Zoe Murdock owns, with her husband, H.O.T. Press, which for years published tech manuals. When she decided to write fiction–the semi-autobiographical novel Torn by God: A Family’s Struggle with Polygamy–she just went ahead and published it herself. (personal website, twitter)
Moriah Jovan started B10 Mediaworx to publish her novel The Proviso. The novel is the first in a six-part series. The second volume, Stay, will be released around Thanksgiving. (blog, novels website, twitter)
Table of contents
On the seemingly larger number of LDS women than LDS men in indie publishing
The future roles of traditional/indie publishers and traditional/e distribution
How to get folks to your site
On editing for publication
On paying the bills
On selling out
What we can expect from them in the future
Back to work
Now let’s start by letting them introduce themselves:
Riley Noehren: I’m Riley Noehren. I entered the indie publishing arena because I wrote a novel and was either too lazy or too underconfident to find an agent and go the traditional publishing route. I did [try that route]. I believe I sent it to all of six agents and then gave up on it for a few months before I considered publishing myself. I was promptly rejected by four of the agents. Over a year later, I still haven’t heard from the other two. Perhaps it’s a long read?
Zoe Murdock: Back in the early 80’s when the personal computer arrived on the scene my husband and I started a technical documentation company to write tech manuals. We wrote books for some of the largest computer companies in the country and some in Asia. We created H.O.T. Press to publish some of our own technical books, books which we are still selling today as e-books. When I finished my novel, Torn by God: A Family’s Struggle with Polygamy, the timing was perfect. Warren Jeffs was on the FBI’s most Wanted List. Polygamist wives were appearing on Oprah and the other talk shows. I started sending queries to the top New York agents and, surprisingly, got a very positive response. Lot’s of requests for the whole manuscript. And no, I never thought I would publish it myself. I went through the agent process for more than 2 1/2 years, just because I was getting so many requests and positive feedback . . . but in the end no takers. Very frustrating. My book kept demanding my attention and it was driving me crazy. I had to get it out in the world so I could get on with my life. That’s when I decided to publish it through H.O.T. Press. I have a lot I can say about that whole process of looking for an agent/publisher.
Riley Noehren: Thank goodness the Polygamists kept your topic newsworthy while the agents were sitting on your manuscript.
Zoe Murdock: Yeah. I think my “keyword” helped a lot in that way, Riley. But it also kept me from getting my book out when the timing was best.
Moriah Jovan: I spent most of the 90s writing and submitting. I got a contract with one publisher, who very soon went out of business (weird situation), so that wasn’t published. A second manuscript got me an agent (who was not all that great). A third manuscript got me a second agent (who was young). A fourth manuscript got me a call on a Saturday morning from an editor who asked me to overnight it. By Tuesday, she called me back and said she didn’t like the ending. Number two manuscript got me a call from an editor who said that she had wanted to buy mine, but she had purchased one vaguely similar to mine two months before and, while mine was superior, she couldn’t justify another to her editorial board. At the same time, I had been in a critique group for 6 years (under the auspices of an RWA chapter), and the group was struggling internally. So under all those very close calls and critique group problems, I not only stopped submitting, I stopped writing. Anyway, in 1994 I wrote a short story for one of my senior creative writing classes, and at the same time, I was taking a 400-level course in Hamlet, and a whole bunch of ideas converged to give me this little scrap of an idea, but I didn’t know how to make it work. It kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. After I quit writing and submitting, I just put it on hold. For lots of reasons, in Aug 2007, I woke up one day and my whole plot problem was solved. I had to scrap most of what I’d written and most of the idea itself, but the kernel was there. I wrote 1200 manuscript pages in 2 months.
Zoe Murdock: I heard the “I’m already working on a similar one” excuse, Moriah. From an editor. By the way, Riley, you’ve got to send out a lot more than 6 queries. Perserverance is the name of the game.
