Jamie Hoang: Stepping into the world of self-publishing

With the success of her debut novel Blue Sun, Yellow Sky, Jamie Hoang’s foray into the world of self-publishing has proved to be a fruitful one.

by Nikhil Sreekandan

The shift of the world from analog to digital and the exponential growth of the internet has proved to be a “great equalizer” in the publishing world. Writers no longer have to kill themselves to be published and in today’s age the old ‘publish or perish mantra’  holds zero relevance. Now there is an entire do-it-yourself world of publishing out there.

For decades self-publishing was referred to as the refuge of wannabe writers and publishing house rejects but today it is a worldwide phenomenon that is being chosen by more and more authors. The introduction of the Amazon Kindle and its self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), in 2007, has been described as a tipping point in the world of self-publishing, opening the floodgates and allowing anyone with an internet connection to upload, publish, and sell their ebooks for free.

Jamie Jo Hoang, who won the silver medal at the Independent Publisher Awards for her debut novel Blue Sun, Yellow Sky, was one of those writers who took the plunge early, back when the Kindle phenomenon had just started to take effect.

A California native, Jamie loves to travel the world and experience new places, cultures, and people, which is visibly reflected in her debut novel – an Amazon review of which calls it “an inspirational story with a kick of adventure.”

Jamie’s passion for storytelling started at a very young age. “My parents worked 18 hours a day so reading was really my only form of entertainment. We’d go to the library every Friday and I’d take home as many books as they would let me. At first, I just did it for the prizes. My local library had this reading sheet and for every X number of books you read, you would get to pick from several prizes. But, slowly I fell in love with it,” the self-published author fondly recollects.

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in screenwriting, Jamie wrote a few screenplays, but she felt that she lacked the drive to actually push for them to get made. In 2011, when she first began writing Blue Sun, Yellow Sky, Kindle books were starting to boom and indie authors could cut through the red tape and publish on their own. She found this appealing as it meant that she could write, publish, and get back to writing.

“I queried agents, I queried about 120 of them and I have a slew of rejections to match. But as I mentioned before, I went into fiction writing because I knew self-publishing was an option. And the more I read about the big publishing houses the more I realized how unappealing I was to them as a new author. I had no platform, no previous accolades, no university affiliation, and no built-in audience. Even if my book was good, I was a costly risk. So I self-published as a way of earning all those things,” explains Jamie.

© Jamie Hoang

Today, getting a book published is easy work, but by-and-large the most difficult and time-consuming part of publishing is figuring out how to get it into the right hands.

Jamie herself had a rough start, spending money in a lot of the wrong places, but it proved to be a valuable learning experience: “I began with Twitter and quickly learned two things: one, people aren’t interested in retweeting my book ads and two, the writing community on Twitter is huge.”

“I also requested reviews from hundreds of book blog websites and all the major ones too (Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, NPR, New York Times, etc). I had to pay for Kirkus Reviews, but being that they were the only ones to even respond to me I coughed up the money. I was VERY fortunate that reviewer loved my book and gave me a starred review, which led to Blue Sun, Yellow Sky being named Indie Book of the Month in February of that year and later being listed as one of the Best Books of 2015.”

Additionally, she submitted her book for several competitions and was awarded six prizes including a silver medal at the Independent Publishers Awards. Using these accolades and a crudely cut together book trailer, Jamie reached out to about 60 book bloggers and about 30 of them accepted a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.

Once she got around 15 or so positive reviews and a few negative reviews, she started running promotions though ebook deal sites like BookBub and running Amazon ads.

“Marketing, especially marketing without a budget is tough because you’re competing against these powerhouse publishing companies who have deals with bookstores and can print in bulk for cheaper or pay higher cost-per-click prices and drown out your ads. So it’s tough, but if your persistent and reach out to enough people, there will be those amazing angels who take a chance on your indie book and love it so much that they start telling their friends,” explains Jamie.

Social media is so important, says Jamie. “I have over 69K followers on Twitter and average anywhere from three to seven million impressions every month– for free. In total, I spend about 5-10 hours a week creating Amazon ads, scheduling tweets, and writing blog articles on Medium.”

When asked for nuggets of wisdom from her experience thus far in the world of self-publishing, Jamie had this to say: “Buy a large calendar. Give yourself 3-5 tasks a day whether it be e-mailing book bloggers, setting up a virtual book tour, building your e-mail list, creating content for your social media, etc. And, this is the most important and crucial advice: get to work on your next book!”

Jamie Hoang is currently about 40,000 words into the first draft of her second book and she has a number of scripts floating around in the festival circuit and is waiting to hear back from those competitions.

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