L.J. Sellers Talks Self Publishing

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.


  1. angela says

    Thanks so much for doing this inter­view. I think the best quote from it is this:

    “…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…”

    I can­not tell you how many authors I’ve met who sim­ply do not want to do mar­ket­ing. No mat­ter how you are pub­lish­ing, mar­ket­ing is key to suc­cess today.

    Five months between nov­els? You go, girl! I MUST talk to you about your writ­ing sched­ule some­time. How you set it up, how you stick with it.

    Thanks again for stop­ping by!

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