Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Interview with Best-Selling Indie Author Shelli Johannes Wells

Today we welcome Shelli Johannes Wells of Market My Words to the blog. Shelli is the author of Untraceable, which has hit the Amazon bestseller lists in multiple categories including: Top 100 eBooks, Top Action and Adventure, and Movers & Shakers. To top it off, Shelli was recently nominated for the Crystal Kite Award (SCBWI award) and the Georgia Author of the Year in the Young Adult category! Shelli stopped by to discuss her self-publishing journey and graciously agreed to take questions in the comments section. First, a little about Untraceable:

Description from Goodreads:
16-year-old Grace has lived in the Smokies all her life, patrolling with her forest ranger father who taught her about wildlife, tracking, and wilderness survival.

When her dad goes missing on a routine patrol, Grace refuses to believe he’s dead and fights the town authorities, tribal officials, and nature to find him.

One day, while out tracking clues, Grace is rescued from danger by Mo, a hot guy with an intoxicating accent and a secret. As her feelings between him and her ex-boyfriend get muddled, Grace travels deep into the wilderness to escape and find her father.

Along the way, Grace learns terrible secrets that sever relationships and lives. Soon she’s enmeshed in a web of conspiracy, deception, and murder. And it’s going to take a lot more than a compass and a motorcycle (named Lucifer) for this kick-butting heroine to save everything she loves.

Interview with Shelli Johannes Wells

Hi Shelli—thanks so much for joining us today and congrats on all your amazing news! I'll start with some basic questions for you and then let people ask their own questions in the comments. Ready, set, go.

1) What factored into your decision to self-publish versus continue to pursue the traditional publishing route?

I was with an agent for 2 years and both of my books went on submission and even made it to acquisitions at several houses. After my agent and I separated last summer, I knew these books would not be picked up by another agent (or at least the chances were slim). So I decided to get them out as an experiment by playing around with marketing.

2) I'd imagine you have to wear many hats as an indie author. What did you find to be the most challenging part about indie-publishing?

Yes I do wear too many hats! And it is exhausting. I love it because I am good at marketing and own my marketing business anyway so I am used to running a business. I’m used to being an entrepreneur and that is not for everyone. But I had no idea how hard it would be to self publish. I guess I thought I would just edit, upload, and market but there is so much more I didn't know. Legal stuff, publishing stuff, distribution, blah blah. I did a post about all the hats I wear. http://www.srjohannes.com/2012/01/schizophrenic-indie-pubber.html

On the flip side - it's been fun and very rewarding. I have loved the process and am proud of what I have done in under 100 days.

3) 100 days seems so fast in the publishing world! Whether one pursues traditional or self-publishing, the first step is writing a great book which you’ve obviously done. After that comes the marketing of that book. You have a background in marketing (and a wonderful marketing-related blog), so what advice would you give to those interested in self-publishing who don't have that experience? I read somewhere that 80% of self-published books sell less than 100 copies, so the marketing piece becomes vital in self-publishing.

Marketing is vital with the success of ANY book. But traditional houses have the house name behind them which automatically opens doors and exposure. The hard thing with self-pubbing is that many doors are closed because you are not with a publishing house. That part is frustrating. With self-pubbing it is even more critical you stay in public's mind so being visible is critical.

Yes, 80% of self pubbed books sell less than 100 copies (JA Konrath said this). It's a tough market to stand out in so you have to find ways to set yourself apart.

4) To expand on the question, what promotional or marketing tools did you find to be most helpful in promoting Untraceable? What did you find to be least effective? How much time do you figure you spend marketing per day versus writing?

I spend 70% of my time on business and 30% on writing. Maybe that will change over time but that is what it is when I look back at last 6 months in launching these two books. Gosh, I hope it changes. I miss writing more. But I think I needed to spend more time up front getting my name out and - hopefully- with more books I won't have to do as much all the time. 

The most effective is posting ads on kindle ebook sites - especially if they have email subscribers that speak directly to kindle customers. Also, bloggers are essential as well in getting the word out. I would not be here without them. Least effective was a press release drop I did - waste of money and I was surprised at the lack of results. :(

5) One of the pros of self-publishing is the total artistic control you have over the book, such as the all-important book cover, but this sometimes requiring hiring outside people for things like the cover, formatting, editing etc. These costs could add up quickly. What would you estimate is the total cost to self-publish a book? Despite the out of pockets costs, where should you not cut costs (e.g. the cover)?

To get a book together and get it out (not including advertising expenses) I would say anywhere between $1000 and $2000 unless you go totally overboard. This includes cover design, editing, copyediting, loading fees on the ebook sites, and fees associated with paperback (if you do one.) Add in review copies, mailing, basic marketing swag. I think all these are essential - it is just a matter of where you can get better prices for covers or editing or swag. Personally, I don't see how you could do it right for under $1000 – I would question quality of editing and cover.

6) As a self-published author, you don't have to wait the traditional 18 months for your book to hit the shelves. Do you find you are more motivated to write knowing your book can hit the virtual bookshelves any time you want? Do you feel more pressure to get your sequels completed quickly?

I do feel more pressure to get books out. I think that is key to keep your audience. Luckily, I have always written very fast. While my friends write one book, I can write 2 or 3. I actually feel more pressure to put out something really good to prove myself. I find book reviewers are much harder on self pubber mistakes so you better put out high quality stuff if you don't want to get raked across the coals.

7) What's next for you?

Uncontrollable - the sequel to Untraceable - comes out late summer. That's about as far as I can see right now. :)

8) Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like people to know about your journey or any final advice?

Just know that your dream may not look like the person next to you. The goal may be the same but the path may be different. Try to be open to that.

Thanks again, Shelli, and I wish you much continued success! 

Do you have questions for Shelli? Put your questions in the comments and Shelli will stop by throughout the day to answer them.


  1. We're so excited to have you--thanks for such a comprehensive interview!

  2. What a wonderful interview. I haven't looked at how much time I spend in marketing, 70% seems about right! Man, I miss being able to write more.

    Congrats on your success! ;)

  3. I really enjoyed this meaty interview! Very interesting that the press release drop didn't have much of a return. Do you think you'd do one again, with changes in your strategy? (asking because I'm considering doing one for my upcoming book)

    Thanks Shelli and Kristi!

  4. i personally will not do another PR drop - They cost 200$. I would use that money in other ways. Just my opinion


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