Part 3: Can a self-published author (of fiction) succeed?


Yes, we made mistakes …

I have only just begun this new blog format on my own website which has been around for many years. I seem to feel a need to share with you my 13+ years worth of experiences, yes, including our mistakes! If this introduces more people to our books in the process then I am doing a good job. The bonus for readers (and us) it that with our books in ebook format, they are now more readily and cheaply available.

I have never joined author’s groups, although I have attended a few. Time has always seemed unavailable and they weren’t really my bag. People wanted to know what we had done to be so successful and although we did talk to groups in the early days, we found it took too much of our time. Besides, my husband was the only author in those early days, even though I had been a ‘writer’ since a teenager. I preferred to work alone and became the home-office workhorse. I end up sitting here day and night filling my time with ‘work’ of one sort or another and love it! A publisher’s life is filled with many things especially when they wear ALL the hats in the company!! So now, through this blog, I am trying to give back more than I have been able to in past years. Now, I trust you will pick up something useful  …

Lizzie Our 1st mistake was the title of our first book. Lizzie: Lethal Innocence … we didn’t think of all the connotations … who would have known so many people would think it was about Lizzie Borden. People make snap judgements without even thinking. It says on the cover the book is set in England and most people know Lizzie Borden lived in the USA. This made us realize we had to ‘talk up’ our books like crazy if we were to get the correct info out there. We even considered changing the title before the next printing but the cover and title were already well known and we still felt it was a good title! Lizzie was ‘lethal’ because she was so smart, as they would find out soon enough, and she was ‘innocence’ because she was so young.
Yes, the word ‘lethal’ compounded this misconception and made people think the book was about violence. How wrong they were and we knew we had to try to explain it quickly to people or we wouldn’t sell many more books beyond the first 500. It worked … but it was very time consuming being at markets, taking Robert away from his writing and me away from editing and office work. So after a few seasons we got into a rhythm and simply made it work for us.

Our 2nd mistake was getting too confident and ordering too many copies!!! Sales were going along so great in those first years that we ordered another print run in 2004. The second and third books, Lizzie’s Secret Angels and Streets of Hope, were doing well and I was editing the fourth and final book.

The problem began when we started writing about local history and readers now had a choice. Now the majority of readers were opting for the Victoria Chronicles’ book, Bound by Loyalty, instead of Lizzie. We still have many boxes of the first three books in our basement. I didn’t order as many for book four, thankfully. Lizzie sales have actually been picking up again in 2011/11 as readers discover how much  they like Robert’s style.

So be very careful how many copies you order if you are doing POD (Print on Demand) or ordering large runs from a traditional printer (Friesens) like we did.

As self or indie publishing becomes even more popular due to ebooks, everyone seems to want to or is told they should ‘write a book’ so the competition has grown fierce. We continue as in the past with no plan to now stop in the near future. We now tell people of our exciting new option of ebooks at Amazon.kindle, Kobo.comSmashwords.com (all formats) etc. If you want to help us out … especially if you are NOT a USA citizen, we actually get double the commission if Kindle books are purchased through Smashwords! Thanks.

We’re hoping Kindle will make some changes to their format (so other e-readers (kobos, ipods, ipads etc.) can ‘read’ kindle  ebooks) and also to their payment standards for international authors, in the near future.

Part 2: Can a self-published author (of fiction) succeed?


Publishing our first book, Lizzie: Lethal Innocence

LizzieOur first book was ‘Lizzie‘ and the print run was 500 copies (Dec 1998). This was the recommended ‘test’ print run in those days (pre POD) and was the only printing we have ever had to borrow money for … and it was our own!!  “Part 1” explained the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing via a large publisher, today referred to as ‘professional publishers.’ I don’t give them capitals because I, myself, am also a ‘professional publisher and feel I have earned the title too!’

