Today, the fabulous and prolific Jenna Bennett has graciously agreed to answer all my questions on publishing.
Jenna publishes the New York Times Bestselling Do-It Yourself Home Renovation Mystery series with Penguin under Jennie Bentley, publishes a futuristic romance series with Entangled and self-publishes The Cutthroat Business Mystery series as Jenna Bennett.
I met Jenna at Killer Nashville in 2010 when she critiqued my manuscript. I learned so much at that conference, but the very best thing I took away from it was her friendship. I am so grateful for all her advice on writing and publishing. She’s been an absolute blessing and an unexpected mentor on my writing journey.
1) How did you format your .doc manuscript to the e-book format? Did you hire anyone to do it or did you do it yourself? Is it hard to do?
There are different ways you can do this, starting with hiring someone else to do formatting for you. There’s a bit of a learning curve, so it’s a toss-up between spending the money to avoid the hassle, or wanting to save the money and having – or choosing – to deal with the formatting yourself in return for saving the outlay.
If you’re going to do it yourself, there’s the easy way and the hard way. The easy way – and the one I use – is to upload a Word doc directly to the various platforms, and letting the platform do the converting. The trick to making it work is having a very clean document to begin with – no fancy fonts, no messing around with the doc formatting, such as changing paragraphs in the middle of the book, etc. One clean document, all the same all the way through as far as line spacing, indents, margins, etc, go. The result isn’t fancy, but it’s very workable, simple, clean and easy to read.
The hard way is converting to the various formats yourself. I don’t know a whole lot about it, since it isn’t something I do, but there’s a program called a Mobi-Pocket Converter you can download to create a mobi – Kindle – file. You can also use a program called Calibri to create both mobis and ePubs, I believe. But again, I don’t do it. If I ever decide to move past uploading simple Word docs myself, I’ll probably just hire the work out to someone with more experience. There comes a time when it makes more sense to pay someone else to do something – whatever that something might be – instead of doing it yourself, although nobody but you can determine when the time is right for that step.
2) On which platforms did you make your e-book available (Smashwords, B&N, KDP, etc.)? Why did you decide on those?
All of them. KDP/Kindle Direct Publishing, which is Amazon’s platform. Pubit, which is BN’s. Smashwords. Kobo. If I could upload directly to iTunes/Apple, I would, but it takes a Mac to do it, and I don’t have one, so I get to the iBookstore through Smashwords instead. Same with Sony and Diesel and a few others. There are also All Romance Ebooks and Books on Board on a few others that I haven’t tried.
There are two prevailing schools of thought on the subject of platforms. Primarily, most of us who self-publish make most of our money on Amazon. I do too. Amazon – or KDP – has this program called KDP Select, wherein you can offer your book for free for five days ever three months, in an effort to gain visibility. You can also get borrows from Prime member, and get paid for them, sometimes more than you’d get for a sale of the same book. The catch is that you can’t be in KDP Select while having the book for sale anywhere else. It’s exclusive. So if you want to be on KDP Select, you have to take your book off sale on BN, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes, etc.
That makes sense to some people, because of the extra visibility they think they can get and the extra money they think they can make in KDP Select. (I say “think” because some people do and some people don’t make more money. To some people and some books it makes no difference.)
I’ve never put any of my books in KDP Select. I do make most of my money on Amazon, but not all of it, and I don’t want to discount the other platforms and revenue streams. More than that, though, I don’t want to tell the people who want to read my books on their Nook or Kobo or iPad that they can’t because I’m exclusive to Amazon. I want my books available as widely as possible, so I’m on all the platforms I can find.
3) Did you design your own cover or hire a designer?
I did my own, but then I find fiddling with images very peaceful and calming. I used to draw, and it’s a little bit the same thing. Also, I’m cheap. And I did try to hire someone, but the preliminary covers she came up with, based on my guidelines for what I wanted, didn’t turn out to look the way I wanted them to. I decided to give it a whirl myself, and when I came up with something I liked, I went with it. I’m quite sure a professional could do a better job than what I did, but I have yet to find that particular professional, and for now, what I’m doing seems to work, so I’m sticking with it.
If you are going to hire someone, the price can range from $50 or so for a premade cover to several thousand for a unique one-off. You can get a very nice custom cover for $100-$200 from a lot of different designers.
4) Did you consider doing POD (print on demand) books for any of your indie-published books? Why didn’t you?
I have done POD for one of my books, a standalone – so far – romantic suspense type story. The reason I haven’t done it for the mystery series is that the print rights to the first book are still with the original publisher, and until I get them back and can publish the whole series at the same time with matching covers, I don’t want to do any of them.
I used CreateSpace for the one book that I did. There was a bit of a learning curve, but it wasn’t too bad, and I did figure it out eventually. Print is somewhere where it might be worth paying a formatter to format the manuscript, however. Unlike digital, where simple is fine, you can do a lot more with a print book, as far as drop caps and wingdings and such go, and if you don’t have a background in formatting, it may be worth the money to get someone to do it who knows what he or she is doing. It can make the difference between a very simple look and a more professional one.
