Jamie McGuire has found success with indie publishing with the New Adult genre and her international bestseller Beautiful Disaster. Her follow-up novel, Walking Disaster, debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. Beautiful Oblivion, book one of the Maddox Brothers series, also topped the New York Times bestseller list, debuting at No. 1. McGuire has also written an apocalyptic thriller and 2014 UtopYA Best Dystopian Book of the Year, Red Hill; the Providence series, a young adult paranormal romance trilogy; Apolonia, a dark sci-fi romance; and several novellas. She lives in Steamboat Springs, Colo., with her husband and three children.
What prompted you to self-publish and when did you start?
After I finished my first novel, Providence, I did an enormous amount of research on how to get published and literary agencies and agents. I submitted query letters to my top 15 and waited. After receiving 14 form rejection letters and one email from an agent with advice, I took her advice and then prepared to query again. But when the time came, I couldn't. Self-publishing had just landed on my radar and I didn't want someone else to tell me I could publish. In January 2009 I began writing my first book, and in January 2011, I uploaded that manuscript to Amazon's KDP program.
What’s been the most pleasing or revelatory aspect of self-publishing for you?
Making the New York Times list with self-published titles with median pricing has been extremely validating. Beginning my career on my own, and then coming back to indie publishing after signing two deals with a traditional publisher and still seeing success is, too. In that time, though, so much has changed and I've found myself asking questions instead of answering them. You have to ask questions and do the research, or you'll miss gaining tools you need to survive.
Define median pricing. How much did you charge?
You mention changes in the industry. What kinds of changes do you see?
Marketing strategies—such as back matter, merchandising distribution, choosing to write serials or not, novellas or not, series or standalones—have changed. Reader money is spread out over tens of thousands of self-published books instead of hundreds, meaning less royalties per month. We have to figure out whether to grant exclusivity to retailers in exchange for marketing or higher royalties. The cutoff in sales numbers just to stay competitive has increased—it used to be 35,000. Now we need at least 18k in pre-orders just to make the Amazon top 100.
What is your advice to other writers considering self-publishing?
Do it. Finish your book, polish it, make sure it has a professional cover, formatting, and editing, and hit upload. I hear different truths every day about what publishers are looking for. Some say it's returning to the early days, and if you self-publish first, a publisher isn't interested. Some are saying publishers are still looking for authors to prove themselves with sales and are plucking titles off the bestseller lists. In the time you could be waiting on an agent to respond to your query letter, you could make back what you spent on freelancers.
Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelancer with a passion for books.