A cool thing about being a book reviewer is sometimes being able to chat offline with authors whose books I enjoy. If I read and review one of his or her books, especially when I really like it, then he or she will often offer me the next book that comes out, and sometimes we get friendly via email. At the very least, I go on a list where I know I’ll hear about the next project. I love that. Jennie Nash is one of those authors for me. I wrote about that, as well as linking to my reviews of her other novels, when I reviewed her latest novel Perfect Red.
I was intrigued that she self-published this novel. I know that self publishing is becoming more popular, and even music artists are producing their own records without a major label, so I really wanted to hear her perspective on this trend. I thank her for her honesty in this interview. If you like what you read here, why not give her novel Perfect Red a try? Another delightful by product of self-publishing is that the authors generally offer the ebooks at a very low cost ($2.99 in this case, cheaper than a movie rental!).
Q: After six books published with major New York houses, you decided to self publish your novel Perfect Red.. Why?
A: To be perfect honest, I had no other choice. Publishers pay the most attention to blockbuster authors, series authors who can move a lot of books, and debut authors who may have written the next big thing. I was neither of those things. I was a midlist writer getting midlist attention and it was starting to feel a big like purgatory. I’d written six books, and none of them had sales that would warrant anyone’s attention. I wrote Perfect Red to try to jump start my career. It was something new for me – a historical novel — and I thought I could use that to take a giant leap forward. It almost happened (that’s a l-o-n-g story for another day) but in the end it didn’t, and I was left without a publishing home for the book.
Q: Was that upsetting?
A: Um, YES. It was very upsetting. I was pretty miserable for a few days (okay, it was a few months.) That experience actually spurred me to write a book called The Writers’ Guide to Agony and Defeat: The 43 Worst Moments in the Writing Life. I’m putting the finishing touched on it right now. But here’s the thing: as hard as it was for me, we can’t forget that publishers are trying to make money. It’s a business, after all. People may get into it because they love books and they love to read, but at the end of the day, it’s a business. No one thought they could position me and Perfect Red in a way that would make money.
Q: You obviously did, though, because you self published it. How has that experience been so far?
A: It’s been three months, and it’s been a wild ride. I feel like I’ve been to graduate school in self publishing! I knew a little about the whole process before, because I teach writing (at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program) and I coach writers (I have a thriving one-on-one book coaching business) and it’s my job to have a clue, but I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. I can certainly say that while it’s true that self publishing is open and available to everyone, it’s not as easy as just writing whatever the heck you want to write and uploading a book. You have to be very entrepreneurial. I happen to love all that stuff – marketing and strategy and positioning – but not all writers do.
Q: Was it just a total coincidence that Lucy ended up “self-publishing” her book in the novel? Or were you still writing as you were shopping it around?
A: It is, indeed, a total coincidence that Lucy ended up self publishing the book that was haunting her in Perfect Red. All that was in the narrative when my agent was shopping the book to publishers. It wasn’t until all the deals fells through, and I decided to self publish, that I realized the connection – and even then, I needed prodding to see it. My niece, who is Lucy’s age, and who was one of my beta readers, emailed me and said, “You’re just like Lucy!” I was stunned, but it was true!
Q: Has Perfect Red. sold well or made money?
A: Not yet. It’s been somewhat disappointing so far, but there are two interesting things to say about that. The first is that in traditional publishing, your book has about three months to make a splash, and then the bookstores and the publisher are both moving on to the next batch of books. There’s a lot of pressure on those three months. With self publishing, the door will never close. If it takes two years or ten years for Perfect Red to find an audience, that’s okay.
The second thing is that a book wants to find readers the same way that water wants to run downhill. After I failed to sell Perfect Red to a traditional publisher, I could have put it away and called it a day, but I spent three years writing this book. I love this book, and actually think it’s my best one yet. I believe it deserved readers. I have not (yet!) sold a gazillion copies or made a mint on it, but self publishing allowed Perfect Red to find a small and passionate bunch of readers. I’ve gotten fan mail. I’ve been feted at bookclubs where they had the most gorgeous red velvet cakes you’ve ever seen. I’ve had readers line up at a table to have me sign the book. And I even had my dad, who is a professor emeritus of American History, tell me that my story (which is set at an an intense moment in American history) was very authentic and riveting. All of that is worth a lot, and self publishing gave me that.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: As I said above, I wrote The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat and I plan on self publishing that this summer. (Why self publishing? I think it’s exactly the kind of book that can do really well in self publishing. There are some advantages to it that suit a “gift” book very well. I’m eager to give it another whirl.) I have an idea bubbling in my brain for a new novel, but I’m pretty gun shy about plunging in on it. I want to be smart about it, because the truth is that I would still like to make that giant leap in my career – whether with a publisher or on my own. You’ve got to be smart either way.
Q: Do you have an advice for our readers who may be thinking about self publishing?
A: I absolutely do, and it’s this: write a good book that your readers will want to read. That sounds like simple advice, but it’s actually not. It means you have to know who your readers are and what they want. It means you have to know how to reach those readers. And it means that you have to know what other books are out there so you know how to make yours part of the conversation. I have a 24-page e-workbook that helps writers think through these steps. It’s called Blueprint for a Book, and it’s available in both fiction and non-fiction editions. It’s available for $9.99 and until I decide to end the special deal, it currently comes with 30 minutes of free coaching.
Now I want to hear from YOU. Leave a comment and let me know if you feel differently about a book that is self-published? And if so, has that thought evolved any as the publishing industry has changed?
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Thanks for introducing me to this author, Jennifer. I had never read any of her work. Based on your reviews I loaded up the kindle with three books. Read The Threadbare Heart this week and am already well into The Only True Genius in the Family. Threadbare was so good I really couldn’t put it down. The characters are so richly drawn and while the book entertained me it also made me think. The grief aspects were not hard for me, just underscored what I’ve come to know, that everyone grieves in their own personal way. Some of what Lily experienced resonated with me, while some of her experience didn’t. It’s a book I’ll recommend.
So glad! Only True Genius in the Family was the first I read, and my favorite, I think, but maybe just because it was first. I’d like to revisit it sometime.