Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Other Side Of The Coin

Last week, on a guest blog, I wrote about why I am (for now, anyway) choosing to stay with a small press. So, to show my flexibility, I invited USA Today best-selling author Ava Miles to my blog today, to discuss why she chose to go the independent route. Her debut novel, Nora Roberts Land, hit the USA Today bestseller list, so she's obviously doing some things right, and I think we can all learn a thing or two. My chapter mates and I came up with a list of questions for Ava, and she was gracious enough to respond to them. So, without further ado, here's Ava! 

Hi all! I’m Ava Miles, a new contemporary romance writer who launched her debut novel, NORA ROBERTS LAND, last summer after receiving Nora Robert’s blessing to use her name in the premise and the title. Since then, I’ve released six books, four single titles, one novella, and one anthology. Whew! Even writing that is making me tired. Thanks to Becky for having me on today to talk about being an Indy publisher. I like that word so much better since my brother’s nickname for me is Indy from Indiana Jones since I used to travel to some pretty exotic places before quitting that career (also last summer) and going all in being my own CEO and full-time writer.

What path did you take to self-publication? Were you first with a traditional publisher and then branched out?
No, I started out straight Indy. I pursued the traditional route first. I had the most wonderful agent, Jennifer Schober from Spencerhill. Both she and I were convinced that NORA ROBERTS LAND would be well received. But New York didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Some passed outright, not liking the Nora angle, wondering if it would alienate non-Nora readers. Others said they loved my voice, but since they didn’t publish Nora… And Nora’s publisher thought it was a conflict of interest. And then there were still others who didn’t know what to do with it. I have a pretty big voice, and well, with the Nora angle, I didn’t fit into a category. So, right as Jenn and I were coming to realize that maybe we just needed to put this in the hands of readers since we believed they would love it, she up and left the business for personal reasons. Well, if that wasn’t confirmation, I don’t know what was. I had written the next two books in the series while waiting on submission, so decided to…ah, quit my old career of rebuilding warzones in places like The Congo and launch myself big-time. That means releasing the first three books in the Dare Valley series six weeks apart. It was intense.

But here’s the lesson I want everyone to take away from my journey: you voice is precious and has an audience. Don’t allow someone else to make you think otherwise, not even the “experts.” You have the power. You have choices. Thank God, we now live in an age where the stories from our hearts can reach readers despite what the gatekeepers say. That is powerful. You are powerful. Believe that. Believe in yourself. And nothing can stop you, not even the little dips in the road as you grow and learn your craft and your career.

Was Nora Roberts Land your first book?
I’d been writing since I was young and was learning my craft over time. I learn by doing. So, I had some unfinished manuscripts, but then I had a breakthrough and delved in big time. That’s when I completed a story and from then on, writing changed my life.

Did you have a reader base when you began?
No, I had zip. Zero. Nada. Because of the other career’s security issues, I wasn’t even on Facebook (I mean my parents were even on FB LOL). So, that was another reason the launch was so intense. All of the sudden, I was on FB, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. It was a steep learning curve, and I’m still learning and building.

What is one of the most important steps a self-published author must do?
I’ve learned you always need to have a strategy and point your compass there. I’m continuing to revise mine since my knowledge expands and well…the interfaces we work with change (all that algorithm stuff). I also think you need to have a lot of product ready to go and a way to keep feeding the systems. Right now, your rankings drop if you don’t upload something every 30 days on Amazon. Think of that! Every thirty days. I realized that even the big boys are playing the system when I saw James Patterson upload a sample of all of his first chapters. That’s James “freaking” Patterson, folks. So, you have to make some decisions about how to do that if you’re going to play. And if you can’t, you have to make peace with it. One of the first things I noticed among the top Indy authors was them saying it’s hard work (true) and that they were exhausted (I understand). I don’t believe that I have to work harder than a traditionally published author just starting out. She’s having to do her own PR the same as I am. I just happen to have more control than she does about when I go on sale or changing my key words on the major retailers. The other things you need to do, of course, are find an incredible editor, make sure you have a kick-butt cover, and that you’re getting enough reviews to make your product desirable to your intended audience.

