Friday, January 7, 2011

Guest Post: Is "Kindling" For You?

by C.J. Lyons

The publishing industry is in an era of upheaval, forcing authors to flex their entrepreneurial muscles, searching for new avenues of income and ways to keep their books in the public's eye.

One way of doing this is to self e-publish your backlist or other books that you hold the rights to. With more and more readers embracing e-books and e-books becoming the fastest growing segment of publishing, the idea of cutting out the middle men and keeping profits for ourselves is tempting.

Here are a few things to think about before walking the path of electronic self-publication:

Why self e-publish?

Like many authors, once I was firmly established with NYC publishers, I never thought about e-publishing or self-publishing, much less doing both!

But I found myself with four manuscripts that were previously in the hands of NYC publishers but for a variety of reasons never made it to publication. Then I saw a blog by multi-published thriller author JA Konrath discussing his own experiment with electronic self-publishing. His argument was logical and the numbers impressive, but I was still skeptical.

I wanted these books to find an audience but I didn't want to tie them to contracts I might later regret, especially as these four novels were all romantic suspense/thrillers and my career has moved to more mainstream suspense/thriller. So, I decided to perform my own self-publishing experiment.

I realized that I could use these books as promotional products as well as money-makers. Since I was in control of when they were released, how long they were available, and what their price was, I had a greater freedom than I do with my traditionally published works.

This turned out to be an unexpected bonus as by the time I had them formatted and ready for publication it was December, 2009. Then a few weeks later the earthquake in Haiti hit. Since I'm a pediatric ER doctor as well as a thriller novelist, I wanted to raise money for Doctors Without Borders.

What better way than using my experimental self e-pubbed books?

I sent out a newsletter and posted on my website and a few blogs that I was donating the proceeds of my Kindle sales for the month of February to DWB. I chose the Kindle format simply because it is exceptionally easy to track Kindle sales on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis through my Amazon DTP (digital text platform) account.

What I discovered was: Kindle readers read… a lot! I ended up raising over $1600 for DWB, which translated to almost 1700 books sold in one month on Kindle.

Possible Pitfalls

Anyone deciding to self-publish should have a good grasp of their target audience. You want to build an audience who will stay with you and help spread the word of your books—and that means making a promise to always deliver a high quality read.

In other words, just as in mainstream publishing, self e-publishing is still all about the reader.

It's not about clearing your closet of dusty manuscripts just because you can. Unless you plan on giving your work away for free, your goal is to attract paying customers. Which means the books you self e-publish need to be just as good as any book a NYC publisher is selling.

If you have a backlist that you own the rights to, they've already been professionally edited, you're good to go. Do be aware that publishers own the cover art, so you'll need to create a new cover for your e-book.

If you're planning to publish a book that hasn't been previously published, make certain it is professionally edited. The four books I chose for my experiment were all edited prior to my self-publication—three by NYC editors (before their road to publication went astray) and one by a professional freelance editor. Do not rely solely on your critique partners or your Great Aunt Martha who gushes to her bridge club about your writing!

Remember, not only are you competing against NYT bestsellers, you're also selling a product to a consumer. If you expect to win their hard-earned money—and more importantly, their time, attention, and future sales loyalty—then you need to create a worthy product.

What about the money?

Some authors are focused on the income they can earn from self e-publishing. I choose to use these books as promotional devices, a way to keep my name out there in between traditionally published books. But that still meant finding the optimal price points.

I did my own experiment, setting various price points for my four novels. The first, NERVES OF STEEL, is a romantic suspense that includes a cover quote from Sandra Brown as well as endorsements from a dozen NYT bestsellers, so I set it at the highest, $3.99.

The next two books, CHASING SHADOWS and LOST IN SHADOWS, were romantic thrillers, the first two of a series, and were a bit shorter in length than my other two novels, only around 80,000 words. I priced them at $2.99.

The last novel, BORROWED TIME, was the oldest manuscript of the group, and I priced it at $1.99.

My results? In the first week, with no advertising or promotion, the most expensive, NERVES OF STEEL, sold 42 copies on Amazon and 4 on Smashwords.

CHASING SHADOWS sold 85 copies on Amazon and 10 on Smashwords. The second book in the Shadows Op series, LOST IN SHADOWS, sold 49 copies on Amazon and 9 on Smashwords.

