Selling Literary Fiction With Terri Giuliano Long

Are writers of literary fiction finding the changes in publishing the hardest?

leather books with ebook readerThe rise in ebooks seems to favor books that are easily categorized into one of Amazon’s shopping buckets and the biggest recommendation for selling books is to write them more quickly. If it takes years to write one literary novel, then how is an author in this genre to make an impact, especially as an indie? Literary authors also have to contend with the institutionalized snobbery that exists against self-publishing, despite the excellent books they can produce. What do you think?

In today’s video interview shared below, I talk to Terri Giuliano Long who has sold over 100,000 copies of her independently published literary fiction novel, In Leah’s Wake, which also won the IndieReader Discovery Award in the Literary Fiction category. Due to Skype issues, we recorded a Google Plus hangout which was a pretty cool way to interact!

If you can’t see the embedded video below, you can also watch the video on YouTube here, or download the mp3 audio here.

In the video we discuss:

  • Terri started ‘In Leah’s Wake‘ as part of her Masters degree and she comes from a more traditional publishing background but the book wasn’t picked up. When she started her new book, she started investigating self-publishing. It was one of the best things she could have done for her career.
  • Terri feels that there is still a snobby attitude towards self-publishing amongst literary writers and many of them wouldn’t self-publish for fear of this stigma. Literary fiction does have a smaller audience. In Leah’s Wake is a family story with no werewolves, zombies etc. It’s a family drama around the complexities of bringing up teenagers when they get into a bad crowd.
  • Terri has given away a lot of books and feels this is a great way to build an audience over time, by building up a following. She has done this as part of blog tours when people comment as well as other giveaways. It’s a more personal way to connect.
  • With marketing literary fiction, focus on the story behind the story – in this case, teenagers running wild and the inability of parents to cope. This is the non-fiction story behind the fiction.
  • Terri talks about the misconceptions of other authors about self-publishing. A friend of hers assumed that she had bought 90,000 other books in order to sell that many of her own. Once she understood that marketing was about cultivating relationships and she got rid of her own prejudices, it was brilliant. It’s a journey. The stigma is starting to change which is great because it enables authors to take control of their own careers.
  • On Sue Grafton’s comments about self-publishers being lazy and her subsequent apology. How those who take this seriously use professional editors and designers. There are some who don’t follow quality guidelines but increasingly, this is an industry where people want to put out a quality product. As the stigma diminishes, the industry is changing to take advantages of the new ways authors are learning to market and build their own platforms.
  • We talk about reviews based on the fake review company that has been exposed in the New York Times, as well as UK author Stephen Leather’s fake reviews and the trolls who post negative reviews against bestsellers. The ends of the spectrum are a nightmare but we are both fans of legitimate reviews. [I’d like to call for us to be honest and authentic in our reviews. Personally I review on Amazon & Goodreads the books I enjoy. I rarely leave bad reviews as I prefer the positive approach. Yes, I do believe in social karma!]

In Leah's WakeDo you have any thoughts on selling literary fiction? Please do leave a comment below.

In Leah’s Wake’ is available on here.

You can find Terri at and on twitter @tglong as well as the other social networks.

Top image: Bigstock Leather Books with Ebook Reader

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  1. says

    A while ago a wrote a blog Is anyone writing just fiction anymore? because I was depressed by the amount of genre novels that people were writing. I think of myself as a literary novelist although I’m one of those unfortunates whose work isn’t quite so easily classified although my most recent novel, Milligan and Murphy, which was inspired by the writings of Samuel Beckett, is most definitively a literary novel.

    The thing about being a self-published literary novelist is that everyone looks down on you. I exaggerate of course but let me explain. Trying to get reviews of Milligan and Murphy has been especially hard. I’m a book reviewer myself and so I do understand that there are only so many hours in the day but I’ve tried to cultivate friendships with fellow (I use the term loosely) literary novelists hoping they might consider reviewing my books and all bar one begged off playing the Beckett card (as one put it, she would find it “very difficult to appreciate all the nuances of [the] book”) and that left me with my fellow (again, I use the term loosely) self-publishers all of whom (so far) have run screaming for the hills. And that’s the thing. I don’t feel that the traditionally published take me seriously (despite having written a literary blog for over five years that I hoped would provide amble evidence of how serious I was) and the independents think I’m a snob. Also I left school after sitting my O-Levels so no writing qualification or Masters degree for our Jimmy which is another reason I feel marginalised.

