Insider Tips & Tricks on Self-Publishing from a Successful Author

My interview with Saltwater Cove author, Amelia Addler

While in the middle of a good book (Saltwater Cove), I dogeared the page (sorry if that makes you cringe) and looked up the author. Amelia Addler. Hmm, never heard of her. Well, let me tell you something! I soon realized that she’s kind of a big deal in the self-publishing world. Why? Well, aside from having so many scrumptious-looking books (perfect for beach reading), she’s a self-published author who isn’t wasting away in a desert, wishing someone would pick up, and fall in love with, one of her stories. Her books get some seriously good reviews, guys! Saltwater Cove, the one I was reading at the time I looked her up, has nearly 7,000 reviews on Amazon, and a 4.5 star rating!

Amelia graciously agreed to the interview, and it’s been a fantastic learning experience poring over her answers (with a highlighter, pen, and notepad!). It’s like a mini-Master Class! She is very honest and forthcoming about her self-publishing journey, and despite authoring 15 books, has stayed quite humble along the way.

I hope you enjoy this educational interview. I will go out on a limb and say it’s a MUST-READ for anyone hoping to self-publish. It provides insight, hope, and best of all, specific information on how to get from A to Z in your process.

L.A. Can you introduce yourself to my subscribers? (Where you’re from, how long you’ve been writing, what you like to do in your free time)

A.A. I grew up and live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and have been obsessed with writing since I was a kid. I got my first diary when I was six and to my parents’ (and my own) confusion, I insisted on compulsively writing every day. That feeling never went away and a few years ago, I started writing novels more seriously. I published my first book in 2018, and since then I created two new pen names and released fourteen more books.

When I’m not trying to write, I like hiking, hanging out with my dog and husband, and overeating.

L.A. You’ve published volumes of books, when so many of us (myself and my readers) struggle to complete one or two decent manuscripts. Can you talk about what sparks your creativity? In other words, how do you keep the well from running dry on fresh content for your books?

A.A. It’s taken years for me to figure out how to keep things going. I’m a schedule-based person, and I tend to work one week at a time. Between books, I schedule two weeks to be “off” where I don’t have to write or feel pressure to write. This is usually when I brainstorm and plot my next book, but I mainly focus on trying to refill the creative well. I try to follow my curiosities, whether that’s reading books on my to-read list, watching shows or documentaries, going to new places, people watching, and seeing friends. If I give myself time to observe and daydream, new ideas sprout up.

L.A. Can you talk about your decision to self-publish? If you have experience querying agents, I’d love to hear about that, too!

A.A. I never pursued traditional publishing. The message seemed that it was near impossible to get a book deal, and that was enough to discourage me from ever trying. I still had this nagging feeling of a book in me, though, so I got to work on writing it with no plan of what to do after.

“My dream was to be a full-time author – something I thought was impossible until I discovered other self-published authors who had done it.”

~Amelia Addler

It took four years to finish my first book (funnily, I’ve heard a number of writers say their first book took four years) and after, I stumbled across a post from a self-published author who had replaced their income with their writing.

I was amazed by this. I looked for more resources and found Mark Dawson’s podcast and Facebook group. I was blown away by how successful he was, and how generous he was with his knowledge on publishing.

For the first time, a life as a writer seemed within reach. I finished my first book in 2018, and though it was all wrong – it wasn’t written with an audience in mind, it didn’t have a single, blurb-able genre (and not to mention it wasn’t very good) –that hope was born.

I believe both traditional and self-publishing are valid routes, as long as you’re honest with yourself about what your goals are. My dream was to be a full-time author – something I thought was impossible until I discovered other self-published authors who had done it. For me, self-publishing was the right choice, and ended up going full time as an author in January of 2021.

L.A. How much self-promotion do you have to do (or want to do)? If you self-promote, can you talk about which methods of self-promotion have translated into books sales, and which haven’t been as successful?

A.A. My most successful promotions are ads – mainly Amazon ads, with Facebook ads as a distant second. It took Mark Dawson’s ad course and a lot of trial and error to learn how to use them. Ads need constant support and tweaking, but they are the best way to get books to the right readers. The Amazon ads don’t become profitable (for me, at least) until I have a few books in a series, but even in the beginning it’s important to find your readers, even if you are only spending a few dollars a day.

