Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why Self-Publish?

Why Self-Publish? It’s a question that I asked myself a couple of months ago and surprisingly, I came up with a few very good reasons to self-publish my newest book. I’ll admit, it’s kind of difficult to tell my story, but my wish is that by sharing my own experience with other authors, I might be able to give some hope to anyone else who finds themselves in a similar predicament.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the author of the popular YA Temptation series. It’s a three book series dealing with a forbidden romance between an Amish boy and a non-Amish (or English) girl and the ongoing struggles they endure as they attempt to be together. I was inspired to write the story of the star crossed lovers after moving into the middle of an Amish community in northern Kentucky about six years ago. Because of my personal experiential knowledge, observations, interactions, and discussions with the both the teenagers and adults in my neighborhood, I was able to infuse into the books an extremely realistic feeling. I spent about two years gathering information before I even tackled writing the story.

Temptation, the first book in the series, was released in June of 2012. It was followed by Belonging in April, 2013. Forever, the third and final book of the series came out on January 28th of this year. Within days of Forever’s release, I was bombarded by fans begging me for more Amish books. They of course were hoping for a fourth book in the Temptation series, but they also encouraged me to write other stories about the Amish lifestyle, especially about my personal passion, the lives of Amish teenagers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any good news to share with them about future books. Even though the Temptation books had received glowing praise, and had a growing fan base, the series as a whole had not performed monetarily at the level that a large publishing house, like Harlequin, wanted. Until the books reached a higher profit margin, I was out of luck. And so were all the fans of my unique Amish teen stories.

I’m not a very patient person, but since Forever had only been on the bookshelves for a few weeks, I was willing to wait and see what happened with the series and put a fourth book about the much loved Meadowview characters out of my mind for the time being. But I did have another finished product that I was itching to bring to my fans. Lamb to the Slaughter is an Amish murder mystery that I began writing over a year ago after my agent asked me if I could create such a thing on demand. I became intrigued with the idea, especially since I had personally witnessed some strange and almost creepy goings-on in the Amish community where I lived. I really wanted to delve deeper into the darker side of being Amish and some of the harsh realities that the young people were faced with.

The story took on a life of its own and turned out better than I’d ever hoped for. Thoughts of self-publishing began pestering me when I realized that it might be the only way that I’d be able to bring Lamb to my established fans in the foreseeable future. But I was still extremely worried about the idea. What if by doing it myself, I’d somehow tarnish my image with Harlequin or even other publishing houses? There is such a negative stigma associated with self-publishing and I knew that it could very well be a death sentence for my writing career. But my optimistic nature pushed away the dark, worried thoughts and I began wondering if maybe it was just the thing I needed to keep my career afloat. Ultimately, being the survivor of domestic abuse and a single mother of five children with a farm full of horses and other animals to care for is what decided it for me. I didn’t have the luxury to wait around for a miracle. I had a great product and a lot of momentum from the release of Forever to work with. I was still scared out of my mind, but once I decided to do it, I committed myself one hundred percent.

The first thing I did was share Lamb with a handful of trusted, opinionated and critical thinking friends for test reads. I was thrilled when everyone came back in love with the story. It was also a very necessary part of building my own confidence about self-publishing the book. The next hurdle was creating a cover for Lamb. I hired Jenny Zemanek of Seedlings Design Studio to work with me in putting together a great look for the book. I wanted a vibrant cover that was simplistic, yet a bit eerie. And it had to tie in somehow to the Amish theme without being over-the-top. Luckily, I picked the right person. Together, Jenny and I got the cover just the way I wanted. This was one of the best parts about self-publishing. I had complete creative control over my work, something that I certainly didn’t have with the Temptation series. In the end, I got a beautiful cover for my Amish mystery for a much more reasonable price than I’d ever expected.

The other expense I incurred doing it on my own was to hire an editor to help me polish the book. I chose another friend who had literary and editing experience to do the job. Once again, by working with a fledgling entrepreneur, the fees were lower and the enthusiasm was higher. When the cover and book were completely ready, I picked a release date and began promoting the book on Facebook and Goodreads. I also enlisted Kismet Blog Tours to put together a slew of reviewers to be part of a tour. By the way, Lamb’s blog tour starts tomorrow and runs from April 21st until May 30th if you want to check it out yourself. The giveaway that I’m hosting in conjunction with the tour includes a hundred dollar Amazon gift card, an autographed three book Temptation set and an authentic hand sewn Amish country lap quilt!

The first really neat thing I discovered about self-publishing is that as an author, you do all the same type of advertising and incur the same kind of expense that you would if your book was traditionally published. In today’s market, much of the promotion of our books falls directly into our own laps anyway. I didn’t find this part to be a bigger deal than what I’d already done for Temptation, Belonging and Forever. I chose to sell only electronically after studying the digital and printed sales of the Temptation series. EBooks made up a large percentage of my previous sales and I figured that it was probably the best way for me to enter the world of self-publishing. The upload process to Amazon Kindle and Nook Press was extremely easy, although, Nook took almost a week longer to finalize than Kindle. I did have an issue with the release date too, which was my own fault. I had picked an official release day of Tuesday, March 18th and advertised that Lamb would be available then, but actually uploaded it to Kindle and Nook several days early just in case of any glitches. To my amazement, a well-known book blogger from Australia somehow found out that it was already up on Amazon, even though I had told no one except close family, and posted it on their FB page. I wasn’t upset, but I was forced to make an announcement a day early that the book was indeed available.

It’s been less than a month since Lamb to the Slaughter’s electronic release and I’m thrilled with the excellent reviews that it has received and its sales thus far. It has exceeded my expectations greatly and I love the convenience of being able to log into both Kindle Direct and Nook Press at any time to see my exact sales and royalties. Overall, I’m delighted with the experience of self-publishing and will definitely consider doing it again in the future. Of course if a publishing house were to come along and show interest in Lamb, I’d be even happier, but only time will tell if that happens. For now I’m content with the fact that I was able to bring my fans another Amish story that they love and that they’re once again begging me for another.

Thanks for stopping by today! If anyone out there has any self-publishing stories of their own to share, I’d love to hear them. And I hope you’ll check out Lamb to the Slaughter, along with my brand new website at:

Karen Ann Hopkins


Mia Hayson said...

Thanks for sharing your story! Lamb to the Slaughter looks GORGEOUS!


Karen Ann Hopkins said...

Thanks, Mia!

Lisa Tapp said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Karen. I hope this venture works well for you.