Author Dave S. Koster
Dave was kind enough to let me interview him for today’s blog to celebrate his new release! Enjoy the interview and we hope you learn something from his rocky path to publication. Because, you know, nothing can go smoothly.
I’ve known you for a long time, though I can’t remember who introduced us, but for those new in the writing community, tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been writing since around 2002 – I picked it up when my wife and I moved back to Alaska from Maryland. I actually did a bit of writing when I was in High School, but I was mostly interested in video game storylines at the time. In any case, back in 2002, I was out of work and was sketching up ideas for a video game, but lacked the technical skills for game development, but story writing was something that seemed more attainable. I dabbled for ages, taking large breaks to build a house, learn how to make furniture, work briefly as a college teacher, and other various hobbies. Then in 2014 (I think?), I had a moment on my morning commute. It was one of those days that only an Alaskan commute can give you – loads of golden light spilling over the tops of snow-capped mountains. The moment amounted to: What the heck are you doing? Either you do this or you don’t do it. I concluded that I was entirely too stupid to know when I couldn’t do a thing, so I decided I was going to double-down and get serious about it. I finished the book I had been working on for about 10 years and later that summer started my second, Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, which was the one just published on the 5th of June.
I remember Wine Bottles and Broomsticks from way back when you tried to fund it using InkShares. Can you tell us about your experience? (To see his old campaign, look here!)
This was one of the most informative experiences I’ve had yet with the business. On the whole, it was good in that the system was easy to use making the technical bits of the process manageable. That said, I would never recommend this avenue to most writers. You have to have a following of readers or supporters first. If I were a ‘personality’ with fans, I might have made the goal, but I didn’t have that. I’m a new author from the perspective of readers even now after having done rather a lot of self-improvement and several (unpublished) books under my belt. I think it’s hard to convince readers to buy a book from an unknown that won’t be ready for weeks or months. The other part of the experience was just how much other writers tried to help.
In a blog post from a couple years ago, you said the book was going nowhere and ultimately, you chose to self-publish. It seems like this wasn’t as easy decision for you. How did you finally decide to publish your novel on your own? (To read that blog post of Dave’s, click here.)
Honestly, that post was from a pretty negative place. I’d queried 30 or 40 agents and failed the crowd-funding even after tons of help from other writers. At the time, I really wanted to get an agent and go traditional. I was hoping that I might be that rare unicorn who manages to become a full-time writer. I think this book was the first step realizing that it’s not going to happen. Anyhow, fast-forward to last fall. I decided that I wanted to self-publish the Dark Queen of Darkness. This was mostly because I’d realized that an agent won’t pick up my work, and in even if s/he did AND I got a publishing deal, I’ve got a full-time job that actually pays the bills and I couldn’t meet their deadlines or expectations. I need to keep things on my schedule and my time, so self-publishing suddenly was the only viable route. This spring, after working with an editor, and meeting with a cover designer, I started looking at nuts and bolts bits of publishing, I realized I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing. Even with all of the advice and what-not, I still don’t really ‘get it’. I decided, around that time, that I’d quietly release an already finished book in order to learn how to operate all of the software, navigate the platforms, and generally understand how all of these things work. The whole point of publishing Wine Bottles and Broomsticks was to ensure a smooth launch for the Dark Queen of Darkness.
There is a lot to learn. Even after six books, I always make a mistake when I publish. Every time. It’s infuriating, so I definitely know where you’re coming from. Luckily there is a lot of help out there, and you’ve been part of the online writing community for a long time now. Did you find they were a help to you during the publishing process? Did the networking pay off?
The writing community has been a huge help. Everyone I’ve engaged with has had something helpful to say or offered their time to read/comment or otherwise help me do a better job at the craft. Not to mention hours of encouragement. I think I pointed out your amazing help on cover design. I’d never have been able to work that out on my own. Actually, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have even tried to self-publish without the confidence I got copying your notes. So, yes, the networking has paid off and given me the confidence I completely lack on my own. If it weren’t for the writers on Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress, I’d probably have given up.
Yeah, I don’t think the moderator of that group liked my how-to tutorial. She shut down comments not long after I posted the entire thing. To be fair, I should have posted on the other FB page they have for the how-to stuff for cover design, and not the feedback page. But I hoped it helped a few people who otherwise wouldn’t have known. Anyway, this is your first book! What would you say was the hardest part about the publishing process?
I’ve got a whole bunch of ‘hardest parts’ I could go on for days. I was very nearly in ugly man-tears mid-day Tuesday over it. By far, though, trying to get all of the accounts set up and stuff uploaded. I still don’t have my book uploaded to Ingram Spark yet, because it won’t save the title and I haven’t got the foggiest clue as to why. Runners-up include: paperback layout (InDesign is spendy for me, and Vellum doesn’t work on my computer). The third is the business side. I’m still absolutely mystified about what royalty plan I should be taking. I got spooked by 70%, so went with 35% because if I’m making less money it must mean I’ve got less liability? I don’t even know. Those are just the starting points.
