Thursday, February 10, 2011

Author L.J. Sellers

 L.J. Sellers, an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, Passions of the Dead, and Dying for Justice. Her novels have been highly praised by Mystery Scene and Spinetingler magazines, and all four are on Amazon Kindle’s bestselling police procedural list. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers: The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.

You can check out her books online:
The Sex Club
Secrets to Die For
Thrilled to Death
Passions of the Dead

L.J. agreed to answer my questions about self-publishing and e-publishing. Having done it herself (and had great success!), she has a lot of advice to offer.

Please welcome L.J. Sellers.

At what point do you quit looking for a major or regional publisher?

 A lot of writers are asking themselves that question right now. I hear from authors all the time and many are saying. “I’ll give the query process two more months, then I’m going to self-publish this as an e-book” or “I have this book out on submission, but if nothing happens, I’m going indie too.”

If your dream is to be published by a New York press, then there’s no harm in trying that route. But one of the main factors that led me to leave my publisher was the waiting time. I had books completed and scheduled to be released in the summers of 2011, 2012, and 2013. I started thinking about how much money I could make on my own in the meantime if I published the e-books immediately. I decided not to wait. For me, life is too short to publish under someone else’s schedule. Especially considering how rapidly the publishing industry is changing and how many midsize publishers have already gone out of business.

How in the world do you learn how to publish your own books?

 There are many author forums and listservs in which writers help each other with every aspect of the publishing business. In addition, Amazon, which is the best place to self-publish both print and digital formats, has made it very easy and also offers a lot of guidance.
What do you do first? How do you decide which e-format to start with?

The first step is to have your manuscript professionally edited. While that’s in process, you need to find a cover designer and develop a professional cover. The e-book format you upload depends on the distributor. This can get complex, but the smartest move is to hire a professional formatter to convert your manuscript and cover into an e-book. Most formatters send two files types, mobi and epub, which can be uploaded to various distributors. I’ve also blogged about the various places to self-publish your e-books.

How do you maintain an outside job while you publish and promote?

 This is the most difficult aspect. Once you decide to be your own publisher, a part of your writing time will go toward the production process. Another chunk of time must be dedicated to promotion, and unlike production, promotion is ongoing. For a lot of writers, this is the Catch 22. They don’t have time to promote because they have a day job. But without extensive promotion, they never make enough money from their novels to quit their day jobs. You have to be prepared to work 70 hours a week for however long it takes. I’ve been working those kinds of hours for five years, but it wasn’t until I left my publisher and published all my stories as e-books that I started making a living as a novelist. Now writing and promoting is my day job.

Is it feasible for the ordinary writer to get to the point that they make enough off their books to quit the outside job?

Absolutely. I recently reached that point myself. Many other writers are doing even better with their e-books. For more inspiration, read J.A. Konrath’s blog, starting with my guest post. The promotion takes a lot of time at first, but the results can happen very quickly.

How do you find someone to do your cover—and do it so well it looks professional?

 Again, there are writer forums where people are happy to give referrals, and graphic artists also participate in the conversations. Writers can find examples of independently published covers they like and ask the author for a referral to the graphic designer. I get that question a lot about my covers and I’m happy to send people to Gwen Rhoads.

What about all the details, like the ISBN, the copyrights, getting it into bookstores, etc.?

Copyright can be registered online for $35, and you can purchase a single ISBN or a block of ten ISBNs from Bowker. For print books, the two best POD publishers are CreateSpace and Lightening Source, and they can make your book available to bookstores for a small setup fee. As for getting bookstores to stock your novels, that’s the most challenging aspect of self-publishing or even publishing with a small press. But you can make enough money selling e-books that print sales don’t even matter.

How do you not go crazy, let alone write the next book?

You have to be a little crazy to start with to be a successful novelist! You also have to be driven and to get used to feeling like you have more to do than you can possibly accomplish. Not everyone can live like that, but I thrive on it. Still, I have some days when I feel overwhelmed and I simply have to walk away from the to-do list for a few hours. Making to-do lists is essential for me. I have lists for the day, the week, and the month. I have lists for promotional ideas, lists of reviewers/websites to contact, and lists of blogs to write. It’s endless, but for me, it’s also a lot of fun.

Thank you, L.J.

This was so helpful! If you have questions or comments for L.J. Sellers, leave them here. She’ll be checking in today.


  1. I get overwhelmed just reading about self publishing, so I give an enormous amount of credit to someone who can write, self-publish, AND call it her day job. Congratulations L.J.!

  2. Helen, this is another great interview. I've finally decided to go teh route of independent publishing (e-book to start, I'll worry about print later) so this wsa a lovely inspiring post.

    LJ thanks for sharing your insights. My question is have you heard of E-book publishers called "smashwords"? They do e-books in multi formats, but DRM-free, and seem a very user friendly place for a techno-idiot like me to start. From the beginning I want to maintain a high standard of professionalism, so it's important to find the right distributor.

    Judy (South Africa)

  3. I'll have someone else proof read my ms, so there won't be as many typos as there are in my blog comments!! :)

    Judy (South Africa)

  4. Great information! I'll pass word along to folks I know asking these questions!

  5. L..J., my hesitation to self pub comes a lot from the promotion part. Can you list for us the top 5 things you do to promote your work?

  6. Great interview. One of the things I would like to add to what L.J. said is that writers should also make sure they are turning out quality work with every book. It is one thing to get the buzz going, but if the stories are hastily written and not as good as they could be, the reader will soon abandon that author. I've sampled a few e-books from new writers and found them poorly crafted and with considerable mistakes.

