Recently, e-books and self-publishing have been hot topics on my blog that I felt the need to interview another self-published author. I came across some rave reviews on the Emi Lost and Found series on twitter and knew immediately that Lori L. Otto was exactly who I wanted to interview.
If you’ve contemplated on self-publishing or have questions on e-books and what it means to be an independent author, or you simply want to learn about the talented author of the Emi Lost and Found series, then this interview is for you.
Meet Lori L. Otto:
What inspired you to write the EMI LOST & FOUND series?
After reading a very popular young adult series, and its subsequent not-so-young-adult fan fiction, I realized there was a need for an epic, romantic series for adults. I first didn’t really know what the story was going to be. Instead, the three main characters revealed themselves to me. After I had a clear understanding of who they were, the story began to unfold.
Did you always know you were writing a series, or did the idea happen in the midst of writing your first novel?
No, this was intended to be one novel. When I outlined everything, it was all meant to be contained in one book, written in the same way it’s published now. I wanted the three different narrators telling their stories, so when each of their story lines grew to more than 100,000 words each, I knew I had to break it up. Fortunately, with the way I’d decided to use three narrators, that lent itself well to breaking it up into three separate novels. That’s why there’s an intro by Emi in the first book and an epilogue by her in the last book.
Who edits your books? Did you hire an editor?
I have a “team” of well-educated friends who love to read, and I consider myself lucky. This means that about 10 people get to read the books before they’re published, and it’s amazing how each friend sees different mistakes. I don’t hire them to do it– they do it voluntarily because they get to read the books before anyone else. I also read and re-read the Emi Lost & Found series about twenty times on my own, and still found a few errors right up to the publication date. I will say, I’ve received reviews from multiple people who compliment my editor because there are so few mistakes. I do pride myself on this, and strive to have them be as error-free as possible.
Did you ever consider traditional publishing or did you always know you wanted to self-publish? How did you decide?
I queried agents for about nine months before I decided to self-publish. I received quite a few rejection letters, many of them because of the length of the novels. That seemed to be a big hang-up for a lot of agents, and in traditional publishing, I understand that can be a problem, putting forth so much money on a long book by an unknown author. I totally see where they’re coming from. But times are changing, and I believed in the books so much that I wasn’t willing to cut them down, and really felt like they would be successful in their entirety in e-book form. This is what eventually made me decide to self-publish. Even with their lengths (125,000 words for Lost and Found; 129,000 words for Time Stands Still; and 126,000 for Never Look Back), readers have devoured the series in a couple of days and begged for more.
Describe your experience with self-publishing. How long did the whole process take? Did you hire people to help you?
I thought the actual process of self-publishing was easy, and it didn’t take too long. I first self-published paperbacks, using CreateSpace, because I wanted to have a physical book for myself and many of my friends, and also because I understood the process better. When people would talk about formatting for ePub and things like that, I was a little frightened, but once I started reading the requirements of sites like Smashwords, Kindle Digital Publishing and PubIt, it actually was very easy. They all accept files formatted in Word, so what was good for one site was fine for another with just a few modifications of the title page. I published first on Smashwords, and did a lot of trial and error adjusting for about three weeks. Mainly it was from viewing the book on my Kindle and seeing mistakes I hadn’t seen before. (Many of my test readers had Smashwords copies to work with.) I didn’t hire anyone to help at first, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned in this process is that people do judge books by their covers– and my original covers say nothing about the story. Just recently, I’ve hired an illustrator to redesign the covers for me. The first is complete, and the second and third should be done by late April. I know that I could have this done cheaper than what I pay, but I think her work is worth it.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing?
Advantages: The author is in total control.
Disadvantage: The author is in total control.
Self-publishing truly is a free-for-all at this point, with no standards to uphold. I’m happy that I got to make all the decisions on what could be included, or what needed to be edited out. But anyone who self-publishes will also be forced to face all of the bad work that’s been rushed to publication just for money. The bulk of these are short stories (that aren’t necessarily marketed as such, but are often between 1000 – 5000 words) that are erotic in nature…and I’m using that “erotic” term rather liberally. I’m not a prude by any means– there is a healthy amount of tasteful sex in all of my current books– but the things I’ve seen are shocking to me. I imagine they make a lot of money, though, so it just encourages more and more of these stories to be slapped together and uploaded. Sometimes, I think self-publishing is too easy.
Would you recommend self-publishing?
I would recommend it, and have to multiple other authors I know, provided they have proper expectations of what will happen and how much they need to be involved to generate sales. When I published, the story about Amanda Hocking had been floating around the Internet, and I’ll be honest, I had very unrealistic expectations. I didn’t think I’d become a millionaire overnight, but I thought I’d make more money than I have and didn’t think I’d have to work so hard to sell my books. Marketing is the hardest thing about self-publishing. I’m a good writer, but even though I worked in marketing for ten years, I still fail on a daily basis in this arena. I’m pretty introverted, and that seems to work against me.
Would you consider traditional publishing if a Literary Agent approached you now?
Of course I would! I’d be a fool not to. I’m working on two other series now and am considering trying to get an agent for at least one of them. Again, I believe that my books are good and that women who read them will be drawn to the characters, but my biggest problem is finding readers. If an agent could help me with that, I might be willing to make a few concessions.
What makes someone an Independent Author?
I guess my definition is someone who writes and/or publishes without the backing of an agent or publishing house– a writer who is left to handle every aspect of writing, editing and promoting the book on their own or by using their own resources (time, money, etc.).
