Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Debi Faulkner on the Teamwork of Indie-Publishing

It’s a pleasure to visit with Debi Faulkner today as I continue my series of interviews about e-books and indie-publishing. Originally from Detroit, Debi has lived in Europe for over ten years.

Debi is a poet and the author of four novels, including the chapter book, Lilypad Princess, and the young adult novel, Summoning. Her middle grade novel, Year of the WereCurse: WereWhat?, was recently released in its print version.

[This interview is also simultaneously posted on Through the Tollbooth, a group blog by VCFA alumni.] 

[Sarah] Publishing a book is always a team effort. Who did you choose to help prepare your books and what did they do?

[Debi] While I’ve always relied on my wonderful and talented critique partners and writing buddies to help me prepare my manuscripts in the initial stages, going past that into the indie-publishing field has been a real learning experience.

My first novel, Summoning, went through several rounds of revisions with my own writing circle, then several more based on advice from agents who’d suggested changes. Though none of those agents ultimately took on the book, I believed that it was a story that deserved a chance.

My husband was the one who convinced me to publish the book myself, and when I discovered that it was possible to publish electronically, I tried to learn everything I could about the process. Having a small (extremely small) bit of experience with digital photography and art, I made the original cover myself. Formatting was a bit trickier, because each of the venues available to create and sell an ebook has its own methods and its own formatting rules. For this book, I took on the (sometimes very frustrating) task myself.

I pushed the “publish” buttons on the various sites, and viola! a book was born!

It didn’t take long for me to learn that my cover was amateurish and that some of the paragraphs on the Kindle edition did not format correctly.

It was time for help.

A fellow indie author on the Kindle Board’s Writer’s Cafe, Thea Atkinson, created the current cover and various other members helped me correct the formatting errors.

But I’d learned my lesson, and I’d found a wealth of resources including Editor Extraordinaire, Lynn O’Dell, and Cover Artist to the Stars, Glendon Haddix.

[Sarah] You chose an experienced and well-known editor to edit your books. What was it like working with her?

[Debi] One of the main criticisms of indie-books is that they are poorly edited. Unfortunately, that statement can be all too true. It’s possible to write a horrible first draft, decide it’s pure gold and hit that publish button before a book is ready.

But writing is my career. My reputation is on the line every time someone samples or downloads my books. I wanted them to be the very best. I wanted them to be professional. As every serious writer knows, professional editing is a must in producing a professional book. And getting the right editor is important.

That’s where Lynn O’Dell of Red Adept Publishing Services came in. This woman is amazing. Not only does she have a copyeditor’s eye for all things grammatical, but her ability to analyze story arc, characterization, pacing, plot holes – everything a good editor needs to help an author fine-tune a manuscript – is spot on.

I hired her to work with me on Year of the WereCurse: WereWhat?, and it was definitely my best decision in this entire journey so far. She is tough, and she knows how to motivate a writer to work harder, dig deeper and find a story’s underlying “truth.”

Because she is so good, and because she is extremely popular with indie-authors, I booked a place on her schedule for my next book before I’d even started writing it!

[Sarah] How involved were you in choosing the covers for your books?

[Debi] As I described above, Summoning‘s original cover was my own. While it no longer has my cover, I did learn quite a bit creating it and through the criticism of it. On my second book, LilyPad Princess, I took the lessons I’d learned and designed the cover myself.

One of the biggest issues with ebooks is making the cover completely legible in a thumbnail format – that’s the size prospective buyers see, so making any part of the title or author name too small, or adding too much clutter that is not easily distinguishable at a small size, is counter productive. What works well for a print cover doesn’t necessarily work for an ebook.

For WereWhat?, I chose to hire a professional cover designer for two reasons: the story did not really lend itself to a photo-centric cover, and the genre/age-range (mid-grade paranormal aimed at boys) seemed to scream for something hand drawn. That’s when I found Glendon Haddix with Streetlight Glendon and his wife, Tabitha, were extremely accommodating, but it’s Glendon’s vision of Jack Henry’s world that is on the cover of the book. He took my suggestions, my concerns and the main themes of the story and worked them into a fun, attractive cover. When something didn’t quite match my vision, he revised it. For me, it was an amazing process to watch – and have input on – my characters coming to life visually.