And then act like your own CEO. You are NOT only a writer. You are an executive. It’s a huge difference. I know how to write books, I feel like now. Will my craft continue to improve with frequency? Sure. But I am still learning how to be a CEO. The good thing is that I managed a whole lot of people in my old career, set strategies, and created and executed budgets. I am learning how to transfer those skills to Ava Miles Inc. to support my publishing house. If you really want to succeed, I think that’s the special area we all need to continue to concentrate on.

No author is an island - this can be especially hard for indie authors -
who do you have on your 'team' to help you produce and promote your novels?
Well, as I mentioned, I’ve been experiencing with the types of employees that best suit my needs. I have the best editor in the world and a fantastic copy editor. They’ve worked with me from the beginning and know my voice. Continuity has been key. I’ve recently made a change with my eformatting. I don’t format my manuscripts myself. I think I would go bonkers. J I have an author assistant who manages anything from mailings to blog tours. And I’ve decided to bring my covers in-house since I have access to an excellent graphical artist and wanted more creative control. I’ve worked with publicists before and am not convinced they are worth the investment yet, but I continue to experiment. The important thing is to not get into a rut. Companies grow through innovation and trying new things. That’s why I keep experimenting. I plan to release a songbook that includes the songs that I wrote for my current release, COUNTRY HEAVEN, as a free book with an excerpt. Then I’ll see how it goes from there. Trying out different price points is essential since every reader has one.

What have you been able to 'tackle' yourself on this self-pub journey and what did you decide you needed outside expertise with?
Well, I feel pretty confident when it comes to social media now. I loved Twitter in the beginning and felt very comfortable there. But then I read Marie Force’s self-publishing survey. Her findings indicated readers are on Facebook and not Twitter (that could be changing, but I find it’s mostly true yet). So, I delved into Facebook and now spend most of my time there. Otherwise, I’ve talked a lot about the resources I’ve needed above.

You are one fish in a very large ocean of indie authors. What do you think accounts for your success?
I have to admit, I am still surprised when people call me “successful.” I have other writer friends who tell me that, but I also know what my goals are. I have met some, including making USA Today. That was an awesome moment! Others are still outstanding, and I’m pursuing them. I’ll tell you what I’ve been told frequently makes me successful since I’m a pretty humble gal: having a great title for my first book in the series (the journey to receive Nora’s blessing was special) and being professional. I’ve been told by a lot of readers and writers that they don’t know I’m Indy published. It doesn’t even cross their mind until they go into a bookstore and can’t find my book. That to me is the greatest compliment EVER.

What has been the best part of this self-pub journey? What has been the most challenging?
The best part has been the writing, of course, and the ability to put out books when I have them finished. I don’t know what I would do if I was told I could only write two books a year. Or that I had to wait 18-24 months for it to be published. I guess I could go to Bali or something.

I LOVE to write. It makes me deliriously happy, and doing it full-time…well, it’s bliss.

Now, the most challenging part has been learning the “system,” which I am still doing big-time. The algorithm, metadata, rankings stuff. That’s the part that has made me want to beat my head against the door. It’s critical to our success, it changes often, and it’s complex. But the good news for me is that I rebuilt complex systems overseas, so on days when I doubt myself (I have them like we all do), I remind myself that I can do this too.

You released a number of novels in a very short time frame, was that part of your marketing strategy? Did you have a strategy before you began?
I think I covered this point above. I LOVE strategy, and yes, it’s critical to success. I think you might be able to wing it with one or two books, but again, what CEO doesn’t have a strategy?

For a limited time, Nora Roberts Land is on sale for $2.99. Here's a bit about Ava's debut novel:
Journalist Meredith Hale's ex-husband claimed her Nora Roberts addiction gave her unrealistic expectations about marriage, and she believed him. All dreams of happily ever after--or Nora Roberts Land as her mother calls it--went up in smoke. But when her family asks her to temporarily help their Dare Valley, Colorado newspaper, she decides it's time to change her life and prove her ex wrong. She's determined to find her own small-town Nora Roberts hero, prove that true love exists, and publish a story about her quest.

