My Incredible Journey from Print to Indie e-Book Author

by Joel Friedlander on October 28, 2011 · 38 comments

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by Joan Reeves (@JoanReeves)

I met Joan Reeves in social media and was immediately struck by the story she had to tell. Formerly well published in the traditional print world, Joan decided to take matters into her own hands when the Kindle came out, and started publishing her own e-books, to terrific success. Here’s her story.


Journey: the act of traveling from one place to another.

When Joel asked me to guest blog and talk about my journey from traditional, print-published author to bestselling ebook author, I figured a lot of print-published authors might read this and ask, “Why ebooks?”

Why Not?

My answer? Why not? I can’t see a downside for the author. For the first time in the history of writing and publishing, authors have two options open to them. That’s twice as much opportunity to make a living with your writing. That doesn’t mean one way of getting your books to readers is better than the other way. Why can’t an author do both? I think if an author is smart, that’s exactly what she, or he, will do.

My Journey Began

In my case, all I ever wanted to be was a published author from the time I first conceived of that outrageous idea back in the middle of the popularly-named greed decade—that’s the 1980’s in case you don’t know. I was a stay-at-home mom with a baby when I decided to write a book. This momentous decision resulted in a completely pedestrian novel that I should have burned, but I didn’t. (I think I’m going to place the manuscript in a Burn Box like Army Rangers have so when I go; it goes too.)

First Lesson

Why didn’t I burn that lurid piece of prose? Because I learned something valuable from the experience. First, I realized that writing a book was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Second, I learned that I really could write a book, no matter how bad the resulting book might have been, from the first word to the two magic words, “The End.”

I was hooked on the idea that I could be a published novelist so I spent all of my spare time toward that pursuit. I read, I studied, I wrote. I worked harder than the public imagines a writer has to work in order to master the narrative skills necessary to write a coherent story with a real chance of selling. The next book I wrote won the Mystery/Suspense category of a prestigious regional writing contest for unpublished writers, and it gained me the interest of agents. That book never sold. Agent interest disappeared, and that was the beginning of my education about the way the publishing business worked.

Third Time’s The Charm

The third book I wrote was the one that became my first published novel. The late Kate Duffy was responsible for purchasing Summer’s Fortune which received good reviews when it was published as a romance novel. Oddly enough, I hadn’t thought I was writing a romance. I was just writing something to answer a question that interested me: Why would a woman marry a man for money?

By happenstance, I stumbled into a genre where one did not need an agent to sell to an editor. Romance publishers grabbed new authors like a “PMS chick” going for Hershey Kisses. I continued to write and sell my particular brand of contemporary romance, but I was stuck in that vast desert known as mid-list.

Wipe Out

When the paranormal, erotica, and Christian waves hit big, I’ve said before that I washed ashore like a surfer caught in the trough of a big wave. I don’t write any of those three incredibly popular genres so I was, well, SOL is the phrase that comes to mind. I was a round peg that couldn’t be shoved into the square holes of New York publishing. I wrote; I queried; I was rejected without ever having my work read. I was called, shudder, unmarketable.

Gut-Level Belief

However, I knew deep inside my writer’s soul that I had stories to tell that readers would want to read. But how could I get those stories in the hands of readers? I often say I was too stupid to quit because I kept writing. Time marched on, and, guess what? The world changed. The answer to my question of how to get my books to readers appeared in the form of the Kindle, the ereader that debuted in 2009. That was a game changer. When I bought my first Kindle and started buying books from authors I’d never heard of, I realized the enormous potential that existed for an author who wanted to find readers.

Learning Never Ends

I spent the next year closing down my freelance writing business so I’d have time to focus on fiction writing. I also spent my spare time learning everything I could about the ebook business, and I read scores of ebooks from popular and unknown authors—all of them indie published. I analyzed everything.

Just One Look by Joan ReevesI wrote a business plan, and I put that plan into action in late March of this year with the publication of Just One Look, a previously printed novel to which I owned all rights. When I clicked that Upload button, I prayed that I could sell at least a hundred copies. I was excited. I was scared.

