Posted in Interviews / Success Stories | Posted on 03-06-2011|
If you like success stories, you should dig today’s interview. I first learned of S. J. Reisner when she left a comment on one of my posts about short fiction ebooks. She mentioned she was a fan of short fiction because she’d been able to quit her day job, thanks to the sales of her novellas in particular. I, of course, pounced on the chance to get that story and stalked her back to her website to request an interview.
She agreed, so here we are:
Interview with S. J. Reisner
Do you want to start out telling us about what let you to e-publishing and how you came to have four pen names?
I have been a (starving) published author since 1996 (in print), but in 2008 I decided to go ahead and make my fantasy novels available on Kindle since I still owned all the electronic rights. At that point, Kindle was pretty new and having my books as e-books increased my sales about 6-10 copies a month so I was happy with it. I kind of forgot about it. Meanwhile I had quite a few non-fiction books self-published through Lulu and CreateSpace. My readers started asking for my non-fiction books as e-books. So after about the third request in 2010 I began converting all my self-published print books to e-book format. Meanwhile, I’d begun writing mystery novels and when the first one came out, I immediately published it as a Kindle book. I was also among the first writers to sign up with Barnes & Noble PubIt. When I saw my sales increase 100% – that’s when I realized that maybe there was something to be said for the e-book thing. As I saw it one of my biggest obstacles as a small press author and Indie author who books were POD, was getting readers to fork over $10+ for a paperback. With e-books I could price the books lower and in some instances make more money so it was benefiting me and my readers. Not to mention I saw it evening out the playing field between those authors published with the big six, and those of us who were both self-published or working with small presses. I went from making about $600 a month in physical book sales to $1000 a month in both physical and e-book sales almost instantly. Then, after my erotic romances hit it big, I started making even more and now, only about 100 sales a month are paperbacks. The rest are e-books and my sales numbers vary wildly month to month. Some months I’ll sell 20,000 books (usually when a new one comes out), but in an average slow month I sell about 5,000 books. That’s my goal number because that means I’m selling enough books to make the same amount of money I was making at my day job.
Of course this doesn’t explain why I have four pen names. Since my non-fiction, written as S. Connolly, is about witchcraft and magic (and therefore controversial) I wanted to keep my fantasy novels separated so I wouldn’t alienate readers who might be offended by such topics. So I wrote the fantasy novels as S. J. Reisner. When I began writing mystery novels I was originally going to write them as S. J. Reisner, too, but then I had to contend with the problem that my mystery novels are written for adult readers and my fantasy novels were safe for ages 11+. Since my fantasy fan-base seems to consist of a lot of younger readers I was not willing to make the mistake of publishing books for adult readers under that pen-name and accidentally have one of those books end up in the hands of an eleven-year-old. Could you imagine the parental outrage? Hence Audrey Brice was born. Finally, Anne O’Connell started out as my experiment in writing romantic erotica just to see if it was something I really wanted to do (or could do). I didn’t write those stories under any of the other pen-names just because if I was terrible I didn’t want to admit I was Anne O’Connell, and at the time I wasn’t sure how my family and friends would react to me writing such racy novellas and novels. Of course once Anne became popular and my family questioned how it was that I was making so much money, the jig was up and I decided to go ahead and publicly claim Anne.
Of course having four pen names is kind of a pain because it required the maintenance of four websites and blogs. After a few months of that I gave up and combined everything into one website I call The Quadrant. http://www.the-quadrant.com/ It’s also sjreisner.com, s-connolly.com, audreybrice.com, and anneoconnell.com.
You mentioned that you were able to quit your day job thanks to your success with short fiction. Congratulations! What made you decide to try shorter stories?
Thank you! Basically what happened is while writing the second mystery novel, I wrote a particularly erotic scene between the two main characters. When it went through critique, the entire group agreed that it was far too graphic (x-rated if you will) for a mystery/thriller novel so I had to tone it down considerably. That’s when one of my critique partners approached my privately and asked if I’d ever considered writing erotic romance. I’ve been writing for about thirty years and I can tell you that writing erotic romance was something I never really considered. She suggested I try it, so I started out by reading an avalanche of erotic shorts by other writers. I wanted to see if it was something I enjoyed reading or could even consider writing. If I don’t enjoy reading it – I won’t write it. It’s really that simple. By the time I’d finished reading about twenty of these novellas, I was inspired to write one short story (about 8000 words) and two novellas. I had an editor friend who was willing to edit them for me (since it was an experiment), a friend did some covers, and then I priced them based on the market and got them out there.
