Today we feature Jessica West in Writer’s Wednesday. She’s talented and witty, and she has provided a wealth of information for new authors.
AB: Thank you Mrs. West for allowing us to interview you for this week’s segment of Writer’s Wednesday.
JW: Thanks for featuring me at your blog today. I’m happy to offer my perspective to people who are considering a career in self-publishing. I’m just getting started myself, so still very much in the learning phase. But I’ll share what I’ve learned so far
AB: Which book or written work has proved to be most successful?
JW: So far, my most successful work has been Sin Eater, an Urban (Paranormal) Fantasy serial I co-wrote with author P.K. Tyler. Marketing Sin Eater was my first real experience with advertising sites. Previously, I’d only used Goodreads ads and boosted Facebook ads. The conversion rates were dismal, but I think that was mostly because of poor timing on my part. When you have a new release coming out, you “blitz” a bunch of ads, lining them up so they work together to boost visibility. I’ve learned from personal experience that the hardest part of marketing is believing in your product (your book). I absolutely adore my co-author, and love everything I’ve read from her. Our editor was amazeballs. (Naomi Leadbeater. Y’all be sure to check her out.) And so I have the utmost confidence in Sin Eater. That, in and of itself, makes marketing it so much easier; I’m certain that what I’m advertising is a quality product. So the best thing authors can do to ensure their own personal success is to produce quality work. The rest will follow.
AB: For new authors, what are the pros and cons of self-publishing versus using a publisher?
JW: I’ve never worked with a traditional publisher, so I can’t speak to that experience. But I have worked with Booktrope as an editor. For authors, the biggest benefit of publishing with them is that you don’t have to pay any upfront costs. The down side is that you have to build your team of freelancers. I say that’s a down side, but really it doesn’t have to be. It all depends on how good you are at project management. They do have project managers, but it’s still up to the author to obtain the services of one and build the rest of their team. But here’s the thing about self-publishing: you are a project manager. You will either fill several roles, or you’ll hire someone to do the work. And if you can afford it, I would definitely recommend hiring a team of professionals to help you. Publishing isn’t just about the writing.
AB: In your own opinion, when using a publisher, do new authors need an agent?
JW: I have no experience with traditional publishers, but I do know that some traditional publishers will not accept queries from authors. For those publishers, you have to have a literary agent submit your work. My advice to authors who want to publish traditionally is to research the publishers you hope to submit to. Search for their submissions guidelines pages and read them closely and carefully. That will give you a good idea of what each publisher expects, and what you’ll have to do to meet those expectations.
AB: For any book you self-published, where did you find your art? Did you use an artist you located yourself or did you purchase cover art available to authors?
JW: I like DeviantArt. Sometimes you can find copyright-free works there. But do include a line on your copyright page with a link to the artist’s work. It’s just a nice thing to do. Pixabay also has a great deal of free art. These are typically okay for eBooks. But for print copies, you’ll need a photo that’s at least 300 dpi, and those free ones are usually 70 dpi. If you try to print those as covers, they’ll just look bad. So look for either high quality (at least 300 dpi) photos or commission a work. There are some surprisingly affordable options. Patreon is a good place to find artists. Nothing will ever be as good as something that’s custom made for you. But if money is tight and your budget only allows for $200 or less for the cover, consider some pre-made options. I like Rebecca Poole’s Dreams2Media covers. Mallory Rocks has some great options too, but hers tend to run a bit high.
AB: Did you use an outside editor for your books? If you did use an editor, did you use more than one? Would you like to give your editing service a shout out for their great services?
JW: My published works typically go through either a critique workshop or several beta readers before I get into the editing phase. So while it’s still in development (after the first draft is done but before “real” editing begins), I try to get as much feedback as possible. Then I go to editing. I recommend Pavarti K. Tyler for developmental edits and Naomi Leadbeater for content and copy edits. I like Elizabeth Darkley, I’ve had my eye on her for a while, but haven’t had a chance to use her services yet. (Would it surprise you to learn I haven’t even written my first novel, yet? 😉 ) I’ve worked with Ally Bishop, she’s good. I’ve heard good things from people I trust about Robb Grindstaff and Phillip Lee, so I’m confident in recommending them as well. Susan Kaye Quinn, who I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with, recommends Bryon Quertermous. I’ve researched him and would definitely consider working with him. I’ve heard good things about Crystal Wattanabe too, but I haven’t worked with her personally. There are a lot of good professionals out there, it’s just a matter of finding someone who offers the services you need at prices that fit your budget.
AB: Where did you find trusted, experienced, beta readers, who would give you honest feedback on your book?
