Stepping Out of the Box: An Indie Success Story
An established YA author experiments with indie publishingTurning to self-publishing may seem like an unusual step for a successful traditionally published author such as Melissa Marr, whose extensive oeuvre includes the fantasy series Wicked Lovely (HarperCollins) and the Blackwell Pages (Little, Brown), coauthored with Kelley Armstrong. Marr, however, says she went indie for several reasons—most notably, her desire to try something new and her aversion to being pigeonholed. “Let’s be honest: I’m lousy at boxes,” Marr says. “I write picture books, middle grade, YA, adult, short fiction, and manga. Why not try this?”
Earlier this year, Marr self-published a new volume of short fiction, Tales of Folk & Fey: A Wicked Lovely Collection. In addition to new stories from the Wicked Lovely universe, she says the collection includes “a pair of selchie stories and a daimon/witches one.” Marr has also recently self-published the novel The Faery Queen’s Daughter, released a Dark Court book (containing only the three Wicked Lovely stories in Tales of Folk & Fey), and put out a selection of stories from her Graveminder series. She has also rereleased two romance novels from her backlist. Marr says that in taking control of the publishing process, she has relished the additional freedom to package and juxtapose her work in new and novel ways—a particular benefit for an author whose literary fantasy realms are often layered and intermingling.Marr’s fans have been a driving factor in her decision to publish independently. “I want to learn how it works, what the market looks like, and how to respond to readers’ interests in new ways,” she says. Marr’s avid readers are likely to find her books regardless of how she puts them out there. “I’m not sure readers realize how a book is published,” she says. “I put [Tales of Folk & Fey] up for preorder, and they were pleased.”
Marr, too, is pleased with what she perceives to be the expeditiousness and ease of the self-publishing process itself. She used the Vellum publishing service. “The part I love is the instant response data and the ability to upload new files to fix typos,” she says. “Honestly, I had no idea how easy it would be.... I figured out some cover options and have been applying myself to learning how to reach readers. I loved that I could submit a book to PW myself, for example.” Marr has made Tales of Folk & Fey available in print and e-book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram; in e-book via Apple, Kobo, and European platforms; as well as to libraries via the marketing and distribution service Draft2Digital.
In a saturated market, outreach and promotional efforts are critical to a self-published author’s success, though Marr has observed that even publishing traditionally doesn’t offer a guarantee of sales. “Visibility is the issue,” she says. “My books that sold well were those that had visibility, and the ones that didn’t were the books without exposure. There are so many books that even dedicated readers can’t find you sometimes.”
Currently, Marr is working on a prequel to Wicked Lovely and sharing it on Patreon as she writes. She hasn’t decided yet whether she will self-publish the book or go the traditional route. “For now, readers can join me as I write it,” she says. “I’m all in on experimenting.”
Regardless of an author’s publishing approach, Marr believes in the fundamentals of reaching readers via word of mouth. “The best advertisements are more books,” she says. Marr also recommends that aspiring authors foster creative communities and don’t become isolated in their bubbles. “The best resources are your peers,” she says. “Build friendships—not networks but genuine friendships—those are what sustain me. Friends get together and talk. Sometimes it’s just commiserating and sometimes it’s sharing of resources. All of it matters. All of it helps us survive this mad world that is a writer’s life.”