Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Adventures in e-publishing and self-publishing: an interview with Katie Klein

If you've toyed with the idea of self-publishing an e-book (and these days, I know very few authors who haven't thought about it), you may be interested in today's interview with a writer who has done just that. Katie Klein, who also has experience in the world of traditional publishing, spoke frankly with me about her reasons, her methods, and her results.

Q: I understand you've self-published some YA novels for Nook and Kindle. How many books, and what are their titles? Could you provide a one-sentence synopsis of each?

I have two e-books out right now. The first is CROSS MY HEART, a YA contemporary romance. In one sentence: Good girl falls in love with mysterious boy who turns her world upside down.

The second is a YA paranormal romance, THE GUARDIAN. This is the first in a series. In one sentence: Good girl falls in love with mysterious boy who turns her world upside down. (laughs) Do you sense a pattern here? Actually, THE GUARDIAN is the story of a girl who falls in love with her Guardian Angel and lands herself in the middle of an epic battle between good and evil.

Q: Why did you decide to go with electronic self-publishing? What were your goals going in?

Quite honestly, my goal going in was to sell a book. That's why I released THE GUARDIAN first. I didn't believe the stories where "no name" authors found an audience for their novels. So, I slapped a "no name" on the cover (yes, Katie Klein is a pen name), sat back, and waited.

I originally decided to e-pub because I felt I was out of options. The market was extremely volatile, I was on an agent hunt, and no one seemed to be responsive. By the time I decided to upload CROSS MY HEART, I'd accrued 75 agent rejections (some never responded, some rejected the query, some the partial, and three rejected it after reading the final version in its entirety). It was never the writing, or the story. It was always the "market." More specifically, they weren't sure it would "stand out" enough.

I loved Parker and Jaden, though, and I believed in their story. I felt if I loved these two people (who aren't even real!) this much, then someone out there was bound to feel the same way.

Q: What has the response been--in terms of sales, sales rankings, reviews, and fan mail?

(laughs) Well, I was right about people loving Parker and Jaden, because the response has been overwhelming. It's getting mostly four and five-star reviews/ratings, and the fan mail I've gotten usually begs me for a sequel. I released CROSS MY HEART on March 14, and sold 161 copies in 17 days. In April, 977 copies were sold. In May: 2,523. I'm on a few bestselling subcategory lists (Teens, Love and Romance), and I've spent the last 40 days (as of this writing) in the Amazon Teen Top 100 (both print and e-books).

It happened so fast. It's all kind of surreal.

Q: How did you approach editing, book design, and cover selection?

I did everything myself. This is, quite literally, a one-woman show. I don't recommend this approach, though. I'm just enough of a control freak enjoy the HUGE undertaking it is to edit, design, and format my own work. I have two degrees in English and graphic design experience. I've taught at the college level, so I'm pretty good at finding typos/errors in my own writing. It's not something I recommend, though. In this case, it's best to "do as I say and not as I do." If you have any doubts, hire an editor and cover designer. There are some great ones out there, and it's not as expensive as you might think.

The photograph used for CROSS MY HEART I found in the stock photo section on Deviant Art. I emailed the artist (Gemma Hart) and asked for permission to use it as my cover. She was so sweet.

Everything else I tackled on my own.

Q: How did you set your books' prices?

I priced my stories based on instinct. Unlike a deal with a traditional publisher, most of the royalties go to me. I can afford to set my prices lower. That said, I'm not a huge fan of the $0.99 price point. That's not to say that I'll never price my books this low, but I was more interested in building a reasonable audience than driving sales. I feel that a lot of books priced $2.99 and lower become "impulse buys" and never get read or are read by those not interested in the genre.

My plan was to focus on teens and readers of young adult novels. THE GUARDIAN is just over 50k words, so it's priced at $2.99. CROSS MY HEART is over 70k, so I priced it at $3.99. Both are steals when compared to the prices that traditional publishers are setting, but I see more profit.

Q: What kind of marketing have you done?

CROSS MY HEART is one of those books that (I think) took off by word of mouth (that's the most logical explanation). People were reading it and rating it on Goodreads and telling their friends. The more books I sold, the more Amazon "Customers Also Bought" lists I appeared on. The more attention I got, the higher on those lists I appeared. Sales just continued to roll in.

I was active on KindleBoards and blogged a few times a week, but I didn't even have a website or Twitter account until April/May. I did a few interviews here and there, but it was the reader buzz that had the most profound effect.

Q: I understand that you network with other independent authors. Do you have a support group of any kind?

I hang out on the KindleBoards when I can. The Writer's Café is an awesome place for indie authors. It's the first place I go when I have a question or if I want the latest "news." Otherwise, I have an awesome group of writer friends, and they're the ones I turn to when I'm dealing with general writer angst.

Q: Is there anything you wish you'd known before, or that you would have done differently?

