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Can you be a parent of toddlers and still manage to write and self-publish your book? Can you balance family commitments with your dream of becoming a published author?
Elizabeth Craig says you can—and you can start by writing a page a day and reading the books you love.
In this episode of the BookWorthy show, Simon chats with mystery writer Elizabeth Craig about managing the chaos by outlining your book, learning the secrets of effective book marketing, and how to turn your dreams into commercial success.
Simon: Welcome to the BookWorthy.com podcast. Every week we bring inspiring interviews from incredible self-published authors just like you. My name is Simon Villeneuve and I will be your host. Whether you know it or not, your story is worth publishing. That’s why it’s our goal to help aspiring authors, storytellers, and entrepreneurs just like you learn how to write and publish a physical book that people will want to buy, they’ll want to read, and they’ll truly want to share. It’s great to have you with us. Let’s get started.
Elizabeth, welcome to the show. It’s so good to have you.
Elizabeth Craig: Thanks so much for having me here. I love being here.
Simon: Yeah, awesome. Well, I’m really excited to hear more about your story and hear more about the books you’ve written, and you’ve written a lot, so we’re gonna get into that. But first, just give me some context into your life. What does life look like? What does work look like? What does family look like?
Elizabeth Craig: Sure. I am a . . . I guess a stay-at-home mom, is what they used to be called, I’m sure there’s a more professional sounding term for that, which has worked out really well for me personally. I mean honestly, I was supposed to have already started back to work at this point. My husband’s and my little set up was when the kids got to be like middle school age or something, that’s what I would do, but that’s when the books really started kind of taking off, and so I didn’t have to. Ha! So, that’s awesome.
Simon: There you go.
Elizabeth Craig: Because I’m not sure what I would be able to do with so many years at home that would really give me as much of an income as writing does. So I have a kid in college now, so obviously I didn’t hit the middle school mark with going back to work. I’ve got a kid at Virginia Tech, and I’ve got a child in high school who’s a junior, and I’ve got a husband who’s a techie.
I love just being able to stay home and write mysteries, which is what I’ve been doing since, I guess, roughly about 2005 was when I started getting serious with it. First book, I guess traditionally published book, came out about 2009 I think it was. I’m starting my 25th book now, I think, unless you count box sets and stuff like that, which I don’t. I think it’s 25. I’m losing track.
Simon: Wow. Well yeah, I would, too. So you started traditionally publishing with that one book.
Elizabeth Craig: I did.
Simon: And then you’ve since shifted to self-publishing, correct?
Elizabeth Craig: I have. I started traditionally publishing, that was really at the time, the only smart thing to do. The Kindle was just starting out and self-publishing had a really bad rap at the time.
Elizabeth Craig: I couldn’t find an agent. I sent like a hundred, 120 queries out to agents, and I had some conversations on the phone, and some of them went pretty well. It was almost impossible to find an agent, and so I started submitting directly to publishers, which of course they always say, “Do not do this. Do not send us stuff. We don’t want your stuff.” But it worked out well, and I actually had interest from two publishers on that first manuscript. One of them was Penguin Random House and one of them was Midnight Ink. But Midnight Ink had gotten me to sign a contract first, so it’s kind of a strange story.
Penguin Random House was like, “Oh, congratulations on the deal with Midnight Ink. We were gonna try to get an option for you on that, but best wishes to you.” I said, “Well, is there anything else you need me to write? I’d be happy to write something else for you.” They said, “Well, we actually are looking for somebody to write a series based in the South,” which obviously I’m Southern, “that is centered around a Memphis barbecue restaurant. Do you think you could write something like that?” I was like, “Sure I can. Be happy to.” So I started out writing a series for them doing that, and by that time I did have a agent, because I had two publishers and it was easier to find an agent after I had two publishers.
Simon: Well, yeah.
Elizabeth Craig: You know how that goes. Then I ended up with another series, which is . . . This is kind of ridiculous. My agent got contacted . . . I think I was the only southern writer that anybody knew, and they said, “Can she write another series about southern quilting mysteries? Does she . . . could she do that?” My agent says, “Can you do that?” I said, “I’d be happy to do that. I don’t know anything about quilting. I can do a lot of research.”
So I ended up with three traditionally published series, and then I divested myself, really, of each one of them, or they divested me. Either way, both. I’m very happy to be self-publishing now, and I’ve self-published more books now then I’ve had traditionally published. I think I just went over that mark.
