J. Kenner’s 2016 erotic romance Sweetest Taboo was published by Bantam, and she’s been traditionally publishing books since 2000. However, she’s also been actively self-publishing for the past seven years. In June of 2019, for example, Kenner self-published the second installment in her Stark Security romance series, Broken with You. Over the course of her career, the Texas-based author has written dozens of books in various romance subgenres (including paranormal romance, contemporary romance, and romantic suspense) under different monikers, including her full name, Julie Kenner, and the pseudonym J. K. Beck. In 2017, she talked with Kirkus about the pros and cons of different types of publishing methods—and her experiences may interest both new and previously published writers.
She first began self-publishing in 2012 when she got back the rights to Aphrodite’s Kiss, the first book of a paranormal romantic-comedy series that Dorchester had published 12 years before. At the time, she felt that self-publishing “had the potential to impact publishing in ways that were both deep and wide.” She quickly went on to self-publish other books, including her well-received Demon Hunting Soccer Mom series, which had previously been released by Berkley. “This was especially exciting for my Demon series,” she said, “as it had been terminated long before indie was an option, despite a loud fan base, and back then, I had no realistic way to get content to readers. Once indie became accessible, it opened a very real door for me.”
Kenner said that she “recently made the leap to indie publishing most of my work, primarily because the genre that I write in skews digital for a very large percentage.” The romance genre, she says, is “very well suited for indie, primarily because the readers buy so many books on a monthly basis and, as a general rule, are always looking for new authors.” It also allows writers the freedom to venture outside their usual genres. “As such, authors who have previously ‘written to market’ can branch out creatively,” she said.
No Size Fits All
Both publishing methods have different advantages, and “neither one is inherently ‘better’ than the other,” she said. Interestingly, though, Kenner pointed out that one oft-cited advantage of traditional publishing—up-front payment—isn’t necessarily a given anymore. “In many respects … the model is growing more similar, at least for what used to be called ‘midlist’ authors,” she noted. “Traditionally, publishers have paid an advance. But that is no longer always the case. Many publishers are now offering a higher royalty than before, but without an advance.”
When it comes to e-book distribution, she said that, in her experience, “it’s just as easy for an indie author to get their book onto a digital platform as it is a traditional publisher.” Self-published writers also have instant control over such things as the prices of their books and choosing keywords that they believe will help readers discover them more easily. “On the traditional side, those kinds of decisions and access rest firmly with the hands of the publisher, resulting in situations that can, at times, be frustrating for an author,” she said.
Print books are a very different animal, and Kenner pointed out that “it is much easier for a traditional publisher to get books into brick-and-mortar stores, not to mention paying co-op dollars to get placement once the book is in that store.” There are indie-friendly distribution networks out there, she said, such as Ingram and its partner, EverAfter Romance, with whom she has published multiple books. “Even so, it’s not necessarily easy or as deep as the distribution arm of traditional publishing. At least, not yet.”
The Devil in the Details
Self-published authors, without the support of a publishing house, also have to do a lot of other work besides merely writing—including cover and text design, marketing, publicity, and so on. Shouldering these responsibilities also gives them more control over the process than traditional publishers usually offer, whether they do it all themselves or hire and supervise others. On the other hand, Kenner said, it can be very stressful to take that work on.
“Some [authors] would rather rip out their fingernails than think about BISAC [Book Industry Standards and Communications] codes, or formatting for digital, or any of the hundreds of details that make up being an indie author,” she told Kirkus. “Personally, I fall in between. I love the business side—until I’m on a tight deadline and wish it would all just go away so I could focus on my characters!” Still, she said that “almost every traditionally published author has a story about the lack of support they received from their publisher. So having a publisher is no guarantee that an author won’t still have to shoulder much of the load.”
It’s clear that the romance genre, like the publishing industry as a whole, is in a constant state of change. But according to Kenner, self-published authors are still out there on the cutting edge. “While there are young, innovative, entrepreneurial authors who are publishing traditionally, I think that by its very nature, indie publishing attracts authors who are trailblazers,” she said. “New genres (or new spins on old genres), new ways to market, new ways to interact among themselves and with readers. New knowledge. New perspectives. New insight. In other words, new blood. And I think that’s a great thing.”
—David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.