I was luckily enough recently to spend some time with one of the few full time South African authors that could earn a living off (Amazon) book sales, Erika Bester.
Her name might not ring a bell to you the reader for two reasons:
- She has made the choice to write under a different pen name for each genre.
- Her books are mainly sold from the Young Adult (YA) shelves of Amazon which means that the reading population of South Africa who seem to have an insatiable hunger for non-fiction would not easily come across this internationally best-selling author in local bookstores.
I love this interview as it is directly from a successful author and really gives great advice for any authors wondering why they might be struggling to sell YA fiction in serious quantities.
Her advice is sobering, her success as a YA author is undisputed, enter Erika.
Q: You weren’t a “born writer” in fact you only started you a few years back – Tell me about your journey as a writer?
It was a fun, yet such a challenging journey, as I'm not an English speaking person, it's my second language and believe me, I still struggle with all the rules, anything pertaining to grammar. Guess it's why I have 4 editors to detangle what it is I'm trying to say in my novels, ha-ha. The best part of being a writer is that I can experience so many things, journeys, and characters’ lives through all my stories. That is the part I'm addicted to. It goes without saying that I love to see how intense I can make that emotional rollercoaster for the readers.
Q: What kept you motivated in the early stages, before you were selling large quantities of eBooks?
I immediately started with another project, trying not to worry too much in the interim, but it was kind of devastating during that time as I knew the potential was there—it just needed to be discovered. Something that undoubtedly takes time. I do try to push this process too, and do quite a bit of marketing for all my projects. Some need marketing more than others.
Q: What made you decide to publish directly on Amazon and not start the “accepted” SA way and publish hard-copies into an “Exclusive” book retail store?
Two reasons. One, traditional publishing is extremely difficult to get accepted into if you don't have credentials in the writing industry. So, I guess I gave up after a long struggle with traditional publishing. But I discovered, which brings me to my second reason, how easy it was to self-publish.
I know a lot readers think that everyone and anyone can publish, and that indie novels are no good at all; that they’re not up to the traditionally published novel standards, but I promise you that that’s far from the truth. More and more indie authors reach top Amazon lists as opposed to traditional authors. A book is a book, as long as it goes through a really good editing process, has a good cover that fits, and tells a brilliant story. Then it won’t and doesn't make a difference if it’s traditional or indie published.
The self-publishing route also gives an author all the perks of not having to change their story to suit a particular publishing house. I would think long and hard in letting my novels go should a traditional publisher contact me, as I know what my novels are worth.
Q: You blog under various pen names, what are their names, what genre does each write?
Adrienne Woods is for my young adult fans, some of which are my age, but we are YA at heart.
Isabella White is still relatively new pen name as I only recently published my first romance under this name, which is more like dealing with a first time author. You need to be patient. I wrote under Isabella White for all my romance/contemporary/erotic novels as I don't want it to clash with my YA novels. They are completely different genres.
And then I have two other pen names; Kristin Ping, for my NA/paranormal genre to be released in 2016, and a fourth, Judith Hollstrom, which will be used for my horror/thriller genres, and these will only be released in the month of October for obvious reasons. Ha-ha.
Q: Why did you decide to use multiple pen names and not write everything under your actual name?
Here’s what happened to a couple of authors, they crossed their genres under one name which resulted in some of their readers not liking a particular novel, which resulted in lowering ratings for other novels they wrote under the same name. Yes, it can still happen to me, as not everyone will like every novel I write, but this way I feel that I'm eliminating that sliver of a chance in it happening. It might not make sense to others, but it makes absolute sense to me.
Also, I don't want parents biting my head off that because my YA novels have done so well, by using the same name, my new erotic/romance novel ends up in their teens’ hands. So there are various reasons to take into account as to why I chose a different pen name for different genres. And I use my real name for running my own publishing company, Fire Quill. So different hats for different occasions.
Q: What is your bestselling title and how many copies have you sold per day/ month?
The Dragonian Series, without a doubt. I have no idea how many copies I have sold to date, but I know I'm on five figures. My best month was when I released the third novel in the series, selling almost 2000 copies of each title in the series in one month. It sold amazingly well for another couple of months before it dropped, but I'm waiting patiently for November when Moonbreeze, the fourth in the series, is going to be released. I can't wait to see what it's going to do.
Q: What is your average cost in producing a title, excluding your time cost? So editing and cover design, eBook conversions and publishing online etc
I work with around R20 000 to R25 000 ($1400 - $1785) per title as I pay good money for all my covers, and editors.
Q: How much was your first Amazon royalty check?
50 dollars when Firebolt was released, to 4 000 dollars when the second novel, Thunderlight, was released—a huge jump. When Frostbite released, the third, it jumped to 15 000 dollars.
What would you advise authors looking to follow in your footsteps, where should they start and where can they look for help?
In the times we live in, there is a lot of help to be found.
David Henderson, ha-ha, is someone who formats, does layout, as well as all the nitty gritty stuff one needs. I use his services myself. But first, there has to be a brilliant story otherwise the rest won't matter that much, or at all.
Every writer needs a good editor and there are so many out there— Elance is a great place to find them. Then, super-talented cover designers, like Regina Wamba, and Sandra Valente—who works for FireQuill Publishers as an editor and designer—and Joemel Requezza, the Dragonian Series and Dream Casters illustrator, are all extremely good in their line of work.
A book does—whether authors like it or not—get judged by its cover. It has to stand out among millions of other novels.
Q: A quick thought from you on the current status of the south African publishing industry and where you think it is and is it helping our local talent?
Not at all. I'm sorry. I know I sound extremely negative. South Africa is one of the most difficult countries to break through, or break into. We strive on cook books and non-fiction, but the lack of voice or no voice for fantasy/paranormal and sci-fi authors is depressingly evident. This I'm saying with my publishing hat on.
Am I giving up on South Africa? Not at all, because I’m convinced it will happen one day. One day we will break into this difficult market, but at the moment we as authors of the above genres rely solely on the international market. I’m hoping this changes soon.
About Erika Bester
Erika was born and raised in South Africa, where she still lives with her husband and two beautiful little girls. She always knew she was going to be a writer, but it only started to really happen about four years ago. In her free time―if she gets any because moms don’t really have free time―she loves to spend it with friends, whether it’s a girls night out, or just watching a movie. She’s a very chilled person.
Her writing career started with Firebolt, book one in the Dragonian series under the pen name of Adrienne Woods. Her other series, Dream Casters, will be released mid 2015. She also writes in different genres, The Pregnancy Diaries, You and Me 4Ever has a total of 3 novels. More to come in the Pregnancy Diaries soon. And then, she has a paranormal series by the name of the Aswang series, which will consist of about ten novels. And if that wasn’t enough, there is another series, Guardians of Monsters, which will be released in 2016. Both novels are written under another pen name called Kristen Ping.
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