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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

An Interview with Author Virginia Carmichael (In which we peek into the world of self-publishing)


Hi! It's me, Debra, and today I'm hosting the deeelightful Virginia Carmichael - an author who has a lot going on right now...in the spare time she has raising 'some' children. Recently she made herself busier by launching into the self-publishing realm, so I thought it was a great time to have her visit--

Deb says: I know you're a fan of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey, too. What is your favorite genre/period to write in? Is that also what you most like to read?

Ginny says: Well, I'm one of those people that think they can do anything. Paint a masterpiece? Yes, I CAN! And then what comes out is something near Elmo's finger painting day on Sesame Street. The only thing I don't write is Westerns and Amish. I live in a very cowboy-centered community so I get enough of that. I also know nothing about the Amish, so it would be crazy for me to even try! But otherwise, I love to try it all. When I'm feeling Austen-y and my characters just won't fit into jeans and a T-shirt, I go for Regency.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it's just been for fun.

I also read EVERYTHING. I really do. Let me look at my TBR stack: Thomas Jefferson (bio, non-fiction), The Power of Habit (non-fiction, science), Code Name Verity (YA, fiction), The One and Only Ivan (MG, fiction), Ravenwood (YA), A Kiss at Midnight by Brenda Minton (contemp romance), and a biblical romance by Christina Rich that's not been published but will be and I get to read it first! Yay!

I know the current wisdom is that readers look for the comfortable tried and true. I look for something different, something fresh. I'm a fickle reader. One thing- I prefer romance in every book I read. I just miss it if it's not there

Deb: Tell us about your Love Inspired SEASONS OF JOY! (buy it here) Did you target LI from the start, and how long were you working on that story before you got it ready for publication?

Ginny: Ummmm. Well, it's been a while so I can come out of the closet. :)
Seekerville had a query contest and although I didn't have a book that would fit with LI (I was writing women's fiction and single title) I made up a query and a last page. The prize was Melissa Endlich would read the first three chapters. Well, lovely Melissa asked all the finalists for the FULL book! The whole time my daughter was telling me not to try this, because it would only back-fire. I got a lot of eye-rolling as I freaked out. I spent 4 weeks not sleeping and writing my brains out. I sent in the story (that now existed) and they liked it! So, well, from start to finish that would be about 6 weeks, hahaha! Seekerville is magic. They can help you publish books that don't even exist yet.

Deb: How did you make the decision to try self-publication? Was it easy to find the information you needed to create a Kindle-friendly version?

Ginny: As you know, the publishing business is glacier-slow. It really is. Even contracted authors are waiting 3-6 months , and then there might be revisions until a contract is signed. If you don't know yet, I have six kids. They eat a lot. My husband works like a slave... and then those kids are needing shoes and coats. Can you believe them?? :D Greedy little things.

Seriously, I was looking for a way to publish the books that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) had already taken a pass on. I had my Jane Austen/ Civil War/ modern South mash up that no one would touch with a 99 foot pole. I also had a Christian historical that had been patiently waiting to be submitted for over a year.

On January first, as my kids were watching a movie, I decided to see how easy it was to put up a book on Amazon. It's about as easy as napping. Really. Maybe easier.

PRIDE, PREJUDICE, AND CHEESE GRITS went up on the first. It was downloaded 6 thousand times for free and sold close to a thousand copies that first month and I almost died of shock. (Buy it here)  
Check out the trailer!
And, yes, that's Virginia's pseudonym on the cover!
 
Deb: What did you learn in the process by the time you popped your first E Book up for sale?

Ginny:  Wow. Well, read some articles first. I hadn't really been paying attention so I had a lot of catching up to do. I'd heard the market was flooded with junk and nobody has a chance because it's all just flotsam on the big surface of the REAL publishing industry. But people can read the first 50 pages for free, just by clicking on the cover. So you can tell whether the book is junk or not, within seconds, no risk. Like browsing in a book store, but better since you're in your pyjamas and sipping coffee.
I enrolled them both exclusively with Amazon Kindle so I could use their free promo days. Basically, people will download anything that's free. So, ALL THE BLUE OF HEAVEN was downloaded over 10 thousand times in two days. It really gave it a boost to be on the top free list between Julie Lessman and Amanda Cabot. Cozy!! I had to take a screen shot. (Buy it here)

It's a pretty steep learning curve for me because I was never headed for self-pubbing. I'd basically ignored most of that industry and now I'm making up for that ignorance.

