L.J. Sellers is a master storyteller — and a terrific book marketer. The author is constantly networking with fans on social media, getting to know them while promoting her latest works.
Today, L.J. sits down for an interview at The Demented Muse. Find out about her career, self publishing and what authors need to know before they go this route.
Thanks so much for being here today, L.J.!
Tell us about your work. How many novels have you published yourself?
I have five novels in the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series, and three standalone thrillers. At this point, all of my work is self-published. The first three Jackson books were at one point published by a small traditional press, but that didn’t work out for me, so I withdrew and went independent last summer.
The Jackson stories feature a homicide detective and his team and are set in Eugene, OR. Readers from around the world contact me daily to say how much they enjoy the series and to ask when the next book is coming out. My thrillers are eclectic: The Baby Thief involves an isolated cult and fertility science, and The Suicide Effect is set in the pharmaceutical industry, where I worked as a magazine editor for seven years. My latest, The Arranger, is a futuristic thriller involving a national endurance contest and a mysterious killers.
How often do you publish a new novel or short story?
For now, I’m publishing a new novel about every five months. Once I have ten or twelve books on the market, I’d like to slow down a bit. So far, I only have one short story, but I’m also getting ready to publish a collection of nonfiction articles.
Did you try traditional publishing venues first?
I spent 20 years querying agents and publishers, and I landed several good agents. I also had editors at major publishing houses read my manuscripts in one sitting and rave about them. But they never bought anything. I’m so glad to be finished with all that.
What are some common misconceptions about self-publishing?
From the publishing industry, there’s an assumption that if you self-publish, you’re either a hack or unwilling to pay your dues. It may be true for some, but certainly not all. On the other hand, writers now think self-publishing is easy. And of course, the process is fairly straightforward, especially if you contract out most of the work. But selling novels remains as challenging and competitive as ever. For self-published authors to succeed, they must spend nearly as much time promoting as they do writing, at least until they have a large readership and more than a few books on the market.
How important is the book cover? Should authors try to design it themselves or hire a designer?
An eye-catching cover is essential to attract readers. Some books will sell via word of mouth regardless of the cover, but most novels need to catch the attention of the online browser. A few writers might have the artistic and technical skills to create a professional cover, but not many. I strongly recommend hiring a graphic artist with a portfolio.
What are some key lessons you’ve learned since you published your first book?
1. Never give up. Set a goal and work toward it until you make it happen.
2. Don’t follow every promotional and social networking trend just because someone else is doing it. Some ideas look good on the surface, but they may not be cost-effective (e.g., book trailers). Other ideas may seem competitive, but they aren’t good long-term strategies (e.g., 99 cent price).
How important is marketing to the self-published author?
Other than writing a great story, it’s the single most important thing you can do. I consider everything that connects my name to potential readers as promotion, and that’s a long list: social networking, blogging, reader forums, book giveaways, conferences, newsletters, targeted e-reader ads, to name a few.
What social networks do you find important for marketing and networking with fans?
I use Facebook and Twitter extensively, but I also spend time on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and CrimeSpace. I also participate in reader listservs and visit various blogs and comment regularly.
One of the top gripes I hear from authors is that they don’t want to do marketing — and the top reason is that it interferes with writing. How do you balance writing time with marketing?
I don’t complain about doing promotion. In fact, I enjoy most of it, and I consider it as much a part of my job as writing. I like variety, and I love having 15 different things to do each day. I do the bulk of my promotion in the morning, then when I’m working on a new novel, I switch to writing in the late morning and write until about five. After dinner, I complete whatever else still needs to be done and usually work until 9:30 or 10:00. I love my life!
Can you make a full-time living by self-publishing?
I’ve been making a living from e-book sales since December 2010. Hundreds of self-published authors are also making a living, some of them are even in the high-tax brackets. All you need is four or five really good novels with a wide appeal.
What would you say to authors who have dollar signs in their eyes after hearing stories about others who make thousands per month selling their digital files?
It’s possible! It takes time to build a readership and/or produce enough novels to live on, but it’s definitely doable.
What else would you like to add?
The fiction market is very competitive, and book sales go up and down for inexplicable reasons. You have to have long-term goals, tenacity, and thick skin to be successful and stay in the game.
About the author
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, Passions of the Dead, and Dying for Justice. Her novels have been highly praised by Mystery Scene, Crimespree, and Spinetingler magazines, and the series is on Amazon Kindle’s bestselling police procedural list. L.J. also has three standalone thrillers: The Baby Thief, The Suicide Effect, and The Arranger. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.