Cate Rowan Talks Indie & Writing

“Rowan is definitely an author to watch!”
~  Alyssa Day, New York Times bestselling author.  

Cate Rowan is a successful Indie author whose latest fantasy romance novel, THE SOURCE OF MAGIC, releases today.  Cate has generously agreed to share her knowledge of the much-discussed, little-understood world of Indie publishing and her accomplishments in that arena. 

In addition to a Ph.D. in the biological sciences, Cate has washed laundry in a crocodile-infested African lake, parasailed over Cabo, had monkeys poop in her hair, and swum with dolphins, but she says her best adventures occur in the worlds she creates in her lush fantasy romances.  Her novels about magic, danger and passion in faraway realms have won more than thirty awards, including the esteemed Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® contest—twice! 

I was eager to discover just what magic Cate had discovered in this new realm of Indie publishing and she was generously eager to share. 


WIN:  Comment to enter the drawing to win 1 electronic copy of The Source of Magic or 1 3-day coupon for Smashwords discounting The Source of Magic on that site.

Joan:  Cate has won enough awards to make me dizzy!  Between 5 manuscripts, she’s placed or won in more than 35 contests, including a double RWA Golden Heart finalist with her previous release, Kismet’s Kiss.   

Cate, what experience have you gained from your successes with contests?  What advice would you give other authors in consideration of entering or not? 

Cate:  I’m a very practical gal, so after the first few times I entered, contests became a means to an end for me. I entered them to try to get my work in front of particular editors, so I choose contests based on the final round judges. Even though feedback and suggestions weren’t my main focus, they were a terrific bonus.
I never entered contests judged by agents because I wanted to enter ones in which the final judge could actually buy the book. Query letters were my solution for agents, and over the years I received six agent offers and hired three. I also sent queries to editors and didn’t rely solely on the contest circuit. Those queries got me two small press contract offers, though in the end I decided to self-publish.
 (Joan:  I also have to add a note from Cate’s website that states “…when NYT and USA Today bestseller Alyssa Day read the opening of Kismet’s Kiss in a contest, she loved it so much she offered a cover blurb for it.”  Definitely a fringe benefit of contests, IMHO.)

 Joan:  I have to admit, I know very little about “Indie” publishing.  Not for lack of interest, but for lack of time to investigate.  Can you give us the nuts and bolts of it?  What it is exactly?  How does it differ from self-publishing, small-publisher publishing and/or e-publishing? 

Cate:  I’m an indie author, which means I’ve chosen to self-publish my books. Some people feel that the word “indie” should be reserved for “indie publishers”–that is, small publishers outside NY–but, well, that battle over semantics seems lost already.

Joan:  I have heard very positive results from authors who have gone the indie or self-publishing routes.  What benefits do you feel you’ve experienced by going the indie route over traditional publishing?  


(1) Control. For example, I get to choose the title and have total say over the cover. Of course, having full control also means full responsibility! If something goes wrong, it’s up to me to fix it. 

(2) Flexibility. I actually can fix it! If I decide to tweak a wording or I spot a typo, I get to change it. I don’t have to worry about whether there will be another print run so it can be corrected. I simply do it, and the update will be available within a day at most of the e-stores. 

(3) Information. I know my sales figures at the major stores to the minute and can see if a marketing strategy is working and would be worth pursuing again. 

(4) Money. At Amazon, for example, I get between 35 and 70% of the purchase price for every copy sold. For books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, Amazon pays 70% for every US, UK or German sale, and 35% for sales to other countries. (Rumor has it that Canada will be added to the 70% list soon.) 

I don’t have tens of thousands of books available on physical bookstore shelves, but I do make a larger chunk of money per sale and need far fewer sales to make X amount of money. Many romance readers have fallen in love with their e-readers now prefer digital books, so it works out well. Although I have a print copy of my first book available, I sell about 100 digital copies for every print sale. That kind of ratio is pretty common for indies. 

(5) Focus. I don’t need to spend time seeking agents or editors now. The time I invest in my writing pays off directly in sales. 

Joan:  Who would you say indie authordom is suited for?  

