Self Publishing in Sweden?
Getting a publisher to take a chance on you and publish your work is often even tougher than writing a novel in the first place. Three years ago, Emelie Schepp got tired of waiting for the big publishing houses to get back to her on her manuscript so she decided to publish her crime novel, Marked for Life, on her own. Six months later she had sold 40,000 copies and today she is Sweden’s most successful self-published author. We recently had the opportunity to ask her some questions.
When did you realize that you wanted to spend your time solely on writing?
I had worked for many years as a project manager in the advertising industry. In November 2011, I came to a point where I wanted to write more than just advertising texts. I decided to take a weekend class for writing screenplays. The course was led by Steve Kaplan, the comedy-writing guru. Afterward, I was so inspired that I immediately wrote two very long plays that I later on sent to various movie production companies. Shortly thereafter, I read an article about one of Sweden’s famous directors in which he explained how difficult it is to get funding support for movies in Sweden, especially when the screenplays are long. As I read the interview, I wondered, “If he does not receive support, how then would I ever get it?” And then: “What if I write a book instead?” In a book I can write as many scenes as I want and the production cost will barely change. So I decided to write a book.
Every night when the kids had fallen asleep, I sat down in front of my computer and wrote. Setting aside time to write a story is most important when you want to be a writer. It may sound simple, but it is really difficult. And absolutely necessary. I wrote every night, sometimes only one word, sometimes twenty pages. It really didn’t matter how long I wrote; what mattered was that I actually sat down and did it.
When and how did you make the decision to become a self-publisher?
In September 2012, I had my first draft completed and I sent it to all of the biggest publishing houses in Sweden. Then I waited for them to get back to me. In Sweden, it takes at least three months before you can expect an answer from the publishers. But it took only two weeks to receive a reply from the first publishing house. I knew that if it only takes two weeks to receive a letter from a publisher, it is “Thank you, but no thank you.” And it was.
I waited three months and during that time the other publishers had not answered me at all. So I decided to call them, and I asked them if they had had the opportunity to review my manuscript, but I was told “Not yet.” When I hung up the phone, I was a little bit depressed. I had learned that it is very difficult to get a publisher in Sweden. And what would I do if every publisher said no? Should I give up? No. There must be some way that I could get my book published. So I started searching for alternative options. On the Internet, I found a whole world of indie publishers. I learned about self-publishing. When six months had passed since I initially submitted my manuscript, I called the publishing house for the second time and got the same answer: they still had not read my novel. I decided not to wait for them any longer. I told them to throw away my manuscript because I would publish my book on my own. I would make my own success.
What part of the process in self-publishing has been most challenging?
To be taken seriously. There is a suspicion of self-published books that they don’t have the same quality as books that are published traditionally. But the readers do not care whether a book is self-published or not. They are only looking for a good, entertaining story. Fortunately, the industry is changing, and self-published books are becoming more important and more accepted. Thanks to the new technology with self-publishing services such as Print on Demand and e-books, it is easier to publish a book. The big challenge, though, is marketing. You have to earn your place in the stores, and it applies to all writers, self-published or not.
What is the most important lesson you learned from self-publishing?
You have to put all your effort into selling your book. Just like any other company, you have to work hard and invest your time. Sure it’s tough but if you see your book as a hobby, you will get the same results as a hobby. I also learned that I couldn’t do everything on my own. I had to hire some professional help as an editor/proofreader/graphic designer. And it was the best thing I could do. Another important lesson I have learned is that you have to meet your readers. Nowadays, when people speak to one another almost exclusively through social media, it is even more important to meet your readers face to face, convince them why they should choose your book above all the others. And never forget that it is the story that sells; if the story is good, the reader will recommend it to others. Therefore, as a self-published author, you should dare to contact retailers, and most important, you shouldn’t be afraid to get a no. What’s the worst that could happen? You get a no. You don’t explode.
You are Sweden’s most successful self-publisher. What is the secret behind the success?
First and foremost, the readers have liked Marked for Life. Then I would say it is hard work. I am very dedicated to my craft and I love to write. I also set goals and always work on strategies to accomplish those goals.
But how did you manage to sell 40 000 copies on your own?
First of all, I made my own web page. There are many great and free websites out there, and I chose WordPress. I also signed up for Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I reached out to book bloggers and offered them a free book if they promised to read it. It is very expensive to send out books, so it is better to write a personal letter first and when you are sure that the blogger is interested in you and your book, then you send it to them. I also decided that I needed to meet my readers face to face. So I made my own signing tour in Sweden. I visited as many retailers as I could in six months. As a debut author, you don’t have hundreds of people waiting in line to get the book signed so I tried to convince everyone who walked by that my book was the best one. Not everyone bought my book, and even though hand-selling is good, to be seen is also very important. And I always say: even if only a few people bought your book at a signing, at least they saw you and the book. Next time they visit a bookstore, they will probably recognize the cover of your book, and maybe they will buy it.
In the beginning, I also wrote e-mails to all the local newspapers. I told them about my book, and myself, and attached my photo and a photo of the book cover. Depending on the paper or magazine, I wrote differently. And it is always good to find different hooks. If you are a carpenter during the day, you should look for magazines that want to write about “the carpenter who wrote a book.” If your book is about a man who loves fishing, then perhaps a fishing magazine wants to write about you. I have appeared in many magazines such as running magazines, entrepreneur magazines, and women’s magazines. All interviews have different subjects. Finally, I decided to always carry a copy of the book with me because I never know when a potential reader would show up. Recently I met a person in the grocery store who was very sad that she couldn’t make it to my signing. And she was almost in tears when I sold her a signed copy that I had in my handbag. She will always remember that and also talk to her friends about it. Being friendly and service-minded is also a key to success.
And remember: It is only you who can sign, talk about the book, and attend author readings —so just do it! I actually attended everything I could. It took effort and time, but you have to invest both if you want to be a bestseller.
How do you see the future of self-publishing versus traditional publishing ?
Self-publishing will play an increasing role in the future. The big publishing houses are keeping an eye on self-publishing books, and if sales are going well, they will most likely offer the author a contract. Therefore, I believe that self-publishing will become the new way of breaking into traditional publishing..
Summary of Emelie Schepps top ten tips for self-publishing:
* Set aside time to write a good story. It may sound simple, but it is really difficult. And absolutely necessary.
* You can’t do everything on your own. And you shouldn’t. Hire professional help as an editor/proofreader/graphic designer.
* Promote the book. You have to convince your readers why they should choose your book among all the others.
* When you contact retailers, don’t be afraid to get a no. What’s the worst that could happen? You get a no. You don’t explode. Don’t give up; next time you will get yes.
* Use social media such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to reach out to your readers. Also create your own website.
* Selling is good, but being seen is also very important. Even if no one bought your book at a signing, at least they saw you and the book. The next time they visit a bookstore, they probably will recognize the cover of your book and perhaps buy it.
* It is only you who can sign, talk about the book, and attend author readings—so just do it!
* Get in touch with book bloggers who blog in your genre; also attend reading groups and send e-mails to reviewers.
* Where does your book sell? If you live in a small town, contact the local newspaper. Are you a carpenter during the day? See if a magazine wants to write about “the carpenter who wrote a book.” Is your book about a man who loves fishing? Perhaps a fishing club wants to sell it to their members?
* And always have a copy with you; you never know when a buyer will show up.