The loan lasted only 3 months … the time it took Robert to gain the confidence to sell 500 copies of our first novel at coffee shops, grocery store lineups, the recycling depot etc.. We even had money in the bank at this point and printed our next run of 1,500 copies of the same book! The following year we printed a further 4,000 copies (they were selling like hotcakes as word-of-mouth spread!).

The sequel to ‘Lizzie,’ Lizzie’s Secret Angels was launched on April 1st with a big party at the Victoria Art Gallery.Lizzies Secret Angels

This was the only ‘book launch’ we ever planned – there simply was never enough time. Besides which, one of the things we did for marketing was to collect their contact information and this was before the Internet! We began by phoning and sending snail mail to our customers and then later, used email. Our launches happened regularly after that, each year at a market or Christmas Show. It worked well enough for us.

I was early on to receive the math lesson from my husband that graduating to larger print runs meant less money paid up front and more in our pockets with each book sold. We began selling from our booth at markets (1999), craft fairs (1999), and the ferry terminal (2000). We have never looked back!!! Of course, the icing on the cake was when we reached 5,000 copies in the first 2 years (Canadian standards for a bestseller).

I hear there are not many indie-publishers that can boast about this kind of success and it has continued for us for 13 years. Oh yes, it has been hard work for both of us, especially with the economic upheavals of recent years.

As an aside here, I should admit that we made a few mistakes along the way. If you are a new writer and ‘wannabee’ an author, you can learn from these mistakes. That would prove that I am doing a good job with this blog! Read about our Mistakes in Part 3.

Note: In case you happened on it, I had an earlier blog called:  Of Books, Marketing and Self-Publishing … but it’s now closed and some of the posts will eventually show up here, along with a couple blogs on my hobbies.

Part 1: Can a self-published author (of fiction) succeed?

Certainly they can and, my husband, J. Robert Whittle, who writes all these popular, bestselling and award-winning novels that I edit, publish, brag about, and in recently years co-author, is a perfect example.  Because we are a couple (yes, married too, although I kept my very historical Scottish surname), this means we are ‘self-published.’ What a stupid rule! put in place naturally, by the large publishing houses eons ago to differentiate between ‘real authors’ and mere ‘wannabees.’

There has been so much written for and about non-fiction self-published books … most of them come under the category of ‘How-To’ books, so I am writing from a different perspective – the one I am more knowledgeable about.

They say that self-publishers finance themselves rather than being paid by a publisher. Fortunately, we became so well known across North America it took visitors to bring it to our attention. Now, I think it’s all been forgotten and they think of us as a regular publishing company (Whitlands Publishing Ltd.). Robert IS the author and I am the Publisher. He had virtually nothing to do with the publishing end of the business except when I thought I should ask for his advice from time to time! He had become a master book salesman and at that he was much better than I!

This can be such a lengthy and heated subject and I don’t want these entries to be too long. This will be continued, hence Part 1!

Our first book was ‘Lizzie’ and the print run was 500 copies (Dec 1998). This was the recommended print run in those days and was the only printing we have ever had to borrow money for … and it was our own!!

The loan lasted only 3 months … the time it took Robert to gain the confidence to sell 500 copies at coffee shops, grocery store lineups, the recycling depot etc.. We even had money in the bank at this point and printed our next run of 1,500 copies of the same book! The following year we printed a further 4,000 copies (they were selling like hotcakes! as word-of-mouth spread!) and the sequel to Lizzie came out on April 1st with a big launch at the Victoria Art Gallery. This was the only ‘book launch’ we ever planned – there simply was never enough time.

We soon realized that graduating to larger print runs meant less money paid up front and more in our pockets with each book sold. We began selling from our booth at markets (1999), craft fairs (1999), and the ferry terminal (2000). We have never looked back!!! I hear there are not many indie-publishers that can boast about this kind of success and it has continued for 13 years. Oh yes, it has been hard work for both of us and still is and it was my sole income until last year when I turned 65. Robert was forced into retirement in 1994 due to an old mining injury (see his bio and other posts) and in 1998 he began getting the old age pension, our only income when we began the books!

