Even though I know you guys love hearing me ramble every week (you do, right?), it’s nice to hear from other authors. Terah Edun has been rocking it this year with her YA fantasy novels, so I cornered her in a dark alley and interrogated her. I was particularly intrigued when I noticed she was using a text messaging system for sending out new-release information to readers who signed up for the service. The newsletter 2.0? If you read on, you’ll see how her experience trying this went at the bottom here.
Interview with YA Fantasy Author Terah Edun
Thanks for stopping by the blog (er, dark alley), Terah. Let’s jump right into the questions!
You’re making waves and selling well with your YA fantasy novels. Do you want to tell us a little about the stories and what made you choose to self publish?
First, thank you for having me on your blog! This is a really cool occasion for me and you’ll see why in a minute. I’m primarily a Young Adult fantasy writer, with two High Fantasy series and one Urban Fantasy series. They all have a heroine as their protagonist and focus on coming of age in a medieval world that’s more Game of Thrones than Tolkien. Except for the magic. I go overboard on magic.
Young Adult Fantasy stories have been my passion since childhood and when I began self-publishing at the start of 2013 I really wanted to write what I loved to read. As do most authors. However, my writing journey was a rocky road of understanding what worked for the market and what worked for myself.
At the start of my selfpub journey I’d never written a fictional account of anything aside from English 203 essays in high school. I wasn’t the writer who submitted short stories to magazines at age 12 or went to conventions to get her books signed and asked ‘How do I do what you do?’. I read half a dozen books a month but I never wrote.
Now let’s fast-forward a few years to when I was a full-time development specialist working overseas. In my free time, when I had no electricity (so no tv or internet) I started writing out of boredom. Something to keep my mind occupied. Once I put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard as it were, nothing could stop me. I wrote my first novel in a little under a year, and it was representative of all the things that can go wrong in a first attempt. But still I loved it. So I queried three agents, got zero replies, and just about gave up.
Now, when I said it was a cool occasion for me to appear on your blog, I really meant it! And this is why. I wasn’t really pursuing traditional publishing all too enthusiastically (hello, 3 queries) but I didn’t think about self-publishing either. That is until I started to read the stories about Amanda Hocking. The expositions on Hocking’s brilliant run however didn’t quite explain how she went about it. And that’s where you (and KB) came in. A friend tipped me off to your blog and it was your posts that gave me the nuts-and-bolts on how to go about finagling an Indie career.
I figured out where to go and who to hire from your wonderful posts and then I self-published. I unpublished it a few months later, but once I figured out how to self-publish, the desire to continue stuck. So I tried again, this time with a related series and a new book.The next book stuck and that is the first book in my Courtlight series.
So thank you Lindsay! Without that start, I wouldn’t be where I am today with eight books and two manuscripts, over 50,000 sales, and a career that I couldn’t be happier with.
It looks like you’re a fan of writing in series. What are your thoughts on pricing when it comes to a series? Have you experimented much? Any strategies that work better than others?
Series is something I fell into. I can’t seem to write a first book without thinking of entanglements and back-stories and plot devices, which just expand the world and push me to question why? Why did this happen? What’s his story? What was this place like two hundred years ago? So I’ve been expanding my world further with each book I write.
My primary marketing concept for my first series was a pricing ladder. Again, something I learned from you. I currently have five books in Courtlight and the books scale up in price from Free to $0.99, $2.99, $3.99, and $3.99. This gives my readers a way to taste the series and even save on the second book before they dive in for the entire thing. For a long time, I’ve read series that are epic arcs of ten to twenty novels from the likes of Robert Jordan and Michelle Sagara I don’t intend to go that long but I do plan to push the envelope and I see no harm in giving my readers a break on price for the first couple of books.That pricing, however, only works when you have a good number of books to put on the different rungs. So by necessity, my second series is different. There are two books out and they’re currently both $2.99. That series found a broader market which seems comfortable at that price point, so I leave it. I do however do consistent promotions with Book One where I discount it to $0.99 and even Free to give more readers a chance to grab the first book.Overall the pricing ladder has worked for me and I’m contemplating trying new options as we go into the new year, primarily focusing on compiling more boxed sets, and testing those. Indies always have to be innovative after all!
You’re doing all the right things (awesome covers and blurbs) when it comes to selling books. Do you have any suggestions for other authors?
If you’re serious about trying to sell a series and want to make this work I would say: A) Have a consistent series look, B) Brand your books to your genre not what you think your genre should be, C) Stand out with quality, and D) Hire out if you can’t do it yourself.
I’ll be the first to say, that investing money into your books that you may not have or don’t want to part with can be tough. But it’s that investment which can pay dividends. At the same time, you don’t need the most expensive cover artist or the most expensive formatter to make your books shine.
