L.A. Jacob (00:00:10) Welcome to Small Publishing in a Big Universe, September 22nd edition. I am your host, L.A. Jacob. Today’s episode is an interview with Dawn Vogel, an author and book seller at Next Chapter Book Sellers, a full-service independent bookstore in the McAlester-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota. Stop in and say you heard her on our podcast From our sponsors.
This month from Dragon Gems is Stephen D. Brewer, Crossing the Streams and a new anthology from Water Dragon Publishing: The Future’s So Bright.
From Water Dragon Publishing comes a new anthology, The Future’s So Bright. Come along with our authors as we explore the hopeful side of the future from all the good things provided by advanced AI to the innocence of exploring new worlds. Join our authors as they present uplifting stories of science-fiction and fantasy. For more information, see the website.
Welcome to Small Publishing in a Big Universe. I am your host, L.A. Jacob. And today with me we have Dawn Vogel. She has published over a dozen books from novels to essays, steampunk to superheroes, horror and history that never was. She has edited anthologies and is a non-fiction editor at her day job. She also does crafts you can find on Etsy. Welcome, Dawn.
Dawn Vogel (00:02:16) Thank you.
L.A. Jacob (00:02:18) First question is, how do you become self-published?
Dawn Vogel (00:02:22) Well, the absolute simplest way is if you’ve written a book, you can upload it to Amazon and poof, you are self-published. But that is not what I would recommend as the best way of going about it. A lot of the things that you need to do to become a self-published author are similar to the things that you would do if you were being published by a small press or traditionally published. You wanna have the best manuscript you can. You wanna have the best cover you can because that will draw in readers. You have to think about matters of how your book will be distributed, and you have to think about marketing. And when you’re self-published, you’re doing all of that on your own. You can certainly hire folks to help you. I strongly recommend doing so as a self-published author. Getting that outside perspective can be very helpful.
Very few of us authors are also very talented graphic designers, and you can hire a number of people that can help out with that really, really well. In terms of distribution, if you’re self-publishing, you are primarily still looking at Amazon as your primary place to publish and probably the majority of your sales. But there are some folks who go what they like to call “wide”rather than Amazon exclusive. And so, you can use sites like SmashWords to distribute your books to other e-book retailers like the Apple Store and Barnes and Noble. And there’s a few others too that are probably not as frequently bought from, but they still can be. And then when it comes to marketing, that is a whole big can of worms that you’re looking at as a self-published author simply because there’s so many ways to do it well. There’s plenty of ways to do it poorly and it’s also a moving target a lot of times. What worked for you on your last book might not work as well on your next book, depending on the genre and what the trends in that genre are and just what people are looking for in terms of books. I do steampunk, steampunk really isn’t that big currently, but 15 years ago it was huge. Everybody was doing steampunk. It’s a lot harder to market that now because the market got oversaturated for a while and now people are like, oh, another steampunk not really as interested.
L.A. Jacob (00:04:40) What do you think are trending now?
Dawn Vogel (00:04:43) I see a lot of, a lot of folks are doing the urban fantasy, paranormal romance stuff, and that area seems to be almost anything goes. There’s a popular trend where folks are doing things where the heroine maybe falls in love with the monster, which isn’t what it looked like a while back, but that’s really popular among certain audiences. And I think the truth of the matter is, is that any trend and anything that’s off trend may still fit a niche market. It’s just a matter of finding your people, finding the people that are looking for the book that you wrote or the theme that you’re writing to.
L.A. Jacob (00:05:25) Do you prefer self-publishing to small presses?
Dawn Vogel (00:05:30) There are pros and cons with both of them. My steampunk series was originally published by a small press. They published the first two books of it and then they decided before the third book in the trilogy came out that they were done with self-publishing. They were a two-woman operation, real small, and they had lives, one of them had kids. They decided that they were just too busy to keep it up. Fortunately, I was able to get the rights back to those. And then self-publish the first two books, and then the third, the conclusion to the trilogy and get all new covers and everything for them so that they’re a cohesive series. But that can be one of the cons of a small press is that they might go out of business. Whereas if you’re self-publishing, it’s your choice, you, you have a lot more control over what you’re doing because you can say, okay, I’m doing this trilogy and I’m gonna release them one a year or one every other year or whatever timeframe works best for you.