As self or indie publishing becomes even more popular due to ebooks, everyone seems to want to or is told they should ‘write a book’ so the competition has grown fierce. So we continue as in the past with no plan to stop now telling people at the markets that they can also get our books on ebooks at Amazon.kindle, Kobo.com, Smashwords.com (all formats) etc.

I have only just begun this new blog format on my own website which has been around for many years. I seem to feel a need to share with you my 13+ years worth of experiences! If this introduces more people to our books in the process then I am doing a good job. The bonus for readers (and us) it that with our books in ebook format, they are more readily and cheaply available.

I have never joined author’s groups, although I have attended a few. Time has always seemed unavailable and they weren’t really my bag. My husband was the author, not me. I’m the at-home workhorse and I end up sitting here day and night filling my time with ‘work’ of one sort or another. A publisher’s life is filled with many things especially when they wear ALL the hats in the company!!

I had an earlier blog called:  Of Books, Marketing and Self-Publishing … but I’m in the process of incorporating it, along with a couple blogs on my hobbies, under this umbrella.

What is Historical Fiction?

We are constantly amazed when people ask, “What is a historical novel? Is it non-fiction?”

The easy/quick reply is: A novel is always fiction, but a historical novel always contains some component of history.”

According to Wikipedia … “Historical fiction tells a story that is set in the past. That setting is usually real and drawn from history, and often contains actual historical persons, but the principal characters tend to be fictional. Writers of stories in this genre, while penning fiction, attempt to capture the manners and social conditions of the persons or time(s) presented in the story, with due attention paid to period detail and fidelity.

My love of historical fiction began in my mid-20s, then fast-forward 25 years or so to 1990 when I decided to research my family history and discovered my own fascinating links to ‘real history’… Scottish history in particular. This began a new and extremely heightened interest in historical novels, especially those set in the UK and Australia.

LizzieSrs_white bgI was not to know at the time that in 1998 I would begin a new career as a publisher and that the books I was to publish and later co-author, would be … historical fiction! To date (2011), through our company, Whitlands Publishing, I have published 10 novels for my husband, bestselling author J. Robert Whittle. The first of these was a novel set in London, England during the Napoleonic Wars Lizzie: Lethal Innocence. Lizzie quickly became his first Canadian Bestseller. His fans reacted so loudly to this book, wanting to know what happened to Lizzie next, that it soon had a sequel and another until there were four books (Lizzie Series – shown at left).

Whittle’s fans were instrumental in persuading him to next write yet another historical novel series set in our local area of the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the USA. The first novel was Bound by Loyalty. This series became so popular it exceeded the popularity of the Lizzie Series. This bestselling Victoria Chronicles Trilogy is set in the Pacific Northwest (Canada and USA) and years later, we are still having to reprint due to its popularity.

Who says authors get rich?

(from Sept 4, 2005 but even more pertinent today)

It’s been another good week at the Bastion Square Market in Downtown Victoria, BC Canada where my husband, J. Robert Whittle, sells his historical novels – 3 of them now bestsellers. Amazing because many of the American tourists have gone home and I can’t blame them one little bit, with all the heartbreaking news of Hurricane Katrina filling the airwaves. This has made business substantially slower but then that does happen this time of year with kids going back to school.

It gives Robert more time to talk to his adoring fans and today was no exception. A lady and her friend came along this morning. The lady raved about his (Victoria Srs.) books saying she had loaned them all over her block and town!! … and everyone loved them (thank goodness for that!). They were now all waiting for the next book in the series to come out. It seems her friend didn’t realize she had been doing this and now decided she wanted to read them, so right in front of the author, she asked if she could borrow them! Some people have no conscience. Happily, the owner of the books told her friend she wasn’t going to loan them out anymore and she was going to re-read them anyway. Then she purchased another set of the books for a gift. This forced the other woman to purchase her own copies!!! Our fans are truly amazing 🙂

Now you might think this is very flattering and think that we are ungracious or worse. Yes, it is VERY flattering but although Robert would never complain about his fans, I am the pessimist of our family and I feel I must make a comment. I need to explain that these same people who loan books are always very vocal about asking us to publish books faster. With what I ask? If you don’t buy the books from the author or a bookstore, these used books just keep going around and around and we’ll need many lifetimes to become millionaires (which is what people say we must be by now)!!!

