My first novels, all Regency romances, were written under contract to a small ePublisher. I was glad I chose that route as I was a newbie who needed to work with a team of professionals. In that process, however, I learned a few things: My writing benefited from a great editor; I wanted to design my own covers working directly with a good cover artist; and the best publicity was not the blog tour my publisher arranged, though that was nice. Rather, it was the blogs I organized myself based upon the ones who catered to historical romance readers and cared about the “historical” part of my stories—the blogs that wanted substantive posts drawn from my research. Face it, these days most authors have to do their own publicity.
For my new medieval romance, The Red Wolf’s Prize, a book I’d started after my first novel, Racing With The Wind, I decided to take a different path. Having known several authors of 5-star novels who had been successfully self-publishing for some time, I wanted to see if I could self-publish, too. It used to be the big publishers that had all the great resources. That is no longer true. I asked a New York agent I know, who has been in the business for a long time, whether I should look for another publisher or go forward with my idea to self publish. He told me if I already had a cover (I did) and a good editor (I had found one through another author), I should just go for it and self publish. And so I did.
Here are the lessons I learned along the way. I hope they will help you.
- Begin with the story: write what you love to read. I heard lots of agent/editor panels asking for submissions for romantic suspense, young adult and fantasy romances. Only occasionally did I hear one say he or she wanted medieval romance. It mattered not to me. I love medieval romance and was intent on writing one, one where the history itself was a character. I knew in my heart there were readers out there who wanted these stories. So, my recommendation here is to listen to your heart and write what you love to read! The glory of self-publishing is that you don’t have to depend on the whims of the publishing industry. Trust me, there are readers out there who want to read your book if it is a well told story!
As for my own story, I have always been fascinated by the time in England’s history when the Normans, led by William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England, a much larger country than the one he was from. While the Conquest is interesting, it did not interest me as much as the aftermath when William was still putting out fires and trying to gain control. It was then he began giving away half of England to his loyal followers. So, I set my story in 1068 in Talisand, a fictional holding of a wealthy English thegn in the North of England, half way between Scotland and Wales—far removed from the initial battles.
Not surprisingly, the north of England was to give William much grief. The proud English in the north did not want the Norman king for their ruler anymore than they had wanted King Harold, but at least Harold was English. This Norman usurper was not.
What would an English maiden do when the Normans conquered her country, slayed the father she loved, and gave her lands and her person to one of the Norman knights? What would a courageous, spirited girl do? Why, rebel, of course! Hence, I had my story line.
- The cover. It may seem odd to some of you, but for me, the cover must come before I finish the book. And that had always been an issue with my publisher who wanted to do the cover when all was done. Once I have the story idea, the characters and the setting, I want a cover that not only inspires me but urges me to “finish the book.” And I write to the cover, too, so the story is consistent with it. I was 30K words into my story when I designed the cover for The Red Wolf’s Prize.
As I always do, I began by looking for images the resonated with my story. For months, I looked for images that said “11th Century love story,” or “Norman knight takes a reluctant bride,” and found none that worked for me. The images of knights all had them wearing plate armor, which came much later, and the knights seemed too young. And the couples all looked very modern. I wanted a couple on my cover, not just a sword and a shield. And at least some clothes. Because her hair color was an issue in the story, the heroine had to have very long, flaxen hair. Since much of the story is set in a Saxon manor at a time when there were few stone castles (William the Conqueror built hundreds of castles but they were all made of timber), I needed something that said “manor,” not “castle.”
Having found no images that would suit, I went to an artist I had met at a writer’s conference a few years before, one whose work I admired. Her paintings said “classic romance” to me. I loved her romantic images that had graced the cover of several authors I admire. From my historical and bodice ripper groups on Goodreads, I knew that readers miss the old covers with all the angst and emotion. So I decided to design a classic cover that also said “medieval.” Fortunately, the artist got what I wanted and took one of her stock images, painted over it and customized it until I had Sir Renaud de Pierrepont and Lady Serena of Talisand in an emotion-filled embrace. From there, an author friend helped me with the typeface and a cover artist did the rest. The most expensive thing was the image itself, but it was worth it.
