Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
In the age of ereaders, self-publishing is becoming an increasingly attractive option for writers. Rather than have to undergo the long and arduous process of finding an agent and/or publisher, many writers choose to try digital self-publishing platforms. Where a writer would once have had to spend a lot of money on self-publishing a print product, now, countless websites are making it easy to publish with just a few clicks of a button, creating a published product without paying for ink and paper.
Publishing’s not the hard part—finding your audience is. Luckily for authors like Jessica Heights, who have turned to self-publishing ebooks after already cultivating a following on a blog, this tough task is already (at least partly) underway. Jessica is the force behind the blog Muthering Heights and Other Senseless Sensibility, and recently published her own book, 100 Pound Loser, through Amazon. Recently, her ebook has been in the top 100 sellers in two health and wellness categories on Amazon. In an email, she was kind enough to answer my questions about her blogging and her ebook publishing experience.
Jessica started blogging almost five years ago. “It was a very casual thing,” she says, “mostly for the purpose of posting pictures of my children for relatives. After a while, though, blogging became a creative outlet for me, as well as a way to connect with other writers.” Jessica’s lifestyle blog often focuses on the themes of family, life, and religion, and what began as an online family photo album quickly grew into a blog with a devoted following. And Jessica’s platform has grown right along with it: She co-hosts the yearly Allume conference (formerly known as Relevant), which teaches like-minded women how to start their own blogs; she writes for the blog Operation Christmas Child; and she contributes to the MOB Society site. (And this is around having four kids. It’s a little tiring just thinking about it.)
Eventually, though, Jessica wanted to expand her audience beyond her blog’s followers: “When I was considering a topic for my first ebook, I wanted to focus on something that would have wide appeal and could reach an audience beyond my usual circle of readers and colleagues. While I did want to share my story and encourage other women, I also wanted to ‘get my name out there,’ as an author beyond just the scope of the blogging community,” she said. Her ebook, 100 Pound Loser, is aimed at women—especially mothers—who are interested in losing weight or who are currently experiencing health issues from their weight.
Once she had hit on her topic, she said that writing the book itself took about two months. “I would work for just a few hours, one day per week,” she says. “I did most of the rearranging of my drafts and chapter compilation myself, but for grammar issues and help spotting all those horrid em dashes and such, I hired an editor—another work-at-home mom, like me!”
Jessica says that from the start, she knew she wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that digital has to offer. “For this book, I specifically wanted to self-publish, and restrict the book to electronic formats. The message contained in 100 Pound Loser is certainly not the great message of my life, and I never intended for it to be so. I purposely chose the content and length of the book for wide appeal and affordability, so that those interested in reading it could do so very easily (just about everyone has $4.99 to spend), and to call attention to myself as an author.” She sees this ebook as the starting point in a career as an author, saying that it’s much easier to catch the eye of an editor or agent with some epublishing success already under one’s belt. Given the high-profile stories of self-published authors getting big book deals, it seems as though self-publishing, along with blogging, may become an established step towards building a platform in a budding writer’s career.
Alongside keeping up with her blog, Jessica has been smart about using the Internet and social media to get the word out about her new ebook. “When I launched the ebook, I enlisted the help of 75 other bloggers, who published reviews of my book in exchange for a free copy, and in some cases, copies to give away on their own sites,” she says. “My friends and community members have also been so kind as to publish links to my book on their Facebook pages, on Twitter, and Pinterest as well! While I am technically the book’s main publicist, and run a Facebook page for the book along with a volunteer, I couldn’t have successfully launched my book without the awesome bloggers who shared my content.”
Without the television, radio, and big-website connections that a traditional publisher can offer, an author has to take advantage of the kind of “grassroots” publicity that social media and other blogs can offer. And she was realistic about choosing her self-publishing platform, as well, citing Amazon’s popularity among ebook readers as the reason behind choosing the Kindle platform. While she does hope to expand the ebook to other digital stores in the future, she started with what she felt was the most established ebookstore out there for self-published authors. (Definitely a savvy move: in April 2012, a study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project showed that 62 percent of ebook readers owned a Kindle, in contrast to the 22 percent who chose Barnes &Noble’s Nook.)
For other authors looking to self-publish, Jessica advises, “Start with a plan. When writing, think about the timeline for publishing and launching your book—how long the sites you’re using to make your book available will take to actually publish your book, who you can enlist to help spread the word about your book, etc. Who is already talking about/reading/sharing similar content? Whose readers would connect with your message the most? These are all important factors to consider in making sure your book doesn’t get lost in the epublishing shuffle!”
This interview has been edited and condensed.