My first two covers: Red Madrassa and Sworn To Raise, I paid between $120-$350 for the cover design. That was a fair price, but for someone who wanted to put out product at a fast pace as they built a fanbase, it quickly became prohibitive. So I learned to do my own cover design. Each time I design my cover I’m saving money. Not just in the initial eBook design but also for subsequent Audiobook and Print covers. In addition to the fact that I can make my own promotional graphics, social media graphics, and swag (buttons/bookmarks). As to how I became proficient, I put time and effort into studying Photoshop. I learned everything on my own with tips from lovely self-published authors like S.M. Reine and Dannika Dark who shared their knowledge and their love of Youtube tutorials. But you don’t always have to do everything yourself.For instance, formatting is another way to save money. But I personally find formatting tedious, so I hire that out to places like Polgarus Studios (really great prices!) and Streetlight Graphics (gorgeous design work).
Above all, whatever you decide to do with your own self-published books, be sure to always be flexible and willing to experiment. If one look for your series or books isn’t working, change it up. If you have an editor who books five months out for an appointment and you need one who can fit you in consistently every two months, find a new one. Flexibility is key in the way you present yourself and the way you adapt to the market.
You released a Book 1 in a new series back in March, and it’s been selling well, appearing near the top of your category lists, the whole time. Any thoughts on how you’ve done so well with that one?
The book Lindsay is referring to BLADES OF MAGIC, Book One in the Crown Service series. Blades was a risk for me. It was a story I desperately wanted to tell and I even wove in references to it in my previous series, but it wasn’t one I was sure my readers would take to. I feared that the entire concept of the series was too different from my original series. From the personalities of both characters to the design of the covers, they were just worlds apart. What if my readers loved the first series so much, that they wouldn’t take to a second at all?
In addition to the normal fears of doing something different, I was stepping out of my comfort zone in another way. I was putting a diverse protagonist front-and-center on my cover, come hell or high water, and I was making her black in the books. Not ambiguous. Black. And for me, that was a risk. I had just began to grasp the brand of who I was, a young adult author who wrote high fantasy books. To expand that brand to be a young adult author who wrote diverse high fantasy books seemed a risk. There were very few successful self-published as well as traditionally-published speculative fiction authors that I know of who wrote books with diverse characters as their protagonist and had those characters represented on their covers. That last part is very important. (You can see a list of a few of those authors here.)
I can still count a list of them off on my hand for self-pub and trad pub. It wasn’t a very comforting thought.
But I wanted to be different and I wanted a darker-skinned young woman as the main protagonist of my second series. I say want, but she didn’t appear in my mind in any other way. I had no choice about who she was, but I did have a choice about how I would present her. So when I designed the Crown Service covers I made sure that she was true to her racial background on the cover as she was within the pages.
With trepidation I published. Thinking this book would flop as my first book did. I was wrong. In the first month, the Crown Service series outsold the first six months of the Courtlight series. Part of that was due to the fact that over time I’d built a larger fanbase but part of that was just the fact that a new host of readers were connecting strongly to a character I didn’t think they would. Seven months after the release of Blades Of Magic, I released BLADES OF ILLUSION on October 18th. The reception was phenomenal. I managed to get to #440 overall in the Amazon store and get some screenshots that had me positively screaming. I honestly believe that I’m rocking the charts with this series because I’ve created something different in a genre that is well known for staying the same.
You seem to be trying quite a few things when it comes to marketing. I was particularly curious about your option where readers can text a number for updates on new releases. Can you tell us how you got signed up for that, what it costs, and if anyone is using the service yet?
The service I use to TEXT readers on their mobile phones when I have a new release is by a company called Textmarks. I first noticed it when I came across the option on Cassia Leo’s page. I thought it was an innovative way to contact customers who may prefer an option to email and have a second way to reach my fanbase if an apocalypse happened and my mailing list dissipated. I’ve had the Textmark service for 3 1/2 months now. They make it very easy to sign up with one month free and live customer service reps to answer your questions. There are multiple plans, based on the consumer’s needs. For $49.00 a month, I can assign up 5 keyword groups and send out 1,250 messages (each recipient counting as a message).That is the smallest plan they have and for that reason I think it’s overkill for a normal author but I’ll get into that later. In principle, it’s very simple. I assign each group a separate keyword, for instance I can do AUDIOFANS and EBOOKFANS. I then pass out the keyword and the text code, and have readers text the number to sign up for messages from my account. The process itself is not something customers are unfamiliar even if they don’t always realize it. For instance, I’m signed up for text messages from AMC Movie Theaters and they send me coupon codes for discounts on popcorn.
I don’t know how well the service works for AMC but for an individual author I’m not so sure it’s worth it. I was waiting until I had concrete data from my latest release before making a decision. In the twelve weeks that I’ve had the service only 49 individuals signed up for the text plan. In comparison, my mailing list (which this was supposed to be a supplement plan to at best and a fallback plan at worst) has thousands. This also means I’m paying a $1 a month for every person that’s currently signed up for my plan. In addition to that, I don’t have data on who signed up or why. It might be a case of readers only liking one of my series over the other, but my release day open rate for the texts (I used a coded URL) is only 15 out of 49. When I’m paying for a service like this, I don’t like those odds. So I’ll be signing off from the plan before my next billing cycle.
Thanks for checking out the interview, everyone! You can visit Terah’s website for more information or check out her books on Amazon. She’s also on Twitter and Facebook. The first novel in her Courtlight series, Sworn to Raise, is currently free.