On the other hand, I’m also sure there are some authors reading this that are nodding their heads vigorously in agreement – please comment if you are. There are so many of us authors out there these days (but big publishers only want a sure thing you know, so they choose the Ludlums, Clancys, Clintons et al) and just keep making them richer. We have never taken the time to even write a submission to a publisher — we’re far too busy producing and selling our popular books and trying to keep our readers happy – a joyous problem I admit but sometimes I yearn for a regularly paying job … and a holiday would be nice (we took a cruise in 2009). (2011 note: we did seek a publisher, an agent and talked to several movie producers in following years but no luck for various reasons. So we continue as we have done in the past.)

Happy reading whether it be a used book or not (and yes, even I have been known to buy a used book, or read a loaner from time to time!) If you haven’t already, you should try one of our fabulous and very popular books. Come on, be brave, countless thousands of readers can’t be wrong. Sure, these books might have no sex or graphic violence but they are real page-turners nonetheless … and another 2011 update … now they’re all on ebooks (see the tab above). Check out: our webpage

Starting out … publishing is not complicated

Books ArriveUpdated November 28, 2013:
I assume, as you are reading this because of the title, that you’re a writer, a wannabe or already a self-published author and you think I might have some valuable information you can use to help you produce and/or market your book(s). I suppose this is true because I have learned an immense amount of information over the past 13 years. In that time, I became the publisher of my husband’s bestselling and popular novels and, as time allows, I will share some of the things I learned.

Does the thought of having a skid of books, like that in the photo, arrive at your door, scare the living daylights out of you? Well let me first say that you don’t start with anymore than 500 books and a smaller order with POD would be much less risky. That skid holds approx. 1000 books. We began with 500 copies in 1998 but Robert turned into a great salesman and our orders became greater. So began our adventure of a lifetime. This scene has happened almost a dozen times in our driveway and yes, some sell more than others and sometimes we make a mistake and order too many! Thankfully, soon after this photo was taken, POD and ebooks almost solved this problem for others … but not for us as we have too many fans who still want print books.

Self-publishing is definitely not complicated, as a matter of fact, it’s a whole lot easier now  than when we began, but it is VERY TIME and LIFE CONSUMING if you care enough to get it right. And if it means that much to you, YOU SHOULD CARE … I am shouting this out so you get the message. You will learn from this blog,our website and the internet, that successful marketing is an ongoing project. Any self-published, or otherwise, author can do it with all the help available to you today but there will be many challenges. I don’t want to sound crass, but in a nutshell … you simply get out there, in their faces so-to-speak, and promote, promote, promote.  If you’re not prepared to do that, don’t expect that allowing your book to sit on a shelf in a bookstore or at Amazon or on the Kindle Store that they are going to sell it for you. This is a hugely competitive business now. And when this promo thing gets so tiring that you begin to hate your job, it’s will be time to sit down, take a deep breath, and assess why you feel that way and what your course of action will be!  Yes, I even reached that point for a while myself.

Do you know why it is called self-publishing?  It’s because YOU fund the book yourself. Even if a wife publishes her husband’s book (like I did), yup … it’s still classed as self-publishing by all those high and mighty people (read publishers who want an exclusive on the term) who want to give out awards only to their ‘class’. Why? because they are still in the dark ages and figure a wife is always financially dependent on her husband.  In publishing, we are still in the dark ages it seems?Okay, enough said. It’s a common argument in publishing circles. Just to think about it frustrated me so much in the early days despite being told (by the staff of publishing houses and published authors) that we had sold more books than most Canadian published authors ever hoped to sell. Fans have told us for years that our books are the best and that’s good enough for us!