When I chose to add a print version of WereWhat?, Glendon expanded the cover to include the spine and back, too.

Streetlight Graphics also did all of the formatting for WereWhat?, both in all ebook and print versions. Glendon also included the lobsterclaw from the cover at the beginning of each chapter, which I absolutely love.

[Sarah] Which e-books formats did you choose? Why? [Did you need a company to help with publication and distribution?]

[Debi] This is another one of the ever-changing aspects of indie-publishing. When I began with Summoning, in October of 2010, there were three main venues: Smashwords (which distributes to various outlets such as Apple, Sony and Kobo, among others), Amazon for the Kindle and Barnes and Noble for Nook users. There seem to be more options now, though to be honest, I’m not as versed in them as I should be.

One of the areas of flux for this particular issue has been the addition of Kindle Select through Amazon. An indie-author can achieve higher rankings and visibility by choosing to include a book in the Select program, which is a plus, but in order to participate, the book cannot be offered in ebook format on any other site for the duration of the commitment (which is 90-days at a time).
The arguments both for and against this practice are lengthy, and I won’t go into them. I will say, though, that I am currently experimenting with Select, and both Summoning and WereWhat? are signed up in the project. For the time being.

[Sarah] What advantages do you see with e-books?

[Debi] For me, there are two major advantages and one really nice “perk” ebooks have over a printed book. First is the ease of reading and storing entire novels. My Kindle is much easier to hold than a 500-page hard cover, and it fits easily into my purse, so I almost always have it with me. Of course, I no longer have to beg to buy more book shelves, either. I have to admit to loving the feel of a new, hard-bound book in my hands and smelling that new-paper smell, but when it comes to really diving into and living in an imaginary world with well-written characters, I can do that just fine electronically!

The second major advantage for me is the ease of purchasing books. Believe me, that’s a big one, too. I live in a non-English speaking country, and while I can find English books in the local store, they’re not usually the ones I’d like to read and the variety is very small. Ordering books and paying for the overseas delivery is also very cost prohibitive. Even ordering books through the local bookstore has proven out of my price range, because the stores must charge me all the additional costs they incur in getting the book. With my Kindle, I can go online, choose a book and start reading it within seconds.
That same ease of purchasing is one that I hope translates to buyers of my own books. Anyone can go online, find one of my books and be reading it without ever leaving the couch. Of course, getting the visibility for my books has proven to be the challenge.

The “perk” is that the cost of most ebooks is less than the print versions. It means I can buy more books!

[Sarah] Your book, Year of the WereCurse: WereWhat? was first released as an e-book. Recently it became available in a print version. What did you need to do to prepare it for print publication? Why did you choose to take time and effort so it would also be available as a paper book?

[Debi] You’ve hit on one of the pitfalls of ereaders for me – not many kids have them yet. Sure, as parents upgrade to the newer versions, kids will get the hand-me-downs, but right now there are just too few kids, 9-12 years old, who have their own Kindles. Or their own Kindle accounts.
I decided to add the print option to WereWhat? mostly due to the age range. I want to make it more available to my target audience. This is a new venture for me, but the print books are available on Amazon and can be ordered through bookstores, which should make it more available to the kids who may want to read it.

As of this moment, I have not begun the process for my other books, but if WereWhat? does well, I would definitely consider adding print versions of them all.

[Sarah] What are your plans for future books?

[Debi] In the long run, I would like to pursue both indie and traditional publishing. They each have their strengths, and I believe pursuing both is the best strategy for authors at this point.

Of course, one of the biggest things about traditional publishing that holds appeal for me may be an emotional one: validation. Having someone read your work and believe in it enough to want to invest time and money into putting it out there into the big, wide world…well, I’m sure there’s no feeling like it.

But I also know that I have other options. I don’t have to place all of my worth as an author on what a particular imprint is looking for at any particular moment or whether or not my manuscript is commercial enough or too commercial or if it can be easily categorized. If I truly believe in a story, and if I can work with a team of professionals to put out a professional product, then I have that choice and the freedom, knowledge and resources to do it.

Whether a book is indie or traditionally published, it still comes down to story – whether the book will attract and engage readers. If it’s a good story well told, I believe people will want to read it.

[Sarah] Thank you, Debi! It's been so fun to learn about your publishing journey.
You can find out more about Debi and her books by visiting her website.

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