By Chris Eboch, @Kris_Bock
Please join me in welcoming Chris Eboch (and her alter ego Kris Bock) to the blog today. She's here to chat with us about what it's like to be a hybrid author, publishing in both the traditional arena and self publishing.
Chris has been writing and publishing children’s books since the 1990s. Two years ago, she started writing romantic suspense for adults and self publishing those under the name Kris Bock. Here she interviews herself about the different choices and results.
Take it away Chris...
Chris Eboch: I’ve gotten probably a thousand rejection letters, but I also now have 18 traditionally published books. You decided to skip the whole submission process and go straight to self-publishing. Why?
Kris Bock: The world is different from when you were starting out, especially if you’re writing adult genre fiction. I researched traditional publishers, but I didn’t like what I found. Advances were down. Publishers were grabbing all rights and not offering authors a fair e-book royalty. It typically takes a couple of years to get a book published before you can start building a fan base.
E-book first and e-book only publishers get the book out sooner and pay higher royalties, but they offer no advances, and by many reports they tend to have low sales. Either way, it looked like I would have to write three or four books a year to break the poverty line, assuming I sold every book. Add in the time spent querying and waiting for a contract, and it didn’t make sense to me.
On the other hand, self-publishing was becoming a viable option due to advances in technology and the rise of e-books.
Chris Eboch: Good points. In fact, you persuaded me to self publish two of my children’s books. The Ghost Miner’s Treasure is book 4 in the Haunted series, about a brother and sister traveling with a ghost hunter TV show. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster had published the first three but dropped the series when my editor left. I’d already written book 4, where the kids have to help the ghost of an old miner who is still looking for his lost mine. Self-publishing it seemed better than throwing it away.
I also self published The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery set in ancient Egypt. Publishers liked the book but said “historical fiction isn’t selling” or “we already have an Egypt book.” Yet that’s done well for me, perhaps because teachers are familiar with my Mayan historical fiction, The Well of Sacrifice. But those two books appeal to people who may already be my fans. You’re starting from nothing.
Kris Bock: Thanks for the reminder! I need to establish myself under a new name – an additional challenge, but one that I thought was worthwhile to clearly separate my work for its intended audience. To help build my individual brand, I’m writing exciting stories set in the Southwest, with the tagline “Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Adventures.”
I’ve published three books so far. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Whispers in the Dark features a young archaeologist who uncovers mysteries at ancient ruins. Rattled follows two friends on a treasure hunt in New Mexico. I’ve been focused on getting books written and published, and on improving my social networking. I’ll save the big publicity push for when I have four books out.
Chris Eboch: So it’s too early to judge success or failure.
Kris Bock: Right. I’m building up excellent reviews, but sales are low so far. I missed the brief window where many indie books did really well – there’s simply too much competition now. Certainly self-publishing is not a faster or easier path to fame and riches. It’s hard work and requires treating your business like a business – even more so than with traditional publishing, since you have to be a professional writer and a professional publisher.
Chris Eboch: I’ve given workshops on self-publishing to children’s book writers, and most people are hesitant once they hear the realities. Young adult novels have had indie success, but I haven’t heard of breakout books for authors writing for younger children, although some middle grade novels do tolerably well.
The world is changing quickly, though. Younger kids are getting their own e-readers as parents get the latest version and give their hand-me-downs to the kids. Some schools are transitioning toward giving upper elementary and middle school children laptops or e-readers for classroom use. As more children get access to e-readers and get into the habit of using them, electronic book sales will grow. (And as color readers get cheaper, even younger children who primarily read illustrated books will join the trend.)
Still, a challenge for indie writers is reaching children. Children’s book publishing has long depended largely on school and library sales. Librarians and teachers often turn to review journals for guidance. Plus, schools are limited in how they can order books for the classroom. (Of course, many teachers use their own money for classroom books, which is probably how I’ve sold The Eyes of Pharaoh.)
That’s not to say children’s book writers aren’t interested in indie publishing. After all, it’s better to be ahead of the wave than behind it.
Kris Bock: But in order to be successful, you need to stand out from the crowd and have something people want.
Chris Eboch: Exactly. Teachers and kids love ancient Egypt. If they go looking for books on the subject, they might find mine. There are a few other Egypt novels out there, but the niche isn’t as crowded as, say, fantasy novels.
Kris Bock: You need a professional product as well. That takes time or money – or both.
Chris Eboch: Right. For The Eyes of Pharaoh, I traded a manuscript critique for professional proofreading and another critique for cover art and design. I found an inexpensive source for e-book formatting, and I know enough about design to do the interior layout for print on demand myself. I brought out The Eyes of Pharaoh in POD and e-book versions. So far, print on demand has sold substantially better than the e-book, so I think it’s important to have print when targeting kids.
Kris Bock: My critique group gives me feedback on my romantic suspense novels, and then I traded for additional editing and proofreading. Fortunately, I have a friend trying to get into book design, and he did the cover art for What We Found and Rattled. The romantic suspense novels sell better as e-books, no doubt because of the lower price. I expect the only people who buy print copies are family and friends who don’t have e-readers.
Chris Eboch: We’ve been able to produce our books relatively cheaply, but you need skills and contacts. So how do we sum up our self-publishing experiences?
Kris Bock: Ironically, you’ve made more money than I have. Of the $3000 we made from self-publishing last year, most of that came from The Eyes of Pharaoh or your writing craft book Advanced Plotting. But the potential is probably better for adult genre fiction. Had I focused on traditional publishing – and actually sold my first novel – I might have my first book coming out about now. I wouldn’t be any farther ahead. I might have a few thousand dollars in advance money, but now I keep all the income forever, which might be better in the long run. There are no guarantees, though.
Chris Eboch: Most of my income comes from work-for-hire nonfiction books or articles, plus paid critiques and workshops. I'd like to shift more of that to fiction, but first the bills must be paid. The answers aren’t as easy as some people would like you to believe. It’s good to have options, though!
Readers, have you considered self-publishing? Why or why not? Feel free to ask questions if you’d like any more detail on “our” experiences. You can also read more of our self-publishing observations in this collection of blog posts.
See Chris Eboch’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.
See Kris Bock’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.