Initially reluctant to move from traditional publishing, in the article below, Tatiana Boncompagni tells us why she switched to self-publishing her own books and how she put together her self-publishing team.
I’ll say this first: Going Indie was my husband’s idea. He brought it up for the first time in the kitchen. I was grilling a pair of steaks for dinner, sipping a favorite red wine and listening to vintage Radiohead. I was in a celebratory mood—my third novel, a mystery entitled Social Death, had just landed me an agent at one of the big Hollywood-based entertainment agencies.
My husband wasn’t impressed. “Self-publishing is the future,” he insisted, referring to an article he’d seen (I’d seen, too) about Amanda Hocking and her tremendously successful fantasy series and the handful of Indie books he—a sci fi fan—had read on his Kindle. The quality of those books was, he said, just as good if not better than the traditionally published books he bought.
He also knew that my last two novels hadn’t been the blockbuster hits I’d hoped they would be, and that my publisher, while incredibly nice to work with, hadn’t treated my books as priority titles.
One demoralizing afternoon I’d walked into a Barnes & Noble in Denver, where I’d done a signing at the Ritz-Carlton, and found zero copies of my latest release, Hedge Fund Wives. They’d gotten five copies, the manager told me, and they’d sold out of them all. Were there replacements on the way? He shrugged. “I sure hope so.” Most likely, there weren’t.
Making the Decision to Self-Publish
Still, I balked when my husband brought up the idea of self-pubbing. For starters, I had liked working with my previous editor, publisher and publicists. Their correspondences offered me a welcome break from the inveterate solitude of a life spent writing fiction. I had finally felt like I wasn’t all on my own; I had a team on my side. Second, there was my ego (yes, that), which craved an editor’s stamp of approval. I’m a typical author; the refrain that plays in my head is this: Am I good enough? And if not will I ever be? Will I ever do anything truly great?
These were not the only issues I had with going Indie. The upfront financial investment seemed like a big gamble. What if my work would debut to the sound of pins dropping and crickets chirping? I’d never make it back.
But then a few things happened. My big-time agent dropped me, the self-pub industry continued to grow (and grow), and a bestselling Indie author expressed interest in publishing my mystery when I submitted the first chapter in an online contest she was running. That last one was just the kick in the pants I needed.
I spent the next month ice-picking my way up a very steep learning curve. I wanted to know everything about everything. Lighting Source vs. CreateSpace, this formatter over that one, paperback size, keywords, you name it. In economics, they call it “perfect information.” It’s a theory because it doesn’t exist in the real world. You can’t possibly know all the relevant facts when making a decision. But I tried.
Working with a Cover Designer
Eventually I worked up the nerve to start pulling some triggers. I hired a cover designer through a girl I met at a Gluten-free bakery. My copy editor and proofreader came to me via a member of my writing group. The interior formatters I found after price comparing online.
It took two months, perhaps more, to decide on my cover. That wasn’t the fault of the graphic designer I hired, but my own indecision. From the beginning, I’d envisioned a cover that was visually arresting and different. I was inspired by one of my favorite books, a dystopian sci-fi called Jennifer Government. Its stark white cover featuring one female eye and a barcode tattoo was clean, graphic and unforgettable.
When I found an image of a red lip imprint, I thought I had found what I wanted. It was glossy, sexy and eye-catching. We played with different fonts for the title, added some blood splatter and drips and experimented with a few different tag lines. I took those covers to my writing group, plus another set designed around a red shoe and a shadow that had a noir feeling.
The group didn’t like any of them (not the images, not the tag lines, not anything) and I went back to the drawing board. My designer came up with several other options, but I didn’t love any of them. They weren’t risky, bold or memorable. One recalled the cover of Gone Girl, another featured a woman in a party dress peeking behind a door. I kept returning to the red lip imprint. It was still my favorite. That’s when I learned lesson number one: Trust your gut. No second guessing.
Hiring a Publicist
At the end of the summer, I met Allison Winn Scotch, a bestselling novelist whose books I’d read and loved and who was going Indie with her next publication. She introduced me to her publicist, whom I hired, and invited me to join a group of authors on Facebook called “Something Collective,” where we exchange equal measures of information and encouragement. I also joined an email loop of mostly romance writers moderated by the supremely successful novelist Marie Force. Both groups have been a source of information and inspiration.
A Team of My Own
Suddenly, I realized, I had a team, and not only a team, but one of my own assembling.
From there I got to work on the marketing and publicity for Social Death as if it were no different than either of my novels published by my previous publisher. In fact, I decided to start my own imprint, and came up with the name Tudor City Press. I paid my book cover designer to turn my hand drawn imprint logo into a more professional looking graphic.
A few months before my launch, someone suggested I send out red lipsticks with galleys of Social Death as a cute gimmick. I knew I could do one better. Why not find a beauty company that would make a Social Death lipstick? Cross-marketing is, after all, as much a part of the book world’s future as self-publishing is.
Votre Vu, a beauty company based in Illinois, stepped up to the plate. They sent three lipsticks, all red, and I chose the one I liked the best. Then we worked together to create the limited edition packaging, which references Social Death’s Manhattan setting, and drummed up ideas for giveaways we could both promote through our social media.
Inspired by our partnership, the website Style Bistro announced that they are starting “a monthly book club of stylish reads matched to an equally fashionable item.” More media coverage followed. Nanette Lepore, the fashion designer, offered to host my book party at her Upper East Side boutique. Manhattan magazine ran an excerpt—the first full chapter of Social Death—in their March issue. And just last week, another fashion designer proposed we do an event for my book in Greenwich, Connecticut.
So far, I’m happy. But the Indie game isn’t a mad dash. It’s a marathon. And that’s okay, because I’ve got my running shoes on.
If you’ve gone from being traditionally published to self-publishing your books, tell us about your experiences in the comments.
Tatiana Boncompagni lives in New York City with her husband and three children. She is the critically acclaimed author of Hedge Fund Wives and Gilding Lily. Social Death, her third novel, was released in March 2014. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Town & Country, Vogue, and Marie Claire. You can learn more about her at www.boncompagni.net.
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