In our series of self-publishing interviews, we are talking today to Cynthia Sally Haggard, whose first novel, Thwarted Queen, a fictionalized biography of Lady Cecylee Neville (1415-1495), the mother of Richard III (whose bones were recently found under a car-park in Leicester,) was shortlisted for many awards, including the 2012 Eric Hoffer New Horizon Award for debut authors. To date, sales have surpassed 38,000 copies. Cynthia graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, Cambridge MA, in June 2015. When she’s not annoying everyone by insisting her fictional characters are more real than they are, Cynthia likes to go for long walks, knit something glamorous, cook in her wonderful kitchen, and play the piano.
You self-published your latest book, Farewell My Life. Would you please tell us why you chose the self-publishing route?
I realize that not every book sells, but after the enormous effort put forth to actually get 140,000words down on paper, I really don’t want my work to disappear into a black hole. If you publish with the big publishers in New York, you have to sign a contract in which you give away all of your rights. That means that if/when your book doesn’t sell in the 3-month window they give you, they will pull your book and you can do nothing to get it back. In short, the reason why I self-publish is because I get to keep all my rights.
Take us through the process. You had an idea for your book, you wrote it, then you decided to find a publisher. What were your experiences with that? Or did you decide to self-publish without looking any farther?
I got into self-publishing by accident. I finished writing my first novel Thwarted Queen in the fall of 2009, and so I spent the whole of 2010 trying to find an agent. I got 45 rejections. In early 2011 I learned that another novelist was publishing a novel with Simon & Schuster which involved my protagonist. I had a choice; let my manuscript molder in a drawer, or publish. The other author published her novel in May 2011, and so I self-published mine in October.
Authors who go the traditional route have an edge over self-published authors in regards to distribution to bookstores. How did you handle that as a self-published author?
I give exclusive distribution to Amazon, so I have all of the Amazon channels in the UK, France, Germany, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. As my first novel Thwarted Queen sold over 38,000 copies, I really can’t complain!
On the other hand, self-published authors have the edge over traditional books in the regards that the author has all the control. I’d like to begin with your cover. Did you make it or did you have someone else design it? If you had someone else, can you tell us who it is?
That is what I love about self-publishing is that you have total artistic control. I designed the inside of the book, and yes, I did the cover. As I run a shoestring operation, I am forced to keep things simple. I love the dark simplicity of my cover, I think it fits the mood of the novel perfectly.
So where do you see self-published authors making the biggest mistakes overall?
I think the issue is quality. Self-published authors have the freedom to take as much time as they like to write their novels, so they should take that time to produce something that is really special.
What steps are you taking to promote it?
- Indie prizes. Not to win, necessarily (although of course I’d love to:) but to get shortlisted and to get endorsements.
- Book Fairs. Have spent my money in getting my book before the New York Rights Fair, BookExpo/BookCon, ALA and the Frankfurt Book Fair.
- Blog Tours (such as this one.)
- I will be throwing a Facebook party in the fall to celebrate this novel.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other self-published authors?
Approach writing as a craft, and develop a meditation practice to help you deal with the inevitable criticism you will encounter. I find that meditation helps me to keep grounded and calm even when my feelings have been hurt by someone’s unkind words.
If you would like to find out more about Cynthia Sally Haggard and her books, take a look at her website and follow her on Facebook or Twitter.