Monday Morning Fika: Emma K. Gardner on Self-Publishing

Welcome to Fika*!  Today, self-published author Emma K. Gardner is here to chat with us about the advantages of self-publishing and how to get started.  

*”Fika” is a Swedish term for enjoying coffee, tea, and sweets over conversation with friends.  It is a sacred tradition in many families, friends, and even workplaces, and it offers a chance to chat informally on a number of topics.  While “Fika” may refer specifically to the coffee, in practice it refers to the moment of community.  In this hectic world, it is nice to take a moment to pause and savor time getting to know a little more about each other.

Many years ago, I wrote some short spanking stories for a couple small magazines and was paid by the word. (And although it was tempting to put in a bunch of “Spank! Smack! Crack! Ow! Ow! Ow!” type exclamations to up my pay, I mostly avoided them.)

Then a year or so ago, after reading one of the many articles I think everybody read about how women were using their Kindles and other e-readers to secretly read sexy stuff on the train and elsewhere, I decided that I would try to sell spanking stories again. (I never gave up having spanking fantasies. It was just the writing that I’d stopped.)

This time, though, I decided I would try self-publishing. It’s not that I don’t respect editors and publishers. I do!  And I still have books (though not short stories or novellas) in other genres published by the traditional route. But, especially since I wanted to sell one story at a time, I decided to see how I’d do as my own publisher. I wanted to be able to put out the stories on my own schedule, and, honestly, I didn’t want to share any of my pennies per word.

The downside is that I don’t have anyone to help me structure a story or proofread it once it’s done. (I am constantly vowing to be a better proofreader. Once I wrote “spayed” and meant “sprayed.”  That’s what can happen if you don’t go with the pros. People can get hurt.) I also don’t have an art department to do my covers—and it shows. I want to take a class on design sometime soon. I don’t have a copy department to write the descriptions of my stories, but I feel confident in that area, just because I’ve had practice. Anyone who has tried to write a short, snappy description of a book or story knows it takes practice!

Okay, so I decided to start out self-publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct program.  (At this point, I’m only publishing e-books. I can’t speak to anything but that.) The great thing about this kind of publishing is it is very low-risk. Writers don’t have to pay Amazon anything upfront for the company to sell their books. The only money I pay in advance is what I spend to buy the rights to use a picture for the cover.

Each time a book is sold through Kindle Direct, Amazon and the writer split the money. (Okay, so I am sharing my pennies, but I’m sharing them with fewer companies.)  I figured all I’d lose by trying to sell a story with Kindle Direct was the time it took me to write said story. And that’s no different than when I write a proposal and send it to a publisher hoping they’ll buy it. Either way, I’m putting in writing time, hoping to sell what I write. That seems fair enough.

The other thing about self-publishing with Kindle Direct is that it’s easy.  A writer uploads the manuscript in a file.  I use Word.  (Note:  When you use Word, you need to save the file as Word 97-2003.  Kindle Direct doesn’t work well with the newer version.) The cover art is uploaded in another file. Then there are boxes for various information the writer fills in, prompted by the system. There is a box for a cover description, for example, and boxes for the cover price for a range of countries. I’ve found the explanations for how to make these decisions easy to understand.

Choosing how much to charge is probably the most complex issue, because the royalties Kindle pays depend on the cover price.  If a writer charges less than $2.99 they receive a smaller percentage of the cover price than they do if they charge over $2.99. It comes down to volume.  If you think you can sell a bazillion copies at 99₵ and a thousand copies at $2.99, then the math says go with 99₵.  I’ve found going with prices above the $2.99 works best.  Although I’d like to sell a bazillion copies for a lower amount.

