Emelie Schepp grew tired of waiting for answers from the big publishers and chose to publish her book on her own. She believed in her novel, and wanted to see it among readers. Four books later, and she is now one of Sweden’s most prominent crime authors. We catch her at the end of the fifth manuscript to talk about self publishing and an author journey that has been as bumpy as it has been successful.
“If your goal is to become a successful author you need to be confident being seen and talking about your book.”
You have gone from self-published to bestselling author – tell us how it started!
I was still working my day job when I started writing, and therefore only wrote in the evenings and on weekends. When I finished I did what most people do, and sent it off to publishers who were prominent in the genre I’d chosen; crime novels. I went to bookstores and scouted out who published the big shot crime authors, and then I sent off the manuscript and hoped that one of the six biggest publishers would take it on. I knew it would take up to three months before I got any type of responses from the big guys, but it only took two weeks before a letter slid into my letterbox. I was traveling at the time, but my husband was at home, and he called me and said I had a letter from Nordstedts. I wasn’t nearly as excited as he was, because I knew it would be a no. When I read it I started thinking about what to do. The chance of getting your novel published is very small, one in a million; that’s a fact these days. I thought back and forth about if I should give up on writing, or if I should keep trying to find a way to get the novel out there.
And in the end you chose to publish your first novel yourself — what made you make that decision?
I waited for the three months to pass, and then I called the publishers who hadn’t got back to me. I asked them if they’d had time to read the manuscript at all, which they of course hadn’t. That was when I thought, is it really supposed to take this long? Enough, I thought, left with only my desire to publish the book. So I started googling to find other ways to publish books, and found other self-publishers who had done everything themselves. I thought it seemed like a great thing to do, I saw their burning desire to reach out to their audience. When I called the publishers another three months down the line and received the same answer, I decided to just do it myself. I knew, deep down, that I would reach an audience with my book if I produced it as professionally as I could. So I took all the steps that traditional publishers take. I hired a graphic artist who had previously worked with Kallentoft, Niklas Lindblad. He and his wife made the first cover for my book, and it’s funny, because they are now also making the cover for my fifth book. It feels very full circle.
What challenges are there for authors who want to advertise themselves today?
You should be aware that authors advertise themselves in one way or another regardless of if they’re successful or not. If you look at the big names, a lot of those will be people who are good at advertising. They’re on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, they have their own websites and they travel far and wide to talk about their books. If your goal is to become a successful author you need to be confident being seen and talking about your book. It’s not easy, knowing what to say when you publish your first book, because you don’t have as much standing ground when you’re a first-timer. That’s when you have to be brave, when you have to talk about your book and put it into the hands of potential buyers in any way possible. Social media provides a good forum, but I strongly believe in a face to face meeting. To dare to convince and meet your readers. They’re in so many different places today. ’Bookstore’ is a wide concept these days; well-sorted grocery stores are a type of bookstore. You have to try and meet the readers where the readers are. I went to a lot of libraries, markets where people were in rotation. It’s all about finding your own target audience; if you write crime novels you will have a different target audience from someone who writes educational books, for example.
What do you think self-publishers have to think about to be successful?
You have to dare to think professionally in all steps. I don’t think you should make the cover yourself. Hire an editor or publicist who works on the manuscript with you to make it as good as it can possibly get, anything from dialogues to manuscript development. I would recommend that to anyone. It’s also important to keep your budget in mind, and set up goals for the publication. Do you want to become a bestselling author or do you just want to publish a book for your friends and family?
You’re now represented by a publisher – what do you find to be the biggest difference?
It’s incredibly important to me to find the time to write. As a self-published author you have to think about everything; you’re advertising yourself and the book, but you also have to keep tabs on the economy, bills, and all that. Everything steals the energy you could have used for writing. Writing is my passion, and is what I originally wanted to do. I first and foremost wanted to bring my authorship to a higher level. It’s very demanding to advertise a book, and it can be difficult to have enough resources for central purchases and for certain booksellers to be able to sell your book. I felt like, if Bonnier wants to use their time on me, I want to use my time right back. So then and there, six months after publishing my own book, I accepted their offer.
Which part of the publishing process do you like the best?
There’s so much about publishing that’s fun. I love writing a book, but it’s just as fun to be able to hold it in your hand and think ’I actually did it’. From sitting in front of an empty document thinking, how is this supposed to become 350 pages? To finishing, and thinking how did this happen? I would say that, ultimately, the best part is to write about Jana and her world, but to hold the book in your hand and meet readers that appreciate what you do — it’s beyond words. I have to pinch myself.
What made you hone in on crime, specifically?
I’ve loved crime novels since I was young. My mother read a lot of crime, and I think as a child you’re inspired by what your parents read. I read the Kitty Drew series, she solved murders and mysteries, and was a big idol of mine when I was young. I have actually collected the Kitty books, and still have all of the books at home.
And now as you’re older — who are your biggest inspirations today?
It’s hard to just name one author. Stylistically, I’m more drawn to the big authors; Jo Nesbø, Lars Kepler and Lee Child. I also like Jussi Adler Olsen, who writes a lot of comedy. I’m also very inspired by movies. I love seeing blockbusters at the cinema. For example, I’m going to see the new Mission: Impossible, they are usually very well made and have a good manuscript.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m working on a manuscript for book number five, which has a deadline on Friday. It’s the biggest draft that’s due, so I’m currently working the last pieces into the manuscript. It feels strange that I already made it to the 350 pages; what happened? I am looking forward to releasing the fifth book and letting the readers meet Jana and her new challenges again.
What is your best advice to anyone out there who dreams of being an author?
I had a dream to reach out with my book. I remember making pile after pile of the books that I was going to ship out to potential readers. I always dreamt of being successful, but I had no idea that I would become Crime Author of the Year 2016 and 2017, and that my books would sell over a million copies. It’s surreal. My best advice is to believe in yourself. Next time it might be your turn to make it. It’s also important to believe in your story, and make it as good as possible. It’s the story that will become a book for people to buy – so I’d say it’s worth butting your effort into it.