Not an American in Paris. Although she has been there.
T B Markinson is the author of three self-published books, and her latest novel, Confessions From A Coffee Shop, was published this week. I wanted to know about her self-publishing experience, so for all you authors and would-be ones out there, read on… But first, a little personal info.
As a nosy British ex-pat, I’m always interested in other ex-pat stories. Why did you move to London?
Back in 2010 my partner’s company asked if any employees would be willing to move abroad. My partner and I discussed it for about two minutes. Both of us love to travel and to experience new things. At the time, we didn’t know where we would end up. Several cities were discussed. Then London was proposed much to our delight. I had always wanted to live in London. My fascination started many years ago. I’m an avid reader and two of my favorite authors are Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. After a lot of planning we finally moved in 2011. At first the plan was to live here two years. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with London. We’re on our third year now and we hope we can stay for much longer.
Where are you from in America?
I was born in California. During my teen years I moved to Colorado. In my thirties I moved to Massachusetts. When people ask me where I’m from, I never know what to say. My memories of California are fading. I spent more years in Colorado, but the most recent American city was Boston. I keep moving east and I wonder if I’ll end up back where I started.
One of your major goals was to publish a novel by the age of 35. Why?
I pulled that number out of a hat really. At the time I was in my mid-20s going through a difficult time. I thought I could accomplish the goal by that age. However, life and an illness sidetracked me. I actually published when I was 39. Writing was always one of my goals since I was a child. For as long as I can remember I’ve been telling stories.
Although you didn’t achieve that, by age 40 you’ve now published three books in less than two years, with the latest being Confessions. When is it due out, and can you tell me something about it?
Confessions From A Coffee Shop has just been released. It’s a romance novel about a woman, Cori, who has high hopes in life and then everything starts to crumble around her. She has a deal with a publisher to write her first novel, but she can’t seem to finish it. Cori’s mom suspects that her husband (Cori’s father) is having an affair. During all this, Cori’s girlfriend has a shopping addiction and Cori has to get a part-time job to help pay the bills. It’s difficult for her since she thought she was on the right path: Harvard graduate, teaching at a university, and writing her first novel. The novel deals with people’s expectations when they are young and what really happens in life.
This novel is a bit lighter than the other two I’ve published. After finishing Marionette, which deals with some heavy subjects, I was in the mood to write something fun. Cori’s life is falling apart, but I tried to keep the humor front and center.
With these three self-published books behind you, you’re pretty experienced now. Have you got any mistakes to share?
Yes! I still make mistakes daily. In the beginning I had no clue about self-publishing. At first, I wanted to go the traditional route. But each time I narrowed in on some publishers I would find out something about the publisher that made me uneasy. The biggest complaint I read by many authors was that the publisher didn’t help promote much. That was the big aspect I wanted help with. Then I attended the London Book Fair in 2012 and there were several workshops about self-publishing. I was intrigued. After the fair I started researching it. The idea was exciting and terrifying all at once.
Even with all the research I did, there was one big mistake I made from the very beginning. When I published my first novel, A Woman Lost, I really didn’t promote it enough from the start. Now when I release books, I have some reviewers lined up before I publish and bloggers who are willing to help me promote. I’m sure there’s tons more I can do and I keep learning new things. I’m constantly reading new books about self-publishing and I follow many blogs about it. Luckily with Lost my lack of promotion didn’t hurt me too much. Within the first month I sold over 500 copies.
Promotion is a tricky thing since it’s hard to know when you’ve done enough. And it never ends. Even when I publish something new, I still have to promote all the books. It’s a lot of work and it can be frustrating.
The second biggest mistake I made was not contacting more book blog reviewers right from the start. I’m trying to correct that now, even though it is time consuming. There are days when I wish I had two full work days each day so I could write as much as I need to and promote as much as I need to.
Even with these challenges, I’m still happy that I self-published. I wouldn’t change it.
Do you base your characters on people you have known or on your own experiences?
