When is it Good to Indie Publish?

When I first began going to writers conferences around 2003, vanity publishing (where you pay someone to produce your book) was considered only a dire writer’s avenue to get his poorly written manuscript to the public. These novels were not given any credit by publishing gatekeepers (such as editors, agents and book reviewers.)

PublishVanity publishing morphed into several forms to what is now the indie industry. There are still vanity publishers who will take your money and produce your book. However, indie publishing is where the author becomes publisher– hiring freelance people for all facets of book production but they remain in control of their product.

Over a decade later and the attitude surrounding indie publishing has changed a lot. Though some still hold the above attitude, it is diminishing, and self-publishing is no longer considered the last nail in a writer-wanting-to-be-an-author coffin.

A few years ago, I attended a talk given by well respected literary agent Rachelle Gardner, a self-published author herself whose book highlights traditional vs self-publishing. She gave a talk touting some of the benefits of pursuing self-publishing and in some instances considered it a bonus to an author’s career.

What?!? Yes, that screeching sound was both my feet hitting the brake pedal.

The dizzying pace of these changing attitudes in publishing can leave an author scratching his/her head.

Personally, I’ve seen several close friends pursue indie publishing and have moderate success. By this I mean they earned back the money they invested in preparing the manuscript (for editing, the book cover and interior design) and perhaps have earned a couple of thousand dollars. A smaller minority had great success and went on to further get traditional publishing contracts.

What I’ve determined is that there is a good time and place to consider indie publishing as an author, and here are some of those situations to consider.

1. You have a polished manuscript but it can’t find a home with a publisher. First, I want to qualify what I mean by a polished manuscript. This is much, much more than finishing a rough draft that your mother and friends slobber over. They’re not good book critics because they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. It means that it’s been professionally edited, at least twenty people outside of family (and are familiar with books, genre, and good writing) love it, and maybe your agent even shopped it around but it couldn’t find a home. An even better indicator of this caliber of manuscript is that it has finaled in a well-respected writing contest like the Genesis Contest sponsored by ACFW. It takes six to ten years to learn the writing craft and a couple of written books under your belt to fit this definition.

2. There will be a delay in books releasing between your traditional publishing contracts. What I’ve heard and read is that it also takes six to ten years to build a readership. During that time frame, it’s wise to have a book releasing no longer than once a year. Some authors do more—some do less but you want a predictable stream of novels to keep readers’ interest piqued.

3. You are a control freak. Creatives like control over their product. Publishing is not that way. It is a collaborative effort so some of what you love about your creation is going to change. Some people enjoy all aspects of the book publishing process and want to have final say over every aspect—going strictly with their vision. Self-publishing is the best venue for the author to maintain total control. You also have to front all the cost and carry the entire burden as well for marketing and distribution.

4. You want to maintain your rights. When you sign a traditional publishing contract, your book is no longer really yours—in a sense. The publisher owns it in certain formats (maybe even all formats) and most often times will have clauses in your contract on other avenues they have the option to pursue—like hard cover large print rights. Some authors don’t want to give this up but then, as in the above, you’ll also be the one to try and negotiate selling the rights in different formats if you choose.

5. You want to write in other genres. Most often, an agent and traditional publisher are going to encourage you to stick with one genre but few authors I know really want to do that for their entire writing career. These might be good novels to self-publish under a pen name. Even this attitude is changing as well. Many authors I know are writing in multiple genres using the same name and don’t seem to be suffering for it.

6. You want to build volume more quickly to increase income. The flip side of building a readership is how much material you have to offer. When my first novel released, if the reader loved it, there was nothing else for them to read. Now, if they love any one of my books—they have at least two others to choose from. The more books you have, the more options a reader will have to choose and buy another book of yours to read—thus increasing your potential earning income.

What do you think? Have you indie published? Did you consider a success? Would you do it again?

This blog post first appeared at Novel Rocket. Hope you’ll check their blog out!

How to find your best influencers

Jan and Ron vertThe longer I’m in the writing business, the more I appreciate the importance of influencers in helping me build my audience and increase sales. What’s tricky for many writers, however, is figuring out just who and where those influencers can be found.

