, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Patience is a definite prerequisite. The thrill of having someone read and comment on your book though, is indescribable. Once you get to the stage of actually not knowing who’s buying it, it really gets exciting.

Thanks for letting me chew your ear, Tracy. I’ve had a lovely time!


Jakan, Treespeaker of the Fifth Tribe of Arrakesh, knows from the visions he received at the SpringSpeak, that the stranger who has just arrived in his village is not the innocent, interested visitor he claims to be. As the villagers succumb to the mind-bending sorcery of the man, Jakan becomes more and more desperate to be rid of him. But when he accuses the stranger of an act of sacrilege, events take a sinister turn and it is Jakan himself who is expelled from the forest.

Sent on a journey across the treeless land outside the forest, Jakan finds himself fighting for survival - for his people and himself.  Somehow he must find a man he hasn’t seen for twenty years, but as a Treespeaker - bound in spirit to the forest - his life hangs by a tenuous thread.

Meanwhile, Jakan's son, Dovan, must find the strength to carry out the new role he has been given while his father is away.  For who knows if the Treespeaker will ever return?

This is not a book about good versus evil. 
It is a book about belonging, balance and belief.


Katie's currently running a competition to win a free copy Treespeaker. There are 10 copies up for grabs and all you need to do is go to Katie's blog:

Deadline for entries to the draw is 9pm Friday June 10th (Western Australian time).
Good luck!



Clare D said...

Thanks, Tracy and Katie for another insightful post.

I have read Katie's book (Amazon review will tell you what I thought of it) but plot, genre etc aside, one thing that elevates it above all the other "indie" books I have read on Kindle, is the professional presentation.

I have abandoned many Kindle books which might have been potentially brilliant but which were so badly proofed and edited that I couldn't persevere with reading them.
Unfortunately for Katie, I fear that same lack of quality control is going to present problems when it comes to marketing. Overdone self-promotion and glossy ads for books penned by authors with more money than writing ability have, in my opinion, resulted in the situation where books like Katie's become virtually invisible. There are many jaded readers who have been fooled by misleading ads and dishonest reviews, resulting in a subsequent mistrust of all "indie" e-books. Katie’s mammoth task is to find a way to circumvent these marketing ploys and bring her book to the attention of people who recognise quality when they see and read it. (Crosses fingers that a discerning agent is reading your blog at the moment, Tracy!)

Thanks again for a wonderfully informative blog, Tracy – and good luck to Katie in bringing “Treespeaker” to the wider audience it deserves.

joanne fox said...

I think the quantity over quality things is a very good point, and it's a great shame more authors do not view the editing stage as seriously as you do Katie. Mind you, errors don't just crop up in self-published books or ebooks. Recently I notice more are creeping into books published by established publishing houses too. It's really annoying to have the flow of reading interrupted by noticing a spelling mistake or a completely wrong word used.

Enjoyed the interview, thanks Tracy and Katie. And the very best of wishes for 'Treespeaker'.

Kate said...

Thanks, Clare D and Joanne for your kind words and thanks, Tracy - for everything!

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