And the least expensive of the four, BORROWED TIME, sold 37 copies on Amazon and 4 on Smashwords.

After that first week, when I began to advertise my program to raise money for Doctors Without Borders, my sales increased dramatically to an average of about 50-55 sales a day on Amazon alone.

Bottom Line

It's not a huge amount of money, but I'm on track to make more in a year than I would if I took any of the offers from NYC publishers that I'd received for these particular manuscripts. All with no expenses incurred other than my time and a few dollars for the copyright, ISBNs, and the stock art I used in the cover design.

I now have seven e-books and am experimenting with new ways to use them as promotional tools. Since I'm also traditionally published, I like to use my e-books as reader appreciation gifts. I've incorporated one novel as a free giveaway to anyone who "likes" my Facebook fan page at

Amazon and Barnes and Noble don't allow self e-pubbed books to be given away for free (at least if they do, I haven't figured out how), so I also plan to have special "sales" pricing a title at $0.99 for a limited time.

As with all of my e-book efforts, I won't do any promotion except letting my newsletter readers and perhaps a tweet or post to Facebook or a group. So far, that's working.

Self e-publishing has its place in an author's career path, whether to keep a backlist alive, to try new genres and markets, to use as a promotional tool in conjunction with traditionally published books, or to generate a little income on the side.

Thanks for reading!

As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker. Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller. Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE and CRITICAL CONDITION) is available now. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to


  1. That was very informative. And a creative approach. Thanks for posting!

  2. Glad you found it helpful, Laurel!

    I can add one bit of info since I sent the post to Eric. I just began an experiment with one of my books priced at 0.99 for a limited time and that has doubled my sales overall.

    Pretty effective! And all it took was a few minutes of my time to make the changes.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Good clean information about ebook sales. I liked the "use as promotional" idea. I just added my two (self-published) books on Smashwords with that thought. I'm always eager to learn more marketing ways such as you've presented. Blessed be.

  4. Thanks, Pen Goddess!

    I think the promotional value of my self e-pubbed books is important (although I love the fact that this kind of promotion is also producing a very nice revenue!!!)

  5. Thanks for sharing, CJ! My wife is a doc, so it was cool to read about your story.

    I'm glad you shared some of your marketing FYI as that's one of the areas I probably need to wrap my brain around the most. This (ePubbing) is almost certainly going to be way that MOST authors will be making a living in the future, simply because it doesn't seem financially feasible for publishing companies to continue to lose money on mid-listers, unknowns, etc.

    I for one think the trend is great for authors/readers.

    Thanks again,


  6. It all makes perfect sense to me, CJ. Especially the part about professional editing and realizing that anything you epublish becomes part of your reputation so to speak.

    Good info!


  7. Thanks, Susan! Glad you enjoyed it. Sometimes the hardest part about writing is distancing yourself before actually submitting it for publication (either self or traditional)...a good editor is key in helping with that.

  8. CJ, thanks for sharing. I've recently joined in by putting my back list titles up at Smashwords and Kindle, and your numbers are helpful. I've priced my newest release at 99 cents for a special introductory offer, and will be watching the sales figures. I finished your Chasing Shadows last night, and have the rest of your books lined up on my NOOKcolor.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  9. Thanks, Terry! Hope you enjoy my books!!! I'm a bit jealous of you for having a color nook, though, lol!!!

  10. CJ, that was a wonderful approach you took, one I admire greatly as I'm sure DWB also does. Thanks for an informative article. I had no idea I could put the same books up on both Kindle & Smashwords and I'm off to take care of that little mistake right now.

  11. Hey there, EJ! I totally agree--it will be interesting to see how readers decide who will be bestsellers (ie who to invest their time and money into) and who will be "published" but not widely read....of course, that's exactly what today's traditional publishers were meant to be doing, lol!

    So are today's readers taking the place of yesterday's NYC publishers???

  12. Judy, yes, you can use Smashwords alone to distribute to all the major outlets or pick and choose which outlets you want to control and which they distribute to.

    Have fun with it!

  13. Great story CJ! I've just gotten the rights back to my books from my publisher and got them up on Kindle and Nook. It was intimidating at first, but I'm really happy with the results and am working on a novella based on my characters for my fans. And on the flipside, I read more with my kindle than I did before I had one. And I was a heavy reader then!

