In the spirit of sharing the knowledge of local authors who are making an impact on Amazon, I am really excited to be picking the brain of South African author Rachel Morgan. Rachel is another one of those authors who is so down to earth that you would never realise you were speaking to someone who sells thousands of eBooks on Amazon each month!
Any author looking to better understand the effort involved in publishing on Amazon as well as the winning techniques used in earning a living from writing and sharing stories you love HAS to pay attention to the helpful feedback that Rachel is kind enough to share. Read through her answers and realise the investment that, like our other authors, Rachel is making in each title that pours out of her fingers and through her keyboard.
Rachel is a true example of an author who writes as a business. I think her answers will leave you appreciating the same thing.
I hope you don't mind if I ask you the reader a favour?
If you enjoy this post and think that the author's feedback could help other writers, please share the post. This would really help share the wisdom of someone who I really consider a role-model to other authors.
A very very warm welcome to Rachel...
Q: Have you always written? Tell us about your journey as a writer.
Yes, I have always written. I still have a collection of all the scraps of paper and tissues and whatever other writing material I could grab at the time with the ideas I used to scribble down. I always knew I would write and publish a book one day, I just didn't realise how soon it would be! I thought it would happen later in life after I'd had children or when I retired, but I realised while I was working on my masters in biochemistry (with day after day of dry creativity-crushing sameness) that I wanted this dream to come true NOW, not some time in the distant future. So I left university, got a job teaching mathematics (because I needed an income, of course), and began writing seriously in my spare time. It was almost three years later that I published my first work.
Q: How have you stayed motivated in the early stages of writing before you had built an audience?
Loving my story and having an intense desire for it to be out there in the world for people to read kept me motivated to keep writing in between my teaching day job.
Q: What made you decide to publish in eBook form on Amazon and not start the traditional way and publish hard copies into an “Exclusive” bookstore?
I watched the eBook revolution as it began to really take off overseas. I watched a number of other authors choose this publishing option, and I paid careful attention to what they did, what worked and what didn't. I eventually came to the decision that this route made business sense. It made long-term career sense. So, despite the fact that it would be wonderful to have hard copies in Exclusive Books, I decided to go the independent route instead, and it's been far MORE wonderful to have thousands of eBooks (and hard copies) in the hands of readers all over the world, instead of just a few on the shelves of Exclusive Books in South Africa.
Incidentally, it is actually possible to organise a deal with a distributor in South Africa in order to get my books into Exclusive Books, but cost of the books would end up being far higher than other internationally sourced books in their genre, and I would receive barely anything per book sold, so neither I nor my readers would benefit from that situation! It's far better for both of us if I continue distributing books the self-publishing route.
Q: What is your bestselling title and how many copies have you sold per day/ month/ altogether?
Well, I can't count The Faerie Guardian (Creepy Hollow book 1) because it's been free for a while now, so many of the 150,000+ copies out there weren't "sold" but simply downloaded! So it would have to be The Faerie Prince (Creepy Hollow book 2), which makes sense, since it's book 2 in a series, and one would naturally expect a little bit of decrease in readership with each subsequent book in a series as some readers decide not to continue or get distracted by another book and don't make their way back to this series. The Faerie Prince has sold an average of about 900-1000 copies per month for the past year or so. Since its publication, it has sold about 25,000 copies. These aren't JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer numbers, but they're pretty amazing considering I don't have a Big 5 publisher behind my name!
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
Hmm, that's tough to calculate. I do my own eBook and print book formatting, so there's only the cost of software for that, which is minimal. I also do my own cover design, so I don't pay a designer, but I use Adobe Photoshop, which is rather pricey as far as graphic design software goes. But I've had it for several years now, so with each new book cover I do, the cost per cover is reduced.
The most expensive part of my most recent books has been custom photography for my book covers. I hired Regina Wamba of Mae I Design to do a photo shoot to produce images for Creepy Hollow books 1 to 6. That was $900 (it was a little while ago, so her prices may be different now, but her work is excellent so I encourage authors to look her up if they can afford her). The editor I currently work with no longer works officially as an editor, and we've known each other a while through the online writer-blogger community, so she doesn't actually charge me! If she needs any graphic work done, I help her with that instead.
For South African authors looking to get an idea of cost, though, I got a quote several months ago from an SA editor who would charge 15c per word for a developmental edit. So for a 80,000 word book, that would be about R12,000 ($850). Publishing online through Amazon, iBooks, Smashwords and CreateSpace is free, so no cost there.
I've recently been considering using Ingram Spark in addition to CreateSpace, as I've heard their extended distribution options are better. There is an initial set-up fee with Ingram Spark, which as far as I can tell from their website, is currently $49 per title.
Q: How much was your first Amazon royalty payment?
The minimum amount required before a check will be posted is $100, so I think it was just over $100!
Q: What would you advise authors looking to follow in your footsteps, where should they start and where can they look for help?
First decide what your publishing goals are and what you're comfortable doing and what you aren't. If you want someone else to take care of everything except the writing, then perhaps you should look for a publisher to work with. If, however, you see this as your business and would like to maintain control over most aspects of it, then self-publishing is probably for you.
Aside from reading a lot and writing a lot, I would suggest that you get on social media (whichever platform(s) you're comfortable with. I mainly use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and start interacting with other authors and readers. Pretty much everything I've learned has come from looking at other authors and seeing what they're doing. There are groups on Facebook, like the large South African Writers World group, or smaller closed groups you can form with just a few other authors for more personal support and advice. To interact with readers, there are groups such as this one that you can get involved in.
When it comes to actually publishing, you'll need to either learn about or hire professionals for eBook formatting, print book formatting, cover design, promotional graphics design, marketing and promotion. Other than that, JUST KEEP WRITING. The books that sell really well are those that are in a series, and, of course, there are genres that tend to do better than others. But never write something simply because it's popular at the moment. Make sure it's also a genre or story that you LOVE!
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?
I think the publishing industry and the reading culture in South Africa can only improve. Having been a teacher, I've had the chance to see the difference between young readers of my day (gosh, I make myself sound so old, saying 'my day'!) and the young readers now. With popular teen books series (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner) being turned into movies, more and more young readers are becoming curious about these books and giving them a chance. Hopefully the readers of each generation will continue to grow.
Something that needs to change, though, is the pricing of books in this country. Books are priced higher here than overseas, and I think that hampers the book-buying habits of South Africans. But as more readers in South Africa adopt eBooks over print books, I'm hoping this will change. On the whole, eBooks are cheaper than the printed versions we can buy in stores here. If local book stores are hoping to stay open, they may need to rethink their prices. With regards to the SA publishing industry and whether it's helping local talent, the other difference I've noticed between now and several years ago is the willingness of some SA publishers to publish speculative fiction.
When I started out writing six years ago, I was told how difficult it would be for me to find an SA publisher interested in fantasy. These days, however, more fantasy and sci-fi are being published in this country, which is fantastic.
About the Author – Rachel Morgan
Rachel Morgan is a South African author who spent a large portion of her childhood living in a fantasy land of her own making. After completing a degree in genetics, she decided science wasn’t for her—after all, they didn’t approve of made-up facts. These days she spends much of her time immersed in fantasy land once more, writing fiction for young adults and those young at heart. She is the author of the bestselling Creepy Hollow series, and the lighthearted contemporary romance Trouble series.
Support local authors – Buy her eBook