Cate:  Do-it-yourselfers like me love indie–but I think every author should keep an eye on the benefits of modern self-publishing. Cover art and formatting can be done through freelancers if you don’t have the DIY gene. Established authors can make great money with their backlists and other books NY doesn’t think it can market, and newer authors (with polished and edited manuscripts, ahem!) can now reach readers directly.  

For me, that’s the very best benefit for authors–readers gaining access to the work we’ve loved and slaved over. After more than a decade of writing alone, my first fan letter sent me into joyful sobs for a good fifteen minutes. Talk about validation! And I didn’t need an agent or a publisher to get it. 

Because of the proliferation of self-publishing, I see many genres shifting and blossoming and marketing boundaries breaking down. Readers can now find a much wider variety of storylines than there used to be, and I think that change will continue. 

But I beg of all the potential indie authors out there: please don’t put your book up for sale until it’s ready! Get some professional editing, or at the very least a really thorough critique group that pushes you about things to correct and improve long before you consider going indie. Yes, you can fix things later if you must, but you don’t want to ruin your reputation with readers before you have that chance. 

Joan:  If you’re willing, Cate, would you give us more information on your sales figures for other authors considering the indie route?  

Cate:  I’ve had an interesting time with sales. (In a good way, not in a “may you live in interesting times” kind of way.) It took me a little over five months to sell 557 copies of Kismet’s Kiss and earn my first $1000. Sales were accelerating, and it took me only a month and a half to earn the next $500.And then something even more fantastic happened. I needed surgery and was going to be away from home for a few weeks, so I worked hard to get The Source of Magic up before I left. I wasn’t planning to do any marketing for it, or really even to tell anyone until today during the official release; I mainly put it up in case readers wanted it as soon as they finished Kiss. I uploaded it on April 17 and basically left it alone. It sold a few copies, probably based on the excerpt in the back of Kiss–and then somehow the B&N sales fairy blessed it. Suddenly I was selling 70 copies a day there. With no marketing at all, and no reviews up. I still don’t know what happened, but I’m grateful!

 The surge didn’t last forever, but now I’m selling four times as many copies each day as I did with just Kismet’s Kiss alone, even though I only have two books available. Put up a second book and get four times as many sales? I like that math.

 More math: As of yesterday, I’ve sold 2181 copies of my books (1330 of Kismet’s Kiss and 851 of The Source of Magic) and made close to $4000. The vast majority of those copies have been ebooks sold at $2.99, though I’ve toyed briefly with $.99 and $3.99 for Kiss. That’s fantastic to me, but if you want to see more numbers, check out those of my friend Theresa Ragan. Prepare to have your socks blown to the stratosphere!

 So even though this is the official release day of The Source of Magic, I guess it’s an early bloomer. Or a late one–see below!

 Joan:  What is it about the genre of fantasy romance draws you? 

Cate:  I’ve always loved the idea of magic in alternate worlds, not to mention the idea of how inborn magic could change the interpersonal dynamics between a heroine and hero. Plus, with fantasy romance I get to make s…, um, stuff up. It’s pretty freeing. (grin)

Joan:  What heat level would you rate The Source of Magic? 

Cate:  On a scale of 1-5, it’s a 3 or 3.5. It’s definitely not chaste, yet the main focus is on the love story outside the bedroom. That being said, the particular inborn magic of this hero and heroine, um…adds to the flavor of the love scenes. 😉 

Joan:  How long did it take you to write The Source of Magic? 

Cate:  Gosh…great question. I might need an outside verdict on that.  

It took me a week or two to write the opening chapters, which I then entered in the Winning Beginnings contest (now known as The Sheila). That was my first contest, and I was gobsmacked that Source became a finalist, and then placed second and got a request. 

I like having outside deadlines, and suddenly I had one! I got my butt into the writing chair and finished the book in about three months. I stocked up on microwave dinners and literally didn’t leave my house for a month, except to walk downstairs to the first floor of my apartment building to get my mail. When I was finally done, driving to the post office to send the manuscript to the editor was a freaky experience. Suddenly I was reminded that other people existed in the world! 

Of course, that was in 2001, and I’ve made plenty of revisions to it since then. So to answer your question, the writing time could either be a few months or more than a ten years. 🙂 

Joan:  Are Kismet’s Kiss and The Source of Magic linked?  How? 