JW: Yes! Absolutely. For beta readers, I’d suggest asking people you trust. I would not recommend searching for beta reading services. Now, you can find editors who also beta read for a fee. I think Crystal does this, in fact. So that’s always an option. Finding a critique group is ideal, but that’s really hard to do. A critique partner is a blessing, truly, but people are busy. So it’s not always easy to find someone you can “trade services” with. But be open to trading beta reads with author friends.
Important note: Understand that your author friends aren’t the people you’re selling your book to. And remember that the people you are selling your book to probably don’t want to read the early drafts. Just be aware of what kind of relationship you have with a person before you ask them to beta read for you.
AB: In running, many runners face a wall, where they wish to give up and quit. They have to dig deep and push through the wall. Writers sometimes face the same hurdles. While writing your book, were there times when you wanted to scrap the entire thing and start over, or not publish the book at all? For new writers, who may also face this wall, what advice do you have for them to push past these feelings?
JW: More often than giving up on a specific work, I hear about writers who want to give up on writing period. How to get past that is different for every writer. Our struggles are intensely personal, almost like our own customized hells on Earth. We face our own demons. And we find our own paths. If there’s one thing we can all benefit from knowing and remembering, it’s that this whole creative business is a cycle. Sometimes, you’re up. And when you’re up, everything just seems to fall into place. Sometimes, you’re down. That’s when the doubt comes. You just have to remember that the “up” is coming around soon. It always does. So keep writing. Or take a break. Do whatever it is you need to do until you cycle back around to a good place. And in the meantime, be kind to yourself.
AB: Everyone has something they wish they knew when they started in a new field. If you could share one lesson you learned to avoid or one experience you wish you could re-do to make your writing experience better, what would it be? Feel free to share the experience leading up to the lesson and what made you choose the path you took.
JW: I think the one piece of advice I wish I hadn’t taken is something that’s unique to me, really. I hear “write it down” often. It’s good advice for pretty much everyone, it seems. But it’s not good advice for me. If I pursue every idea I get, write down everything so I don’t forget any of it, I’ll never get anything done. Last year, I took what was for me a bold step and decided NOT to write down any ideas. To simply let them drift by while I focused on one project. And I learned an invaluable lesson for me: I can get shit done by focusing on what’s in front of me. And those ideas that seemed brilliant at the time? Some of them stuck with me. They’re still with me, even though I didn’t write them down. They’re a part of me, and they won’t go away simply because I didn’t acknowledge them. So that’s one thing I wish I knew from the start. To pursue only those ideas that really stuck with me. And to focus on one project until it was completed. That’s the hardest part for many authors, finishing what they start. But necessary for growth.
AB: What work, besides your own, are you reading right now or have you read recently?
JW: I’m editing a few anthologies and a couple novels right now. There’s Mosaics 2, UnCommon Origins, a Clones anthology, and a Hotel anthology. I’m editing Cairn Rodriguez’ Solstice series, the first of which is The Last Prospector, and The Potter’s Daughter by Daniel Smith. I’m looking forward to projects with Meg Collett and Ken Mooney, both of whom I read whether I’m editing them or not. I’m always up for reading anything by Pavarti K. Tyler or Alex Nader. I recently started reading Susan Kaye Quinn too. I read The Third Daughter and loved it. Which reminds me, I need to write a review. So many good authors to read, so little time.
AB: If you were on a desert island and only allowed one book or other written word, what written word would it be and why?
JW: A “how to” survival guide!
AB: It’s time to give yourself a shout out. It’s time to dig deep and show your fans what you have. What would you like your fans to look for on shelves now? Where can they find your work? Is there anything else you would like your fans to know?
JW: Thanks for asking! The box set of Sin Eater is available now at Amazon, along with other works I’ve written and edited. Check out my Amazon Author Page for details. Readers who are fond of dark (and sometimes sexy) fantasy can follow my blog at west1jess.com for updates on my new releases and occasional freebies. Authors can follow my blog at west1jessedits.com to keep in touch and schedule consultations. I also write a monthly blog at Kate Tilton’s Connecting Authors and Readers. You can find my posts at her blog here. The easiest way to keep up to date with all my comings and goings is to follow me at Twitter or Facebook as West1Jess. Fair warning, I’m not a PG-13 type of person, and my online persona reflects that. Proceed with caution. 😉
Thanks again for hosting me on your blog today!
AB: And thank you, Jessica West, for allowing us the opportunity to highlight your work today.
I’m sure our readers have learned so much from you, about your work, and how to start writing for themselves.
To our readers, and especially new writers, please take the time to support the authors who support you. Take time to read their books, follow them on social media, and of course, share their pages.
Until next time…be safe, be kind, and always be happy!