From self-publishing to the best seller’s list: Rebekah R. Ganiere gives advice on publishing your own book
“When you publish your own book, you have to look at it like a business. You have to put money into a business… Otherwise, your business will fail. A lot of people don’t realize… when you’re new or you’re self-publishing – you’re not even 25% done at that point. If you’re going to self-publish, you’re about 10% done.”
In order to publish your own book you will need more than just a unique idea.
There was a time when if you had an idea for a novel, the skill to execute such a feat, and then the will to finish…you would be rewarded with a huge brick wall: getting published.
With the advent of the internet and the power of online marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay, writing a book and finding a publisher or self-publishing and releasing it is almost right at your fingertips. (Let me stress the “almost” part of the equation. Luckily, this article will help demystify the process.)
The realm of fantasy is where we find such an author who has leveraged the ever-evolving and challenging landscape of digital publishing to her (and her readers’) advantage.
Rebekah R. Ganiere is an Award-Winning Bestselling Author and Screenwriter. She has written eighteen books in the last three years, which is an enviable amount of work for any writer. Her very first novel, Dead Awakenings debuted at the top of the bestseller list. Since that time, Rebekah has won a Golden Palm for her Fairelle Series, was a finalist for the Rone Award as well as the Best Fantasy Series of 2014 from the Paranormal Romance Guild. Her newest series Shifter Rising was released in 2016.
Even though her novels are rooted in fantasy and filled with vampires, lycans, and zombies, her own path to a successful writing career is quite real and practical. Her calculated methods for self-publishing volumes of work along with her exemplary work ethic is an inspiration in and of itself.
Any writer would find Ganiere’s intriguing personal story and vast body of work electrifying and motivational. They clearly illustrate how to seize control of your own destiny so that you can stop waiting for that major book deal to legitimatize your writing talents.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Rebekah about her own trajectory from novice to professional. Her captivating story includes a step-by-step guide on how to publish your own book after the final word hits the page (and your editor’s eye). And that’s when the real, hard work begins.
This is a must-read for any aspiring writer.
**The following was edited for length.
Q&A with Best-Selling & Award-Wining Author Rebekah R. Ganiere
PUBLISH YOUR OWN BOOK: FINDING NEW LIFE WRITING ABOUT THE UNDEAD
RB: Who were some of your favorite authors growing up?
RG: Growing up, I actually had dyslexia so I did not like to read very much. I first started reading Shel Silverstein. As I got into college, I read a lot of horror. When I was at BYU-Hawaii, the only thing on the side of the island was a bank, a grocery store, and a little-used bookstore, and I used to go in there all the time and buy Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and John Paul. Finally, the owner said, “do you read anything else?” I said, “no,” and he said, “here, I have this book. I want you to try it. If you don’t like it bring it back, and if you like it keep it.” It was The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet and it was one of my favorite books ever. It was nothing like what I usually read, but it was absolutely amazing.
RB: You began writing poetry as a child, which later inspired you to write short stories. First, what is the power of a short story; and second, how did it help you become a better writer of novels?
RG: Short stories take the fear out of longer writing, so if you’re thinking, “okay I want to write a YA [Young Adult] fantasy book and you look at the word counts for those kind of books: eighty, ninety, one hundred thousand is a lot of words. Short stories really are a good way to get a feel for writing. Even in short stories, you still need to have compelling characters and the arc of the story, but you’re not committed to this humongous project. Unfortunately, since I started writing novels, I can’t write short stories anymore because I always have something more I want to say.
RB: When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as a career?
RG: In college, I started a novel but never did anything with it. That’s when the idea came to me for my first book called Dead Awakenings. I wrote the whole thing – one hundred fifty thousand words – in one month. Then, the next month I wrote another one hundred fifty thousand word book, and the third month I wrote another hundred fifty thousand words. I was like, “okay I’m done.” My husband’s like, “don’t you want to do anything with them?” I said, “no I’m happy just having them.”
Two years later he convinced me to go to a local writers group, and I took Dead Awakenings and they said, “you know this is really good. You should try and do something with it.” My husband dragged me to a writers conference, and I had a bunch of agents and editors interested in it and asked me to show it to them. I started thinking, “well maybe this is a viable thing to get my book published,” and then I got a publishing deal on Dead Awakenings. Then, I had another publisher that wanted one of the other books I had written and it just kind of snowballed, and I never really thought this is what I want to do for a career. It just kind of happened.
I’ve been published for three years now and I have eighteen books out.
MAKING THE BEST-SELLER LIST WITH YOUNG AUDIENCES
RB: In 2014, your debut novel Dead Awakenings hit Amazon’s best seller list in one day. What was behind that “overnight” success?