Deb: What do you think the pros and cons are for self publishing?

Ginny: Well, on the plus side, you have absolute control. The baby nobody loved is now being read and enjoyed! It's very satisfying to get reader letters about how they enjoyed a book that you thought would stick on your computer harddrive until the end of the world.

On the con side, you have absolute control. And if you know NOTHING, you start to swing all over the place. Free! 99 cents! 9.99! New cover! Revise!

So, it's been hard to make a decision, sit back and take notes and watch the stats. I'm impulsive, but I can't be switching covers every ten minutes or the readers won't remember the book when they do see it again.

Also, I've found I can get a little obsessed with sales and stats. I want to check every hour and mark down how many books I've sold. But that doesn't matter. At the end of the day, it's the same amount whether I checked it ten times or not. I force myself to stay away from the rankings because I celebrate with I go up the charts and get depressed when I go down, which can happen several times a day. You can download e-book trackers and check it once a week. That gives you a good idea if a twitter campaign or advertising or new cover has actually helped your sales.

Deb: What projects are on the horizon for you? Are you still pursuing traditional publishing?

Ginny: I have another book (still) under review with LI, and another finished that I'm waiting to turn in when they decide on the sequel to Season of Joy. These types of books may not be great for the digital market because they're written with very specific guidelines and word counts. If they pass on those, I'm not sure where they would go. But I've had wonderful experiences with Love Inspired. The editors and proofers and the COVERS are just awesome. Of course, I've never had another publisher, but I'd say they were one of the best. Very open to new authors, very welcoming.

Deb:What do you hope to have accomplished in your writing career by this time next year?

Ginny: Well, I'm supposed to be putting up EMMA, MR. KNIGHTLEY AND CHILI SLAW DOGS in May 2013. And the second of the historicals POCKETS FULL OF GOLD in August 2013. I was going to focus on one series at a time, but they're both selling so strongly I don't want to shoot myself in the foot. They're under different pen names, so I'll just develop a split personality... which isn't too difficult for me.

Deb: How would you have ended Downton Abbey Season 3? Before the accident or not? Should we have had a happy ending instead?

Ginny: Oh, Geez. I stopped watching before Sybil died, right around the time I heard Dan Stevens was leaving. He's my screen saver. My LI hero in the 2nd book for them was inspired by THOSE EYES. *swoon* So, I don't know. It's a drama. People watch it for the drama. They like to laugh and weep and rejoice. I actually figured they'd kill him off as soon as Sybil ran away because I thought... She's going to have a baby boy. Then she'll die. The baby boy will be the new heir (complicated!) only if Dan Stevens dies. But she had a girl, right? I'm not sure. Anyway, Matthew's dead and Julian Fellows is getting hate mail and we all cried ourselves to sleep. :(
why not throw this photo here, I asked myself...

Deb: Thanks for chatting with me!  Your contact information is below... and I do strongly recommend our readers check out your stories. I just finished Pride and Prejudice and Cheese Grits and I loved it.
Sweet, funny, compelling (laughs and some tears) and I hated to see it end. REALLY! Virginia, you had some emotional depths in that story that I really enjoyed, while keeping it fast-paced. And absolutely charming characters!

More about Pride and Prejudice and Cheese Grits
 
Virginia was born near the Rocky Mountains and although she has traveled around the world, the wilds of Colorado run in her veins. A big fan of the wide open sky and all four seasons, she believes in embracing the small moments of everyday life. A home schooling mom of six young children who rarely wear shoes, those moments usually involve a lot of noise, a lot of mess, or a whole bunch of warm cookies. Virginia holds degrees in Linguistics and Religious Studies from the University of Oregon. She lives with her habanero-eating husband, Crusberto, who is her polar opposite in all things except faith. They've learned to speak in short-hand code and look forward to the day they can actually finish a sentence. In the meantime, Virginia thanks God for the laughter and abundance of hugs that fill her day as she plots her next book.  A great place to find Virginia is the Yankee Belle Cafe (And lots of fun and great recipes!)

