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

Leigh Ann KopansIn Part One of this interview with debut novelist Leigh Ann Kopans, we talked about making the leap from being an agented writer on the cusp of traditional publishing, to making a fully committed leap into self-publishing—including the reasons why indie publishing might have such a bad rap.

Part Two begins where we left off, talking about my all-time-favourite thing, quality control.

– – –

Okay, so you’re a big advocate of quality control. Tell us about your editorial process—how did you go about ensuring your book One achieved that professionalism you mentioned earlier?

I didn’t hire a developmental editor for One. It had actually been through two big revisions before querying, a revise and resubmit request with an agent who knows the genre well, and had been approved by my first agent. Then I had two CPs who know the genre inside out give it a read before copyedits, and I made some changes they suggested.

After that last read, however, I had a line editor go through with a fine-toothed comb to clear up funky sentence structures, inconsistencies, and weird word choices and dialogue—and what I thought was my final, polished manuscript came back with over 200 comments and countless tracked changes! So I went through and implemented those, before the manuscript went off to a copy editor, who fixed all the grammar, spelling, and punctuation, after which came the proofreader, who caught 26 mistakes my copyeditor didn’t, before finally the professional formatter made sure that the manuscript would work well on ereaders.

I think, overall, one of the most important things for me was that the story resonated with readers. I believe in having a large team of beta readers, and by the time I decided to self-publish it, One had already been in front of about two dozen people. So, together with the professional edits, I was confident it was ready to publish.

Given that a self-publisher not only has to write the book, but be its publisher and marketing team too, is it arguably harder than traditional publishing?

Not really. I firmly believe that, with a few small exceptions, I’m actually doing everything a traditionally published author would have to do.

Only the biggest traditionally published authors get enough of a marketing budget so they don’t have to worry about swag, Facebook pages, tweeting, or advertising. In an age of social media, most marketing is achieved through interpersonal reactions anyway. A publishing house can’t always be as personable and engaging as you are on Twitter, or conduct a Skype school visit. Traditionally published authors have to do that too.

Of course, some of the extras, like formatting for print, I loathe. While others, like helping design the cover, I relish. Yet, honestly, I’d trade a traditional deal for all of this control over my product.

I’ve previously rambled on about the lost art of cover designs here on Fantasy-Faction. Yours is clearly something special, so it was no real surprise to read in one of your posts that you’re a champion of major investment in a book’s cover. Why was this so important to you?

One (cover)A quality cover is important on a sales level, indisputably. I don’t think that you need to put a lot of money into it necessarily, but to help a book sell a good cover should be a few things: it should fit in, style-wise and quality-wise, with other covers of the same genre; it should give readers a sense of what the book’s about; it should speak to its target audience (a young adult book should not have adults or small children on the cover); and it should be beautiful (in its own way.)

Admittedly, a lot of this goes back to the whole stigma thing—if a reader had a bad experience with a self-published book, and an amateur-looking cover is one indication that a book is self-published (it can be!), then by not investing here you’re shooting yourself in the foot. A reader who assumes the inside of the book is no good because the outside looks sloppy probably won’t even click on your book’s Amazon thumbnail to see what it’s about, let alone read the sample.

Put your book’s best face forward and you’ll draw a lot more attention to it. Attention is GOOD.

What benefits have you been surprised to find with self-publishing?

It’s a six-word cheer I repeat daily: “I can do whatever I want!”

Some examples of that for this project have been:

– choosing release dates that were beneficial to readers AND my schedule
– designing a cover I thought was perfect
– assembling my own street team
– pricing the book affordably
– hiring a comic artist to draw up teasers for the book’s promotion
– including the first chapters of upcoming books in the back of One

All of those I might have had very little (to no) say in, had I signed a traditional book deal.

On the flip side to that, what drawbacks have you experienced?

Money. Money is the worst. I knew what I wanted to do with the book, but putting up the funds necessary to make it happen was pretty painful. I know it’s a business, and I know you have to invest in order to make a business successful. But, especially with self-published Young Adult, which is not typically selling enough to rank with overall bestsellers, it’s difficult to know how much money you’ll make—whether you’ll see the returns you’d like from your investment. (On the upside, the royalties for self-publishing are great at 70%, so even pricing pretty low I may yet see similar royalties to my traditionally published friends.)

