I met Amira Makansi at the Writer's Digest Conference in NYC last summer. I was stunned to hear that she had sold over 15,000 copies of her first two novels, written under the pen name K. Makansi, which is code for the mother-daughter writing team of Kristina, Amira K., and Elena K. Makansi. Eager to learn more, I invited Amira to share her secrets to self-publishing success.
This guest post is by Kristen Harnisch. Harnisch is the award-winning author of The Vintner's Daughter, the first novel in a series about the changing world of vineyard life at the turn of the twentieth century. Her next novel, The California Wife, will be released in 2016. Harnisch has been a speaker at the Writer's Digest Conference and currently lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children. Connect with Kristen at kristenharnisch.com, on Twitter @KristenHarnisch, and on Facebook facebook.com/kristenharnischauthor.
1) The first two books of your indie-published teen dystopian Seeds Trilogy have sold over 15,000 copies combined. What specific marketing and publicity strategies helped you reach this level of sales on your debut series?
The first and most important thing we did was to build relationships. When the first book came out in 2013, I was very active on Twitter, which has a wonderful community of authors, writers, poets, and bloggers. The people I connected with via Twitter and my blog became our first reviewers, our beta-readers, our word-of-mouth marketers, and best of all - friends. We also made the important choice to join the Alliance of Independent Authors, a group dedicated to furthering independent publishing that meets and exceeds the standards in the trad-pub industry. ALLi, for short, has an incredible knowledge base and is a great resource for all authors, whether traditionally published or indie. The second important thing we did was to fight long and hard for a BookBub promotional slot. When we landed our first BookBub promotion in December of 2013, five months after publishing The Sowing, we were instantly catapulted past the 1,000-sold mark, and daily book sales were five times higher over the next six months than they had been before the promotion. That definitely got the ball rolling. And finally, as I like to say, the best marketing strategy for one book is to publish more books. When our second book, The Reaping, was released, sales jumped again. With our third in the series, The Harvest, due to be released in April of 2016, we're already seeing a spike in interest in the first two.
2) You're one-third of the mother-daughter writing team of K. Makansi, which includes your mother, Kristina, and your sister, Elena. How do the three of you divide the writing, editing, publishing and marketing aspects of the job, or do you each do a little of everything?
We all do a little bit of everything! My sister Elena and I will typically trade off writing chapters on the first drafts of our novels, and then Kristy will go back over with a broad brush and edit in our wake. With a second draft in hand, we all go over separately and add polish, make our changes, and incorporate our distinct voices so that the books are written as though by one person. Finally, we sit down together, usually in a one-week power editing session, and read the whole draft out loud for a line edit (read: fight over commas, word choice, and characterization). It's a thrill! I tend to take charge on the marketing, with a healthy dose of input from my co-authors. Kristy is our book-design expert - she does all of the interior layout and formatting for e-books. Kristy and Elena are both great with graphic design, so they'll put together promotional posters and do all our cover design. But we all seek input from each other, and everything is a collaborative effort.
3) What did you find most daunting about the indie publishing process and what tips can you offer authors who are contemplating indie publishing?
I think that to make a choice between traditional and indie publishing - which is a very tough one, and incredibly important! - you have to decide what type of artist you are. Are you purely a writer? Do you want to write your books, take care of the words, and leave the rest of it in someone else's hands? Or are you a total-package person - you want creative control over the whole thing, from start to finish, from your first chapter up through the printed book? When we first wrote The Sowing, and were trying to decide whether to shop it to agents and publishing houses or just to plow ahead and self-publish, we thought long and hard about how we would feel if someone slapped a cover on our book that we weren't in love with. What if it was cliche, or didn't fit the theme of our book, or just wasn't very pretty? Ultimately we decided we wouldn't be able to stomach that. Since both Kristy and Elena have graphic design and book design experience, we decided to capitalize on that and do our books ourselves, so we could tell our story, total package, exactly how we wanted.
That said, the most daunting thing about self-publishing for me is the editorial and design process. I'm kind of a natural self-marketer, which is something that's daunting to a lot of introverted writers. But marketing isn't an issue for me. If you don't have a traditional publisher behind you, willing to invest money and time and resources into making a compelling cover, laying out the interior, carefully proofreading your work, and formatting the digital versions for different e-reader formats, then you have to either pay someone else to do this or do it all yourself. That means either a lot of money invested up front, or many additional man-hours sunk into creating your package. On the other hand, though, shopping to agents, sifting through rejection letters, and crafting the perfect query, can also be incredibly labor-intensive. For me, the choice was clear: we went with the path that gave us creative control. But that option isn't for everyone, and I encourage every author to think carefully about what type of artist you are - and want to be - before making your choice.
4) Now that you've independently published your work, would you consider traditionally publishing your third book in the trilogy (or other novels)? If so, why?
Currently our plan is to self-publish the third book, The Harvest—out now—especially given the sales success we've had with only two books released. I think if someone came to us with a lot of enthusiasm and a great proposal and wanted to republish our books under a different imprint, we would be open to that conversation. But it would have to be a very good offer. Until then, we're happy with the path we've chosen. As for any future projects, I will probably shop my next novel, a dark paranormal thriller that I'm writing solo, to agents and publishers. Without the support of my two amazing co-authors, editors, book designers, and publicity advisers, I'll be much more open to working with a publisher to achieve my vision. But if that doesn't work out? I like to think that with three books' worth of experience under my belt, self-publishing will always be an option.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.