22 comments:

  1. Good morning - is it snowy or slushy in half the country today? A good day to visit with Virginia and check out her books!

    I'm so glad to have you here and to have the chance to get to know you better. I wish you much success with your stories. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    And I hope you have good news very soon on new releases from Love Inspired!

    I'm at work so I'll check in later

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  2. So great to see BOTH of you this morning! I am also thrilled to discover Inkwell.

    I still can't bear to watch the last episode of Downton.

    Virginia always makes the rest of us look like slackers. But she also takes time to encourage others in their writing journey. The mark of a wonderful writer!

    Peace, Julie

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  3. Thanks Julie! and thanks for the shout out for Inkwell! I agree about Virginia. I am a tortoise by comparison but I keep plodding on...

    I really hope MARY JANE HATHAWAY sees a bump in sales this week.
    P & P & Cheese Grits was just wonderful! What if I invited her and then didn't like the story?

    no worries!

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  4. This is wonderful! Thank you, Ginny, for sharing your self-pubbing story! Very encouraging! And I completely understand what you mean about not wanting to write westerns because you're surrounded by it. Saw a guy riding his horse down the sidewalk on Main Street last week when I left the grocery store.

    At this point I'm really glad I didn't jump in to the Downton Abbey craze. No trauma over these last few trauma-inducing episodes! ;)

    Thanks, Deb, for introducing Ginny and her stories to us!

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  5. Yes, it's great to hear from someone who jumped in to the self-pub pool. I believe that Scrivener has the capability to create an E book but I don't know if it's a successful transfer to the Kindle format.

    Love your next Austen/Southern mashup title, Ginny!

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  6. Hello all!

    I'm a little late to the party but I blame that whole time difference... and the fact I like to sleep in as long as possible. :)

    *waving to Julie* She has a wonderful WWII story that just gets better and better. You'll be interviewing her very soon!

    Hi Niki! They do that, here, too! I actually think cowboys are smokin' hot. BUT I just don't like to write about them. I'm just not inspired to write about something I see every day.

    I dated a guy in high school that almost broke up with me because I called his dad's combine a 'tractor'.

    I mean, really. Combine (as big as a house) and a tractor (put put). It's just about the same, right??

    :D

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  7. Hello all!

    Great interview Debra, and very enjoyable and helpful answers, Virginia! You say self-pubbing is as easy as napping, but I don't know...I hope you find a way to give some of us some guidance on the whole self- pubbing thing. It seems hard so congrats to you!

    Piper

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  8. Yes, do you think Virginia exaggerates a bit here, Piper? Thanks for commenting!

    I happen to think the she writes all night and so those few hours of early morning sleep are well-earned.

    Virginia, I didn't notice but are your ebooks available as the 'free sample chapter' like some of the books are? or is that something only the big publishers do?

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  9. Yes, Debra I think she exaggerates just a tad! But that's okay 'cause that's how stories get started sometimes!

    What a great blog! I will visit/lurk more often!

    Piper

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  10. Wait, what??

    Exaggerate?

    I'm confused. :D And really, the process for submitting your book to the Amazon Kindle has 6 steps. Title, Author, cover, book, price, and checking the box.

    Honestly, it's so easy I scared myself.

    If you read their handy little tags on how to format the book and what size to make the cover, it's really not hard.

    It's a wonderful option for people who have books that are cleaned up (I had to do some revising when typos were discovered- horror!) and ready to go, but there's no market.

    Remember when you had to build a website from HTML scrap? And now they have the sites that you just plug in the info?

    That's self-pubbing now. You just click and plug in the holes and bam- there it is. :)

    The hardest part has been marketing. Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits was up to #3,000 in Kinle stores, but now has dropped to #22K and I need to probably market it more. :D

    More reading to do!

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  11. Thank you, Deb, for the awesome interview; and thank you, Virginia, for this fascinating insight into digital self-pubbing. I'm so glad it's been sucessful for you. I'll check out PP & Cheese Grits since my Inky sisters have taught me to appreciate all things Jane. :-)

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  12. Hi Suzie!