Unfortunately, after eight years and eight books of being a published author, I still don’t have a magic formula for identifying and recruiting those valuable assets for my marketing efforts. All I can offer you is my own experience and insights, so here goes:

  1. It’s great to have known experts or writers give you an endorsement for your book, but unless they are truly excited about your book and independently give it exposure in their own networks, the endorsement is just nice copy for your back cover, and won’t produce momentum in sales. Those experts are busy with their own marketing and projects, and the truth is, they give endorsements widely as a courtesy, rather than out of commitment to your publicity goals.
  2. The best influencers have a stake in your sales. Although my books sell around the world, my strongest sales come from a local gift shop because the store owner enjoys my books so much, she talks them up to customers and regularly features them in store promotional materials. Because of her enthusiasm, I’ve had more press coverage in local media than I could procure by my own efforts and a consistently growing word-of-mouth readership. As an influencer, she’s one of my best!
  3. You need to continually cultivate relationships with potential influencers. This means reaching out via social networking and/or physically traveling to meet people in your field of interest who might find your books of value in their own professional goals. To market my girl-meets-dog memoir, I make a point of connecting with animal rescue groups/animal humane societies online, and when possible, I attend their conferences/events as a vendor. I often give free copies to keynote speakers or other passionate animal lovers I meet, in hopes they will read and enjoy the book so much, they will mention it to others. Yes, this is basically a hit-or-miss method, but so far, I’ve always made a few excellent contacts and found one or two awesome influencers at such events. It’s well worth my time and money to break into a new group of potential reader-buyers.
  4. Connect with bloggers with big audiences in your target market and ask to send them a copy of your book in return for a review. Offer them additional copies to use as giveaways when they publish a review of your book, or whenever they might have a contest going on. Doing this gives you a reach well beyond your own social networks and local geographic area. I’ve met several significant influencers in this way, and they continue to give me promotional value with each new book.

What tips do you have for identifying and recruiting influencers for your marketing efforts?

A Writing and Publishing Journey

So John, tell me about the writing of your book. How long did it take? What did you learn about publishing? What was the most enjoyable and most the difficult part of the process?

Pastor John Merritt, Discover. The Writing Journey

I’ve been asked questions like these numerous times in recent months. And since my first book, Don’t Blink, ready to be released in November (EBook is already available)—I thought I’d share what I loved and what I did not love about becoming an author (things you may consider if you have thoughts of becoming an author yourself).

What I loved: The actual writing of the book that took place during a six month sabbatical. I’ve always enjoyed writing, telling a story and making biblical application out of real life experiences. What I didn’t know was that writing the book was the easy part—let me tell you about the hard part.

Don’t Blink is for procrastinators, dreamers, and would-be adventurers who wish to grab hold of life this day, knowing there are no guarantees about someday. From Alaska to Argentina to the Amazon―in situations ranging from dangerous to humorous―John Merritt takes you on a daring pilgrimage revealing what living in the moment looks like. John demolishes the notion that once you become a Christian your freedoms are gone and your fun is done. Life is an extraordinary adventure elevated to audacious heights when God is leading the charge.

Don’t Blink is for procrastinators, dreamers, and would-be adventurers who wish to grab hold of life this day, knowing there are no guarantees about someday. From Alaska to Argentina to the Amazon―in situations ranging from dangerous to humorous―John Merritt takes you on a daring pilgrimage revealing what living in the moment looks like. John demolishes the notion that once you become a Christian your freedoms are gone and your fun is done. Life is an extraordinary adventure elevated to audacious heights when God is leading the charge.

What I didn’t love: The first thing I didn’t love was when I was advised to hire a professional editor who proceeded to get out her electronic red pen and essentially let me know how unaccomplished my writing was. In the end I was thankful for her coaching because the result was her finally telling me, “John, you’ve found your writers voice.” But that required many tedious rewrites that took longer than the initial draft.

