I’ve been very interested in the self-publishing business and this growing marketplace. I recently had the chance to interview Heather Walsh, a self-published author from Brookline, Massachusetts. Her two novels, Dented Cans and The Drake Equation are available for sale in both print and digital formats on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites. Here is the story of how she was able to get her writing published.
BCM: Tell me about yourself. What kinds of jobs did you have before you started writing novels?
HW: I’ve had a number of different jobs. I taught high school English in Brooklyn for a year, was an IT technical trainer, worked as an IT business analyst, learned SQL, and am now taking some time off to be with my two young children. But I’ve been writing through it all!
BCM: Do you write full-time? If not, what else do you do? How do you balance your family/work and writing schedule?
HW: I made a rule back in 2001 that I would write every day, and I’ve kept that promise. But I’ve never written full-time as my primary career – I’ve always had a job. Only when my second child was born did I take some time off from work – but anyone with kids knows that you often have less time to write (and sleep, and think) when you have kids! It’s been tough to balance writing and family commitments, but now that my children are 2 and 4, it’s getting a bit easier. I am going to also try to look for some part-time work once they are in school, unless of course my books sales take off or I sell the movie rights to Drake 🙂
BCM: Dented Cans is your first published novel. How long did it take you to write? Did you work with an editor?
HW: I wrote the first draft in a little less than a year. But I’ve edited it a lot since then. I have a literary agent and she helped edit it as well. And she found an editor at a publishing house that suggested a major rewrite, which I ended up doing. And I should mention that my “real” first novel is a practice one that will stay under the bed. I think what Malcom Gladwell said in Outliers is correct: it does take 10,000 hours to become really good at something.
BCM: Do you share drafts of your books with friends and family? How do you get feedback?
HW: My literary agent and my husband are my primary editors, and they are both excellent readers. I value their feedback tremendously.
BCM: Do you have an agent? If so, how did you go about finding one?
HW: Yes I do, Alison Bond of the Alison Bond Literary Agency. I found her the usual way: sending out queries, piling up the rejections, and then finding her! I sent her sample pages from Drake, and she ended up requesting the entire novel. She agreed to take me on after reading it. I am really glad to have her with me on this publishing adventure, although I know many self-published writers do not have or need an agent.
BCM: How did you decide to self-publish Dented Cans?
HW: I’ve gotten some good feedback from editors at the major publishing houses, including one who asked for a rewrite. But the novel was never picked up, and as I saw self-publishing transform from the disparaged “vanity press” to a respectable route that even major names were embarking upon, I decided to give a shot. I also think that eBooks are absolutely the future of publishing, so I do love the idea of owning the digital rights to my novels. Of course, I’d be thrilled if a publisher decided to buy the print rights, but you really need to sell a LOT of eBooks to get a publisher’s attention these days.
BCM: Was your experience the same or different when you self-published The Drake Equation?
HW: Much different. I’ve learned a tremendous amount in the past year. The actual publishing process was much smoother, I was able to ask people who had read Dented Cans to review The Drake Equation and therefore was able to get reviews and feedback more easily.
BCM: Did you work with an artist to design your book covers?
HW: Not for Dented Cans. I designed and created that cover myself. I even purchased and dented the can for the cover – you can see that exciting process detailed here: http://www.hwalsh.com/cover/
For Drake, I decided to hire a professional, and I am so glad I did. I used Damon at http://damonza.com and I could not be happier. I love that cover. The response to it has been overwhelmingly positive.
BCM: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in getting your books on the market?
HW: I think anyone who self-publishes (and to some extent, traditionally publishes) faces the same obstacle: how to get your book noticed in an enormous sea of books. More and more books are being published every year, so you really have to work hard to differentiate yourself.
BCM: How do you position your books in the marketplace? Do you advertise? Do you market to a specific group of readers?
HW: I advertise often. I was leery about doing it at first, but I’ve found that advertising is the one reliable way to get sales. My novels are priced at 2.99, but I will run a 99-cent sale for a few days and purchase an ad highlighting the sale price, and I see results from that. Then when I put the price back to 2.99, I will see additional sales because of the book’s higher ranking and also-boughts. BookBub is the biggest player in the advertising game, and if you can get an ad with them (they are very selective), you will see great results. They have over a million subscribers to their service.
BCM: How do you get people to read and review your books?
HW: I am grateful to all of the people out there who are kind enough to read and review books for no compensation. And this includes you, Barbara! I’d say 75% of them will accept digital copies, which makes it so easy for a writer to get reviews and feedback. And some of them will host giveaways or do a book spotlight on their blogs, which is great and helps increase visibility.
BCM: Do you belong to any author networks? If so, how are they helpful to you?
HW: I have found the Writer’s Cafe on Kboards (www.kboards.com) to be invaluable. There are many self-published authors on those boards who are kind enough to share their experience and advice.
BCM: Your books are available in both print and e-book versions. Did you hire a printer? Do you have a distributor/shipper to handle sales?
HW: I use CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company, to offer a paperback version of my novels. They act as the distributor and distribute the novel to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It doesn’t cost me a penny. I just upload the Word document and cover to CreateSpace, and they convert it and offer it as a print-on-demand option. I definitely sell more digital copies, but it’s great to be able to offer a paperback.
BCM: What advice can you give to writers who want to enter the self-publishing market?
HW: Do not rush your book out just because you are excited about the prospect of publishing. Spend as much time as you can making sure your novel is as polished as can be. And spend some money, if you can, on the cover. Nothing screams self-published book like a cheap-looking cover and text full of errors and typos.
BCM: Any new novels in the works?
HW: have one more novel that I wrote before I had my children, which I plan on editing and publishing next. I’d love to see it out there in the Fall of 2014, but no promises. Who knows when I will stop with the edits!
Thanks to Heather Walsh for taking the time to answer these questions. I look forward to reading her next novel!
You can find Dented Cans and The Drake Equation on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.