Self-publishing involves having enough faith in your writing to send it out into the world often unsupported by teams of publishers, editors and agents. All out on your own like that, how do you come to terms with any criticism that comes your way?

It’s tough, I’m not gonna lie. I’m constantly second-guessing myself, which is one of the reasons I was so deliberate in putting together a team of professionals whose judgement I trust. Yes, there are those moments of “all of those people were lying to me when they told me my book was publishable,” but from what I hear traditionally-published authors experience that too!

With the experience you have now, what advice would you offer any writers reading this who are contemplating self-publishing?

Know what you’re getting into beforehand, and have an awesome team and resources to support it. Do not take the decision lightly. Treat your book as seriously as you’d expect a big publisher to treat it. That approach will rub off on all your interactions with others, and they’ll hopefully see your book as something worth investing in.

Will you ever consider the traditional route again?

Of course!

If it benefits me more than self-publishing, of course I would. Everything is a list of pros and cons, and in business terms I would make the decision that offered me the most pros at that time. Simple as that.

I also think it’s important to remember that this is a book-by-book thing. Every book has its own unique set of characteristics and needs. For some books, self-pub might be an awesome decision, but for others it could make no sense whatsoever. So I’ll make that decision just like authors do with everything else, one book at a time.

One is a YA science-fiction/fantasy. Do you feel there are any added responsibilities of writing in this genre (e.g. the creating of new worlds, societies, magic, etc) and should these give extra weight to the idea of quality control when self-publishing?

Not necessarily. Every genre has its own particular responsibilities that authors should be expert in. For example, writing romance arguably requires more of a fine-tuned sense of a character’s emotional arc, an ability to intricately paint the nuances of changing relationships, and familiarity with genre conventions. Achieving those things in such a manuscript takes just as much knowledge and skill as finessing the worldbuilding and science aspects of a sci-fi/fantasy, even if it is a different kind of knowledge and skill.

One of the most important ways to ensure good quality in any published work is for the author to be an expert in her genre.

And finally, why fantasy?

Fantasy and romance were the first types of books I ever remember loving with my whole heart. When I was eight and nine years old, I read A Wrinkle in Time and Jane Eyre, and they tugged at something deep inside me even as a child. I think they taught me that there were two kinds of things that held the most truth for me—those things just beyond our grasp, and those things deep inside our hearts. So, when I think of stories as an adult, those are the two things I tend to write about.

I’d like to offer a huge thanks to Leigh Ann for sharing her journey into self-publishing with me (and now with you). You can learn more about Leigh Ann’s book One on her website or follow her on Twitter.

– – –

While I normally like to pair an author interview with a review, that obviously hasn’t happened here. But not for the reason you might initially think.

As part of our discussions on the stigma of self-publishing, Leigh Ann confirmed that several blogs have declined to review One simply because of the way it has been published. I’m happy to confirm that the brilliant Fantasy-Faction, on the other hand, has a forward-thinking policy of reviewing quality science fiction and fantasy novels regardless of their route to the reader.

So the only reason I haven’t reviewed One yet is simply because I haven’t had time to read it!

However, for those who are interested, you can find a sample of One on Leigh Ann’s blog. And to encourage you to go click it, here’s a snippet from the blurb:

When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak. It makes you a One.

Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly – too bad all she can do is hover. If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub’s research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances.

Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally.

When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly…

While YA isn’t always my genre, I love this spin on an X-Men-style world and similarly loved the writing in the sample enough to download One into my TBR pile. Hopefully a review will be forthcoming later this year!

In the meantime, I’ll admit that this chat with Leigh Ann has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of the indie route. Indeed, if undertaken with such enthusiastic and dedicated professionalism, is it possible that we’ll one day see the death of darlings ‘self’ and ‘traditional’ and merely have ‘publishing’ once more?


One Comment

  1. Dan, another great post.

    Leigh represents what I term as a “professional self-published author” which there are many of, by the way. These are authors who realize that they owe it to themselves, their books, and their potential readers to release their books with every bit of quality as those coming from New York. This means attractive covers, compelling marketing copy, and editing and quality control.

    Authors who act as publishers are actually MORE concerned with quality than some of the bigger publishers. After all he buck truly stops with them and everyone knows that “the buck stops with them.” And they know that a reputation once lost is difficult to repair. I wish Leigh all the best…she certainly has the right attitude and has produced an excellently packaged product.

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