The other big decision is whether or not to go with the Kindle Select program. Kindle Select is an option that allows a writer to give Amazon permission to make a book available as part of its ‘Amazon Prime program, which allows readers to download some books for free. Instead of being paid part of the cover price when an Amazon Prime customer downloads a book for free, the author is paid a cut of a pool of money Amazon divides between participants. (I have not quite figured out how they decide what amount of money goes in the pool!) If an author agrees to be part of the Kindle Select program, they can’t sell their books other places. They must publish the book or story exclusively with Amazon. Writers who take this route are allowed to do promotional giveaways of their books, which can up visibility and ultimately sales. The decision about whether or not to go with Kindle Select is made book by book. An author can have some books that are with the program and others that are not. Also, a writer only commits to have a book with the program for three months. After that, the book can be removed if desired.

I experimented with Kindle Select, and in my case, I found it more profitable to publish with PubIt!, Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing program for the Nook. (I may play around with Kindle Select again at some point, though.) There are other self-publishing venues, such as Kobo, but I haven’t tried them yet. I’ve found PubIt! just as user-friendly as Kindle Direct, and am equally happy publishing with both programs, though Kindle Direct seems to have a much wider reach.

I’m still learning and experimenting a year after self-publishing my first story, but, for me, it was worth taking the plunge and doing some self-publishing. I don’t see myself giving up traditional publishers entirely, but I don’t see giving up self-publishing entirely either.

I’m happy to pass on anything I’ve figure out during my year of experimenting in self-publishing! I hope you’ll ask questions.

Oh, and just so you know, I’m not entirely about the pennies.  In fact, I have found the Christmas spirit. Right now I have a free story about naughty elves getting spanked by Mrs. Claus. It was inspired by a conversation on the Spanking Fiction Facebook page. Come visit us and chat. It was also inspired by Anastasia’s desire to have every single person who writes spanking fiction write a f/f story. She can cross me off her list now.

Lord Whitford will do anything to keep his reputation untarnished. Sadly, that proves most difficult when he becomes engaged to Miss Henley, a headstrong American who finds most of the ton rules ridiculous.

Whitford is forced to administer a series of spankings–going as far as to use a crop and a hairbrush on her bare bottom–to prevent her from humiliating them both with her abominable behavior. To his consternation, he finds this chore not entirely unpleasant. In fact, he finds it arousing, which is most improper.

Buy it on Amazon here!

44 thoughts on “Monday Morning Fika: Emma K. Gardner on Self-Publishing

  1. Sue Lyndon says:

    Great post, Emma! Lots of helpful information here. I’m think of self-pubbing a short story I wrote a while back once I get my rights back…I’m hoping it’ll happen sometime next year. Thank you for the informative post! 🙂


  2. Celeste Jones says:

    When I was thinking about self-pubbing Emma was a great source of info and encouragement. I love her ‘go for it’ attitude. Thanks!

    FYI: I have my books in the Kindle select program and the amount that you get for borrows varies from month to month, but so far, the amount I get per borrow is actually more than I get for purchases.


  3. Joelle Casteel says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Emma. A lot to think on. I have a complex system of readers of different levels that helps me. I had the unfortunate experience of putting a book up on only to take it down because when I bought the author’s copy, I could see how much more work needed to be done. I’ll be using Lulu again once the book is done with its final reader, who’s mostly doing copy-editing. I like that Lulu has (or at least had back in 2008 when I did the book the first time) free cover art and I’m hoping to continue with that, at least for my 1st and 2nd books. I was tickled when I went to Goodreads to add your book “The Headstrong Miss Henley” to my “want to read”- love the cover art btw- it only took me typing “The Headstrong” to get your book to show up among the list of related books.

    Now Ana, do I count as having written f/f spanking? I mean, I know I actually write “BDSM erotica” but I do have f/f spanking happen, among other things 😀


  4. Emma K. Gardner says:

    Thanks for hosting me, Ana, and thanks for the comments, everyone. Celeste, that’s interesting about the amount per borrow vs. purchase. Have you tried PubIt! to see if you’d get more publishing with two companies than you do with Amazon Select? I’m curious about how it’s working for other writers. Thanks for the offer to proofread, Renee. Celeste has also offered to proofread. Why won’t I just say “yes” to help? That should be easy, but I’m always , “oh, no, I’ll do it myself.” I’m going to next time. I’m also up for trading poofreading!


