Free As A Sales Tool – Interview with Indie Writer Lizzy Ford

I am always interested in fresh approaches and new ideas. The whole concept of “free as a sales tool” is fascinating to me.

I’ve seen people use a number of different approaches, but what is most common is to make a short story free, or sometimes the first book in a series free, in the hope that you will lure readers in.

Lizzy Ford has a very different approach, and she kindly agreed to answer my questions. After reading this interview, I’m sure you will have some yourself, and Lizzy has agreed to drop by later, so please leave them in the comments.

***

Hi Lizzy. You have quite a few books out at the moment, why don’t you start off by telling us about them. 

Sure!  I have two series started and a couple of single-titles.

The Damian series (Damian’s Oracle and Damian’s Assassin) is a YA/paranormal romance series.  It’s been my most popular, though my worst written.  Ha!

They’re going under revision this summer for re-release prior to the third book, Damian’s Immortal, being released in December.  The Damian series highlights the present day battle between the White and Black gods of Slavic mythology.

The Gods are fighting for the fate of humanity while trying to find Naturals, humans with extraordinary talents, who can help them.  Enter the third god, the Grey God, whose appearance throws everyone for a loop, and a handful of Naturals with the ability to change the course of the war, and you’ve got a fun, quick-paced series!

The Rhyn Trilogy is also a YA/paranormal romance series that I launched in May and had the benefit of being hacked apart by my editor.  The reviews, so far, are awesome, and I think this series will surpass the Damian series soon in terms of popularity.

The first book, Katie’s Hellion, features a young woman named Katie and her immortal mate, Rhyn, an immortal outcast from the immortal society because he can’t control his power.  They meet, discover they’re destined to be together and have a hard time understanding the world the other came from.  The trilogy is focused on their growth as a couple while they also struggle with their newfound responsibilities to the immortal world.

My single titles include: The Warlord’s Secret (YA/fantasy romance released in April) and Maddy’s Oasis (contemporary western romance), which will be released in two weeks.  I also have a short story entitled Mind Cafe out that’s also undergoing revision.  People like that one for some reason.

And why did you decide to self-publish?

I couldn’t get an agent or editor or publisher to give me the time of day.  I tried off and on for ten years (and hundreds of rejections or no-responses.)

Was it an easy decision? Was there anything you were worried about?

It was a difficult decision in that the e-pub/self-pub world was new to me and because I believed what I’d always been told about self-pub: only writers who weren’t good enough for a real publisher did it. I feared the issue of not being seen as legitimate.

Sometimes we worry about stupid things like that.  I realized at long last that my end goal was to get my books into the hands of readers.  Period.

What have been the highlights for you so far?

Feedback from my readers.  They’re fantastic, fun, and I’ve learned so much from their feedback.  I never expected there to be such wonderful interaction with my readers!

Every writer is different, so I would like to hear a little about your process. Do you race through drafts, adding layers and details as you go? Or do you plan everything out meticulously, so when you are finished a chapter it’s pretty much done?

I write multiple projects at once, the downfall of an overactive mind and MTV-generation attention span.  It depends on the project.  Some of them I write in layers, if I don’t like a character and need to go back, and some of them I write start to finish, if I’ve come to terms with who my characters are.

Many of my stories are like movies in my head, but I can’t keep up with them as much as I try, and they’re always changing and morphing into something else.  I never plan, outline, or otherwise structure my writing until it’s all written, then I go back and harmonize details.

I’m one of those people who can’t color in the lines, so I have a problem with structure (and, um, sometimes authority.  Ha!)

What about editing? Is that a slow process for you, or just a matter of cleaning up?

I edit as I go, then I normally do two full-length revisions that’ll take a weekend.  Finally, I send it to my editor!  I hired a freelance fiction editor in April to help me evolve my writing and polish my books.

Tell us a little about your website Guerrilla Wordfare, you have a few things going on there.

I started the site as both a platform for me to launch my writing career and also as a forum for sharing self-pub and writing tips with other indies.

Everyone asks me about the visual: the house with a line through it and my awesome pink camouflage.  It’s simply meant to signify that we don’t need the publishing house to be successful writers; we can do it ourselves by using technology, lessons learned from the publishing industry, and creative internet marketing/selling techniques, i.e. guerrilla publishing tactics.

You mentioned your readers earlier, and you seem to have a great dialogue going with your readers on your website. How did you first reach out to them? How did they find you? 

I think they found me.  Hahaha!  I don’t know how it started.  I post a link to my website everywhere I am online, and I invite people to drop by and leave comments. People did, and I just respond to them.

