Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors #7 - William Malmborg

Today I bring you the final long-awaited interview in the popular series Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors. Today's guest is author William Malmborg who is a successful writer of dark psychological horror/thriller fiction. From William's Amazon bio: "William Malmborg has been publishing short stories in horror magazines and dark fiction anthologies since 2002. In addition, four of his novels, JIMMY, TEXT MESSAGE, NIKKI'S SECRET and DARK HARVEST, are all available, as is a short story collection titled SCRAPING THE BONE that features five previously published and five original tales of horror. When not writing William caters to the whims of Toby and Truman, two cats who reside with him in Wheaton, IL."

Who are you and where do you come from? Do you think that your life experience has gone someway towards making you a successful author in your chosen genre?

My name is William Malmborg and I live in the Chicago suburbs.  It's hard to say whether or not my life experiences have played a part in my success simply because this is the only path I have taken.  I came into the publishing world during an interesting time.  For the first five years of my career, magazines were still printing stories and you submitted everything via the mail.  Social media wasn't a thing yet, and I had my first story published by a magazine before I had an internet connection on my computer.  During the second half of my career, magazines began to disappear, many of them with stories of mine that were supposed to be published, and publishing houses began to get goofy.  And then ebooks hit the marketplace, which opened up a whole new road toward publishing success.  Given all this, I think the fact that my first several years were spent in the trenches of the traditional publishing world – interacting with editors at magazines, facing rejection with work that wasn't ready for publication, and having other stories bought and published that were ready – helped in giving me an edge when the ebook marketplace arrived.            

Did you try to get publishing contracts for your books early on with traditional book publishers? If so, did you have any success there or if not what was it that made you decide to self-publish the majority of your work?

For the first ten years of my writing career, traditional publishing was the only real route an author could take if they wanted to make a living.  During that time, my short stories sold frequently to horror and suspense magazines, but my novels had a difficult time.  Just having a publisher agree to read the first fifty pages seemed a monumental success, and if they then wanted to read the entire thing . . . well, let’s just say that such was so rare that it in itself was a moment worthy of celebration. 

My novel JIMMY was the one that I strived the hardest to have published during that early period of my career, though I did have others, TEXT MESSAGE, SIMPLE LIES and THE MISSING KID, which publishers looked at as well.  Nothing was ever accepted during those early years of submission, the typical reason being that the editors felt the serial killers within my novels were too likable, and that readers would have a difficult time dealing with that.  “Who do they root for?” was a common question they asked.  Year after year, this went on, until finally Don D’Auria at Dorchester Publishing informed me (a year after I had submitted the novel) that he really enjoyed JIMMY, and that he would like to make an offer on it.  First, however, it needed some rewrites, specifically the portions of the novel written in the interview format.  He wanted the entire thing as a third person novel.  Two months later, I sent him the new version of JIMMY, one that was actually better than the original version had been.  Following that, sale imminent, I went on to do some self-imposed rewrites for TEXT MESSAGE, because I felt that would be a good follow up to JIMMY.  This did not happen.  Dorchester Publishing started to spiral toward bankruptcy before JIMMY could be published, and while I stuck with them for nearly a year, I eventually did the right thing and took the novel elsewhere.

Following that, thinking other publishers would be interested in having a novel that had been ready for publication with another publishing house; I began sending queries for JIMMY to everyone that was accepting proposals.  Each one was rejected.  No one was interested in JIMMY, which really surprised me.  During that period, I began to hear success stories from authors that were uploading titles to the Amazon Kindle.  Intrigued, I did as much research as I could on this new method of publishing, and then, once I made the decision to jump in, hired a well-known artist to create a cover, and uploaded it.  A few months later, it was a bestseller on Amazon and had made me more money during that short period of time than I had made in the first ten years of my writing career combined.     

Why self-publish?

I self-publish the majority of my work simply because it is the most logical and profitable method of delivery within the US right now.  With foreign language editions, I still use traditional publishers within the countries where the titles will be released since they know their markets the best.  

Once you have decided that self-publishing might be your route, what financial and artistic considerations should you keep in mind before you begin?