I have no doubt spent a hundred hours or more working on our webpages over the years … do you have one yet? That’s a must to start with and one way to start is with a WordPress blog or a website from Author’s Den. Let me tell you about the latter as it is slightly different from a blog (which you are on right now): At Author’s Den you can add your stories, poems, books, blog, newsletter, etc. It has stats so you can see how many people are visiting; you can entice people to request your newsletter and you can sell your books there as well (it hasn’t helped us but you never know! It’s an invaluable site and thousands of people visit it every day. You’ll find Robert’s site at Author’s Den here.

Have a great day!

Marketing Tips for the Frugal Self-Publisher

The role of a writer/author in this 21st century is one of hard work and fabulous rewards–not necessarily monetary rewards unless you are exceedingly fortunate, but your life will change as you attend meetings, readings, conferences etc., and meet hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who are in awe of you for even completing a book. Of course, you will also meet those who laugh with scorn (perhaps thinking why you bother because they don’t even read and can’t understand) or envy (believing you are now rich!). But trust me, your journey will be fascinating and anything but dull, for if you face the challenge squarely, it will enrich your life and also that of your readers … and best of all, they will tell you about it!

1.  Decide what YOU can do to market your own book and do it well. No matter how you choose to market your book, you have to do something … so you might as well do a good job of it. You will have a major investment in this book through time, and eventually, money. Don’t allow your book to stagnate on a shelf/ a website or in your basement.

2.  Learn the “3 Foot” Rule – talk to everyone who comes within 3 feet of you. Always carry a book, bookmark, business card or info. sheet. If they don’t buy a book, don’t be disappointed, you will be surprised how else they might help you. Don’t expect anything. Be yourself.

3.  Buy, or at the very least, read a few well-known marketing books … visit your local library or download an  ebook copy to always have with you!  I’m a huge fan of ebooks (2011) and all our books are available in all formats at Smashwords.com  Here are a few of the classics to start you off:

Marketing Without Megabucks by Shel Horowitz  www.frugalfun.com
How To Promote Your Book by  Dan Poynter  www.PARApublishing.com
The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn and Tom Ross  www.about-books.com

4.  On the internet, you’ll be deluged by thousands of sites with marketing tips. A small selection are on our links page found to the right (in category list). Facebook has many groups and joining Twitter has been known to be a great way to get free promotion, just don’t overdo it or your friends will untweet you 🙂

5.  Join a ‘useful’ Internet Email List (Yahoo group, etc) and subscribe to topical newsletters but be careful not to get sucked into their own marketing endeavours to sell you the BEST marketing plan ever!! Most of what they sell can be found free if you search the web.

6.  Networking with local groups is a great way to advertise for little money but membership fees need to be assessed first. Make sure the group is suitable to your needs.

7. Trade books with other willing self-published authors. A good way to pick up gifts and get your books out there.

Now get out there yourself, write, plan and then, if you decide ‘to go for it’, market that book you’ve dreamed about.

Good luck and all the best.

Family Novels by J. Robert Whittle

If this is the first time you’ve discovered our numerous (10) novels, you may be pleasantly surprised to hear that they are amazingly read by all ages. Now, you might say that is a rather unique idea … novels that can be read by old and young alike, when did that last happen? Well, there once were the classics which are making a comeback due to ebooks. I think our series will be classics one day, especially our Lizzie Series of 4 books set in old England.

A few years ago the idea caught on again and someone came up with the unique slogan “family-friendly” books and movies.  We were ahead of our time we found, but we quickly realized are books were definitely suitable for all ages and that became a huge part of our success beginning in 1998. To date, we have 3 Canadian Bestsellers and 2 Gold-Medal IPPY winners plus thousands of copies/per book in paper sales.