    I’ve also just written about the increasing problems with fake reviews: What’s a 5-star review worth? I think one the biggest problems with reviews though is changing attitudes towards reviewing. I tackled this issue in my article The responsibilities and duties of being a reader in the 21st century. People don’t appreciate just how important it is to leave reviews in the right places. I get good reviews on blogs but the authors never think to post anything on Amazon.

    I’m pleased that Terri has done so well. I’m afraid my mantra is the same as Beckett’s (written before he achieved fame and expressed by his character ‘Krapp’): “Seventeen copies sold, of which eleven at trade price to free circulating libraries beyond the seas. Getting known.”

    • says

      It’s definitely a struggle when the bestsellers all seem to be genre fiction, but take heart! because lit fic seems to sell better over the long term and sits more in the best loved category as well. If you write more deeply you can change people’s lives. I try to write towards the literary end of genre to be honest, weaving in my ideas about God and spirituality into the plot. You have to please yourself as well as the readers!

    • says

      Hi Jim,
      I worked in obscurity for many years before publishing In Leah’s Wake, so I can relate to Beckett too. To some extent, self-published literary novels do get marginalized, if for no other reason than that (not all of course, but) many lit fic authors come from traditional publishing and/or academic backgrounds. At the same time, as Joanna points out, we truly are writing for ourselves first. I hope this doesn’t sound trite – I enjoy writing lit fic and try to focus on the many positive aspects.

      I wish you all the best!

    • says

      Wow! This is right on par with what I experienced at work today. I had to call tech soupprt to help me re-set my password. Needless to say I ended up getting WAY more frustrated than I needed to with the person on the other line who was obviously just doing her job. As soon as the issue was resolved and I hung up the call I took a breathe and realized that I was not treating her the way I would want to be treated. I emailed her immediately letting her know I was sorry with no BUTS. Just a straight up, I apologize for my tone and frustration, thank you for your assistance and have a wonderful day. In the past I would have certainly thrown in a few buts and this is why I treated you like I did but I’ve done..about 10 years of deep inner work and the process continues to unfold. I am not superhuman but am thankful that when I do mess up I can realize it and take the right action. Great topic!

  2. says

    It’s so great to see literary fiction (my genre of choice) represented in self-publishing! Terri, I’ve been following your success and am so impressed with what you’ve done with In Leah’s Wake — you’re truly a class act. And you’re absolutely right that the literary community has been much slower to embrace self-publishing and ebooks; it’s one of the last bastions of publishing where spine imprint and brick-and-mortar bookstore presence still seem to carry a lot of weight.

    Thanks for spotlighting our small but dedicated minority, Joanna! Your interviews with Terri and Roz Morris have been wonderful.

        • says

          Thank you so very much, Jenn! I’m honored and touched!

          Yes, brick and mortar stores are very important for literary novels. I do see positive changes on the horizon, and I’m encouraged by that. More people are open to reading self-published literary fiction–and more wonderful lit fic authors are self-publishing, which is fantastic for everyone. The indie community is also very supportive. By working together, I think we can continue moving forward.

          Thank you again for your kindness and support!! It means a lot to me.

  3. says

    Great interview and very encouraging.

    I was so glad to finally see something focusing on literary fiction. My first novel seems to be a mash-up of romance, inspirational and women’s interests. Like me, an eclectic girl who never fits into one category on personality and interest inventories.

    It’s discouraging to me to see tons of paranormal and genre romance books popping off the digital shelves while I’m having a hard time giving my book away on Snashwords this week, even after using all my skills in social networking and learning one or two more.

    But, the way things are these days, people like happy endings and don’t want to have to work or think to hard to get them. I toy with the idea of popping out a basic romance just to see what happens. But, it’s not where my heart is in writing or reading.

    I have Leah’s wake on my Kindle and hope to get to it soon. As soon as I stop trying to give my book away. Haha!

    Best wished to Terry and Joanna. Thanks for the interview which I am noe going to share.

    • says

      Hi Theresa,
      I’m sure you’re already aware of this, but elf-publishing success is typically a slow burn. Books sometimes go unnoticed for a long time then suddenly take off, so please don’t get discouraged. As I mentioned above, it took years to write the book and then months for it to start selling well. I do agree that most people prefer genre fiction – an agent I interviewed last week said romance is far and away the most popular – but there is a market for lit fic. We just have to keep trying new things–and writing, of course.

