Inside The Brave New World of Self- Publishing: Interview With An Indie Author
Neha Yazmin. — Author, Blogger, Ex-Investments pro, psychology grad, mum of 1.
To this, I would add a huge advocate and champion for the terrifying realm of self-publishing and courageous blogger.
A huge thanks to Neha Yazmin for giving us a glimpse into her world of experience and knowledge around Indie publishing.
1. What are you working on at this very moment and could you introduce your body of work? Because it’s an impressive 2 pages on the Amazon catalogue!!
My current WIP is a new high fantasy. With regards my backlist, I’m a bit all over the place in terms of genre and style! I believe it’s because I write the stories that ‘come to me’ and all kinds of stories come to me because I consume an eclectic mix of genres as a reader!
I have two clean contemporary romance series aimed at the adult market (the Soulmates Saga and the Love & Alternatives Duology), and for readers of young adult fiction, I have two urban fantasy series (the Poison Blood Series and its follow-on series, the Witch’s Blood Series) and an epic fantasy trilogy (Heir to the Throne). They’re quite different from each other but I would say they’re all character-driven, fun, and have lots of twists-and-turns.
2. What was your way into creative writing? The first step you took that ultimately lead to being a published Indie writer. Was it an internal trigger or an external trigger? I always think of the creativity of a door that opens that never shuts again.
What broke my “writer’s block”? I’m convinced it was reading and falling in love with the Twilight Saga,
Ever since I learned how to read and write, I’ve been writing stories. I preferred reading and writing to playing with toys or with the other children. I started writing my first “full-length novel” in my teens, though. An idea popped into my head and I started writing it. I wrote a little bit every day after school and got a lot of words down. I guess that was the door opening?
At the very least, it taught me I had the patience and dedication to work on a project on a regular basis with the intention to see it to the end. Due to personal reasons, I couldn’t complete this story and didn’t write anything for a decade.
What broke my “writer’s block”? I’m convinced it was reading and falling in love with the Twilight Saga, because soon after reading that series, I woke up with one of the main characters from my debut novel, Soulmates Saga Book 1, in my head. I could see Jamie so clearly, and as though he was a very good friend, I just knew him. What I didn’t know was his future, but I wanted to find out.
I spent the rest of the day thinking about Jamie’s life, his family, and his music, and formulated a vague plan in my head for the plot and started writing. I couldn’t not write it.
The words had to come out; they wouldn’t let me pause to plot or outline; the story just continued in my head. Songs and poems flooded in, too, and ended up in the book.
Music had a critical part to play in it as well. That summer, I was obsessed with Muse’s single Neutron Star Collision and I knew that song represented Jamie (and the main protagonist, Mukti) when he first came into my life: A fading star, losing his way.
The other song that grabbed me was Marcus Foster’s I Was Broken (the lyrics speak of no longer being broken). That was the song I wanted to represent Jamie (and Mukti) at the end of the book. All year, I was fascinated by the idea of two fading stars, coming together and then emerging brighter as one, and somehow this concept inspired the storyline.
3. Given you’re now a thriving indie author with over 12 books, can you look back and pinpoint a few critical events or mindset shifts or moments where you went from ‘I want to do this’ to ‘I am doing this?’
My experience was a little different to most writers: I wasn’t sitting on a manuscript, or several, and wondering what to do with it. I just had one, the novel I wrote after a 10-year writer’s block with no hopes or expectations for it.
And there was hardly any time between wanting to publish it to actually making it happen.
When my best friend read the rough draft, she urged me to edit, polish, and submit it to agents and I gave in to stop her nagging me. I think it was actually in April 2011 that I queried a few agents (exactly 10 years, wow!).
When my other best friend heard about the rejections a few months later, she suggested self-publishing. Apparently, on the way to our lunch date that very day, she read a newspaper article discussing the growth of self-publishing.
Her words stuck in my head and I started researching self-publishing and… it looked like something worth considering. On a whim, I decided to go down that route — not the best way to decide on self-publishing, of course, but so many of us did it this way back in the day — and after several more rounds of revisions, I published the first book in my Soulmates Saga in summer 2012.
4. I love the expression ‘first blood’ for creative achievement, it’s a bit violent, but it rolls off the tongue. What was one of your first blood moments, the moment you had a ‘yes’ from the universe? A nod of confirmation from something or somewhere.
I feel as though I haven’t had that moment yet, and then I think there are several moments that could compete for that title.
It depends on our definition of success and what we perceive as approval or acceptance or achievement.