Riley Noehren: I know, Zoe! I just didn’t have it in me as I was so busy with work and other issues. I think everyone’s comments regarding agents are relevant to the indie publishing discussion, though. It’s important to note we all attempted to go the traditional publishing route first. That’s the state of indie publishing today–it’s everyone’s second choice. In the music and film industries, the term “indie” carries a certain credibility, a pride in not having “sold out” to the suits. I hope that someday indie publishers will be considered the same, but I believe we are at the bottom of a very large hill in that regard.
Zoe Murdock: Now that I’ve done it, I think there are definitely advantages to being in charge of the publication of your own book. I like the fact that the book will be available forever and that you can change things if you want to.
Moriah Jovan: I got about 100 rejections for that book and I knew I didn’t want to go through all that again. Years and years and years of pain and suffering. The landscape had changed so much, and then I saw the e-publishers in romance doing land-office business and that’s kind of when my snobbery about self-publishing start to change.
Zoe Murdock: Wow! 1200 pages in 2 months. I can type 100 wpm, but I think that must break my record.
Moriah Jovan: Zoe, it was there in my head, all laid out. I had to wiggle a few things around and track some of the business threads of the story, but otherwise, it was all there. I just transcribed it.
Riley Noehren: Transcribing it is one thing, but I can imagine editing 1200 pages was no walk in the park.
Moriah Jovan: And then I went back and fixed as many holes as I could.
Zoe Murdock: Riley, I think the publishing industry is changing dramatically, but we are still in the middle of things. The national publishers still have all the clout when it comes to getting reviews/ interviews withthe big media outlets. And as we all know, that is important at this point.
Moriah Jovan: Anyway, I had to get over my self-publishing vanity if I ever wanted anybody to read this and that was what I wanted. Because to me, submitting constantly in the hope that you will find validation with an agent or an editor is actually the vanity.
Riley Noehren: Moriah, I think getting over one’s “self-publishing vanity” is a step every self-published author takes at some point. And as Zoe said earlier, it’s usually fueled by a desire to put one’s project to rest, to just get it out there and move on. At least that was the case for me. Of course, the reality is that, as a self-publisher, you can never fully move on from a book. You have to constantly promote it, etc.
Moriah Jovan: I also had the booming example of the electronic presses in genre romance to look at and go, “Look, they did it. They made it work. People buy those books.”
Zoe Murdock: And Moriah, I do think a book can keep on you and on you until, finally, you just have to put it out in the world. You know you’ve written something and, afterall, writing is an act of communication. There’s no communication going on when the book is in a “drawer.”
Moriah Jovan: Yes, I totally agree to that. The act of writing isn’t complete until the writing is read. It’s a communion between writer and reader.
Zoe Murdock: Boy, ain’t that the truth, Riley. The book never lets you go. And the book is never finished. Every time you rework it you learn something new, which makes you want to rework it again.
Moriah Jovan: In my case, I knew my book was hopeless for Getting Published. There was no way anybody would read it if it was just on my hard drive. My husband pushed me to it, though.
On the seemingly larger number of LDS women than LDS men in indie publishing
From Gravity vs. the Girl: “Men tolerate silence far better than women.”
Riley Noehren: I wrote that?!
Moriah Jovan: I’m not sure you want my real answer to that.
Riley Noehren: Well, it’s true, I’m just surprised I said it out loud. Or put it in a book for that matter. I agree with Moriah, these are murky waters.
Zoe Murdock: I don’t know why men don’t do it? I’m not sure they don’t.
Moriah Jovan: First of all, there’s just the general vanity of the validation of GETTING published. That happens to every writer everywhere. Second of all, I find LDS men to be completely cultured to need things to be done by committee. I believe that LDS male writers who want to try to find this balance are not enough of outliers that they can let go of the committee mentality. I made an executive decision. That never happens at church.
The future roles of traditional publishers vs indie publishers and traditional distribution vs e-distribution
Zoe Murdock: I think even mainstream publishers are going to go to POD. Why not? It will save printing and throwing away books they can’t sell. You can spend your money on publishing more books. Indie publishing fits right in with that. Everyone can publish their own book, but the proof will be in the pudding. Will anyone buy it? Will anyone even hear about it? It’s all about marketing. And that takes us away from writing.
