Writers in the Storm

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January 27, 2012

Debra Holland Looks Back At Her Self-Publishing Journey in 2011

We're proud to have with us today, Debra Holland, a Golden Heart winner, whose book was NOT picked up for NY publication. They said "sweet" historicals wouldn't sell. Well, as you'll read, they made an error. One that Debra is capitalizing on. Here is her inspiring story of the past year.

UPDATE! As of 1/28, Debra's Wild Montana Sky just hit #1 on the Amazon top 100 Western Romance list. Her number three book, Stormy Montana Sky, which hasn't even been out two weeks, is number 31 on the list.

What a difference a year makes! Last January 1, I'd hadn't even considered self-publishing. In fact, I had a negative view of self-published books. I was deep the process of writing my nonfiction (traditionally published) book, The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving. At this point in the process, I'd had my two sample chapters accepted by my editor and was looking at writing 18 more in the next two and a half months.

I had secret doubts that I'd be able to write a GOOD book by the deadline. I used every motivational trick I knew to keep myself positive and on track. It was the one of the most difficult things I'd ever done. But the book is out now, I'm getting stellar reviews and making an impact on people’s lives, so it was all worth it!

Around February, Delle Jacobs posted her monthly self-published sales numbers to our group of friends, The Wet Noodle Posse. I was blown away. I made a mental note to self-publish my novels (that two agents hadn't been able to sell) and wished I wasn't buried in the grief book so I could do it now.

Once the grief book was turned in, I knew I had two weeks before my editor would get the revisions back to me. So I did a read through of each of my two fiction manuscripts, paid Delle to do my covers, made a 10 minute attempt to format the first book, Wild Montana Sky, before giving up and paying someone to do it for me.

Wild Montana Sky went live on the evening of April 28, and the next day, Starry Montana Sky followed. Of course I had hopes for some sales, but I never dreamed that they'd catch on and I'd sell so well: 27,069 (Wild Montana Sky) and 10,207 (Starry Montana Sky) for the year.

These numbers are a combination of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. There are probably another 100 or so sales through Smashwords, which reports quarterly. (Monthly numbers below.)

I've been flabbergasted, excited, and humbled at the success of these two sweet historical Westerns.

After the grief revisions were done, I began working on Stormy Montana Sky (which I'd begun in 2004 and stopped writing after 50 pages.)

I became a self-publishing cheerleader, speaking to my chaptermates and writing blogs because I wanted other writers to know they had options besides traditional publishing. I also began preparing the first two books in my fantasy romance trilogy for publication.

Sower of Dreams went live on July 31 (799 sales) and Reaper of Dreams followed on August 7 (243 sales.) As you can see, they didn't take off like the Westerns did, but they are selling steadily at about 100 and 50 a month. The covers are by Lex Valentine. They've paid for themselves by this point.

Although I’d finished Stormy Montana Sky by late November, it had to go to my editor. After my revisions, I sent it to several copyeditors, and didn’t get it back in time to self-publish the book in 2011. (Although it’s self-published now.)

In the meantime, I decided to self-publish my Romantic Space Opera, Lywin's Quest, (a 2005 Golden Heart Finalist.) I hesitated to self-publish it because it's EPIC at 140,000 words and the next two books in the trilogy are going to be a lot of work. It also didn’t have the copyedits finished in time to self-publish in 2011, although it’s now available.

Self-publishing has reawakened my creativity. When my books didn’t sell, I became discouraged. I stopped writing fiction and switched to nonfiction. What I didn’t know I was doing was stifling my creativity. I’d get a story idea and squash it thinking, “It’s too much work to write a book that doesn’t sell.”

Now ideas are flowing. The Montana Sky series has expanded (in my head and in notes) to two more full-length books, 3 novellas, and a collection of Christmas stories.

Having an income from writing, instead of spending money through taking classes, going to conferences, buying books, belonging to writers’ organizations, paying for editing, etc, is wonderful! Although I must say, checking my sales numbers has become an addiction.

Here's my sales breakdown by month:

WMS 11 (.99)
SMS 5 ($2.99)

WMS 479
SMS 106

WMS 2454
SMS 638

WMS 5085
SMS 1842

WMS 5106
SMS 2180
SOD 97 (.99)
REAPER OF DREAMS (ROD) 45 (Aug 7) ($2.99)

WMS 4348
SMS 1733
SOD 104
ROD 44

WMS 3975
SMS 1445
SOD 104
ROD 47

WMS 2386
SMS 1047
SOD 119
ROD 57

WMS 3232
SMS 1227
SOD 129
ROD 50


WMS 27,069
SMS 10,207
SERIES 37,272

SOD 556
ROD 243

During this time, I've done very little promotion. I've written some blogs and done some guest blogs. I've requested reviews from about 10 review sites and the books have been favorably reviewed by all those who said yes. I had a brief pop of sales in October from Pixel of Ink picking up the book. If you look back through my blogs over the last six months, you can read about other things I think work. http://drdebraholland.blogspot.com

Barnes & Noble sells very few of my books in comparison to Amazon. I'm frustrated with that company because there's so much more they could do to improve sales for all their authors. (But that's another blog post.) However, in adding up the numbers for this blog, I was able to see how the consistent (although small) sales can add up over time.