How do you market your books? What has been the most effective?
Not well. 😉 I have a Twitter account that I use, setting up different campaigns and scheduling tweets in bulk on a daily basis. As you can imagine, this is tedious and a little exhausting, and I’m not sure how effective it actually is. I know when I don’t tweet at all, I get very few hits to my blog, book sales pages, etc. When I do tweet, even though I don’t have a lot of sales to show for it, the page counters tell me that the word is getting out there. It’s just very hit-or-miss, and I haven’t found a way to target my specific market yet using Twitter. I also do have a Facebook page, and quite a few people who’ve read my books have found me there on their own. I only recently started using this as a tool to try to sell more books, because I figured most of the people who “like” my page have read the series already. But, again, it’s a good way to keep the word out there and to keep the books top-of-mind. If someone needs a gift for their wife, friend, whoever, they may decide that my series is a good gift after seeing a reminder post on the Facebook page. I’ve used email marketing, which was helpful at first, but most of my list was made up of people I knew, so after they purchased the books, the emails just seemed to be redundant, reaching the same audience, and I was worried of becoming “spam.” I’ve done a few book giveaways on goodreads.com, and while many people sign up to win– and many put the book on their “to read” list– this hasn’t seemed to really generate sales for me, either. I’m a member of a few different Independent Authors groups online, and the members are very good in helping to spread the word about other Indie author’s books on Twitter and Facebook. The Indie Author community is vast and very supportive of one another.
What are blog tours and do you participate?
I’ve never done a blog tour. I know I should, and I know it would help, but I just haven’t taken the time to research what is involved.
Is your book series only available electronically or do you also have printed copies?
It’s available in both formats. The paperbacks can be purchased on Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. E-books are available for the Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone, Sony eReader, Kobo, Android eReaders and PDFs for the computer.
If you could do it all over again, would you still pick self-publishing?
Yes, I would. I wanted my story to be out in the world. Even if I don’t have a million readers, the ones who have contacted me from South Africa, Ireland, Australia, India, and everywhere else in this vast world make this whole process worthwhile to me.
What advice can you give writers who are having trouble deciding between traditional publishing and self-publishing?
I’ve encouraged writers to try the traditional publishing route first. I do think that they have ways to promote the book that most Indie authors are lacking, and marketing plays such a huge part in the success of books and requires so much time and energy. If they don’t find an agent after six to twelve months– and if they just want to share their story with other readers– then I’d suggest self-publishing. The fact that I don’t have an agent is not a failure on my part, in my opinion. It just means that my books didn’t fit into a traditional mold or category that the agents were willing to work with. (On a side note, I think my books fall between genres, and if I had understood what this would mean for my book in the long run, I might have done something differently.)
What makes you unique as a writer? Describe your writing style.
I’m a very emotive writer, and I like developing characters. I write stories that people can relate to and get involved in. The worlds described in my books create a nice escape, and I think the situations are able to generate real emotions. In fact, quite a few readers have told me they had to take breaks from my second book, Time Stands Still, because they couldn’t see the words through their tears. Many reviewers have said that they feel like Nate, Emi and Jack are their friends. That’s a huge compliment to me.
Who is your favorite author?
I love Vladimir Nabokov’s writing style. I think Lolita is a fascinating story and a beautiful piece of art.
What is your favorite book? What are you reading now?
Again, I love Lolita for its prose. Nothing compares to it, in my mind. I love most well-written books with a love story, but I don’t read romance novels. Right now, I’m re-reading the Hunger Games so I can be ready for the movie. I thought Suzanne Collins wrote a thought-provoking series about what society could become– and it also gave me a sweet love story to follow.
Define a good book.
A good book provides an escape for the reader. It can transport them through time and space, taking them to places they’ve never been and may never see. It captures their imagination and leaves them thinking about the characters long after they’ve read the last page. It’s something that keeps them up late at night reading. It’s something they don’t want to put down, and something they want to pick up again to re-read later on down the line.
Define a good writer.
For my genre, which I consider to be women’s fiction, a good writer is someone who can get in the head of a certain character, and describe the world through that person… and then be able to do that with many other supporting characters as well. She’s someone who knows the background of everyone involved so that they can accurately predict motives and reactions to make the story as real as possible. She’s able to accurately communicate situations to let the reader develop their own feelings and emotions.
If you could describe your book series in one sentence, what would it be?
Having given up on her ideal love, Emi Hennigan suffers a great loss after taking a chance with her best friend– only to discover that what she’s always been looking for is still out there.
Are you working on your next book? Will it be part of another book series?
I’m working on five other books right now: three in one series, and two in another (which will eventually have a third book). For those of you who have read Emi Lost & Found, the second series (chronologically) revolves around Jack’s brother, Steven. The third series (which takes place thirteen years after Never Look Back) is about Livvy. The other series are spin-offs of the original, where other characters take center stage.
And finally, what tips can you give writers who are considering self-publishing?
Don’t get frustrated and don’t give up. (These are tips I have to remind myself of sometimes, too.) Keep trying new things, and network with other authors. Make sure your book is as polished as it can be. Present it as if an agent just might pick it up one day and read it cover to cover. It needs to be the best it can be.
Thank you Lori for giving me the opportunity to interview you. It was a blast!
For more information on Lori L. Otto and her Emi Lost and Found series, visit her blog at: http://authorlorilotto.wordpress.com/
Where to buy her books: http://authorlorilotto.wordpress.com/where-to-buy/
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