For years I said that self-publishing was something I’d not consider doing, but that was before the advent of: the total change in the publishing world, the importance of the Internet to culture and society, the ease of e-publishing, and the failure of Borders. The world has changed. So have I. Change is a necessity, is part of the survival of the fittest, and to not change is to fail. I’m not fond of failure.
As most of you know, Catie (C.E.) Murphy and I worked on a crossover story with our main characters Jane Yellowrock and Joanne Walker. This collaboration was total fun, a sharing of skillsets, abilities, and people we’ve worked with in the past who would help us on the way to our destination. And yes – it was self-published.
I’d like to share how that collaboration came about, from my perspective, and I hope Catie will chime in with her insights. And I know that means it could end up like the blind men and the elephant – everything is different, nothing is the matching, yet somehow it’s the same beast. J
Last year, after the release of Mercy Blade, Catie read Skinwalker and fell in love with Jane. She sent a *fan* letter, and I sent back a mutual fan letter, because I had been a long-time fan of her Walker Papers series (among others of her work). I was so happy that she liked my Jane, but I figured that would be that.
And then Catie sent me a note that she had started a crossover short story with the two characters in a third universe, a universe that was neither hers, nor mine, a universe that had somehow sucked our characters into it. A universe with another New Orleans, a NOLA where much of the recent vamp history in Jane’s universe had not taken place.
Catie sent it to me and I positively loved the opening. It felt magical and read like, well, like something I could get my teeth into. She asked if she could post it on her website, I agreed, and linked to her site on my site. The fans started to cry for more and so did I.
The next day, I added four pages or so to the untitled piece, from Jane’s POV.
Catie came back and said something like, “Wanna do a short story together?”
By that time I was bouncing up and down in my desk chair like a two year old (with glee, not needing a diaper change. Sorry. Odd mental image.) I had two books to write that year, and three shorts, but no way was I missing out on this. This was gonna be fun!
The short was Catie’s idea, so I felt she should have first opportunity to pitch the plot line. Catie (who lives in Ireland) suggested we use DropBox which worked great for collaborating across the pond. We went back and forth with plot suggestions / changes for several days (maybe it was weeks?) before we figured we had something workable, each of us tossing in ideas, adding in places when each character used her magic, and how that magic might differ in the third universe. And we dove in.
The method we came up with was simple, and was predicated on our book schedules, family situations, and holidays. Neither of us pushed the other for a deadline; it was very laidback and easy.
Catie would write a section from Joanne’s POV, *tag* me and I’d revise her section before writing my word count from Jane’s POV. I’d *tag* her. Catie would revise my section and then write her word count. Here is where people who are insecure with their writing skills or with big egos might have had problems. Having someone else make changes or leave comments or questions in the margins might have bent some writers wrong. Fortunately, Catie and I were neither of those, and both of us were having fun.
It took us nearly nine months to write the short, in part because we are both busy and both wordy, and at about 15,000 words, it turned into a novella. Yeah. J So. Nine months. And as usual with anything in commercial writing, the writing was the easy part.
We needed a title, and I stink at titles. Always have. Catie named it Easy Pickings which was perfect for the storyline and the New Orleans setting.
We needed a cover, and I have a cover designer and a model who could look like Joanne. Mike Pruette (http://www.creativedragondesigns.com/ ) did a couple of photo shoots with the model (Alison Bolton) as Joanne, trying to get the body shape and positions right to photo-shop in existing shots of Jane. He had weapons and gear, and Alison can look kickass as Joanne. Trust me. I got to attend one of the shoots – which was very cool! Mike chose a New Orleans jazz bar on Bourbon St. as background and chose the purple tint, the color of the font, and the font itself. Catie (with a background in graphics) and Mike went back and forth on changes on all that. (I mostly agreed or disagreed with what they did.) The cover took several weeks.
Meanwhile, I (I think it was me) suggested that we offer a low-cost, fan-only, short-term opportunity to download the novella from our websites. Catie went for it.
Catie worked on the inside material and turned the text into a .pdf for our websites. She also found two fantastic graphics to show each change of POV. She created her own paypal button and download pages for her site. I paid Mike (who is also my webmaster) to set up mine. While all this was going on, I had a deadline for Death’s Rival (the next JY novel) the release of Cat Tales to PR for, and PR for Raven Cursed to prepare for. Catie, I am sure, was equally busy.
We launched the .pdf sales on our websites, a $1.99 fan-only, short-term opportunity. The only PR was our sites, Face Book pages, Twitter, and blogs. This short-term offering went on for two weeks. I was quite happy with the numbers. So was Catie.
As the .pdf was running, Catie started to do the layout for Amazon and Nook and other e-book forms. It’s harder than it looks when you use graphics. (Remember those cool POV graphics?) My small press editor loaned me his digital guy, and I paid to get the story turned into all of the digital forms. Catie up-loaded them to the appropriate sites. This was a good division of labor vs. money for me.
As of today, Easy Pickings is up on Nook and Amazon, with decent numbers, and Catie and I are debating getting it on Smashwords (which takes a totally different set of digital info, and we’ll likely have to pay to get it done by the Smashwords people.)
Are the numbers gangbusters? No. Are they respectable? Yes. We are pretty happy with them, and, frankly, with the whole experience. It was fun, challenging, and satisfying. I learned a lot of new things, and I learned that I don’t want to bother to learn others. In my opinion, sometimes it’s easier to pay a third party to do some work. Catie, on the other hand, likes the challenges of it all and only wants to pay someone to do work when there is absolutely no way to do it herself.
Have we made a fortune? No. Have we hit any lists? No. Not even with the PR both of us together can generate. Would it have worked had we been unknowns? No way. Will we do it again? Oh yeah. We’ve even left open a way for the characters to reenter that third world for a second novella – this time set in Seattle, Joanne’s home town. Here’s a link to Easy Pickings on Amazon so you can see the fabulous cover. And buy it if you are of a mind.
So – let’s ask the obvious question and throw it open for comments and questions. After reading this – has it changed your thinking about self publishing?