We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of indie book publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind the stories that make them remarkable.
Meet Eva Maria Fredensborg, a bestselling self-published and traditionally published crime fiction author from Copenhagen, Denmark. We sat down for a talk with Eva about self-publishing and how to market and sell your work, the culture of Scandinavian crime fiction literature and the transition from being self-published to published author.
Walk us through the process of creating your first book as a self-published author, from idea to final publication?
Eva: I used to have a small publishing house where I published Swedish literature that I translated into Danish myself, because I was born in Sweden. When I started translating and working with the language in a different way, I got curious and suddenly felt the need to write myself. Also, I’ve always worked in communications, but I never dreamt of writing a book someday, it kind of just happened.
It’s about four years ago that I finished writing my first book. I started the usual tour around the publishers, and the first publisher had a lot of suggestions, “Do this, or do that.” After eight and a half months, I realized that the collaboration wasn’t working, so I went to another publisher, which rejected my book. The third publisher had the manuscript for almost six months without actually reading it, so in the end I decided to do it myself.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
Eva: Since writing my first book Én gang morder, in relation to writing my third book I Blinde, which I have just sent to my publisher and will be released the 19th of February 2015, the process has changed a lot. When writing my first book I didn’t have a plot, whereas, with my second and third books, I had a relatively detailed plot. Another thing that also has changed in my writing process is that I no longer edit while I’m writing. With the first book I wrote, I would write twenty pages and then go back and read it through and changed something. I think some of the pages I might have edited ten or fifteen times, and in the end I cut out most of it, so it was a waste of time. Now I write the whole thing before I start editing.
Proofreading is required when writing a book—did you do it yourself or did you hire somebody to help you?
Eva: With the first book, after having sent it to all these publishers, I met with some other indie writers and it was a very positive experience because everything was based on possibilities rather than restrictions. At that time, I had hired an editor myself, which is one of the most important things I’ve done as a self-publisher. I paid, I think, about $1200 to a professional editor who read my book and he said, “It’s brilliant, you just have to rewrite the whole thing.” I had gone through all these steps of changes with the publishers that I worked with before, and he said, “It’s chopped up, you have to start over and rewrite the whole thing again.” I had a lot of trust in him, and I thought his arguments were really good, so I rewrote the whole book and it definitely made it a better book. The editor went through it three times. First it was just for the plot, and structure. Then a second time for the language, and then a final read where he caught a lot of errors and typos.
What did you do with the visual presentation of the book?
Eva: I did the layout of the book by myself. I used to work in advertising and I am quite familiar with Adobe, Indesign. I spent several days doing the layout, but it was a good way to save some money, and I think it turned out quite nice. But as for the cover, I didn’t try to do it myself, because having worked in advertising I know how important the visual presentation is, and graphic design isn’t my strong side.
I went to one of the best designers of book covers there is in Copenhagen, called Imperiet. They are a small company with six or eight employees who only do book covers. They charge relatively much, but they are so talented. I know a lot of self-publishers that think they can do everything by themselves, and some are able to make some really neat covers, but there are also others I would recommend to hire a designer.
It’s not the text alone, and if you want to sell it, especially if you want to sell a physical book through bookstores, you need a nice product, a professional product.
I also produced an eBook from the start, which was quite simple to make when you use InDesign for the layout; it is easy to transform it into an eBook format. Moreover, I also created an audiobook and sold the rights to the Danish Libraries. They have their own audiobook publishing house so they bought the rights and they had it recorded and sold it. I thought it was a really nice result.
With my second book, I had a female main character, and realized there was more money to be made if you did it yourself. So I hired a professional company that produce audiobooks and asked them to find a speaker to do it, but while I was speaking to the guy from the company, he said, “I think your voice could be okay, so could you come and have a test.” We did the test, and I ended up speaking myself, and now I know why it’s so expensive to have someone record your audio book, because it was ten hours of endless speaking. I paid about $940 to have it recorded and edited, and then $235 to produce fifty physical copies that I could sell to the libraries. It’s been a good business doing that. I think if you need to hire an actor to speak, then it might be easier to sell off the rights if you could get a good price for that or good terms.
Which marketing and sales channels did you use as a self-published author to reach out to your audience?
Eva: I had three different focuses, one of them was in the beginning when I decided to publish myself. I considered making only the eBook, but since I had published other books before and I personally preferred to read a physical book, I thought, “Well this is my own first book, I want a paper copy and since I’m doing it, I want the bookstores to sell it.” So I had a really strong focus on the bookstores. I did a mail campaign towards fifty selected bookstores and then I contacted the bookstore and offered to visit their store, not to sit behind a desk and sign books, but to actually be an active salesperson of my work.
It was a bit of a coincidence that I started doing it like that. I was going to a bookstore and he said, “Well, we just had a really famous author, and no one came.” So I was like, “Oh, that’s boring to sit behind a desk, can I stand by the door and greet people and ask: ‘Can I tell you a little bit about my book?” It turned out to be a huge success, and I think I’ve done it about thirty, or thirty-five times ever since, and each time I sell maybe fifteen or twenty books in a couple of hours. The first time I had to go out, I was a bit terrified, but it quickly became a pleasant experience. After my visit to the bookstore, they sold two hundred copies. So it is a really good way to build strong relations. When I published my second book, I contacted one of the big book chains and asked if they would be interested in taking in my book in all of their stores, and their buyer said, “I hear that you’re very active in selling your books, so yes we’ll do a special promotion.” So they bought a huge volume of my books, and they hung posters in every bookstore and recommended that the staff read my book. It’s been really important in relation to getting myself and my work noticed. This sales approach also brought me to the bestselling list with the bookstores.