Simon: Wow. So you had the opposite problem that most people have. You had publishers asking you to write things.
Elizabeth Craig: Yes. Exactly. It was more . . . I mean, one of the series was definitely a write for hire, which was the Memphis barbecue where they said, “We want you to write this exactly.” The Southern Quilting Mysteries they said, “We would like you to write a series somewhat like this. You can come up with the characters, the setting. We just want it in the South, and we want quilting in there, and it has to be a mystery.” So I had a little bit more leeway with that one.
Simon: Wow. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. So, I’m just looking at my notes here. You have written the Myrtle Clover series.
Elizabeth Craig: Yes.
Simon: Is that your self-published series?
Elizabeth Craig: That is one of them now, but that’s the one that just had one traditionally published book in it before I went self-publishing with that one.
Simon: Okay. Then the Southern Quilting Mysteries is the traditionally published series; Memphis Barbeque Mysteries is also traditionally published. So you’re still writing books, and you’re also blogging. Where did you get started in writing? Where did all this come from?
Elizabeth Craig: It’s the only thing I can do. I’m a one trick pony. I think it’s a pretty good trick, but it’s the only trick I’ve got, so I have been writing for forever. I started out just as a kid. There weren’t even any creative writing classes at all where I grew up in South Carolina, or even in college, the college that I went to, so I had to kind of self-teach, and my parents, of course, I think they were thinking, “How are you going to make . . . ” I mean, they were very supportive, but they were like, “How are you going make a living out of doing this?” And I wasn’t really sure, honestly, at the time.
Elizabeth Craig: So I kind of went into the journalism side of things for a while, and I was not really happy doing that, because I always had this great desire to go, “You know, this interview would be a lot better if this person had just said this.” And just this feeling like I just wanted to make something completely up. I was gonna be fake news back in the time when there wasn’t any. Just realizing I just always wanted to integrate some fiction into what I was writing, and doing interior design articles and whatever, it wasn’t really cutting it for me.
Simon: Wow, so what was happening? I mean, you grew up, and you’re just, I mean, like you said, one trick pony. You’re a writer. You’ve always been a writer. What was happening where you thought, “You know what? I can publish a story. What I have in my brain, or what I’m feeling, or what I’m thinking is worth publishing.”
Elizabeth Craig: I think what happened was I was reading a lot more. I had this crazy toddler at the time, but the times where he wasn’t being completely wild and crazy, and he’s the one at Virginia Tech, so he ended up completely fine.
Elizabeth Craig: But the times that he wasn’t crazy, I was reading a book, and I started reading a lot of mysteries, and I read a lot of different types of mysteries, but I think the part that I kept coming back to, the type of mystery that I kept coming back to where what’s called cozy mysteries. They’re a traditional mysteries, and they have . . . they focus on the puzzle of the mystery, and they’re kind of a comforting read, because everything ties up really neatly at the end. It’s just a very tidy, neat process, and I think I needed that in my life right then. Around that time, it was actually . . . it was . . . 9/11 happened, and a lot of people started needing that kind of thing in their lives. It was just an alarming time.
It’s funny because entertainment kind of went in two different directions there. There was the super violent type of movies that did happen right after that where people found some relief in seeing it play out and have the bad guys go away at the end. There was also like the super comforting type of reads, which were the cozy mysteries, that a lot of people started reading at the time.
I was taking comfort in them. I found them fun to read, entertaining, nice, just gentle reads, and a lot of other people did too. So the genre itself started, and I thought, “I could definitely write this.” I mean, it has a particular pattern. I won’t say a formula to it, but most books that are commercial fiction, they’re going to have a particular pattern that you can follow, and the pattern that I could easily see, and I thought, “I’m gonna do it.”
I had another toddler by that time, and she wouldn’t take a nap. It was very frustrating. I was like, “Please. Oh my god. Please take a nap.” But she didn’t, and she wasn’t a TV watcher, except she would watch “Elmo’s World”, and that was it. Not the rest of Sesame Street, only “Elmo’s World.” So I was like, “Okay, I can work with this.” I could get one page done during “Elmo’s World,” and that was it. But if you do a page every single day, then in less than a year, you’ve got a pretty good sized book, and that’s how I did it.
Simon: Wow. Wow, a page a day.
Elizabeth Craig: Page a day. Yeah.
