The latest installment in our self-published author interview series sees us talk to Leighann Dobbs, about how she went from software engineer to bestselling author.
What or whom inspires you to write? You were a software engineer for twenty years: what made you pick up the pen and start writing?
As a voracious reader, I always dreamed about being a fiction writer, but suffering through years of rejections by publishers didn’t appeal to me, so I took the more practical route and became a software engineer.
After I got laid off from my engineering job in 2007, I started making websites for clients and writing non-fiction web content. When I learned about self-publishing, it seemed like a great way earn a living. I tried some non-fiction books and those did okay, but then I ventured into writing fiction and haven’t looked back since.
My readers inspire me to write. It’s so wonderful to get messages from them telling me how my books brightened their day and asking when the next one will be ready. I love “talking” to them on Facebook, through email and on my website. That’s what makes this the best job in the world.
For those who are unfamiliar, can you tell us about your books?
My books are cozy mysteries. Light reading that will leave you with a smile on your face when you close the book. I have two series right now.
One series features Lexy Baker who owns a bakery and gets into all kinds of mischief with her amateur detective grandmother and her three friends.
The other series features the Blackmoores- four sisters who each have unique paranormal abilities which help them fight off bad guys while recovering treasure. So far, their adventures have been contained to their seaside home in Noquitt Maine (a fictional town based on Ogunquit Maine) but I plan to have them go treasure hunting in more adventurous places where real treasure is rumoured to exist, so there will be a little bit of actual true history mixed in.
We love the baking theme you have for the ‘cozy mysteries’ series – what made you decide to go for this angle?
I love mysteries with baking themes so when I was thinking about what I wanted to write, that immediately popped into my mind. Plus I love eating, especially baked goods, but since my hips don’t love the extra pounds, I’m able to taste the food vicariously through my characters.
To what extent do you feel self-publishing is giving readers and writers greater freedom when it comes to what they read/write?
Self-publishing has been amazing for both readers and writers. I’m sure you’ve heard of the dozens (maybe even hundreds) of writers who have been rejected time and time again by publishers and have found huge audiences by self-publishing their books. Those readers would have been deprived of reading the books without self-publishing!
Also, self-published writers aren’t limited as to how many books they release. They can publish as fast as they can write and bring books to the readers faster.
Plus a lot of self-published authors price their books in the $3.99 and under range, which allows readers to discover new writers for very little money and also gives them more money to buy more books!
When do you find time to write? Does this differ from when you started writing your first novel?
I’ve been lucky enough to be able to support myself with the money from my books, so I write full time. I treat it like a job though, so I’m at my computer 8 - 12 hours a day writing, creating covers, formatting the books to publish on various platforms and connecting with my readers.
Why did you choose to self-publish? Did you try the traditional route first?
I never wanted to try traditional publishing. I like the control that I get with self-publishing. I control when to have a sale, what my covers look like, how to price books, when to release them etc... Oh, and I make a heck of a lot more money than I would if I had a publisher.
Would you have taken the opportunity to go down the traditional route if that had been a possibility?
Not unless they gave me one heck of a deal. I’m coming up on one year of self-publishing with my cozy mysteries so I have a good idea of the lifetime value of my books. It’s doubtful any traditional publisher would offer me anywhere close to that for a book.
What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is?
The speed and the control. Okay, well that’s two things but both are great advantages. My last novel I wrote in 30 days, and then it went off to the editor for about five days. Two days later, it’s published and earning me money. Try doing that with a traditional publisher.
I can look in my dashboard at any time and see my sales for the day. I can analyse sales over time, sales of different books, sales from ads etc... so I can figure out what is working for me and which promotions and strategies get me the most money. I don’t think you get those types of numbers with a traditional publisher.
On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on? Such as the editor-author relationship.
There is one thing - getting your paperback book into book stores. There’s just no easy way for self-published authors to do that, or at least not that I am aware of.
Instead of the editor-author relationship, self-publishers have the opportunity to have a reader-author relationship with the people that actually buy and read their books.
How important do you feel interacting with your fans has been?
Very important. My fans are the greatest and I love asking them questions about the books and getting their opinions on things. It’s a lot of fun to interact with them.
Do you feel there is more of a sense of community with self-publishing than there is with traditional publishing?
I wouldn’t know about traditional publishing, but I am a member of a couple of wonderfully supportive online groups for self-publishers, where we share different techniques and strategies and help each other out. I think there is more of a sense of community simply because we are forging new territory.
How important is marketing yourself in the early stages of your self-publishing career? Any tips?
It’s incredibly important. You have to build up that initial fan base before you start making decent sales. Once you do though, things start to take on a life of their own.
You need to get your book in front of people that will want to read it. Doing free giveaways for exposure is one way to start building, although this does have its drawbacks. Having sales on your book, discounting it to 99 cents and taking out ads for the sale is another. Investing in advertising can be expensive but it pays off in the long run because those new fans will go on to buy all of your books.
Naturally, you have to write a good book that people will recommend to their friends.
Also, I want to stress that you should spend most of your time writing more books. That’s the best way to gain a following, so marketing should only take a small fraction of your time.
Did you design your own cover? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader?
I pick out all the artwork that goes on the covers from different stock photo sites and tell my cover artist where to place them. Then she puts the whole thing together and makes it look fabulous.
The cover is probably the most important piece of the puzzle (besides writing a good book) because it’s the first thing that is going to attract the potential reader. These readers are browsing through hundreds of cover thumbnails to pick their next book and yours HAS to stand out or you will get passed by. I don’t care if you have written the best book in the world, no one will see it if your cover doesn’t stand out from the crowd.
The cover gets them in the door, then you need to sell them with your book blurb and what they see when they open up the “look inside”.
Finally, do you have any advice for writers looking to self-publish?
Be prepared to write a lot of books. The more books you have, the more chances you have for attracting readers. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself - go out to eat less and save some of that money if you have to.
Most importantly - you must have a way to communicate with your readers so you can tell them about your next book. An author website with your books listed, an email list where they can sign up for emails and a Facebook fan page are essential.