The actual characters in my novels are fictitious. I borrow characteristics from people I know, but I blend them together so not one of my characters is based on one person. I have included some of my real life experiences, such as the main character in A Woman Lost, is a historian and I studied history in grad school. [university for those like me who get confused with American education]
My novel Marionette includes a gay bashing incident that is loosely based on Matthew Shepard. Shepard was a gay man who was beaten to death in Wyoming. This event really affected me. At the time I was in grad school and Shepard was flown to the city where I lived. I can still remember standing outside his hospital room for a candlelight vigil. He died the next day.
For me, I like my characters to come alive, which is why I include events that have affected me to a certain degree. That way I can have my characters react to events and I hope it feels genuine. Yet, none of my novels are autobiographical.
As a self-publishing author, how much do you do yourself and what, if anything do you pay for?
Many people think self-published authors have to do it all. Some do. I don’t. I’m really lucky to work with a fabulous team. My editor, proofreader, cover designer and formatters (ebook and paperback) are wonderful people and are fantastic at their jobs.
Having a team to work with can be expensive, but for me, I believe it’s completely worth it. I saved my pennies for years so I wouldn’t have to put out a work that wasn’t as good as it could be. I had a draft of A Woman Lost for several years before I contacted an editor. One thing I’ve learned in life is to be patient. An author may want to put something on the market quickly and as inexpensively as possible. I don’t advise this. This doesn’t mean hire the most expensive team either. I recommend doing your research and finding people you can afford and people you can work with. Even if an editor has wonderful credentials the two of you may not get along. It’s important to be able to work closely with your editor and to trust your editor.
You might not want to answer this – how much does it cost you to publish a book?
My first book was the most expensive to put on the market. I went through the editing process and my editor recommended a lot of changes. After I finished the changes, I sent it back to be edited again. And I’m so glad I did. The novel is much better now and I learned so much from that process. With each project I learn more. That in itself is worth the expense.
For each project my editor gives me an estimate of how much it will cost. She charges by the hour. The cleaner the manuscript the cheaper it will be. My advice is to find editors who will provide a free sample edit and give you an estimate of the total cost.
One of the things you are doing yourself is the promotional aspect, ie this (virtual) book tour. What made you decide to do that?
I paid for a book tour for my first book. I went with an inexpensive tour and it worked out pretty well. And I learned a lot about how the tour operator managed things and decided I could do it just as well.
So this is the second book tour that I’ve planned. The first was pretty successful. However, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do another one since things are changing quickly in the book world and many are starting to wonder if cover reveals and book tours are still effective. The big factor is the amount of time it takes. That’s why this time I limited the amount of interviews and guest posts. I opted to go for it because I love the interaction with other bloggers.
I skipped doing a cover reveal though since I know many people are inundated with them. I still host cover reveals on my blog, but I have noticed a big drop on visits when I do one. Only time will tell if this is the last book tour that I’ll plan. Who knows, tomorrow they may be the “new” thing again.
Marketing is one aspect that people find difficult because of the amount of work involved. What else do you do to promote your work?
Acquiring reviews is the big one. Word of mouth is crucial. And it’s the most difficult part of the process. Unfortunately most readers don’t leave reviews and I totally understand. It’s time consuming and so many people are busy. I’ve also heard many readers say they wouldn’t know what to say. Again, I get it. A lot of people read to relax and to escape from reality. They don’t want to feel pressured to think of something eloquent to say. Reading should never feel like homework. This is why so many authors love book bloggers.
I’ve had recent luck with advertising on Bookbub. This site sends out emails to readers listing book sales. Each time I’ve sold hundreds of copies in a day. It’s fun to watch the numbers spike and to see the book rise in the rankings. During my sale of Marionette, the book ranked on the coming of age genre list right next to Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. That was a real hoot.
The key aspect to selling is relationships. Relationships with reviewers, bloggers, and readers. It takes time, but it does pay off. But more importantly, for me at least, I love the interaction with everyone. I’ve made many wonderful friends during my journey and for that I’m really grateful.
Do you provide any of your books for free? Pricing is a thorny issue – how did you decide on a price for your books?
I do provide free review copies in exchange for an honest review. As of yet, I haven’t done any free promotions on Amazon. I have listed my books for 99 cents, but haven’t gone the free route yet. That doesn’t mean I won’t at some point. I’ve only been doing this for a little over a year. Trust me, I haven’t figured everything out yet and there are many avenues I haven’t explored. I don’t believe in saying never. This summer I had two 99 cent sales and sold over a thousand copies. Each time it boosted the sales of my novels that weren’t discounted. Also I saw an increase in reviews.
