Monday, March 17, 2014


Today’s guest is New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Olivia Cunning with part two of her special two part series on finding success as a self-publishing author. Part one, covering her early attempts at publication, is here.

 Part Two: My Own Brand of Insanity

So my first traditionally published book, a rock star erotic romance, was having a little success. I was far from quitting that day job. With my second book, I started to gain some popularity. With the third, I hit the USA Today bestseller list for the first time. Then all of a sudden, the erotic romance genre exploded with the success of Fifty Shades of Grey. People were looking for more sexy books to read. That’s when my career really took off.

It was also at this time that the self-publishing craze took hold and I decided to try my hand at it. I started with something a little different, a time travel erotic romance series (Lovers’ Leap) where the lead characters travel through time quantum-leap-style and fix the sex lives of people in the past. I love the premise. I love the characters. I love everything about that series, except that I don’t have time to write more of it. And it pretty much sells nada. Even with my best-selling-name on the series, people don’t buy it. Why? Because I wasn't being insane enough. I needed to do the same thing over again. Lovers’ Leap was just too different from my norm. (This is a good lesson for novice authors).

Since the Lovers’ Leap series flopped—and continues to flail like a fish out of water—I started writing a different rock star series with a shorter, serialized format, One Night with Sole Regret. And… that’s when it happened for me. When I could finally make a career out of writing and make good money doing what I dreamed of doing.

My first two One Night with Sole Regret books did very well because fans of my Sinners series were waiting for my traditional publisher to get its shit together—I mean, publish the next book. Because Sole Regret was less expensive than my trad pubbed books, I picked up new readers. Many of those went back to read Sinners. Then my fourth Sinners book hit the NY Times best-seller list and my third Sole Regret came out at about the same time and the two releases fed off each other. A delicious vicious cycle. After a few months of smashing success, I quit the day job and started running my own self-publishing business. This is where the late night, sleep deprived, sugar high induced rants that Sia “enjoys” come in.

Self-publishing is not as easy as I thought it would be. Especially since I’m a bit of—cough a complete cough—control freak. I need to do everything myself. If the book doesn't get done and I spell misspell “mispell” and the cover is stupid and I released it on a day when five big names in my genre also released, it all comes back on me. I’m responsible. I can’t blame anyone but me.

So what does this kind of responsibility look like?

I write the book. I edit. I rewrite. I edit. I send to beta readers. I rewrite. I send to my editor. I rewrite. I edit. I re-edit. I re-edit some more. Notice all those I’s in there? And how little writing is involved now?

Okay, the book has been edited and re-edited dozens of times, I can finally collect my cash, right? WRONG! I still have to create the cover, format, upload, distribute to various sites, and market and promote, and market, and market, and promote. I also have to answer reader questions, which come at me through social media and email and my blog and other people’s blogs and who knows how much I miss. I try to interact with fans online while avoiding the negativity that seems to slap me in the face when I least expect it. I never take a day off. I might not write every single day, but I’m doing something related to self-publishing all the time. And don’t get me started on the pain that is bookkeeping.

Traditional publishing is difficult to break into, but it does take a lot of pressure off an author. Someone else does most of those “I” tasks. So that’s why when I was offered a cushy advance for my next series, I said, “Thanks, but no thanks, I’m going to self-publish it.” Say what? You read that correctly, after spending twenty years in pursuit of traditional publishing, now that I’m in a position to get good, guaranteed advances, I turn them down.

Do I regret leaving traditional publishing behind to pursue self-publishing full time? Not at all. I like having control, but it’s a lot of work and it isn't easy.

So, have you figured out the secret yet? On how to become a best-selling self-published author? I’m here to share all my knowledge and expertise, right? So here it is:

The only one who can guarantee your success in self-publishing is… no one. It isn’t guaranteed. Some of it is working hard and producing the best book you can write. Some of it is knowing how to market and gaining reader attention and maintaining reader loyalty. And most of it is pure dumb luck. If I knew how to ensure luck, I’d share the secret, or maybe I’d charge for it, but I wouldn't keep it to myself. I’m baffled that so many authors self-publish their debut novel—without twenty years of rejection angst to back it—and not only succeed, they flourish. That’s amazing! I wish I could have done that. That’s who you should seek advice from. Not me. My method of success isn't a method at all. It’s madness.

So you too can become a best-selling self-published author like me! But I can’t tell you how. Every journey is different. You have to find your own path. And maybe you do have to be a little insane and keep persisting at the same thing—that thing you believe in, that book you wrote, that dream—and expect amazing results. 

Because only when I fed my insanity did I finally find success.

Even Sinners need love... 

When Sinners tie the knot, things don't always go as planned.

Combining her love for romantic fiction and rock 'n roll, Olivia Cunning writes erotic romance centered around rock musicians. Her latest release, Sinners at the Altar, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia and Olivia - really interesting and informative second post - thanks. I picked up the don't change what works scenario .. and how in some ways it is distinctly better to be in control.

Congratulations is all I can say - cheers and enjoy your weeks - Hilary

Natalie Aguirre said...

So true that every author's journey is different. Thanks for sharing yours, Hilary. Glad you've found what works best for you. Good luck with your books.

Stephen Tremp said...

Its great to meet Olivia and best wishes to her and her self publishing venture!

Kat Sheridan said...

I've loved reading this story! And that your own brand of insanity is working for you. I think it really highlights that we all need to be willing to try new things, and just keep going!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Now you are a hybrid author and those are the most successful ones.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's a lot of work to self-publish a book. Glad you've met with success now!

Anonymous said...

Hi Olivia,

Congrats on making a go of it in self-publishing and living the dream of being a full time writer. Running your own business can be all consuming. You might want to see if there are any pieces of the process you'd like to outsource to let you focus more on writing, but that's certainly your call.

Sheila Deeth said...

Suddenly I don't feel quite so bad about failing to sell my books---Time-travel romance sounds so cool. But it's good to know not every success is instant, and encouraging to know your hard work's paying off. Thank you for being so honest and encouraging... and for encouraging continued insanity.

Jo said...

Sounds like you are making a go of it. Perseverance is all, right? Hope it continues.

Unknown said...

You really do have a unique voice. It's totally UNsurprising that your career would take off. Awesome self-made success story!

Mason Canyon said...

Olivia, your success story is amazing. As a reader, I sometimes forget all the extra hard work writers put into their books. The writing process is difficult enough, but to take on self-publishing and all that goes with it, is awesome. Wishing you continued success.

cleemckenzie said...

I loved her strategy! She used what she'd learned from her first publishing experience and turned it to her benefit.

Aniko said...

Olivia, the honesty and humor with which you share your story make it clear that even if some luck was involved, you fully deserved what you achieved. Congratulations, and good luck with the new book!