Another way to market my work was done by using public relations. Apart from sending press releases to the regular newspapers, I focused a lot on the blogs and that turned out really well. For the first two months after publishing the first one, I didn’t get one review in any newspaper, but I got a lot from bloggers. After that, the sales of my book started to go really well, even without any reviews in the papers, which was a pleasant surprise. Then two months later, I got a review in one of the leading newspapers in Denmark, called Weekendavisen, and it was really positive. It didn’t have an impact on the sales at all when I first got this review, but it had a huge influence with the bookstores. It is much easier for the bookstore to recommend your book, even if they haven’t read it, by referring to a review in the newspaper. After that, I did some more interviews, not reviews, but interviews about being a self-published writer, because two years ago it was sort of bad style to publish your own work, it was not something that was regarded very positively in Denmark. But all the interviews about being self-published caught the attention of other newspapers and radio stations, which also helped the sales.
The third thing, I did, was in relation to the eBook. It all started out as a coincidence, and suddenly I ended up on the bestselling list of www.saxo.com. They were doing a campaign, and they needed a book to do a special promotion, and I thought that maybe it would be good idea. For ten months, until the time I signed last summer with my publishing house Politikens Forlag, my book was rated within the top ten constantly, which gave really good sales and also served as a good promotion. The more readers you get, the more ambassadors you have, and one sale often leads to more sales. I also made my book available on the library’s service for eBooks. You can say in principal it’s a really bad idea to let the readers have your book for free, but it turned out to be a good promotion. The reader can borrow it for free, and they can recommend it. At the end of my book, I have added a link where readers can sign-up for my newsletter, which has also turned out to be very effective.
After publishing your second book, you got signed by a big Danish Publishing House named Politikens Forlag—could you please tell us a bit about the shift from being a self-published author to a traditionally published author?
Eva: First of all, I really enjoyed being a self-published author. I thought it was very dynamic, and it’s a nice environment that I enjoyed being part of, and I still feel as a part of it in some sense, but it’s also extremely time-consuming. I was ambitious, and I wanted my books to be treated the same way as with a traditional publishing house, which means that you have to work all the time just to promote and sell your work. I also wanted to write new books at the same time.
When I published the first book, I’d already started writing the second one. I was, I don’t know, more than half done with the first draft so that it wasn’t impossible to finish it while I was doing all the other work. When the second book came out, and I had three versions of each book, the audio book, the printed book, and the eBook and all the marketing and everything, it became very difficult to find the time to write. Going back to basics; that’s sort of what I wanted to do. I didn’t set out to be a full-time publisher of my own books.
That’s the reason why I decided to find a publisher. It was very important for me to find a publisher who was strong in marketing. I think a lot of the publishers, they all have good qualities, otherwise they wouldn’t be in business, but for me to leave the control to someone else it had to be someone who could do it at least as good as I could. There are very few books in Denmark that sell ten thousand copies, and I didn’t want to sign over my rights to someone who would only sell two thousand copies. That would be a very, very bad business decision. That’s why I ended up with Politiken. In about a month, they’re going to publish my third novel, so I haven’t really been through the whole publishing process with a publisher yet. But since I signed the contract, in about three months, I wrote three hundred pages. I was ecstatic, everything was just taken care of by someone else and that’s been a really big change. So far I’ve felt that I can trust them with taking care of everything, and they’ve been very eager to make me part of the decision-making. Now the big question is: am I going to make as much money as I did before? Because being self-published, if you sell ten thousand copies, you make a lot of money. Being with a publishing house, ten thousand copies won’t make you as much. That would be okay as long as I have good process writing, because that’s what I really want to do, but, of course, I also need to make money.
Scandinavian crime fiction literature over the last few years has made a strong impact on readers around the world. Why do you think that’s the case?
Eva: Well, I think among others that Stig Larsson’s books, the Millennium Trilogy, contributed to a huge focus on Scandinavian crime fiction literature. The fact that Stig Larsson had died before he was published, and he had written all three volumes before contacting a publisher, appealed to publishers around the world and, of course, the quality of his work. It’s not just crime fiction, but it’s really, really good crime fiction.
When the Harry Potter books started coming out, all of a sudden, publishers around the world would start to look for other manuscripts in the same genre. If you’d gone back just a few years, it would’ve been impossible to get a fantasy novel published for adults. I think the same thing happened with crime fiction. Moreover, what makes Scandinavian crime fiction so popular is that it is often more realistic than crime fiction from other countries. In my opinion, I think the best Scandinavian crime writers have a talent for building characters. It’s not just a police story; you can get that every night on TV, in ten different versions if you like; with Scandinavian crime fiction, the reader will get a strong character and the work of Stig Larsson is a remarkable example of that.
Where do you see books and technology in the future?
Eva: I think and hope that the book is so unique that it will always be around. Especially today, where we talk a lot about the stress and the high level of noise in people’s everyday lives; I think the book has so much going for it. It’s the one place where you focus your senses on one thing and you use your imagination and it relaxes you a lot more than sitting in front of the television.
Also, television used to have an ability to bring people together because everyone watched the same movie, and then the next day you’d talk about it. Today, with all the streaming services, and TV on demand, everyone watches something different. But when a new book is published, there’s a lot of talk about it. It’s a deeper conversation that you have about a book that you’ve been reading, and it takes a lot longer time than just watching a movie. Then you want to discuss it with other people.
Before closing up, do you have anything else you want to add?
Eva: I’d like to say that if people have this dream, “I want to write a book,” start writing,.I think it’s the most amazing thing to start out with some image in your head, or a vague idea and then it turns out to be three hundred and fifty pages neatly bound with a nice cover that goes out into the world, and suddenly you have readers. People you don’t know at all who communicate with you and give you feedback on your books, I think that’s the most amazing thing.
To learn more about Eva and experience
her universe and books
go visit: www.evamariafredensborg.dk