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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Zoe Winters

For a long time I wondered how successful you could be as a self-published author. I knew JA Konrath had done tremendously well, but he already had a huge following both on his blog and for his books.

While following Kait Nolan, I discovered Zoe Winters, a tireless advocate of self publishing, quickly building a name and a following. Not one to let a golden opportunity pass me by, I asked Zoe if I could interview her about self publishing and her work.

Step inside the world of entrepreneur, Zoe Winters. 


You've stated that you self published because you didn't want a traditional publisher. What was the catalyst that steered you in that direction?
I'm very small-business minded and have owned a few small businesses before this. Those businesses never took off because I didn't have the passion to stick with them. They were always things I was interested in but ultimately things I was doing "so I could write." When I discovered self-publishing as a small business option, I realized that if I wanted to run a small business and write, then I should be combining the two. The catalyst was basically that I don't like working for other people and I have some social anxiety so it's hard for me to maintain a "real job" out in the "real world." I've had 33 jobs and have a low tolerance for crap when working for others. I saw traditional publishing as just another way I'd have to be "working for someone else."

I'm definitely not opposed to professional cover art and professional editing (two services I pay for as an indie author), but... I AM opposed to someone else being in control of my work, being able to give my book a stupid, gimmicky title that I didn't approve, or a cover I don't like or that doesn't reflect the story, or editing my style and voice in such a way I don't like, or telling me what I can and can't write to fit their formulas or comfort zones. That whole concept was just epic fail to me. To add insult to injury, I would have to do most of my own marketing, and still only get a small cut of the proceeds rather than the full profit. I honestly don't get why self-publishing isn't seen as the most attractive option to more authors. Writing is about the only creative endeavor left in which the artists gladly accept the idea that "someone else" knows better than them about how their work should be created and presented. Um. No.

How do you respond to critics who claim self-pub'd books are sub par?
I think it's a stupid argument on their part because in a free market anyone can produce anything and it's the market that decides what is and isn't good and what will and won't succeed. I can't control what anybody else publishes. So to imply that anyone who self-publishes "probably sucks' because most self-published books do, is to blame me for everyone else's business choices. No one eats at a crappy mom and pop restaurant and then says all mom and pop restaurants are subpar. No one gets bedbugs at a bed and breakfast and says ALL B&B's have bedbugs. It's an illogical way of stereotyping people.

Stereotypes are a shortcut way of dealing with others so you don't have to think. But, there is "already" a shortcut when dealing with a book. All you have to do is look at the cover. If the cover looks professional, the odds that the self-published book is "subpar" go way down. Then check out a sample. If it's cleanly edited and you like the style and story, just buy it. Who cares how it got published? If a self-published book is produced right, most readers are never going to know one way or the other if it's self-published because it's not going to scream: "Hi, I'm part of the stereotype". Many of my readers thought I was published by a mainstream publisher until they read my website and found out I started my own imprint.

You've come up with some imaginative ways to market yourself, including the much talked about and amusing Zoe Who videos. Can you tell us how the video idea came about? And why is she in superhero tights?
I'm not a really big fan of book trailers (with some rare exceptions), but I saw the value in trying to plug in to the Youtube audience. I had seen a few videos made with Xtranormal before, and I just think everything is funnier with robots. In this case I felt like the campyness of pre-made sets/characters/robot voices etc. would add to, rather than take away from the series. I wanted to address a lot of the stereotypes and weirdness in the publishing industry in a funny/satirical way. And I wanted to tell my publishing story in little bite-sized snippets.

The superhero tights are just because that was one of the options for the pre-made characters and sets. I was looking through several of the things that were available and when I saw a character with a Z on her chest, I was like... yes! Because it ties back into the title... Zoe Who? Which is really... "Who the hell is this person and why should I care?" So I thought it would be funny to have the character play it up by dressing like a superhero. Other characters have superhero outfits as well... Agent Broccoli, Captain Technical Support, and probably the cover artist character who I "think" I'm introducing next.

What goes into formatting and designing a digital book? Was there anything you found daunting?
I do the formatting for both my ebooks and my print books. Print is harder because there is more of an art to it. I use Aaron Shepard's book: "Perfect Pages" as a reference guide to help me with that. Ebooks are just about keeping it simple. The text can be resized on an e-reader so the biggest problems with formatting for digital is when someone gets too "precious" about it and is trying to mimic the printed page layout. has a style guide that helps you format simply for E. I use that.

As for what I found daunting... in the PDF layout, I had trouble getting "curly quotes" for Kept. There was an issue where "find and replace" wasn't working, and the other option was to type in all my curly quotes. In print, books are supposed to have quote marks that curl in toward the text, instead of the straight up-and-down marks we're used to in online communication. Of course I spazzed out about it and called it the Curly Quote Crisis of 2008. :P

Zoe Winters writes quirky and sometimes dark paranormal romances. Her favorite colors are rainbow and clear. Her books are available at,, (more retailers coming soon). You can find her at the following places:

Zoe Who? Video Series:
Thank you, Zoe!

Readers: Would you consider self publishing? Is there anything you'd like to ask Zoe?


Joanne said...

Thanks Zoe and Maria, it's always nice to read of another writer's insights and routines. Technology has opened so many doors for writers, self-pubbing being one of them. The closest I've come is to put my blog on the Kindle. Zoe, I wonder if you'd queried traditionally at first, and that experience led you to the self publishing route, or did you just choose this route at the get-go?

Zoe Winters said...

I queried very briefly and sent Kept to one publisher. But I was in the middle of trying to decide between trad and self-pub. So there really wasn't a solid effort to go the traditional way.

Also, I'm on a little bit of an internet sabbatical right now. (I just have a few previous commitments tying me down a little at the moment. So if I don't reply to comments here for awhile, I'm not ignoring anyone intentionally. If anyone has a question they'd like answered more quickly, there is a comment form that goes to my email on my blog.)



Maria Zannini said...

I have a question for you, Zoe.

Have you ever done an accounting of time vs income?

In other words, how much time do you put into formatting, art and promotion?

Thanks again for coming over. I admire your tenacity greatly and I'm proud of what you've accomplished.

Jenny Schwartz said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Zoe. Made for interesting reading. Challenges and opportunities.

Zoe Winters said...

Hey, thanks for the comments (sorry, that sabbatical thing keeping me out of the loop again. this feels like cheating, commenting here!)


I was originally working 60 hour weeks, so... yeah. But since the internet sabbatical thing I've reprioritized and focused... so I'm working 30 hour weeks and getting a lot more done. Based on that and my current income level, I'm making about $17 an hour right now.

I do a lot of promotion (dialing back some because I'm reading the point of diminishing returns). I do formatting but it doesn't take as long as one might imagine, just a few hours once you know what you're doing. And I pay someone else to do cover art.

Hey Jenny, thanks!