Self-publishing used to be considered a vanity choice, but with the current flux of the book industry, independent publishing has blossomed into an exciting new market. Independent authors are taking control of their own publishing careers and becoming entrepreneurs who write, market, and publish. It’s the wild wild west of publishing with a wide variety of results, from modest incomes, to full-time jobs, to super-star authors making over five figures a month! There’s never been a better time to take your publishing career into your own hands.
Fascinated by this new opportunity, I’ve interviewed several independent authors on the front lines of YA self-publishing scene to see what the challenges and rewards are of becoming an “author-preneur.”
For this first installment of this YA Self-Publishing Series, I’m excited to be chatting with Drae Box, author of The Royal Gift, the first book in the YA Common Kingdoms series. Drae is also a writing and success mentor, as well as the host of the podcast AIM FOR MORE. I’m super excited to have her on the blog today to give us an in-depth look at what it means to dive into self-publishing! (Plus, there’s a totally rad freebie at the end of this post … so don’t miss that!)
Let’s dive in with Drae!
The Royal Gift and The Writing Process
I: Welcome to my blog, Drae! Please introduce yourself to my readers and tell us a little bit about you and your books.
D: I became a storyteller at a young age. When I was six or seven years old, one of my sisters confiscated my Game Boy Original, and stashed it in the uppermost box in a stack of them nestled by our bunk bed. I crept into our bedroom when she was downstairs, and I climbed onto the top bunk. As soon as my knee struck the mattress, there was a loud crack and something gave under my knee. Trembling, I scurried to the other end of the bed and with determination, grabbed my Game Boy. When I climbed down off the bed, I spotted that one of the wood slats that held the mattress up had broken in two! Terrified I was about to get in a lot of trouble, I made a plan, and with my Game Boy in hand, headed downstairs.
My body was shaking so much in fear I still remember how visible my shakes felt despite trying to still them. I found my mum and told her the biggest fib I had ever told, “Mum, I was playing on my Game Boy in my bedroom and the bed went, ‘crack’ and broke all by itself!”
I have no idea how I got away with the obviously-a-lie story, but I did. That’s not to say I was a liar (although in this instance I was). I was the kid who when my mother would line us up and ask, “Who did it?!” I would smile because I thought it was funny and get automatically branded as the troublemaker.
In hindsight, it’s clear that I was a determined individual even back then – I did get to continue playing Donkey Kong on my Game Boy after all, and although my ability to lie never got better, my storytelling did.
The stories I tell these days started from a day of avoiding Chemistry homework; I started writing for fun that day, exploring what a sixteen-year-old girl would do if she to save her village and had no clear skills or achievements yet – she had no amazing sword fighting skills, at the time she hadn’t provoked her gift, she had never been far from her village, and the only thing worth noting was that she knew Prince Pedibastet, the talking Prince of the Cats.
I: Tell us a little bit about your writing process…
D: My writing process has changed in the thirteen years since I started writing. I’m both a plotter and a pantser (what I like to call an anter). When I first started, it was simple bullet-point ‘spine’, but these morphed into extensive beats, and some have required colour coded notes within them too. I don’t worry too much about staying close to the bullet-points though, as I often write both chronologically by scene, and out of scene order. The story’s structure is much more important than staying to the original plan.
As well as bullet-point, I often will end up brainstorming or mind-mapping at any point in the story by hand, and for the first draft of ANTIs back when I was in upper school, I planned it by writing a history essay by one of the characters. This year I have kept room to maneuver as a pantser by only creating the chunky bullet-points a little bit ahead at a time. I combine this with having some plans for future scenes that aren’t concrete in place later on and often won’t be found on the spine until the moment I reach a good place for them to go. This means if I go off on a different idea that breaks away from the next few scenes’ plans, I can make sure it will still work with the story’s structure and the structure itself can adapt to suit. This is important for me because without knowing some of the ways forwards, I can’t jump around in the timeline and write scenes out of order, which often lead to a much stronger structural because I can explain the WHY behind each scene’s importance.
