Kristen James discovered her love of writing in the fourth grade when her class wrote short stories. Now she writes romance with a twist of mystery and suspense set in the rugged and beautiful Pacific Northwest and publishes through both the traditional and indie routes. The e-book format has been really kind to James—her sales really took off through the Kindle platform where she sold several of her romance novels. Working as a freelance publishing services provider on the side has allowed James time to focus fully on her own writing. James is an ardent fan of indie publishing and appreciates the flexibility and speed of turnover the platform provides.
What made you decide to go the self-publishing route instead of the traditional model? When did you start?
I jumped into traditional, self-, and small-print publishing in 2006. My first published piece was a short story in a journal called Skive in Australia. Around the same time, I self-published my first novel, The River People, and also accepted a traditional offer from a small publisher in Canada for a romance novel. Working with other publishers showed me that I could publish as well, and I could do it at my own pace. I don’t like waiting on other people. So, for me, self-publishing offers the control and speed I crave.
Was there one single point or thing that you did that made the difference in your career?
Instead of working a job and dreaming about being a full-time writer, I created my own company, Bravado Publishing. I freelance as an editor, ghostwriter, and publishing services provider. It allows me to work from home and focus on writing and brought additional opportunities as well. There have been times when I could have lived on book royalties, but I’m glad I continued my business. It exposed me to new and different genres and helped me grow as a writer.
How do you distinguish yourself in the marketplace? What makes your writing you?
Most of my novels fall under emotional romance. Many of my characters are wounded, but I like to write the hero as a strong man who loves his woman and will do anything to prove that. I strive to have my own voice and style, so readers know more or less what they’re getting in a “Kristen James romance.” I try to stay consistent with that because my story type does change a little, ranging from light romantic suspense to new adult.
How do you market and promote your books?
I’m active on my Facebook page, and I announce progress and new releases on my blog and in my newsletter. There have been all kinds of promotions over the last five years, from giveaways, contests, and paid ads. To be completely honest, those things don’t seem to sell books the way people think. It’s always been something random and out of my control, like a top reviewer writing a review for my book or word of mouth spurring sales, which in turn catch Amazon’s algorithms. So the bare truth is I write books, and when readers really like one, I write more like that one.
What three pieces of advice would you give an author just looking to get started in self-publishing?
You don’t have to do it alone, and you shouldn’t.
Make a business plan, but don’t expect to quit your job next month. Many books take time to start selling, and many authors need several books before things take off. Be patient. Do this because you love to write, and understand what you can control and what you can’t. You can write so many words per day and sign up for so many promotions. You can’t actually set how many books you’ll sell. My advice is to focus on the writing and take pride in what you produce, and then don’t stake your self-worth on your sales numbers.
It’s not a black-and-white, win-or-fail situation, either. You can be successful on many different levels. It’s a big deal to have a published book. It’s great if you’re selling 100, 500, or 1,000 copies a month. It’s really great if you have several books and they promote each other and sales take off. It’s doable. Enjoy the journey and keep your love of writing alive.
What is the biggest advantage of self-publishing?
Self-publishing has many advantages if you know what you’re doing. You can update book blurbs, the front and end matter, and even the book itself if you need to. I’m picky about my covers and formatting, so I like to handle that part myself. Of course, my favorite part is getting things done when I want them done. Some authors are like me and have experience in more than one area, and others can hire cover designers and formatters.
What is the biggest disadvantage of self-publishing?
I would say discoverability, but that’s the biggest problem in traditional publishing as well. The thing I see over and over slowing other authors down is their presentation. There are endless resources online to teach people about every aspect of self-publishing, and yet many of the print self-published books I see in person are really lacking with respect to the cover picture, the inside formatting, and especially the back cover. You can go into any bookstore and study the design and layout of the wraparound cover and interior formatting. The same applies for e-books; many have subpar formatting and a cover that turns readers away. Many first-time authors come to me for advice, and the first thing I often tell them is that their covers don’t tell me what their books are about. Indie authors can hire professionals from freelancing sites or by asking their local writing group for leads.
Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor with a passion for books.