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Leigh Ann Kopans Interview: Why Serious Self-Publishing Needn’t Be A Fantasy – Part One

I’ve never been a fan of self-publishing.

I like the concept of freedom, but the reality scares me. Freedom, badly wielded, can be just as much of a curse as a blessing—I’ve read more than enough self-published novels where the reader is tortured more than the characters and the only thing I can see getting butchered is the language.

People have told me to self-publish as though it’s the natural step for a writer rejected by publishers and agents the world over (three continents and counting!). However, I see rejection as part and parcel of the process. It makes us question ourselves and strive to improve until we are ‘good enough’.

Right or wrong, I’ve long craved the official validation that traditional publishing seems to provide. Self-publishing may offer the writer creative control, but I’ve always preferred the idea of quality control usually on offer through the traditional route—especially with fantasy. With this genre you have to create entire worlds before you even put pen to paper and introduce the characters and story. I feel it has to be done well to work, whereas other genres, such as thrillers, can find success on a cheap, throwaway level just fine.

Of course, this isn’t always the case. And my views on self-publishing being a lower quality ‘Plan B’ might be considered ridiculous in light of some great, and successful, self-published writing appearing out there, in all genres.

Recognising this, I wanted to explore self—or ‘indie’—publishing in more detail. And while there are a LOT of great articles on self-publishing from those who have already made a roaring success of it, I wanted to remove the hindsight and focus on the more immediate ‘self’ experience to see how it holds up in the cold light of day.

Leigh Ann KopansIt is here that I introduce the supremely talented Leigh Ann Kopans, who, in my opinion, has nailed the approach to self-publishing so well that it makes an old cynic like me sit up and take note.

In Part One of this interview we talk about the journey of her first official novel, the YA fantasy One.

While writing One, did self-publishing ever cross your mind?

Yes, but only in the sense that I never thought I’d do it. When I drafted One in late 2011 all I’d heard about self-publishing was that it was career suicide. A year later, when my first agent and I were looking at a confusing collection of NYC editorial rejections, self-publishing had already changed dramatically. More and more you saw self-published books given the same preparation as a traditionally published book, which meant the results were similar and even, in some cases, indistinguishable.

Self-publishing has tripled in the past six years and is certainly being taken more seriously now thanks to some very successful indie break-outs (eg, the science-fiction/fantasy Wool by Hugh Howey and the other kind of fantasy 50 Shades of Grey by EL James), there is still some stigma attached to going it alone. Why do you think this is?

I think there are a couple of reasons—one with valid origins and the other that…well, I just don’t look too kindly upon.

The first is quality control. Anyone can click a button and publish anything, so it’s entirely possible that a book you buy on Amazon is complete gibberish. That’s always been true of ‘vanity’ publishing. If a book came from a traditional publisher, you can at least assume it had an editing and design team behind it to give the reader the best experience possible. With self-pub, that’s not a given.

Thankfully print-on-demand and digital technology are helping to improve this situation. Because self-publishers don’t have to pay for a print run, their budgets can now be used to hire professional editors and designers to make their book a great product. Once readers learn what to look for in a self-published book as a possible indicator of quality—a great cover, a good sample, an editor’s name listed in the front matter—I think it will help reduce that stigma a lot.

The second reason, however, is what really bothers me. It’s the “good-enough club” sort, and it basically says that if your writing was “good enough” it would have been picked up by a publisher. Even though there are so many reasons that’s not true—the subjectivity and marketability factors the most likely—that stigma still seems to run through the writing and publishing communities long and deep. To me, it’s really sad.

Did this ever give you reservations about pursuing self-publishing for One, and, if so, how did you overcome it?

One (cover)Oh, yeah! In fact, that was the basic reason that self-publishing terrified me—I was scared of what everyone else would think.

When I realized that the “everyone else,” in my head, was basically “the writing community,” and that most readers didn’t care how a book was published, only that it was published well…I changed my tune.

As it turned out, most people in the writing community have been incredibly supportive. I’ve found a handful are in that good-enough club, looking down on the way my book is being published, and maybe the book itself—but that’s okay. I don’t need for everyone to agree with me, or to like what I’m doing.

As far as my debut author status, my post announcing publication plans garnered just as much excitement as any traditionally published author’s. Not to mention that One had a healthy number of adds on Goodreads, and I was even approached to be an affiliate blogger at the League of Extraordinary Writers, which typically only features traditionally published writers. So I think even those on the inside are beginning to be open to the idea that self-published books, and writers, can be just as valid.

Before you made your decision, had you ever previously bought any self-published books from authors you didn’t otherwise know? Was there anything you discovered that either encouraged or discouraged you from publishing yourself?