A second thing I didn’t love was the realization that unless I was able to find an agent willing to represent my project I had no chance of getting a publishing house to even consider my work. Finding Alice Crider (then with WordServe, now with Cook) was a God-send and was not easy. (Note: Because of the difficulty in getting an agent to represent you, self-publishing is sometimes your best option.)

A third thing I didn’t love is the months it took for my agent to find a publisher who was interested in my book (took an entire year). There are many reasons why a publisher says no to a writer but the main one is market share. Publishers are in the business of selling books, and if you are not able to prove that you have a large audience who will buy lots of books, it really doesn’t matter how good your content is.

A final thing I don’t love is all the marketing of the book I must personally do because no one else is going to do it (not even most publishers these days). Because I’m not good at social media I’ve employed a person who I’m greatly indebted to (Leah Apineru with Impact Author Services, Colorado Springs) who built and maintains my website and posts my blogs. But I’ve always hated self-promotion and leaning on my friends to get the word out—sorry!

Why I wrote it: Given that being a published author is much more difficult than I ever imagined, why did I hang in there and spend lots of my own dollars in order to get my book out there? Simply because I think it will help Christians like yourself discover that God has an adventure designed just for you that will elevate your life each day. And what elevates the purpose of the book for me is if people like yourself find the book to be a good one to pass along to your non-Christian friends who could use a different perspective of the Christian life. If the publishing of “Don’t Blink” results in spiritual explorers becoming followers of Jesus then all that I didn’t love about publishing will be worth it!

John Merritt's Don't Blink TribeToward that end, I’m looking for friends who share that same passion and will help me by reading the book and then sharing it with your friends and family members. Currently Don’t Blink is available in EBook form through Amazon, Kindle, iBookstore and Barnes & Noble Nook. The paperback is due to be released November 10 and you can pre-order a book now. If you would like to learn more about joining the tribe, email: impactauthor@comcast.net.

Please connect with me on Facebook

Thanks everyone!


How to Make Offers They Can’t Refuse

clapping peopleI’ve learned a terrific lesson about social networking this summer.

If you offer, you receive.

Recently, I’ve turned my LinkedIn contact list into a fertile field of opportunity for spreading my brand by offering help to others. Sometimes, the offer is to write a guest post for a contact’s blog, or to be a last-minute guest for a radio show, or to send a free copy of one of my books because of a mutual interest. I don’t make the offer until a person I’ve invited to connect with me accepts the invitation, and then, instead of just filing their acceptance email away, I take the time to compose a personal note making my offer as a service to them.

That means I only look to connect with people who share an interest of mine, and if they accept my invitation, I then think of a personal way I might contribute to their goals. By asking first how I can help, it reminds me that my writing is my ministry, my God-given gift, and that when others succeed with my help, I’ve made a difference for them. It helps make writing not quite the solitary endeavor it tends to be, and it allows me an avenue to actually build relationships with my contacts. In an age of electronically linking up with people all over the country and the globe, any personal interaction stands out; suddenly that contact in my address book has a personality and we have a tiny bit of shared history. That’s good for people and good for business.

But the big surprise I discovered was how easy it is to offer help, and how grateful people can be. Thanks to my offers, I’ve found new ways to reach larger audiences:

  1. Though I stopped writing my own blog years ago for lack of time, I’m now providing occasional guest posts for three bloggers in the pet dog category. Each time I guest, my host includes links to my website and mentions my best-selling girl-meets-dog memoir Saved by Gracie. I interact with blog readers and expand my brand as they in turn learn more about me. Sweet!
  2. I tell every radio host I connect with that I am happy to fill in last minute if they need a guest. I’ve gotten two interviews that way – with only a day’s notice! Both programs were recorded and played to large markets. I publicized air dates on my social networks, and since they were podcasts, my – and the hosts’ – audience can continue to access them. Score!
  3. Likewise, I offer to speak at any service group’s weekly gathering (think Rotary Club) about my new project to encourage people to #getoutsidehappy! While my message promotes getting outside for greater health and happiness, it also heightens awareness of my books. I make a few sales at the gathering, but what means even more to me is spreading useful information to help people improve their lives. Win-win!

Do you use social networking to offer help?

