Some books continue to make their rounds through the selfpub community, and I keep seeing Obsidian: Awakening come through on my social media feeds. Reviews gush over this book,
which to me meant I had to reach out to the author. Sienna Frost created an amazing world that readers are falling in love with, and she took a unique path to get there.
If you are considering independently publishing your book, this series of interviews has solidified for me that there is no right way to do so. Every way has its pitfalls and graces, which brings me to the advice Sienna shared with me below. Learn from the experiences of the authors who have been there before.
Q: First-off, can you tell us about your projects. How many books have you published, what are they, and where can people find them?
As of now I’m focusing only on one series called Obsidian and the first book, Awakening, was released on X’mas 2021 with the second hopefully coming out next year. I have another short story called “Sirens” which serves as an introduction to my writing style. I’ve been sharing many stories on Wattpad for the past 3 years but the rest will not be published until Obsidian concludes. You can find the paperback and ebook on Amazon. As of now it’s currently available on both KU and Prime for free. The paperback is available from other outlets such as Barnes & Noble and Book depository etc.
Q: There are many different types of editing, all of which can be very expensive, especially in genres known for their high word counts. What kind(s) of editing did you invest in? How did you find your editor? Have you had positive experiences?
I’m a little different from most published authors in this aspect. All my books have been posted one chapter at a time on Wattpad, and during those years, I’ve been given detailed stats and thousands of honest comments from organic readers which has allowed me to fix development issues as well as any phrasing that confused readers. So to keep the cost manageable, I hired only a copy editor mainly to fix grammar as English is my second language. Having been quite successful as a fan fiction writer and web novelist for a decade, I was also quite confident about everything else.
I found my editor, Kyle Robertson, on Twitter. He’s a follower I talk to often who was always on the exact same page as me about what we want to see in books, rule breaking, and writing styles we prefer. So when he mentioned he was looking to start a career as an editor, I asked him to edit a sample chapter. By then I’ve sent four people a sample chapter to edit. You could say I fought the rest with my teeth, but with Kyle, I looked at his edits and nodded and smiled and obeyed. He also spoils me to bits and is extremely polite and respectful of my choices. When I disagreed, he helped me find a solution to keep what I prefer, rather than push me towards his suggestions.
For anyone looking for an editor, I think the best way is to say nothing and send in a sample chapter to edit, maybe your most controversial one even. You’ll get the best feel of their preferences and if they understand what you’re trying to do. If their edits don’t make you jump excitedly going, “OMG why didn’t I think of this?” find another. That’s a sign that they’re improving it the way you want your book to be.
Q: Self-publishing only works if people know where to find your work. How did you build your online presence (social media, website)? Which platform(s) do you focus most of your attention on?
I’m quite horrible at this because this is only my hobby and I have a full business to run and two kids in between. But before launch, I’ve already had a following from Wattpad who supported me so I got away with some parts of it without much work (though the work on Wattpad was another story altogether to get to this point). After that, I created a website I’m still struggling to update frequently, and a Twitter account only for social media. Twitter is what I focus on because Tweeting is fun and comes naturally to me. I always have something to say and people seem to enjoy my tweets. Twitter is my major source of book sales, actually. After a while of seeing your tweets on other things, your followers know who you are, what you stand for, and if they like those things you represent, they buy your book because they know the content will not put them off.
My advice is, if you will use Twitter to promote, don’t just throw ads at people a hundred times. Tweet about who you are, what you love, engage with posts, take time to reply and support others. Do it genuinely, and you will find people who identify with you, and they’ll help you out more than just buying your book. Twitter is also a great tool to learn about humanity and expand your character catalog. If you take it seriously, it’s a great exercise for writers as it forces you to sharpen, tighten and test public reactions on your wording. If you can tweet to engage, you can write to engage.
Q: It has been said over and over, deciding to self-publish is deciding to become a business owner. Did you start a legal business to manage taxes? Did you open up a P.O. box or setup any other resources to manage your business?
Not at all, or not yet. It is like becoming a business owner, but my decision to self-publish was made by my Wattpad readers who said they wanted to have and keep the book off the platform and so I catered to them. Being a professional writer or making a living off my book was never my goal, and it still isn’t, so while I take presentation and product quality to professional level because this is a gift for my fans and I love them, I’m very unorganized business-wise. I will probably deal with these things once it becomes more popular. For now, it is a hobby, a hobby I take very seriously.
