The Opportunities of Self-Publishing E-Books—Tips From the San Francisco Writers Conference

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With each passing year, the prevalence of self publishing topics at writing conferences continues to grow.  The 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference held true to that trend. By my count, one-sixth of the seminars centered around the topic of self-publishing.

The anticipated industry evolution is no longer coming; it’s here. Data provided by leading experts speaking at the conference like Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, is clear: 2011 saw explosive growth on the topic of how to sell more ebooks and 2012 is forecasted as another record breaking year. So when I saw a seminar about the transition from traditional publishing to self publishing on the conference agenda, I arranged my schedule accordingly.  Evidently, so did many others; the venue was standing room only.  A sign of the times.


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Guest column by Joan Swan, who was the winner of the GLA Blog
giveaway of a free pass the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference.
Joan is a triple RWA® Golden Heart finalist and writes sexy romantic
suspense with a paranormal twist. Her debut novel with Kensington
Brava, FEVER, releases February 28, 2012.
She lives on the
California central coast with her husband and two daughters.
See her author website here.


I was not disappointed. This discussion was one of the most enlightening at the conference. This panel of three New York published romance authors offered unique views and provided a nuts-and-bolts reality of the challenging choice to self-publish a book. (Make sure that before you choose to self-publish, you edit your manuscript.)


Bella Andre has written for many of the big six in New York. A year and a half ago, she wanted to write a spin-off story to one of her print novels that readers had requested for five years, which led her into the self publishing arena. Today, Bella has 12 self-published books that she has translated into five languages and 29 contractors working for her worldwide. Her highest advance from a New York house during her traditionally published career was $33,000. Last year she made over $1 million dollars in self publishing, selling 400,000 ebooks.

There are many aspects of self publishing that mesh with Bella’s entrepreneurial spirit, but in addition to enjoying running her own business, she loves the freedom to write whatever sounds like it will be the most fun. Currently, Bella is in the midst of an eight-book series about the Sullivan family. “Like many long running series, each sibling has a book. When I’m self publishing, it’s up to me if I want to get behind a big, long-term project like this. So far, it’s worked out beautifully and I’m thrilled to see my readers grow more and more excited about each book in the series.”


For another author, self-publishing offered an additional benefit: breathing life back into titles New York publishers had stopped printing. Barbara Freethy has written romance novels for 20 years. In 2011, she decided to self-publish her backlist. (When a book goes out of print, the rights return to the author and they are free to reprint or resell the work.) But until now, authors didn’t have the means to redistribute their novels to readers in an affordable manner, so hundreds of thousands of wonderful stories languished.

Not Barbara’s. Of the 17 titles she revived, nine hit the USA Today and New York Times bestsellers list. She has sold 1.4 million ebooks with a unit price of between $1.99 and $5.99. You do the math. Barbara is now self-publishing ebook originals. Her first book, A SECRET WISH, book one in her Wish Series was just released and hit #1 on Barnes & Noble’s Top 100. She has also just released three foreign editions in French, German and Spanish of some of her most popular titles.


Which brings me to our third author on the panel and the topic of global self publishing. Elizabeth Jennings also writes romance for New York and has a unique European view of the international market from her home in Italy as the president of the International Women’s Fiction Festival, an organization which focuses on the future of publishing worldwide.

She explained how self-published authors benefit from fewer obstacles in foreign distribution, allowing their work to reach a wider audience faster. This opens a literal world of opportunities that would otherwise be limited at best. Elizabeth echoes industry professionals like Mike Coker, when she explains that while America has fueled the digital revolution, the rest of the world is positioning itself to launch in our path. She best described the vast potential in global self publishing as, “…the crest of a tsunami.”

The industry is in flux, creating an atmosphere of restlessness. As these authors have demonstrated, we each have a choice in how we react to the changes. With continued guidance from pioneers like these and open communication paths throughout the industry, transitioning into the future of publishing has phenomenal potential.

Catch the wave.


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