Spotlight 52: Elizabeth Ann West
Links mentioned in this episode:
GUEST: Elizabeth Ann West’s website
STARTER KIT: Self-Publishing Formula’s publishing resource kit
Spotlight 52: Elizabeth Ann West
Mark Dawson: I'm Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing show. And this is Self-Publishing Spotlight, where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.
Tom Ashford: Hello, and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors at all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes, and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.
My name is Tom Ashford and I'm part of the Self-Publishing formula. Don't forget you can get yourself publishing resource kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit.
This week's guest is Elizabeth Ann West. She's written 27 books in the historical Regency romance genre, and she lives in Texas.
Elizabeth Ann West: Hi Tom. Hi everybody.
Tom Ashford: Would you like to start by going into detail with the historical Regency romance? Because I know there's a sub-genre that you write in specifically.
Elizabeth Ann West: Yes, I am well known on different forums and things as the Jane Austen girl. So I write derivatives of Pride and Prejudice and they sell like hotcakes.
Tom Ashford: Nice. And what does that involve?
Elizabeth Ann West: I tell a lot of people just about everything is derivative. When we were all at our cocktail parties at conferences and stuff, we talk about how there's eight universal plots, how many times they remake Sherlock Holmes or Alice in Wonderland and everything like that. If something's public domain, you can reuse it.
Jane Austen's been dead for quite some time now, and you can redo Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or any of those. You can also redo Dickens. A lot of Shakespeare gets redone. So what I do is I do new stories for Darcy and Elizabeth, and it's like your favorite TV show never being canceled.
Tom Ashford: We'll go into the first question, which is why do you write? And why do you write the Jane Austen?
Elizabeth Ann West: Oh boy. Okay. So why I write was an accident. In '07, I was married at the time and we had just moved from Virginia to California. And I was trying to start a business to do administrative assistant work online. And there was a link that said, write articles for money. I clicked it. And if it was going to cost me any money, I wasn't going to do it. And it did not.
They paid me $7 for my first article on long distance relationship tips. And before Joe Konrath, and I always get the other guy's name mixed up, but they did a big talk about, be the monkey, not the frog. This is 2010.
But prior to that, for three years, I had been writing SEO articles and lifestyle pieces and stuff for websites and everything. So as they were talking about the new digital publishing that was coming, the indie publishing that was just in its infancy, I realized I had all those skills accidentally. My degree is in political science. It's not in English at all.
As for why I write Jane Austen stuff is it was my secret guilty pleasure. I've been reading it since the '05 movie. And the fandom is really funny. Before indie publishing really took off, we had to get our stuff from forums and from websites. It was almost like an underground culture.
We would trade PDFs of our favorite books and everything. And when KDP came out with the democratization of publishing, all of a sudden these stories that were so popular on forums and stuff could be published and reach a wider audience.
In 2014, there was not a new Darcy book. And I was going through a tough time. I had just quit a job that sucked. And so I decided to write one and that was the Trouble With Horses. I put it up and I sold over 200 copies the first week without any advertising. So I was like, okay, I can definitely do this.
Tom Ashford: Wow. And in terms of publishing, obviously as you said, you're indie published.
Would that be an issue of going to try to get a traditional contract, do you think, in terms of the genre that you're in?
Elizabeth Ann West: No. I've had some interest from traditional publishers that I've talked with at different conferences and things. I don't really want this on a podcast, but it's the truth. So that's just what it's going to be. I'm that indie that sells her novels for 9.99 and my novellas for 4.99. So I already sell my books actually at the trad pub price points. It is unlikely that the advances that they could offer me and what's going on with the climate right now, could really make financial sense for me to not publish it myself.
Now there's a possibility that they have a bigger reach than I do. I haven't ruled it out or anything like that. It's just at the moment I haven't taken the time to put a project at trad pub, but I've had there be interest in doing a project that way, it's just so different than what I do. I think I would have a hard time with about giving up the control aspects of it.
Tom Ashford: Question number two is how do you write? Do you plot the stories out first or just run with them and see where they take you?
Elizabeth Ann West: It's a mixture, but mostly plotting. I love James Scott Bell, but I mean, I first learned to plotting from the snowflake method with Randall Ingermanson, he also wrote Writing Fiction for Dummies, but I'm also a dictation girl.
I'm the one who did how to train your dragon on the kBoards Forum. So in 2014, I started dictating my stories with dragon. So a big part is I just kind of slap dash, write out ideas for the scenes. Like I have a note card right here for me that just says, D and E make plans when to leave. D talks to E about Mr. Bingley, meet Mr. Bingley about staying at Netherfield.
So I do my beats and capture down on paper any pieces of dialogue I hear or any visuals I see while I'm thinking of the scene and the sequences. And then I sit down and I put on music. So I'll put my ear buds in, and I'll usually listen to either music from the time period or like from movies, and then I just dictate it into an MP3 recorder, and I plug that into my computer and it turns it into words.
Tom Ashford: Very nice. It's a similar method to Kevin J. Anderson. He came on the self publishing show not long ago. And he was talking about basically the same sort of principle, I think.
