Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Indie author Marie Force debuts on the NY Times e-book bestseller list on 10 March at #6 and the combined print/e-book list at #11 with her indie-published book, “Waiting for Love,” book 8 in her popular McCarthys of Gansett Island Series.
She is the best-selling, award-winning author of 25 contemporary romances, including The McCarthy Series, the Fatal Series with Harlequin, the Treading Water Series and numerous stand-alone books. Her new series, The Green Mountain Series, is coming from Berkley in early 2014.
You sold your first book to a traditional publisher in 2007. Less than six years later, you’re one of the bestselling authors in romance. What do you think is the single most important key to your success?
Self-publishing is the single most important key to my success. The ability to release books frequently has helped to raise my profile with readers in a way that never would’ve happened without direct publishing access to Kindle, Nook, iBookstore and Kobo, in particular. I also credit Facebook with giving me a daily conduit to readers who have supported me throughout my career and continue to do so today.
You’ve said that “No one was interested in these books except my readers,” regarding some of your titles. Is that what led you to self-publish?
Yes, exactly! One of my favorite stories involves the Big Six house that rejected my book “True North,” with the reasoning, “No one wants to read about a super model.” Those eight words changed my life profoundly. They were the catalyst that drove me to try something new. “True North,” the story of an unlucky-in-love super model who finds love on a two-week vacation in her small Rhode Island hometown, was the first book I self-published. Since it went on sale in November of 2010, it has sold more than 50,000 units. I guess a few people want to read about a super model…
Would you ever go back to traditional publishing completely?
Barring major changes in the programs offered by participating retailers, I can’t imagine any scenario in which self-publishing is not a part of my overall picture.
How do you handle the workload of not only writing the books, but all the other aspects of being incredibly successful in indie-publishing?
The workload is a bit staggering. I won’t deny that. I work seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days a year. A day “off” usually consists of three or four hours of work in the morning, followed by household stuff that gets neglected while books are being written and published. I’m in the midst of the most intense writing cycle of my career right now, with a Fatal book due to Harlequin March 15, two books due to Berkley before August 1, and another McCarthy book promised to readers, hopefully by the end of the summer. I’ve also got readers clamoring for a fifth book in my Treading Water Series, which is a very nice “problem” to have, but there’s just no wiggle room in the schedule this year. “Treading Water,” book 1 in that series, was my first book and is very close to my heart because it started everything. I find it funny that I’ve reached a point in my career where writing a new book in that very beloved series is just not possible at this time. Back in the day, that scenario would’ve been unimaginable to me.
Getting back to your juggling question, I hired a full-time assistant in January, and she has saved my life. I also have a part-time employee, who helps primarily with my e-Book Formatting Fairies business. We format and prepare books for other authors pursuing self-publication. So we’re busy, but it’s the best kind of busy.
When did your career begin to take off? What do you attribute your success to?
My career got a nice boost from a freebie offered by my first publisher in February of 2011, and I’ve been on a roll ever since then. Releasing the first three McCarthy books, “Maid for Love,” “Fool for Love” and “Ready for Love” in April, May and June of 2011 also helped to give me a big boost. I had four more McCarthy books out in 2012 and offered book 1, “Maid for Love,” as a freebie for the last half of 2012. I had more than 500,000 downloads of that freebie and hundreds of thousands of sales of the subsequent books in the series. “Waiting for Love,” book 8 in the McCarthy Series, is the one that just hit all the major bestseller lists in February. It was a slow build that finally paid off in a big way. I now have 16 self-published books and nine traditionally published books, with more of both coming. Without a doubt, free books have changed the game for me numerous times and contributed greatly to discoverability with digital readers.
How do you think your readers found you?
It was a combination of things. As I said, free books helped enormously. I’m also very visible on Facebook and run about 30 reader groups—one for each series, one for each book and an overall Marie Force Book Talk group, all of which are very popular with readers. The McCarthy Reader Group just welcomed its 5,000th member, which was another amazing milestone in a month full of them. The readers who hang out with me on Facebook are great about spreading the word about my books to their friends and families, which has also helped the cause. I push my mailing list at every possible opportunity and have seen that grow by many thousands in the last year. Finally, I make an effort—with the help of my assistant—to make sure that every reader who writes to me gets a reply. As time has gone on, this has become increasingly time consuming, but it’s a very important part of what we do every day. Readers are everything, and we never forget that for a second.
You recently just hit the NY Times list. What did you do to achieve this goal and how do you feel about it?
