Karen McQuestion is been one of the biggest names in the current crop of successful independent authors, selling tens of thousands of e-books, having a self-published novel optioned for a film and being featured in the Wall Street Journal and on ABC News.
More recently, Amazon, with whom she originally self-published via the Kindle, has published some of her works through AmazonEncore, the online retailer’s foray into traditional publishing. The result? Rubbing elbows with Stieg Larsson and Jonathan Franzen.
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Have you seen a bump in sales since having your books published by AmazonEncore?
Huge. Huge, huge, huge, huge. Especially with my adult novels, A Scattered Life and Easily Amused, which is a lighter kind of romantic comedy. I was up to thousands of dollars a month in my self-published titles and I remember my husband saying, “Can they do as well [with Encore]? Are we making a mistake here?” And I just said, “No, I really have a good feeling about this.” And of course Amazon’s market reach is endless and they’re so smart about what they do. So when A Scattered Life came out, for a while, for a week or two, it was at number five on Kindle. There were the three Stieg Larsson books and the Oprah book—Jonathan Franzen’s book—and then there was A Scattered Life. I mean, I’m nobody from nowhere and it’s a quiet novel that doesn’t have a great marketing hook. And so I absolutely believe that without [Encore’s] help it wouldn’t have done as well.
Do you think the lower price point of e-books versus print works in tandem with self-published titles to make readers more willing to take a chance on unknown authors?
I think that’s absolutely a part of it. I also think that people are click-happy. And I’m guilty of it too. They make it easy. They make it easy for you try a sample, they make it easy for you to buy it. And when you get a new toy, what do you want to do? You want to play with it. So people get their Nooks or their iPads or their Kindles and they’re actively looking for things to read. They’re actively looking for things to buy.
What are the biggest obstacles currently facing self-publishers?
Anybody can self-publish and anyone can put a manuscript up. It’s not difficult. But to do it right, you have to take some care and put some time into it. I’m sure you’re familiar with Joe Konrath. I got a lot of information from him and some of the things he’s always said are still true. You have to have a good cover, you have to have a good description, you have to price it reasonably, you have to have a good story to begin with, it has to be formatted well. And you have to have the time and inclination to market it. You don’t have to make it into a part-time job. You can upload it and just leave it there and you probably will get some sales; someone will stumble across it and it will look like their kind of thing. But if you really want to get the horse out of the gate, you have to go above and beyond that.
So I think the biggest drawback is that some people are proficient in some areas and not others. You could think, “Well, yeah, I did everything right. I spent two years writing this novel and it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and people love it,” and on and on, but you didn’t go to the trouble to make sure that it looks right. So I think the drawback is no longer “If I self-publish, I won’t get an agent or I won’t get a publishing deal or people will look down on me.” The drawback is more in the mechanics of doing it.
Do you have a lot more time to put into your writing now?
Absolutely. Not just because I have more time, but because I feel that I can say to my family, or whomever, “I can’t do that; I need to write.” And they don’t just feel like, “Oh, there she goes again, pretending she’s a writer.” No, there are actually people who are interested in what I’m writing. And so I can justify the writing time.
Are you working on a new book?
I just finished a follow-up to my children’s book. It’s coming out next fall. And I had done so well with the adult books that I still get e-mails and comments on Twitter and Facebook of people saying, “Are you doing another adult novel?” So that’s what I’m focusing on next. Just recently AmazonEncore brokered a deal with Houghton Mifflin and they’re releasing my two adult novels in trade paperback this fall. I was so confused when [Amazon] told me because it’s, like, “Well, no, you’re still an AmazonEncore author; [Houghton Mifflin is] handling the trade paperback, we’re going to handle the e-books”—because that’s obviously what they do best—“and we’re partnering with them.” And I was, like, “Oh!” And they explained all the benefits, and it sounded great. At first I felt like I was playing for a team and they traded me to someone else and they didn’t tell me, but that wasn’t it at all. So I’m working on another adult novel and I’m hoping that Houghton Mifflin has this deal for another year, minimum, and this book might be one they’ll consider. But if not, AmazonEncore is very interested in everything I write and so I’m hoping that they want it. If they don’t, which is always a possibility, I’ll self-publish it.