As a kid, it could be the moment my high school English teacher showed the English department a piece I wrote in class using a writing prompt (a photo of a desert. Sadly, I’m terrible at prompts now!) because it was the best she’d ever read.
Suddenly, the entire English department was nodding and saying hi to me in the corridors.
For the shy, introverted child that preferred to be invisible to avoid the bullies’ attention, I was very Kristen Stewart about the attention.
With the first novel I wrote as an adult, it could be my best friend staying up late reading the rough draft because she couldn’t put it down — and shouting “No!” at the printout at one point.
Then, two years later, when I first published it, two book bloggers said they enjoyed it. One of them emailed me and said she “loved everything about it”; her review said the story “was told perfectly.”
The other blogger tweeted that she felt lost without Mukti and Jamie in her life; her review said “the way it’s written is excellent.”
I want readers to feel when they’re reading my stories and to deem the writing as worth reading. So, when these two voracious readers (of both traditionally published and self-published books) said those things, it told me I wasn’t completely crazy for self-publishing my book and putting a price tag on it.
Nowadays, every time a total stranger buys one of my sequels after reading the free series starter, it feels like a nod of approval.
5.Could you talk about the indie publishing world? When did you decide to go for it? It’s an enormous job, isn’t it? Publishing, editing, marketing, handling press and PR and maybe, what feels most frightening is not relying on anyone else for permission.
Self-publishing is not for everyone. There are lots of little and big things you need to do — on top of writing your books. When I published my debut, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; very few of us did back in 2012.
These days, there are more resources available and more writers are entering the market armed with a lot of knowledge and with realistic expectations. But it still surprises some writers to see just how much there is to do.
You don’t have to do everything yourself, though; you can outsource a lot of things if you have the budget — formatting, cover design, marketing. Some successful self-published authors even hire ghost writers so they can release several books per year — it’s all about momentum and can be a numbers game, too.
With regards entry to market… There are no gatekeepers, you’re right, and for some, that’s the best part.
For many, it is worrying: “Are these books good enough to be available to readers?”
Honestly speaking, some are good enough, others aren’t yet. Over time, I believe the quality of the writing and storytelling does show. The books that satisfy the target audience continue to attract readers, the ones that don’t, tend to fade away.
6. I love the way your characters are so present in your social media marketing. It’s a massive source of inspiration, and I don’t see other writers doing it in the same way. Do you think this is one of the freedoms of managing your own press as an indie publisher?
A lot of my social media content is just me sharing whatever pops into my head, but I do get ideas for Twitter “marketing” from fellow indies that I follow. As I follow over 3k of them, I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to the different types of content I can share!
I like that I can try what works on me (i.e. what kinds of cues make me curious about a book) and what seems to work for others (which posts get the most comments and shares, though that often reflects the size of the authors’ platforms).
I don’t have to run my ideas through anyone before I give it a go and so, I save time and energy.
I suppose it’s easier for some of us to lead our branding/advertising with our characters because we’re already so passionate about them. And they are unique. No story or plot is original, they say, but only we can write our characters the way we write them. They’re our USP, so to speak. A lot of readers read to make a connection and it’s easiest to connect with the characters; if you can present a character you think your audience will connect to, it might rein in some readers.
The thing about social media is that it’s not easy to see the results of the “ads” you post there. Did the sales yesterday come from the people that clicked on your book link you tweeted (based on Twitter Analytics and bit.ly stats etc.) or did those Tweeps have a quick look at your book and scroll away while the sales actually came from the customers stumbling upon your book while browsing the retailer site?
7. What has changed for you; external and internal factors since you published your first book?
Things have changed a lot since I started writing the first book in the Soulmates Saga in August 2010. At that time, I was single and working full-time. I wrote during the evenings and weekends and wrote at least 3,000 words each evening, and a whole lot more during the weekends. I could write anywhere and in the middle of all kinds of chaos, physical and mental.
Now, I’m married, a mum of 1, and out of work due to illness, and I write on my phone while lying in bed (winter) or on the floor (summer): I suffer from severe, chronic lower-back pain, which worsens considerably if I sit or stand for more than 15–20 minutes.
Frustratingly, I can no longer write whenever and wherever I like. I need utter peace and quiet and hardly any distractions to focus on my fiction.
I don’t think I could have written my epic fantasy trilogy in two years if my 6-month-old baby (now almost 3-and-a-half) didn’t take two naps in the day.
