In the latest in our series on self-publishing, New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Rachel Van Dyken discusses why she decided to self-publish and how her writing life has changed since hitting the bestseller lists.
Have you always felt driven to write? Are there are particular authors or books that you find particularly inspiring?
I didn’t start writing until a few years ago. I’d always had a really active imagination and when my job as a school counselor started to become really stressful, I used it as an outlet. I’d always looked up to authors, the way they create their worlds is so amazing, I wanted to be part of that. I think the books that inspire me are the ones that have stood the test of time.
For those who are unfamiliar, can you tell us about your books?
I write a little bit of everything! My latest release is a series based in Seaside, Oregon. It follows the lives of two rockstars who have a giant secret. The Bet was another book that recently released about childhood nemesis’ becoming lovers. One of my favourite books I’ve written is Elite. It is a New Adult book that is basically a combination of Gossip Girl meets The Godfather. Other than my NA titles, I also write historical romance - Regency romance to be exact. I went to the UK a few months ago to research! It’s so incredible for me to see all the rich history; over in the states, everything is still so new, does that make sense? It brought me to tears to see the rich architecture in London, to visit the museums. I can’t wait to go back. I didn’t spend near enough time there! I have around 12 regency titles out and actually carry a pop up map of London with me in my purse so that I can look at streets and locations.
Your work comes under the ‘New Adult’ genre. Many agents and publishing houses did not, until recently, recognise this as a genre – is this a problem you found in the past? And do you feel that self-published authors such as yourself are challenging these traditional views, by proving how successful ‘New Adult’ books can be?
New Adult is freaking everyone out, lets just get the elephant out of the room, right? Publishers don’t know what to do with it and as authors, it’s hard to define it. It’s a new coming of age genre that deals with real life issues. I had the same problem that lots of other authors had. Nobody wanted my book. It was so strange to me because up until the point where I hit the bestseller lists, I had an established fan base, so to me it just didn’t make sense. But any publisher will tell you, it’s a hard sell. People don’t know how to define it so rather than take a chance on it, they shy away. I ended up self-publishing it, as a lot of authors are now doing. It’s almost like the publishing industry has taken a step back and allowed the authors to take their own risk. The industry is constantly changing - what’s really great about this new genre is that traditional publishing houses are taking notice and now they are finally jumping on board.
How did you feel when The Bet made the bestseller lists?
I’m still trying to calm myself down. I’d hit the NYTimes once before with a regency romance and it was on the list for one week. I nearly had a stroke I was so excited. So to have The Bet be on that same list for more than 7 weeks is incredible. I feel so blessed.
Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?
The sequel to The Bet as well as Elite are both under contract with Grand Central Publishing (Hachette) and will be releasing this fall. I just released my latest novel, Shatter, it’s the fourth book in the Seaside Series, and I’m of course working on my London Fairy Tales series. I have the final book in that series releasing later this year.
When do you find time to write? Does this differ from when you started writing your first novel?
I write all day long. It’s my full time job so I treat it that way. I try to put in as many hours as I can throughout the day. I don’t have kids yet, so when my husband is at work, I’m home doing the same thing. Sometimes I work seven hours, other days I work twelve. Its constant writing and replying to readers. I’ve always written that way though - if a day goes by and I haven’t written, I get really sad.
Why did you choose to self-publish? Did you try the traditional route first?
I chose to self-publish mainly to see if I could do it. With The Bet, nobody wanted the manuscript, so I decided what the heck, I’ll just self publish it and see what happens.
Would you have taken the opportunity to go down the traditional route if that had been a possibility?
Most likely, but I’m very glad that it happened the way it did.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you’ve heard horror stories about big publishing houses. In your experience, have you found that self-published authors are wary of perhaps giving up their creative freedom in order to sign with a big publishing house? If so, why do you think this is?
I think publishing houses have had to change with the times. I know that the publishing house I’m with encourages me to self-publish because, in the end, it sells more books and that’s the bottom line. Years ago, e-publishing wasn’t that huge. Now that its so accessible, I think the industry is finally starting to change. I was very worried about giving up my creative freedom and was so pleasantly surprised to find out that Grand Central was on my team and rooting for me rather than working against me. I’m feel so blessed to have them.
What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?
Freedom. I have to admit, I HATE waiting. One of my sequels is now almost finished and I seriously can’t wait to release it, but I have to, because the publisher has a release date. I feel tortured when my readers feel tortured!
On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on? Such as the editor-author relationship.
You miss out on having a big publisher backing you, you miss out on the support a traditional publisher can give you. When you self-publish, you’re all by yourself. A traditional house can provide you with the opportunities you need to further your career. It’s what they do best.
Do you feel there is more of a sense of community with self-publishing than there is with traditional publishing? Do you feel you have a stronger connection with your fans because you self-published?
Actually, I don’t. A lot of authors have burst onto the self-publishing scene and I’ve noticed that, because they haven’t been in the industry that long, they think it’s a competition. It’s totally not. I’m so thankful to have other authors right next to me and I'm so proud of their success. At a publishing house, you are in a team with those authors. In self-publishing, I think a lot of indie authors think of it as having to beat someone else out. There's enough readers for everyone.
How important is marketing yourself in the early stages of your self-publishing career? Any tips?
Extremely! I pray a lot! Because it’s hard to get noticed and you wonder what’s working and what’s not working. The best marketing you can have is word-of-mouth.
Did you design your own cover? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader?
I have a cover artist that designs my covers, I’m not so talented in that area! It’s the first thing that readers see. It’s what draws them in. If they like the cover, they may like the blurb - if they like the blurb, they buy the book.
Finally, do you have any advice for writers looking to self-publish?
I say go for it. If you’ve never published before, self-publishing can be an easy way to get your foot in the door. Traditional publishing houses are so busy that it can take up to a year for them to respond to a query. Self-publishing can put you on the map. It’s nice to be able to write and do what you love rather than have to wait for someone to say yes to you.
Read the other interviews in our self-publishing series.