When I first started (and now, with a new pen name), I also used promotion websites to find readers and to get reviews (things like Freebooksy, RobinReads, etc). I also have a newsletter where readers get a free novella when they join, and then get updates on free books in my genre and my new releases.

L.A. Can you talk a little about your writing process? (Do you write at the same time each day? Where do you do your writing? How long does it take you to complete a book? Do you write with music or quiet?)

A.A. My writing process has evolved over the years – I tend to pick things up from books and podcasts, try them out and shed whatever doesn’t work. I think it’s important to realize that what works for one author may not work for another, and that’s totally OK.

I start with a brainstorm – a text document where I type out and muse about ideas for the story and the characters. At the same time, I’ll have a document going with the Snowflake method (a great free resource!)

Over the years, I’ve added to the snowflake – things like character flaws, traumas that defined them, etc. Once the snowflake is done, I make an excel sheet with a row for every chapter and define what needs to happen, the emotional/story change, the time in the story, what the characters think, what the readers think (or don’t yet know).

This plotting process is usually done during my two weeks off, and then I jump into writing. I dictate the first pass while walking on a treadmill, usually 1-2 chapters every weekday in the morning, and then I edit them in the afternoon. I frequently go off-track with difficult chapters (or changes to the excel sheet), however, so I schedule “flex” days throughout so I can catch up when I fall behind. I then do two rounds of editing, with a professional editor in between bouts.

My schedule used to allow me to finish a fifty-thousand-word book in nine weeks, but I’ve recently changed that to twelve weeks to allow a bit more breathing room and to prevent burnout.

L.A. Which social medias are your most lucrative as far as translations into book sales? Could you be successful as a self-published author without the use of social media?

A.A. Social media has not been necessary for my books’ success. For me, social media is more a way to connect with current readers. I don’t find new readers through social media, and it doesn’t translate into book sales. I’ve heard promising things about Tik Tok, but I’m just starting out with it.

L.A. What are some valuable lessons you’ve learned as a self-published author?

A.A. A huge lesson has been not only figuring out what readers want, but then how to make it clear what they’re getting. If you write a fantastic mystery but the cover or blurb say “thriller,” you’re going to disappoint your readers. Setting and meeting expectations is huge.

That said, I’m still learning. I just released a book that readers hated! I’m frustrated with myself, but the only option is to keep learning and keep going.

“When someone contacts me to tell them that my books brought them joy, or helped them get through a tough time – that’s the best. That’s everything I want to offer in my stories – a mental break, some fun, and perhaps a bit of understanding into the human condition.”

~Amelia Addler

L.A. How do you handle negative reviews and general criticism of your writing?

A.A. Some people get discouraged by bad reviews, but I try to be measured about it. There are critical reviews that make good points. Other times, they highlight more of a preference and I have to shrug my shoulders. I even have a member on my ARC team who generally leaves poor reviews. Yet she keeps reading my books! So I keep sending them. It cracks me up.

L.A. Now, can you talk about what it means to get praise from your readers, and how it feels to connect with them about your stories?

A.A. There’s nothing better! When someone contacts me to tell them that my books brought them joy, or helped them get through a tough time – that’s the best. That’s everything I want to offer in my stories – a mental break, some fun, and perhaps a bit of understanding into the human condition. That’s what books and stories have always been for me, and it’s an honor when out of all the choices a reader has, they pick one of my stories.

L.A. What is the one thing that surprised you regarding becoming a published novelist? (This can be anything from weird experiences to getting recognized to hearing how your stories affected your readers).

A.A. I’m continuously surprised and delighted by the author community. Of course there is the occasional nastiness, but there is an overwhelming number of helpful, encouraging and kind authors.

L.A. What have been some valuable tools for you when you were learning how to self-publish, navigate promotion methods, and uploading your books to Amazon and/or Kindle publishing? (My site is very focused on unpublished writers who really want to know information like this, especially from someone as successful as you!)

A.A. Hands down, other authors and the communities they’ve built are the best resource. I love Mark Dawson’s SPF group, and I hugely benefited from taking his Ads for Authors course. The 20Booksto50K group also has a lot of free resources for new authors, and the Facebook group is great to search for questions and ask new ones.

As for self-promotion, Reedsy has a great and up-to-date list of book promotion services. I used these early in my career to find readers and get reviews (and am still using them while building a new pen name). The Reedsy list will keep you from getting scammed by less than stellar promotional websites – a pitfall I fell into early on.