One of the biggest misconceptions of self-publishing is that it carries no overhead.  After all, with print-on-demand, the printer only has to print copies as they are ordered, and with ebooks, it is nothing but computer code that is stored within a device.  However, there are other costs to consider, upfront ones that are important in making it so the book will be noticed by the public and enjoyed once it is read.  The first cost; the cover.  If you want to be treated like a professional author, one whose work is going to stand alongside authors who have major publishers behind them, then you need to have a professional create the cover.  Poor covers are the most common reason why books are passed over when a potential reader is looking for their next fix.  It doesn’t matter how amazing the writing within is, if people aren't going to pick it up and open it, it might as well be four hundred blank pages.  Second: editing.  You need a professional to look over your work once it is completed.  Mistakes happen and it is nearly impossible for an author to catch their own when they have lived with the work, day in and day out, for months at a time.  Initial sales via a fantastic cover are great, but nothing will knock a title down like poor reviews due to editing and grammar errors.  Now, will these two things guarantee success?  No.  Nothing will ever do that.  But it will make the chances of success more likely.       

What do you see as your most innovative promotional strategy?

Honestly, I don’t really have a promotional strategy.  I simply write and release the work.  Initially, I always price my new releases at 99 cents, so that the readers who have been with me from the beginning will be treated to a great deal, but after that, once the price goes up to my typical $4.99, I step back and let word of mouth do its thing.   The only exception to this is when I’m able to get a book promoted by BookBub.  When that happens, I once again lower the price to 99 cents for the days they market it and enjoy the snowball effect as the initial sales from the ad bump the title into several top ten categories, which then brings in more sales.  

What kind of marketing did you do to establish your author brand and what do you think is the most successful marketing for self-published authors? Is there any one thing that you have determined has helped you sell more books – i.e. could you outline your path to establishing your brand and your most successful sales method/s as?

As I noted above, I didn’t really do anything to establish my author brand.  I simply wrote and released books.  I think that attempting to create a brand is a bit counterproductive for a writer.  Readers should be the ones to establish the brand for an author, and then the author can embrace it.  Doing it the other way around will simply create an author who is so focused on image that they aren’t focused on writing. 

Authors do not get books noticed, books get authors noticed.  Once a reader enjoys a work, they will seek out more by the author and might even join a page dedicated to the author while seeking out more information on that author.  Trying to get noticed as an author to drive interest toward the books is silly.  It just doesn’t work. 

My initial success was due to one thing, a professional book cover that encased a story that readers enjoyed.  Without that book cover, no one would have picked up the book, and without anyone picking up the book, there would have been no word of mouth that generated the sales that followed.       

Do you design your own covers? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader and how big a part do you think it has played in your success to date? 

I think cover design is one of the most important factors for a reader when deciding what to buy, and for that reason, I don't design my own covers.  I've attempted too, and do have skill when it comes to creating interesting cover concepts, but I'm not skilled enough to create something that can stand alongside the other professional works that are being released.  As for my success, I think most of it is due to the fact that I always use professional cover artists for my work.  Without them, my work would look like the standard 'self published' work that is being release, work that doesn't really sell.  It doesn't matter how fantastic the writing is, if the cover looks like it was thrown together at the last minute, readers aren't going to want to buy it.  Now, there are exceptions to this to be found within the marketplace, but one should never consciously drive toward being the exception.  Becoming successful when doing everything right is hard enough, so why try to make it harder.     

In your opinion, is traditional publishing on the way out? Do you think that traditional publishing can continue to keep up with the rise of self-publishing?

I don't think traditional publishing is on the way out, but I do think they're going to have to do a better job at adapting to the new world of publishing.  Brick and mortar bookstores are no longer the standard delivery method for books, so focusing on shelf space and prominent ‘front of store’ displays seems somewhat silly.  Publishers also need to recognize that authors can now play a big part in their own careers given the technology that exists, so there is no reason why authors shouldn't be brought into the decision making process on how their work is delivered to the public.  This isn't to say that the author should get to make ALL the decisions (if they want that power then they need to go independent), but they should be brought into the process.  Lastly, contracts need to reflect the current marketplace rather than the one that used to exist, especially when it comes to the term IN PRINT.  One of the biggest factors on why I've turned down several book contracts that had been presented to me during the last three years is due to the gray area that now exists with the term IN PRINT.   In the past, when a publisher stopped printing a title, an author could get the rights to that title back.  Now, if the publisher has the book available as an ebook, it can still be considered IN PRINT even if they aren't doing anything to market it.  This makes it incredibly difficult for an author to get their rights back on the title. 

