Jen Lowry: How One Author Self-Published Over 15 Books
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Jen Lowry is a mother, a teacher, a literacy coach, and the author of over 15 books. In the self-publishing world, there isn’t anyone who hasn’t heard her name. It was only two years ago when she decided to jump into the self-publishing world headfirst. She didn’t have a clue what she was doing but she learning by joining writing groups, watching other self-published authors on YouTube, and figuring it out as she went along.
Who is Jen Lowry?
Lowry was born and raised in North Carolina. Growing up, she had a love for writing and would write stories that she shared with her mother and aunt, but she was too shy to share them with anyone else. As she got older and settled in her career as a teacher, Lowry put away her ideas of becoming an author. Then, years later, she was forced to confront this desire that she’d kept hidden for so long.
Lowry teaches students in grades 9-12. One day, she had them perform an exercise where they each stood on their chairs and declared their dreams for the future. But, her students felt like their teacher should be apart of the exercise too. They made her stand in her chair and shout out her dream as well.
They really put me on the spot, but I stood up and I said that I want to be an author and that was the first time in my adult life that I said it out loud. There was some type of freedom saying that dream, claiming that dream.
She went home that day and pulled out a manuscript that had been sitting on her laptop since 2007. The story was about faith and building relationships with a community, but more than that, it was the last book that her mother read before she died. Lowry knew that this was the book that needed to make it. That book was Sweet Potato Jones. She began looking up agents and publishers and researching as much as she could about getting a book published. Then one day, her school invited a guest speaker from a publishing company to give a talk with the students. Lowry said she felt in her spirit that this was the publisher for her. She sent Sweet Potato Jones to the person and she was offered a contract. It was the first publisher she had submitted to, and it was her first yes.
After signing the contract with Swoon Romance, Lowry had more books that she wanted to give to the world, but traditional publishing is an extremely slow process. It took two years for Sweet Potato Jones to make it to print. She firmly believed that every shelf needed to be filled with diverse stories now, so Lowry decided that she would publish her books on her own.
I took what I was learning from the traditional publisher and started publishing my own work. I felt like I was getting that understanding of here’s a contract, here’s what you need to do for your platform, here’s your author brand, you need to do x, y, and z on social media. And you have to do x, y, and z to do book tours. And I thought oh, I can do this!
The first step in self-publishing is learning how to format a book. Well, the first step after writing and editing the book, that is. This is something that many new self-publishers don’t often think about. The interior of the book is just as important as the exterior. The font choices, the way that the paragraphs flow into one another, proper alignment and the added embellishments are all important aspects to consider. If your book looks sloppy, the readers will notice, and it can lead to negative reviews.
When I first started, I didn’t know book formatting at all. I will be honest with you and say I opened up a Microsoft word document, I typed it on an 8 ½ by 11 page, and I hit publish on KDP Amazon.
In her excitement, Lowry didn’t even consider formatting her book. But after joining writing groups on Facebook, she was quickly made aware of the fact. Lowry dove deep into YouTube and watched how self-published authors set up their word documents, how they added embellishments to make it pretty, and how they essentially made their books look like a book. Lowry eventually took all of her books down that weren’t formatted, and re-uploaded them with her signature headers and fonts that are now the Lowry package.
Many self-published authors use Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing to publish their books online. It's the most prominent eBook selling platform in the world. They make it simple for authors to upload their books and for readers to download those books. They also print-on-demand for readers who want a physical copy. Lowry used KDP to start but found that Ingram Spark better suited her style. To understand the difference between the two platforms, she would watch YouTube videos where authors held up their books and showed which one was published with KDP and which one was published with Ingram Spark. You can also do your own research to find the platform that's best for you.
Breaking Down the Numbers
Of course, there are some upfront costs when self-publishing your work. Did you know that ISBNs aren't free? It costs $125 to purchase a single ISBN, but If you purchase a bundle of ten ISBNs, it will be much cheaper. Then there’s the cost of uploading your book onto the publishing platforms. On Ingram Spark, it costs about $45 to upload your book and if you find an error, you have to pay to re-upload it. With KDP, you don’t have to pay to upload or re-upload your book. Many authors prefer KDP for this reason but, there are coupon codes for Ingram Spark that could cut the cost. Other costs to consider are cover design, copyrighting, marketing, etc., but Lowry says that these are all dependent on the author's needs.
Marketing is extremely important for self-published authors. You don’t have a marketing team behind you advertising your book like a traditionally published author would. For the most part, it's going to be you who reaches out to potential readers and convinces them to buy your book. Many authors turn to Facebook or Instagram ads, but Lowry says that you don’t need to do any of that. You just need to be present on social media.
Readers love to connect to authors, so I feel like being present online is a very valuable piece of marketing. I do not use any type of funds to pay for ads. I feel like the people that find me, see that my work is consistent and that I’m out there being present on YouTube, social media and my podcast, that’s what’s bringing in continued readers, the authentic engagement.
Advice for Aspiring Authors
Lowry knows that it isn’t easy to find the time to write your first novel. She juggles a full-time job as a teacher and literacy coach, homeschooling her children at night, doing her podcast, and helping other writers through her YouTube channel. But she “pushes through the tired” to write because it's her passion and what she was called to do.
It was no coincidence that I started writing the same year I was baptized. When I write, I feel that the holy spirit is working in me, and so there’s two of us working to accomplish this goal and I’m not working this on my own.
She also recommends joining writing groups and communities to help motivate you to keep writing. Lowry herself has a YouTube channel where she does writing sprints. A writing sprint is where writers get together online, set timers for about twenty minutes, and write uninterrupted. The writing community has boundless opportunities to write and connect with other authors for support.
If you feel anxious about putting your work out there for people to see, Lowry suggests that you take a step back and realize why you wrote the book in the first place. For Lowry, writing Sweet Potato Jones, The Hartwell Chronicles, and many of her other books was for her children and grandchildren who are Native American and Puerto Rican. She wanted them to be able to see themselves in her books and for them to say, "grandma did that for me."
Remember that you have been gifted with this story. It is for no one else but you. It’s in your voice, it’s your style, you own it. You go out and you have that courage to share it. Do not get discouraged, do not get overwhelmed, reach out to people and they’ll help. Just stay the course, run the race, just run it. And you will not regret it.