L.A. Who are your favorite authors? (This can include who inspired you in the early days, all the way up to what you’re currently reading).

A.A. I love, love, love the queen of romance, Jane Austen. Kurt Vonnegut, though I write nothing like him, is one of my favorites and inspirations. Recently I found Matt Haig’s books and found them so inspiring and delightful.

As for nonfiction, Steven Pressfield is my absolute must-have author. I read his books again and again, finding motivation and truth in all he writes. (I like his fiction too!) His editor Shawn Coyne is also wonderful; he published a book called
The Story Grid that has helped me immensely with figuring out the structure of stories.

L.A. What are you currently working on? (Anything you want to promote from upcoming talks to a book you want to get more eyes on).

A.A. Currently I’m working on the third book in my Orcas Island series, Sunset Tides. The series is my first foray into being “wide,” eg available on all platforms. It’s been a slow and steady build, but I love that my eBooks are finally available to libraries, and it’s exciting to reach a wider audience.

L.A. Can you share some mistakes you made in your writing/publishing journey for my readers so they can hopefully avoid those pitfalls?

A.A. Oh, so many mistakes, where to start? My first book needed to be written, but it wasn’t a clear genre and was basically un-marketable. After I finished it, I then spent too long trying to get people to read it. I should have moved on sooner and taken Steven Pressfield’s advice. I can’t remember which book this came from, but he said that as soon as one project is done, let it go and move on to the next one. Don’t linger, don’t hang all of your hopes on one story or one book. As Steve writes, you’re entitled to your labor, but not the fruits of your labor – meaning you can’t expect success, you just have to keep writing. That’s the only sure thing.

Another mistake I’ve made is mixing genres. In self-publishing especially, keep one pen name to one strict genre. If you jump around, you’ll confuse readers and fail to build a following. And as Joanna Penn says (who has another fantastic podcast), as soon as you start getting bored of your brand/genre, that’s probably just when people are starting to get to know you. So keep going!

L.A. Sometimes a very good writer can have a tough time ever getting eyes on their books when they self-publish. It’s less about their quality than it is people knowing the book exists! Some of your books have exceptionally high numbers of reviews, including the one I’m reading right now, Saltwater Cove, with over 6,600 Amazon reviews and an average 4.5-star rating! First, kudos! I know that’s not easy. Second, what’s the secret? Of course, your writing is great (I should know since I’m in the middle of your book now) but where are you finding that audience?

Ah, you’re incredibly kind! Saltwater Cove is my most popular book in my most popular series, but it wasn’t always this way. It was the fourth book I published under this pen name, and at first, it had few readers, few reviews and little traction.

Honestly, I was quite depressed at that point. I was working full-time, writing in all of my spare time, and my dog was dying of cancer. I felt silly continuing to write, but at the same time, I couldn’t stop. I published the second book in the series, then the third.

All the while, I kept promoting the first book. I had a small newsletter (created by putting links in the back of my books and offering a free novella to anyone who joined) and collected a small team of early reviewers. I think I had to send my book to sixty people to get ten reviews from the ARC team.

The early reviews are important just to get people to consider the book. You don’t need a ton in my experience, just a few. Then, you can book promotion websites (like on the above mentioned list from Reedsy). I did multiple promotions and gave the book away for free or for ninety-nine cents. More reviews came in, giving other potential readers more data to assess if they’d enjoy the book.

At some point, reviews are a function of how many people have read the book. So if you give away (or sell) four thousand copies, you can hope maybe ten percent of people will actually read it, and then maybe ten percent will leave a review.

(One thing to keep in mind, however, is that there are no harsher reviews than people who get a book for free. I think it’s because people will download a book that’s not in one of their regular genres, and may react harshly when they find they don’t like the genre.)

As I added more books to the series, people were more inclined to pick up the first book. I’m seeing that with my new series as well – three books seems to be the magic number, at least in my genre, to get people invested.

From that point, I had enough reviews and enough books to run Amazon and Facebook ads. Getting to six thousand reviews happened over the course of nearly the last three years, and at this point, it’s a function of getting the book into more hands.

Thank you, Amelia. This interview can be a valuable tool for writers hoping to navigate the waters of self-publishing. We look forward to seeing what other stories you have up your sleeve! I, personally, am hoping you’ll write a nonfiction guide to self-publishing because I think you have a lot more to teach us!

If you would like to learn more about Amelia, check out her websiteInstagram, or  goodreads

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