After a successful 15-year career with various New York publishing houses and over 40 contemporary romance novels under her belt, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Carly Phillips is now exclusively an indie author who writes to her own expectations and those of her readers. In July, she launched a new series, Billionaire Bad Boys, with the book Going Down Easy. Phillips lives in Purchase, New York, with her family.
You trained as a lawyer but decided to take up writing. Why?
I went to law school and lasted about a year in a New York City law firm. After that, we decided to start a family, and I got back into my love of reading. I always knew my books had to have a happy ending, but I didn’t know there was such a thing as a romance section. Once I started researching the genre, writing, and publishing, I knew I’d found my calling.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
For a long time, I watched people self-publish with a healthy dose of fear and admiration of the amount of work it involved. But these people were able to choose their own covers, write the length they wanted, charge the price they wanted, and change that price if things weren’t working. These were things I had been discussing over and over with my publishers, but I never felt I was getting exactly what I wanted and needed. I always had publishers who were very good to me and determined to do right by my career, but there were rules and things in place. I knew the market was at a point where the high wasn’t going to stay there, and if I wanted to take the risk, I was there at the right time. I never regretted it.
What advantages do you see to self-publishing? Are you still self-published, or are you a hybrid, switching off with traditional publishing houses?
The advantages of self-publishing stem from control: the ability to control book length, title, pricing, cover art, promotion, marketing, sales. New York publishers have their own ingrained way of doing things, and I like being able to steer my own ship. At this point in time, being solely indie still works for me.
The market seems to be flooded with romance novels. What do you do to carve a niche for yourself, and what marketing programs do you work with?
I’m lucky enough that I have an audience that came with me from my 15 years in the traditional writing world. I went back to my roots: shorter [books of] 50,000-60,000 words like I started out doing for Harlequin Temptation way back when. Today the go-tos are still Bookbub ads, Facebook ads, and experimentation in programs for other types of ads to reach audiences, like Instafreebie and others. I still choose to do pre-orders because my readers like to order a book and know it’s coming.
Tell us about Kindle Worlds and why you decided to go that route.
Kindle Worlds is a licensing agreement between an author and Amazon. So, for example, in my case, I licensed my Dare to Love world characters, and authors can write in my world. I went that route because it seemed like a new and innovative way to bring readers new and more books in the world in-between my own releases. And now that I’ve wrapped up the writing there for now, readers can still get a taste of the Dares. I’ve been very fortunate and humbled by the amount of talented authors who have written in my world. It’s really a wonderful, special thing.
If you were to give new authors three pieces of advice, what would they be?
1. You only get one first impression, so make it a good one. The editing process is important. Make sure what you give to readers is something so solid and good they want to come back for more.
2. It’s a journey, not a sprint. I’ve been in this business a long time. There are ups and downs, trends that come and go, highs and lows. Don’t assume one month of great sales means you’ll always sell at that rate. Be smart. Budget. Think.
3. Be willing to learn and grow. Even now, all these years later, I still learn new things. I try to change the writing, the story, to learn from other authors and industry professionals. As long as you are open to change and have a willingness to reinvent yourself time and again, you will survive the down periods and be around for the long haul.
Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor with a passion for books.