War correspondent Tanner McBride has just returned stateside to work for a major newspaper, and the last thing he expects is blackmail. Yet, before he can even unpack, he's headed to Colorado. His assignment? Make his boss's ex-wife fall for him and then break her heart. Her article about discovering love à la Nora might air dirty laundry about her marriage to the media mogul, threatening his senate run. The mogul wants Meredith stopped, and he makes sure Tanner has no choice in the matter.

When the two meet, the sparks between them are undeniable. Meredith, who vowed never to date another journalist, begins to succumb. Could Tanner be her Nora Roberts hero? As they work together to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death, the depth of their feelings unfolds and both realize they've kept their secrets for far too long. But before the truth can be revealed, their investigation takes a deadly turn, one that might make Meredith's personal Nora Roberts Land go up in flames.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY: USA Today Bestselling Author Ava Miles burst onto the contemporary romance scene after receiving Nora Roberts' blessing for her use of Ms. Roberts' name in her debut novel, the #1 National Bestseller NORA ROBERTS LAND, which kicked off her small town series, Dare Valley. Ava has also released a connected series called Dare River, set outside the country music capital of Nashville. She's fast becoming a favorite author in light contemporary romance (Tome Tender).


  1. Thanks for sharing your journey. It shows us all not to give up on a dream.

  2. Ava,
    You could single-handedly cast a winning light on Indy Publishing. I've met some who jump in without much respect or knowledge for the craft of writing. I am fortunate to have the best of both with a small publisher whose business is growing. I love the premise for your Nora Roberts Land story - I am a devoted Nora reader - and your voice even in the blurb comes through loud and clear. All the best to you and I will pass your name to friends who aspire to become Indy writers.
    Nancy Kay

  3. Ava, thank you for sharing your courageous writing journey with us. And Becky,thanks for a great post. Awesome!

  4. Fantastic interview. Thank you Ava for sharing your insight.

  5. Thanks for this post Becky. Ava I had to admit that I bought Nora Roberts land out of anger that you were trading on her name. I quickly changed my mind once I read that Nora had given her blessing. I quickly got into the story, loved the concept, and finding myself pulling out some of the Nora books to find the passages you mentioned. I loved your voice and the story. I'll be back at Amazon for more.

  6. Thank you so much for this beautifully written , insightful post. Your book sounds so fun. I'm going to check it out now.

  7. Thanks for sharing. Your journey is inspirational.

  8. What a great post! Thank you for sharing so candidly, Ava.

  9. Hi ladies! Thanks so much for your lovely comments. I actually wrote one yesterday, but it looks like the gremlins ate it. I am so glad it inspired some of you! I continue to wish you all the best in your own journey!

  10. What a great, inspiring interview. I, too, wondered how you were able to use Nora Roberts' name until I saw that you got her permission. Sounds like you covered all the bases. You are an inspiration with how you delved in, learned social media, and made it happen. Thanks for the tips and happy writing.

  11. You sound so organized! I also have put together a small team, such as three editors, and I had someone making covers, but decided to do them myself. I have an art degree, he, he. I also heard that Facebook is an important place, but am still figuring out how best to use it. Congrats on writing fast! I wish!
    Nancy Lee Badger

  12. Thanks, Ava, for an enlightening post. And thanks, everyone who fought through blogger to leave a comment. I appreciate your time and participation.

  13. Great interview! Thanks for sharing so much wonderful information!

  14. Great interview, ladies...wonderful insights into the world of self-pub. It is a new world for writers and I think, even when you publish through small houses, you have to manage your own promotions. Being the CEO is the key, as you say, Ava and it sounds like your strategies are perfect. Thank you for sharing them.

  15. I would love to pick your brain over a cup of coffee, Ava!

  16. Ava, you are delightful and I've enjoyed reading your journey. Thanks for portraying the Indy world in its best light. Wishing you ongoing success... I'm going to check out your original story now.

  17. Thanks for sharing, Ava and Becky. I think the title is brilliant and the book must be as well. :)