Simon: Oh, wow. This is great. So I know that a lot of our audience is interested in writing non-fiction books. They’re taking our course, because they want to learn how to write non-fiction. They want to tell their story. But you’ve gone the more fiction route, and you’ve told a fictitious story, and I know there are also people in our audience who want to go that route. They’re more interested in fiction. Where do people start? Let’s say there’s someone who says, “I have this story I want to write down, I want to tell, I want to publish. It’s fiction. I don’t know where to start.” What do they do?
Elizabeth Craig: Well, what you do is you start reading as much as you possibly can in that genre that you’re interested in, and for the sake of success, if you’re interested in commercial success as a writer, I would say let it be a popular genre that you’re interested in writing. Don’t let it just be something that you’re interested in writing, and that’s it. It needs to be something that other people like to read, as well. You just read as much as you can until that pattern starts to emerge. You start to understand reader expectations for that type of book. Obviously, I’m talking about commercial fiction here, not literary fiction whatsoever, which it doesn’t take a particular pattern. But I think starting out, I would probably even recommend doing commercial fiction, because you see that, and you can kind of follow that along.
I know that if I’m reading a cozy mystery, I’m going to have the sleuth start out right away, and I’m going to introduce the future victim, and the suspects, and see them interact with the victim, and then I’m gonna have interviews, because the victim will have died, a second body, more interviews, moment of danger for the sleuth. It wraps up at the end. You start to see that for every single type of book that’s out there, and when you can see it that easily, you know the tricks for the types of series, and you get that confidence. I think that’s the best part of it. Then I think you set yourself a really low bar every single day, like that one page.
Elizabeth Craig: Something that you know you can attain without even thinking about it, and that’s how you proceed. Then you can get that confidence going even more every day that you have a success for delivering the page until it fills.
Simon: So how much time do you spend refining the story arc, and the narrative, and stuff like that before you dive in and write it?
Elizabeth Craig: I used to spend no time at all. I used to be a complete pantser. I used to just go in there, jump in, and this was when I was traditionally published, as well. I just thought, “Okay. I’ve got a handle on it.” I would write the back cover copy first, so I had a general idea of what the story was I was going to write. Then I would just make it up as I went along. But then I had this horrible thing that happened. It was about two weeks before deadline, I think, and I realized the story I’d written didn’t work at all. Not at all. I mean, it just did not work. There was a plot hole I could not figure out how to get around it, and I was gonna hit delete on the whole book, and just start over again and ask for an extension, which is really bad. You’re not ever supposed to ask for extensions on your deadlines. I never did before. But then I had a brainstorm. I talked to a friend who sort of understood what I was going through, and knew a little bit about what I was talking about in the book, and she was able to help me out with it. Since that time, I believe in outlines.
I have actually, just today, finished an outline for the next book in the series that I am . . . one series that I’m writing. So when I’m writing one series, I write the next book for the series directly after finishing that book, and then I usually write a book for another series, as crazy as that sounds. But that way the outline happens when I’m still in the head of that character and that story world, and it makes it that much easier. I spend about a week on this outline, and it’s probably the best outline I’ve ever written, and sometimes outlines can feel confining, but I left enough leeway in this outline that I feel like I can go off into different tangents and not be bored when I’m writing the book, and that’s important, obviously. If you feel bored while writing it, you just don’t have that motivation every day.
Simon: Yeah, and your reader will probably be bored reading it, right?
Elizabeth Craig: I would think so, too. Yeah. Sure. I mean, bored writer, boring reading, so not very good.
Simon: Yeah. So, tell me a little bit more about your outline. I mean, this is really cool, what you’re saying. So what all is in that outline that took you a week to prepare?
Elizabeth Craig: That’s a good question. I’m thinking back on it going, “Why did this take me so long?” At this point in the series, for this particular series, and this is Southern Quilting, I stopped after five books in that series. I did take my characters back, and the last three books in that series I’ve self-published.
Since then, I mean, I think right after losing my editor for that series, taking my characters back and going to self-pub, we really, my editor and I, really had a collaborative relationship, and I felt almost like, “What do I do? How do I do this? I don’t remember how to write this series?” Which is crazy, because obviously I was the writer, but she would always bounce these ideas off of me, and I would kind of incorporate things in.