Obviously, I blame all this on the brain surgery I underwent in 2016 due to a condition called Chiari malformation (basically, my brain was too big for my skull; my skull was smaller than normal). It could also be due to the few years leading up to my neurosurgery when my mum was ill and I suffered from depression; studies have found that the brain’s physiology can actually change due to depression.
It could be a mix of those two things, actually, or it could just be my mummy brain *shrug*
Overall, I think I’m a more relaxed and intuitive writer these days. I can’t afford to have fixed routines and processes — I could, but the Kid’s unpredictable and the world is in bit of a state so I prioritise my mental health and try not to pressure myself.
Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have dreamed about doing detailed edits to my WIP as I wrote it; now, if I feel like doing thorough line edits of the chapter I wrote yesterday, I just do it.
My reasoning is that I want to do it for a reason, so I might as well. I don’t recommend this to anyone, of course, but I did this with my 2021 release and I don’t think it suffered for it.
Clearly, I’m embracing the whole ‘do what works for you’ and ‘go with the flow’ thing.
8. What is your relationship with your published works? You write entire series of books, don’t you? Is this a way of continuing with the projects that you love?
It’s different for each series. Most of my ideas ‘come to me’ as a series, and that’s how I plot and write them. “This will happen in Book 1, this will be the premise of Book 2, and this is how the finale will be wrapped up…”
The Love & Alternatives Duology presented itself to me as a two-part story. My Heir to the Throne Trilogy had to be told via three books — I really couldn’t have fit that epic story into a standalone. It was the same for my two urban fantasy series.
The only exception was my debut. That was a ‘standalone with series potential’, though I didn’t know that when I was writing it. When I was editing it, I edited it as a standalone.
It became a three-book Saga because of a question that popped into my head while I was drafting Book 1. The answer was clear, but I couldn’t answer it fully in that novel, so I shoved the question to one side.
Only, it just didn’t go away. After a few little musical triggers, the sequel took over my daydreams and I ended up writing it. I’m glad I did, because it’s my personal favourite of that trilogy, though my debut will always have the most special of places in my heart because it started this journey for me.
As for my relationship with my backlist… I love the stories and the characters — I’ll always love the characters; they’re so real to me and I “check in” on them every now and then to see how they’re getting on with their “happy ever after”.
It’s the execution of the novels that I keep improving as I grow as a writer. I’m not afraid of revisiting my older works — in fact, I make a point of editing and improving them whenever I publish a new book in that series or genre. This way, readers discovering them now get the best version available.
I’d love to re-write them all, but time is an issue and I’d never get any new books written if I re-wrote my backlist, so I do my best to polish up what’s already on the page. Readers’ expectations and standards rise with time and a novel I wrote 10 years ago might not be good enough for someone that’s been reading my genre for those 10 years.
9. What’s your system for staying motivated, accountable and functional as an indie writer and has this changed since you first started writing?
Motivation to write my stories is never an issue; I love it too much. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed. If I’m not suffering from one of my mental health related writer’s blocks and I have a WIP, I’ll be working on it. Having the story and the characters serves as the motivation. They even hold me accountable for it!
Time is the main issue nowadays, in that I don’t have enough of it, and I think that motivates me even more — to make the most of the limited time I have to work on my books and make it count.
I know I won’t be able to do everything and I’m no longer too harsh on myself for it. I’m aware of the things I could do — should do — and promise to do them when I can.
10. Where do you start with a new idea? Do you write a quick outline? Do you have your characters emerge first, and then the story follows? I can outline all I want, but the real magic for me is when I start writing, and that balance of planning vs writing is an ongoing battle. What about you?
Yes, the magic is in the writing and I also feel it when the idea first comes to me and my conscious and unconscious minds play around with it. All of my projects started off differently, but it’s always the characters that first emerge, bringing with them a little bit of their back story and a little bit — or a lot — of the story they want to be a part of. How I go from idea to writing is depends on the idea itself.
I think of ideas as falling into my brain like raindrops falling on a leaf. Some drops of rain — the story itself — hit the leaf and splatter all over it. It takes time and effort for the water to wend its way back into the original raindrop.
This is when I do brainstorming, ask myself a bunch of questions related to the character and world, think of how to get the characters to their final battle and who they need to make that journey possible (and exciting for the reader). It’s like unlocking a storyboard, little-by-little because I honestly feel as though my unconscious mind has already written it. I write a vague outline and add to it as I answer more questions. This is what happened with my epic fantasy series, Heir to the Throne Trilogy, and the Witch’s Blood Series.
