Leslye Penelope and Ines Johnson became best friends while attending Howard University. They bonded over their love of reading and writing. They also bonded over a shared frustration created by a dearth of characters of color in their favorite romance and paranormal romance genres.
Following in the footsteps of Mama Morrison, who said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” Penelope and Johnson made a pact to do just that.
Nearly twenty years later, Leslye Penelope, author of Song of Blood and Stone(Earthsinger Chronciles) and Ines Johnson, author of Pleasure Hound, supported each other as they navigated the seemingly complex word of self-publishing in the age of Amazon. Both are now indie authors on some of Amazon’s Best Sellers List.
Here are some of their highest leverage tips and points of advice about their journey toward independent-publishing as brown girls in a largely white publishing world.
Ines Johnson’s tips
Know the difference between independent publishing and self-publishing. Self-publishing implies that you write the book, edit the book, create the cover, and then distribute it all by yourself. I do not work alone. I write with a critique partner and beta readers, who test the story out in its early stages. Then I send the manuscript off to a copy editor who checks for grammar and style. I hire a professional cover artist who uses their talents to tell the story in one graphic image. And finally, I distribute the work to more than one seller. I do not do any of this by myself.
The self-publish gold mine rumor is a myth. My indie publishing has been a hard, but rewarding journey. My book has been at the top of six bestselling lists and I’ve found a tribe of readers who are excited to hear what I have to say. Many believe that self-publishing is a get rich gold mine. Although there are outliers, that is far from true.
Follow the trends if you only want to make money. Follow your heart if really you want to make a career of this. The current trend in romance is for shape-shifting heroes, with six-pack abs and dominant tendencies, who aim to claim plus-sized heroines. (Now, the plus-sized thing I am so down with!)
My debut novel, The Pleasure Hound, however, features characters of color in the lead romantic roles. The story takes place in a dystopian future where women rule the world and take on two husbands in marriage. My hero is an Asian monk who’s hired to teach tantric sex to a Native American woman as she prepares to marry two men; one African, the other European.
I totally bucked the werewolf trend. Why? Because this is the story I wanted to tell. I’ve been able to build a small following of readers hungry for characters like these.
It’s not so black or white. I write stories featuring characters of color. My stories aren’t focused on race, although race is definitely acknowledged. My stories focus on the messiness that comes from being a part of the human race and all of our prejudices and assumptions and ill-conceived notions about others.
If you’re writing characters of color, you might find yourself sitting and agonizing over what, not just whom, to put on your cover. Should you feature a character of color on your cover? Should you go more abstract because maybe that will get you more readers?
It happens to be a valid question. You have to think about your target audience.
Tell everyone you know and everyone you don’t know about your book. You can’t just throw your book up on Amazon and expect people to find it. Consider blog tours, promo tours, giveaways, get your friends and family involved, and other out of the box marketing.
Leslye Penelope’s Tips
Create a budget. Amazon has over 3 million ebooks for sale and counting. In order to make yours stand out from the pack you have to produce a quality product. There are a lot of things you can spend money on, but the most important by far are professional editing and cover design.
Get professional editors. Throwing a book online when only you and your momma have read it is a mistake. Even if someone does take a chance on an unknown author and buys your first book, you also want them to buy the next one and the next. Without a professional to review and correct your work, you may lose readers turned off by errors in your manuscript.
There are a variety of different kinds of editing for different phases of your book’s production. A developmental editor takes the big picture view and will advise you on your story structure, plot and characters. A copyeditor or line editor will pick apart your sentences and bring your grammar and sentence structure under control. A proofreader comes last to fix any stray typos that you and the other editors may have missed.
Pricing varies along with quality and experience. Here are some common rates for the different types of editing, but you may find editors lower or higher on the spectrum.
Developmental editor: $.01-.$04 /word
Copyeditor/Line editor: $.005- $.01 /word
Proofreader: $.002-$.005 / word
With a full length novel coming in at around 70,000 – 120,000 words, you can see how this writing career is an investment.
If you can’t afford all three types of editing, you can use beta readers or critique partners for your developmental edits and then focus your budget on a professional copy editor to make sure your grammar is correct and your sentences flow. Having several friends do proofreading passes can help you find typos as well.
Get a professional cover designed. Since the cover is the first thing anyone will see before they even read your book description, it has to be enticing. After all, people really do judge books by their covers. Unless you are a graphic designer, either trained or self-taught, you do not want to handle this yourself. That’s the surefire way to come across as an amateur and have your book ignored. The online bookstores are very competitive and a well-designed cover will make your book stand out.
A pro designer can range anywhere from $30-50 for a premade cover (very difficult to find with black folks on the cover). For a custom design, expect to pay from $100-500 for an ebook cover. Budget a bit more if you want to produce a print book as the design will have to be larger to wrap around the entire book.
Educate yourself about the indie-publishing process. For additional self-publishing information, there are a few books I recommend:
Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran
Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
To find editors and designers as well as a community of self-published authors, check out online forums and discussion groups like the Kboards.com Writer’s Café, Author Marie Force’s Self Publishing Yahoo Group etc.Self-publishing implies that you write the book, edit the book, create the cover, and then distribute it all by yourself Click To Tweet