The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe: An Interview with Jeff Bennington
Greetings, readers. Today, for the first time in the history of my blog, I’m making somebody else the focus. Today I’m going back to my roots as a newspaper reporter and interviewing Jeff Bennington, creator of The Kindle Book Review and author of a new book about the indie publishing phenomenon, The Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe.
Ever since I independently published A Real Piece of Work late last year, I’ve been struck by how collegial and supportive the indie author/publisher community is. For example, out of hundreds of potential reviews to run on The Kindle Book Review, Jeff chose one about my novel. Grateful for his generosity, I wanted to pay him back somehow, and so I’m running this interview.
The indie author/publisher world is a fascinating one, and as one of the world’s movers and shakers, Jeff is well qualified to talk about its current state, as well as its promising future. So, without further ado, here’s my interview with Jeff:
What inspired you to write THE INDIE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE?
The inspiration to write TIAGttU came from my desire to learn from my past mistakes and share those lessons with other authors. I blogged about the lessons learned for nearly a year. I was actually surprised how thankful my readers were. I thought I was just being transparent, when in fact, I was offering useful information that writers were in desperate need of. The longer I immersed myself into the world of publishing, the more I watched other authors repeat the same mistakes over and over.
You’re the founder of The Kindle Book Review. Where did the idea for that very popular website come from?
The Kindle Book Review was actually created as part of my “author platform.” I also wanted to help promote other authors in my genre via cross-promotion. What I didn’t know is, the blog would transform my platform in ways I never imagined. So what started as just another blog, turned into a review site, and then into a promotional tool on a larger scale. Every day the number of visitors increased. One day we had 400, and then 450 the next and then 500 and then 525 and then 600. It’s just amazing how fast it’s growing. We now have about 20 reviewers and several promotional venues for any budget, including a “Media Buzz” promotion that is working great. We’ve teamed up with WorldLiteraryCafe.com and DigitalBookToday.com to make this promotion extra effective.
What is the difference, as you see it, between self-published and indie-published? What are the advantages of being an independent publisher?
Good question. I address this in the book because I don’t think there is clear definition. Here’s what I say in the book:
I’ve been down the roads of self-publishing and what I call indie publishing. An indie author, in my opinion, is in complete control of their publishing project, including cover design, pricing, editing, formatting, and ownership of the ISBN. As an indie author, you report to no one but your readers.
A self-publisher, as I see it, is one who contracts a pay-to-publish business such as Tate Publishing, Outskirts Press, Author House or any other service that charges to publish an author’s book. I include 50/50 publishers as well because they require the author to pay a portion of the production expenses. Sadly, after all the hype, the publisher usually owns the ISBN, ultimately controls the price, and charges ridiculous fees for the simplest of tasks. In this case, you are self-published, but you are not actually the publisher.
What is the most common mistake made by indie publishers and how can they rectify it?
I don’t know if I can pinpoint one common mistake. But I think the most damaging mistake indie authors make is by refusing to pay for professional editing. What I’ve seen is a mentality that says, “If I sell some books, I’ll afford to pay for an editor, book cover design, and proper formatting.”
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. If you invest in those elements before publishing, you’ll have a better chance of selling, and a better chance of NOT killing your reputation as an author.
I have a checklist I refer to when an author asks me for help. It’s quite simple:
- Book Cover, Book Blurb, Price, Writing Quality, Reviews, Marketing
If a book is not selling, I begin analyzing each one of these elements to discover which is broken. I often find that a book is not selling for obvious reasons, such as poor cover design, no marketing, inflated price, poor editing, etc. If you do not know how to fix these key elements, you will have to pay an expert. Although I do not have an exhaustive list of resources, I do list the professionals I use.
THE INDIE AUTHOR’S GUIDE is loaded with advice on marketing, pricing, coding and a lot more, but what aspects of the book are you most proud of?
The part of the book that I’m most proud of is that I think I paint a very realistic picture of what it means to be an indie author and what your life will become when you are your own publisher. I’m very honest. I give no promises of selling a million copies in a year. Like my blog, The Writing Bomb, I motivate authors who are discouraged, and encourage those who are considering going indie without giving them a false impression that they will grow rich and sell millions. Most will not.
I am also proud of the fact that not only have I had success with some of the strategies I teach, but I have been working with other authors who are seeing an increase in their sales.
How is THE INDIE AUTHOR’S GUIDE different than other books on the indie publishing phenomenon, books like David Gaughran’s LET’S GET DIGITAL?
I’ve never read that book, but I looked it up and was surprised at how similar they are. The biggest difference is that Let’s Get Digital was published six months ago and a lot has changed since then, specifically Amazon’s KDP Select program. I address KDP Select in detail and offer marketing and promotional strategies that can benefit authors who are enrolled in that program.
I also checked out David’s list of books and see that he has one that is currently ranked at 60K+ and one that is ranked at 100K+ in the Amazon paid store. Reunion, my supernatural thriller is a legitimate #1 Amazon category bestseller and hit #55 in Amazon’s Top 100 paid store. All of my books, with the exception of my short stories, now incorporated into Creepy, have been consistently ranked in the 2,000 to 25,000 range for several months and I haven’t seen six digits in over a year.
