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Interview with Courtney Milan, #6 on the NYT

On Wednesday evenings, the New York Times Bestseller list is emailed to editors and agents. On this past Wednesday, RWA was abuzz because Courtney Milan’s self published novella “Unlocked” made it to number 6 on the NYT ebook list and number 19 on the combined print and ebook list and 36 on the USA Today list. (DA Review)

She is currently working on “Unraveled” which is Smite’s book. She is shooting for a November release.

The production phase is about 6 weeks for Courtney which includes, 3-4 weeks for copyediting, 2 weeks for proofing, and 1 week for formatting and post formatting proofing.

I asked what the key to her success was and she said “write the best book you can. Get it to the highest level of quality that you can. Price it reasonably. Have great readers and lots of luck.”

She does believe that she is gaining many new readers and points to the fact that “Unveiled” is at its highest Kindle rank since its release (and that was before Amazon listed it as one of the best of the year so far).

She plans to release at least one book and a couple of novellas in 2012.

I asked whether she thought self publishing interest would decline in a few years, but she did not see any indications it would slow.

“Things are changing so fast that any one who tries to predict the future beyond one to two months will likely get it wrong,” says Courtney.

When asked whether reader contact has increased, she said that it had. There were people she met at the literacy signing that came to her and said that they never had read her before but after they read her, had to come and meet her in person. (These were locals)

What would it take to go back to traditional publishing? Courtney lists four factors:

* Good print distriubtion
* When they stop making money that her rights revert
* World wide English distribution on the same day
* A reasonable royalty rate.

For the print readers, Courtney plans to bundle 3 novellas together. When she has explained the reason why (POD price is dependent on length of work), readers have been very understanding. She feels that readers are reasonable and they respond to a reasonable explanation. She loves having direct conversation with her readers and the ability to give them what they want.

I asked if she would bundle the novella with Smite’s book but that will depend on length. POD’s can get very expensive the longer the story.

Smite’s book is the last in the “Un” series. Her next series is going to be set in 1860s but she can’t say why because it would be a spoiler.

I asked her to give us her single best promotional tool. Courtney responded, “Good production. Something good will result in good word of mouth.”

Any other promotion should involve doing something that you enjoy. Facebook confuses her and she doesn’t see her Twitter presence as actual promotion because she is just interacting with other people. She will rarely tweet about her own works. (That’s because we all tweet for her about how awesome the book was).

She did less promotional work for “Unlocked” than any previous release. She sent the book out to 6 reviewers and did two blog interviews. She wishes that she would have sent out more review copies and felt fortunate that so many bloggers bought her book and then reviewed it and talked about it.

Her prices probably won’t be more than 4.99 (unless there is massive inflation she adds)

She agrees that her bona fides such as the PW reviews, her RITA finalist status, and other traditional publishing accolades has given her books a sense of legitimacy.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Mary (Bookfan)
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 06:05:53

    I’m a fan so I’ll buy whatever CM publishes – especially after buying and reading Unlocked. If there were any typos or other errors I didn’t notice and that’s unusual. I buy a lot of ebooks and find it so annoying that those from top publishers’ have errors. Reading Unlocked and not being distracted by typos or formatting issues was a true pleasure – and then, of course, there is Ms. Milan’s lovely story of Elaine and Evan :)

  2. Ursula Whistler
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 07:34:11

    I’m one of those readers who is leery of self-published books, but the reputation of Ms. Milan and the reviewers of Unlocked convinced me to buy this one. I haven’t gotten around to reading it since my TBR list is so long due to the ease of buying e-books, but I have enjoyed her other works. I expect I’ll enjoy this one.

  3. Chelsea
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 08:47:40

    So far, Courtney Milan generates a damn good product for your money, and that’s all I ask for. I’m really loving the “Un” books, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with after that.

  4. Estara
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 09:03:44

    More power to her – I really enjoy reading that someone who really put a whole lot of work not just into the story (which I am sure all authors do) but into every aspect of production is now reaping the benefits of her wonderwomanlike efforts. I recently bought Unlocked myself ^^ and am now waiting for my summer holidays to dive into various TBR books.

  5. Bettie Sharpe
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 11:10:14

    Congratulations to Courtney Milan on her well-deserved success. Unlocked is a wonderful book–well-written, polished and professional. An incredible deal for the price!

  6. Dana S
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 15:01:20

    I discovered Courtney Milan through Dear Author, and have loved her books. I was especially pleased with Unlocked, and her success is awesome.

    I was wondering how the book was

    number 19 on the combined print and ebook list

    if there’s no print version. The NYT lists are confusing me.

  7. Jane
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 16:29:57

    @Dana S Courtney Milan said the same thing. She wasn’t going to be unappreciative of being on the combined list but she also didn’t know why she was on the combined list.

    I believe that the combined list is the hardest one to get on because you see NYT hardcovers not make that list and mass markets not make that list. I think it shows the overall strongest sales of books that are out there (or strong based on the data that the NYT is using to compile the list).

  8. The Things I Learned from RWA 2011 | Dear Author
    Jul 03, 2011 @ 04:00:26

    […] Courtney Milan says that we shouldn’t make predictions, I have to make one. I think that the most successful self publishing authors will be those who […]

  9. Jessica Scott
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 13:21:37

    I’m so thrilled for Courtney! I had a chance to talk with her about her recent success and she seemed almost surprised. Anyone who has read her other books or her blog know that Courtney never half steps at anything she does. Courtney proves that self publishing can be done well and successfully but that it takes work to do it right. She did not pick a random .jpeg for her cover, then convert to epub and upload. For Courtney to put out such a wonderful product took time, as she mentioned above. She’s said often enough that she respects her readers and would do nothing less than provide them with a great book. Unlocked proves that.
    Courtney gets what so many others don’t. She understands that self publishing should be about getting good books in the hands of the readers. Success and money are secondary to the quality of the book.
    Congrats to Courtney for such well earned success!

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