A lot of writers get angry with themselves if they try to write every day and fail, whilst others get disappointed and find it close to impossible to write every day. I’ve found a few different systems that allow me to write every day, even if my day is booked full by clients, awareness building, family or fun. These systems were tested to breaking point and continue to be tested, and I can happily say they work for everyone serious about getting their writing on the page. With these systems, right now I have an average of 2837 words a day.
My drafts come as fast or as slow as they’re going to. As long as there’s continuous progress (which is more important than how many words you churn out), I can write a fresh draft within a year or less. The publication drafts can take a little longer, as it involves working with an editor twice (which I’ll cover in one of the questions below).
I: The Royal Gift sounds action packed. How do you keep up the pacing in your novels?
D: I follow the story and be conscious about the implementation of the story’s structure (the plot, characters, world and storyline and how it all sits together). In real life, we don’t always have a busy day, and we don’t always have a completely slow day. It tends to be the same for our characters – not every moment will be action packed, but where it is needed and makes sense to the story’s progress, the action follows.
I: Building a fantasy world is a complex feat. What are your secrets to world building?
D: Building a fantasy world requires you to know it better than others. Things have to make sense to you. Like magic in one of my series – only those with a specific bloodline can do magic, and the magic particle is created in the lungs of a sorcerer through the breathing process. Then mages have to steal or barter for these particles.
For my main series which includes The Royal Gift, the secret was building it as I went, but not just in the books. I write miscellaneous pieces, which are fun pieces set between the books or that look at a, ‘what if,’ scenario. These can often be a great way to find new ideas too. Everything has to still make sense though. Here are two good examples from The Common Kingdoms series:
Swords and fridges – caused by high importation tax!
The Common Kingdoms series focuses almost completely on two characters who call the Giften Kingdom home. Their ally, the Southern Kingdom, is the technologically advanced kingdom nearest them, and they create electrical goods and cars. The Giftens have issues affording the importation tax to bring specific goods across the border, and that includes everything that runs on electric (even the cables). So Giftens don’t rely on things like guns and have to rely on what’s available to them such as swords and javelins. Although a lot of them have found a way to financially afford some of the kitchen commodities that are considered essentials, none at the beginning of the series has ever brought a car over the border, and the kingdom is gun-free until around the time of the third book (but we don’t see them until book four).
Talking cats – caused by a meddling sorcerer in Giften’s history
One of the most known sorcerers in Giften’s history is the one who was nicknamed the Creator. His magic almost always required him to create a physical object (like the six Weapons of Protection to be used in the defense of the original six villages, the royal palace that magically defends any inside with royal Giften blood, and the Bayre and Frey Mansions being just a few of his more noticeable achievements in the series).
Before he chose to disappear due to rising tensions in the 1400s, he owned two cats. These two cats played in his workshop one day and spilled the contents of a cauldron on themselves. By itself, the spell in the cauldron would not have done anything, but due to the heavy magic pollution in Giften’s soil, all descendants of those cats (and those they came into regular contact with), gained the ability to speak and think like humans. This will continue on until the spell the bloodlines absorbed becomes too weak to interact with the magic pollution of Giften soil during the gestation period.
Until then, enjoy snobby Prince Pedibastet, a firm favorite with my current readers, haha!
Let’s Talk Self-Publishing
I: Where are you in your self-publishing journey?
D: I’m published and near to releasing the second book of my main series. I’ve been working towards getting published since 2006. Back then I had been writing for three years, and was often looking into ways I could market my books and how other authors were finding their success. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this continuing interest in marketing my books would lead me to a decade of knowledge and training I play with and experiments I do on a weekly, sometimes daily basis.
It’s almost a year since the release of The Royal Gift, and it’s done really well. At last count a total of 13,179 copies have been purchased or downloaded, and more than once it has held second or third place in its Amazon categories. It continues to do well by being in the top ten or twenty depending on the hour of the day.
