Welcome to the second installment of Author Up Close, the series that explores several authors’ paths to publishing. If you missed the first in the series, a Q&A with author Fiona Zedde, you can read it here.
There are probably as many articles about the perils of self-publishing as there are about the “fall” of traditional publishing. Most of these articles lack nuance and are more concerned with promoting a perceived “right” way to publish while disparaging the “wrong” way. In reality, choosing a publishing path is a very personal decision, and what’s right for one might not be right for others.
Today’s featured author, Linda Seed, obviously made the right choice for herself and her career when she decided to self-publish. Linda is a contemporary romance writer, a Writer Unboxed Conference alum, and a friend. We’re in a few online communities together, and over the years I’ve watched her career grow from an author who, in her words, “made enough to buy a coffee” to one who now makes a living from her books.
In a sea of self-published authors, Linda stands out because of her excellent writing, commitment to quality, and strong work ethic. And as you’ll see from our Q&A, those things probably had a hand in getting Barnes & Noble’s attention at just the right time in her career.
GW: What do you write and how many books have you published?
LS: I write small-town contemporary romance, with all of my books set on California’s Central Coast. I’ve published nine books so far.
GW: You’re doing what a lot of other authors wish they could be doing right now: making a full-time income from your writing. When you started writing, had this been your goal? If not, when and what changed that?
LS: Honestly, when I started, I didn’t expect to make any money at all. It was more of a bucket list thing—I wanted to have a published book out there. For me, the day I uploaded my first book onto Amazon, my goal was met. Anything else was just a bonus.
Things changed eleven months later, in September 2016. I had two more books out by then, and I had just made my first book free. I went onto Facebook one morning to find a bunch of notifications from friends congratulating me. I learned that Barnes & Noble had featured my first book as their Free Fridays pick. My book was all over their social media, on their website—it was crazy. That drove the sales of my other books, and overnight I was making ten times more money than I had been. That was when I thought, okay, I might be able to make this into a viable business. I still have no idea why they chose my book, but that was really a turning point for me.
GW: Was it always your intention to self-publish?
LS: There was a time when I was pitching books to agents—maybe twenty years ago, before self-publishing became the big business it is today. But once I started writing romance, I knew I was going to self-publish. I never pitched those books—I just went straight to self-publishing.
That decision was driven by a combination of impatience and arrogance, really. I didn’t want to wait a year or more for my book to be picked up, then an additional eighteen months for it to become available to readers. That was if I managed to sell it to a publisher at all. I wanted it out there. I wanted to make the leap. And the arrogance part was that I didn’t want to be told to change the story or the title or anything else. I wanted the book published exactly the way I wrote it. I wanted that artistic control.
GW: Please share with us your average sales numbers when you first started publishing vs. when things started to turn around for you—this can be dollar amount or books sold or both. And if you’re comfortable, can you share a day/week in sales that blew your mind—as in, I can’t believe this is happening!
LS: The first year or so after I started self-publishing, I was making maybe $100 per month—which I thought was great! I was surprised anyone was reading my books at all, and I was grateful for every sale. I was humbled that anyone would part with their hard-earned money to read what I had written.
Once the Barnes & Noble bombshell hit, I was suddenly making $1,000 or more every month. That’s not a lot for some authors, I know—but for me, it was huge. If I could make $1,000 a month with three books, what could I do with six? Or ten? It really changed the way I thought about publishing as a career. Since then, my income has increased steadily as I’ve put out more books and learned more about marketing.
As for the mind-blowing thing: I had a BookBub Featured Deal a few months ago that made me over $20,000. It was nuts. If you go into the online self-publishing communities, you’ll see people complaining about BookBub—saying the prices are too high, they’re taking advantage of hopeful authors, etc. But I think their featured deals would be a bargain at twice the price.
GW: What do you think are the three main things that turned your sales around? What are the things that have sustained sales?
LS: The first thing was that Barnes & Noble feature. The second is BookBub. I’m fortunate that they’ve featured me several times. Other than that, the biggest thing that keeps sales going is keeping my first book free and getting it in front of as many readers as possible. I write my books in series, so if people like the first book, they’re likely to read the rest. There’s a lot of backlash against free books in the self-publishing community—people say it devalues an author’s work—but for me, it’s been key to driving sales. Readers don’t want to spend money on an author they’ve never heard of, and I get that. That first free book is my chance to earn their trust.
GW: What was one unexpected bit of validation you experienced as an author?
LS: I recently got a fan letter from a New York Times bestselling author whose name I immediately recognized. He said he loved my book and thought the characters and dialogue were great. At first, I thought I was being pranked, but it turned out to be legit. I felt like a big deal for days!
GW: How has the self-publishing landscape changed since you entered the market and what does that change mean for authors who are interested in self-publishing?
LS: I don’t know that I was paying a lot of attention to the overall landscape when I started—I was just in my own world, doing my own thing. But it does seem to me that the amount of competition is increasing, with more and more authors turning to self-publishing. There are also more people trying to game the system, whether through out-and-out scams or through methods that are right on the line between what’s shady and what’s legitimate. On the positive side, it’s becoming easier for self-publishers on a limited budget to produce a professional-looking product.
I think someone going into self-publishing for the first time would do well to learn as much as they can about writing, publishing, and marketing, then try to focus on their own game and block out the noise. If you spend too much energy worrying about the scammers or the algorithm or the fact that somebody in your genre is out there publishing a book a week, then it’s just going to freak you out. And that’s not going to make you productive.
GW: What piece of advice would you give to self-published authors or writers interested in self-publishing?
LS: There’s a lot of advice I could give, but the most important thing is to focus on the writing. Make your books as good as they can be. Just because you don’t have to impress an agent or publisher, that’s no excuse for poor quality. People who pay for your books deserve the best you can give them.
Also, you have to go into it with a thick skin. Because not only will you get hit with bad reviews sometimes—we all get them—but you’ll also have to deal with people who still think of self-publishing as a last resort for crappy authors who couldn’t get published any other way.
That perception is changing, but it hasn’t changed for everyone. You’ll be talking to another author about writing, they’ll ask you if you’re published, and then, when you say you’re self-published, you’ll see their expression change as they look around the room for someone more important and interesting to talk to. It happens all the time, and you can’t let it bother you. Because you’re not doing this for them.
I once got an email from a reader who said she was bedridden with a serious illness, and reading my books made her laugh and helped her forget for a little while that she was sick. That’s who I’m trying to impress—not other writers. If she’s happy, I’m happy.
Linda Seed writes contemporary romances full of friendship and family. Her books are set in Cambria, a small town on Central California’s rugged, breathtaking coastline. In fact, the photo that accompanies this post comes from Linda and was taken in Cambria. You can learn more about Linda at https://lindaseed.com.
Your turn: if you’re a published author, what path did you take to get there and what were your reasons behind that choice?