Author Highlight: Meet Self-Publishing Sage Jennifer Rose
At Steuben Press, we’re not shy about the fact that being a self-published author can give you more control over your creation and help you make more money.
But don’t just take our word for it. Author Jennifer Rose, or J Rose, has been hammering out novels since she was a tween, and has since become an expert in the self-published book industry.
J Rose’s fantastical debut novel, Twins of Orion: The Book of Keys, is the first in an epic middle grade series published by Pleadine Books, her own publishing company.
In the first installment of the series, you’ll join the journey of orphaned twins Peter and Rory as they struggle to find a sense of family and belonging. Their fate is turned on its head when magical birds transport the twins to an extraordinary new planet that’s mired by a brutal war (plus dragons and dark magic), where all new challenges await them.
Read on to discover what finishing this series Twins of Orion taught author J Rose about not only the benefits of self-publishing, but also what it takes to succeed as a self-published author.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a tween. I even wrote my first 72-page handwritten ‘novel’ when I was fourteen years old. As with most people, I didn’t think I could make a living off of writing, so I dove into my other love—music. Great exchange of the arts, right? Yeah, so I might actually work as a professional singer...
The spark that drove me down this path to write the epic middle grade fantasy, Twins of Orion, came about fifteen years ago. I was on the bus on the way to work, when I wondered what would happen if your characters had to level-up, like in the video games I loved. Of course, that story has grown and developed over the years.
I first decided I could make an actual living as a writer in 2012, when I met Kristen Lamb. She convinced me that the self-publishing industry had completely changed.
Totally mind-blowing. It was no longer a shot-in-the-dark that I could get a publishing
deal, and magically make enough money to earn a living.
It wasn’t until I finished the drafts of all six books in 2014 that I was sure I wanted to do
this the rest of my life. And not only that, but I could actually do it.
Why did you make the decision to self-publish?
The answer to that is a whole class! There really are pros and cons to both indie and traditional publishing — don’t let anyone tell you different.
First, you have to be honest with yourself about what your own strengths and weaknesses are. I thought a lot about it before I made my choice, and the top three reasons for self-publishing are:
- I have control over everything, including the cover, the editing, and the content, etc. I also feel like the ending of the series might be a little risky and I didn’t want the publishers to force me to change it.
- Honestly, my book is a quite long for a new author in the middle grade market (100k). However, I tested it with my target audience and they have loved it!
- Traditional publishing is incredibly slow at one book a year for most authors. Since it takes a good 3-5 books for a career to take off, I didn’t want to wait that long!
More currently though, I’m excited to see what’s happening in the indie market. There are so many great people to learn from like Mark Dawson, the ‘20 Books to 50k’ group, and Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. It’s amazing so many people are making solid careers out of going indie, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
Right now, I’m considering going hybrid, which means publishing both indie and traditional. I *plan* to go traditional with a couple books I’ve written, which I think suit that market better. So, for that I’ll go the normal route of querying agents who would be a good fit. My tip on this is that it really helps to meet agents at conferences.
What are some challenges you encountered during the self-publishing or publishing process?
Challenges? What challenges?
What they don’t tell you about is decision-fatigue on publishing your first book. I really wanted to make Twins of Orion appear to be traditionally published, so it was important for me to get all the details right.
That means everything from the cover, internal formatting (who thinks about paragraph spacing and headers?), and getting professional reviews. I even took the risk of applying for a Booklist review, which required a FOUR-month lead time. It paid off though!
Back cover copy is the hardest part for me, but it’s also one of the most crucial. For my future books, I plan to pay someone to write it for me. Good copy sells books.
How did you choose your book printer? What was the biggest challenge, surprise, or joy when printing your book?
This was one of the easier steps for me, although it sounds complicated. I write middle grade, so clearly I needed Ingram’s distribution to get into bookstores. And I needed IngramSpark to print Hardcover on-demand.
However, I needed Createspace (KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing now) to get faster service for my Amazon buyers. So I use both.
My biggest surprise is that KDP has better consistency with printing paperbacks. I’ve had more errors with my IngramSpark books than I care to count...and they cost more to print and ship. However—the Ingram books look better, because they came out thinner, so I bring those to bookstores and cons.
The biggest challenge with selling books through Ingram to bookstores and my coveted libraries is that you have to discount the books so much that you end up making as much as a traditional publisher would pay you per book (after discounts and distribution fees). But it can’t be avoided, and I’m grateful the opportunity is there.
My tip for if you want to get your book into libraries is to pay a service like Five Rainbows Cataloging to not only create the Library of Congress data, but also add your book to the WorldCat database.
How did you choose the cover design for your book?
With much love and turmoil. I truly lucked out and found an amazingly skilled illustrator at Denver Comic Con.
The process for this included brainstorming ideas, choosing from some very rough sketches and a color scheme, reviewing sketches, and giving feedback on the final design.
I used the award-winning Steven Novak to design the cover. I did a ton of research in my genre to see what the top publishers were doing and copied that — including the formatting of the back cover and the spine.
This is one area where it’s worth investing in a professional. I wanted to give readers a sense of magic, of wonder and adventure when they saw the cover. And that’s just what KikiDoodles and Novak Illustration did.
Do you have any advice for self-published authors looking to find a publisher?
Do your research! There are so many options out there for authors right now. But only you can know what will work for your business, strengths, and writing goals. What worked for Person A may not work for you.
Join groups of professional authors, attend writing conferences, and take the time to learn from people who are really succeeding at this business. Doing this really helps with the challenge of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’
On that note, take the risk and believe there is an abundance of opportunity for all of us authors. You just have to do the work and go after what you want!
What book should everyone read right now?
There are so many! I strongly believe that writing is a craft, and you only get better by studying it.
To level-up your skills, check out Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. If you’re newer to writing, check out Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook also by Donald Maass.
As for fiction, I recently read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and I just loved it. The person who reads the audiobook really draws you in. I actually sat on my kitchen floor to listen to the ending...then promptly started the book all over again.
J. Rose’s debut novel, Twins of Orion: The Book of Keys is the first in an epic middle grade series, published by Pleadine Books, her own publishing company. In her other life, she’s a trained opera singer and holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She has a passion for telling stories that make a difference. She can be found at JRoseBooks.com and @JRoseBooks on Twitter and Instagram.