Alumni to author: Gledé Browne Kabongo discusses her journey in self-publishing
By Ryan O’Connell
Arts & Features Editor
By Bella Omar
The Department of Communication, Media, and Performance hosted guest speaker Gledé Browne Kabongo - self-published psychological thriller author and FSU alum - to talk about her experiences as a writer April 3.
Kabongo began by talking about her time in college at FSU. “I think it was the perfect fit for me,” she said.
She said she graduated high school at 16, and the smaller campus felt like the right place for her.
Kabongo said she originally planned to study journalism, but ended up majoring in communication arts with a minor in journalism, and that she thinks it was a positive change.
She said she worked in global marketing and communications after graduating in 1994, which helped her to become the self-published author she is today, now the writer of seven novels and recipient of four awards for her fiction writing.
Kabongo said writing is more like a second job, and this has to do with the high competition in fiction writing. She added although she would love to write full time, there are a lot of hoops authors need to jump through to live comfortably - self published or otherwise.
She said when she decided to self publish her work in 2013, the concept was still new and stigmatized. She added the choice to self publish was also spurred by the rarity of agents in fiction writing.
Kabongo said she chose to write psychological thrillers because “the genre chose [her],” and she’d always had a love for suspense and mystery stories. She added it wasn’t until the novel “Gone Girl” resurfaced in popular culture that she learned what genre her work fit into.
“That book gave a resurgence to psychological thrillers, and so [I said], ‘Oh, so that’s what I write. OK, cool,’” she said.
Kabongo said there are more pros than cons in self publishing - such as having more creative freedom, stronger control over when the product reaches market, complete ownership of your intellectual property, and the ability to change pricing and royalty returns without considering a publisher or agent.
She said while self publishing has lots of benefits, it's an extremely competitive business.
She then shared some harsh statistics about the field, such as the fact that 60% of a publisher’s income will come from only 4% of their books, and that in 2021, of 3.2 million books, less than 1% sold more than 5,000 copies.
Kabongo then shared several downsides to self-publishing such as having to make all payments out-of-pocket, being responsible for all marketing aspects, and having to meet or exceed market expectations without the safety net of a publishing team.
She then described how she lays out the “groundwork” for any given project. The first focus is creating a story idea, title, and cover design, since those elements are what make the first impression on a potential reader.
Kabongo said she then researches the topic and creates a 200-word synopsis of the plot and characters. Finally, she added, she develops the outline for the novel.
Given that her genre of choice, the psychological thriller, is plot based, Kabongo said she takes screenwriting techniques and applies them to her storytelling. Working backwards from the surprise twist or ending to the beginning, she said she takes a careful approach to authoring mystery.
She then segued into the business aspect of self-publishing, discussing the editing, publishing, and marketing processes of being an “author-preneur.”
Concerning marketing, Kabongo made it clear that any given story will not appease everyone.
“You need to build your tribe and you need to whittle it down and figure out what kind of person will like that book,” Kabongo said.