Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Part 3 of Indie Author Love, featuring Heather Wardell

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Today I'm talking to indie author Heather Wardell, author of 16 self-published novels.

What was your first book?

HW: "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo", which is still a free ebook (and has had over 385,000 copies downloaded!)

When did it come out?

HW: December 31, 2008, at about 5:30pm. (I'd promised myself I'd do it by the end of 2008.

Did you try to go the traditional route first - agent, publisher - or did you prefer to self-publish?

HW: I queried agents for my first four books, and got a lot of "I like your writing, send the next book" responses. Back when I got into self-publishing there was no Smashwords, no Kindle Direct Publishing, so really the only viable option was traditional. I'd query each book, then self-publish it. With my fifth book, I decided I didn't want to be bothered with that side anymore as my self-published books were beginning to sell, so I didn't query with that book and I have been 100% focused on self-publishing since early 2010.

What site did you post it on?

HW: My own at first, then Smashwords and Amazon KDP when they came online a few months later, and eventually also Kobo and Google Play.

Did you do everything yourself or hire someone?

HW: At the beginning I did everything myself, partly because that suits my personality and partly because there wasn't really anyone to hire at that point in time. For my last three books I've hired a cover designer and formatter, and of course I always get editing done because it's so important.

What is or has been the hardest/most frustrating part?

HW: Figuring out how to make books look good on a wide variety of e-readers, most of which I do not own. I'm determined that everything that reaches a reader is the best work I can possibly put out, but testing a book on a device I don't have is a challenge!

What is the most rewarding part?

HW: The readers. I've had 20 in-person meetups with readers so far ranging from Toronto to Texas and I can't wait to do more because it's so wonderful to talk to them in person and hear how they've enjoyed my writing (and in some cases how my books have changed their lives, which is just humbling and incredible) and get their opinions on what I should do next. I have pictures of all of these meetups at and you can see that they're amazing ladies!

How did you decide how to price your book?

HW: I released "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo" for free because there wasn't really any way to charge for it. I haven't changed it because it turns out that a free first book in a series is a great way of getting people to check out your writing. My original price for the later books was 99 cents, but that's too low and so I am now settled in at $2.99 for the oldest ones and $3.99 for the more recent ones (with "Seven Exes are Eight Too Many", which is the prequel to my latest "Bad Will Hunting", at 99 cents as the introduction to the series). Given how careful I am to make the books well-edited and entertaining, I could probably charge more, but I love the “your book was such a great deal!” emails I get.

What has been the most successful marketing strategy you've used with your book(s)?

HW: Interacting with readers. Bar none. They tell their friends, and then their friends pick up "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo" for free and if they like it they pick up more of my books and then tell THEIR friends. I answer every email I receive from readers, I travel to meet them, and I do giveaways and prizes whenever I can. I love them and they know it! I love interacting with readers for its own sake but it is also the best marketing method around in my opinion.

What is something you wish you'd known before starting out?

HW: How much time the promotion side takes. That's not just a self-publishing thing these days, since the traditionally published authors I know have to create their own platforms and do their own promotion as well, but I didn't know how much time it could take to email 50 bloggers to tell them about your new book or set up a giveaway.

Knowing what you know now, would you self-publish your first book again?

HW: 111%! I've met so many amazing people, both readers and writers, and had such incredible experiences, and it's all thanks to "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo"! I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

What's next for you?

HW: My next book, "Fifteen Minutes of Summer", is coming out in early 2015. I have another book in first draft and just started yet another a few days ago. I rotate my books (working on the third draft of one, then the second of another, and the first of another) to make sure they have time to rest and become new to me before I edit them, so I've always got at least a few books in the pipeline. I'm lucky enough to be a fast writer, so I'll definitely release three books in 2015 and I am hoping for four.

What's your advice for aspiring writers on the world of self-publishing?

HW: Write first, promote second. I'm a full-time author, so I write four days a week and take one day a week to do all the promotion and administrative work. That lets me keep writing front and centre for most of my work days.

What's an aspect you wish you had more time for?

HW: Visiting readers. I love it, but the disruption to my writing (and my regular life) makes it hard to do as often as I want.

What's the biggest pitfall many self-published authors make?

HW: Publishing too soon. Some people think readers will accept books filled with errors in spelling and grammar, but I don't agree. Even if they will, I don't think they should have to. My goal is to have every book entirely error-free.

What's an advantage of self-publishing vs traditional publishing?

HW: I write exactly what I want, release it when I believe it's ready, have exactly the covers I want (Scarlett Rugers is fantastic at cover creation!), price my books how I want to, sell them where I want to, interact with readers on my own terms... everything about it is perfect for me.

What would make you go with a traditional publisher in the future?

HW: The one thing I cannot get easily on my own is widespread bookstore distribution. Beyond that, which is becoming less of a big deal as ereaders continue to gain in popularity, I really don't know. At this point, given how many books I have out and how efficient and clear my processes have become, I can't see why I need a traditional publisher. I know a lot of self-publishers' ultimate goal is to move into a traditional contract, but it would have to be a seriously special contract for me to consider giving up all the control I have right now. Back in 2009 I'd have killed for a traditional deal, but I simply don't see the benefit any more.

Heather is a natural 1200 wpm speed reader and the author of sixteen self-published novels including the free ebook "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo" which has had over 385,000 downloads. She came to writing after careers as a software developer and elementary school computer teacher and has no plans to leave it. In her spare time, she reads, runs, swims, crochets, takes care of her aquarium and her cat Trinity, and plays drums and clarinet. Generally not all at once. Visit Heather, and download your copy of "Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo", at

About "Bad Will Hunting":
In the sequel to "Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many", Angry Ashley plots revenge on her reality-show producers. But when she gets double-crossed by sexy attorney Will, she instead takes on a "Bad Will Hunting" mission. Ashley turns up a ton of dead ends, but also some exciting life-changing possibilities. But with so much "bad will" in her way, can Ashley ever find true happiness?

Heather Wardell, Women's Fiction with Depth, Humor, and Heart

"Bad Will Hunting" now available at - how far will Angry Ashley go to get revenge on everyone in her life?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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