In 2013 Faith Justice listed her book Hypatia: Her Life and Times on Amazon, both in Kindle and paperback format. In 2016 it appeared in the The Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative (FL) as an e-book, both in MOBI (Kindle) and EPUB (Apple, etc.) format. How?
It is a well-written, non-academic book about a controversial woman living in Alexandria in the Fifth Century ACE, then a part of the Roman Empire. Not only does it tell the story of how Hypatia was murdered in 415 by a Christian mob, it also reviews other accounts of Hypatia, both ancient and modern, and the 2009 film about her, Agora. We contacted Faith and asked her some questions about getting books out there in e-book format.
S. Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?
FJ. After I wrote my first novel Selene of Alexandria (featuring Hypatia as a major supporting character), I went the traditional route of pitching to agents and directly to small publishers. The response was generally positive. Lots of “love your writing” and “great characters,” but it usually ended with “historical fiction isn’t selling right now—unless you write about the Tudors.” After three years, I landed an agent, turned over all my notes on who I had contacted and what imprints had nibbled, and happily went back to writing my third novel (I wrote the second while pitching and won a first place award for it in historical fiction in a local writing contest). After another three years, my agent dumped me. I had spent nine years writing three novels and was a lady of (ahem) a certain age. It felt like I didn’t have a lot of time left to start over with the traditional route.
About this time, the Kindle made its mark. Print on demand (POD) became available at reasonable costs. I decided to experiment and put my first novel out to see if there was an audience for my writing before investing any more of my life in fiction. Part of my marketing plan was a series of blog and guest posts on Hypatia and historical Alexandria that eventually became Hypatia: Her Life and Times . Another part of my marketing plan was to pitch to reviewers. Selene garnered excellent reviews from the Historical Novel Society, the readers at LibraryThing.com, and dozens of independent bloggers. Both efforts generated enough buzz and sales that I never looked back. I did have an audience so I self-published all my novels and short collections.
S. How did you get your book turned into both the MOBI and EPUB format? Did you do it yourself or contract it out?
FJ. I knew I was in the self-publishing game for the long haul and wanted to know how all the pieces worked—even if later I contracted work out. I took an online course from Dean Wesley Smith on designing and producing e-books which recommended software for conversion. I use Jutoh because it gives me more precise control, but there are a number of other free and low-cost options. For folks who don’t want to do the conversions or distribution, companies like Smashwords and Draft2Digital offer these services—free conversions and a small percentage of sales for distribution.
S. It’s a really nice graphic on the cover. Same question as above. Did you design it yourself or contract it out?
FJ. Both. I contracted the cover of Selene and when I did Hypatia I wanted it to look like a companion book. I used the same basic color scheme and fonts and found that perfect image of a brass astrolabe at istockphoto.com. Because I didn’t want to learn Photoshop just then, my talented daughter put the whole thing together for me for a “friends and family” rate.
S. In an earlier communication, I was apparently the first to tell you about The Hillsborough Library acquiring your e-book version of Hypatia: Her Life and Times (although not the printed version). In my opinion, this is a cause for celebration: thousands of potential readers, some of whom might want to purchase their own copy. (It could even be a résumé item!) Do you find it unusual that this library system (and possibly others) didn’t notify you of their purchase? Any theories on how they may have found out about it?
FJ. I was thrilled to find out that your library had purchased my e-book! I have a soft spot for libraries and always hoped my books would be on library shelves somewhere—even digital. As a child, my biggest thrill was visiting the county library while my mom went grocery shopping. The librarians knew me for an avid reader and put books aside for me, even allowing me in the stacks.
Not knowing about the purchase is not unusual. The distributors only report the number of sales and my royalties. How the library found out about my book is more interesting. Hypatia’s life fascinates people. I fell in love with her story and researched it for years, why wouldn’t others? Since publishing Hypatia: Her Life and Times I’ve had people contact me from all over the world. I sell books in Japan, Brazil, Mexico, India, and Europe, as well as the US and UK. I did a radio interview/podcast for Science and the People in Canada and another from Australia. A professor from the University of Hawaii contacted me for desk copies for possible use in a college course. I assume the library did a search on Hypatia and my work came up. For serious academics I always recommend the two sources I used most heavily in my own work, but for the casual reader, my little book will do.
S. What tactics have you been using to market your book so people will find it?
FJ. For Hypatia in particular, almost none. I put out Hypatia as a labor of love and a favor for my readers. Most of the content (but not all) is available on my website where I have a blurb at the bottom of each included essay with links to the book. I didn’t charge for the e-book for a year until I put out the print version, and I offer a free PDF copy to students and others who can’t afford the modest amount of the e-book. It’s still my best seller.
As an author with six books (and two more to come this year), I do some standard things. I pitch new books to reviewers and do the blog rounds. I regularly post on my blog, and am active in a couple of reader’s groups: Goodreads and LibraryThing.com which I really enjoy—because I’m a reader as well as a writer. I also maintain my Amazon author’s page, but I have no way of knowing how much good any of those efforts generate. An author friend says, “The best marketing is putting out the next book.” I hope he’s right!
Back to pitching libraries, I took a free webinar from Amy Collins of New Shelves on how to get my books in libraries a couple of months ago and put that task on my to-do list where it languishes with most of my advanced marketing tasks. I’ve discovered that I really, really hate the marketing end! Which is why it’s such a pleasure when people like you discover me and ask for an interview. Thanks for letting me share my passion about Hypatia with your readers. If anyone has questions about Hypatia, the book, self-publishing, or my days helping on the Bookmobile, I’ll be happy to answer in the comments section or contact me through my website. Thanks!
About Faith Justice (Use Inner Scroll Bars)