RG: At the time when it came out three years ago, zombies were huge, and they were just hitting the market. There weren’t many zombie books out there, and most of them were post-apocalyptic. Mine is an urban fantasy about a girl who enters a drug trial and wakes up with no memory of who she is or how she got there, and she finds out she’s become a “deader.” My “deaders” are completely different. They are sexy. Some of them have superpowers, and they’re all trying to stop these scientists from experimenting on them. They weren’t your typical brain-eating zombies, so it was a new look at a zombie, which is why they’re called “deaders”, because they’re a cross between a vampire and a zombie.
RB: What drew you to this fairly new genre of Fantasy-Romance? How do you straddle the line between two completely different genres, and what is the secret to blending social, political and paranormal elements
RG: I tend to stay away from really heavy political themes in my books. A lot of romances can be boy meets girl, and you follow them, what they’re doing, and that’s it. My stories are more plot-heavy so there is heavy romance, but there is also something else going on that’s keeping them apart whether it be worldwide or within their community.
RB: What led you to make the decision to self-publish your novels? It used to be that writers would struggle with this aspect and their work would never see the light of day.
RG: I really love my New York publisher. They’ve been really awesome, but I had three books in the series, and they were coming out about nine months to a year apart because they have so many books in the pipeline. The deciding factor for me came with my Fairelle series, which was supposed to be nine books and six novellas. I thought if these come out one a year, I’m going to be seventeen years into this series.
I said to myself, “I don’t want to be writing this series for seventeen years,” because I literally have over seventy-five book ideas sitting on my computer waiting to be written. I really wanted to be able to put the books out on my own timeline. I also really wanted to be able to pick my covers. With that many books in the series, I wanted them to be cohesive so you could tell they were in a series. That’s something that’s very important and very popular now. Unless you’re self-publishing, you don’t have a lot of control over your covers. Publishers will take your input and give you a questionnaire, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get anything like what you filled out on the form. I personally make my own covers because I’ve done digital graphics and visual art for seven or eight years. If you have a crappy cover, your book is not going to sell and that’s just all there is to it.
THE HIDDEN POWER OF A BOOK COVER
RB: So a good cover is really important to self-publishing?
RG: They say never judge a book by its cover. Well, people always do. When you have a place like Amazon that has a hundred million books on it, you stop at the thing that grabs your eye. A lot of people don’t realize the cover doesn’t just have to look good as a paperback, it has to look good as a one-inch square as well. You actually do need to put money into a cover because, unfortunately, self-publishing has gotten kind of a bad stigma for having not the best books. If somebody sees your cover and it doesn’t look professional, they’re going to think the inside of your book isn’t professional either.
STEP BY STEP: HOW TO PUBLISH YOUR OWN BOOK
RB: So you finish a novel, it’s edited and ready to go. Can you give us the steps to start the process to publish your own book?
RG: After I finish – a lot of people don’t realize this, especially when you’re new or you’re self-publishing – you’re not even 25% done at that point. If you’re going to self-publish, you’re about 10% done. Then, what I do is I send it to two critique partners, possibly three. They give me their notes, and I do a separate edit for each of their notes. After that, I might edit it one more time myself, and then I’ll send it to my professional editor who I pay to edit. After that editor sends it back to me, I edit it myself again and that process can take anywhere from a month to two months. Then, I send it out to beta readers. My beta readers are my street team readers who love my books and want to be the first to read my books. They will look for typos, punctuation, mistakes, and I have some that are really good about telling me problems they have with characters. I’ll have at least three to five beta readers, and then I’ll edit with each of their notes.
After it’s completely done, I use a program called Scrivener. Scrivener is great if you’re going to self-publish because you can put all of your documents in there, and then it will format it automatically into an ePub or MOBI.
A MOBI file is for Kindle / Amazon only, but ePub is used by just about every other distributor. If you don’t want to do Scrivener, there are a lot of companies out there that’ll format your book for sixty [or] twenty-five bucks. It’s not that expensive.
Then, you need an ISBN, which is a number specific to your book, or you can get one if you just publish through Amazon Publishing, and you don’t mind saying Amazon is your publisher. Amazon will give you an ISBN for free. [Click here for more information on Kindle Direct Publishing.]
After your cover is done, you have to upload it to a different vendor. There are a couple of vendors like Draft2Digital that will load your book on their website, and then they will load it to every other website for you. They take a very small percentage, but to me, it’s absolutely worth it. I was uploading myself to Kobo, Nook, and iBooks, and it’s hard to keep track of your money.
Once it’s all ready to go, you have to do marketing and promo. Some people start up to six months before the book comes out. I think ninety to forty-five days beforehand is a good window so that it’s fresh in people’s minds.