Moriah Jovan: Traditional publishing popped Thanksgiving week last year. There is no going back.
Riley Noehren: I also think that, after years and years of existence, e-books are finally starting to take off.
Zoe Murdock: Yes, e-books are taking off because of all the new e-book readers. But we’ve been selling e-books for years. Probably 20-25 years. To be read on the computer. Technical books mostly, because techies are willing to do that.
Riley Noehren: Sure, Zoe. But I think the influence of mp3s for music and people watching movies on their computer has made the general public more receptive to not holding an actual book in their hands.
Moriah Jovan: I hate to rehash a whole bunch of things going on in genre romance right now, but it comes down to the fact that the ROI of writing a book and selling it is less than it is for self-publishing. I don’t have room to expound on that much here. The higher cost of POD is a lower cost of storage and shipping and waste.
Zoe Murdock: I don’t think POD books are higher cost, because of all the waste that comes when you publish in a traditional way.
Zoe Murdock: Yes, and I think the younger generations are growing up on computers and they will actually want their books on an e-book reader. But there are still a lot of older folks out there who want a book in their hands.
Moriah Jovan: Also, it’s a function of the bookstore discount, 55%. I can sell my book for $10 less on my site than it will sell to a bookstore.
Riley Noehren: POD and e-books are also a far greener method of publishing. That is going to have some clout in the future.
Zoe Murdock: Right, Riley. Green is good. And saves some on junkyard space.
Moriah Jovan: My philosophy is to give it to the customer any way s/he wants it.
Zoe Murdock: Yes, Moriah. But you’ve got to get folks to your site. How do you do that? That’s what I want to know. It’s a ton of work.
How to get folks to your site
Moriah Jovan: Zoe, it is a ton of work. I blog. Not every day. I’m trying to now be consistent at every other day.
Moriah Jovan: I tweet. I love Twitter. Drives traffic like crazy.
Zoe Murdock: You are very good at that, Moriah. I like that you work in so many formats. I think Twitter is one of the most powerful ways to make contact. But it can get perseverative. Still, it’s great.
Riley Noehren: Zoe, I saw on your Amazon Author’s site that you have done quite a few book signings and interviews. (1) How have you arranged those, and (2) do you believe they have had a marked effect on your sales?
Zoe Murdock: Riley, I think the key to book signings are the interviews and articles that go with them. You can’t have one without the other and you’ve got to sign them up simultaneously. An event gets the bookstore interested and the bookstore gets the newspapers, etc., interested. The newspapers reach a larger audience and I think that’s the key to all the effort. [But] I think the real key to indie publishing or “direct publishing” is marketing. What else do you two do?
Moriah Jovan: We got an ad in BookPage. That didn’t do much. Other than blogging and tweeting, I don’t do much, really. I dont’ know what else to do.
Zoe Murdock: That’s an interesting thing about being in control of the publishing. You have immediate access to sales information. You know immediately what’s working and what’s not. But then there is also momentum. Things build over time.
Moriah Jovan: Yes! That’s another great thing about direct publishing. No shelf life. You don’t have a set amount of time (~90 days) to be on the shelf before it’s pulled.
Riley Noehren: I’m pretty new to the marketing game. Again, I originally published as a culmination of a project or hobby and have only recently decided to see how far I can push it. So far, almost all of my sales have been based on word-of-mouth. That is where being LDS comes in handy.
Zoe Murdock: How about other bloggers? I think that is the future, as bloggers, bookclub sites, review sites take over the role of the newspaper book pages that are rapidly falling. It’s up to you guys.
Moriah Jovan: You have time to establish your name, establish a backlist, and establish a reputation for quality.
Zoe Murdock: Or should I say, gals?
Moriah Jovan: From my background in genre romance, our marketing task is no harder than any traditionally published author’s. Actually, it’s easier. We don’t have to make sales numbers. We don’t have a shelf life (as I said). We don’t have to live in fear our contract will be canceled or our next book won’t be picked up.
Zoe Murdock: Yes, I’m having a lot of “word-of-mouth” sales too. Problem is they keep passing on the damn book. No sales there. But it’s okay, really. I love the fact that people are reading it and getting excited and passing it on.