      Thank you so very, very much for your interest in In Leah’s Wake. I hope you enjoy it. :)

      I wish you all the very best with this novel and all your work!!

  4. says

    I enjoyed this interview, Joanna. I am about to self publish my first novel, ‘Mamud’, and it is also in the literary fiction slot (perhaps a bit more fiction than literary).
    My opinion is that the more ‘serious’ writers – those who love to delve deeper into their characters souls – need to learn from the genre writers. People are tired of detail – they want story, but that doesn’t mean that they do not want well written stories. I think our future role in self published fiction is to give them that; if we do we’ll start challenging the genre novels for their top rankings.

    • says

      You make a great point, John. Readers want a good story–and I agree that we can learn from genre writers. Still, literary fiction is by nature slower and more deliberate than genre fiction. That’s not a bad thing, at least not as I see it. We may not attract hard-core genre fans (then again, maybe we will–I’m often surprised), but that doesn’t worry me. While our audience may be smaller than the huge readership for genre fiction, it’s solid and well-worth engaging, I think.

      I wish you all the very best with your forthcoming release!

  5. herocious says

    Literary fiction seems to be what I write best.

    My first attempt at getting a book out there has been successful in that my book is still living after 1.5 years of being in the market.

    Reader feedback has been very motivating too.

    I’ll take Terri’s point to heart and see if I can breath an extra dose of life into my book, to keep it burning.

  6. says

    I am also finding it difficult to put my novels in catagories. I think they are literary fiction . There is romance also but not necessarily that happy ending. Are they not romance then? What is the way out?

  7. says

    Hi Amrit,
    That’s a tough question. Many books could fit two categories, making it hard to decide where to place them. Genres typically have certain expectations; I would consider this when making a decision. Unfortunately, even that doesn’t always work. My novel is mainstream fiction, but that’s not a standard category. The book doesn’t fit any of the standard genres–e.g. romance, YA, etc.– and it’s character driven, the reasons I categorize it as lit fic. I’m not a lyrical writer, though, which is also typical of literary fiction; ultimately I chose lit fic because it was the best, if imperfect, fit. Good luck!

  8. says

    I just found this interview, Joanna and Terri. Thanks. I am a veteran writer with six books published by literary and academic presses, and I have recently jumped into indie publishing. I was frustrated by response times from publishers, and, as a writer, my bottom line is to be sure that my books are available to readers, so I published my first ebook. Now, of course, the challenge is to let people know it exists. In my experience so far I am finding a disconnect between the analog and digital publishing worlds. For example, I could send out copies to traditional reviewing outlets, ie, newspapers and literary journals, but I doubt that a single reviewer would take me seriously. On the other hand, a traditional book prize competition in my home province of British Columbia is open to submissions of ebooks for the first time. As a writer I am a lifer. But we all hope for readers, even if only the eleven or so that Samuel Beckett boasts of in his dry way. I enjoyed hearing your experiences, Terri. I will take some tips from you and continue to look for more encouraging signs of literary fiction success in the independent publishing sphere. I will also look for Leah’s Wake.

  9. says

    Hi Mary,
    Thank you so very much for your kind words and for your interest! The issues you raise are ones indie authors have been trying to address. The good news is, we’re making progress! The quality of self-published books, once perhaps questionable, is now often extraordinary; many readers no longer care if a book is indie or traditionally published and, for the first time, bookstore owners are beginning to show broad-scale interest in selling indie books. That a traditional book prize in BC is now open to ebook submissions is tremendously heartening. All the very best luck to you!!

    The above notwithstanding, it can be difficult to rise above the noise. I do see traditional media occasionally reviewing indie books – the NY Times reviewed one a few months ago – but, you’re right; it’s rare. As indie books advance in popularity, this may change. In the meantime, I think the best way to attract interest is, at least for now, via social media – e.g., Goodreads groups such as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book, clubs such as Book Bundlz, and other places where readers gather. I also think blogging – on your own blog and via guest posts – is a great way to build your audience, and posts can be promoted via Twitter, Facebook and so on. This is time-consuming and, unfortunately, it can eat away at writing time, but we can promote visibility this way.

    I wish you a world of success – both with your traditionally pubbed books and in your new venture into indie publishing!! For all the work and occasional frustration, it really is a wonderful endeavor! Thank you again!!

  10. says

    So excited to find this interview thanks to Jane Friedman. Categorizing your work is tough. I feel forced to pick a genre and write to it. However I am optimistic that literary and literary leaning work will thrive in self publishing in the long term.


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