Yes! My first time on the New York Times list! What a thrill! I tend to be low-key about things that other authors get very excited about, such as contests and the like. I always thought if or when I ever hit the Times list, I’d check that box and move on with my life. Well, it didn’t happen quite that way… Turns out, it was a VERY exciting day! The book sold astonishingly well the first week, so I suspected it might hit the extended list, which would’ve been lovely. But to see it at no. 6 for ebooks and no. 11 on the combined print/ebook list was way beyond thrilling. Then to score no. 15 on the USA Today list and no. 6 on the Wall Street Journal ebook list was triply exciting. In the last two weeks, I’ve learned that “New York Times Bestseller” are words everyone understands, whether they are in our business or not. One of the things that was instrumental to making the list was being allowed to offer “Waiting for Love” for pre-order at several of the major retailers, who are beginning to allow a few indie authors that privilege. And it is, indeed, a privilege that they trust me enough after 16 indie books to know I will deliver the book as promised, on schedule with no drama. Those advance sales truly made the difference in hitting the bestseller lists, and I’m grateful to my retail partners for making that opportunity available to me. It was also a huge thrill to share the bestseller moment with my husband and kids as well as my widowed dad, who was almost as excited as I was. That was a very happy moment in what’s become a lovely career.
We noticed you were added to the RWA honor roll with a self-published title. What does this mean to you? Have you entered the RITAs?
Well, to be honest, the RWA Honor Roll status would mean a lot more to me if I were allowed to enter my bestselling book in RWA’s RITA contest for published authors. As it stands right now, the RITA is not open to self-published books, but I hope to see those rules changed before too much longer. Although I’ve never been validated by contests, I don’t like being told I can’t enter my book in a contest because of the way it was brought to market, especially when it has done so well. There’s something offensive about that, and I know I’m not alone in feeling excluded from one of my professional organization’s premier programs. I’m hoping that with several prominent self-published authors in leadership positions on the RWA board this year that we might start to see some of those final barriers to participation crumble. Self-publishing is here to stay, and I believe it won’t be long before more authors are self-publishing than are pursuing the traditional path. Yes, I have entered books in the RITA in the past, and have two Fatal books in the contest this year.
What top three things do you view as critical to success as an author with the publishing landscape changing so quickly?
Job one in my world is quality. Every one of my books undergoes rigorous beta reading, copy editing and proofreading as well as other quality control steps. My covers are professionally designed, and my ebooks are interactive with live links to purchase other books that are customized to each individual retail platform. We also produce print versions for each of my books via CreateSpace, and they are popular with readers who still prefer print. We’re now bringing all my self-published books out in audio format, too. A lot of steps are involved with professional self-publishing, and no corners are ever cut.
Job two is quantity. The authors who seem to be doing the best in the digital space have one big thing in common—we’re all prolific. We produce numerous high-quality books each year, and we keep readers happy because they don’t have to wait six months or a year for our next book. With so many things competing for consumer attention, keeping the product coming is critically important to building—and keeping—a readership.
Third would be listening to readers and giving them what they want. My readers are very vocal about what they like and don’t like in my books. Fortunately, there is more of the former than the latter! LOL! They desperately wanted resolution of a story begun in “Marking Time,” Treading Water Series book 2, which led me to write, “Coming Home,” book 4 in that series. “Coming Home,” released on 12.12.12., has done very well and has made them happy, which is so important to me. I’m thankful for every one of them, and I try to show them that in every way I can. They’ve also given me some damned good ideas. I plan to write a special Gansett Island book called, “Gansett After Dark,” based on a suggestion a reader made months ago. It was a brilliant idea, and I’m looking forward to writing that book.
If you’ve done so well as an indie author, why continue to go the “hybrid” route with traditional publishers?
For one thing, I was with Harlequin’s Carina Press for my Fatal Series before I began self-publishing, so it made sense to continue the series where it began. Harlequin will begin publishing the Fatal books in mass-market paperback under the HQN imprint later this year. Since a big portion of romance readers are still interested in paperbacks, I was anxious to get back into print and to have wide distribution for the first time in my career. Harlequin has worked really hard on the Fatal Series (and given me some awesome covers!), so I’m enjoying my stay with them. Berkley provided an opportunity to put a contemporary series into mass market print in addition to ebooks, which was part of an overall strategy to make sure I’m hitting all the available markets—ebook, print, audio, etc. My agent, Kevan Lyon, has been very supportive of my self-publishing pursuits and has worked closely with me to make sure I’m moving in the right direction on all these fronts. At this point, everything is an experiment, and I’m willing to try a number of different strategies to see what works best.
Are you having fun yet?
I’m having fun every day, and I’m just getting started. This is the best time EVER to be an author, and I couldn’t be more excited about the future!