Crista McHugh is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of romance and fantasy novels. Growing up in small-town Alabama, McHugh relied on storytelling as a natural way for her to pass the time and keep her two younger sisters entertained. She currently lives in the suburbs of Seattle with her husband and two children. Some of the jobs she’s had in the past to pay the bills include: barista, bartender, sommelier, stagehand, actress, morgue attendant, and autopsy assistant. McHugh is wrapping up a new fantasy book in her latest series, the Raven Bringer Saga.
What was your first book, and how did you go about publishing it?
Like most authors, the first book I wrote wasn’t the first one that was published. It was fantasy, and even though I loved it, it wasn’t a hot genre at the time. Paranormal romance was king then, so the second book I wrote, Heart of a Huntress, was the one that got published by a small e-book press, Samhain. I eventually went back and self-published that fantasy book, The Tears of Elios.
What are the advantages to indie publishing over traditional publishing? And vice-versa?
The royalty rates. I get paid two to three times as much for each copy I sell as an indie author, and I have complete control over things like covers and price and back cover copy and titles. Traditional publishers can get your book in places most indies can’t, like large national retailers and libraries.
How different are the rules of the game today than when you first started?
I started back in 2011. Back then, indie was just picking up steam, and there were rising stars—Bella Andre, Meredith Wild, Jasinda Wilder, Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking—who were gathering national attention and seven-figure deals. Now New York is much more hesitant to buy successful indie series, and many more authors are joining the indie ranks.
If there are more successful indie authors, wouldn’t it make sense for publishers to actually buy successful indie series? Why do you say they are hesitant?
They are hesitant because these series might have already reached the maximum selling potential. For example, if an indie author gets a seven-figure deal from New York for a series she’s already made seven figures from, there’s a good chance that New York won’t recoup their money. Most indies that I hear of who are getting New York deals are for new series. The other big issue is royalty rates. I can make 70 percent off e-books as an indie. The best I’ve heard from New York is 50 percent (after 10,000 copies are sold). The standard is about 25 percent. So as an author, New York would have to offer me a larger advance or some other enticement to offset the lower royalty rate.
Why did you decide on working with a number of genres? How do you pick which genre you want to work in next?
I find myself switching up genres because my muse needs a break from time to time. As much as I loved writing contemporary romance, I was trapped creatively. Writing young-adult and fantasy books for the last year has renewed my muse and left me ready to jump into a new series in the next few weeks.
How do you balance the challenges of working with different genres, then?
Writing in different genres actually balances me. I like to write romance because I like the hope of a happy ending, but sometimes I need to vent my not-so-pleasant feelings, which is where the fantasy and the YA come in handy. After releasing my anger and sarcasm in those genres, I can happily go back to writing romance.
What is your most profitable platform for selling books?
Amazon is still about half my income every month, but I’m increasing sales on iBooks and Kobo every month, mostly through my translations.
Which languages are your books being translated into?
French, German, and Brazilian Portuguese.
How do you market your books and your work?
I freely admit that I suck at marketing. I have several different newsletter groups, and I’ll occasionally run ads for my series or do giveaways, but I don’t want to be that annoying author who is constantly promoting books. I’d rather be writing the next book. I do have a secret Facebook group for my fans where I’ll occasionally share little snippets or give them first peeks at cover art, but it’s not as active as I’d like it to be.
How is indie getting better for authors?
Research done by the Author Earnings Report has shed some light on how being an indie author can be a wise career move. I know several very successful New York authors who’ve jumped on the indie bandwagon because it gave them freedom to write what they wanted while still making as much—if not more—money as they made before.
Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor with a passion for books.