Elizabeth Ann West: Yes. I was an early adopter of dragon. I admin the dragon writers group on Facebook and everything like that. And I tell people, it's going to feel awkward. I've been dictating for 20 something books. It's still awkward for me, my first session of the day, but I get faster with each session.
Tom Ashford: Is there a particular time and place that you prefer doing the dictation?
Elizabeth Ann West: I usually like to do it in the morning, but I've also been successful with taking the recorder upstairs at night, before I'm going to bed and then getting a scene down or two. That's helpful because then in the morning when I wake up and I plug it into the computer, it's like, I'm already ahead of the game to start the day.
But I try not to put rules on myself, because if I put rules about when I have to do things, then I don't do them. Because if I miss that rule or whatever, then I'm not somebody that can overcome that. So it's a lot easier for me if I'm just telling myself, I can write anytime, anywhere, allows me to do that, to write anytime, anywhere.
Tom Ashford: That leads into question number three, which is, are you a full time author? If you are, how did you get there? And if you aren't, what steps are you taking to make it happen?
Elizabeth Ann West: Okay. For years, I had to explain that I was ... I made full-time money working part time, but I had the luxury of we relied on my spouse's income at the time. He was active to duty Navy. We moved every two to three years. So that's why I started writing the books.
I've always felt very fortunate about that. Now, after my divorce, I'm still a full-time writer. I had some emotional setbacks last year. So I took a part-time job that turned into a full-time job, but I just quit that last week.
The lowest my income has ever been from my books is about a thousand dollars in a month. That's what my royalties come in at. The best month I've ever had was $15,000.
So I am a full-time writer. It's been my full-time career since '07, either in a part time capacity, because that's what my family needed me to do or in a full-time capacity, if that makes sense.
Tom Ashford: Completely.
Question number four is what mistakes do you think you've made and what have you got right?
Elizabeth Ann West: Do we have an hour? So there's a line of Pride and Prejudice that Elizabeth Bennett says only think of the past so much as it brings you joy. So the mistakes that I have made, I would say that for the most part, I found a way to correct it. Maybe not to completely erase what happened. Let's see. Probably the biggest mistakes would be people in this industry.
I was sued once upon a time. And early on in my career, I worked for someone for free who was a complete narcissist. And she basically put me down to the point that it was like, I wasn't going to write a long time. I believed her because I was in my late twenties and I had other issues.
I think the biggest mistakes to make in this industry is getting into business with a wrong person. Because there's a lot of people in this particular industry, working from home, writing books and stuff that are just not stable individuals. They'll get threatening in Facebook groups and things like that. And we've had issues as an industry I think dealing with that.
I was sued for example, over a Facebook post. I won, but it turns out in the business world when you get sued, even though you shouldn't have been sued, you still have to pay thousands of dollars to get the lawsuit dismissed and you can file to get that money back. However, you can't squeeze blood from a stone. So if the other author who sued you or whatever, isn't made of money, your chances of recovering that is not likely. Does that make sense?
Tom Ashford: Yeah, completely.
Elizabeth Ann West: So that would probably be my biggest mistakes revolve around who I got involved with. But as soon as I realized those mistakes, I walked away from those people.
As far as what I think I've done really well. I am one of the most stable white authors out there. When I talk in my groups and stuff and talk with colleagues, my income kind of stays pretty much the same. I make about $50,000 a year for my books. Now, part of that's me, I kind of have naturally changed how many books I was writing in a year. I've written as many as eight in a year. I've written as little as two in a year, to make that money.
But I built systems that are mostly organic. So like I have a website that is a membership site that my readers join and get chapters. And that handles the really heavy lifting of my marketing. I spend $30 a month on Google ads to drive traffic to my site. And that's all I spend in marketing each month and I still make four figures a month. As far as what I think I did right, I built a very stable business system, whereby publishing is concerned.
Tom Ashford: Question number five is what's your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?
Elizabeth Ann West: I would say be patient, there is kind of a very, an undercurrent, I would say to a lot of the different publishing groups I'm in, that if you're not immediately successful with your first book or in your first year or something, or your first six months or whatever, that you somehow aren't going to make it with this industry. And everything changes every six months. Like for example, I can remember when we couldn't publish on Kobo. Kobo became available, I think in 2012 or 2013.
So everything's changing, give yourself a lot of grace and just keep moving in the right direction. And I would also recommend that you don't spend a lot of energy wondering if you're doing it right, because I see a lot of authors that get stuck. They're afraid that the decision they make might be the wrong one.
And since I've been doing this for nine years now with the book publishing, but 13 years for selling my writing online, make a decision and go with it. Because even if it's the wrong decision, you can fix it. But I would say, if you stand in one spot, you're absolutely not going to have any results, but if you actually move in a direction, you got a 50% chance of something good happening. And if you're going in the wrong direction, you just have to turn around and make a U and go the other way.
Tom Ashford: Great. That's good advice. And those are your five questions up. Thank you very much for coming on Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Ann West: Yeah.
Tom Ashford: That's it for this week Self Publishing Spotlight. Don't forget that you can get your free self publishing resource kit at selfpublishingformula.com/starterkit. And if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at selfpublishingformula.com/spotlight-guest. I'm Tom Ashford. And I'll see you again next week.
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