So I think this time I’m more organized with it, because occasionally the readers would be like, “Oh, I wish that this particular character had more of a part in this book.” I’m like, “That is a character in this series. What do you know.” So now I’ve got more of a list of the series tropes, things that always come up in every book in that series. I’ve got more things like okay, sub . . . what are these different subplots I’ve got going on with these supporting characters? It makes it so it’s just a lot more . . . I don’t know. I’m more organized with how I fit in the subplots, because subplots in my genre are very important and they need to probably tie into the mystery, as well, if I can swing it.
So, the outline has a lot of information about the different characters, descriptions about them so I don’t have to wonder. They’re completely named characters. I know who the killer is. I went through and made, actually this time, a very complex mystery, so there are two killers, which I don’t usually do. I’ve got two killers and then some sort of different event.
Usually in the middle of my book I have a second body, and in this one I have something completely different happens. It pulls it all together, so I wove it through. It’s probably about . . . I think it’s about 20 pages long, but it’s the complete story. It’s just a very small version of it, with even the opening scene, the closing scene. It’s very complete, so I know that I can jump right back into that story, and probably write it pretty quickly.
Simon: Wow. That’s awesome. So how do you go about writing your outline? Do you just sit down at a blank screen? Or do you storyboard it out on a whiteboard? Do you use sticky notes? Like what are your methods for spelling out this complex plot?
Elizabeth Craig: It’s fairly easy, honestly. I mean, I think the hardest part is probably the brainstorming, but I have the opening scene and the closing scene, so I like to have a reflection, in my series, because the important thing with my series is, obviously, that sense of completion and the full-circle effect.
In your book, it might be the change the character has gone through, so the opening scene and your final scene might be something strikingly different, but very similar. Maybe they’re in the same place, but something is very different in the beginning and as in the end. Then I have all the suspects, and just a little blurb kind of about each one them, but a blurb that helps me to realize who they are as a character, how they relate to the world, and how they relate to each other, their quirks, things like that. It’s not like a character development list, but it’s just sort of like a little summation about each one.
Then I follow it right through. This is the victim. This was the murder method. This was the weapon. This was the motivation of all the different suspects. This is who the sleuth suspects. And I just follow it straight through. It’s the same.
I mean, you’ve got the interviews, who she’s interviewing, what they’re saying, who they point to, the lie they tell, the truth that they tell, because usually in a mystery you wanna misdirect, so sometimes they tell lies, but they also tell truths, and it’s up to the sleuth to figure out which is which. I’ve got all of those listed for all the different suspects, two different sets of interviews, and then I bring it to the close, and finally have the bad guys, obviously, taken away.
So, it’s a pretty easy type of a set up, and I think it would work well with pretty much any type of book that you write. You just have to know a lot about the type of books that you write, and the audience, and what they want.
Simon: That’s good. That’s good. So now that you have this outline that you spent a week or so working on, diving into actually writing it, does the outline really help you? Does it make it easy to write? Or do you often find yourself going back and changing things? How’s that work?
Elizabeth Craig: It does make it easier to write. The funny thing is is I probably will not be writing this book until next summer.
Simon: Oh, okay.
Elizabeth Craig: Honestly, that’s where it’s heading, so it’s really going to help me, because I’m going to go, “Okay. I will be writing . . . ” I’ve got translated books coming out right now. I’ve got a lot going on with books that I’ve already done, and I’m starting a book in my other series.
So if you write more than one series, it’s especially important to have an outline, and to set it up that way, because otherwise you’re returning to the story world totally cold, and you have to remember everything about it. You have to figure out what . . . you know, you have get back in the characters’ heads again, and it’s hard to do that after a prolonged break. It’s just easier, I think, this way, and I do.
I sit down and I open up my laptop, and I’m like, “Okay. I see what I’m supposed to write today.” Then sometimes, especially if it’s been cold for a long time, it’s been sitting there, the outline’s been sitting there for a long time, I can go, “That’s a good idea in an outline, but actually I have a better idea.” So you have a chance to kind of improve on your ideas as you go along. You can also do that, obviously, if it’s not just a cold outline, and you did it . . . you started writing as soon as you finished it.
But for me, I don’t know. It just makes it easier. I’ve got almost like an editor hat on sometimes when I’m reading my outline and thinking, “Yeah, that’s gonna connect with a reader, but I have a better idea.” I just use it as a guide.
Simon: Yeah. Oh, very cool. Okay, so tell me a little bit about the self-publishing process now, and going from traditional publishing to self-publishing. What have you really liked about self-publishing, and what’s been really, more or less, difficult or a process to work through?