Zoe Murdock: That’s right, Moriah. That is the great thing about indie publishing. Your book is out there forever
Riley Noehren: I agree with Zoe that established book review websites or blogs seem to be the new reference point for book-lovers.
On editing for publication
Moriah Jovan: I think the hardest part about self-publishing was finding an editor. I had to hold my nose and jump a long way. I think she did a good job. I think it could have been better if I’d had the money to go through a second edit, but I didn’t.
Riley Noehren: I am a true self-publisher in that I edited myself. This was a mistake–in that it resulted in mistakes in the final product. And while, as you said, Moriah, you can always correct an e-book version, the print version cannot be corrected without purchasing a new ISBN and labeling it a second edition.
Zoe Murdock: I edited my own book – but it didn’t work too well because everytime I’d approach Torn by God, I’d start reading and rewriting. Couldn’t make my writing brain stop and let my editing brain take over. Well, I’m doing it now and will put up the fixes tomorrow.
Moriah Jovan: Riley, not true exactly. You can change up to 20% before you have to do that. And I refuse to edit myself. It never works and I don’t have enough faith in myself to ever be secure about it.
Zoe Murdock: I can fix my print version without a new ISBN. What I heard was as long as you don’t change more than 10%, you can keep the same ISBN. Is it 20%? I always edited our technical books and I think I have a pretty good eye for it – as long as that right brain/writer brain leaves me alone. Got to focus on one sentence at a time.
Riley Noehren: I agree. I have editing experience and am confident in my ability to edit others, but, as Zoe says, it is impossible to remove yourself from the content and focus on the technical stuff when you are both author and editor.
Moriah Jovan: However, Riley, a true self-publisher does farm out those chores he can’t or shouldn’t do himself. I have a company name and my own ISBNs and all that, plus I’ve published someone else now, so technically I’m a publisher.
Riley Noehren: I also thought it was 10%.
Moriah Jovan: Hmm….I’ll look that up. I just meant typos and stuff.
Zoe Murdock: I’ve got help. My husband and I do that for each other, but I got too impatient to get Torn by God out. I pushed it out without checking to see if it had all it’s arms and legs. And we also have the ISBNs and have been a publisher for 20+ years. I guess that makes me a real publisher, too.
Moriah Jovan: I think the problem with my book was that I am too close to it emotionally. I find that work I am THAT emotionally attached to is not my best work. The second book thus far is proving to be better than the first (so people tell me) and it’s because I’m not as emotionally invested. So I think that affects editing.
Zoe Murdock: Ahh. I am always very attached emotionally on the first draft. Then I switch and look at it more objectively on the 2-10 drafts.
Zoe Murdock: I think that affects editing, too.
On paying the bills
Riley Noehren: Well, I am a more-than-full-time lawyer. It makes finding time for writing hard, and I don’t see writing being able to pay off my student loans anytime soon. However, it provides a lot of material.
Zoe Murdock: I think being in the world does provide a lot of material, Riley. I acutally liked moving in and out of it. Stimulating.
Moriah Jovan: Riley, really? What kind of law do you practice?
Riley Noehren: I’m a litigator. Again, the biggest problem is finding the time and energy after my day job to either write or promote.
Zoe Murdock: I’ve more than paid back my expenses with sales. So that’s not a problem for Torn by God. And I guess it’s an investment like anything else. The big question is how many review copies can you afford to send out. If I sell two books for every review copy, it’s worth it.
Moriah Jovan: I’m self-employed with a day gig. Not going to tell you what because it depresses me, but it pays the bills and gives me the freedom and time I need to do this.
Zoe Murdock: I have the luxury of being able to write full-time. But I wrote fiction while I was running the tech-writing company too. Biggest problem is my butt gets sore.
Moriah Jovan: I’m paid really well for the time it takes me to do what I do and my job’s pretty secure. I *want* to be able to replace that with writing income, but I don’t hope for it, otherwise, my job would be unbearable.