I honestly wasn’t expecting what happened next. My sales on Barnes and Noble took off and in the first sixty days I made a substantial amount of money. Please know that my results are NOT typical. After my success several writer friends attempted the same thing and while they’re selling their erotica shorts, maybe twenty copies a month, none of them have been able to emulate my sales numbers. For whatever reason my books just started selling like crazy (without any heavy marketing). I suspect it was word of mouth, or a bunch of eager Nook users because my stories were some of the first hardcore erotica stories on PubIt Nook. It was when my fourth story when sales really took off and next thing I knew, Training Amy was #1 on Amazon’s Kindle Erotica list and it made Kindle’s top 100 romance novels for a month.
How successful you ask? As of the beginning of June – I’ve already made $70K, which is about $20K more than the yearly salary I was making at my day job.
I’ve heard romance and erotica are popular genres. Do you think you’ve had to do less marketing because you’re in a hot niche, or is there just more competition (more writers publishing in that area)?
I think romance and erotica are popular, but I also think readers are discriminating. There is a lot of competition and there are a lot of good writers in the genre. It’s probably one of the most saturated genres, too.
I think I got lucky and was in the right place at the right time (being one of the first erotic romance authors with books on PubIt) and my work ended up getting noticed. That, right there, for an indie writer, is your biggest obstacle. Getting your work noticed. So as much as I hate to say it – I don’t have to market my erotica nearly as much as I have to market my fantasy and mystery novels. It may have also helped that I was already a best-selling Indie author with my non-fiction. But I worked hard marketing my non-fiction to build a name for myself there. I have noticed my non-fiction has helped to increase my fiction sales since a lot of the people who read my non-fiction also read fiction. I do some marketing though. Don’t get me wrong. I’m constantly marketing. I don’t think I do any less work than you average indie. Writing is still a business.
What are your thoughts on ebook pricing? I see that, across your pen names, you’ve got prices that range from 99 cents to $9.99.
I think pricing is what gives the Indie e-book author some advantage over the traditional publishing model. An example to illustrate my point – I wanted to read the latest Charlaine Harris. But because she’s so popular, the big six publisher she’s with is charging $12.99 for the Kindle book. Sorry to say, but as a reader, I’m not paying $12.99 for a novel unless I’m buying a physical copy of the book. But I will gladly buy two or three Indie paranormal mystery/romance novels for $3.99 each (provided the samples look promising). So when I price my books, I look at it from a reader’s perspective. As an unknown fantasy author, $1.99 isn’t bad for a fantasy novel that’s been out for several years. It keeps my sales steady and slowly grows my audience. But I’m still not charging rock bottom prices for an 80K word novel. That novel took a long time to write and I deserve to get paid. And you better bet that when the third book in the series comes out next year, I’m charging $3.99 for it and after it’s been out six months I’ll drop it to $2.99 and after a year, down to $1.99 with the rest of them.
Mystery is a hotter seller than fantasy. I can get away with starting the books at $4.99, dropping them to $3.99 after six months, and finally letting them rest at $2.99. With non-fiction – you can get away with higher pricing. Since most of my NF is around the 200 page mark – I put all new releases at $9.99 and for the NF chapbooks – between $2.99 – 7.99. For short stories under 10K, .99 cents and for my fantasy short story collection – also .99 cents.
With the erotica I chose to create my own little pricing system that seems to be working for me, .99 cents for short stories under 10K, $1.99 up to 15K, $2.99 for anything longer. However, I am considering putting a $3.99 price tag on the next erotica novel to see what happens (since I might be able to get away with that price now that I have an audience). I also have a series of erotic horror short stories coming out at .99 cents each and another novella that will likely price between $1.99-$2.99 (won’t know until the revision is done).
Do you have any tips for new indie authors looking to break into the e-publishing scene?
I guess first and foremost I’d say don’t get into e-publishing because you think it’s a quick buck. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I know who decided to jump into writing when they heard my books were doing so well because they thought it was a get-rich-quick scheme. So many of them were like, “If she can do it, so can I. It can’t be that hard.”
Then, after a few months, they found themselves upset and frustrated when they weren’t getting the same sales I was. Like I said, my success seems to be an exception rather than the rule and I suspect that while it was probably a combination of luck, pricing, the popularity of e-books and the popularity of erotic romance, I also think it may have something to do with the fact that I’ve been writing for thirty years. Just concentrate on writing good stories. Readers always have been and always will be the real gatekeepers. You never know when something you write will get noticed. What becomes popular may not be, in your opinion, your best work either. Also know that you need to keep producing. Never bank an entire career on one book. Writers who can make a career out of writing are prolific, self-disciplined, and they can consistently produce at least one to two books a year. Not only that, but all books have a life cycle. You’ll make the bulk of your book sales in the first 3-6 months after it comes out and then it’s going to taper off. If you aren’t consistently putting out new material sales will eventually level off.
Great information. Thanks for the interview!