The spotlight series brings to light authors’ approaches to writing for young readers and the secrets to their success. For this edition, Stefan Bolz will tell us his secrets to self-publishing, an option that’s increasingly common for both traditionally and independently published writers. Bolz is the author of a children’s book, a middle grade fantasy, several young adult novels, including the 2014 LYRA contest winner The Fourth Sage, and multiple short stories, in addition to regular posts on his blog.
Welcome, Stefan! It’s great to speak with such an enterprising author about the craft of writing for young adult readers.
SB: Thanks for having me, Chris.
You didn’t go the usual route of finding an agent or a small publisher for your middle grade fantasy The Three Feathers. How did you come to the decision to self-publish?
SB: I sent my first book out to several agents and publishers and got rejections from each one. However, a local 4th grade teacher read the manuscript for The Three Feathers to her class, and the kids loved it. So I decided to publish it myself. There is a lot of freedom in self-publishing. I can be as creative as I want to be, while keeping full control over every aspect of the process. On the flip side, self-publishing requires a lot of knowledge, and the learning curve was and still is tremendous.
You’ve self-published most of your books on Beacon Books, except for The White Dragon 01: Genesis, which was originally released by Wonderment Media. How did working with them change your role with the book?
SB: Wonderment Media was the publisher for a project called 'Apocalypse Weird,' a world not unlike the Marvel Universe. They eventually ran out of money, but it was an awesome experience. They took care of editing, cover design, formatting, etc., and all the authors for the project collaborated on marketing. Since the publisher closed their doors, I have gotten the rights to the books back and self-published book one and now book two.
It’s recommended for independently published authors to hire a freelance editor to get the manuscript up to publishing standards. Who did you work with, and what was the collaboration like?
SB: I have worked with two editors in the past, and I learned a tremendous amount from each one. I worked with David Antrobus on Dark World and The Fourth Sage, and he is excellent. The same goes for Ellen Campbell, the head editor for the Apocalypse Weird books, and I have worked with her on the second White Dragon book as well. I have also worked with Crystal Watanabe on a few short stories. Editing is essential for self-publishing authors. The better the book looks and feels, the better it reads, the more people are going to buy it.
Distribution is a challenge for self-published authors. In addition to Beacon Books, you also publish your novels using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). What has been your greatest challenge and success with distribution?
SB: It's hard to publish, period. Whether you self-publish or you're with a major publisher, it's not easy to find your audience. KDP gives me a lot of freedom. I can set my own price, or I can give away free copies once in a while. But the best way to sell more books is to write more books. There's no better way to get the word out than to have a nice catalog of books under your belt. The more books you have, the more reviews you have for them, the more your books come up in searches by readers.
In the last decade there has been a paradigm shift in how books are marketed. Which social media tools have you used to let others know about your latest work?
SB: I have a lot of friends on Facebook who share in my writing journey and who are kind enough to help out once in a while. I also help out fellow indie authors and in turn they help me with my own books. The other major part is a mailing list where readers can sign up and follow me on my Amazon author page. That way, whenever a new title comes out, they get an email. One other aspect is doing author days at schools. I've done many of them, especially for The Three Feathers, and it's a lot of fun to read in front of classrooms and interact directly with my readers.
As a sneak preview for our readers, please tell us about any upcoming projects.
SB: I'm working on The White Dragon 03: Alchemy and hoping to have that published by the end of the year. I'm also trying to make one of my short stories, The Traveler, into a movie. The screenplay is done, and we are now searching for producers. Finally, my short story The Night of the Hunted will be published in July as part of an anthology called The Shapeshifter Chronicles by Samuel Peralta.
Thanks for such an interesting interview, Stefan. We’ll keep an eye out for your upcoming stories and wish you well on the film project, too. They all sound very intriguing. All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker.