Successful self-published authors share their top tips

We hear whispers that indie authors can make just as much as – if not more than – traditionally published authors. But who are these mythical indie authors, and how are they making it work?

Sean Costello
Sean Costello

Sean Costello

Sean Costello, screenwriter and author of nine horror and thriller novels, is not new to the publishing world. With his first book published in the late ‘80s, he has continued pursuing writing and hopes to make it a full-time career in the near future.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

My first three novels (Eden’s Eyes, The Cartoonist, Captain Quad) were published by Pocket Books in 1989, ’90 and ’91. In those days, I had an agent and a dream of writing full time. Sadly, the advances sucked, and mass-market paperbacks got a month on the shelves and that was it. At the time, I was working 60 to 80 hours a week as an anesthesiologist and had a son born in January of ’92. Pocket offered me a book-a-year for three years at that point, and I had to decline. Once the rights to those books reverted back to me, my agent offered to give them “renewed life” in the then-emerging eBook marketplace. I agreed, but the books languished. So after several years, I decided to take over the job myself. By that time, I’d had a half-dozen other titles published by various small presses, so I started fresh a couple of years ago, publishing all of them electronically on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and Nook.

What do you enjoy most about self-publishing?

The freedom. Having battled editors at Pocket, I much prefer self-publishing. With a strong advance reader team (44 avid readers), believe me, I’m not getting away with anything. If I’ve screwed up, they take me to task on it. And I get a hell of a kick out of the reviews, even the bad ones. The funniest come from the language police, whom I offend on a regular basis, in spite of the clear R-rating for language in bold text in the first line of the book descriptions.

Approximately what is your initial investment for each book? 

Around $300 for cover art via 99Design. Initially, that’s it. I have a few trusted readers who enjoy having an early look at new stuff, so I manage to keep other expenses to a minimum. I do my own layout in Sigil. With each new book, the ongoing costs, primarily promotion, have diminished considerably, as the impact of everything but BookBub tends to be inadequate at best and hence avoided. I’ve lucked into three BookBub promos in the last two years, and their impact has been considerable in terms of building a mailing list.

What is your book launch strategy?

I’ve got just under 7,000 names on my mailing list, 550 of which are also on an advance reader list. I notify the main list a few weeks in advance, then send the book to the advance readers. The deal I have with the AR group is they read and comment on the novel, then buy it for $0.99 and review it in the first couple of days after publication. After that, the price goes up; then it’s pretty much about trying to score a decent promo. My short novel Squall has been a great performer, garnering over 3,000 reviews (84 percent four- and five-star) and funneling subscribers onto my list. I credit that book with most of whatever financial gains I’ve managed to attain.

Tell me about your book Here After being optioned for a movie. 

I’ve had a long and unsatisfying past with film companies, four contracts on three novels, all of which expired and were not renewed. I had all but given up hope when director David Hackl (Saw V, Life on the Line) contacted me four years ago to express an interest in Here After, which he and his wife had purchased during a search for Canadian authors online. I had a screenplay written, and David has been using it to gather funding. The original four-year option expired a few months ago, and I expected that to be the end of it. But the Hackls renewed for another year and mentioned hoping to get started on the project this fall.

You still work full time along with being a writer. How do you balance the two? Do you hope to someday write full time?

This is a timely question. I’ve been writing hobby-style since the late ’70s, had a few short stories published in small press mags in the early ’80s, then the three Pocket Book horror novels in the late ’80s, early ’90s. I’ve been a full-time anesthesiologist since 1981 – and scrambling for time to write ever since…evenings, weekends, holidays. However, I’m looking at retiring end of December this year. And then, yes – I’m hoping to write full time. After nine novels and tons of reading, I feel I’m finally settling into a voice of my own.

If you could do it all over again, is there anything you would do differently?

I wish I’d had the courage, when I discovered my love of writing, to hang up the stethoscope for a while and really go for it.

What advice do you have for those considering self-publishing?

I don’t feel much qualified to advise anyone on self-publishing. What I can suggest is that you give your absolute best to everything you write, even emails; it’s all practice. Trust your own voice, edit tirelessly, avoid the many charlatans the eBook business has spawned, and grow a thick skin. Then go for it, flat out.

 

—Kerrie Flanagan is a freelance writer from Colorado, a writing consultant and the author of seven books, including Write Away: A Year of Musings and Motivations for Writers, published under her label, Hot Chocolate Press. Web: KerrieFlanagan.com & HotChocolatePress.com.