Elizabeth Craig: I think, well, obviously, I mean really, to be completely, brutally frank, the money is so much better.
Simon: Oh good.
Elizabeth Craig: That’s the primary reason self-publishing is so much better. I was making more with the books I was self-publishing than I was with all of my traditional published books put together. You just get so much more income, obviously, the bulk of the income, the royalty income goes directly to you, and just cutting out all the middlemen. I had an agent to be paid. I had a publisher to be paid. I’m sure the guy driving the truck to the bookstores needed to get paid, as well. Might’ve been making more than I was. I’m not really sure.
The money was . . . that was a pretty motivating factor there. Like I said, I didn’t have to go back to work. I was like, “Okay. If I self-publish more, then I’m going to end up doing much better.” So that was a big motivator there.
But it’s not just that. It’s also creative control, and that’s something a lot of writers will point to and say, “Yeah, it’s just nice to be able to choose your own cover.” I got very lucky with the covers I had from Penguin and from Midnight Ink. They were great covers, but other authors haven’t had that same type of luck.
I also felt like with my traditionally published books, I was very frustrated in the distribution in some ways. I got great distribution in Barnes & Noble, which at the time was pretty important. I had a nice little . . . they had like a little cardboard tower over near the café, and the deal that Penguin had with the bookstores were that on my release, I got to be in that little cardboard stand with some of the other writers they were trying to promote for the first month. So that’s kind of cool for walk up traffic in Barnes & Noble. Not so important anymore.
I honestly haven’t, unfortunately, been in a bookstore, I used to love going to there, but I haven’t done that as much anymore. I get most of my books online. I felt like Penguin wasn’t really exploiting my rights that much. I didn’t have audio books, and you couldn’t really get . . . it was hard to get my books internationally, outside of Canada. Also, you couldn’t get them in hardcover. You couldn’t get them in large print. You couldn’t get them in other languages. There were just so many limitations on that, and it was very frustrating. I have not been able to really get those rights back, unfortunately either, for those books that have already been published.
It’s nice to be able to say, “Okay, I want my books to be available in whatever country, in whatever language.” I’ve got two books coming out this week, one in Spanish and one in Italian, and I made that choice. It was just great to be able to do that.
All of the Myrtle Clover books for the most part are available in audio. I’ve got, I guess, maybe 10 books that are available in hardcover for libraries, and that’s been a good seller. And period, I just like libraries. I like OverDrive. I get a lot of my books, I check them out from the library through OverDrive. It’s very frustrating to see a new release that’s not available on OverDrive. All of my books, that are self-published, are available there. That was another big thing about self-publishing that I’ve really enjoyed, is just being able to have that kind of control over it.
Simon: Wow. Yeah, that’s huge. That’s huge.
Elizabeth Craig: Yeah.
Simon: Okay, so you said more money for sure. You have more . . . you get . . . less royalties, or not less royalties. You get a bigger chunk of the royalties, right?
Elizabeth Craig: Yes. Exactly.
Simon: Because you’re not paying . . . the company’s not paying out all these other people, plus you get to have more creative control over your work. You kind of do whatever you want.
Elizabeth Craig: Yeah. You get to decide how long your series is going on. I mean, my editor for the Memphis barbecue series had to leave to take care of her mother, in like a midwestern state, and that was effectively the end of it. They call that orphaning, in traditional publishing, because when your editor is gone, there’s nobody to pitch for you it the meetings. I mean it was her collaboration with me.
Another editor, they want to have their own collaborations, and their own ideas, and they don’t want to have to pick up somebody else’s project, so effectively that was the end of that, and I get emails probably every . . . I would say every two weeks people asking me, pinging me on Facebook or Twitter or email saying, “Are you gonna do some more books in this series?” I’m like, “Well, publisher didn’t want anymore.” And that was the way it was.
With these Southern Quilting Mysteries, when they tried to change a distribution deal for me to be ebook only, I was like, “No. I don’t think so. I think there’s already not enough distribution to make me happy. Let me just go ahead, let me get my characters back. It’s nice working with you.” And I did. I enjoyed working with them, but the business reality of it is I want to decide when readership has slacked off, and that’s one of the most popular series that I’ve got, so I’m still putting books out in that one right now, but I get to choose, which is another nice thing about self-publishing.
Simon: Yeah. What does your writing team look like? Or your support team around you? Do you have a designer? Do have an editor? Do you kind of do it all yourself? What does that look like?
