The Indie Publishing Adventures of Author Aiden James

Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday.  My good friend and critique partner Stacy Green and I are doing author interviews this week.  Stacy interviewed small press author Reggie Ridgway at her blog this past Monday.

My guest star is Aiden James, the very prolific author of the Dying of the Dark Series, The Cades Cove Series, The Talisman Chronicles…and more.  In addition to the book writing, Aiden somehow finds time to make music, and it’s good music.

Aiden is mostly going to talk to us about his experiences with indie publishing.  However, at the end of the interview, he answers a few questions about his experiences with the paranormal.

If you have questions for Aiden, please feel free to ask them.  Just remember that Aiden’s schedule is busy, and he won’t start answering questions until 8:00 tonight.

Additionally, Aiden has graciously provided a free signed print copy of his excellent ghost story Cades Cove.  The book will be given away by random drawing to one lucky commenter.  To win the book, all you have to do is comment on this post.  Cutoff for comments that will be entered into the drawing is Midnight CST tonight.

[Note: In order to be eligible, you must do three things.  1)  Comment on this post.  2) Provide a valid email address when prompted.  You don’t need to put your email in the body of your comment.  You just need to fill it in correctly.  3) You must live in the contiguous United States (also known as the lower 48).  If you don’t want to be entered in the drawing, please say so in your comment.]

Take it away, Aiden!

Choosing to Indie Publish:

After publishing The Forgotten Eden with a small press, you were looking for ways to reach a bigger audience.  How did you settle on e-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing?

J.R. Rain was actually the reason I ventured into e-books in July of 2010. In addition to the great author he is, he represented my work as my agent. He had ventured into Kindle books the year before and was having enormous success (still does, as many of you know). He finally convinced me to give it a whirl with “Deadly Night”, and when I added “Cades Cove” in August that year, things began to pick up. By winter, I no longer thought about traditional publishing.

Horses running through meadow in the real Cades Cove

What made you decide to self-publish instead of publishing through an e-press?  (Such as Samhain, for example)

Samhain is an excellent publisher, and there are other e-press options that are also wonderful options. However, with the price of ebooks getting cheaper and cheaper, there is less room to split whatever profit can be made on a book. Self publishing allows me to make a decent living and still afford author promos for my readers. None of that would be financially feasible if I were to publish with an e-press. Also, I can release books when they are ready, where it can still take an extra six months to a year to get a book to market with an e-press.

The Technical Side of Indie Publishing:

Your first ebook, Deadly Night, was published in 2010.  Did you face a big learning curve to get it ready to e-publish?

Oh, yes. Formatting is completely different for a print book versus an ebook. Luckily, at the time it was published, J.R. and I were dealing strictly with Kindle, so we only had to worry about one company’s formatting policies. Since then, I have branched out to a multitude of ebook outlets. Many require a completely different format, which is why a book may look different on Kobo or Sony as opposed to Kindle and Nook.

The Vampires’ Last Lover was the first book you wrote specifically to be released as an ebook.  What did you learn with Deadly Night that allowed you to be a more effective indie author?

The big key that I learned, both from Deadly Night’s performance and J.R. Rain’s success was that an ebook could and should be shorter than a traditional length novel. Especially, when running several different series at a time. The books can’t be 100,000 words any more, or your audience may grow tired waiting a couple of years for the next book. Not to mention, many readers love to finish a book in a matter of hours, instead of days. I still run higher in word count than many of my contemporaries (roughly 65,000 to 80,000 words per book), but it is a far cry from my books that were penned before the digital revolution (such as Cades Cove and The Forgotten Eden, which are both roughly 120,000 words in length). The shorter lengths allow me to complete three new novels each year for the five series I currently have going.

Indie publishing is a business, and every business has expenses.  What services would you advise aspiring indie authors to work into their budgets if at all possible?  What services could (or should) a new indie author do himself to cut costs?

An aspiring indie author will need money for cover art, website production and maintenance, and money for online book promos. Those Kindle Fires we offered back in January for our Epic Kindle event didn’t grow on a tree, lol. Every author’s budget will vary, but it is good to have a few hundred extra dollars on hand in case you do need to run a promotion, or need a new book cover, etc. Also, unless you personally know of a good editor, that type of service can get fairly expensive. These are all expenses to consider before jumping in to the e-book biz, since it usually takes time to become established. Also, if you are good with photoshop, a good-looking book cover may cost less than twenty bucks to create. Or, approaching art students at a local college is another option that has worked for other authors I know.

For the things you do yourself, where did you pick up the know-how to do it?  Any guides or how-to books you’d like to recommend?

I’m still learning to write, even after 14 years of working at this craft. Grammar, dialogue, and pacing are things that I see myself improving at with each book release. So, in answer to this question, the old adage that ‘practice makes perfect’ is something that is very true for me. Write, rewrite, and rewrite again. 

As far as the business know how, there are a ton of great books out there to give you tips on how to establish yourself as an ebook author (John Locke  and Scott Nicholson have published guides on how they have succeeded in the e-book business). Also, if you self-publish through Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, they all have guides and tutorials that will help you get set up as an ebook author. Kindle has a great community and their message boards are extremely helpful, too. There are a ton of highly skilled authors who contribute ideas and articles in Kindle’s forums. You will find lots of help with everything from formatting to promotion.

Do you have any service providers (cover artists, editors, etc.) you’d like to recommend?

Charles Seiberling (Digital Charles.com) and R.C. Rutter (R.C.Rutter.com) can help with book covers. However, both of these guys are more graphic designers than actual artists. For them to effectively create something for you, you’ll need a clear concept of what you want in a cover. There are others out there like Susanna Kubernus, who does fabulous work with just a little input required from an author. As for editors, Eve Paludan is a very good one and more reasonable than most (As I mentioned, editing can be expensive).