I don't feel like I rushed into anything. I stayed on the sidelines for a few months before I jumped on board. I lurked around the KindleBoards and followed J. A. Konrath's blog posts. I was really interested in how others were faring (what was working and what wasn't). I think I released the books at the right time.

I also kept very realistic expectations. I was thrilled when, in January, I sold one copy of THE GUARDIAN a day. CROSS MY HEART took off faster than I ever could have predicted. I've heard it takes about 4-6 months for an indie writer to find an audience (this is when sales pick up), and my expectations out of the gate were very low.

Q: What advice do you have for novelists who are considering this publication route?

Make sure you do your research. J. A. Konrath's blog is an excellent resource (also Robin Sullivan's Write to Publish blog, and Katie Salidas's blog), and indie authors are always trading information on the KindleBoards. Try to keep realistic expectations. Don't upload your story before it's ready. Enlist the help of beta readers, hire an editor, etc. There's this attitude pervading the writing/reading community that self-published authors don't put out a good product. The reason there's a stigma is because it's partially true. I've seen so many reviews where readers found plot holes, or the story wasn't sufficiently developed, or there were sentence structure errors and typos. If you're going to e-pub, treat it like a business, and make sure you're selling the best product possible.

Q: Where do you see your career in five years--or do you think things are changing too quickly for anyone to be able to predict this?

I have no idea. It really is changing rapidly. I've had a traditional deal and agent before. I'm not turning my back on New York publishing, so I would entertain the idea of another traditional deal in the future (both the foreign and print rights to my e-books are still available). It's not something I'm going to actively pursue right now, though. At this point, I'm going to finish THE GUARDIAN series (which will be three books total), because I made promises to readers in the first novel that I need to keep. I also have another YA contemporary romance I would consider revising and uploading as well.

Sales fluctuate from day to day, and I can't predict the path this "e-revolution" will take. I have no idea how long this will last, so I'm just trying to enjoy the moment.


Katie Klein is a diehard romantic with a penchant for protagonists who kick butt. She wrote a YA novel no one wanted, then watched it hit the Amazon Teen Top 100. She blogs at KatieKleinWrites.


  1. Thanks for having me, Jennifer! :)

  2. Thanks for the interview, Jenn and Katie. I'm curious why, if she presumably already had at least a small audience from her traditional book, "Katie" chose a pen name instead of just using her real name. Fear of stigma? New genre? Worried about impact on future traditional deals? Something else?

  3. Hi Joni!

    There *is* still a stigma surrounding self-published authors, though I think it's gradually diminishing.

    I went with a pen name because, quite frankly, I expected this little experiment to blow up in my face. If that happened, I didn't want anyone to know who I was.

    In the end, and largely because of the disinterest from agents, I felt I was on a track where I would have needed to "re-package/re-brand" myself anyway.

    It's a tough market right now, and I think both agents and publishers are taking fewer risks. I'm not at all worried about future deals, though. I know of several indie authors who had agents approach them after they built an audience. We joke that ebooks are becoming the new "slush" pile, and the readers are the new "gatekeepers." :)

    I'm just happy that people are reading my writing and enjoying it. :)

  4. Hey Jenn,

    Great post, thanks for featuring Katie. And Katie, congrats on your success. As someone who is also traditionally published and about to take the same path (in about a week in both ebook and p.o.d.), it's so meaningful to hear about other Y.A. authors who are out there and doing well.

    My biggest concern has been do the teens have the ereaders yet or are they still mostly in the hands of the adults? You've proven that the teen e-revolution is ON!

    Best of luck to you both :)

  5. Great interview, Katie and Jennifer! I love hearing about Katie's success. :)

    Marie - I'm in rural eastern North Carolina, and I did a school visit at a local middle school last month. My audience were three classes of 6th graders and when I mentioned that I was releasing an ebook soon, there was a lot of interest and excitement among even that young of a group. Honestly, I've only seen an ereader in public around here once but these kids must be reading ebooks because it definitely caught their attention.

  6. Thanks, Katie, that makes sense. Best of luck!

  7. Hi Marie!

    Thank you! This was definitely a concern of mine, too. When I first uploaded, I figured I was catering to the "adults who read YA" market. And yes, most of my reviews have been from adults, but I noticed that some of the first reviews posted on Barnes and Noble were from teens. I don't know the adult to teen reader ratio as far as my books are concerned, but I do think the Nook and Kindle are going to catch on.

    Right now there are Kindle apps for computers, iPhones, etc., so they may be using "alternative" devices. :)

    *waves* to Shana!!


  8. Thank you to Katie, and thanks to everyone who joined the discussion! For those considering this path, your mileage may vary--but of course, that's true of traditional print publishing as well, where no two authors have exactly the same journey.

    It's nice to see options opening up for authors.