Elizabeth Craig: I have a freelance cover designer, and she’s fantastic, Karri Klawiter. I have somebody who helps me, obviously, with translations. I couldn’t possibly do that. I’ve got two different translators that I work with. I have someone who helps me with formatting if I run into a problem. I’m able to kind of run it through some programs now, and I’m pretty good at doing that myself, but sometimes I still run into problems and need to ask him for some help, and I do have a freelance editor who does a lot of work for me, Judy Beatty, and I have a team of avid readers who are just sort of like, I guess, your number one fan type people who are like, “I’d be happy to read this through for you if you want me to.”
There was one in particular and I think she really is my top fan, and she lives in Peru, and she would write me emails after books came and say, “You know, it was a good book, but I really don’t think Miss Sissy would’ve done that.” She had read . . . she had said, each of my books 40 times, which I know I have only read each book probably four times. I thought, she knows these characters better than I do, and so let me get her on my side, and let her start reading this stuff before it comes out. That way I can make some changes, because I feel like responding to reader criticism, if you’re seeing a common theme especially, is so important. You can be flexible, and you can kind of incorporate their suggestions. That keeps them more engaged in the series. If you’re failing at something, and it’s easy to do it, if you start failing in one aspect of a series or storyline, then get the readers on your side, and change it to make it better.
Simon: Wow, what a lesson. Make some of your best readers your friends, and now they help you.
Elizabeth Craig: Yes. That’s right.
Simon: Like make your work better. That’s incredible. Wow. So how did you . . . You mentioned that you lay out the book, some of the interior design yourself. What programs do you use? How do you figure that out?
Elizabeth Craig: Well, it’s honestly it’s ridiculously easy. I feel kind of sad to say it, but Draft2Digital right now is fantastic, because you can just upload the books, and you don’t have to distribute through them. You can just upload a profile, and set up your books, and then you can download proofs, and they have, I think, right now . . . I might not even be right about it. I think they have like six different styles that you can choose from.
Simon: Oh wow.
Elizabeth Craig: Especially for print, obviously, that’s nice, so you’ve got these nice little chapter images and things like that. You can choose the different types, and you just upload a regular Word doc, and then you can download it in EPUB, Mobi, print. You can take a look at it, see what it looks like. They’re so . . . the guys over there are so responsive. You can send them an email if you’re running into trouble, and they write you back right away and help you. It’s so easy, and it didn’t used to be that way. It used to be Smashwords and going through the meat grinder, and all this kind of stuff, and now everything is just gotten a lot easier, I think, for the indie author.
Simon: That’s amazing. Cool. I’ll have to include a link to that, that program, in the show notes for our listeners. How did you build your support team? Where did you find your editor, and your designer, and your translator? How’d you meet them?
Elizabeth Craig: It’s kind of hard. It’s, honestly, I think everybody has to cobble it together. I wish there was an easier way of doing it. I know that there are marketplaces like Reedsy, and you can find all kinds of publishing professionals through there, but for me, since I’ve done this for so long, I just kind of pulled people together where I knew them. I was in a traditional published author loop for one, and they were talking about this freelance editor that they were using. Some of them were branching off into self-publishing, and they were like, “Oh, I’ve got this great editor. She does this great job.” So some word of mouth.
For my cover designer, I went on a search. I honestly did. I was looking up cozy mystery cover designers, I was trying to find out . . . I would look in the backs of books to see which cozy mystery authors had used which designers, and just sort of taking a look at everybody’s portfolios and seeing a good match there. I was very lucky with that.
With audiobooks and Babelcube, which is a translation format, it’s a little bit different, and you go up on the platform, and you put up your book for audition. So, you are actually auditioning people for translation, which obviously for translation it helps if you have a fluent friend who can say, “Yeah, this looks good.”
For audio, you can just listen and say, “Yeah, this person expresses what I was trying to say in the book well and does the characters well.” That’s more of an audition process.
But it’s kind of . . . I mean, it is kind of a painful cobbling together process, but once you have it together, and you have your team, it’s so much easier after that. You’ve got your team in place. You just need to keep them in the loop and let them know, probably way in advance is better, when you’ve got a project that’s going to need to be worked on.
Simon: Awesome. You use CreateSpace, Amazon CreateSpace to publish your books?