Cate:  The Source of Magic is a prequel to Kismet’s Kiss, though both stand alone. They take place a couple of decades apart and in different settings on the same fantasy world–in a medieval “Europeanesque” realm for The Source of Magic and a medieval “Middle Easternesque” realm for Kismet’s Kiss. Because the people on this world live long lives (hundreds of years), I was able to share some characters in the two books. 

Joan:  Would you say The Source of Magic is the book of your heart?  Why? 

Cate:  Hmm, I’d probably have to give that mantle to Kismet’s Kiss, just because it’s such an unusual romance in terms of setting and storyline. But The Source of Magic was my first book, so it’s definitely my baby. Heck, if it hadn’t been for Source, I’d never have dreamed of this particular fantasy world, and now I could easily write twelve or thirteen books in it! 

I’d like to thank Cate for her insight into indie publishing and her candid information regarding sales figures–valuable information to authors which is notoriously difficult to come by–but most of all, congratulate Cate on her new release: The Source of Magic. 

Enter to win a copy by leaving a comment.  Cate will be popping in and out to respond to questions and comments.

53 responses to “Cate Rowan Talks Indie & Writing”

  1. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    As I will be away from my computer most of today, I’m just popping in to say YAY!!!! Can’t wait to read the new book. KK was an excellent read, and I can’t imagine SOM will be any less so.

    Go get ’em, Cate!

  2. Okay, really, you had me at monkey poop 🙂 But the rest of the post was awesome too!

    This is fascinating– I never knew the nuts and bolts of how this worked until now. Thank you for sharing your process and your figures with us, Cate. It went a long way toward educating me in the world of self-publishing, which looks to be on the forefront of some big changes in the industry.

    Oh, and the books look delicious! And I do need some reading material for the train ride to Nationals 😉 hehe!

    • Cate Rowan says:

      Heh! After the initial incident I wore a straw hat to ward off more monkey poop, but sometimes there’s only so much you can do…

      I do think self-publishing is going to be *the* way most authors choose to publish within a couple of years. As you can tell, I’m an evangelist for indie. And it seems odd to write those words, because five years ago, I’d have laughed at them so hard I’d have swallowed my tongue. The Kindle and nook have truly changed everything.

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope you thoroughly enjoy that train ride to Nationals. 😉

  3. kelly fitzpatrick says:

    I’ll admit I’m a little afraid of the technical aspect of publishing. I’d be afraid my formatting would end up whonky. And my punctuation cannot be trusted. I’d need a handholder.

    • Cate Rowan says:

      Hi Kelly! Fortunately, for those who don’t adore the idea of learning to format or who’d rather just spend their time writing, there are lovely freelance formatters happy to take care of it. And freelance editors, some with years of NY industry experience, offer everything from developmental suggestions to tightening and grammar fixes to typo checking. Authors don’t have to be as alone as it might seem.

      As the industry shifts, I think we’ll all be holding each other’s hands–and cheering. 🙂

  4. liz talley says:

    I just love your story, Cate. Love the idea that you got off your duff and made things happen for yourself. In a world where we are told to wait…and wait…and wait. You didn’t. And you are reaping the rewards of that determination. I’m so very proud of you.

    As someone starting out as traditionally published, with no backlist, I have nothing, save my two hostoricals that need extensive editing to self-publish, but I’m watching and learning from writers like you. I’m prefectly happy with where I am, and one day when I’m not on some crazy deadline, I’m going to whip my historicals out, polish them up, hire an editor, and join ranks. But first, I must find time. LOL.

    One request that needs to be hammered into new writers’ heads. DON’T publish your book until it has been edited! Please! You ruin it for good writers when you put crap out there.

    And one question – I’ve been wondering if freelance editors might achieve starred status as editors. Do you forsee a time where readers will look to see who edited the book as well as who wrote it before they purchase? In other words, do you think standards for Indie publishing will develop based on an editor’s reputation for editing good books…along with the writer, of course.

    • Cate Rowan says:

      > One request that needs to be hammered
      > into new writers’ heads. DON’T publish
      > your book until it has been edited! Please!
      > You ruin it for good writers when you put
      > crap out there.

      ^^^ THIS. This this this.

      A ratings system for freelance editors? Wow, intriguing!