I'm more grateful than I can express to all the readers who bought my book and to the authors who led the way on the path of self-publishing and to those who continue to support and educate me.

I hope you are all taking the time to reflect on what you can do to make 2012 the best year ever! Best of luck with keeping all your New Year's resolutions. Here's to a wonderful, healthy, and prosperous 2012!

Dr. Holland has a master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy, and holds a PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern California, and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has twenty-five years of experience counseling individuals, couples, and groups. Dr. Holland is a popular psychotherapist, consultant, and speaker on the topics of communication difficulties, relationships, grief recovery, stress, and dealing with difficult people. She is a featured expert for the media, and does entertainment consulting.

0 comments on “Debra Holland Looks Back At Her Self-Publishing Journey in 2011”

  1. Debra, it is no mystery why self-publishing has become an option all writers are begining to consider. Congratulations on such great results and for your decision to release more than one or two books in a short period of time. An article that Laura Drake of WITS distributed to us by Kristin Rusch, speaks not just of self-publishing as a viable option, but also about what she calls "having respect" for the reader. To give the reader more than one or two books, and not to make the same mistake in self-publising that traditional publishers have in the past. (Read here:

    In the end it all comes down to "finding our readers," and then giving them what they want and not what the marketing departments of trad. publishers think they want. Keep up the good work and write on !!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your self-publishing journey. I'm contemplating the same road and all the info I can get is truly appreciated!

  3. Debra, Thanks so much for sharing. At the chapter meeting when we celebrated your success, I can't tell you how pleased I was for you. I'd love to pick your brain sometime. 🙂

  4. Debra,
    That's great. I'm so torn. I was just ready to self-publish my first book, when two pubishers asked for fulls, I'm still going ahead with the self-publishing process, such as working on a cover and having it edited. My second MS is with two agents. But getting ready to sub my third, I'm revising my fourth and writing my fifth. I don't know if I'm patient enough for a traditional publisher.

  5. Ella,

    That's known having two good choices. 🙂 I can't tell you what to do. However, having the manuscript professionally edited is a good next step, whether you submit it to NY or self-publish it. Good luck.

  6. Thanks, Debra, for being so open and generous with your information on self-publishing. You've had great success and well deserve it! OCC is lucky to have you as a member!

  7. It's wonderful that writers have new outlets for books that "won't do well" by NY standards--they're looking for major bestsellers instead of looking for good books that sell well. Which ignores a huge part of the market, and makes it impossible for writers to grow their audience and improve their craft while doing so.

    I've had very good success with my backlist -- the more traditional Regencies have also found a better home online than with NY publishers. And I'm now bringing out a self-published book, Paths of Desire. It's faster, you have better control as an author, and you get to reap the rewards, instead of waiting for things to somehow work out. This really is the wave of the future.

  8. Congrats, Debra! Thank you so much for sharing your story and for giving us this information on self-pubbing. Your story is an inspiration to all of us.

  9. I'm curious about the very first step you took to get Wild Montana Sky on the Amazon and B&N websites. Did you simply contact them and say, I have this book....or is the process more technical than that? I'm assuming the latter. Congratulations on your success. Very encouraging news to another writer whose books haven't found a home on NY publishers desks!

  10. Polly,

    Actually, it's easy, and I'm saying that as a tech challenged person. Both sites have places where you upload your formatted manuscript, cover, details, fill out questions, and some other things. It's a step-by-step process that you can follow.

  11. [...] On the other hand, it was a good time to be inspired. Bob Mayer’s Write It Forward workshop has been a career-changing event. Kristen Lamb’s post stirred something inside me. Angela Wallace reminded me to smile. Myndi Shafer and August McLaughlin made me laugh out loud when I most needed it. Tameri Etherton gave me a Versatile Blog Award, which lifted my spirits. I also learned more about the business with (once again) Bob Mayer, J.A. Konrath, and Debra Holland. [...]

  12. It's refreshing to see a writer being so open about "how I got there" and "how I'm doing with the numbers." It's rare and (a) we appreciate the openness, Deb, and (b) it's motivating as all get-out. I can't wait to get mine out there for a second run.

    And, Polly, since I've watched Debra launch a novel on Amazon and Smashwords, I can vouch for "It's a step-by-step process." Just go to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing at https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin.

    You can also check out lots of how-to books on the subject, such as http://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Kindle-Freebies-Publish-ebook/dp/B004NBZDZE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329588162&sr=8-1.

    Good luck, everybody, and let's keep helping eachother make our publishing dreams come true.

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