The rest, as everyone is fond of saying, is history. Just One Look started selling immediately. To me it was a mystery, because I’m not a social media butterfly. I write my blog SlingWords, and have since 2005. I hadn’t had a print book out in a decade so I considered myself just as unknown as any indie published author without a track record. Ah, but those ebook readers were hungry for content. I didn’t find my fans. They found me.

Readers Embraced My Books

That first month, Just One Look sold 1,000 copies. The next week, it sold another 1,000. The next 1,000 copies sold in 3 days. By then I had published my second ebook followed in quick succession with 3 other romantic comedies and a nonfiction book called Written Wisdom, which was kind of a chronicle of my journey, told by the essays I wrote to inspire and motivate ME. Soon I was selling thousands of books in a day, not a week.

Each book took off faster than the previous one, bringing me a lovely income, but also bringing something that meant even more to me: validation. There really were thousands of readers—actually about 130,000—who bought my books, demonstrating that I had stories they wanted to read.

The New York pros were wrong, thankfully. The books that they rejected, unread, have sold tens of thousands of copies. I’ve earned far more with ebook editions of those books than I’d have earned if they’d sold to print because I know I’d still have been pegged as a mid-list author.

Validation In Interesting Ways

Now, I have publishers and agents courting me, and I’ve had deals offered. I’ve accepted one so far, and I’ll make an announcement of that when everything is signed and countersigned. Ironically, I see other romance authors using my name in their Product Descriptions: “If you like Joan Reeves, you’ll love….”

A while back someone called me “an overnight success.” I had a good laugh because the people who bandy that term about and who email me and want me to tell them how they can have my success which just “happened,” don’t see the more than 20 years of hard work, endless writing, and struggle that went into building my career.

Challenges Abound

When I was a print author, the most challenging thing was just staying published. As an ebook author, the challenge has been to find time to write and try to deal with all the offers and opportunities coming my way. I still don’t do much social media, but I’m faithful to my blog, my readers, and my newsletter subscribers.

I have blogged endlessly about my process that I think helped me become a bestselling ebook author. I’m compiling all that content into Ebook Success: Joan Sells & Tells All that I’ll publish next month. I like passing on what I’ve learned to others in hopes that they might succeed faster than I.

My goal this year was to publish 12 ebooks. I started late and have had some emergencies that took me away from the office so I’m working hard to meet my self-imposed goal and to satisfy fans who email me and nudge me about my next romance novel that should have already been published. You see, that’s the biggest challenge about being an indie author. Ultimately, you are responsible for everything.

Next month, I’ll also publish Old Enough To Know Better, Book 1 of a new novella series: The Good, The Bad, and The Girly. I’ll follow that up with 2 more romantic comedies and a book on blogging.

My writing buds, Cynthia Wicklund and Elaine Raco Chase, and I are publishing a second volume of novel excerpts: Hot Toddy Sizzlers—excerpts from our newer works, holiday recipes and articles. We published Summer Sizzlers, our first excerpts book, last May, and had a positive response to it so we thought we’d give the readers a bit more for the holidays.

Truths From My Journey

I’d like to leave you with these truths learned from my journey. I hope they will help you in your own journey.

  1. Writing is hard work.
  2. An overnight success doesn’t happen overnight so know, going in, that it may take 20 years. If you can be happy doing something else, then do it. If not, then commit without complaint to the long haul.
  3. If you set goals about success, make those goals something you control, i.e., “I will write 4 pages each day.” Goals dependent on forces outside yourself, i.e., “I will sell 1000 books today, (or I will sell a book to St. Martin’s Press this year)” are unrealistic, unachievable, and will bring only emotional devastation and burnout.
  4. You must believe in yourself and your abilities because you will rarely receive validation when you need it most. Sometimes that gut-level belief in yourself is the only thing that will keep you going.
  5. Develop a good work ethic of producing copy—pages—on a regular schedule.
  6. The world is changing. Change with it or get left behind. Don’t denounce a new technology just because it makes you feel threatened. Be open to new ideas.
  7. Don’t forget to enjoy your life—your real life. No amount of book sales will ever replace the love of a spouse, children, parents, siblings, and friends. Never forget that.
  8. Have fun with your writing. When it ceases to be fun, it’s drudgery, and that shows in the writing.

