Karen Cantwell tried to take her manuscript Monkeys in My Tree on the traditional route to publishication, querying agents and publishers, and eventually entering it into Amazon’s 2009 Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. When she reached the semifinals but didn’t land a publishing contract, she took the feedback she had received, did some rewriting, including changing the title to Take the Monkeys and Run, and restarted the querying process. Despite some interest, traditional publishing was a no-go. So Cantwell went back to Amazon, self-published through Kindle and has now sold nearly 28,000 e-books since June 15, 2010. Here, she talks to us about her experiences as an independent author in the e-book sphere.
Read more of the Best Indie Books of 2011.
A post on the Adventures in ePublishing blog featured a list of authors who had sold over 1,000 e-books in a one-month period, with the top sellers, which included you, ranging from 5,000 to a whopping 100,000 copies. Those are some big numbers.
It’s a phenomenal trend that is just—it’s that snowball effect where you’re just going to see more and more and more people buying e-books and reading them. And Amazon started the trend by making it so easy to publish e-books and sell them. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before.
Your book is one of the few humor titles on the list. Why do you think that is?
If I look at the mystery category for my book, there’s not a whole lot of humorous mysteries up in the bestsellers list. I think it’s a combination of when people think mysteries, they think in the thriller range, serious stuff. So my guess is that people tend to buy more that way. But I’ve had many writers come to me and say, “How do you do it? I find it so hard to write humor.” So I think it has a lot to do with a lot of writers finding it hard to write humor. I think people are better at it than they think; they don’t give themselves enough credit. But for me, it’s always been what I’ve written.
How did you choose to publish through Kindle?
At that point, I didn’t even know if somebody could self-publish on Kindle, so I did a little googling and that’s when I came across Joe Konrath’s blog. He has a lot of information on there and that’s what sent me on the direction of finding—I had somebody format [the book] for me, I had somebody design the cover for me. Once you have a formatted file, it’s very easy to upload. And to start selling. Actually, since then, I have, myself, published a second [e-book], a short story compilation, which all I did was take a Word document and convert it to HTML and upload it. And that came out fine. It came out beautifully.
How is that one selling?
You know, for a short story collection, it’s selling nicely as well. I sold over 400 copies of that in January, which I never really expected.
What’s important to keep in mind when you’re engaging your readers?
The reason I did the short story compilation was specifically to keep readers having more of Barbara Marr, who is the main character in Take the Monkeys and Run. Because I planned for that to be a series and didn’t have the second book out, I wanted to have a way for readers to still get a bit of her and some of her humor. I find that’s a good way to keep readers interested. I really saw the short story compilation more as a promotional effort, if you will. And then I use my website to communicate with readers.
Are you consciously building a community of independent authors by featuring guest bloggers on your blog?
I’ve found that to be especially helpful. Because I have my main website and then I have that sort of other blog, which is the one you’re talking about, Fiction for Dessert. And I actually started that a long time ago as my original blog, even before I had a website. And, yes, as I started connecting with a lot more independently published authors through the Kindle Boards and other venues, I started finding that it was nice to feature their work on my blog. First off, it was easier for me—I wouldn’t have to come up with something to blog about. And I was finding books I really enjoyed and I thought people would like to know about them as well. And so, yeah, I do put a lot of independent authors on there. And I’ve had some published authors on there as well, traditionally published authors.
Do you have advice for independent authors on how to navigate the Kindle Boards?
I think it depends on where you’re at in the publishing process—find those discussions that work for you. When I first went on the Kindle Boards, I found out about them through an interview Joe Konrath had done with Karen McQuestion. And she mentioned that that was how she initially started finding readers. She went and she introduced herself. And so that’s what I did. I focused on those threads that were informational for me just coming into self-publishing. And any threads that had to do with self-promotion, whether someone was offering a guest blog opportunity or offering information on other ideas for self-promotion. That’s how I started out. Then as you grow and you start getting more information and figuring out really how to navigate your way through it, then you’ll find those discussions that work well for you and give you information for that point that you’re at.
What’s your attitude toward pricing your books?
I started at $2.99. And I was selling okay at that rate. But I wasn’t selling tons. And I saw that some people were selling their books at 99 cents. And then that was a way they could promote it again. So I decided to give it a try. My whole intention was to go back to $2.99, but I started selling so well at 99 cents, and when you sell well and people read the book, then I started getting good reviews. And that just kept the flow going for making more sales. So I never did experiment with going back to $2.99. Now what I consider is that the 99-cent book is sort of my promotional book. “Try this book, if you like it, the next one will be $2.99.” That’s my plan for my book. And so I’ll make more money, hopefully, off the second book. I mean, I’m doing OK now. I’m making more money now than I was before, trust me.