Riley Noehren: But, not yet having read , I would agree that self-publishing is NOT a viable career choice in and of itself. I kept my expenses on Gravity vs. the Girl really low (i.e., by not hiring an editor, etc., with some regret) and was therefore in the black with just a few sales.
Moriah Jovan: At this point in time, I look at writing and publishing as an investment for future residual income.
Zoe Murdock: You have to love writing, I think. To make it all worth it until the big bestseller hits.
Moriah Jovan: I have an unusual plan. I have six books in my series. I’m going to write those and then stop. Maybe.
Riley Noehren: I don’t have children. I am more than aware of the benefits this gives me in finding time/focus to write.
Moriah Jovan: But again, the awesome thing about direct publishing is…I can plan out my publishing life. I don’t have to depend on anybody else to do it for me.
Riley Noehren: I agree, Moriah. Self-publishing means your writing/publishing schedule can be designed to accommodate the demands of the rest of your life, rather than the other way around.
On selling out
Moriah Jovan: Honestly, the best thing about DIY is the total independence you have.
Zoe Murdock: Yes, but I’d still like my next novel to be picked by a national publisher. Want to learn all about that. I’ve had non-fiction books published, but not fiction.
Moriah Jovan: I go back and forth on that. Would I or wouldn’t I? I don’t know. Right now I’m happy where I’m at, as long as I keep my eye on the bigger picture.
Zoe Murdock: I’d like to compare the two processes directly. My husband and I teach an advanced writing workshop–have done for the past 10 years–and I’d like to be able to tell them about that side of things.
What we can expect from them in the future
Zoe Murdock: I think my next novel will be more mainstream. Not so much of a hybrid. Torn by God is a Mormon/mainstream hybrid, a fiction/memoir hybrid, and a adult/YA hybrid. Now what book shelf are you gonna put a book like that on?
Moriah Jovan: Mine is two-pronged. I have the 6-year plan for my own series. Then I have my plan to find other work I like and publish it.
Riley Noehren: Oh, I’m so behind these two (as usual). Right now I have two simple goals: (1) continue to promote Gravity vs. the Girl, and (2) get to work on that second novel. I’m not going to worry until it’s finished whether I want to self-publish again or attempt traditional publishing. As everyone has said, the love of writing has to be the most important thing or there’s no point in doing it.
Zoe Murdock: I’m working on a novel about Alzheimer’s as a state of enlightment. Lot’s of humor. Love this book. I’m about a third of the way through the first draft (althought the first 17 chapters have been reworked about 10 times. I keep having to go back through the whole thing to get back to it after promoting Torn by God.
Moriah Jovan: In book #2, I stepped away from the Mormonism a whole lot, but kept it and made it significant to the characters. Book #3 is going to be an allegory of the Atonement, with the myth of Mary Magdalene and Jesus being married.
Zoe Murdock: Interesting, Moriah. My next novel also have a bit of Mormonism in it, but it is only part of back story. Not central.
Moriah Jovan: Book #4 is just a swashbuckler pirate historical romance, Revolutionary War era, so obviously no church references. Book #5 is a post-apocalyptic story and turns the church’s history of polygamy on its head with law-mandated polyandry. And Book #6 is an epistolary novel set in the Vietnam era, and Mormonism is central.
Zoe Murdock: Ahh . . . You’re going to work with the polygamy “keyword.” Got some interesting stuff coming down the pipeline, Moriah. What’s your next one going to be about, Riley?
Riley Noehren: I’ve got ideas for a couple of novels and am not sure which one I’m going to run with for the next one. But with me, you can rest assured it will be about a quirky woman with some sanity issues. I don’t write LDS-themed stuff and have yet to write about an LDS character, but I’m not opposed to the idea in the future.
Zoe Murdock: Well, I do think, non-LDS makes it more marketable to the mainstream.
Back to work
Zoe Murdock: Is that it, then?
Riley Noehren: I’ve got nothing else, I’m afraid.
Moriah Jovan: Awesome. See ya!
Zoe Murdock: See you all on Twitter.
[Theric’s note: I used brackets where I added words, but I did not mark where I left words out or rearranged.]