Meet Tina Folsom, A Self-Publishing Phenom

At last year's Romance Writers of America (RWA) national conference in New York, my friend Bella Andre (a self-pub phenom in a class by herself) introduced me to her friend Tina Folsom. Tina has sold more than 300,000 ebooks as a self-published author. The thing that makes Tina unique from many other authors who've succeeded in self-publishing is that she has never been traditionally published. I asked her to share some thoughts on her amazing journey and tips for others who are just getting started.

Marie: You've had tremendous success as a self-published author who had not been previously published. What do you think set your books apart from the crowd?

Tina: I write paranormal romances, and when I look at other authors in this sub-genre I see that their books are very much focusing on world building and suspense. The center of my books is the love story first and foremost. World building is secondary; that’s not to say there isn’t any, but I don’t let that overshadow the romance. After all, it’s the love story the readers want to get into. My books are generally very hot, in parts quite erotic, however, there’s always a strong motivation behind every sex scene I write. None of them are gratuitous. I’m a romantic at heart, and that’s what I try to infuse into each of my novels. I think that’s what my readers are responding to.

Marie: I love that you put the romance front and center. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in self-publishing?

Tina: It’s important to understand who your audience is and how to market to them. At first that can be very difficult, but if a book is marketed correctly, you can avoid it falling into the wrong hands so to speak: into the hands of people who will give it a 1-star review because it’s not their usual fare. In order to reach the right audience, the packaging has to agree with your message: don’t put a sweet cover on a book that’s sexy and erotic. The reader will be led to expect the wrong thing and will punish you for it. If your book is sexy, make sure the cover and the blurb reflect that. It helps you attract the right readers and avoid 1-star reviews. It’s a lesson I had to learn, and I wish somebody had told me when I started out.

Marie: That's an excellent point and one that everyone should take to heart. What has been the most important marketing effort you've undertaken to build awareness of your books?

Tina: If I really had to pick one thing, then it’s something you think has nothing to do with marketing: it’s being prolific. That’s what’s helped me the most. I was always writing the next book, because that’s the way to build on the readership you’ve created. Feed them the next installment, keep them coming back for more. That’s why I like series: the readers are getting invested in the characters and want to read the next character’s story. My books really only started selling when I had the third book in my Scanguards series out. Suddenly, sales went gangbusters, even though I had done no other marketing, no blogging, no tweeting, no Facebook. The growth I saw was organic, and I attribute it to having a lot of books available.

Marie: Another really good point. I think the prolific gene has helped me, too, and it seems to be a common denominator among successful self-published authors. In light of your self-published success, what would you say to an offer from a traditional publisher?

Tina: I would most likely say ‘no’ unless the publisher wants to offer me a print-only deal. Everything else is a deal breaker. I won’t give up my e-rights. I can be talked into giving up e-rights and print rights for other languages that I’m not planning on having translated myself, but other than that, there isn’t anything a publisher can offer me. Now, if a movie or TV executive came along, we’d be talking ...

Marie: LOL, I am hearing you on that one! We'd all love to see that "Based on the Novel By" before our name on the big screen! What predictions would you make for the ebook market in the next year or two? Where do you see potential for growth?

Tina: While there’s still lots of growth in the US e-book market, I see much more potential in foreign markets. In Germany, which is the second largest romance market, ebooks have only a 1% market share. There’s lots of opportunity for growth. While Germans certainly speak English, they do prefer to read in their native language, so I’m investing heavily in getting all my books translated into German. It’s my number one priority right now. Once the Germans get around to fully embrace e-readers, this will be a huge market. The same will be the case for other European markets. French and Spanish are other languages I’m getting my books translated into.

Marie: I love that you are way out in front on that, and I'm jealous that you speak German fluently! Let me ask you this: Are you having fun? :-)

Tina: Being a full-time author is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. When I was a kid, that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. But my family wasn’t very artistic, and I was taught that I needed to get a real job first, one that would support me financially. Little did my parents know then that writing could provide me with a great living one day.

While there are certainly challenges in this job, just like in any other, I have the kind of freedom to do what I want that I’ve not seen in other professions. I’m my own master, and I like it that way. The camaraderie with other authors is a great bonus, and getting mail from enthusiastic readers is cream on top.

Check out Tina's latest book:
Able to render themselves invisible, immortal Cloak Warriors like Aiden have been protecting humans from the dark power of the Demons of Fear for centuries. But the demons might soon have a powerful tool in their hands to seduce humans to the dark side. And the person to provide them with this elixir is the human scientist Leila. Unbeknownst to her, the drug she’s developing to cure Alzheimer’s Disease has the unexpected side effect of weakening the mind’s resistance to the influence of demons.

The Council of Cloak Warriors is divided, some of them believing the only safe way to eradicate this threat is to eliminate its inventor; others are bent on protecting the human scientist. Aiden is a loyal Cloak Warrior who accepts the assignment to protect her, despite his own beliefs that humans can’t be trusted. However, when her life is endangered, his beliefs shift, and he’s drawn into a battle whose participants are unknown: is he fighting the demons or his fellow Cloak Warriors?

Forbidden desire flares between Aiden and Leila as they are forced to rely on the only people they can trust: each other. And even if he can save her and defeat their enemies, a union between them might be the most dangerous undertaking of all. Get it here.

Thank you SO much to Tina for sharing her success story and insight with us. I'm so thankful to Bella for introducing us last year, and I can't wait to watch Tina continue to burn up the e-bookshelves with her awesome stories!