Definitely take the 70%. What Amazon allows you to take depends on how much you’re pricing your book for. Grab whatever you can!
Indies talk a lot about going wide. Is your book in the Kindle Unlimited program? Or did you choose to publish on other platforms like Nook and Apple Books?
I plan to go wide, but it’s going to be step-by-step so I can figure it out. When I do The Dark Queen book, I’m hoping that all of the pieces will be in place and it’ll go relatively smoothly across all platforms at once so I don’t have any terrible delays. Essentially, the goal is to add a second book to an existing platform rather than try to get it all set-up and hope I don’t experience any unexpected snags on launch day.
A) How did you come to that decision?
The decision on Kindle Unlimited is based on the hugely restrictive nature of KU. Plus, it’s possible to be completely banned from Amazon’s platform if you violate their TOS, which is a lot more restrictive in KU. After I saw Adam Dreece’s situation a few years back, I don’t know if you remember that, but I concluded that it just wasn’t worth it. Plus it leaves me with questions on stuff like: Can I sell locally at book fairs and things? What’s more, I’m not really sure it’s any more lucrative for someone who isn’t particularly prolific.
I remember Adam’s situation; it happened to a couple other big-time authors around that time, too. That would be scary–especially if you’ve grown to rely on that income. Joanna Penn encourages first time authors to learn Amazon first and then after the dust settles, so to speak, learn the other platforms. Which makes sense. Adam Croft endorses going wide from the get-go. They are two different animals, for sure, but depending on the kind of publishing schedule you have to stick with because of personal obligations, learning Amazon first may be an easier task.
B) If you’re wide, what aggregator did you use, and how was that experience?
I haven’t set up with an Aggregator. This is 100% because still totally new to this and just learned about that right now. Even then, I’m a bit of a control freak and would likely prefer to release per-platform on my own, where possible –at least at first. I don’t know much about Kobo, but B&N is trying to put together a system similar to Amazon for authors. I’ll use Ingram Spark to publish the books outside of Amazon’s platforms and they seem to have services that’ll get me there. I’ll likely change my mind after I research aggregators more and start to understand all of this better.
There is a lot to learn. Some would argue that Barnes and Noble is sinking, and fast. It’s probably one of the reasons why authors stick with Amazon. I have good feelings about Kobo, and you should go direct with them so you have access to their promotions tab. You have to email them for it, but you can only access it if you go through them directly. I use Draft to Digital for places like Apple Books, and yeah, Nook. They upload my book to a few places I’ve never heard of, as well. IngramSpark will publish your ebook too, if you can get them to work for you.
You released the paperback after the ebook. What was the reason for that?
In a nutshell: Impatience. I hadn’t planned on saying much or letting folks know it was out there until everything was ready and I could see it myself. It seems that every time I press a new button in this world, I learn something, new, profound, and sometimes expensive. I’m the sort of person that has to do a thing before I can really learn it, and getting things all ‘set up’ but un-launched is like a task waiting for a problem that will take 2 weeks to sort out. The paperback is ready, I just haven’t seen the proof yet. I was having trouble with the gutters, so I’m not convinced the printed copy will turn out – plus I’m concerned about the cover quality. When I hit the button to publish, I was really thinking that once it’s available on Amazon, I have something to point to in setting things up for Goodreads and the Amazon author page. Plus, I thought it might help a bit in getting Ingram Spark going. There are so many things to do in launching a book and this is all my first time.
You mentioned once you thought self-publishing would be expensive. Was this true in your experience? How did you save money? What was the biggest expenditure in the process?
My experience is that it can go both ways. Wine Bottles and Broomsticks cost a couple of hundred dollars when all costs are taken into account, before advertising. I didn’t get an editor, and I did my own cover. I’m not convinced this was the right decision. Dark Queen of Darkness has been very expensive so far. The dollar figure is likely to be a few thousand to get professional editing, cover, layout, and other things. I’m 95% certain I’ll never make that money all the way back.
Do you have any plans to market?
Yes, but not until I get everything in place. I want to do some testing with Amazon promotions and advertising on other platforms. When I launch Dark Queen of Darkness, I’ll do local events as well and will try to launch with a bit more fanfare than a retweeted post from my wife. I want to see what sort of return on investment might be reasonable.
I understand. I’ve gotten grief for pushing publish and walking away. But the community on Twitter is fabulous–there is so much support there. Every seems genuinely happy for you and cheering for your success. I usually tweet out a little something, but as you write more and publish more, you’ll find you need to break out of writer social media and find that reader social media. Easier said than done!
Thank you for chatting with me! If you have any issues with anything, let me know how I can help!
Check out Dave’s book cover . . . isn’t it great?! You can click the cover and it will take you to Dave’s Amazon page. Give him a follow there, and at Goodreads! Dave blogs too, and you can follow his website here.
Thanks for reading!