Dutch Indie Author Jen Minkman talked with XinXii about her experiences in self-publishing. Find out how reviews, advertisments and prices oriented on her target group have helped her to become a bestselling YA author.
About Jen Minkman
Jen Minkman is an author of YA literature (mostly paranormal romance and dystopian) from Holland. In her home country, she is trade-published, but across the border, she publishes her books in English herself.
1. What are your biggest challenges in your life as an author?
There are two challenges: 1. Find enough time and peace of mind to write my stories, and 2. Find the right way to get visibility for my books. After all, if no one is able to find your stories, they won’t sell either.
I work as a part-time teacher 3 days a week, and I spend 3 other days on writing and marketing my work. Sometimes it’s difficult to sit down and really allow myself to go back to the world I created because I’m not focused enough. I need to ‘feel’ my world and my characters or my writing won’t feel genuine. This means I may write fewer words than some other authors do. I think my daily limit is 2,000 words before I dry up.
Some of them were created for me by Clarissa Yeo, a talented designer from Singapore (please visit Yocla Design for samples of her work!). Others were created by me. For me, it’s most important that the covers convey the mood of the book. The images don’t necessarily need to contain all elements in the book (that would make them too cluttered) but they need to convey a sense of – wonder, I guess. All my books look like they have the power to take you on a magical journey. Or at least that’s what I think!
3. Which criteria define your book prices?
I offer some of my books for free. This is to introduce people to my series. If they like the book, they can keep reading by buying the other books in the series. If they didn’t like my book, no harm no foul – they didn’t spend any money, after all.
All my other books are $2.99. I know some people ask more, but since I write for a YA crowd I don’t want to unnecessarily inflate my prices – my books have to be affordable for teenagers using their pocket money to buy novels, too. I get about $2 per sold book in a trade-published deal in Holland, so getting the same amount of money for my ebooks feels reasonable to me. I don’t let the number of pages dictate my prices – I sell a 75,000-word book for $2.99, since it is a complete story, but I also sell novella-length stories (about 40,000 words) for the same price, because they too are self-contained stories. If you go to the cinema and watch a 90-minute film it’s never cheaper than watching a 150-minute one, either. At least not in my home town!
I buy advertisements with companies that have proven their worth to me – BookBub, Ereader News Today, Kindle Books and Tips, and a few smaller sites. Sometimes, I lower the price of a $2.99 book and promote my 99-cent sale, but more often, I advertise my free books so people won’t feel a threshold to sample my work. Giving away stuff for free has helped me to become a bestseller in several Amazon Kindle Top 100 categories (Dystopian, Paranormal > Time Travel, and Fantasy > New Adult, for example).
Nowadays, the market in the US is so crowded that it’s virtually impossible to be noticed without at least some form of advertisement. In Europe, it’s less competitive, but I am having difficulty promoting my work effectively over here because there are hardly any venues to boost sales. There’s XMTE for Germany and BookBub now has a UK branch too, but that’s about it. I’m still waiting for a French, Italian or Spanish ‘BookBub’ to pop up and make my life easier in that department!
5. Besides classic marketing actions, what do you do to boost the success of your book?
I keep in touch with everybody who ever reviewed for me and always offer them free copies of books to review in the future. Bloggers are a very important asset in an indie author’s life – without reviews, you won’t sell as well on Amazon, iTunes, B&N etc, and without reviews, you are usually not allowed to advertise with certain sites, either. They require a 20-review, 4-star average minimum, mostly.
6. What is your most precious tip for a new indie author?
Write what you love, but do research about marketing your books. If you don’t want to write a series, consider serializing a stand-alone idea you have and make part 1 free. It is by far the most effective marketing tool. Also, be prepared to invest in yourself. Get a great book cover, an editor, and buy some marketing from the sites that I mentioned. You won’t make any money the first few months, but in the end, investing in your career will pay off.
7. Where do you write? Would you show us your writing place?
I usually sit in the library in the afternoons because it’s nice and quiet and they have cool, comfy chairs! I also write in my local café Bagels and Beans sometimes. The food is great and the music they play is always awesome.
I’d love to have dinner with Ray Bradbury, but sadly, he’s dead. If I could meet him for a heavenly dinner, though, I’d ask him what inspired him to write the Martian Chronicles. That is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.
9. What is your next project, and what would you do differently compared to your past ones?
My latest project is called Tales of Skylge. It’s a three-part series. I won’t release the first book until Book 2 is done too, so people can keep reading if they liked Book 1. I won’t keep them waiting for too long – I always hate having to wait for sequels myself! This is very different from my previous Island series because I wasn’t even planning on making it a series in the beginning, so I had no real marketing plan. I am happy with the way I published my previous ebooks, but this time I am saving some time by writing in English instead of Dutch. Normally speaking I write in Dutch and then translate the book to English, but Sound of Sirens was written in English (and I will translate it to Dutch if my publisher wants to publish it). This means I will be able to publish faster for the US market!
10. What do you appreciate in XinXii?
It’s wonderful that Xinxii allows me to distribute to all the German Tolino stores for free. Amazon is not the most popular platform to buy ebooks from in Germany, so the fact that Xinxii addresses this and gives authors like me the chance to get my books in front of people on Thalia, Weltbild and Hugendubel is very much appreciated.
Thank you, Jen, for sharing all these precious tips and your experiences. Lots of joy and success on your way as an indie author!