That was another reason I decided to self-publish. I found I was doing as much marketing and spending with myself on publishing my own book as I was with my small independent press.
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY MARKET YOUR SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK
RB: How do you effectively market a novel without a publisher? Have email lists and social media played a part in marketing?
RG: Social media is huge, but the first thing you need to do is start your newsletter. Your newsletter and the people that sign up for it is gold because those are people who are interested in you, what you do, and they want you to contact them.
Facebook and Amazon ads are huge. The one thing you don’t want on your Facebook page is 99% of your posts are “buy my book.” People don’t like that. You got to be yourself. I have a Facebook page for myself as an author, but I also have a personal page where I tend not to sell my books. Instagram is becoming pretty big, especially for authors of YA because there are so many younger users. Instagram is becoming a really big marketplace.
RB: Do you see more sales through physical copies or online sales?
RG: I sell a lot of eBooks, but I do also sell a lot of print books. But the way I sell a ton of print books is not online. I go to conventions or when I have a booth at [San Diego] Comic-Con because I’m a geek and I cosplay.
I go to about seven comic cons a year, and I speak on panels and at [San Diego] Comic-Con. That’s my happy place, I love to sell there.
RB: The big question: How much money does it cost to self-publish in your case?
RG: I always tell people if you want to do it, you want to do it well, and you want to do it professionally. If you have no skills, you’re not going to make the cover, and you’re not going to format yourself. You’re going to have somebody format for you, you’re going to pay an editor, and so you’re probably looking at between one thousand and one thousand five hundred.
It’s a lot of work. When you publish your own book, you have to look at it like a business. You have to put money into a business to make a business work. Otherwise, your business will fail.
DOES IT “PAY” TO PUBLISH YOUR OWN BOOK?
RB: Realistically, how much money can you expect to make self-publishing a novel?
RG: You know that’s really a hard thing to answer because it depends on all those things that we talked about from your formatting to your editing and how much marketing you’re going to do. Are you going to have an amazing cover or just an ok cover? Are you in a genre that is really over-saturated? The genre is really important.
I will say this, and I don’t say this to discourage people, but on average most self-publishers are going to make less than one hundred a month. Unless you are really pushing, really marketing and you have everything stellar and somehow you hit a list that just keeps you on Amazon and you become more and more visible, it’s very difficult to sell. I have friends that are happy if they sell one book a month. You have to really want it if you want to make money. I do know some self-publishers that make three, five, ten thousand a month, but that’s not right away. That’s after ten years.
WRITING TIPS FROM THE TRENCHES
RB: Do you ever get writer’s block?
RG: Yes, I had writer’s block this last year very badly. I didn’t write a book for almost a year. My friends laugh at me and say, “oh, yeah, you really have writer’s block,” because instead of writing books I wrote three screenplays and three TV pilots in that time period. Let yourself rest, give yourself what you need, but at some point if that isn’t passing, my philosophy is you just got to start writing again and get back in the habit of doing it.
RB: You participate on a lot of writing panels. What’s the question you get the most?
RG: I get a lot of questions about what’s the major differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing. I personally will either self-publish or go with my traditional publisher. I will not do the small presses again. With small presses, I find a lot of times you don’t have the upfront cost that is associated with self-publishing, but you’re also giving them such a big piece of the pie that a lot of people tend not to make a lot of money.
RB: What’s your biggest piece of advice for anybody aspiring to self-publish a novel?
RG: You need to be professional, you need to get opinions of people who are already doing well in the industry, and you need to get critiques from people who know what they’re doing. If you get a critique from somebody who all they do is rip you apart, they are not there to help you, they are simply there to show you how much they know. Stay away from those people who are toxic. You want people around you who are going to support you and are going to want you to grow…not people who are going to pat you on the back and tell you how amazing you are and that you’re the next JK Rowling. You don’t need those kind of people in your life because that doesn’t help you to grow as a writer. What you need are people who are going to be honest with you in a loving way.
The success of Rebekah R. Ganiere is no fantasy. It’s as real as all of the hard work, uncompromising honesty, and unwavering self-motivation that has propelled her to the top of the Adult Paranormal Romance, Adult Fantasy Romance, and Young Adult Romance genres. Her invaluable advice on how to publish your own book as well as her personal journey as a writer are compelling reminders that you can’t just spend all of your energy on creating, and then fall short on the business side of your craft. After all, the object of creating a piece of art should be to share it with the world. Now with so much media competing for our attention span, it takes extra work to carve out space for you. It will take a lot of hard work, and probably many sleepless nights, but the realization that you’re a professional writer will most likely be the best romantic fantasy you’ll ever experience.