  14. Leslie, I know what you mean--my kindle makes getting books so darn easy, my to-be-read stack is higher (virtually) than ever!

  15. Highly informative and taught me a lot. Thanks for posting, my partner and I have had books sat with publishers for years on a promise they will be published. Your article has shown me another way.

  16. Hi Jack! Glad you found my adventures in kindling helpful!

    Do check your contract with your publishers to make sure there's nothing you need to do to secure your rights.

    Also, most publisher's contracts have a time frame where the book must be published within (in my experience, usually no later than 12-18 months after final edits and manuscript acceptance)

    Hope that helps!

  17. ABSOLUTELY I Kindle. And Kindling my books is going to be the way to go on my backlist.

  18. Yeah, Jesse! Good for you for finding a path that works for you!

  19. I've been epubbing my backlist for a while now, trying to get a grasp on how to promote and what prices work, etc. I think there are still a lot of variations and no one plan works for all. Not sure how you're doing that Facebook prize but then, I'm still figuring out Facebook. "G" We really need to be able to hire internet consultants for promotion!

  20. Hi Patricia, thanks for stopping by!

    The facebook giveaway is easy--all folks need to do is go to my page ( click LIKE and they can then access a special reader appreciation page with freestuff like a widget, short story, and a complete novel.

    I thought it would be nice to give something back to fans--so far, no complaints, lol!

  21. Thanks for the post CJ. I'm curious how e-book sales trend across demographics. The e-book seems like an "adult" medium. Am I off base, or are you aware of any successes in e-book sales for mid-grade / YA?

  22. Great post, CJ! Just wondering about one thing, though. You say Amazon and BN don't allow you to give away free copies of your own books? I don't understand, are you not considered the publisher? Just curious!

  23. Great question, Steve! I don't have definitive stats, but I can tell you that a YA author Amanda Hocking sold over 150,000 ebooks last year....and she'd never been published before.

    So yes, kids are finding e-books as well as us adults who need to make that font oh-so-big!

  24. Pam, I'm considered the publisher (actually I list my self-pubbed books under "Legacy Books") but because I go through their self-publishing routes (as opposed to contracting directly with B/N or Amazon) the lowest I can price a book is 0.99

    I'd love the flexibility of being able to give my books away but right now it's reserved for "real" publishers and a few chosen authors.

    If anyone knows of a way to get chosen, please give me a shout!

  25. Hi CJ,
    I "Kindled" my self-pubbed romance, "Mai Tai Butterfly" after reading your article in the SinC newsletter about doing it on Smashwords. I'm pretty challenged by techie stuff but it worked! I've only sold a handful of books but I've done NO publicity so it's amazing to me that anyone has found it. As you suggested, I formatted it first with SW and then went to Amazon DTP and tweaked it for them. Thank you! for giving us this information. (PS How long do you think it will take the Oxford Dictionary people to list "kindle" as a verb? Next year maybe?)

  26. JoAnn, congrats on your kindling success! Good for you!

  27. Hi CJ, really interesting post and some fascinating results from your pricing experiment.

    My debut thriller, FINAL VECTOR, will be released February 1 by Medallion Press. As a virtually unknown novelist who has had a bit of success as a short story author, I was trying to find a way to generate a little interest in my novel, so I released an electronic collection of some of my previously published short stories titled POSTCARDS FROM THE APOCALYPSE on December 26.

    It's way too early to even make a guess as to whether sales of one will have any effect on the other, but it's nice to see a well-established traditionally published author doing some experimenting, too.

    Thanks for the post and best of luck as you continue your career...

  28. Al, congrats on your release. If I were you, I'd ask Medallion for permission to include an excerpt from your novel in the back of your short story collection as a teaser.

    They may not grant permission, but it never hurts to ask!

  29. Thanks a lot; I'm extremely excited! I did exactly that and they nixed the idea, although I included a couple of blurbs for it's not much but I figure it's got to be better than nothing...

  30. Honestly, I'm not surprised to hear that, Al, although I hoped a smaller house like Medallion would be more in tune with their consumer base.

    Publishers still think of their customer as being distributors and bookchains instead of readers...