Other raindrops fall on the leaf but maintain their original shape, whole and sparkly, wobbling comfortably on the leaf. The idea for my Love & Alternatives Duology was like that — it came to me complete and in that moment, I knew it from start to finish. I didn’t have to do much; I knew all the story beats and twists and character arcs as though it was a book I’d written already. It was a storyboard I didn’t need to unlock: I could see the entire picture.
All I had to decide were the specifics. Exactly how old the MCs were. Where in the UK the story would be set. How many siblings the MCs had. What job they did. The little details.
Either way, I don’t outline with too much detail. I’m the writer that feels as though I’ve already written the story if I plot with too much detail or talk about it with others, so I jot down what I need and start writing as soon as possible. I’m almost eager to start writing it.
I was a pantser with my debut and by the time I wrote the third book in the Soulmates Saga, I was plotting it story beat by story beat. I call myself a plantser now, because I have to plot but not as much as a plotter. I have to be careful not to cross that line and lose my passion for the project because I’ve plotted a bit too much.
11. How do you manage writer development? Presumably, as you hit one achievement, another emerges. Do you use writers’ groups or social media? Do you read about writing or have a mentor etc. I think this is the hardest part of being an independent professional.
Developing and growing as a writer is really important to me. So, when I can, I write and analyse and critique and hope that with time and practice, I improve and grow.
I feel as though I know where I stand as a writer in comparison to where I want to be and my aim is to bridge that gap.
I absorb everything and anything I can find about the writing craft and technique — I read blogs and watch YouTube videos about reading and writing; I have many mentors, but they’re all online — but I honestly think the best way to develop is by reading as much as possible and writing as much as you can.
You don’t have a teacher testing you each year or marking your work, so that’s when you look at reader reviews and to yourself. Become a good judge of your own writing and you will know how far you’ve come and how far you need to go.
12. In a brilliant blog of yours about cultural diversity and representation in fiction, you talked about the entirety of the barriers against people from certain cultures or economic backgrounds to get into the writing world. Internal, external and even household obstacles. What piece of advice could you give to someone battling these constraints to encourage them to take up the pen or brush or phone camera and start creating?
If you enjoy creating art and it makes you happy, do it. Whoever you are. Learn your craft, practice, and grow; I honestly believe you will find an audience.
As I said in that blog, some creatives simply have to work and persist that much harder to achieve their dreams or goals — but these people are used to it.
Keep fighting harder and be prepared to always work harder and be aware that it might not necessarily get easier as you move closer to your goals.
Stay strong, thicken that thick skin even further, and enjoy every moment of joy and success it brings you, however brief or small.
If there are people in your family that don’t quite understand or don’t show you the support you need to chase your dreams, try to sit down and talk to them, explain why it’s important to you and that it makes you happy.
If they still don’t stand by you, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Some people have to do things alone and it’s okay.
I had to fight with my family to go to College after my compulsory high school education finished. I had to fight with them to study at University and to get a job and have a career. It was the life I wanted and I had to sacrifice a lot and work hard to make it happen.
Looking back, it was really tough and depressing — maybe that’s why I gave the Bengali women in my stories supportive families that encouraged them to study, have a career, and make a life for themselves? — but it was so worth it.
13. Do you have any words of inspiration for someone who might be finishing off her novel sometime soon and be wondering about self-publishing? (ahem)
Words of inspiration for a writer considering self-publishing: It’s extremely rewarding when you see that a stranger has paid for your novel or when a reader says they loved your book or when you get enough pre-orders for your trilogy finale to hit no.1 in your category. There’s no feeling like knowing you created something, almost on your own, and the audience appreciated it.
You gain new skills and learn so much about writing, publishing, and yourself. You really do grow!
These sorts of moments don’t necessarily happen overnight, though, or without hard work and time investment. Self-publishing is free and easy, I always say. Doing it properly… not so much.
My top tips on self publishing are:
- Do your research on what it entails (and there’s a lot to look into) and then make sure it’s the right fit for you. I feel as though one has to have a certain mindset to do well in this business; a can-do attitude and a willingness to learn and adapt and experiment.
- Also, decide why you’re self-publishing. Are you building an author business and looking to make a decent profit or even a living from it? If so, treat it like you’re starting and running a business. Do what you would if you were launching any other type of company.
- On the other hand, if you only want to share your work and see what happens when you put it out there, you might not have to do much after you hit the Publish button.
If you know what you want out of self-publishing, you will know what you need to do to achieve it and you’ll know where you stand in relation to your goals.