      Let’s see… I can imagine some hitches, such as when a book is edited by more than one person over time. Also, Amazon and other places let the indie author mention the name of an editor as a contributor, but it often shows up on the sale page like the editor is a co-author. :\ Still, that’s a really interesting idea, and it could be useful for both readers and authors. After all, authors want the best-edited book we can get.

      Oh, and Liz, I’ll be SO excited to see your historicals on the shelves!

      • Amanda Brice says:

        Polish those historical, Liz! I’d love to read them!

        And I agree. I can’t stress enough that editing is crucial. There are some fantastic self-published gems out there, but unfortunately, there are also some books that never should have seen the light of day. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t just write a book and then slap it up on Kindle. It really does ruin it for everyone else. Take pride in your work and give it as close to a traditionally-published experience as possible.

  5. Diana Layne says:

    Cate, loved Kismet’s Kiss, can’t wait to read Source of Magic, good luck! You have my admiration!!

  6. Shoshana Brown says:

    Happy release day, Cate! And thanks for all the awesome info. Looking forward to reading Source of Magic. 🙂

    • Cate Rowan says:

      Thanks, Shoshana! I’m happy to give the info. I want authors to be able to make informed decisions about their books and their careers.

  7. Vivi Andrews says:

    Great interview, Cate & Joan. I hope your sales continue to grow exponentially with each new book, Cate!

  8. Amanda Brice says:

    Fantastic interview, Cate and Joan! And those numbers are great. It really shows that self-publishing is a marathon and not a sprint. It took you 5 months to reach 557 sales for Kismet’s Kiss, but with next-to-no advertising for The Source of Magic (since you’re not even “launching” it until today!) you’ve sold 800+ copies in a month! ROCK ON!

  9. Great post, Cate! I agree…don’t put crap out there! BUT, look at the reviews on bestselling non-indie books…you can’t please everyone all the time. I have found errors in EVERY book I’ve ever read. You’re always going to get people who write their life story and shove it up there…it’s the writer’s loss. Whether you go indie or the traditional route you’re going to have a LOT of competition.

    Self-publishing has always been around…but times are changing and self-publishing is no longer what it used to be. What I like MOST about this whole new indie author gig is that writers have MORE CHOICES. In my opinion, that’s all there is to it. CHOICES. I love having choices. I can still try to sell to a traditional publisher if I choose. I can find another agent if I choose. I never say never. Although I must admit I never thought I would self-publish. Right now, today, I can say this is the best decision I ever made.

    But YES, find a couple of beta readers and write and revise, write and revise. If you don’t, you’re only hurting yourself.

    Thanks for sharing, Cate. Wishing you continued success!

    • Cate Rowan says:

      Thanks, Theresa!

      It’s true, errors happen, much like s… 😀 It’s up to the author to do her best to minimize them before publication and remove any others as they’re found.

      I mentioned it in the main post, folks, but if you haven’t checked out Theresa’s blog, please do. She’s having amazing success–with books that NY and her agent passed on.

      Indies are showing that readers can find and love books that don’t fit NY marketing boxes!

    • Amanda Brice says:

      And not only do writers have more options, but so do readers! And that’s a good thing, IMO.

  10. Cate Rowan says:

    That’s exactly it, Amanda–a marathon.

    Based on my results, one of the best ways to build sales is to get an additional book in front of readers. And isn’t sharing our story worlds with readers the main reason we write? 🙂

    Rock on yourself, sister indie!

  11. Diana Layne says:

    p.s. great interview, ladies. Plus, I forgot to say I LOVE love love the cover for Source of Magic, it just screams “buy me now!”

  12. Yay, Cate!!!! Congrats, Ruby Sis! And great interview to both of you.

    Love the cover. Off to order now.

  13. Cate, I am so in awe of your success! Congrats on The Source of Magic. Your numbers are amazing and I have no doubt they’ll only continue to grow!

  14. It sounds as though you are doing great with the indie author experience. I’m going to try that route first with one of my backlist titles and see how that goes before venturing into original works. May your sales numbers continue to grow!

    • Cate Rowan says:

      Nancy, putting up that backlist title is a perfect way for you to test going indie. You’ll have very little risk, and hopefully lots of fun and sales!

