Monday, March 7, 2011

The Author Strikes Back

Victorine Lieske: An Amazing Self-Published Success Story

This is an exciting time in the publishing industry when authors can literally take their careers into their own hands. Today I'm interviewing one of the biggest success stories in self-publishing, Victorine Lieske, to ask about her experiences, tips and secrets. Her novel, Not What She Seems, has sold over 70,000 copies and just hit the NY Times Bestsellers list at the end of February. Recently, in a complete twist on the usual professional journey, New York agents are now querying her asking to represent her work.

Thinking this might be something other writers would like to know more about, I asked Vicki if she'd be willing to do an interview for SFR Brigade, and she graciously agreed.

First of all, Vicki, I just want to clarify for the Brigade that Not What She Seems is not a SFR but a contemporary romantic suspense. Is this your first novel? Can you tell us a little about the plot?

Yes, this is my first novel. It's about a billionaire from NY who falls for a woman on the run, and when he uncovers her past he puts his own life in danger. There's a murder mystery, a little romance although it's totally clean, and some suspense.

Please give us some of the details about your amazing journey. Did you try the traditional publishing route? When and why did you decide to self-publish and how long did it take you to reach that decision?

After I had edited and reworked the book to the point where I felt it was done, I did send out a few query letters to agents. However, I knew the wait was long, the prospects slim, and the advances for a first novel weren't that great. So when I got my first rejection letter I was actually glad. I had decided that I didn't really want to be traditionally published. My novel then sat around on my hard drive for about a year when I stumbled upon Joe Konrath's blog. He was reporting great sales from his ebooks on the Kindle. I checked into it, and it turned out I could sell my book on the Kindle for free! I was astonished.

Is it difficult to self-publish a novel? What are the steps? Where did you learn about how to accomplish this? How did you go about getting self-published? Who created the cover, etc?

It's not very difficult to self-publish an ebook. First you sign up on the Amazon KDP website. (You can also do this on the Pubit website for B&N, the process is the same.) Just create an account, upload a cover image, type in a blurb, upload the book file, and choose a price. The hardest part of this is making sure the file you upload comes out looking good on the hand held device. But when you upload it, the website gives you a preview of what the book will look like on the device. Just click through some pages and make sure the spacing looks good, and you've got indents and such. If you need to, you can adjust your file and upload it again.

I created my own book cover, but if you don't know how to, there are artists who you can hire to do this for you. They charge anywhere from $50 to $250 depending on who you hire. You can also create your own cover, if you know a little bit about design.

Take us through the first month after Not What She Seems was listed on Amazon. How were the initital sales? What steps did you take to promote your novel and develop an online presence? How do you think word got out and why do you think it became so successful--other than being a great story, of course.

I uploaded Not What She Seems on April 17th. By the end of April I had sold seven books. That first half-month definitely seemed quite slow to me. But I had joined Kindleboards.com, and had figured out how to get my book in my signature line, and I would go on there and join in conversations, and post for a while until I would see one sale. In May I began to see two and then three sales each day. Then it grew to five. By the end of May I had sold 158 books. My biggest promotion secret is hanging out on Kindleboards and networking with the other authors. Many of them are looking for authors to interview, or feature on their blog. They'll also share tips on forums that work, and what they've done to promote. Everything I've learned has been through Kindleboards.com.

Did you set any sales goal numbers and plans to reach them, or did you just wing it? What was your first major milestone in terms of sales and how long did it take to get there?

My goals started out small and grew. I began with the goal of one sale each day. Then when that was easy, I raised the goal to three sales each day. As that became the norm, I changed it to five. My first major milestone was to sell 100 books in one month. I was lucky enough to do that in May, my first full month of selling on the Kindle.

You decided at one point to release Not What She Seems in print. Can you explain when and why you made this decision? What was the process involved in getting your novel into a print version?

I honestly didn't think I would publish my book in print. However, when customers started asking if I had a print copy, that changed my thinking. It's a lot harder to turn down sales when people are emailing and asking if you've got a paper copy. So I looked into it, and CreateSpace seemed to me to be the best deal. It wasn't too hard, the hardest part was formatting the inside to look like a standard book. I had to create page numbers and headers, and then I had to save it as a PDF.

How many print copies have sold in comparison to e-books? What are your thoughts on both mediums?

I've sold about 200 print copies, and over 70,000 ebooks. The print copies are nice because you can send them to book bloggers that don't take ebooks. You can also do giveaways on Goodreads.com, and you can't give out ebooks there. But by far, I earn the most money selling the 99 cent ebook. That's pretty easy to see why. It's a buck. The paper book is $14.95.

The latest in your success story is that now agents are querying you. Will you accept representation at this point, and why or why not?

Yes, I am going to accept representation. I have been approached by two people asking about foreign rights, and I know nothing about negotiating a foreign rights deal. I could definitely use an agent to help with that. An agent would also be needed to negotiate film and audio rights.

What are your future plans? (Any Science Fiction Romance in the works?)

Yes, my next novel is a science fiction romance! It's titled The Overtaking, and I'm hoping it will be out in a month.

What's the best advice you can give someone who's considering self-publishing?

1. Write a good book. Join a critique group and make it the best you can.
2. Have a great cover design.
3. Write a compelling blurb.
4. Price it low.
5. Network with other indie authors at Kindleboards.com 
6. Study the successful authors and mimic them.

Would you be available to answer direct questions from writers interested in pursuing self-publishing? Where can they reach you?

Yes, they can contact me through my website at http://www.victorinelieske.com/. I also publish tips on my blog, at www.victorinewrites.blogspot.com

Is there anything else you'd like people to know?

I'm incredibly grateful for the wonderful writers on critiquecircle.com who helped me shape my book into what it is today. I wouldn't be anywhere without them.


Thanks so much, Vicki, for taking time out of your schedule to share your thoughts and knowledge.  I wish you every success with the future sales of Not What She Seems as well as your next SFR novel. 
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9 comments:

  1. Hi Victorine,

    Thank you so much for the interview. I know I'm speaking for many when I say I appreciate the time you took to outline the steps for self-publishing.
    Congratulations and I wish you continued success:)

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  2. Great interview and fascinating story! thanks for sharing it. :-)

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  3. Thanks so much! I enjoy sharing this information, I think it's important for writers to know they have options. :)

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  4. Thank you for your interview, Victorine. As Mr. Spock would say: "Fascinating, Captain!"

    Your story is one the big publishers don't want us to know.
    For a writer with no track record, getting published by an established company has always been difficult. But in today's book-market crunch, it's never been more unlikely. For those who push the envelope, it seems it's virtually impossible.

    But thanks to today's technology, there's another option. Your success story is giving so many of us hope. And your advice sounds most helpful.

    Keep up the good work!

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  5. Vicki has freely opened her heart and her path to sucess to anyone who asks. She's encouraged and helped so many aspiring and published authors. A smart woman, a passion to write from the heart, a supportive family and there's no limits.
    I can't wait for The Overtaking. I suspect it'll fly even higher than Steven and Emily's story.
    Lovely interview, Laurie and hugh congrats to you, Vicki.

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  6. Thank you for your comments, everyone. Vicki was a real pleasure to work with and I think her accomplishments are amazing.

    Can't wait until THE OVERTAKING comes out!

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  7. Great information, Vicki! Thanks for sharing your success with us. All authors should take heart--there are many avenues to publication these days as well as being successful at writing.

    Good Luck and congrats!

    Thanks to Laurie for bringing Vicki here.

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  8. Wow. Very interesting read. I greatly appreciate the wealth of information.

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  9. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience - made for very interesting reading! :)

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