Dawn Vogel (00:06:29) And then you’re the one who’s picking out the editor, you’re the one who’s picking out the cover artist, you’re the one who’s setting up everything. You have a lot of control over your release schedule too. For example, my first book, I really wanted it to come out on my 40th birthday. It didn’t happen, it came out a week later, but we got real close. But if I had been the person that was doing everything for that one, I could have said, yeah, it’s coming out on my birthday. And there’s nothing that you can do. The nice thing about a small press though is that you get assistance with all those things I was talking about with self-publishing, with the editing, with the cover, with the distribution, the marketing, you’ve got backup, whereas when you’re doing it on your own, that’s all in your lap. And that can include expenses.
Dawn Vogel (00:07:16) You can find editors who don’t charge a ton. You can find cover artists who don’t charge a ton. You may get what you pay for and sometimes you need to shell out a little bit more money in order to get what you really need. Whereas if you’re working with a small press, they’re going to cover that either in-house or they’re going to farm it out to somebody who can do the work for them. So, it’s sort of a tradeoff between how much control you have and how much help you’re getting. And so I liked working with the small press. We actually, we got along very well. It was just that they were done, and I still had more books to do. And so I said, well, thank you for getting me started and I’m gonna keep going.
L.A. Jacob (00:08:00) Just to go, go back to something you said, you said you luckily got the rights back. Is it sometimes hard to get your rights back?
Dawn Vogel (00:08:10) It can be. I’ve heard horror stories from some folks who published with a small press that sort of vanished overnight and they couldn’t get any contact back from the publishers. And when you’re trying to reprint a book that somebody else has already printed, Amazon is like, how do we know you’re allowed to do that? And so having a reversion letter from my publishers, the small press publishers that said, we are relinquishing the rights to this book, we are giving them back to the author. That was key to making sure that Amazon would say, oh, okay, well I see that you’ve written this book with this same title, but since you have that reversion letter, everything is cool. I’ve known some authors who have run into Amazon saying, no, you can’t publish that. Somebody else already did.
L.A. Jacob (00:09:00) Let’s wear your editor hat for a second.
Dawn Vogel (00:09:03) Okay.
L.A. Jacob (00:09:04) What do you look for to include in an anthology other than the theme?
Dawn Vogel (00:09:09) So yeah, I was going to say the theme is the most important thing. Honestly, when we’re putting out an anthology, we want the theme to be very apparent in all the stories that we publish. Aside from the theme, what I’m looking for is a story that grabs my attention, that makes me want to know what happens next. And so as I’m reading through the story, I just wanna be really excited about whatever’s going to happen next and be cheering for the main character or concerned about their wellbeing or just somehow engaged with what the main character is doing and making sure that everything comes out to a satisfactory conclusion. I also am looking for stories that are well written, but the story grabbing me is bigger in my sort of hierarchy of what I’m looking for than something that is perfectly flawlessly written. Because I have a lot of experience as a copy editor, I can help somebody fix their story to get it to really publishable.
Dawn Vogel (00:10:06) So if somebody’s story really grabs me, but I’m like, the writing could use some work, I’m still happy to take that story because I can work with the writer. We had an example of a younger author who has some developmental disabilities who really wanted to publish, she really wants to become an author. And so, she submitted us a story that was really cute and really clever, needed some work. But, so we said, okay, we will take this story contingent on these edits and we work together on the edits. It turned out great and we published her, she was just about 18 when we published her.
L.A. Jacob (00:10:42) Do you think that younger writers are more concerned with the story than the mechanics?
Dawn Vogel (00:10:49) Yeah, from what I’ve seen, definitely. Yes. My niece is also a writer. She’s just turned 17 and she comes up with the most imaginative ideas and her, her English skills are also great. Um, comes from having a mother who is an English teacher among other things, but she is really interested in telling a story and then fixing the details later. And I, I’m very much in the same boat, so I know where she gets it from.
L.A. Jacob (00:11:19) What are some of the things that writers do that really irk you as an editor?
Dawn Vogel (00:11:26) As an editor publishing an anthology or a magazine, which are both things that I’ve done, my biggest thing is either not reading the guidelines or reading them and breaking them anyway. When we had our magazine, we did not publish poetry. We would consistently get poetry submissions and it was just an immediate rejection, just, nope, we don’t even look at this. You know, we have zero interest in publishing poetry. And that was clearly stated in the guidelines. We also had to add to the guidelines that we were not interested in publishing scripts because we would get people sending us what would basically be a very short play or very short film. And we were like, that’s not like anything we’ve ever done. No, thank you. So, if you are going out into the world and submitting your stories to anthologies or magazines, make sure you’re reading the guidelines and make sure you’re adhering to them. In terms of editing, if I were editing something that an author’s written, uh, copy editing, I get all of my pet peeves out at work. To be perfectly honest, I have my writers at work, they’re all very quirky. I know their quirks. I’m just so used to it that there is very little that a fiction author could do that would really shock me at this point. It’s all stuff that’s easily fixed.