I have my novels listed at $2.99 because many of the books in my genre are around that price. I did list one book at $3.99 for a time, but it didn’t work for me. My advice is to try several different prices and see what works best for your books and in your genre. Nothing is set in stone. And have sales. Readers love sales.
Boxed sets are something I hope to do in the near future. I need to do more research about them, but I have a feeling it will happen within the next year or two.
Easy question! Favourite authors and any particular ones who inspired you?
I think the writers from the early 20th century have inspired me the most. Hemingway, Steinbeck, Parker, and Fitzgerald are the authors I go back to over and over.
With Confessions just published, what’s the next novel about? Have you thought about writing a different type of book eg fantasy, horror, thriller, historical, travel, autobio?
The next project is a novella, which is already with my proofreader. Claudia Must Die is much different from my other novels. It’s a crime-style romp and it was fun and a challenge to jump out of my comfort zone. The story is about Claudia who is on the run from her gangster husband. She spies a woman who looks just like her and Claudia tries to set up the woman to be killed so her husband will stop hunting her. Things go terribly wrong and now Claudia has many people who are trying to kill her.
I know earlier I said, never say never, but it’s hard to fathom me writing a horror novel. I’m the type that squirms during horror movies and when I read horror novels, I still shield my eyes during the gory bits. However, you never know. Romance is my comfort zone, but I am contemplating writing a mystery and I think fantasy would be a wonderful and exciting challenge. I love historical fiction, but the researcher in me would go crazy and I fear I wouldn’t stop researching and start writing. Saying that, I have a story in mind.
Have you ever worked in a coffee shop?
I haven’t. However, I have worked in fast food when I was younger. Several of my buddies have worked in a coffee shop and I used to hang out quite a bit. I do have a confession: I hate coffee.
And… an excerpt from Confessions:
I nearly fell out of my chair. “Mother! I do not want to hear about this.” I jumped up, uncomfortable. God she was sex-crazed—always talking about it.
“Why? Kat listens to me.”
“You’ve talked to my girlfriend about that?”
“Of course, dear. Women talk about this stuff. Don’t be a prude.”
Her steady voice unnerved me.
“Women talk about this ‘stuff’ with their friends. Not with their daughter’s girlfriend. I forbid you to talk to her.” I planted my feet firmly on the ground.
“Forbid me? Who do you think you are?” Mom crossed her arms defensively, her foot tapping out a rhythm on the floor.
“Seriously, you need to think about the stuff you blurt out of your mouth. You can’t go around talking to Kat about sex, especially when it involves you and my father.” I shook my head, trying to permanently dislodge the images from my brain.
“At least Kat talks to me. All you do is hang up on me.” She pouted, running her hands up and down her arms to comfort herself.
“Look at me! I’m here right now, talking to you. I should be working on my lecture for this evening, but no, I came to see how you’re doing?”
Mom’s expression perked up. “That reminds me. The three of us are meeting at Pablo’s Café after your class.” Her face clouded over as she gazed out the front window and her voice dripped with scorn as she added, “I’m sure your father will be with his hussy this evening.”
I considered responding, but opted to stay quiet.
“Don’t worry, I know money is tight right now, so I’ll pay for dinner,” she said. “And that’s another thing I want to talk to you about. You need to stop making Kat feel guilty about not being able to find a job.”
“What? Make her feel guilty? I never mention it. Not one bit.” I really didn’t. Not once had I said or suggested that she should get a job. She should, but I knew the likelihood of that happening was pretty much nil. Kat knew how to spend money, not how to make it.
“She says she can see it in your eyes. I know Kat likes to shop, but you can’t lay all the blame on her. Blame the Republicans.” Mom punctuated her statement with a quick nod.
Thanks to T B Markinson for her time and her extremely professional response to my interview, she was a pleasure to work with. And as animals always add to a post, here are Miles, and Atticus, plus our author herself. She’s got a promotion on for Confessions until 16 Sept, so do check out her blog, Making My Mark.