How Writers Can Help Other Writers

While the writing process often requires many hours of solitude in order to turn inspiration into polished paragraphs, I have found that the writing life has a social component that I enjoy. Both before and after the publication of a book, there are numerous ways writers can help each other. Here are a few I discovered:

1. Share experience: The path from hopeful writer to published author can be mysterious to someone preparing to write a first book. Another writer who has walked the path can illuminate the way, point out potential stumbling stones and highlight the important milestones on the journey.

How do you find a good literary agent? What sections belong in a book proposal? How many months does it usually take for your proposal to be accepted by a publisher? Another writer can provide information, perspective, and hope. The mystery of what it takes to achieve the dream of publishing a book becomes a clear set of goals when a more experienced writer helps someone just starting the process.

2. Facilitate connection: Another writer may be able to do much more than simply give a novice writer advice. How much better to work with a literary agent or editor that your friend recommends than to send a stack of letters to strangers. Writers who connect to other writers grow their circle of influence. The end result offsets the isolation of the writing process and helps improve the craft of writing for everyone.

3. Provide feedback: Writers can provide a level of feedback to other writers beyond that supplied by typical readers. Writers understand plot structure, style guides and arcane grammatical rules. They know the right place for a chapter break and how to write the acknowledgment section. No writer is too experienced to benefit from the insights of another writer.

4. Expand resources: When it comes time to increase readership, writers can help each other meet people at conferences, organize author events and multiply social media reach.

If you have already written a book, be generous with new authors. Write a review of a new book, mention a new author on social media, and take a photo with him or her at a writer’s conference.

5. Offer encouragement: Do you remember what it was like to wait while publishers reviewed your manuscript? Did the time from submission of your last edit to shipment of your published books seem to drag on forever? If so, you are the perfect person to offer encouragement to a new author.

If you are a new author lost in the publication process, seek out wisdom from authors who have gone before you. Learn from their mistakes and celebrate their successes. Writing does not have to be a lonely profession.

How has another writer helped you during the publication process, and how have you helped other writers in turn?

The Power of the Ask

I sometimes forget the strength of the simple. Social media is a brawny tool, but it’s sometimes vexing to figure out the best way to reach the masses using our profile platforms. That’s why a couple of informal posts I recently put up surprised me in their reach and response. I re-learned a lesson about the power of the ask.The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

From infancy, we quickly figure out we must communicate our desires and needs in order to have them filled. A baby cries. A toddler whines. A little child begs. A teenager says, “Mommy or Daddy, please?”

If we make our requests without manipulation or ill motives, especially when we are inspired for a greater good, we generally receive what we ask for. I remember a few years ago, when I read Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, and feeling struck when he mentioned the power of simply asking as criteria for getting what we want. The world relinquished a wise and insightful man when he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2008. Randy’s book was his final gift to the world.

Randy Pausch Questions More ImportantI was reminded of The Last Lecture when two different times I asked for help on my social media platforms. My intent was to help others, but as a by-product, the information I received also helped me. I believe because my questions were genuine and sincere, my friends, fans, and followers were eager to assist.

First, as a favor to a friend who is an editor for a women’s magazine, I asked seven questions in order to find out what the hottest topics were for women today. Not only did the volume of answers surprise me, but so did the patterns they revealed. It turns out many women are struggling with similar issues–raw, real, and relevant in our 21st century culture.

My friend got the information she needed, but as a bonus, I’ve been able to share what I learned with other women with hearts to share messages that matter. The benefit I received was my own fresh insight into what sisters of today are battling, allowing me to search for answers on their behalf. All because I dared to ask.

Getting Through Amazon Best SellerThe second thing I asked for came as a result of requesting detailed and specific aid from my social media peeps. When my latest book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over released in late March, it enjoyed a strong opening run. The first 90 days, readers reviewed and spread the word as the message resonated with many who were hurting, or knew someone else who was. But as authors, we know the challenge of keeping our messages out there, and figuring out how to reach appropriate audiences with our words of help, healing, and hope.