L.A. Jacob (00:12:44) Do you think then that a writer has talent or, like you said, can be fixed?
Dawn Vogel (00:12:52) For the most part, you need ideas. And I’m not saying that that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work on the craft part, on the getting things correct as far as the English language goes, as far as grammar and punctuation, you should still try to learn that as a writer. But ultimately a lot of it is the story that you’re telling that getting a story that resonates with someone and being able to tell a good story, and it doesn’t require perfect mastery of the English language, it just requires reasonable knowledge. I’ve also received submissions from folks who, English is not their first language, and there are varying degrees of skill amongst those folks. And for the most part it’s, they can still tell amazing stories, even if their grasp of grammar isn’t perfect. And a lot of the time they’re very thankful to learn where their mistakes are. And then when you see another submission from them down the road, you see improvement and that’s awesome.
L.A. Jacob (00:13:54) What do you find are the biggest challenges as a self-published and a small press author?
Dawn Vogel (00:14:03) Honestly, the most difficult thing is getting yourself out there doing the marketing and just letting people know that you’ve got this book and people should come and read it. I’ve published for a novels, uh, some number of novellas, a lot of collections, things like that. I can honestly say that most of them have less than a dozen reviews. They just don’t have huge readership. And so I’m always trying to find new ways to get readers and to encourage folks to leave reviews. Because a lot of the time if you’re looking for a book and you find this book that’s like, oh, this looks kind of interesting and it’s got three reviews, and you’re like, uh, maybe that’s just, you know, the author’s family or friends or something like that. Whereas when you start seeing more reviews on a book, you’re like, oh, well all these people are saying good things about it.
Dawn Vogel (00:14:56) Or, well, this person didn’t like it because they thought that there needed to be more fighting. But I’m into books that don’t have a lot of fighting, so maybe that’s okay. Even less than five star or less positive reviews can still bring in readers because if the person’s complaining about something that you don’t care about or that you actually want in a book. I’ve heard of folks leaving one-star reviews for books that contain queer content. I’m like, okay, my main character in my steampunk trilogy is bisexual. My main character in my standalone is asexual. If you’re opposed to that, go ahead and leave a bad review. I don’t mind. Because somebody’s gonna see that bad review and go, this is exactly what I want to read.
L.A. Jacob (00:15:36) Good point. Cause a lot of writers, when they get bad reviews, they go and cry in a corner.
Dawn Vogel (00:15:40) Some bad reviews will sting, but if you’re getting bad reviews because of content, and it’s not that your content is problematic, it’s just that it’s not to the taste of the reader who reviewed your book, it’s going to be the taste of someone else.
L.A. Jacob (00:15:56) So you find that marketing is both an issue in both self-publishing and small presses because the marketing does eventually fall back on the author anyway, right?
Dawn Vogel (00:16:07) Yeah, yeah. And I believe that that’s honestly becoming the case more and more throughout publishing, whether it’s self-published, small press, or even large press. Folks that I know who have had large presses publish their stuff, they’re still responsible for a good deal of the marketing, whether that’s doing author events or readings and stuff like that. But there is a marketing department usually in a larger press. But depending on how many books that larger press is putting out, you may be only getting a sliver of that marketing pie, in which case you’re gonna have to do a lot on your own as well. And while the sales numbers and the marketing support are both a lot bigger in that area, it’s still some marketing work. And honestly, marketing is one of my least favorite things to do. I do a little bit of it in my day job, but I’ve had to really overcome a lot of resistance that I’ve had to talking about myself in public.
Dawn Vogel (00:17:04) You know, I grew up in such a way that it was like, you know, don’t talk too much about your accomplishments. That’s bragging. You have to brag; you have to get out there and put yourself out there. And it’s rough. It’s a learned skill that you eventually have to get there or you’re gonna end up seeing a lot of your stuff just sort of languish. And you have to put yourself out there for opportunities. You may not get every opportunity you try for, but you’re definitely not going to get the ones that you don’t try.
L.A. Jacob (00:17:29) Obviously social media is a positive for marketing.
Dawn Vogel (00:17:33) Yes.