Q: The cover is always the first thing people see, and it can be a major cost for indie authors. How did you go about choosing an artist? Did you have to hire a separate cover designer? Did you commission any character art and how did you use it? Did you commission a map or any other additional pieces of art?
I happen to be a graphic designer so I designed my own cover using Photoshop and royalty-free images. Anything that deals with art and design is what I love to do, so unless it’s beyond my ability to produce what I have in mind, I probably will do it myself. I am thinking about hiring an illustrator for my hardcover interior though, but I’ve also just discovered AI services like Midjourney and it’s extremely impressive and fun to use. I believe writers who are short on funds should definitely look into this.
Q: After the cover, readers often go to the blurb. Do you have any suggestions for creating a good blurb?
I’m still struggling myself but so far my trials and errors have shown that keeping it short and writing only the most interesting/unique part of your book, be it plot, setting, or characters works well. It doesn’t have to be plot as many assume. Readers can be pulled in by many things. If your strength is characters, focus on them. If it’s world building, focus on that. The most important thing is to know your audience and target them the best you can, and knowing your audience is about understanding yourself and why you write. Our target audience are usually people like us. So before you write your blurb, ask yourself why you wrote this book. What is it that you love enough to write about that you’re not getting from other books out there? That answer is your appropriate hook.
Q: How did you go about formatting and producing your ebooks, paperbacks, and, if you have them, hardcovers? What company or companies print/sell your books? Why did you choose to publish through the platforms you chose?
As a designer with professional tools on hand, I also formatted my own ebooks and paperbacks. My paperback, especially, has become a talked about collectible item created manually with Indesign with 40+ artworks integrated into the text that is very special and required extremely tedious works. My ebook is more standard. I used Scrivener to generate it.
For printing, I used IngramSpark and Amazon to print my paperbacks because of their distribution channels. My hardcover which will be released later will also be done by IngramSpark only because of the dust jacket option. For ebooks, unless you’re offering your book on KU (Kindle Unlimited) which doesn’t allow you to distribute elsewhere, I recommend Draft2Digital. They take a much lower cut to distribute to very wide channels and doesn’t charge you for uploads like IngramSpark.
Q: One of the keys to get readers is to work with reviewers. Can you describe the process of making and sending out Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)? How did you connect with reviewers? Would you suggest investing money in sending out physical ARCs or stick with eARCs?
I must admit I’ve not been well prepared with ARCs, and I can’t stress this enough that every writer should take the time and energy to send out as many as possible before launch as this seems to be the secret to success of every successful indie author I talked to. Launch reviews and sales are everything. They trigger the algorithm, and once you missed that window or messed it up, it is a longer, harder uphill journey. I used Booksprout and it worked well for me, but I didn’t give it enough time and would have used as many other services I could find if I could do it again. I think eARCs are fine with most reviewers, but if you’re looking to grab the attention of big reviewers or bloggers who are drowned with submissions, physical may get you moving up their list faster and will make your book stand out more.
Q: Everything writers do to create their books can rack up quite an expensive budget. Did you invest in any paid blog tours, cover reveals, paid reviews, or contests with an entry fee?
I paid for one contest and found out that winners’ books sold very badly so never again. Free contests seem to be more effective. I also paid for some Amazon ads that haven’t worked at all for me so far. Bookbub ads didn’t work well either, but Bookbub featured deal, if you can get in, is the Holy Grail of self-publishing. I scored only an international deal so far but even that was a huge boost to ranking while it lasted. It’s expensive, but I made some profit so it was like getting my book out to several hundreds of untapped potential readers for free and the reviews have been coming in.
I’m testing Amazon Prime at the moment which is also a curated spot. This means I’m making substantially less money for the period because the book is free for prime readers, but the rankings have gone up, and again, reviews are coming in. I’m waiting to see how it goes after the three-month period ends.
As a retail business owner in real life, I would suggest one thing to debut writers who often judge these investments according to immediate monetary profits. When your product is new, whatever that product is, you have to look at the long term returns of investment. Ads take a long time to be effective because people on average don’t buy unknown products the first time they see the ad. They buy it when they’ve been seeing the same ads and keep seeing it in different places (not the same place which can annoy them). It creates the feeling that this is what’s hot right now and eventually they will try. So keep advertising what you can afford, go wide, and be patient.