Would you ever consider signing all your books to a traditional publishing house or will you always mange some of your titles yourself through self-publishing?

I wouldn't have a problem signing all my books to a traditional publisher if the contract presented to me was a good one, and if it looked as if the publisher was honestly going to do everything they could to make the books even more successful than they were prior to the contract.   

Have you ever used free book promotions? Do you think they are a worth-while marketing tool for self-published authors? If so/not – why?

I have used free book promotions and felt they were worthwhile.  During its last free promotion, JIMMY was downloaded 30,000 times in three days, which brought in over 100 new reviews within a month and helped bump the title into several top ten categories on Amazon.  It also got the attention of foreign publishers, who then bought foreign rights to it.  JIMMY is now a bestseller in both print and ebook in Germany.  Therefore, that free promotion was incredibly worthwhile.  That said, the free promotion only really worked because it had a good cover, one that readers clicked on.  Without a good cover, free isn't going to mean much, because there are always thousands of titles being offered for free.            

What avenues of self-promotion did you find to be most effective and affordable? What’s the best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ advertising you have employed?

BookBub is the only marketing site that I would ever recommend.  They have consistently driven thousands of readers toward my work whenever I have hired them to do a promotion, which, in turn, bumps the title up into the top 100 categories, which brings in even more readers as the Amazon algorithms start to market it based on its bestseller status.  Of course, there is no guarantee that they will drive such sales to the work, but if a title has a good cover and an enticing description, the odds are good that it will drive quite a few readers to that author's work. 

Note: If it seems like I'm harping on that professional cover thing, it is because I am.  Having a good cover it is very important.   

Do you feel there’s a good sense of community within the self-publishing industry?

I think there is a false community, a circle jerk type of community where authors are constantly promoting themselves and swapping reviews with other authors, all while feeling like they are somehow in competition.  When I joined Twitter a few months back, I started to get swamped by authors who would follow me and then unfollow me within a few days because I did not follow them back.  And every author group I've ever been in was one where everyone was trying to get everyone else to like their Amazon page and review swap.  Now, I have no problem with reviewing other authors’ work if I enjoy it, and if they want to review my work because they enjoyed it, that's great.  But contacting me with a 'I will review your work if you review my work' proposal, will simply cause the proposal to go into my trash bin.   

Would you recommend other aspiring self-publishing authors pay for particular services? Editing or cover design, for example?

I’d say that authors should be ready to lay down about $1500 for a cover and editing before they release their work.  This is what I budget for my titles when doing it myself, and I always make that back within a month.  Simply put, if you don’t think a title is going to make that money back, then why release it in the first place.     

You use social media a lot and interact with your readership – how important do you think this is to becoming a success as a self-published author?

I don’t think the use of social media by the author helps in becoming a success; I think it is the use of social media by readers who have enjoyed the work that helps an author become a success.  An author’s use of social media is simply a way of interacting with those that have already discovered them.  Books bring readers to authors, not the other way around.  Now, once an author is successful, and has a readership that likes to interact with them, then social media can be used to announce new titles, which will help maintain success, but using it in the beginning in hopes of driving readers toward ones work in order to become successful . . . nope.  That’s a fool's errand.  Just focus on writing and releasing professional pieces of fiction, the rest will follow.

Where to from here? Are you currently represented by an agent and are you working with any publishers on future projects?

2015 will be an interesting year.  I have two titles that will be released, Blind Eye in May and Santa Took Them November.  I've also signed a deal with a publishing house to be one of the authors that writes for their supernatural crime thriller line.  Nothing has been made public about this deal yet, so I can't share any specifics on it; however, I'm really excited to be working with that particular publisher and with the other authors that are currently involved in the series, many of whom I read when first starting out.  Lastly, this year should see more foreign editions of my work being released overseas, which is always exciting.  I have a publisher in Germany that has helped establish my work in that country, and now I'm hoping to branch out into the surrounding countries.  

Finally, thanks for sharing your thoughts on self-publishing. Where is the best place for readers to find your books?

Anywhere books are sold.  

Links for William Malmborg

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