Our novels keep almost everyone entranced save for a few people who require blood to be running in the street and children being killed or molested to make a story interesting. Parents, teachers, homeschoolers, etc. are extremely happy with our stories and they refer to them as ‘refreshingly different.’

My husband has a remarkable imagination but he doesn’t swear so why should he add it to his books? (My first husband only cursed when he watched TV hockey, but it is not one of Robert’s interests, thank goodness!). He comes from a family of 10 kids and he was the oldest guy. So, for the record, Robert also hates hearing news of terrible things happening to kids, hence he doesn’t write in that style either.

You just have to experience one of his books yourself to see how great they are (that’s what our fans say in their reviews – see our reviews for each book) … and they are now available as ebooks, so no excuse not to be able to find them or afford them anymore!!

Google, RSS, SEO, Keywords …

Thanks to everyone for your support, nice comments and suggestions, I know some of the (suggestions) posts can be classed as spam and I deleted them but not before copying so I can remember them while not inflicting them on the rest of you 🙂  Google Adwords, I don’t think I’m going to touch (been there, done that – too time consuming & potentially costly etc). Now don’t everyone write to me about how easy it is please …; RSS – one day soon; SEO (see below); and Keywords (I’m trying, but selling fiction books is such a competitive subject). Keywords are almost a lost cause in that area but I am working on other strategies … brain works very slow on this sort of info tho so suggestion could be useful!!

I seem to have been forgetting that my focus here is to sell books, so if you haven’t discovered our fabulous novels, which are amazingly read by all ages, it’s time that you did. Our books became popular because of word-of-mouth beginning in Dec. 1998 and people come to Victoria, BC to meet my husband because their neighbour loved our books or they were coming to Victoria and their aunt said to look for him in Bastion Square. Yup, it happens all the time. Go to the tabs at the top of the page and discover Robert’s books … and they are ebooks, too! Kindle, Kobo, Sony, Barnes & Noble, iPad, and Smashwords (the latter has all formats). My next post will give more info on the style my husband, J. Robert Whittle, uses and which I follow in my editing and writing because it has been so successful … and because he won’t let me do anything else!! Hey, I thought I was the boss 🙂

Ok, that was the plug, now briefly back to what I’m doing on this blog … I discovered Builder Child Themes last night and as I had already purchased it last week, I am eager to get a new page up using this great new tool. It makes the page look classier and has a lot more, and very cool, options.

I also see that SEO can now be automated. I think I will definitely do that but not for awhile … one thing at a time. My gosh things have changed so much over the past few years (when I was too busy to even consider implementing all the new online programs). One has to be very careful how they spend their money here … I thought I was heading for retirement but now not so sure!! Back to work!

‘Leprechaun Magic’ gets a new cover

2011-03 LM_new coverI decided in my wisdom to update the Leprechaun Magic cover for the next printing. We have sold a couple thousand copies and I felt it needed a new more modern look, especially as I considered my crude moonbeam just that rather crude! So, the new print run arrived early this summer just in time for the main onslaught? of tourists.

Simone Padur, our wonderfully talented illustrator on Book 2, ‘3 On A Moonbeam’ came to our rescue once again and has produced a cute and colourful new Paddy sliding down the moonbeam and arriving on our Earth-child’s windowsill. We love it … thanks Simone!

It’s actually been on our market stands for three months and causing a lot of interest including …

Have to read right now

… this cute little 3-year-old fan whose identity shall remain anonymous. She and her grandmother, one of our biggest fans, visited me most weeks out in Sidney at the street market. One day in August, this cute-as-a-button granddaughter, decided to make herself comfortable!! Yes, she’s lying on the street ‘reading’ aloud and carefully turning the pages. Then she goes and gets another book, even the novels; her Grandma says she has favourites among them, too!

I can’t wait until she gets older and can review and tell all her friends about our books! Grandma took this photo and has allowed us to use it. Thanks Grandma!!