I: Why did you choose to self-publish? What appeals to you about being an indie author?
D: In my research into independently publishing, I noticed something – both traditional publishing and independently publishing are almost the same experience for the authors. Take a look:
- There are still people that are going to hate your book, or love it.
- As the author, you still have to do the heavy-lifting of building awareness of you and your books.
- You get earnings if your book does well.
As an independent publisher and author, I’m happy to keep my books’ rights and to treat my books as professionally as a traditional publishing house such as Harper Collins. I care about quality control like they do – I have editors and professional book cover designers on my team, and no cost is too high if it means a better book for my readers. The bonus is I get to choose the final book cover design!
I: What are your goals as an indie author?
D: My goal as an independently published author is to share my characters’ adventures with as many readers that enjoy stories like I do, and treat their trust in my books as professionally as possible. It’s not about the money for me, but that does help publish the next book.
I plan to be a hybrid author one day – an author who is both traditionally and independently published, and some rights of my independently published books may be sold in the future. The Common Kingdoms series will only have a few of the rights sold for example (like foreign rights), but then other series like my Forbs Quadrilogy are planned to be traditionally published which means selling most or all of the rights in return for royalties and a larger team backing the books.
I: What was the best surprise about self-publishing?
D: It wasn’t specific to self-publishing, but the first bit of fan mail. The idea of me getting fan mail for some reason never crossed my mind as something to expect, but I’ve had quite a few now, and I love meeting my readers on Skype and by email.
I: What has been the hardest challenge of self-publishing?
D: Picking the final book cover. In fact it continues to be something of a challenge – it’s taken twelve years to figure out what to put on Threat’s cover, which is the same amount of time it took to decide for The Royal Gift. I’m seeing a pattern here. Thankfully, it will be broken by book three, which has the obvious choice of the Shotput of Power on it.
I: I’ve noticed the pace of self-publishing can be very fast. Are you an author who puts out a new book every two to four months? If so, how do you keep up the pace?
D: I care a lot about what I let readers get their hands on. I don’t publish before a book is ready. I work with an editor for structural edits. This often sees a new version of the story being written from scratch because that is the easiest way I can work with structural suggestions, and becomes known as the publication draft. I then end up returning to the same editor for line-edits, then cast my attention to awareness building, the book cover and continuing to write. I tend to release a book once a year, but this is due to the systems I have in place, from automated financing in advance, all the way to getting a reader aware my books exist. These systems can be adapted as long as I ensure I keep the fundamentals, like each part of getting readers aware the book exists.
I: How do you balance all the demands of being an indie author? How do you balance book production, marketing, book launches, list building, and still find time to write?
D: I realize I’ve said systems already, but it is systems. I boiled everything down to the basics, then add tactics on top of that if I want to (they’re actually not needed with a good system). I’m also continually running experiments; recently I ran an experiment called, Does Waking Up Extra Early to Write REALLY Work? My Writers’ Club will be getting the results of that experiment soon as I wrap it up.
I: How do you combat the common stigma that self-published books are low quality?
D: The answer to this is pretty simple: quality control and being prepared to pay professionals to be on my publishing team. I don’t approach self-publishing as a quick income, and I don’t just throw out the first draft or a version an editor has never seen. It’s so important to do quality control and create a decent product (because like it or not, whilst we’re having fun writing and terrorizing our characters, the end result is a possible product). Being an author isn’t some get rich quick option. Time, effort and money has to be invested, and not just the bare minimum.
- You practice improving your writing every day. I have three different styles of writing – the one seen in my YA books, the one seen in my adult fantasy books and my non-fiction writing. This costs time.
- A percentage of my earnings are automatically put to the side on the days when money comes in from book distributors and working with my clients. This is used for large publication and quality control costs. It also covers the few marketing costs I have that cost in money as well as time.
