In my continual search for clarity in the question of self-publishing, this week I interviewed self-published author H. W. Vivian, whose Days of Amber was recently named the Best Humor Book of 2014 by IndieReader. Getting a firsthand account on the trials of self-publishing is important to me, and H. W. Vivian was more than happy to provide direct and informative answers to all my questions.
1. What kind of stories do you write? Tell me a little about each of your books.
I write both young adult fiction novels and adult fiction novels. My first novel, which I wrote under my pen name for YA readers, H. W. Vivian, is called Chasers, and is a mystery/horror story about three kids who are trying to get out of a cursed town while trying to get over their differences in the process. My second novel is called Days of Amber, which I wrote under my second pen name, Alex Chu. This one is about a humorous story about a software company that gets hacked, and scrambles to stop all their data from getting stolen.
2. Deciding to self publish is a big decision. What were three factors that played big roles in your decision making process?
Yes, it was a big decision. I guess my three factors were accomplishment, regrets, and the reputation of the publishing service I will ultimately use – accomplishment because I had been thinking about and writing my first novel, Chasers, for six years before it was finally published, regrets because I think I would hate myself if I didn’t publish it, and the reputation of the publishing service obviously because I wanted experienced and competent people handling my manuscript.
3. Is it a bigger risk to invest the money to self publish or invest the time to try to score a traditional publishing contract? If it depends, what would you say it depends on?
I would say it depends on your story. For example, if you wrote a YA story, and since YA is pretty popular now, you would want to get your story out as fast as possible before the industry moves onto something else. In this case, if you haven’t been picked up by a publisher yet, I would highly recommend self-publishing. But if it’s something like a historical fiction novel, then I would say you can take your time on waiting for publishers to respond. It all depends on what’s hot now.
4. Other than writing a damn good book, what would you say is the most important factor to doing well in self publishing?
Marketing. Nobody will buy your book if they don’t even know it exists. Talk to as many bloggers as you can, network with other writers, and make a budget for yourself for paid PR.
5. How many hats have you had to wear as a self published author? Which are your least favorite and why?
I’ve had to wear so many hats I can barely count them – writer, publisher, editor, marketer, my own assistant, and I’m sure there were others. My least favorite is definitely marketer. Marketing takes up so much time that sometimes, when I’m writing up emails to people, I don’t have enough time to get to writing my next book. Luckily, I’ve been able to manage my time fairly efficiently.
6. One criticism of self publishing is that it gives authors too much control over their work, as opposed to trusting in the experience and authority of seasoned professionals. Did you have the final say in all the steps of your publishing process? If so, how did you ensure qualities in the areas you in which you had no experience?
Yes, I had the final say in everything. Also, control is the best thing an author could have over their work. Though the monetary burden is definitely lifted from me if I had a traditional publisher, I will never trust them entirely with anything.
7. How easy or hard is it to just do okay? Is it harder to just keep your head above water or harder to break out ahead of the pack?
It all depends on your drive and passion. If you really believe in your work, nothing will be too hard to keep your head above water, and you will get the exposure that you deserve. If you’re not all that driven about your work, then I’m afraid you’re just not going to make it.
8. What do you wish you had known at the start of this process?
Honestly, I don’t think I wish I had known anything that I have had to learn throughout this process. The literary industry is so subjective that, what one person may perceive as bad writing, or a bad query letter, might seem like the most amazing writing or query letter to someone else. I think I’m fine with being a clean slate at the start of this process.
9. Based on your experience and the experience of people you know personally or know of, how easy or difficult is it to make a living as a self-published author?
Extremely difficult. People don’t need books to survive, the way they need groceries or clothes. Books are a luxury, and if people won’t have an immediate need to buy a book, then they just won’t, even if it’s a 99 cent ebook.
10. Any advice you’d like to give to writers who are reading this? Either with regard to self publishing or writing in general?
Never stop writing. Never give up.
Huge thanks to H.W. Vivian for the interview! Go buy her books!
Also, be on the lookout next year for her third novel War of Rain!