    Oh, don't get me started on Jane!!

    The heroine of that book has read Pride and Prejudice exactly once. She's a history professor.

    BUT her roommate is the Jane Austen fan and the voice of reason in the story. :)

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  13. Debra-

    I'm not sure about the downloading a digital sample, or having it delivered to your Kindle, but I do know that you can click on the cover an read the first 50 pages. That's quite a lot for a 300 page book.

    I think some people have been able to opt out of the 'look inside' feature but I don't know why you would. In a bookstore, a reader will buy a book if they flip through it and see something they like.
    I think the 'look inside' option is perfect for digital books (espiecally under pseudonyms or for unknown authors) becuase the reader can 'browse' through several chapters and decide whether the writing is something they want to pay 2.99 for ( or .99)

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  14. Well then, Virginia, that just makes me want to read it even more. ;-)

    Oh, and Deb, I forgot to say good on you for including that picture of Matthew. It was nice to see him smiling and erase that shocking last image I had of him....

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  15. Very enlightening post! Thanks for bringing Virginia on, Deb--I learned a lot. The process of self-pubbing on Amazon does sound simple but I'm sure I'd make it way more complicated than it needs to be. How did you create that cute cover, Virginia?

    Fun titles and the stories sound fun, too!

    And yes, it's nice to see Matthew Crawley smiling again.

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  16. Thank you, ladies! That's a great interview chock-full of information. And a new author discovered, too. :)

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  17. Hi Susanne!

    Ohhhh, the cover. Oh my.

    Well, I have microsoft powerpoint on my computer so I used that to make a template image. I bought the OTBOH pictures from a wesbite (about $50 for all royalties) but I'm still nt quite happy wit the way it turned out. The P and P cover was free.

    It did take a few days of scrolling through thousands of images to find what I wanted. It probably would have helped if I'd known exactly what I was looking for, but I really didn't. I have some really wacky creations on my harddrive! My poor facebook friens got to vote an critique on every one.
    I was following directions from this website:http://www.williamking.me/2012/02/22/create-your-own-ebook-cover-step-by-step-with-pictures/

    William King describs himself as a man with all the artistic ability of a slug so I knew he was the man to follow. The post is very clear, with screen shots. It took me a few times to get the kind of cover I wanted. Also, the font always looked so pretty when it was large, but on a thumbnail it was just a squiggle. :D

    I think it's fun to create a cover for a WIP, too, just to keep an idea in your head of what the finished product will feel like. :)

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  18. Hi Anita! I recognize you from Seekerville. :)

    Thanks for stopping in!

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  19. I love the idea of playing with a cover for yourself. I've always made screensavers with my characters and setting...then I switched to Pinterest.

    Okay, it's probably a good excuse I use when I can't face my WIP and yet I can call it 'part of the process'...

    I was one of those people who voted on your cover, Virginia.

    I am a proud owner of the 'old' cover version. And now... Mary Jane Hathaway has added recipes to her book. My version doesn't have any but that's okay.

    With the way publishing is going, it's good to know more about digital and self-pub. Even with traditional contracts and agents, there's a movement to put prequels and novellas up that tie into our longer novellas.

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  20. Well, look who's here!

    Don't believe a word she says about napping. I vow that Virginia subsists on less sleep than anyone I know.

    And she writes SO DARN FAST, which would make you hate her except she's so darn loveable. :)

    Honestly, I think self-pubbing is made for someone like Virginia because publishers could never keep up with someone so prolific.

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  21. Hey Mary!!!
    We need to catch up on what's new with you, too!

    I call this author Mary Virginia Ginny. She has so many names and I think it's because she is actually clones.

    yes--this self-pub stuff is perfect for Virginia!

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  22. Hi Mary!!

    Ugh, nobody would want a whole bunch of me.

    Maybe a whole bunch of different versions of me! But not all the same. :O Scary, scary thought.

    I'm back from stripping the old finish off a hundred year old trunk.

    Yikes. I can't believe you can buy that stuff in a store without proper ID. I was outside and now I have a raging headache.

    *sucks in fresh air*

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