April 17

Author Success Stories!

Becoming Fearless with Brenda E. Smith

Spellbound by wanderlust after working as a whitewater river guide for Sobek Expeditions, Brenda Smith has lived, worked, or traveled in over forty countries.

While overseas, Brenda pursued adventures on less-traveled roads through remote villages, collecting a raft of stories about her exploits. She has recently released her first book, a memoir of her journey down a perilous river in Africa. In her book, Becoming Fearless: Finding Courage in the African Wilderness, she chronicles the harrowing and life-changing adventure that forever changed the trajectory of her life.

Today, she shares a little of her journey with us. 

What inspired you to embark on your journey as an independently published author? What sparked you to write your first book and when did you know it would become a series?

My career as a CPA and financial manager allowed me to work and live overseas in many countries. In each new place, I sought out unusual adventures in places far off the beaten path. When I retired, I finally found the time to write the stories I’d been telling friends about my fascinating travels for 40 years. In fact, I made a solemn promise to a dear friend, just days before she passed away, that I would work to preserve my stories in book form.

The more I learned about traditional publishing, I discovered for a first-time author the querying process to find an agent who would then have to convince a press to publish it would be agonizingly inefficient and could take years. I set out to learn more about how self-publishing worked. A workshop I took with Paper Raven Books showed me how this organization helps authors with all facets of producing and marketing a book. What really impressed me was that my raw manuscript could be launched in the book market as a professionally produced book in just six months!

Could you share some insights into your creative process when developing the characters and plot for your books? Were there any unexpected challenges or breakthrough moments that shaped the story?

My book, Becoming Fearless: Finding Courage in the African Wilderness, is a memoir describing the profound transformation I underwent when at 28 years old I reluctantly accompanied my daredevil boss on a rafting trip through the largest uninhabited game reserve in Africa in 1981. Since it is my story, I had only to write authentically and with passion about this extraordinary journey. In structuring the story, I opted to tell it in chronological order because part of our journey followed a river and I felt the story should unfold as the river carried us forward in both time and place. That chronological forward flow also worked for the part of the story when we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

Since it is a true story, I needed to decide whether to use real names of other characters or create fictitious names. When I used real names, I obtained their consent. I also had to learn about copyright laws when referring to famous people, books, and songs.

What key lessons have you learned during the process of bringing your first series to life, both creatively and in terms of marketing and promotion?

When I started my Paper Raven Books journey, I had an unedited manuscript and no idea how I could turn it into a book. At first, the cost of the project seemed expensive. But I loved that “my team” taught me about each step in the process: editing, proofreading, choosing a cover design, formatting, setting up accounts with the sellers, doing market research, building a website and business Facebook page.

Not only were the PRB staff spending hours building me a high-quality book, but they were also teaching me how to do many of those steps myself. I felt like a sponge soaking up an overwhelming amount of information in a short time. So ultimately, for my money, I ended up with both an attractive book and what I consider the equivalent of a master’s degree in book publishing with the confidence to self-publish more books in the future. In terms of marketing and promotion, both areas I dreaded, I learned about the importance of building an enthusiastic launch team to ensure early ratings and a slew of positive reviews right from the start. It surprised me how many people felt honored to be asked to be on my team. I also learned how to write multiple emails to create a marketing campaign and to write blog posts on my website and Facebook page to start to create a fan base. PRB staff kept reminding me that selling a book is a marathon, not a sprint. Now I have more time to work on different techniques for getting my book into the world. Attending the weekly marketing meeting for our community of authors each week, allows me to learn about the ways my colleagues are having success selling their books.

How did you engage with your readers and build a fanbase for your series as an independent author? Were there any strategies or platforms that you found particularly effective for connecting with your audience?

I didn’t have any fan base when I signed on with PRB, and I couldn’t even imagine who I could ask to become a fan. With only a few Facebook friends and people with whom I emailed, I cobbled together a group of 25 friends who agreed to read my book and review it as soon as it launched. I hosted a launch party at my retirement community and 50 people attended (and bought print books). That initial group of 75 started telling other people about the book and orders from people I didn’t know started coming in.

Since then, I’ve scheduled Goodreads and Crave Books giveaways, attended a regional book fair, and hosted a Zoom event with my daredevil boss, who launched his 20th book 2 weeks after mine, in which we discussed both our books, got other author endorsements and had my book placed on the websites of the company with whom I did the trip in 1981 and a newer company that specializes in helping people plan Kilimanjaro climbs.

I’ve run additional promotions with a dozen book promoters, mostly in connection with my Amazon Kindle quarterly relaunches. For all of these events and promotions, I created proactive email campaigns and gradually my e-mail list has grown from 0 to nearly 800 names. I’ve also kept my new fans engaged by sending out blog posts with pictures about my creative and marketing activities. What I’m most excited about now is my audiobook produced with Audivita which is scheduled to be released by the end of May. I think a whole new niche of book lovers will love hearing me narrate the story, which I’ve enhanced with a few jungle sound effects.  

Now that you’ve completed your first series, what advice would you offer to aspiring independent authors just starting their own publishing journeys?

I’d say if publishing a book is your dream and you are willing to step a little out of your comfort zone, to learn the basics of publishing, you, too, can feel the thrill of opening your book and signing your name on the title page for a reader who can’t wait to read (or listen) to your story! 

If I’d tried to self-publish a book completely on my own, I would have felt lost, discouraged, and wasted precious time. I’m so pleased I chose a book publishing services provider to be my guide, at least for the first time through the process. There’s nothing like having a dedicated team cheering on your efforts and successes.


indie authors, indie publishing, publishing, self publishing

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