Lay Fear Aside

To achieve a dream, whether you’re talking about print or digital publishing or learning to ballroom dance, you must couple action with strong belief and enthusiasm.

To the old axiom of “dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening,” I’ll add this advice. Write like no one’s judging. Lay your fear aside. Put your heart and soul into your writing, and have fun doing it.

As always, I’ll leave you with my vision statement:

“It’s never too late to live happily ever after.”

Joan Reeves 2011Joan Reeves is a bestselling Kindle author of romantic comedy, multi-published in print, and, as a freelance writer, published all over the Internet under her own name, various pseudonyms, and as a ghost. To date, she’s logged more than 130,000 sales in the last 6 1/2 months. Her ebooks are available at all the various ebook retailers. She is the publisher of SlingWords, a blog about the art, craft, and business of writing and the writing life, since 2005.

Photo from Stock.xchng/adyna

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    { 37 comments… read them below or add one }

    Joan Reeves December 14, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Passive Income Author, thank you! I just published 2 more romantic comedies in the last 3 weeks: Old Enough To Know Better and Nobody’s Cinderella–just last night. I don’t think I’ll make my goal of 12 books this year, but I’ll be happy with the 8 I have published.

    Best wishes on your journey.
    Joan Reeves

    Reply

    Passive Income Author December 14, 2011 at 4:49 am

    I hadn’t heard of Joan or her blog before but I’m excited to read further now – she seems like someone with a great deal of wisdom to share with fellow authors on the same self-pub journey.

    Congratulations Joan on those incredible sales!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander December 14, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Skellie, great to know you’ve brought your prodigious talents into the self-publishing arena. I just put your new blog on my reader. When you’re ready, I’d love to have a post from you on one of your Passive Income themes. Thanks for stopping by.

    Reply

    adan lerma November 22, 2011 at 5:46 am

    hope we get to hear when “Ebook Success: Joan Sells & Tells All” comes out!

    what a great read & interview, thanks!

    Reply

    Joan Reeves November 22, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    adan lerma — Hi, glad you liked the interview.

    I hope to publish Ebook Success within 2 weeks. My little accident that messed up my hands and wrist created a major interruption in my ability to work. It’s been very difficult and slow-going, assisted by dictation software.

    I’m publishing OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER today (should be live on Amazon within 24 hours). Then I’m finishing up the final proof of NOBODY’S CINDERELLA and hope to have it published by the weekend.

    After that, it’s on to EBOOK SUCCESS! Stay tuned. It’s coming!

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

    Reply

    adan lerma November 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    wow, that sounds “very” tough going, and still you’re cranking out the titles, with dictation software! and i thought i toughed it out at times ;-) my sincere admiration!

    i’ve signed up for your hack letter, so probably will hear of it via that route too

    “old enough to know better” – sounds interesting, even to a 61 year old ;-) thanks so much joan, hope you recover soon!

    adan

    Reply

    Marcia Richards November 7, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Joan, what an entertaining and inspiring article! It was reassuring to read that you don’t do a lot of social media. I have a growing blog and my posts are noted on Facebook and Twitter, but I just don’t have time for much more than that. Making some changes in the way I keep my schedule so I’ll have time for writing more, but have spent the past year learning, working my blog and writing my novel (1/3 rd of the way through now) that I hope to self-pub by spring. I’ve signed up for both newsletters and will visit your blog regularly. I also intend to read your “tells-all” book for tips not included here. Brava! Joan. Joel thanks for providing great guest posts like this one.