5) What kind of marketing did you do for your e-books (blog tours, readings, giveaways, conferences, Facebook book party, etc.)? Anything you’d advise a debut novelist to do or not do? How long before the actual publication date did you start your marketing?
This is not a good question to ask me, because I do very little of anything for any of my books, whether traditionally or self-published. My aim is to have them sell themselves without my help.
Of course, the only way for books to do that, is for people to know that they’re there – AKA visibility.
With a print book in the store, the way to get visibility is called co-op, which is money the publisher pays so the book gets front-of-store placement, on the new releases table or new releases tower, depending on the type of book. There’s no front-of-store in ebooks, but at least as far as Amazon goes, the bestseller lists serve the same purpose. The aim, then, is to get the book onto the bestseller lists. Once it’s there, where people see it, it usually keeps selling. Not forever – nothing lasts forever – but for a while.
I’ve tried in various ways to get the word out that the books are there and available – I announce on Facebook and Twitter, I’ve run Facebook ads, I’ve run ads on various blogs and sites, I have a newsletter, I do guest blogs and giveaways – but the best way I’ve found to gain that visibility, has been to put the first book in the series free. Once it climbs the free bestseller lists and people download it, enough people go on to read the other books in the series too, to get them onto the bestseller lists, and it goes from there and lasts a few months.
6) How did you decide on pricing for your e-book? What do you think is a reasonable price range for an e-book?
Here again is a question with a couple possible answers. People have different opinions on this, and what works for one person – and one book – doesn’t necessarily work for another.
I’ve tried 99 cent pricing, much against my better judgment, and have never seen it work for me. Going free works, though, in boosting sales for the other books in the series. Of course, that’s only a possibility if there are other books in the series, that can benefit from the boost.
Some people swear that low pricing is the trick, while others price their books as high as traditional publishers, and don’t seem to suffer at all for it.
I’ve priced my full length ebooks – 90,000 words – in the $3.99-$4.99 range. My shorter books – 50,000-60,0000 words – at $2.99 and my novellas and longer short stories at $.99. My short short stories – under 5,000 words – I give away for free, as teasers or loss-leaders. They didn’t take me long to write, and I feel guilty charging 99 cents for a ten minute read. Then again, I know people who do, and it seems to work for them. Genre has a lot to do with it: erotica, for instance, demands a higher price – and is very popular right now, with the whole 50 Shades phenomenon – and anything m/m – male on male, gay – also fetches a higher price, whether it’s particularly erotic or not.
In my view, I price my books to look like a good deal compared to traditionally published books, but I’m not giving them away. And I also look at the fact that even at half the price of my traditionally published mysteries, I make more money at half the cover price when I self-publish.
7) What do you think is the biggest lesson you learned from e-publishing? If you could do it over again what would you do differently?
I don’t think I’ve made any terribly stupid mistakes, but I think it took me a little too long to get over looking at the books as my babies, that I had sweated and bled over, and get to the point where I started to see them as products instead. When you’re out there trying to sell books, you have to look at them as products, not as extensions of yourself and your emotions, and you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to sell them… even if that means giving 100,000 of them away for free. (Yes, I have done that. And I wish I’d done it sooner, instead of a year after I started self-publishing. That year could have looked very different if I had only wised up sooner.)
8) How do you get people to attend events for your e-books? (I know you have a built in fan base from all your traditionally published books). What would you advise a debut author do to bring in people?
This is not something I can answer, since I don’t really do events for my ebooks, or any of my other books. I guess, when something goes on, I just tweet and Facebook about it and hope for the best. But like I said, I want my stuff to sell itself. I have better things to do than try to talk people into buying my books.
9) Do you think it’s better to pursue a small press than to self-publish for a debut novelist?
That would depend entirely on the debut novelist, or any novelist, for that matter. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain type of person to get off on having final say – and final responsibility – for everything. Some of us like it, some of us don’t. Some of us would rather have someone else take care of all those pesky details. Publishing is a business. Not every writer wants to be a business-person. Some just want to be writers.
There are benefits to having a publisher, whether big or small. A publisher can get a print book into stores, something self-published authors have yet to figure out how to do. A big publisher can put a lot of clout behind a book, and make it a bestseller in ways a single author can’t.
On the other hand, an independent author has power over the final product that the publisher doesn’t have, and has the ability to change and roll with the punches in a way a big corporation can’t.
There are benefits to self-publishing, but there are drawbacks too. It’s up to each individual author to determine whether, for him or her, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks or vice versa.
10) As someone who has been both traditionally published and indie published, what do you see as the biggest benefits and detractors to each type of publishing?
There are plenty, both benefits and detractors, and often they’re the same thing, like two sides of the same coin, the outcome depending on the point of view of the individual.
There’s the control issue. Speaking for myself, I like being in charge of things. I don’t like anyone else telling me what to do. With self-publishing, I’m totally in control of everything. The content of the book is exactly the way I want it to be. The packaging is exactly the way I want it to be. The formatting, the cover, the content, the blurb, the appearance; everything. All mine. And the results, based on all of my decisions for how I wanted things to be, are entirely my responsibility.