  15. Waving Cate. 🙂 I do have a copy of Kismet’s Kiss in my new Kindle and can’t wait to read it. Your explanation of self-publishing caught my attention and I am working hard to make my current ms polished. I learned so much at the retreat this weekend and am amazed at how much stuck in my brain. It’s actually coming out in my revisions.

    You know I send you the best of luck with lots and lots of sales. You are leading the way for a lot of us.

  16. Cate Rowan says:

    Waving back, Paisley! Thanks for buying Kismet’s Kiss, and I hope you love it.

    Yay for the wonderful results from the retreat. I’m feeling the same way and look forward to working on my next book.

    As for leading the way, I was stumbling through it at first like everyone else–but now it’s become easier. I hope my experiences smooth the way for other people who are still exploring the possibilities. 🙂

  17. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I’m in awe, Cate. Congratulations. We’re going to have to talk when I get back from Europe. I’m seriously considering self-publishing, but I haven’t the first clue where to start.

  18. Cate,

    I’m so excited for your success. I’ve bought both books and can’t wait to read them, although I was one of your early readers for The Source. I’ve never understood why some NY publisher didn’t snap it up. Definitely their loss! Thanks for leading the way. I can’t wait until my self-published books reach where yours are. But at 228 for two and a half weeks, I can’t complain.

    I so understand your excitement about self-publishing. At my local RWA chapter meeting last Saturday, I went around showing my covers and telling people about SP. I’m like a new convert going out preaching. I love buying my friends’ books whom I’m know are good, but haven’t sold. Wow. What talented writers! (Cate mentioned Theresa, whose third SP book I’m currently reading.)I love that so many writers are free to spread their wings.

    I’m SO proud of you, Cate.

    All the best!!!

    Debra Holland

    • Cate Rowan says:

      228 in two and a half weeks is FANTASTIC, Debra! 😀 Just goes to show what’s possible this way, doesn’t it?

      I think that people who are uploading right now do even better right out of the gate than those who uploaded last year, as I did. Which means it’s never too late to start, folks! Every day there are more e-readers out there and more people looking for good ebooks. It’s a win-win for everyone.

      And Debra’s books are goooood. 🙂 WILD MONTANA SKY is in my reading queue!

  19. Cate, congrats on the new release again. I loved Kismet’s Kiss and can’t wait to read The Source Of Magic. And, you know my thoughts on your venture. Kudos, girl.

    You said above that if you see a typo or something that needs to be tweaked, you can just go in and fix it? I didn’t know that. So cool. I’ve read NY books where words were missed or a line read really rough. I’ve emailed authors when I saw something really blatant. Their response was TY and sigh, the change has to wait until next printing. So cool, because no matter how many times we’ve read our work, there can be tweaks.

  20. Thanks, Cate. Hopefully, I’ll get the paranormal romances up next. The covers need to be finished first. 🙂

  21. Rita Henuber says:

    Great interview. So exciting to see your success. You deserve it.
    You have been an inspiration for me.

  22. Tina Joyce says:

    Congratulations, Cate, and thanks so much for your willingness to share your experience. Knowing the options is so important for writers nowadays!

  23. Lisa Kessler says:

    Hi Cate –

    Congratulations on your indie success!!! 🙂

    I hope your book sales keep growing…

    Lisa 🙂

  24. Elisa Beatty says:

    Amazing and inspiring, Cate! And congrats on the release of Source of Magic!

    May it snowball on and on!!

  25. Cate Rowan says:

    Just wrapping up, and I want to thank everyone who came by.

    I used to choose the commenter who’d win an ebook of THE SOURCE OF MAGIC. Lisa Kessler is the winner–congratulations, Lisa! I’ll be in touch. 🙂


Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Elizabeth Langston: You’re right–and it is a powerful lingering impression as the last phrase....
  • Darynda Jones: I like what you did here, Beth. I also like the first one. I like the line “determined to...
  • Elizabeth Langston: So I said to lead with city-keeper, and I didn’t do that. Let me take another stab....
  • Darynda Jones: Great pitch, Jenn! I love what you did with it, Beth. This stuff is so hard. LOL
  • Elizabeth Langston: I think this pitch is in good shape. But if I could try anything, I’d want to lead with the...