” Have the best product you can make. Same goes with traditional publishing. Learn, write, revise and then repeat. Make it your mantra.“
When did you publish your first book?
Pam Crooks: My first book was released by Dorchester Publishing in 2001. That book was Wyoming Wildflower, which is still my mother’s favorite.
How long did it take you to find a publisher who would work with you?
Pam Crooks: Forever, it seems. But all told, it was nine years before I finally sold to Dorchester. If anything could go wrong for an aspiring author, it went wrong for me. Everything from a lost manuscript (I waited for a whole year on that one), agents who lost interest (three of them), editors who were young enough to be my daughters who moved from line to line and house to house, shuffling my manuscript back and forth, and so on. But finally, everything clicked, I found an editor who loved my work, and I sold, bing, bing, bing.
Did you have an agent?
Pam Crooks: I’d had 3 agents who failed at making a sale for me, and I parted ways with all of them. Ironically, I sold to Dorchester on my own. I didn’t get an agent until my fourth book with them.
If so, do you still have the same agent?
Pam Crooks: Yes. She still handles my Harlequin titles for me.
How many traditionally published books have you produced including the first one?
Pam Crooks: I’ve traditionally published 14 books, four with Dorchester Publishing and 10 with Harlequin Historicals.
What book was the most popular?
Pam Crooks: Hannah’s Vow, but not when it was still with Dorchester. When I got the rights back, I self-published the book in 2011, and it went on to make me an Amazon bestseller.
What role did or does editing have in the success of these traditionally-published books?
Pam Crooks: There were some revisions that I made gritting my teeth, others that definitely made the book stronger. It’s all subjective, of course, but when I was with Harlequin, their focus was and always will be on the relationship of the hero and heroine. Sometimes I felt like I was hitting the reader over the head with angst, but it was what my editor wanted, so I did it.
Did you find the series books more popular than single story books?
Pam Crooks: Definitely. Readers love to find out what happens to the characters in time. They want to see a couple happily married with kids. And they love seeing secondary characters given their own stories.
What impact did e-books have on your traditionally published books?
Pam Crooks: Well, I quit writing the traditionally published books. They were all historical western romances, and I was ready for a change right about the time the big e-book wave hit in 2011.
Why did you decide to start republishing some of your traditionally published books yourself? Were these released by you only in electronic format?
Pam Crooks: About the time authors were really starting to hit it big with e-books, Dorchester Publishing was having serious financial difficulties. They began releasing their authors and giving rights back. I’d always felt that Dorchester never gave my books the attention and promo they deserved, and it broke my heart that they were languishing in some warehouse, so I was quick to get my rights back and self-publish. I’ve been happy to give them new life as e-books.
You’ve since started self-publishing your new releases. What prompted you to do this?
Pam Crooks: The speed, the control, the fun of being able to do everything myself. I love having the book available for sale in a matter of hours and seeing the sales each day. When before were authors given the liberty of knowing how much money they were making every day? When before had they been paid every month? That’s huge. Much, much better than getting paid twice a year, and even then, having a good chunk of the money held back in reserve.
The icing on the cake, though, has to be working with my designer on the cover. Once the manuscript has been formatted and ready for upload, it’s the prize for all the months of hard work. It’s the one thing that makes the book real. It’s always a creative adrenaline rush for me.
What was the first book you released totally self-published?
Pam Crooks: Her Mother’s Killer. It was actually a Harlequin Intrigue that my editor at the time wanted to buy, but the senior editor rejected it. Back then, it was a tough line to get into. Not enough slots for the number of submissions. Too many good books never got bought because there just wasn’t enough room.
Was it available in print and e-book?
Pam Crooks: Yes.
Which sold better and what would you do differently now if you could go back?
Pam Crooks: Her Mother’s Killer earned out in a matter of a couple of weeks, and the cover (which I think is awesome) and the title played a big part in getting it noticed. What would I do differently? I’d probably do more social media. I don’t like spending the time on it, but they say it’s what sells books.
Also, e-books always sell better than print. Price and convenience are what it’s all about.
You experimented with a pseudonym and then went back to your real name. Can you tell us a bit about that and why you abandoned the idea?
Pam Crooks: Since the time I entered the e-publishing world in 2011, the market has exploded. It’s getting harder and harder to be noticed, and an author has to constantly promote herself. In late 2012 and early 2013, I could tell the difference in the market, and it was just too hard (for me) to promote not only my real name but a pseudonym, too.
Because there is such a huge glut of books out there, readers are overwhelmed from the selection. Their eyes glaze over. I found out the hard way that most of them will only buy from an author they know. Plus, losing the opportunity to browse through a book in a brick and mortar bookstore — impulse buying — played a factor as well.
You recently re-released a self-published book with a new cover that is geared more for the romance genre, as opposed to the original, which was more masculine and seemed to be aimed at men and women. Why did you decide to do that?
Pam Crooks: There’s nothing bigger and better than romance in the publishing world. It’s what I’ve always read and always written. It’s what I’m known for writing. Romance readers are voracious, some of them buying 20-30 books a month. They’re online, they’re in book clubs, and they’re in libraries. I knew I had to go back to my roots and make my life easier. Besides, I missed writing it.
Have you noticed an improvement in sales since then?
Pam Crooks: Within hours of changing the categories to romance on a free short story I’d written as part of the Secret Six series, my downloads quadrupled and I was pushed into the top 100 in my category. Review requests for The Spyglass Project sky-rocketed. Sales began to pick up. All of this convinced me I’d made the right decision in going back to writing under my own name in the romance genre. Why did I ever think I should have done anything different?
What are your thoughts on free books or giveaways?
Pam Crooks: I understand the business logic of free books spurring sales of a series, and it has catapulted many authors to bestseller lists. But it took me a long, long time before I ever wanted to give away my own work for free. When I finally did, I had 36,000 downloads and I refused to let myself calculate how much money I would’ve made if all those downloads had been paid at full royalty.
But in the past 9 – 12 months, the effectiveness of ‘free’ has been greatly diluted. There’s been such a huge glut of free books that many readers refuse to pay for one. I heard one reader boast that she had enough free books on her Kindle to last her three lifetimes.
What has been the most successful marketing technique you’ve employed for your self-published books. Is it different for print than e-books?
Pam Crooks: I honestly can’t pinpoint one thing that was more successful than another. I’m convinced it’s a combination of things, trying new ways to keep my name visible on Amazon, everything from switching out keywords and categories and even changing my cover to keep the title fresh. I’m working on building a stronger presence on Facebook, and I’m getting ready to do a big mailing of chapter books to book clubs around the country. Time will tell if one effort stands out over the others.
Other than doing a couple of print book give-aways on Goodreads (e-books are not allowed in their contests), marketing is the same for both print and e-book.
Do you have more books in the works to be traditionally published?
Pam Crooks: Not at this time.
What are you working on right now?
Pam Crooks: I’m working on Book 2 of the Secret Six series, tentatively titled, The Brewer’s Daughter.
What advice would you give new authors trying to self-publish or trying to get published traditionally?
Pam Crooks: If an author is considering self-publishing, I strongly encourage her to do her homework first. There’s a huge learning curve. I’ve been at this for a couple of years now, and I’m still learning. If an author can afford to pay to have the formatting, etc, done, even better. But if they have to pay for anything, be sure to pay for a professional edit—it’s imperative. Even though it’s tempting, don’t upload the book in too much of a hurry. Have the best product you can make. Same goes with traditional publishing. Learn, write, revise and then repeat. Make it your mantra.