- Critique partners and beta readers. Whether you self publish or not, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having other eyes on your story. Critique partners, either online or in person, look at short submissions and tell you what they think. They will spot those errors you missed, too. In my case there are five of us and we meet at least once a month to go over our 20-page submissions. Only three of us write historical romance but all are helpful. When my book is done, I give it to a half dozen “beta readers” who read it as you would. They tell me if they liked it, if the plot held their interest, if the characters were well developed, what they would change, etc. It helps immensely. I recommend you have at least a few beta readers who are not your best friends.
- The editor. Once the book is finished and beta read, you need a good editor. You can find lots of recommendations for editors on the author loops and I do recommend you ask for those. I also recommend you be choosy. When you’ve settled on a few candidates, send them the first few chapters of your book. See how fast they respond and what they give you. This is a long-term partnership you are forming and you must be sure you have made a good choice. One I tried gave me back a critique, the kind I’d get from my critique partners. It was good, but not what I was looking for. Yes, I wanted an editor to tighten up my writing, but I also wanted an editor who was willing to look at the big picture and tell me when the story needed a change. Because timeliness and dependability are important to me, I also wanted an editor who answered my emails and who delivered on what he promised.
The editor I finally selected, Scott Moreland, became my partner in the story writing process and he is every bit as picky as I am—all to the good. He doesn’t just help me say it better, he helps me tell the best story I can. And may I add, he answers my emails!
- When the book was finally edited and I had my cover, I needed to get it up on Amazon and all those other online bookstores. For that I needed a professional formatter. You can do it yourself, but this is not a high priced item and I did not want to mess up this piece of it. So I chose Iron Horse Formatting, which was recommended by a fellow author. They did all the formats for my ebook (pdf, Mobi, epub and Smashwords doc) with a turn around time of a week. And also the format for print for CreateSpace at a small extra charge.
- On to publishing. If you are the type who wants to do very little on your own, there are options for you. Once your book is written, CreateSpace (https://www.createspace.com), an Amazon entity, will do it all if you want them to: the editing, the copyediting, the cover, the formatting—all of it. And not just for print, but for Kindle, too. There is a charge for each service, but they have a vested interest in producing a quality product, so you can be sure they will do right by your book.
My author friends who publish via CreateSpace told me they loved using them, so it was number one on my list—but I only wanted to use it for print. As I had already designed my cover and had a great editor (who is also a copyeditor), I decided to use CreateSpace only for the final formatting and publication of my print-on-demand book. For the eBook, I used Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP, http://www.amazonkdp.com), because I wanted to take advantage of the option to put the book up on preorder. That turned out to be a good idea as I had over 400 preorders before release day, which put my book on Amazon’s Top 100 Medieval Romances list prior to date of publication.
And voilà! The Red Wolf’s Prize as you see it today!
The day after The Red Wolf’s Prize was released (Oct. 1st), it was #1 on Amazon in Ancient World Romance, #5 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases and #9 in the Top 100 Medieval Romances list.
5 days after the release of The Red Wolf’s Prize, the royalties earned paid for all costs to publish it. It is now #3 in Hot New Releases and #7 in the Top 100 Medieval Romances.
- Publicity. Though this may come last, begin thinking about this months before you want to release your book. Find the blogs that cater to your kind of story. Ask if they would like you to be a guest on their blog. Offer them a date months in the future and offer them an interesting post. Or, they might want an interview. Once you’ve been accepted as a guest, be sure to get them all they need in a timely fashion. As a blog owner myself, I prefer not to have to chase down an author for her post, the pics that go with it, her giveaway or her links. Those who hand me proofread, finished product with all I need have my everlasting thanks.
On the day of your appearance, be sure and spread the news via Facebook, Twitter and the loops you might be on. (I do recommend being active on Facebook. I’ve met some wonderful friends there, many of whom are now my readers.)
And be sure to comment when the post goes up, thanking the blog owner for hosting you. Check in frequently to respond to any comments.
You can buy blog tours, of course, and I did, even though I also organized my own tour that covered a few months. Those from the purchased blog tour introduced me to blogs I might never have thought to contact. The bottom line is you want to get the word out.
My journey has been an eye-opener for me. But if I can do it, so can you!
* Note- any layout problems are due to an issue with the blog- not the fault of Regan