R.A. Evans and the freedom of self-publishing

I'd like to welcome fellow thriller writer R.A. Evans to The Serial Killer Files.  His self-published novel, Asylum Lake, is out right now, and I thought it would be interesting to pick his brain about the challenges – and benefits – of self-publishing.
 
JH: Self-publishing is a hot topic these days, thanks to Amanda Hocking and Barry Eisler, so I’m happy to have you here to share your experiences.  What made you decide to self-publish rather than go the traditional route? 

RAE: Trust me, the choice wasn't solely mine. I have a stack of more than 100 rejection letters from literary agents and publishers which steered me towards self-publishing – and I am grateful for each and every one. When I first set out with my completed manuscript for Asylum Lake self-publishing hadn't earned the respect we are starting to see associated with it today. And personally, it felt like a personal failure to even consider it. But the more I educated myself the more I saw it as an opportunity.

JH: What have been the biggest challenges to self-publishing your novels? 

RAE: The time involved with the entire process. From e-book and print formatting to building my own author platform, it's all on me. I think there is a belief among many that traditionally published authors have it easier: the publisher handles everything and the author just sits back, writes, and cashes royalty checks. I've learned that by and large this isn't the case – even traditionally published authors are doing a lot of their own promotion and platform building, but a self-published author is doing this while at the same time battling the stigma of being self-published.  Even with the success of my debut Asylum Lake I still can't get it read or reviewed by certain publications and individuals. It's a constant battle to prove myself.

JH: Do you think you’ll ever pursue traditional publishing? 

RAE: If you had asked me this six months ago I would have answered differently, but right now I really like being self-published. I've turned down two contract offers in the last six months with no regrets. Maybe it's the control freak in me, but the success I've achieved with Asylum Lake is something I'm very proud of and both offers came with conditions for re-branding and moving my platform in a direction I wasn't comfortable with. I can't completely rule out the possibility, but for now, I'm enjoying the idea of being my own top priority instead of just another author in a publisher's stable of authors.

JH: As someone who still has a lot to learn about marketing and promotion, can you share some of your best tips with me?

RAE: I'm fortunate in the sense that Marketing & Public Relations is what I have done to pay the bills for the last 15 years. It's allowed me to capitalize on relationships I have cultivated throughout my career. That being said, promoting a book is different from promoting any other product or service I have ever been associated with. Maybe it's because in promoting the book I am also promoting myself. I equate it to being a shark – they never stop swimming, even when they sleep.

Every day I am looking for ways to turn somebody new onto my work. Social media has been hugely important in building my platform. I released Asylum Lake one chapter a week for six weeks on my website to build interest. At the end of that six week period I had more than 10,000 views that resulted in 300 pre-orders. I was blown away at the fact that 300 people would gamble on an un-published author and cough up $15 for a book that hadn't even gone to print yet.  Since then I've added a facebook fan page with more than 600 rabid fans, and a blog. Then I tie it all together with twitter.

Add in the radio, television, and newspaper interviews I've arranged and it's all just a matter of creating a buzz. My best advice, carve out a chunk of time each day and focus on promotion – call libraries, bookstores, local media outlets, etc. I could go on and on, but basically, if you aren't talking about your project nobody else will.

Now for the fun stuff...

JH: Why do you write such spooky stories? (Not that I’m one to talk – I’m right here with you on the dark side!)

RAE: I write what I like to read. There's a certain rush that comes from fear - to be both frightened and excited by the prospect of what waits for you on the next page.  I love it as a reader and I relish it as an author. I wrote about it on my blog – there's a certain satisfaction in having people look at you like you're a serial killer. I get it all the time at book signings from fans and readers, and even from some family members and friends. There's a dark place in each of us – some of us are just more willing to go there and see where it leads.

JH: If you could have dinner with any author, alive or dead, who would it be?  And what questions would you ask? 

RAE: Tough question! I have to go with Stephen King. I was raised on his books and marvel at the dark places he is willing to go with his characters and stories.  First off, I would want to know what scares him personally.  What is his writing process? What does he think of the current breed of vampire compared to his character Straker from Salem's Lot? How does he manage writer's block? The list just goes on and on. Sadly, if I were to have dinner with Stephen King I would probably just sit there with a big stupid smile on my face. At least then he would have an answer for what he's afraid of – the dopey guy sitting across the table smiling like an idiot!

JH: Tell us about your latest release, Asylum Lake.

RAE: Asylum Lake is about the  power of memories and how they can attach themselves to places and things. And no matter how you try to run from them...sometimes, the dark ones, grow restless and come looking for you.  The dark memories in my novel lie beneath of murky waters of Asylum Lake and are drawn from the abandoned psychiatric hospital on its northern shore. They've haunted the small Michigan town of Bedlam Falls for years and when the secrets finally surface it sets off a chain of events which, I believe, readers will both connect with and be frightened by. The reviews have been tremendous and the sequel, Grave Undertakings, is scheduled for release in May.

The characters have been a blast to write and I'm sad to see their story conclude, although I'm not ruling out a return to Bedlam Falls at some point in the future.

More about the author:
R. A. Evans writes.  By day he pours his creative energy into meeting the varied needs of his clients. By night, he writes for pleasure. It’s what he does. It’s who he is.  If you like your humor dark, your blood-letting messy, and the creepiness factor cranked to eleven, he’s the author for you. His debut novel, Asylum Lake, hit the shelves to rave reviews and its sequel Grave Undertakings will be unearthed in May 2011.

A graduate of Grand Valley State University, Evans started his career at a small town newspaper, and has spent the past fifteen years working in marketing and public relations.