L.A. Jacob (00:17:34) Do you think it’s better for an author to do their own social media or their own marketing as opposed to hiring a marketing person?
Dawn Vogel (00:17:42) So we’ve done both. So our self-published work, when I say our, I’m talking about myself and my husband and a few other people. We have a small press imprint called DEFCON One Publishing that is sort of our press, but really, we’re self-published and then we help out some friends of ours. We hired somebody to do the marketing for DEFCON One for a little while, simply because when we were doing both DEFCON One Publishing and Mad Scientist Journal at the same time, we just didn’t have time for it. But what allowed us to do by hiring somebody for a while was to learn how she was doing it and then take what we learned from her and then apply that going forward. So currently I do the marketing for DEFCON One Publishing, which also is a majority of our publications are mine at this point.
Dawn Vogel (00:18:33) And so I just took that over. I have a whole spreadsheet on my computer to help me remember to rotate through everybody’s books and how frequently we post and things like that. Yeah, there are definitely people you can hire to do that. If you’ve got something like, we use Hootsuite for our social media management, and if you’ve got something like that, you can spend 15 minutes to half an hour a week getting stuff set up, even less if you’re not posting as frequently. And when we had our social media person, I think she worked about five hours a week for us, but she also was doing a few other things than just posting. She was helping us find reviewers, she was helping us find opportunities to be on things like blog posts or podcasts or things like that. But yeah, she worked, you know, maybe five hours a week and that was great.
Dawn Vogel (00:19:22) And she worked for multiple clients in a similar way, so she would just be like, she pieced together a full-time job just from doing marketing for different authors and other sorts of support for them. So that option is out there, but if you are an author who is trying to save money or you’ve got plenty of time on your hands, then taking it on yourself, you can. You can probably spend an hour or two a week doing your marketing and call it good. My other suggestion for folks who want to do their own social media is take a look at authors that you admire, particularly independent authors or small press authors, depending on which one you are, and see how they’re doing their marketing or follow a small press or two on Twitter or Facebook and see what they’re doing for their marketing. And talk to other authors that are in your genre and they’ll give you all kinds of ideas because we do a lot of superhero stuff. For DEFCON One, I joined a Discord that’s all-superhero fiction authors and fans. And so, we have a section of the forum that is just for authors and we talk about marketing and we do newsletter exchanges and things like that so that we can know what we’re doing and sort of what’s working and what’s not working for us.
L.A. Jacob (00:20:39) Where can people contact you and or find your work?
Dawn Vogel (00:20:43) On my website is, my website is HistoryThatNeverWas.com, and I have listings for all of the books that I’ve published. I also have a publications page for fiction, which also includes my short stories and poetry. And I have a page for nonfiction, which includes my book reviews, which I do one about every month, sometimes two a month. And then beyond that, I am primarily active on Twitter, where I am @HistoryNeverWas, and you can reach me there. There’s also a contact page on my website if folks wanna email me directly.
L.A. Jacob (00:21:16) Okay.
L.A. Jacob (00:21:27) From author Michael Thal comes a fictionalized memoir based on the true story of a Deaf woman who refuses to let challenges in life stop her from reaching her dreams of living a fulfilling life.
Disgusted with the Islamic government’s depraved treatment of the Jews, Zhila Shirazi leaves Iran for a new life in the United States. There she receives a cochlear implant and finds true love with her soulmate who takes care of her as she battles and, finally, succumbs to cancer. The Lip Reader will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, SmashWords, and other online book sellers, or support your local independent bookstores by ordering it through bookshop.org or indiebound.org. For more information, visit PaperAngelPress.com/product/lip-reader.
L.A. Jacob (00:22:27): Thanks again to our guest. We plan on publishing new episodes every second Wednesday of the month. Watch for new episodes around that time.
Theme music is provided by Melody Loops. Other music is from assorted free music websites found on the internet. If you want to know more about Small Publishing in a Big Universe, visit our website at SPBU-Podcast.com. Tweet us at SPBU-podcast and like us on Facebook at SPBU-podcast. Visit our marketplace for more information about the books and stories mentioned during this episode.
This podcast was recorded and edited by yours truly, L.A. Jacob. Executive producer is Steven Radecki. Transcription services provided by Remy of Sleepy Fox Studio.
This month’s episode was sponsored by Paper Angel Press and its imprints, Water Dragon Publishing and Unruly Voices. You can hear our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, and most of your favorite podcast services. Visit our marketplace for more information about books that are mentioned on this podcast. Thanks very much for listening and talk to you soon.