Selling your books:

It is likely every author—indie or traditional—will spend some money on advertising.  What was the best use of your advertising dollars?  The worst?

The best use of my dollars has been joining up with other authors to have a bigger pool of money to work with. Then—and this is important—using that money for tangible prizes (eg, The Epic Kindle Giveaway). Scott Nicholson did a fabulous job of lining up several major blogs to help us out in our big Epic Giveaway in January, but we had to have something tangible to offer as an incentive for readers to participate. We pitched in enough money to purchase 6 Kindle Fires and over $500.00 in gift cards. A key aspect of that event’s success was to use Facebook and Twitter to drum up excitement among our groups. Of course, being able to offer free books during the week with Kindle was also a HUGE key to the incredible success we had as a group (over 400,000 free downloads in the span of three days for four authors). 

The key for promotions that will have a lasting effect is in getting several things to work together simultaneously. It is especially important to layer your message out there to your audience, using different mediums if you can over the span of the entire event. Simply buying an ad won’t work by itself, generally speaking. So, I highly recommend for authors to band together with others that write in genres similar to your own, where you can gain exposure to one another’s readerships. 

Meadow in front of John Olive Cabin in the real Cade’s Cove

I saw you on eBookSwag last month.  Do you find that promotions in which you give away a free book boost sales?

Great question. At first, this would be a definite and enthusiastic “Yes!” I saw huge sales surges in January and a little in February…then it began to fade quickly. The big thing that has especially affected Kindle is most Kindle owners have now downloaded more books than they have any prayer of reading during the next year. That’s Awesome for readers, but terrible news for authors hoping to entice an overloaded Kindle owner to pay money for a book. The key thing now for free books is to not make them all free. My suggestion for any author trying to gain new readers is to offer the introductory books at a very low price (or free when you can), and then charge only reasonable prices for the follow up books. I believe that readers will always respect a fair deal, but will shy away from anything that seems unfairly expensive (as I would do, too).

For many writers, reaching out to readers beyond the writing community proves to be a difficult task.  What helped you reach out to readers outside the writing community?

Facebook has been a godsend in that regard. Getting to know your readers as people is beyond fabulous. I have been fortunate to build a good-sized network of friends—and it is critical to be genuine. I spend at least two hours a day on Facebook. When people like you for who you are, they are more willing to take a look at your art—whether that is books, music, painting, etc. I don’t refer to my following as my ‘fans’…they are all truly my pals. I think this is one of the biggest keys to my ebook success. I strongly urge other authors to genuinely network with friends via social media and watch your popularity as a writer steadily grow.

You are on several social networking sites.  Which one is your most effective marketing tool?  How do you use it?  Which social networking site is, in your opinion, the biggest waste of time?

Well, of course, Facebook is my favorite—hands down. Twitter is growing, but I’m too wordy to effectively tweet throughout the day. Getting the word out on my latest books is what I mostly do—some of that is real time. While working on a book, I post sample excerpts from each completed chapter on my official FB page (Aiden James Paranormal Author). Myspace, however, is dead. It never got personal enough to remain viable.

For fun:

Aiden, your first book was based on a bedtime story made up for your sons.  Your work leans toward the spooky.  Did the story scare your sons?

I had hoped it would scare them a little. It failed in that regard. One of my sons—the dreamer—loved the imagery and the storyline. My other kid—the pragmatic one—hated the story. That being said, a pretty good tale grew from that bedtime story (The Forgotten Eden). The final product has frightening aspects. Even so, the Cades Cove series is definitely much more frightening.

That you love the paranormal and have researched it extensively comes through in Cades Cove.  (And not in a bad way at all.)  Do you mind sharing some of your research sources for the paranormal junkies who read this blog?  

A lot of what went into the book is based on my personal experiences with the paranormal. They are far too many to detail here, but much of what David experienced has actually happened to me (not the more violent stuff, of course). My wife at one time was part of an organization similar to TAPS, and was founded at roughly the same time (The American Ghost Society, which is based out of Illinois). Fiona was the Tennessee Rep for this group. I was allowed to come along for the investigations and eventually became quite proficient at handling the tasks involved. Much of this experience is incorporated in Deadly Night, and some of it also shows up in Cades Cove. Of course, if I ever encountered a wraith like Allie Mae or the demon Teutates from the second book, I would probably be too frightened to investigate anything ever again.

You mentioned that The Vampires’ Last Lover was a challenge for you because you wrote in the female point-of-view for the first time.  Your wife helped you perfect writing in a woman’s point-of-view.  What did you learn about how women see the world?

The biggest thing is that women look at love, material objects—just about everything different than men typically do. So, aside from the gender-benders out there for both males and females, I had to be sensitive to Txema’s ability to feel more than what she saw. I worked really hard to try and picture myself as a woman in order to get in touch with my feminine side (relax, fellas, we all have it in us, down deep inside). 

The craziest thing for a guy to understand is that women really notice how a person is dressed—male or female. God help you if you are dressed ‘inappropriately’. Typical males don’t notice how colors, styles, etc should flow in an ensemble. That took some adjusting to readily consider, and has shown up in my other books that I’ve written since The Vampires’ Last Lover (including the Judas Chronicles).

Thank you, Aiden, for so generously donating both your time and a copy of your work.  I’ve had a great deal of fun working with you on this interview.

Important Note: If you’re interested in purchasing Aiden’s books, please visit his website.  There, he has links to all purchasing options.