- After a few drafts and your own editing runs, you’re ready to approach an editor for a structural edit. This will cost money, and you need to research them beforehand. You should not hire another author – you need to hire a professional editor with the testimonials and training to go with it. A good editor is also not available straight away, so book in advance.
- When you get your structural report and manuscript notes back, take a few days to consider what your editor has said. This is when I start writing a completely new version of the manuscript, taking into account the previous version’s most important structural developments, my knowledge of my characters, and suggestions from my editor. This one costs a lot of time.
- When that’s done, you do your own line-edit runs, then hand it off to your editor again for their line-edits.
- Whilst they’re doing that, start getting promotional requirements ready, including your book cover design by a professional designer whose style is in keeping with the traditionally published books, not someone who is the cheapest.
- A month or so after giving your editor your manuscript for line-edits, you should get it back. Run through their suggestions and trust your gut. My editor is spot-on almost every time, so I make all the changes she recommends except maybe two or three per manuscript. This costs a day’s work with manuscripts under 100,000 words.
- Start your publishing run. This includes, “pressing publish” and awareness building. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to have promotional activity taking place around the launch or any that costs you anything. Any time to promote will do, because you’re in it for the long-term, just don’t expect to become a big name overnight.
I: I often hear that indie authors have a very strong connection with their fans. How do you build a community with your readers?
D: I make sure they can contact me. They build their own community, but you’ll find the strongest part of the community are members of Readers’ Club (my email list for my series’ fans). I’m always ready to email my readers back, and make sure I can be reached on most social media.
Coaching Authors and Being an Entrepreneur
I: In addition to being an indie author you also mentor other authors. How awesome! Tell us a bit about how you work with your authors and the benefits they get from your coaching.
D: When writers come to me, they’re frustrated and sometimes really angry with themselves because they aren’t getting anywhere. Other times they’re just feeling lost or want to make sure they get things right from the start, so they can avoid feeling like a failure.
I work one-on-one with writers that are serious about their future author careers (or improving their existing author careers) over a series of months, with Skype calls, homework, email support and optional weekly check-ins. For some, I’ll even visit them or arrange for them to travel to my studio to work together for a weekend in person. The work I do with each author depends on their goal and what I know works from my own experiments, analysis and research. My main services to help writers with email list building, growing awareness and a fanbase, and (the all-in-one) author success mentoring. The client and I will build a system specific and adaptive to them to help them take confident steps towards their goal, whether that’s 2000 email subscribers, 25,000 purchases or making their name recognised.
We build on the knowledge and training I’ve gained over a decade of regular observation and analysis of author successes, book marketing and book launches in the traditional and independently publishing sectors. We also use the experiments I can often be found doing to further tweak our approach to their struggle.
When we have worked together for 60 days, 90 days or 6 months, they will have made progress (if they’ve put the time in to do the work) and will be seeing the results they crave. Sometimes they won’t be right at their goal but will be clearly on their way, and because they have a system, they know where to go from there. They know I’m around if they need my help further to implement and adapt their system we designed for them.
(If you’re a serious writer and want my help, check out the gift below!)
I: You also have a podcast! Tell us what you talk about and how readers can listen in.
D: Previously, my podcast was available on Blab. When they closed down, I had the audio recordings, which I was super-relieved at. These interviews were with other successful authors, like Krista Walsh and Zee Southcombe, and looked at the tactics of book marketing or launching that worked for them. These are safely tucked away for members of Writers’ Club.
The podcast returned after Blab closed pretty quickly, revamped to help creative writers and thinkers to think outside the box and be inspired to keep going, despite anything getting in their way of achieving their goals. Now rebranded as the Aim for More Podcast, I’ve had big names like Vasavi Kumar and Holly Worton on as some of my guests, and well-known artists like Jonah Lobe. It releases every two weeks but is currently stuck in iTunes’ and Stitcher’s approval processes. Right now those interested can listen over at draebox.com’s podcast section and you can download it too.
I: What are the top three things you find aspiring indie authors need to work on?