    They need to wake up and learn that we're entering an era where readers will rule, including deciding who becomes bestsellers....if publishers can't figure out how to reach readers, they are doomed.

  31. BTW, I just want to clarify that I'm not "against" traditional publishing--I love being published traditionally.

    My point is that the paradigm that is being changed is not e-books v. print (which is what has publishers in a tizzy) but rather a reader-centric business v. distributor-centric.

    Until publishers change their thinking and take advantage of the opportunities this new paradigm presents, they will continue to fail.

    Just my two cents--wiser minds than mine (like Eric's!!!) probably have more insight.

  32. Very informative post. Thanks for all the information and details of your venture into e-publishing.

    E-publishing is exciting, on the rise, and quite scary.

  33. But that's the point, Helen, just because it's new and different, it doesn't have to be scary....instead look at all the opportunities it brings with it--for readers and writers both!

  34. Thanks, CJ, informative post! I'm just getting my feet wet in epublishing, since I only have rights back to one book so far. It took me a while to get a new cover done and do some minor tweaking on the manuscript (not much, since it's historical) but I finally put it up for Kindle, B&N and Smashwords in December. Only a handful of sales so far, but I'm only now beginning to do ANY promo for it. This is such an exciting time to be an author! And I hope readers will benefit by seeing a much wider variety of books available, now that we have the option of bypassing the traditional "gatekeepers." I'm also thinking of putting up an unpublished original. Contemporary, so I'm trying to decide whether to use a different pen name. But it'll be MY decision, which is very cool!

  35. Great article, C.J. l Thanks for clarifying some questions I had about self-epubbing.

    Jo Robertson
    Mainstream and Historical Suspense Writer

  36. Brenda, don't you just love that feeling of empowerment??? Best of luck!

  37. Glad you found it useful, Jo! Thanks for stopping by.

  38. I think I'm in a similar situation, CJ...I'm starting to have novels published (yay!) but I have one that has been turned down by many, but is the book of my heart. So maybe this is the way to make it happen!

  39. Go for it, Babs! What do you have to lose?

  40. Great article, CJ. I read it with interest, since I've just done the same thing with some out of print titles.

    What I can't work out is how to do a short-term giveaway. Any pointers on that, or did you only do reduced price sales?

    Anna Jacobs, having difficulty posting, as usual with crazy Blogspot

  41. Sherry/Anna, As I mentioned in earlier comments I haven't found a way as an indy author to giveaway a book on kindle, so I do intermittent sales of books.

    Right now I have one at 0.99 and my overall sales of all books have doubled.

    Hope that helps,

  42. CJ,

    thanks for sharing such a great post. I appreciate your candidness in sharing your experience in e-publishing. I have two things in my mind:

    1) What has been the impact on your relationship with your traditional publisher since you have e-published? Have you felt any backlash from your publisher since becoming a publisher yourself and, for all intended purposes, a competitor?

    2) how does one secure copyright? Would you expand on that a little bit?

  43. Hi Gisele! Wow, great questions!

    Let me start with the second first: your work is copyrighted as soon as you create it in a reproducible form (ie. write it down).

    But, for publication purposes, I wanted to *register* that copyright and put it on record with the Library of Congress--this is what most people mean by "copyright."

    It's not required, but it is the best way to protect your work if you are infringed against. It's easy and inexpensive to do, simply go to and you can do it all online.

    As for your first question, publishers have no say in what I do with my work unless they've paid me for it. If they want to pay me, I'm more than happy to negotiate a contract with them rather than self-publish a manuscript.

    Also, anything that makes my name more memorable to readers--like reading one of my self-published books--has a good chance of selling more of my traditionally published novels, which is why I see self e-pubbing as more of a promotional tool than simple money-making.

    You didn't ask, but I do discuss each title I self e-publish with my agent beforehand. Sometimes she asks me to hold off and she tries to "shop it" first--as in the case of SNAKE SKIN which she sold foreign rights to for a nice chunk of change....and right now if my sales trends hold, I'll also make more money with my e-published English version of SNAKE SKIN than I would with a traditional publisher--so I'll get two very nice revenue sources from one book without losing anything except the 15% commission my agent earned in the foreign sale.

    Win/win for everyone...except the traditional US publishers who missed out on a great book, lol!