So when I asked on social media for ideas and/or connections to reach chaplains for the military, hospitals, or prisons, I was again shocked at how much my friends were willing to assist. The power of the ask extended my reach, and the longevity of my book’s impact.

In a world that often feels complicated and confusing, with voices shouting, “Try this. Do that,” it’s refreshing to remember the strength of the simple. Lately, I’ve seen many ask for help in a myriad of ways on social media.Social Media Platforms

“What pediatrician do you recommend in the Denver area? Go!”

“My son got blood on my favorite yellow shirt. Can it be saved? How do you remove blood stains? Go!”

“I need a quick dish for our family reunion this weekend. What’s your fave? Go!”

These days, folks are used to being asked to help with many things. So why can’t we ask for help in sharing our messages, or to find out what messages we should share? Instead of overcomplicating it, why not enact the power of the ask?

What are your current hot topics? Do you have any insights on how/who I can spread my message of real healing and hope for the hurting? How can I help you?

Planning a Book Release Party

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, an author does much more than just write. In fact understanding this was my biggest learning curve once I penned my John Hancock on my first contract. You are a writer, editor, marketer, publicist, your own biggest cheerleader, and your own worst critic. Not to mention the fact that you have multiple voices talking to you at one time as you write. Don’t worry…that’s normal. Kind of.

Book Release Party - Shadowed Kariss Lynch
This year, I added “party planner” to my growing writing resume as I prepared for the release of Shadowed just two short months ago. When Shaken released in 2014, my friends planned a sweet party to celebrate. This year, it was my turn to grab the wheel. Only I had no idea where to begin! But like all things in this writing journey, the learning curve is steep, the lessons memorable, and the end result rewarding.

The release party doesn’t have to be stressful! Here are some tips I picked up along the way.

1. Choose a theme.

I planned two different parties with the help of loved ones. I wanted to theme the parties, so I selected decorations and small touches according to the audience. Since some of the major moments in Shadowed are centered around sunsets and the ocean and an opening scene with fireworks, I found decorations that flowed like water and paper décor that resembled the pop of color bursting in a dark sky. It was a fun way to set the stage. For the second party, we decided to go with simple and elegant to fit the audience coming. We chose a room lined with windows overlooking downtown, decorated a center table with roses, set up a sidebar with refreshments, and left an open space for mingling and signing books.

2. Delegate the details.

I still didn’t pull this off on my own. In fact, I had a moment where I almost threw in the towel. But friends and family came to the rescue. Friends volunteered to bring refreshments and plastic ware that fit the beach theme. Others donated door prizes like Fossil watches and a hand-lettered quote from Shadowed framed beautifully. Another friend set up a photo booth complete with reading glasses and chalkboards that represented different plot twists. Party-goers could grab their favorite pair of reading glasses, a chalkboard with their favorite plot twist, and enact the scene on camera.

3. Send the invite.

Gather those around you who weathered the journey with you. Those who sat through the tears and endless plot conversations, the ones who left meals on your doorstep, or talked you off the ledge when you wanted to quit. Let them celebrate this win with you! As excited as your readers will be, these people will be even more excited for you, and let’s be honest, you couldn’t have reached this accomplishment without them. Then, encourage them to bring their friends, friends who may just be curious about you as an author, who may just want to come for the party, and who may just walk away as fans of your work. Use Facebook or Evite to send a mass message so that folks can easily respond

4. Remember the journey.

Don’t forget to hit pause in the craziness and excitement Shadowed Kariss Lynchand remember. Remember from whence you’ve come. Remember the winding road that led you to this point, the road that seemed to never end and had too many bumps to identify. Remember that writing is your calling. Remember the One who gave you the story in the first place.

5. Celebrate!

Bask in the joy of completion, of your baby entering the wide, wide world. Ask a couple of your confidants to keep an eye on the refreshments and remind people to turn in their tickets for door prizes, then cut loose and celebrate. Share your heart, speak of the journey, talk about the story, smile, laugh, sell books, giveaway a few, and praise God for the gift of completion, of release day, and all He taught you along the way.

When all is said and done, clean up, sleep up, then hit the desk. You’ve got another manuscript to finish.