Yes! I bought Trisha Leigh’s Whispers In Autumn and was completely blown away when I found out it was self-published. That’s when the seed was planted—when I realized I would have never guessed that it was NOT traditionally published. It was so beautiful, so well-written, so professionally done.

After that, I started to seek out self-published titles, and found amazing authors like Andrea Lynn Colt, Dawn Rae Miller, Denise Grover Swank, Tammara Webber, and Susan Kaye Quinn. I devoured their books and had the same experience I’d had with Trisha’s.

When I started seriously considering self-publishing—back in October 2012—Trisha became a sort of unofficial mentor to me, and has helped me every step of the way. I’ll always be indebted to her for that.

A lot of aspiring authors believe the literary agent is the mystical gatekeeper to traditional publishing fortune and glory. Yet you are currently signed with an agent who thinks your books rocks! Surely that’s the hard part over with?

::laughs:: Oh my goodness, I wish.

My first agent and I actually parted ways when some of our conversations revealed that she was not as supportive of self-publishing—or even small publishing—as I would have liked. I don’t know if the “Big-Six-Or-Bust” attitude is common among literary agents, but it just wasn’t for me. I wanted more than six possibilities for how my books could be published, and, deep down, I think I wanted more control over my books, too.

I now have a less formal relationship with another agent who handles my foreign and subsidiary rights only—in other words, some of the business things I generally can’t do myself. We work together on a project-by-project basis, and it suits me well.

But, to answer your question: No. No, no, no. Getting that offer of representation is like finally getting a climbing buddy to climb Mt. Everest with you. Signing with an agent is really, really hard. But selling a book can be much harder.

You’ve previously detailed your self-publishing journey through some (IMHO fantastically useful and fun) blog posts. You’ve had a lot of support for them, but you’ve also come in for some negative feedback, which has since led you to take them down. One quote of yours in particular seemed to polarise opinion, where after running through your list of self-publishing expenses—for editors, a good cover designer, etc—you stated: “If you don’t have the resources to do it right, either wait and save up or don’t do it at all.”

While this seems to make a lot of sense, can you elaborate on what you meant?

Those posts were very dear to me, mostly because I wanted to be very honest about the downfalls and benefits of the process in real time—to give people an idea of the real work behind putting my book together.

So, yes, what I meant was that self-published books should be given exactly the care and preparation they deserve, to ensure a polished presentation and the ability to sell well within their genre and target market.

The “resources” refers to a whole list of skill sets necessary to make that happen, not just money. It’s possible that the author herself could also be a skilled graphic designer, formatter, content editor, and proofreader, but it’s only possible to do that up to a certain point for your own books. At the very least, I encourage self-publishers to assemble a team that can offer pro-bono or bartered skills to help with production. For example, my formatter is free, because she’s a good friend and I begged! She does an amazing job that would have me banging my head against my desk if I had to do it myself.

As authors and business people combined, self-publishers have a responsibility to consumers to put the best product possible out on the market. As a reader, I expect care and attention has gone into crafting a great book—I don’t want to pay for anything less. For me, learning to write a good story, and then edit it, and then polish it, was an education made up of a couple of sloppy books way before One. I would never have dreamed of asking a reader to pay for that unprofessional work. I urge those considering self-publishing not to learn about writing at the reader’s expense.

Okay, well I think this is a great place to take a breather! Coming soon in Part Two, Leigh Ann talks about her editorial process, why cover designs are important, and the pleasures and perils of the self-publishing process.

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3 Comments

  1. Nina D'Aleo says:

    Great Interview Dan, as always. Thank you for the honestly in your questions and I’m loving Leigh Ann’s answers – inspiring and real. Looking forward to part 2!!

  2. Dan H says:

    Thanks, Nina! Yeah I really loved the answers Leigh Ann kindly provided. Really cuts to the heart of the matter for me, and especially useful because this is actually a journey she’s on now – it’s not all in glorious, rose-tinted hindsight. 😉

    I’m definitely more open to the indie route after this interview. I love how she’s approached it.

  3. Hey Dan,
    Thanks for spotlighting self-publishing. There is nothing wrong with craving the validation of traditional publishing…each author has their own set of goals and there is no right or wrong answer to which is best on a universal level – just a path that is a best fit for each other (and that may change over time).

    I’ve done both…and see the pros and cons of both. Given some current aspects of traditional publishing (25% royalties on ebooks, low thresholds for reverting rights to authors, non-compete clauses that prevent future works, many authors aren’t looking at self-publishing as a last resort or “plan B” alternative – it is a way to maintain control and be well compensated for the creations they make.

    On the positive side, traditional publishing was absolutely the right decision for myself, providing me greater discoverability and expanding my readership to people who shy away from self-published works.

    I really think hybrid is the way to go for authors – getting the best of both worlds…and if you ever do a spotlight on that path, I’d love to tell you more about the advantages of this choice.

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