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?”
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.)
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 The next book I wrote won the Mystery/Suspense category of a prestigious regional writing contest for unpublished writers, and it gained me the interest of agents.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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
- Writing is hard work.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Develop a good work ethic of producing copy—pages—on a regular schedule.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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