I noticed that your books are available for free on your website. I’m very interested with this strategy. What was your thinking? Has it had any effect?

All my books are free everywhere but Amazon.  If I could make them free on Amazon, I would!

In learning about what made the difference between a writer with long term financial stability and one without, I found those who are stable financially had two things going for them: a huge readership and a huge backlist.

We (we = my husband and I!) did some more research and gave it a lot of thought as to how to build both readership and backlist fast in order to set up a foundation for my transition to becoming a full-time writer.

I’m a prolific writer; I have something like 65 projects I want to write or have started.  So we decided on my 12-12 Challenge, where I’m releasing 12 books in 2011, all for free.

People laugh, but it’s worked well.  We post my books on no less than a dozen different free sites for people to download and average about 13,000 downloads of my books a month.  That’s potentially 13,000 readers a month who are learning my name and where to find me.

On Amazon, where my books are .99, I averaged 30-40 sales a month up until May, where we hit 468, and we’re on track in June to exceed 600.  I should be over 1,000 reviews and ratings by now from all the different sites, which also helps me track what works best where and refine my target audience.

The difference between even 600 and 13,000 is, well, insane.  I’d rather have my books in the hands of 13,000 people.  I actively tell people to read my books for free – then buy them if they like them.  This tactic seems to be catching on.

In December, my marketing strategy will shift.  We’re looking at a subscription service for 2012 where readers will receive 6-9 books in 2012 for a set price.  We’ll also stop releasing books for free as of December.

From there, we have a few more ideas, to include a trial Book-on-Demand, where the readers will vote what kind of book they want me to write and will get to pick things like the setting, characters, genre, etc., and I’ll write it for them.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to marketing, selling, and generally building an engaged readership.

What are your plans for the future?

For now, I’ll keep my day job until I pay off all my debt then transition into full-time-writerhood, hopefully in late 2012!

As for 2011 plans, here’s my line-up:

June: Maddy’s Oasis, contemporary western romance novella; Mind Café (literary fiction, short story; revised/edited for re-release)

July: Kiera’s Moon, contemporary sci-fi/fantasy romance

August: Katie’s Hope (Book Two, Rhyn Trilogy)

September: Damian’s Oracle (revised/edited for re-release); Rebel Heart, futuristic romance

October: A Demon’s Desire; contemporary paranormal romance

November: Damian’s Assassin (revised/edited for re-release); Special paperback trilogy release of: Damian’s Oracle, Damian’s Assassin, and Damian’s Immortal

December: Damian’s Immortal (ebook version)

I’ve got one more book I want to release in December, but I’m not sure I’ll have the time. If I can, I’ll launch another trilogy in December.

Looking back, what advice do you wish you were given before you started? Is there anything you would have done differently?

I didn’t hire a book editor until book 3, and the difference between books 1 and 2 and books 3 and 4 was just astounding.  I thought I was a good writer and had good grammar, until my editor returned my first manuscript.  There wasn’t just red on every page, there was red on nearly every line!  In hindsight, I would’ve hired her before I released my first two books.

Do you have any tips for anyone who is considering self-publishing, or just starting out?

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of professional covers and editing.  Conquer these, and you’ll find people stop comparing you to other self-pubbed authors and start comparing you to NYT authors. A good book editor isn’t cheap, but it’s the best investment you can make starting out.

2. Join a writers’ support group, but be selective about which one.  The group David and I belong to is filled with supportive professionals, and they’re wonderful.  I’ve been a member of other groups that were basically pyramid scams for a few writers who were trying to get everyone to buy their books.  Avoid those!

3. Interact with your readers and other writers.  As far as our world has come with technology, the human touch still counts.

4. Time spent on things other than writing = words lost forever.  Automate your online presence as much as you can (via RSS feeds, etc.), and prioritize the rest.

5. Write now, money later.  Focus on the craft, not the cash.  Indie publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

***

I would like to thank Lizzy for taking the time to answer my questions in such detail. I will be watching her progress with great interest over the next year as she transitions from free work to charging for her content. It’s an innovative (and brave) approach and I wish her all the best.

You can check out her work (for free) by clicking any of the links above, and you can find information all of her books on her website.

If anyone is curious about the group that Lizzy was referring to, it’s called Indie Writers Unite! It’s Facebook group where anyone is free to join, where we share marketing ideas, arrange author interviews and blog tours, and offer each other advice and support.

As I mentioned at the top, if you have any questions for Lizzy about this or anything else, please leave them in the comments and she will be along later.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.