Jeffe Kennedy Q&A Part 2

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) board president Jeffe Kennedy is a hybrid author of Fantasy and Romance novels, who has won the prestigious RITA® Award from Romance Writers of America (RWA) and was finaled twice. She has received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award.

Fantasy and Romance author Jeffe Kennedy graciously shared her advice for aspiring novelists in Part 1 of our Q&A. Now, in Part 2, we asked the prolific author’s perspective on self-publishing, the growing—and potentially extremely lucrative—market for writers, particularly in the genre or popular fiction space.  

Kennedy, who has been working in the publishing industry for 25 years, is a true hybrid author. She has an agent and writes and releases books via traditional publishers, including the Forgotten Empires trilogy (St. Martin’s) (link here). But, she simultaneously self-publishes works, like Heirs of Magic (link here), under her own Brightlynx Publishing banner. 

Read on to see how Kennedy got started in self-publishing and what her top tips—and caveats—are for writers considering going down the DIY path. —Maxine Shen

After successfully signing with a traditional publishing house with many of your novels, what made you suddenly decide to try self-publishing your work?

Initially I decided to self-publish because the publisher of one of my first books, Petals & Thorns (link here), automatically reverted rights back to the authors after two years. I figured, why not give it a try? Now I’m solidly a hybrid author with my income about 60/40 trad/indie or vice-versa, depending on how the year goes.

With self-publishing, the income from retailers is monthly, and you can be working on projects while you wait for things to happen on the trad side, which can be akin to geologic time.

Self-publishing is great for evening out income. The big-house traditional publishers pay twice a year, so unless you’re making a ton of money—or have a salaried spouse—that can be difficult to impossible to live on. With self-publishing, the income from retailers is monthly, and you can be working on projects while you wait for things to happen on the trad side, which can be akin to geologic time.

How do you determine which manuscripts you want to self-publish versus pursue a traditional publishing deal with?

I decide what to submit to trad versus what I’ll self-publish largely in concert with my agent. Part of her job is to advise me on what she thinks she can sell to the trad market. Some ideas she’ll say, “Yeah, just self-publish that one if you really want to do it.” Some projects we have tried to sell to trad and they passed for one reason or another. I also have rights to some of my worlds I created in books that were originally trad-published, but that I can continue on my own. Those are what pay the bills!

You self-publish your novels under your own company, Brightlynx Publishing. Is creating a publishing company necessary for those looking to self-publish their books?

It’s funny about Brightlynx—I originally created that business ages ago, before I was a writer, for database consultation work I was doing. When I started freelance writing, I just did it under that same umbrella, so it was natural to use that for self-publishing, too.

You don’t need a “publishing company” or business name, though. Some indie authors like to do that because using their own name makes it clear that the book is self-published, and they don’t always want readers to know that. It’s a choice, but I’m not sure it’s a critical one. If you’re doing it in an attempt to trick people into thinking the book is traditionally published, then maybe that’s the wrong motivation.

What are your go-to tips for people who are considering self-publishing their manuscripts?

I suggest looking up David Gaughran (link here) as someone who provides solid information without the hype. Definitely invest in a professional cover designer AND professional editing.

I’d say my key point of advice is: don’t self-publish only because no one will publish the book you wrote. 

This is hard to face, but very often a book that is rejected by traditional publishing is rejected for very good reasons. There’s a temptation to say, “Screw the gatekeepers!”—which is legit—but be aware that the gatekeepers, while blind in some ways, are also smart and experienced in the industry. Take a good, hard look at reasons they rejected the book. I’ve seen many first-time indies have a huge struggle straight out of the gate because they decided to self-publish their very weird, multiple-cross-genre book that nobody understood. It’s a labor of love, to be sure, and I’m not saying don’t do it—but keep in mind that whatever made it hard to sell to trad might make it hard to sell to readers. This isn’t always true, but it can be.

I’d say my key point of advice is: don’t self-publish only because no one will publish the book you wrote. 

On the flip side, many indie authors make good livings selling to a very small, niche market of readers. It can take time, effort, and persistence to find that market, however. 

[Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in November 2020.]

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about self-publishing with PTM, Jeffe! Readers, be sure to check out Part 1 of this interview, covering Jeffe’s advice for writers and more!

Check out Jeffe Kennedy’s latest self-published series Heirs of Magic here and Bonds of Magic here.   

Keep up with Kennedy here: 

Twitter: @jeffekennedy

Facebook: Author.Jeffe.Kennedy

Website: jeffekennedy.com