Elizabeth Craig: I use CreateSpace and Ingram, both simultaneously for print, and that’s because Ingram . . . IngramSpark is the division of Ingram that’s being used for self-publishing . . . they have printers all over the world, so if you have an international audience that is interested in reading your books, they can order through CreateSpace, but it’s going to cost them money, the shipping is gonna be bad. That has been a deterrent for a lot of readers. So with Ingram they’ve got a printer in the UK. Well, lots of printers in the UK. They’ve got a printer in Australia, and so my Australian readership has really grown tremendously, actually, because of that. And libraries there can get them, because they can just ship them right there. So, by using both of them, and obviously you want CreateSpace for the US, I mean, in general, unless you’re a library or bookstore or something like that, you’re going to be . . . if you’re an individual you’re probably ordering through . . . your print books through Amazon, but that way you’ve got both things covered. You can do print all over the world, and it’s obviously is no cost. It’s just something that comes out of your royalties. No upfront costs.
Simon: Oh, wow. No upfront costs. Well, that’s a huge lesson for our listeners who want to spread bigger than just the US, who want to go international to companion CreateSpace with IngramSpark. That’s awesome.
Elizabeth Craig: Yes, it is. Now IngramSpark, they will have some . . . a couple of setup costs, but those are frequently waived. They’ve got coupons every single month, so just look for their coupon codes. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever had to pay them anything. It’s been a great relationship working with them.
Simon: That’s amazing.
Elizabeth Craig: Yeah.
Simon: Wow. How neat. Okay, so you . . . now that you’re self-publishing, you don’t have a publishing house to help market your books, or to share them. The joke is that they don’t do that today anyway, but the idea is that they might have a team of marketers or something to help you market and share your book. So, how do you share your book today?
Elizabeth Craig: Yes, and as you pointed out, they didn’t do a fantastic job with that even at the time. They definitely wanted me to do it, and I did have a publicist over there, and she did set up blog tours, but honestly, obviously, that’s something we can easily do ourselves. It takes just a little leg work to get it set up. I had some book blogger reviews, and they wanted me to do a book tour, but that was on my dime and on my time, so it was definitely, even back then, it was not . . . they were doing . . . not doing a lot of stuff for me.
Now, honestly, I always feel kind of bad about this, because the way I do promo is very subtle. I use a lot of boring stuff like metadata. I making sure that I’m tweaking my keywords, when you’re publishing the book, making sure my keywords are words that readers can find my books.
Readers who don’t even know me, they can locate my books when they put in particular keywords, that they’re looking for cozy mysteries. Sometimes they’ll put in cozy mysteries with cats, cozy mysteries with dogs. Whatever it is, and you can start looking in the search box and see, okay, this keyword is popular by readers, and start putting those on the book.
Also, just keeping your metadata consistent. The author’s name. Am I listed as Elizabeth Craig, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Elizabeth S. Craig? Anytime you list your name differently, obviously, it’s going to be categorized by the search engine in a different way, so keeping everything very consistent. I have a list of my metadata, the keywords that I like to use, my name, the way the series name is. Is it a Myrtle Clover Mystery? Is it Myrtle Clover Mysteries? There’s different ways. Even the smallest change can mess things up.
Also, I’ve done things like Google Rich Results, which if you see my book on a page, and obviously I’ve got metadata . . . This gets a little bit more complex, but anybody can follow along. If I can do it, anybody can. On my website I have one single page for every single book, and that helps me, because that way I’ve got . . . the search engine has picked up that’s a book, and she wrote it, and so if you Google the book, it comes up with a rich result. It comes up with a picture of the book. It sometimes has a picture of me on there, and it even talks a little bit about the book, and it’ll show a little snippet of ratings or reviews, which is very nice. That is something that is very subtle that obviously you don’t spend any time or . . . well, you spend time on it, but you don’t spend any money on it.
I’m not too much of an ad person. I don’t think . . . the Facebook ad thing didn’t work out great for me. It was okay, but I’m not so much a BookBub or a . . . I don’t know. I just don’t like it as much. I would rather run sales, and so with a series, obviously, you can set the first book free, you can set it very low. You can take a look at your income and say, “Okay. Something’s slowing down with this book. I’m gonna set it marked down for a while.” You can just kind of play with your costs a little bit and run sales, and that’s another really good thing to do, and I mean to be boring-
Simon: Can we do all that within Amazon?
Elizabeth Craig: Yes. Yeah, yeah. You can do that.
Simon: Oh wow. Great.