While searching for David’s book, I noticed that there are other related titles that were published in 2010. Those border on ancient history.
Ebooks have been under fire since their inception, with critics declaring them poorly written and edited. The standard argument is that they are of inferior quality compared to print books from mainstream publishers. Recently notable authors like Jonathan Franzen have joined the fray, adding to the criticism of ebooks. As a promoter of indie authors and one of the vanguards of independent publishing, how do you respond?
There is definitely some truth to the naysayer’s arguments. But what they don’t realize is, indie authors are selling A WHOLE BUNCH of books and readers are grateful for the variety and general quality. Is it likely that there are a greater percentage of lemons coming from the indie camp? Sure. But I believe critics of indie published books are speaking out of ignorance and fear, and their thoughts will have zero impact on our continued success. Your book, A Real Piece of Work, is a perfect case in point. You have 68 reviews and a 4.9-star rating.
Is epublishing a fad that will go away eventually, or is it here to stay? Please explain.
Easy. With the exception of a cataclysmic disaster, a foreign invasion, or a world-wide collapse of the Internet, epublishing is here to stay. Ebooks are an “inventory free” product, profitable and economical for all parties concerned. The more money eReaders like the Kindle generate, the more money their creators will invest in the products and technologies that they use. There’s a lot of money riding on these digital devices, and authors are the ones who create the content, and content is King.
In the introduction to THE INDIE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE, you mention that the bulk of the book includes morsels of encouraging and motivating material for writers. How about giving readers a sample right now?
Sure. Here’s a direct excerpt taken from Section One:
When Dreams Are Lost
“The best part of my indie journey has been the manifestation of ideals I believe in but which the universe seemed reluctant to validate until now.”
—Scott Nicholson, author of The Indie Journey: Secrets to Writing Success
The grill billowed with smoke. Your stomach growled. Children frolicked in the yard, and your mouth watered as you savored the flavors of life. You could practically taste the hotdog and ketchup in your mouth. Your mom slipped you some chips and soda, and you were in heaven.
As usual, you played until the streetlights came on, and when you lay in your bed at the end of the day you dreamed of who you’d become.
You were young. You were fresh. You were exactly who you were supposed to be, and your dreams were bigger than life.
If you were like me, you wanted to be a stunt man and jump the Snake River like Evel Knievel, soaring by the power of your will. Or maybe you wanted to be a dancer, a drummer, or a writer.
Then life happened.
You had children. You went to college. You started a career, working long hours, hoping to get ahead while you paid your bills. Sometimes, you thought about your secret dreams when no one was looking. Of course they were there, hiding, waiting, still electrified with that youthful energy you once had. But you pushed them aside.
You gave your time to your children. You gave your time to your wife or husband. You gave your time to remodeling the house. It all drained the life out of you, but you wouldn’t change a thing. Your family has made you who you are, loving you through the highs and lows of life. Or, maybe not.
And yet through it all, your dreams are still calling. Thoughts of soaring over the Snake River and writing your magnum opus have remained at your side, whispering to you, hoping that you’d drag them from your memories and realize them for what they are: your bucket list, your destiny.
Let me ask you a question: Do you hear your dreams calling, or are you blocking out the noise with the busyness of life?
I hope you’re listening, because your aspirations will never stop calling you. They’re a part of the child that exists within. Your dreams are who you’re meant to be. And if you dream of writing, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, at the very least, be your hobby.
Listen for just a moment, and remember who you are. Remember your calling. If you’re a writer at heart, there is no better time to rediscover yourself and publish your work. Life is too short for what-ifs.
Write. Publish. Live out your dreams.
Where is THE INDIE AUTHOR’S GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE available, in what forms, and how much is it?
The Indie Author’s Guide to the Universe is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The ebook sells for $3.99 and the print version sells for $8.99.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about your book or the world of independent publishing in general?
Why yes! Let’s wrap up this interview with my closing remarks in the book…
Amazing, isn’t it, this writing thing? The world has walked right up to us and crouched down with their ears pressed tight to our brains, listening to our ideas and to our hearts. Kindles and Nooks and iPads have changed everything for the writer, giving us an opportunity that has never been possible. We can write and publish with little to no restrictions, an unequivocal ticket to freedom.
We have been given a gift.
Yet nothing is guaranteed in this life. Everything can change without warning.
Now is the time for you to whisper in the reader’s ear. Now is your opportunity to share your story, your words, and your song with the readers of the world. Write it down. Get it professionally edited. Do it right. And send your words through Amazon’s Whispernet with my love.
Thanks for having me, Chris. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to share my book with your readers, and for your insightful questions. And by the way congratulations on the success of your book, A Real Piece of Work. Sixty-eight reviews with a 4.9-star rating is absolutely amazing. You deserve to be a number one bestseller, and I think you’ll get there.