Sometimes you also have to give your book away for free for word of mouth and reviews, which, if your book happens to be a diamond in the rough, can go a long, long, long, LONG, LONG way to a huge success later without the need to break your bank advertising. It just takes a long time for word of mouth to work, and you must be patient and keep trying. Remember, you’re not giving out 100 free copies for no reason, you’re giving them out in hope that a 100 people will advertise your book to their friends for free and that the number grows exponentially. You’re paying for advertisement with your ebooks. If you believe your book is good enough for word of mouth, this is your best option if you’re low on funds. It’s been working exceptionally well for me.
Q: Most indie authors don’t have the ability to produce audiobooks, especially during the initial release of their books. How did you produce your audiobooks? If you worked with a production company who distributes your audiobook and pays you in royalties, how much control did you have over the production?
I don’t yet have an audiobook out because of this. I’ve heard of ACX where you can collaborate and get it done for free with a big cut on royalty, but it’s only available to people who live in the US (I live in Thailand). I’m trying to find a way around it as we speak.
Q: Pricing for indie books has quite a range. How much did you originally price your books for? Would you have taken a different strategy if you could do it over again? Do you ever have sales and/or free book giveaways?
I priced it 1.99 at launch time and it worked okay for me, though I’ve been talking to a few successful authors, and they had better results at $0.99 for the very first book in the series. As I mentioned above about free book giveaways, exposure, however you achieve it, is crucial for all debut authors. When you start to have a following or when it’s the second book, you can price it higher. I’ve been tracking prices of very successful authors, and even they have to constantly put their books on sale around $1.99-$2.99 to boost them. If anything, I’d say study and follow the strategies of successful authors in your genre for everything.
Q: The big question for a lot of authors considering self-publishing, especially those on a tighter budget, is how much will it cost? How much did you spend on your debut novel? Because I was able to make my own cover, and I chose an editor who was just starting out and for copy edit only, I was given a special friendly rate in hope that we will grow together. I paid $500 for editing and nothing else but advertisement. I’d say if you are short on funds, invest on the most expensive editor within your budget, and learn to do everything else by yourself.
Covers, however, are crucial to your success no matter how many times people say “Never judge a book by its cover,” and if you cannot get it to look professional enough, pay as much as your budget will allow. There are plenty of people who can make great covers for less and this is what many don’t know: the Wattpad community has some insanely talented designers who will do it for you for free bc that gives them the fame and social media presence. Just ask around, or search for “cover shops.” I myself make covers for free for my most dedicated readers as a thank you gift when I have time. This is, however, by invitation only for the select few who are huge fans of Obsidian.
Q: Do you feel like you made any mistakes along the way that you learned from? What pitfalls would you encourage authors to watch out for?
Definitely releasing my book without a solid marketing plan and launch preparation. I underestimated the power of launch period. If I could do it again, I will take at least a year to gather a following, send out more ARCs, collect mailing lists, create the hype, get as many formats out as possible at launch time because it makes your book look professional whether or not people buy those formats. And read a ton of guide books on marketing strategies. This is exactly what starting a business is like. If you treat it as a hobby, you’ll make hobby level money. If you want to quit your full-time job, well, it’s going to take finding another full-time job to replace it, and that’s marketing your book, not writing it, I’m sorry to say. A good book, like any good product, will fail if no one knows it exists. I’ve been a distributor for twenty years, trust me, that is the reality unless you happen to hit the jackpot and a famous person decides to do the marketing for you.
Q: Would you like to shoutout any of your editors, cover designers, or professionals you worked with?
Definitely my editor Kyle for reasons above. You can find him on Twitter as @krobnovelist. If you need someone who sees writing as an art and is open to many forms of art, not someone who emphasizes on being “correct,” talk to Kyle.
Q: Where can readers find you and your books? Can you tell us about your latest and/or upcoming release?
Book two of Obsidian should happen mid to late 2023.
Wattpad: @siennafrost (with the o),
Twitter : @siennafrst (without the o).
Obsidian’s dedicated website: Deesvault.wordpress.com
My travel Blog: ourdestinations.wordpress.com
Obsidian: Awakening links:
Complete list: https://books2read.com/u/bWELX7
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