Update: today I decided to join Amazon’s Kindle Select. This means if you join their Kindle Select program, you can read all my books and millions of other Ebook titles free. Also, I’m happy to announce that the “Joyce Berryhill” erotica short Hot Times in the North Country has been approved by Smashwords for distribution to all markets. I have submitted it to Amazon and it should appear there soon.
My professional writing career began in 2001. I was working as a programmer at a non-profit in Washington, DC, writing software to create web-based applications. Don’t mistake this blog as an example of the work we did. We had professional graphic designers and as a poor starving writer I do not.
I don’t know why really but I suddenly had an urge to write a short story. I was taking the metro into work every day and would write pages in the story going back and forth. The story is called Caught in the Act and has been available free on Smashwords for many years. My husband really liked the story and encouraged me to try to get it published.
I bought a copy of Writer’s Guide to Short Story Markets and sent manuscripts to all of the publishers listed. I could have papered the walls of my house with the form letter rejections. No one even bothered to read it. “We’re not accepting work by new authors at this time.” And these were mostly university journals who pay something like $200 for a story.
Not deterred, I found that I loved writing and began to write my first full length novel, again mostly written on the metro on my way to and from work. The novel is called Maginaugh, the first book in a series called The Fair and Fey. I won’t give you a synopsis here. You can see the book page by clicking on the link and read the synopsis there if interested.
I bought a copy of Writer’s Guide to Novel Markets and sent samples to all of the publishers listed in it. Again I received mostly rejections — form letters from editors’ assistants who had not bothered to read even a page and said they were not taking new work. I also wrote to all the agents listed and one very kind agent who actually read my sample said I had promise as a writer and, although her agency was not taking on new authors I should check out Smashwords.
I had never heard of Smashwords but was very encouraged by her brief but kind words so I Googled Smashwords and it was the beginning of my long and mostly happy relationship with them. I had finished writing my final draft of Maginaugh in 2004 and it was now 2012, after 8 years of rejections, that I was finally able to publish Maginaugh on Smashwords as an Ebook.
The founder of Smashwords, Mark Coker, has written several books on how to successfully publish and market an Ebook. If you’ve not investigated Smashwords, allow me to say a few kind words about them. Firstly, Mark’s Book the Smashwords Style Guide is, as far as I’m concerned, the bible on how to successfully create an MS Word manuscript that will successfully translate into a properly formatted Ebook on any Ebook publisher’s site, including Amazon. His book is much more thorough and helpful than Amazon’s guide or any other that I know. Secondly, if I have any sort of trouble getting a book published, Smashwords support agents are extremely helpful and have always solved my problem, even when it had to do with geeky things about MS Word.
I used the same approach to getting Maginaugh published in 2012 as I have used ever since. First I make sure it passes the Smashwords automatic checker and goes up on Smashwords. This guarantees the book will go up on Amazon next with no problems in conversion through their converter. Smashwords humans then review the book to see if it’s suitable for distribution to all their many affiliated retailers. This is quite important because retailers like Apple iBooks are quite strict on standards. So publishing on Smashwords amounts to quite a bit more than simply self-publishing.
Maginaugh enjoyed fairly good sales (for a new author) in the first year after it was published. I made a small profit — mostly because I don’t have many expenses. I have a friend who went a different route. He posted his brilliant work on a site called The Next Big Writer. On this site lots of nobodies join in discussions to criticize and humiliate authors, making them too nervous to self-publish. My friend spent many years getting beat up online by these trolls. Finally, in desperation, he paid an editor $3,000 to edit his novel. Then, because he didn’t want to use Smashwords for some reason, he paid more thousands to a company to format his novel in a way that it could be published as an Ebook. Finally, he is now paying thousands more to a company to market his book for him. I think the odds of him ever showing a profit are about the same as winning a Powerball jackpot on the Florida state lottery — teeny tiny. Almost no chance. It’s not that his work is bad — his writing is very good. It’s just the statistics about how many excellent writers ever break through into best seller realm — the realm he will have to enter if he wants to show a profit after all he has paid.
This is important to me because, in my view, if a person has to spend thousands of dollars to get his or her book bought by the public, that’s vanity publishing. If people buy my books despite the fact I’ve spent no money on editors, formatters, or marketers, that means maybe my books are worth buying and reading. I have some fans. I have followers. I’m not getting rich yet but it’s still very satisfying.
In 2013 I published Maahilund, the second book in The Fair and Fey series. Sales were slow at first.
In 2014 I published The Elves of Arthannegh, the third book of the series. Sales on it were also slow at first.
On the advice of Smashwords, I reduced the price of my first book in the series, Maginaugh, to free because they said it might entice new readers to try the series and buy the other books. This is something that can only be done on Smashwords. Other sites like Amazon require a minimum price. I know you can get free books on Amazon but you have to pay an annual fee to belong to Kindle Unlimited to get the free books. With Smashwords it’s free, period, no catch involved. Giving away free copies of Maginaugh did help overall series sales a bit.
My fourth book in the series, The Elves of Avalon, was published in 2015 and was rewritten and republished in other editions twice. The reason for this is editing. I know I said I don’t pay for editing but I meant I don’t pay in cash. I have a brilliant editor who is also a long time friend and is herself one of the best authors I’ve ever read. I pay her with friendship, probably not enough, but she has accepted my friendship and does edits and gives me suggestions for free that are certainly worth thousands of dollars. I will be forever in her debt and no, I won’t tell you who she is because I don’t want you to steal her time to be your editor. I know, I’m selfish and won’t share. But this is a way other indie authors could get an editor — make friends and beg!
I am very proud of my last two novels about Elves and the Arthurian legends. They required tons of research. I spent an equal amount of time reading about Elves and about Arthur as I did writing about them. Did you know that, according to legend, Arthur’s grandmother was an Elf and his mother, Igraine, was half Elven? So of course there must have been a connection between Arthur and the Elves. I believe so.
Those last two novels of mine were huge, over 200,000 words. I have learned that’s one of the problems with sales. Today’s Twitter-influenced readers have no patience for reading something that long. They will pay $4.99 for a three star short story of 6,000 words but not $0.99 for an epic five star novel of 200,000 words. Unfortunately readers who do like epic fantasy series, expect their novels to be huge — the bigger the better. Once they have entered the fantasy realm created within the novel, they want to hang out there for a long time. There’s just not enough readers in the fantasy genre these days for new authors to break in and make a decent living.
I have written half of the final novel in the Fair and Fey series. The working title is Two Worlds Changed. I’m taking a break from it at the moment to experiment with pandering to the short story crowd with an Erotica short story. Those seem to be selling like hotcakes on Smashwords and Amazon, and I would like to make some serious money writing. Is that a bad thing? I’ve written my first of these short stories Hot Times in the North Country under the pen name Joyce Ellenberry.
You can find out more about it in my recent blog post, “Joyce Berryhill Versus the Censors.” Thanks to some of my faithful friends and blog readers the story is now published on Smashwords as an Ebook and will be on Amazon very soon. It’s on sale for you, my faithful blog followers, at 67% off ($0.99) right now on Smashwords. There’s a link to it on the blog post I mentioned above. There are a limited number of coupons so act fast if you want a cheap copy.