Elizabeth Craig: Yeah. I usually will set it on Amazon. Sometimes it’s easier to play with it through Draft2Digital, to set something for free especially, you’ve gotta go through a distributor or some sort, and then Amazon price matches it. But you can get it to 99 cents on Amazon, which frequently I’ll do that just out of ease, and just be like, “Okay. 99 cents, that’s fine.”
Then, also, newsletters, which like I said, that’s kind of a boring thing to talk about it. Everybody’s talking about newsletters, but I wish I had started doing newsletters earlier than I did, because it’s really the most effective way of reaching people who are interested in you and your books. Just have that newsletter signup on your email tagline, Facebook page, lots of different places, just not maybe a pop-up. I don’t so much like the pop-ups. But just so that way people can see, “Okay, she’s got a newsletter. I wanna be kept updated.” Then to me just not be too obnoxious about the number of emails that you send out.
Simon: That’s awesome. Wow. I love that. I love that when you said, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”
Elizabeth Craig: Yeah.
Simon: And the fact that there’s this, I mean, there’s little things, like being consistent with how you title your book, what you call yourself, and all that stuff, I mean, and running sales on Amazon, and just contacting your readers. Those are huge lessons that, like your saying, anyone can do.
Elizabeth Craig: Anybody can do it, and it doesn’t cost anything to do it, because I can be rather frugal sometimes, and I’m just like . . . I just don’t like checking on ads all the time and seeing just how they’re doing. It’s just . . . I’m not . . . I wasn’t a business major. I was an English major, and it’s just frustrating for me to look at it, so for me, this is much more effective and readers find me very well this way. And do things like write in series, because readers, especially, enjoy series, and it’s hard, so hard, to promote one book, a standalone book. If you can write in series, it just makes things so much easier, not just from a pricing aspect, because you can have like a loss leader at the beginning of the series, but it just makes it, I think, just run that much smoother.
Simon: Very cool, very cool. There are people out here listening who are going to be thinking, “It’s not possible for me to do what Elizabeth did. I can’t do that.” Right. “You can’t do that anymore.” Or “It’s too complex for me.” Or “I just don’t have what it takes.” What would you say to that person? What do you tell people who ask you, “Is it still possible to do what you did?”
Elizabeth Craig: Definitely. You don’t have to start out with a traditional publisher. I don’t honestly think that they helped me all that much. I really don’t. I know people are like, “Well, but you don’t know how it would’ve happened if you had started out with self-pub.” And I don’t, but I feel like I really started taking off once I started self-publishing. I would say to somebody just take it easy.
Again, set the bar really low, make it so it’s comfortable to write a book, and learn that part of your craft, but how to publish it, and also how to promote it, and there’s so much information it can seem overwhelming. I would just set a limit just this much every day. I’m gonna write this much every day. I’m gonna learn this much every day, and then maybe every week I would have, I’m kind of a nerd, so I would have a list of things that I wanted to learn more about. I would come up with it on Sunday, and then I would just kind of break that down over the week, and just break it down into smaller bits so it’s easier to understand.
Seriously, with a page a day, I mean, you can do anything, and just say, “Okay. Maybe it’ll take you 15 minutes.” That’s what it took me. It took me 15 minutes, and sometimes the page was okay, and sometimes the page just sucked. It was just awful, but I was gonna worry about that later, and I moved on to the next page.
Elizabeth Craig: You can always fix it.
Simon: Yeah, you can always fix it later, right.
Elizabeth Craig: Exactly.
Simon: Awesome. Well, Elizabeth, thank you so much. This has been great. Such great wisdom from you, from your experience. I know that we’re gonna have some listeners who want to buy and read some of your books, some of them are also gonna want to pick some up so they can figure out your plot and your storyline, and how they can do that themselves, so where can people find you online?
Elizabeth Craig: Yes. I would say first of all go to my website, which is my full name, which is ElizabethSpannCraig.com. I have a blog there that is for writers, and I share lots of information there. On Sunday, I always share a link roundup of all the links that I’ve shared on Twitter throughout the week, and I curate links on Twitter every day, so you can go to ElizabethSCraig on Twitter, and you can find lots of writing information there. If you want to read my books, my books are listed on my website, and I’d love to have some extra readers, so feel free.
Simon: Awesome. Perfect. Well, Elizabeth, thank you so much. Like I said, it was great to have you. It was great to hear your story. We’ll talk to you again soon.