    Reply

    Joan Reeves November 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Hello, Marcia! Thanks for the kind words. I guess we’re always trying to carve more time out of busy lives to write more. Thanks for subscribing. Hope you find all my info of use. Good luck with your book and keep blogging.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

    Reply

    James W. Lewis October 29, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Great article and insight from an author who’s in “both worlds” of publishing. I love that she is embracing indie publishing. I’m not even sure i want to go the traditional route again, looking for agents and publishers. Although i once had an agent, I’m extremely happy I’m indie, now. I think the sky’s the limit for us!

    Reply

    Joan Reeves November 22, 2012 at 6:33 am

    James, I’m a year late in replying to your comment. Today is Thanksgiving, and I’m doing nothing but cooking and checking up on my favorite blogs.

    I think the best thing about this “new world” of publishing is that it gives us choices. Nothing — not even audiobooks — is out of reach of the indie author. I have 6 of my books as audio editions now on Audible and iTunes with a 7th out in December.

    If you can dream it, you can do it. Good luck with your books.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 29, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Oh, Pat, no! A thousand times no. The Rangers are my team. I’m in mourning. I had to hug my Nolan Ryan autographed baseball this morning when Larry and I were talking about the game. We couldn’t even watch to the bitter end. Had to turn it off. Guess there’s always next year. *sob*

    Reply

    Pat O'Dea Rosen October 29, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Hi, Joan,
    It’s Saturday morning, and I hope you’re as happy as I am that Lance Berkman’s team won. Thanks for your inspiring, empowering message to writers.

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Joel, thanks again for being a great host. I’ll bid you goodnight now. Game 7 of World Series is beckoning.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander October 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks for showing us all a great model of reader engagement here in the comments, Joan, it’s easy to see why your readers are raving fans!

    Reply

    C.J. Archer October 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    What wonderful, sage advice. Thanks for telling us your story, Joan. It’s a great time to be an author right now, there are so many opportunities and I’m loving every minute of being indie too. I can’t wait to hear what your big announcement is! Good luck with your books – you’ve just made another sale :)

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Hey, thanks–and thanks too for buying one of my books. As we say in the South, “Thank you so much.”

    Reply

    Regina Duke October 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    What a great blog! Joan, thanks for sharing your journey, and congratulations on your success!

    I found myself ticking off points as I read: keep writing (30 yrs, check); set goals you can control (publish 2 more books this year, check). LOL!

    Loved the post.

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks, Regina. Good luck to you! Endurance is a good trait to have.

    Reply

    Suzan Harden October 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    This is why Joan is one of my inspirations. She didn’t give up and she didn’t surrender her artistic vision.

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Ah, gee whiz! Thanks. *blush* I’m tempted to say I didn’t have any artistic vision. I was just too stupid to quit! Sometimes, stupidity like that can be a good thing.

    Reply

    Olene Quinn October 28, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Great article! It’s always nice to read something that validates my belief that hard work will eventually profit. It’s great that you kept at it and are doing better than ever. I’m headed off to your blog now.

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 10:48 am

    Olene Quinn, it’s nice to meet you! When I think about hard work I think about what Thomas Edison said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

    Opportunity is out there. We just have to commit to doing the hard work.

    Reply

    Cynthia Wicklund October 28, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Joan’s advice is dead-on. It’s always a pleasure to read one of her articles, as I always learn something new.

    Cynthia Wicklund

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Cynthia Wicklund, thanks for the support! We all learn from each other. I call that friend power!

    Reply

    Elaine Raco Chase October 28, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Bravo Joan! She’s been a great friend since we met in 1985 (as teenagers!) and a great writer. She’s generous with information and her books ROCK!

    She certainly deserves her success and I know it will keep on comin’.

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Elaine Raco Chase… Ah, yes, those long ago days when we were teens. You know what I miss most about being a teen? Eating any fracking thing I want without worrying about calories or carbs or fat grams. *sigh*

    Thanks for visiting!

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Bella Street: Hey, G (as the kids in my daughter’s high school classes still say!) Saw your Apocalypse Babes books tweeted this AM so I RT. Thanks for your lovely comment.