    • Ana says:

      Oh, there’s a great idea! I didn’t even think of asking for help proofreading Mrs. Claus when I hit the editing snafu. I’ve never met a group of writers as willing to help out as this one!!


    • Celeste Jones says:

      Emma–I had Underwear Probation on B&N’s Pubit but only sold a couple copies (Thanks, Minelle!) and wanted to have the option of free promos. Maybe I should have given it more time, but I’ve had a decent number of borrows so I think it’s worth it. Maybe I’m just lazy!

      BTW—I was surprised that people would borrow a $2.99 book. I figured they’d borrow the more expensive books.


  5. Sassy Chassy says:

    Thank you, Emma! I am very curious about the ins and outs of self publishing. This was very helpful! I adored your story about Mrs. Claus and the two naughty elves! I also loved the allusion to it in Ana’s book!! I’m looking forward to reading more of your work!


  6. Emma K. Gardner says:

    I thought people would borrow more expensive books too, Celeste. Huh. This is an extremely supportive group of writers, Anastasia. I’m so grateful to be part of it. Thanks, Sassy. I’m going to go get Ana’s Mrs. Claus book from Amazon today!!


  7. jadecaryade says:

    Great thoughts on self-pubbing. I’ve thought of it and might do it in the future. I have a pretty nice relationship with my publisher, Lazy Day, but there are many ways to get your work out into the public’s hands. Great luck to you, Emma.


  8. Minelle says:

    Thanks Emma and Ana for Fika today! Emma I downloaded The Headstrong Miss Henley on my Nook and loved it!
    Celeste Knows I did the same for Underwear probation. Maybe if I get my tech act together and write reviews under another acct., besides my real life?


  9. Cara Bristol says:

    Very informative post, Emma. I know a lot of authors who self-publish thru Amazon and I was curious about how it works. Now I know. I’m very happy with Loose Id, but who knows? Maybe someday I’ll want to self-publish.

    I just downloaded your book to my Kindle and am looking forward to reading it. I’m in a Regency mood right now.


  10. Emma K. Gardner says:

    I have to admit it was fun to write, Bas, but, no, it didn’t quite write itself. (Maybe because I had to write a spanking for me too!) Minelle! You really must want to read about a spanking for you too. Unless you object, you and the others who keep saying the elves got what they deserved will be getting a holiday story (and North Pole spanking) of your own before Christmas.


  11. Emma K. Gardner says:

    It was already decided, Ana. Then I realized I should probably ask permission! It will definitely be on my blog before Christmas Eve. I’ll shoot for sooner. Hope those reading Miss Henley enjoy it!


  12. Rollin says:

    That pretty much echoes my experience too. But I just started in the self publishing biz. I went with Kindle Direct and so far, it’s working. The covers are the trickiest part, but I made a deal with a well-known genre artist and it will be awhile before I run out. And, what I have noticed is that no one else in this genre uses line drawings and that makes my B&W drawings with red titles very distinctive. It builds a brand.

    I have no proffreader (see?) so there will be typos and plot holes and everything else before I can hornswaggle some kindred soul into proofing the manuscripts.

    Agree on the $2.99 pricing. This seems to be a price point that is acceptable, but it does depend on length. Nothing I put out, however, will be under 15,000 words.

    So far I’ve been pretty amazed (and confounded) by the whole thing.


  13. Emma K. Gardner says:

    Rollin, branding your books by creating a consistent cover looks seems like a good idea. I’ve recently gone back and tweaked some of my covers to make them more uniform. You might not need to hornswaggle on the proofing. Seems like there might be some bartering as an option.


  14. pao says:

    That is a really informative Fika! I’m curious though, if there are any restrictions on what you are allowed to publish through these self publishing services?

    I really enjoyed your story about the elves and Mrs. Claus too 😀 Hilarious!


  15. Emma K. Gardner says:

    Honestly,, Pao, I don’t know that much about where the content lines fall. I believe for Kindle there is something about not allowing porn. But how is porn defined? When is erotica porn? All I know is that I’ve never had a problem with my stories, and I’ve seen a wide variety of eroticaporn available.


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