    L.J. has consistently put out really good books. I have not read all of them, but have read The Sex Club and sampled others. Also, I get a sense that she is very organized in her approach to this business. That is vital.

  7. It is important. I agree, Maryann. In the past, books went through work via an agent and a publisher's editor. Now authors are bypassing those people, but they must not bypass the work.

  8. I have read The Sex Club (loved it), and applaud LJ's efforts to promote her books.

    This was a valuable and interesting post. I have filed it away for reference. Thank you, Helen and L J.

  9. I went the self pub route because I don't have the major publishers knocking on my front door. But since I have a few more books in the pipeline I'll continue to sell myself. If one waits too long to be "discovered" they are only hurting themselves and squashing their dreams and passion.

    Of course, the onus or promoting your books falls upon the individual's authors shoulders. But I found it easy to do book signings, develop social networks, and be involved in other events. Just takes work and committment.

  10. Since I'm an older author, I especially feel that "time is running out" sense that traditional publishers and agents may not serve me as well as self-publishing my newer manuscripts.

    My experience with a medium-sized publisher and an outstanding editor, however, have convinced me that most of us must take that added step (and pay the bill) for professional editing. And that one piece of advice is the one most authors will ignore. It's why we readers have shied away from buying self-published books in the past.

  11. Very good interview, Helen and L.J. I've also read L. J.'s work and enjoyed it. I've been considering going the self pub Kindle route and have one recent reprint online along with four traditionally published Kindles. I think it all comes down to whether you desire prestige or actually want to earn a living with your writing. I've been in this business long enough to want to make my time and efforts financially worthwhile.

  12. Judy: I am familiar with Smashwords, and although many authors use the site, I don't. If you're going to self-publish, the place to start is Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. It has 80% of the e-book market. After that, you can reach the other 20% in a variety of ways.

    The reason I don't use Smashwords is that it does the book conversions using its own software, and a lot of readers don't like the end product, calling it "ugly." Since I've paid for nice-looking e-books, that's what I prefer to upload.

  13. Joanne: Promoting an e-book is not that different from promoting a print book. And in today's publishing world, you have to sell the book yourself no matter who you publish with.

    The top five things I do to promote are:
    1) Online presence: Website/blog, Facebook, Twitter, CrimeSpace, etc.

    2) Guest this one :)

    3) Daily emails to websites and blogs asking to be featured or reviewed

    4) Ads in newsletters

    5) Press releases to media and attendance at conferences.

    Thanks for stopping in. Great question!

  14. Wow, that sounds like a lot of work!

  15. Alex, it is a lot of work. I spend an hour or two everyday on promotion, but I consider it part of my job as a full-time author. Fortunately, I enjoy most of it.

  16. A ton of excellent information here!!

  17. Sometimes I have to stop and listen to myself. I've been blogging and commenting on the changes in publishing for a few years now. It's happening so much faster than 95% of those in the business realize, or, more accurately, are willing to accept. I face stiff opposition from authors who cling to print. I've got nothing against print and have a major mass market paperback coming out from St. Martins in May. But the future is electronic. LJ is to be congratulated on all the hard work she's done and her vision. Despite being in this field for over a year now, I'm finally beginning to focus 100% on eBooks. We had our best day ever yesterday on Kindle, and best week ever, last week. But as LJ says: it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. I saw her tweet last night asking if anyone was still working and it was pretty late Pacific Coast time. This is not something to do as a hobby.

  18. LJ and Bob are right. It's a lot of work. A lot of time. Promotion can be endless, but it's all about getting the word out there. And sometimes it's a bit of luck. I've had tremendous luck so far this year thanks to publishing my backlist myself. But I think it's all about writing what readers want to read, getting the word out, writing another book, continuing to spread the word, and so on. I'm working longer hours than I ever have before. But it's all worth it to me. I enjoy every minute.

  19. I find being in control of distribution to be quite liberating and listen carefully to what other self pub authors are doing in regards to this. I see Amazon, B&N and Smashwords listed consistently but not so much some of the independents such as All Romance eBooks and Omnilit. I understand that the biggies have the lions share of the market but am still curious if there are other reasons authors aren't utilizing every distribution opportunity.

  20. Eliza: I agree. Why not pick up every possible sale? I have my e-books listed with INgrooves, which distributes them almost everywhere (Sony reader, Kobo, Nook, iPad, iPhone, etc.) and is always looking for new platforms.

  21. Lots of wonderful information - thanks so much! :)

  22. LJ, you have helped so much today. Great info in the post and here in the comments!

  23. Helen, thank you so much for hosting me. It's an honor to be on your great blog.

  24. What a brilliantly useful interview.

  25. Thanks for the info. Nice interview, Helen!

  26. Well presented, L.J. You've inspired me to hop the fence onto the greener grass on the ebook side. Thanks and best wishes to you for continued success.

  27. Wonderful interview! Sometimes the promotion part is overwhelming to me. It's nice to know that it can be done.

  28. I'm equal parts inspired and scared spitless! Off we go...

  29. Sorry to catch this one late, but ... great advice here, from a seasoned pro and fine writer. I agree that self-pub'ing and ebooks are becoming more and more valid (and viable) solutions for aspiring authors these days.

    Marvin D Wilson

  30. Jean, keep us up on your success.

    Will, I'm right there scared spitless beside you.

  31. Thanks for this very fascinating look at e-pubishing. It helps me see it in a whole new light. I'm going to mark this page for future reference.

    Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011

  32. Oh, thanks. LJ is an author I've been meaning to read. Now I know what to pick up.


  33. Excellent post. I'm in the middle of it and learning by trial and error.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author


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