eSuccess: How Jenny Gardiner bypassed the publishers

When we wrote about Jenny Gardiner back in 2008, she'd just published her first book, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, a chick-lit title that she marketed like mad. For all her efforts, and despite a pair of print runs that she thinks topped 30,000 copies, Gardiner received a grand total of $165 in royalties from Dorchester Publishing before the company filed for bankruptcy.

"In the past seven or eight years, publishing has changed, and succeeding in making ends meet is almost impossible," says Gardiner, whose latest print offering is the anthology about man's best friend, I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship.

For as many authors as there are in Charlottesville, the number who have had their publisher fund a book tour is minuscule. (Though Chad Harbach, also interviewed in this issue, stands out as the object of a bidding war, for crying out loud!) More typical is someone like Gardiner, sitting for TV appearances, trekking to conferences, and holding book signings— all on her own dime.

"I wasn't expecting to make a killing," says Gardiner, "but I was hoping to make money on it."

In debt and with two college tuitions to pay, the author started taking side jobs that left little time to write. However, two years ago, her agent offered a digital imprint, and Gardiner decided to give it a try.

Her first e-book, another chick-lit title called Slim to None, was priced at $8.99. At a time when Kindles cost $350, and users wanted free content, sales, she said, were "lackluster." So, last spring, she dropped the price to $2.99.

"Sales started rocking," says Gardiner.

But at the same time, she observed that the digital imprint was grabbing a majority of the money.

"I was just extraordinarily frustrated," says Gardiner. "I was seeing other authors whose books were okay, but not great, and they were making tons of money— a million dollars. They were selling their own books."

With several books just growing old on her computer, Gardiner decided to take the plunge by reissuing Sleeping with Ward Cleaver.

She'd retrieved the rights from the ruins of Dorchester. She learned how to navigate Amazon. And practiced formatting her books. Along the way, she learned that the cover matters. ("What looks good on a book shelf looks different as a thumbnail jpeg.")

In October, Gardiner's Slim to None became a daily deal on Amazon, selling for 99 cents.

"I sold 17,000 copies in one day— and I sold a lot of my other books," enthuses Gardiner. "That really gave me an extra umph."

Before long, Amazon approached her for Kindle Select, a program that gives the mammoth emporium an exclusive right to sell and even give away a title. After some moments of soul-searching, she decided to take the plunge. As 19,000 copies of Anywhere but Here were downloaded for free, it became a #1 Kindle bestseller in the U.K.

"It seems counterintuitive," she admits.

She did it again with Where the Heart Is and gave away 30,000 free copies, while wondering, "Did I just give away 30,000 free books?"

She found that the giveaways actually raised the sales of her other titles. "It's been a giant learning curve," she says. In the past week, she's sold 1,800 books. In December, she sold around 8,000, and all together in the past year, she's sold 80,000 books.

Not too shabby for someone earning minimum wage at a cupcake store last year.

"Traditional legacy publishing— it's very set in the 20th century," says Gardiner, comparing the industry to a giant ocean liner trying to do U-turn in a harbor. "Publishing now is fleet of foot."

Gardiner still attends writers conferences, but the tone has changed.

"It used to be that everyone was sucking up to publishers," says Gardiner. "Now, everyone is asking, 'What's the benefit of going with you?'"

Along with the 70-percent royalty Amazon turns over in most cases, there's another aspect of the e-book that really appeals to Gardiner.

"Now I have control over my career," she says. "I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that, because I've worked very, very hard."
Gardiner is a panelist at "Pub Day: E-Books" at 10am Saturday, March 24, at the Omni in the Ashlawn-Highland room.

She moderates "Culinary Adventures: Wining and Dining" with N.M. Kelby and Margo Solod at noon Friday, March 23, at New Dominion Bookshop.

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