    Reply

    Bella Street October 28, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Joan is my hero! Her enthusiasm and willingness to help others along the indie journey is an inspiration!

    Reply

    James October 28, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Great story. I think Joan gives a gritty example of how long and hard a road it can be. It requires a committment that most folks don’t have. Her diversification of her writing is a good lesson too.

    And obviously, the John Lock-esque titillating cover strategy helps. I’m not sure how one sustains a pace of writing a book every four weeks, but if you can do that for several years, you’ve got staying power. I’d burn out (or be writing junk).

    By the way, the Kindle was introduced in 2007, not 2009–it’s been out for several years.

    A related point that’s interesting to me is that as of October, there are roughly 5 1/2 times as many iPads sold as there are Kindles, and that gap is widening. It’s the main reason Amazon rushed to hire somebody to rebrand an Android tablet and get it out there (as the Fire).

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 8:59 am

    James, you’re right. Kindle was intro’d in 2007. I bought my first one in 2009 so my brain told my wacko fingers to type 2009. *g*

    Ah, those fingers. If they would just behave, I’d never have typos.

    “I’m not sure how one sustains a pace of writing a book every four weeks”

    Me either. I didn’t write any of my books in 4 weeks. My ebooks are a mixture of previously published titles to which I own all rights and original fiction. I have a nice inventory. Just because NY didn’t recognize me as a marketable writer did NOT mean that I quit writing. I kept writing and stockpiling my mss. Why? Because I’m a writer, meaning I write whether I’m selling or not.

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Joel, good morning! Before I get carried away with commenting on the comments, *g*, I wanted to thank you again for hosting me on one of my favorite blogs.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

    Reply

    Vonda Sinclair October 28, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Very inspiring, Joan! Thanks for sharing your journey! And congratulations on your success! You’ve earned it!

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 7:42 am

    Vonda Sinclair … Thanks! Indie publishing is one arena where the playing field is “more level” (Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s like a little pregnant.) than in trad publishing.

    Reply

    Lois D. Brown October 28, 2011 at 6:44 am

    Joan, That is quite a story. I can’t say CONGRATS loud enough. If your new “tells all” book gives an example of your marketing plan, I’ll buy one for sure. I’m in the process of doing one, and it can be intimidating.

    It must feel good to be a 20-year, overnight success. :) And as always Joel, you find great content.

    Lois
    Life of Lois

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Lois D. Brown… Thank you! Yes, it does feel good to know that I can deliver a story that readers like. After all, that’s what we all want. Writing without publishing/readers is like acting without applause.

    Good luck with your business plan!

    Reply

    PJ Sharon October 28, 2011 at 5:13 am

    Fabulous and inspiring Joan. I’ve just indie published my first contemporary YA romance, Heaven is for Heroes with a second to be released in December called On Thin Ice. I’d love to see those numbers you were fortunate enough to have right off the bat, but I think those of us just starting out are seeing a much slower build because of the glut of new writiers self publishing. Creating a solid back list seems to be the catalyst to increased sales so I’m working on adding four new titles in the next year. I’ve only been at this writing thing for about six years, but the query go round convinced me to jump to indie. No regrets so far! If I could only do this full time, I’d be able to spend more time writing the next book and less time on the marketing and promo aspect.

    Can you share your best and worst marketing tips with me? What has worked? What hasn’t?

    Thank you so much for inspiring me today!

    Reply

    Joan Reeves October 28, 2011 at 7:34 am

    PJ Sharon: Thanks so much!

    Best marketing tip: write a good book. That sells your next book. Seriously. Put more energy into writing a good book than into dithering about marketing and promotion.

    Worst marketing tip? Hmm. Have to think about that a minute because I don’t do very much of what most people term marketing and promotion. Okay. How about this? Not having a blog.

    I love blogs, and I read a lot of them. I met Joel through his blog. In fact, I’ve met some of the nicest people because of blogs. Yet a lot of authors blow off the idea of a blog as old school, inconvenient, time-consuming, too much work, etc. I think that’s a big mistake.

    Good luck with your books!

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

    Reply

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