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Success is self-defined: an interview with Jandra Sutton

Today I’m here with Jandra Sutton. We bonded over sharing encouraging thoughts for all writers – no matter where and how they publish their work. This matters so much to me, as I first started writing on Wattpad, so it warms my heart to have Jandra as a guest.

Check out the tantalizing tagline for her novel “Fragile”.

The debut novel from a publishing industry veteran tells the “thought-provoking and heartbreaking” story of friendship, love, and the struggles of finding yourself.


Hi, Jandra, thanks so much for joining me!

Jandra: Thank you for having me! It’s always a pleasure.

Me: Well, I can’t wait to get started. How or rather when did you make the transition from thinking of your writing as a hobby to deciding to go professional?

Jandra: It almost jumped up on me, and I definitely didn’t expect it. I was working publishing for a literary PR firm, and the opportunity to go freelance popped up. It was overwhelming (and terrifying) to leave my full-time job, but it’s been a really cool experience. Since then, I’ve been working full-time as a freelance journalist and indie author.

Me: Congrats on making the shift! Here’s to aspiring to do that one day myself 🙂
Who is your indie author role model? Why?

Jandra: I don’t really differentiate between indie and traditional authors when it comes to who I admire. A lot of traditional authors these days started as indie authors, and some indie authors started as traditional. I think there’s a lot of courage involved in being an author — no matter which path you choose — and that’s hugely inspirational across the board. You’re putting yourself out there, ya know?

Jamie Beck is an author I really admire, and she’s a former client of mine. She’s not technically indie (she’s published through Montlake) but she has a smaller audience that she built an insane connection with, and it works for her. She’s sold over a million copies of her books, but she’s not a household name and she only has 5,000 followers on Facebook. But she’s writing nonstop, releasing new books non-stop, and her writing is great. To me, she’s proof that you don’t have to be insanely famous to be happy or successful as a writer.

Me: So true! And when you first got started what was your game plan? Did you have a specific approach to the wild jungle of the self-publishing universe?

Jandra: Thankfully, I’ve got publishing industry experience, so my game plan was to rely on that as much as possible. I knew what *not* to do, but I wanted to experiment with the rest. I decided to publish Fragile with a non-existent budget — I think I spent less than $300 overall — and I went from manuscript to published novel in just over a month. I wanted to break all of the “rules” of self-publishing that I’d learned over the years to find out what *actually* matters. 

Me: That’s impressive! What were your initial expectations? Would you say you were too optimistic or pessimistic now that you’ve been through the experience?

Jandra: I don’t think I had any initial expectations because it was an experiment for me. I was cautiously optimistic, but — at the same time — I knew the industry. I knew that the average self-published book will only sell 250 copies in its lifetime. (Yep, EVER.) Anything beyond that was a win in my book. Thankfully, I passed that number within the first few months, so I’m very grateful.

Me: What would you do differently, if you were just starting the process now?

Jandra: Because of the way I went about self-publishing my first book, the whole point was to do something different next time. I wanted to experiment, ya know? Next time I’m going to give myself a good 6+ month lead-time before my pub date, do a little more traditional publicity, expand my marketing budget, and try to land some books in bookstores.

Me: Ok, it’s time to go into the nitty-gritty: wide or KU? How did you make the decision? Do you think you’d ever switch for a new series?

Jandra: Wide. There was no decision in my mind, because I knew I didn’t want to be Amazon-exclusive. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but it just wasn’t what I wanted. I don’t even *have* a reason why.

Me: So, when did you first join Wattpad and what were your publishing aspirations at the time?

Jandra: I joined Wattpad in spring of 2016, and I had zero publishing aspirations. I’d written one book the year prior during National Novel Writing Month, but that was only because a friend convinced me to do it with her. When I joined Wattpad, I was writing fanfiction under a pseudonym as writing practice, but then it exploded in popularity. I switched to my real name and started working on my next original book, which is when I started thinking about pursuing writing as a career.

Me: In what ways has your Wattpad audience helped you grow as a writer?

Jandra: Wattpad gives you the opportunity to get real-time feedback as you write your book, assuming you publish each chapter as you write, which is completely invaluable. There are also analytics on the back-end that show me when people are dropping off, which parts are most popular, where my readers are coming from, etc. 

Me: What is the biggest lesson Wattpad taught you, which you then went ahead and used in self-publishing? Any transferrable skills?

Jandra: Appearances matter, and success takes time. A lot of people assume, “If you write it, they will come,” and unfortunately that’s not always true. Your cover needs to be exceptional. No way around it. You also have to engage, you have to make a constant effort, and even then it takes time for it to pay off. It took months before Fragile had twenty reviews. Twenty. That’s not even a high number. But if you compare it to other indie books — and even traditionally published books — there are plenty of them that don’t even have twenty reviews after a year. That’s because authors tend to assume their job is done once they’ve finished writing. These days, writing the book is only one piece of the puzzle.

Me: Did your Wattpad audience help in other ways during the launch?

Jandra: Absolutely! I had a small “street team” of Wattpad fans that posted about the book, reviewed it, bought it, etc. They’d send me photos, which I could repost on social media, and helped promote the book elsewhere.

Me: What were your three focus points during the launch?

Jandra: Instagram exposure, reviews, and more reviews. I knew I needed to get as many reviews as possible, as soon as possible, to boost my marketing efforts. What good is it to promote the crap out of your book for someone to see it on Amazon and it only has one review? Or none? 

Me: What are your TOP 3 self-publishing resources?

Jandra: Honestly, a lot of my knowledge came from my own experience in publishing. It’s why I coach authors. Beyond that, I love Jane Friedman’s website, Reedsy, and Canva. I know Canva isn’t the first thing people think about when they think “publishing”, but it’s a great marketing tool.

Me: What would you recommend new self-published authors do first and foremost?

Jandra: Work on building your audience. You can never start too early, and you can always start too late.

Me: In what ways do you keep in touch with your audience? Do you prefer Wattpad or other social media or both?

Jandra: Definitely both. I love Instagram — I have chat groups with my readers — and Twitter for connecting with the book community. Wattpad is wonderful, but I think too many authors put all of their publishing “eggs” in the Wattpad basket. It’s good to diversify.

Me: What are your self-publishing goals for the next few years? Where would you like to see it all go?

Jandra: Honestly, who knows? I’m currently querying agents for one of my novels, but I’m planning to self-publish another. Like I said, I think it’s important to diversify. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin, but it’s also good to try different avenues and see what works for you. That’s the beauty of this industry — success is self-defined, so that means how you get there is also up to you. I’m focusing on building my brand — and launching my publicity firm, Wild Hare Collective — as I move forward.

Me: “Success is self-defined”! I love that. And I sincerely hope to see you achieve your goals! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with me today; that was great!

Jandra: Thank you! I hope this was helpful, and I’m always happy to connect with people on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or Wattpad.


Published inInterviews

One Comment

  1. Great interview ladies! Thank y’all so much for sharing. Loved hearing Jandra’s journey so far.

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