Insights on Self Publishing from Independent Author Lyn Gardner

Lyn Gardner is an author who got her start in fan fiction and writes mostly romantic novels within the lesbian fiction genre. Her books include Ice and Mistletoe and are available through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform (though offered a contract with a publisher, Lyn chose to remain independent).

Below, Lyn reveals how fans first discovered her work, shares her dual-pronged approach to editing, expounds important factors to consider when choosing between self publishing and a contract with a traditional publisher, and reveals her own reasons for choosing the path of an independent author when publishing her first book.

Through which online channels did you initially share your work? How did your first audiences find you?

Lyn GardnerI started in fan fiction, so my online channels were only the three sites I found devoted to a BBC television show called Bad Girls. Quite by accident, I got hooked on the show and then discovered fan fiction. I had always written in my head, but never had the courage to put down the words. Once I saw all the fan fictions written – some good and some not so good – I found the courage to try, and my first story was received unbelievably well. I wrote fan fiction for five years until my fans kept insisting I try to get published... and I did.

My “audience” found me easily because I posted only to sites specifically built around the show, and there was and still is numerous fans of that show. My stories received a lot of attention, so my fan base grew from that.

Why is it that your work gained popularity when so many novels languish in obscurity? Did you do anything special to promote it?

I think you’d have to ask the fans of my books why they like them so much, but I hope part of it is that I write what I want to read, and that’s what they want to read. I love romance and I love friction, so I try to put both into my stories, mixing angst with humor because that’s what life is.. .a mixture of good and bad, smiles and tears. I also believe that, since I am so new to the published world of lesbian fiction, my style- my voice if you will- is different than that of other authors within the genre. Readers don’t know what to expect from me. My characters are new and fresh, and hopefully so are my ideas.

With regard to self-promotion, I am seriously lacking in that department. I started a blog which is now in dire need of updating, and a Facebook page to keep up with what’s going on with independent authors and writers of LGBT fiction, but my “promotion” has really come from the fans who have been kind enough to leave positive feedback and reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.

I was lucky enough to find a few sites willing to review my book. I say willing only because many book reviewers refuse to look at E-books, and if they do, the genre in which I write is not accepted. Also, a few others sites took it upon themselves to review my work without being asked, so the word was spread more by others than by me. Thank God. 🙂

Do you work with an editor, or get any help with grammar, typos, plot, or characters?

I don’t have what most would call a professional editor, but a woman I met via a fan fiction site obtained her editing and publishing qualification in Australia, and she acts as my editor. I also consider her my best friend, and that helps, because writers and editors have a tendency to butt heads at times. If you’re going to self publish, it’s important to have an editor you can trust, but one who will also accept that sometimes you just need to agree to disagree.

I also try to find as many beta readers as I can. I have four onboard right now and would love to find more, but that’s hard because not only do I have to trust them not to share my work, I need to know they are reading the story to find the mistakes, rather than just to read the story.

As for the plot and the characters, they are all my own. My editors and betas are there to point out loopholes and errors, and they may make suggestions if they feel something doesn’t flow. However, how to close the gaps and make the repairs is entirely up to me. Refer back to butting heads with my editor. LOL

What advice would you give to authors regarding the choice between self-publishing and signing a contract with a publisher?

I’d tell them to go with your heart and decide what’s most important. We all want to walk into a bookstore and see our books on the shelves, but the price for that could be too steep for some. It was for me.

I think I read somewhere that less than 2% of authors are ever offered a contract, so if they’re in that group – congratulations to them! No matter what happens, no matter what they decide, that fact will not change, and they have to remember that and be proud of it.

When authors are offered a contract with a publisher, they need to understand that a contract does not guarantee that the book they wrote will be the one which may eventually end up on the shelves of bookstores. Publishers have guidelines and their own ideas about storylines, and they’ll expect the author to follow them. The contract also doesn’t guarantee that their book will be published next week, next month or even next year. Publishers spend a lot of money having books printed, so until they feel that your book is 100% ready, and it’s in their yearly budget to print it, it won’t be going to the printer, and you have to understand that. First and foremost, publishers are in the business to sell books and make money.

So, aspiring authors need to decide what they want. Decide how much they want to bend or wait. Decide if they have enough resources, enough betas, but most of all enough time to devote to getting their book out there... on their own. And I’m not talking about advertising or promoting. I’m talking about all the work that goes into getting the novel ready for publication, because once the book is written and edited, and the author believes it to be the absolute best it can be... there’s even more work ahead of them.

They have to decide what they want to spend, if anything, on getting a cover for their book. They need to decide on what site or sites they’re going to publish to, and then format their book accordingly for each site. And don’t forget they also have to decide if they want to self publish only an E-Book or will venture into print-on-demand.

After they wrap their head around all of that, then they start thinking how they can promote it, but only after they take a two-week sabbatical in a quiet place. Medication optional.

Why, specifically, did you turn down the contract you were offered with a publishing house?

Thinking back on the reasons, and there were many, the analogy of a snowball rolling down a hill comes to mind. 🙂

The first issue came up during my initial talk with the publisher. They mentioned three areas in my book, Ice, which they believed needed to be corrected. Now, this was the first book I had ever sent to a publisher, and it was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to, so that explains my mind set. I was on walking on air, so I listened to what they had to say and, at first, found myself leaning in their direction. After all, they were an almighty publisher and I was a lowly writer, but the more I thought about what they wanted me to do, the more I found myself pulling away. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the words, characters and plot are not my own, then what’s the point?

The second issue, tied in with the first, was control. When I received the contract, I was flabbergasted to find out that the publisher wanted all of it. They wanted the power to make me change my story, my characters, my plot and anything else they deemed necessary, and by contract, I would have to do what they asked. End of subject. Also, while I would be allowed to voice my opinion about the cover, they would design for my book, in the end, it would be their choice, not mine.

Timing was yet another issue. I’ll be honest and say that at the time I had no idea how long it takes to get a book from first draft to published, but I honestly didn’t want to wait a year or possibly even more to see Ice published. I also didn’t want to tie up my next book for months and months of negotiations as was mentioned in the contract, because along with everything else, they wanted “first rights” for my next book – a non-negotiable point. They made that clear.

But for me, what really cemented my decision to walk away from the publisher happened during another discussion I had with them. I mentioned another book I was writing – a very long book – and they scoffed at the length. Without reading one word of it, they deemed it too long. Just like that. They were right. I was wrong. So I walked away.

If you’ve noticed, not one of my issues was about money, and that’s something that aspiring authors need to understand. Don’t go into this believing you’re going to make one dime. Go into this because you love to write.

Are you able to support yourself entirely from book sales, or is your work as an author more a source of side income at this stage?

Writing is still only a hobby for me and I have a full-time job to report to five days a week, and that’s yet another very important thing that Independent writers need to understand. Set your bar LOW. Don’t expect to be the next Amanda Hocking or Hugh Howey. Expect to sell nothing and then be pleased when you do.

Is there anything else about your experience as an author that you would like to share? 

In case you’re wondering, I did not change the three “problematic” areas the publisher pointed out during discussions when I self published Ice, and it has yet to slip out of the top 100 books in its genre on Amazon in both the US and the UK since it was published in November 2012.

I just finished the "too long" book I had mentioned to my potential publisher and it is about to go through the editing process. Time will tell if they were right, or if they were wrong.

I have never once regretted turning down the contract, but I’m very thankful to have been given the opportunity to be published. It wasn’t a good fit for me, but maybe down the road a publisher will come along who I can’t refuse. I’m a never-say-never kind of girl, but I do owe the publisher a word of thanks, because until I spoke to them, I never realized just how passionate I was about my writing.