- Being consistent. It’s not plug and play. It’s work, write, work, write, work, write (and repeat).
- Treat the version the readers get as professionally as possible. Don’t scrimp on the costs. Make sure you have the finances to give your book its best chance of success. Let your readers be rewarded for trusting your book will be good quality.
- Don’t be afraid to build awareness. A lot of writers do very little awareness building in actuality, focusing on tactics like how many twitter followers they have instead of doing the real work that is needed to grow awareness and be successful.
I: There’s a ton of information online about self-publishing. What are your top three most useful resources?
D: There is no top three resources, because it’s all about observation and seeing what works, picking it apart and seeing if you can build a system to get you the same or better results. But I realise people want resources when they read this question, so here are three that will give you a few ideas to get you started. Just be aware that tactics like Facebook advertising have a limited shelf-life.
- Bookbub Insights – good for beginners interested in strategies.
- Amazon’s Kindle Store – a lot of my research into others’ success starts here.
- Tim Grahl’s Your First 1000 Copies – for those interested in email lists.
I: What is your number one book marketing secret?
D: Take it seriously: do the work and notice what is and isn’t working for YOU and adapt.
I: What advice would you give to anyone considering self-publishing?
D: Care enough about your readers’ trust in you that you work hard on your quality control and put money into making your book successful at its core. Costly marketing like Facebook advertising or Bookbub only makes a bad book stick out faster.
I: Lightning Round:
- Best book you’ve read in the last 6 months: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. It was different to the sort of things I normally read (fantasy, sci-fi, crime), as it was a romance written in first person. Seeing the way the female character evolved through the book, and how the author remained true to her male character’s internal thoughts really caught me. It was more than that though. The struggle for disabled people, whether born that way or not, was incredibly highlighted in a good way – with a disabled twin I was grateful Moyes had put in the work. I’m also dying to finish The Iron Ghost by Jennifer Williams.
- Most influential author on you and your work: Hands down, Garth Nix. I often tell those who are interested that he would be my shelf-buddy.
- If you could time travel, when/where would you go? I’d go three years into the future and pop by every client I’ve ever worked with to see if they stuck with the systems we built and adapted them when needed, and how they did. Then I’d jump back to the present and email them all immediately with the new insights!
- If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you want to be when you “grow up”? I was the kid who changed their mind every week: a vet, a zookeeper, a medieval jousting knight at a castle, a police officer, an army engineer… I’d probably be doing something that I enjoyed.
- If you were a super hero, what would be your super power? This is actually impossible for me. I have to pick one? I’d probably choose something similar to Raneth’s Common Gift of Ice (the main male character in The Common Kingdoms).
- If you were a super hero, what color would your hair be? Blue!
Drae Box is an author success mentor and fantasy author. For a decade, she has studied book marketing and awareness building strategies for fiction authors. Trained in email list building and product launches, she regularly observes and analyses the launches of successful books in the independent and traditional publishing sectors. She uses her analysis and research to help her authors and their books to reach success.
Along with her growing connections with successful independent authors, Drae can be found on social media, chatting with other creative writers and observing the way in which big name, successful authors use them. She continues to run her own experiments on a monthly (sometimes daily) basis by using herself and her books as guinea pigs. When not studying the author industry or writing her own fiction, Drae is guiding other fiction authors with personalized and actionable steps they can take to grow their success and that of their books.
- Get a copy of Drae’s Book: The Royal Gift
- Website: Draebox.com for those interested in learning with her.
- Blog: Drae Box Books
- Twitter: @draebox
- Facebook: Facebook
- Instagram: @draebox
- Snapchat: draebox
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just for readers of Ingrid’s site, as a lot of you are writers, I want to gift you a free guide: 9 Fantastic Tools Every Serious Author Should Have. But I’m not stopping there, along with a personal invite to join Writers’ Club, I’ve opened my calendar to you – get free access to my brain for twenty minutes or just have a natter with me and make a new writing buddy. Head here for these gifts.