With the fifth book in her Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery series now available on Amazon, Karen Musser Nortman kindly agreed to reach out from Iowa to readers of Platform Number Four, with the real-life tale of her road to publication. Welcome, Karen!
Karen Musser Nortman: Advantages and Challenges of Self-Publishing
I have always wanted to write, but you know how it is—life intervened. When I was in my twenties, had young children, taught full time, and kept a very large old house, I read an article about how to make time for writing. The male author wrote that he had a dedicated office in his home and when the door was shut, no one was to bother him. His wife was directed to leave his lunch outside the door at a certain time. I remember thinking, “Yeah, right. Like that would work for me.”
So I spent twenty-two years as a secondary social studies teacher and another eighteen years in test development for a large testing company. However, I don’t feel those years were wasted as far as writing is concerned. My teaching taught me to do research and I have applied what I learned writing and editing test items to my mysteries. You need a defensible solution but also a number of what we called attractive distractors—other solutions that are feasible in order to keep the reader guessing.
When I retired four years ago, I was 68 years old. We love to camp, and one weekend in preparation for a trip, I was looking for something light to download to my Kindle. I thought it would be fun to read a mystery about camping. There weren’t any. But a campground is a perfect setting for a cozy mystery—a small limited area, eccentric characters, silly mishaps, and intervention from Mother Nature. So I began to write.
When I finished my first book, I began to hunt for an agent with the help of an online database. I sent out about 60 queries and had interest from several. When the agent for several well-known cozy series asked for the full manuscript, I was thrilled and sent it off. Meanwhile I read that a writer needs to allow six months for an agent to get back on a manuscript, another six months to a year for the agent to find a publisher, and another year to get the book published. At my age, that was too dang long. I looked into self-publishing through Amazon, just at that time making a big splash on the publishing scene. I withdrew my book from the agent’s consideration and dove in.
It’s a lot of work, but not impossible. I do all of my own formatting and contract for book covers. I have more control and the royalties are much better. The biggest problems are finding acceptance as a self-published writer and marketing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad self-published books out there. Book contests and sites like IndieBRAG Medallion help self-published books gain viability.
Marketing is my least favorite thing. But I have heard that even the traditional publishers, unless you are Michael Connelly or Stephen King, expect authors to do a great deal of their own marketing. Since my books all center on camping, I have a target audience. I use RV Facebook pages to post notices when I am doing a giveaway. (I don’t bombard those places with ads otherwise.) I also hand out a few books free each place we camp because word-of-mouth is still the best advertising. I got a message from a man once who said he heard about my books in an Australian campground! I have worked a great deal on my ‘platform’—my website, author pages, email list, a blog about our camping trips, and branding. I try to put out at least two new books a year.
Finally, I keep in contact with a few other indie authors. They are an excellent resource and we support each other’s books. I only do that for writers whose books I would recommend to friends. It’s a slow building process, but it is building. My sales have gotten to the point where it’s a nice little supplemental income. Am I sorry I self-published? Not for a moment!
5 thoughts on “Advantages and Challenges of Self-Publishing: Guest Post by Karen Musser Nortman”
It was so interesting to hear how your Frannie Shoemaker mystery series came to be! I just got Bats and Bones for my Kindle and will give it a try. My husband and I did quite a bit of camping when we were younger (even on our honeymoon), and the idea of mysteries in that setting appeals to me.
Thanks for sharing your story, Karen. It’s always good to hear about the paths chosen by other writers. Marketing is a challenge, isn’t it, regardless of which path you choose!
It’s so important for us to find ways to move forward, isn’t it? My start was similar–queried widely and then ultimately decided to self-pub. An editor asked if I’d be willing to rewrite the book to fit their niche and I declined–by that point I knew what the book and series was and wanted it to be true to that vision–and that conversation opened the door to a different series with them. It’s all about creating your own opportunities!
I did that math, too–how long it would take to get from agent to bookshelf in a store–and decided I could spend that time already published, building my readership. I’m in my own niche–mysteries without murder–so that’s another reason I went indie. Good point about the work involved, and the challenge of overcoming the image of self-published books as “not good enough.” I read a lot of books by my fellow Sisters in Crime indies and B.R.A.G. Medallion honorees and have never been let down. I can’t tell any difference in quality from indie and traditionally published when I use those book-shopping criteria. I’m sure other people have their ways of finding the good quality indies.
Good marketing plan with your camping platform.