There’s good and bad in this. If you want the power, you also have to take the responsibility. If things go wrong, if they don’t work out the way you had hoped, it’s on you. If you don’t want the responsibility for that, you probably shouldn’t accept that power in the first place. There’s no having one without the other. You do it all yourself, you’re the final authority, there’s no one to blame for the results but you. I happen to like the power, and I deal with the results, whether good or bad, but your mileage might vary.
Financially, there’s a lot to be said for self-publishing. You make more money from each book than you would in traditional publishing – provided you don’t sell the books at $.99-$1.99 – so you have to sell less books to make the same amount of money. If you sell the same amount of books, you make more. You can make good money doing it. It’s easier to make a living self-publishing than it is in traditional publishing, unless you hit it huge. Or to put it a different way: self-publishing has been kindest to the mid-list writers, those of us who had a hard time making a living in traditional publishing. With self-publishing we can, because we make more per book.
On the drawback side, there’s the responsibility issue: not everyone wants it. There’s having to become a business owner, not just a writer. A formatter, a cover designer, a marketer, and an accountant. It’s not for everyone. And there are things publishers can do that are hard for authors to do on their own, especially as pertains to print books. With ebooks, the playing field is more level. With print books – and they’re still around 70% of the market – publishers have the advantage. If having a book in print, on a shelf in a bookstore, is important to you, hold out for the traditional deal, because you probably won’t be able to do it on your own.
Like everything else, there’s compromise involved. You never get it – whatever it is – 100% your way. There’s always give and take. You win some and you lose some. You get more of one, but less of the other. That’s life, and publishing is no different. There’s no right or wrong choice, just right or wrong – or more accurately, better or worse – for you. It’s not a choice anyone else can make for you; it’s one you have to make for yourself.
Jenna will be popping by to answer questions, so please comment below if you’d like to pick her brain.
Everyone has warned new-minted realtor Savannah Martin that real estate is a cutthroat business. But Savannah doesn’t think she’s supposed to take the warning literally … until an early morning phone call sends her to an empty house on the ‘bad’ side of town, where she finds herself standing over the butchered body of a competitor, face to face with the boy her mother always warned her about.
Rafe Collier is six feet three inches of testosterone and trouble; tall, dark, and dangerous, with a murky past and no future–not the kind of guy a perfect Southern Belle should want to tangle with. In any way. But wherever Savannah turns, there he is, and making no bones about what he wants from her.
Now Savannah must figure out who killed real estate queen Brenda Puckett, make a success of her new career, and avoid getting killed–or kissed–by Rafe, all before the money in her savings account runs out and she has to go back to selling make-up at the mall.
Stepping carefully around broken bottles, crumpled beer cans and twigs, I moved to the next home. It was empty, too. Mother was right; people had been deserting the Bog like rats fleeing a sinking ship. There was nothing for me to do here but to go home. I turned on my heel to go back to the car, and stopped with a gasp.
He had moved so quietly through the dry grass that I hadn’t heard him, and now he stood between me and the Volvo. For a second, with the sun in my eyes, all I could see was a tall, dark figure, and I recoiled.
He didn’t move. Not when I stumbled back, not when the heel of my insensible shoe got caught in a snake hole, and not when I ended up on my derriere on the dusty ground, with my skirt twisted around my hips and my thighs on display. The only thing that moved was his eyes, from my face to my feet and back, with insolent appreciation.
“Didn’t your mama teach you better manners?” I inquired coldly, in spite of my burning cheeks. The tiny smile on his lips transformed into a full fledged, dangerous grin.
“Hell, no. My mama always said, grab what you can get, ‘cause it’ll be gone afore you know it.”
He held out a hand. I hesitated, trying to remember whether anyone had ever said anything about Rafe Collier being in the habit of forcing himself on women.
“Or you can stay there,” he added, pointedly. I took the hand and let him haul me to my feet. We stood contemplating one another in silence for a moment.
Jenna’s first book in The Cuttthroat Business Mysteries series, A Cutthroat Business, is available for free download for the month of January from Amazon. Click here to download her first book.
Jennie Bentley is the author of the New York Times bestselling Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime, while Jenna Bennett writes the Cutthroat Business mysteries for her own gratification. Jenna is also the author of the upcoming Soldiers of Fortune series of futuristic romances from Entangled Publishing. The first book in the series, Fortune’s Hero, debuted in November 2012. In addition to futuristic romance, Jenna also has the first books in a contemporary romantic suspense series and a paranormal series coming from Entangled Publishing in fall 2012.
A former Realtor® and renovator and current full-time author, Jenna/Jennie lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with a husband, two kids, two frogs, two goldfish, a killer parakeet, and a hyper-active dog. Originally from Norway, she has spent more than twenty years in the US and still hasn’t been able to kick her native accent.
Where to connect with Jenna online: