After all, self-publishing is all about taking that first step up a very steep staircase….
I am way too new at the self-publishing game to really write a how-to for anyone looking to do it. After all – I went into it knowing practically nothing about how it worked, except a few key basics. (To wit: create a KDP account, upload the book, watch the sales happen, get paid two months later. Oh, the naivety of me.)
But I still want to jot down a few notes about my experience – which was surprisingly really good. I didn’t think I’d like the business side of publishing as much as it turned out I did. After all, when you’re self-publishing, it means that you are the only one who is guaranteed to work for your book. Any advertising, marketing, sales pitches – that’s all on me. Thing is, I’m not really one to toot my own horn and I absolutely hate asking anyone for help, so the fact that I actually enjoyed doing any of this is sort of a shock. It does bode well for the next time, though.
Here’s what I think I did right:
- I didn’t rush myself.
Originally, my plan was to publish The Country Omega by Christmas. It ended up not coming out until the end of January, and I’m really, really glad I decided to push publication back. By waiting the extra month, I gave myself time to make sure the copy was absolutely perfect, that I had included everything I wanted to include, and it gave me time to start creating a presence for the book – and myself – online. I didn’t feel rushed – actually, by the end of the month, I was totally anxious for Publication Day to happen – but all in all, it was a very low stress time, which worked in my favor, because the learning curve for what I was doing was so steep.
And it was a pretty steep learning curve. I mean – I’m a writer. I don’t do graphic design for book covers, I don’t know how to format a .doc file for Kindle off the top of my head, I’ve never had to advertise something in my life. Heck – until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even have a Twitter account. I was learning a ton of stuff in a very short time. That’s a lot of pressure – and it was December. Can you imagine the stress level if I’d been trying to do all this and deal with the holidays?
Giving myself the time to manage all of it was probably one of the best decisions I made.
2. I asked for help, and when it came – I listened.
Remember how I said I don’t like asking for help? It’s true, I really don’t. It’s why I tend to use the same beta team over and over and over until I’m pretty sure they want to drop kick me off a tall precipice. But this book – and its launch – was important, so I asked. Far and wide. Against my better judgement, sometimes – but just about every time I asked, I was rewarded with a “Yes!”
And something funny started happening… sometimes, I didn’t even have to ask. Sometimes, the help came to me, in the form of people saying, “Um, look, you could… do that… better.”
Some people, they hear that, and up go the defenses. Same here, sometimes. But not this time – this time, I said, “Okay! Help me make it better!”
An example. I’m not a graphic designer by any stretch – but hey, I took photography bazillion years ago, I have a good eye for composition, and there’s a bunch of how-to websites online. How hard could it be?
So I made my own cover for The Country Omega. That’s it, on the right. I thought it was very nice, I ran it by a few people, they said kind things about it, and I metaphorically brushed my hands and called it done.
Until a friend stepped up and said, “Um, can I offer some advice?”
My initial instinct was to say, “No.” Because… well, I liked my cover. I was proud of my cover. And worse – I had spent money on my cover. Not a lot, in the grand scheme of things, but to me, it was the principle of the thing.
I bit down on that instinct, though. And said, “Okay, yes. Fire away.”
And, wow, did I get schooled. Turns out I broke just about every genre rule in the book when it comes to romance covers. And as a result, I ended up with what I think is a much better cover for the genre I was writing in. (That’s it, on the left. Better font, better picture, better design that actually says, “THIS IS A ROMANCE NOVEL.” My cover? Murder mystery, probably. With a little old lady knitting somewhere. And it’s not even the right size!)
But there’s no point to asking if you’re not going to listen, too. I listened – and as a result, my book cover is better. My Twitter experience is better. My website is better. All because I wasn’t afraid to ask, and then accept the help I received.
3. I figured out my goal, and only took the advice that I believed pertained to it.
There is a ton of advice online about how to publish a book properly. And I’ve read a huge chunk of it now. The thing is… not all of the advice applies to every situation, which is why I think it’s vitally important that before you publish a book, you figure out why you’re doing it in the first place.
Are you looking to make oodles of money, gather thousands of Twitter followers, and turn yourself into a household name? Are you looking for some extra cash to help out the monthly budget, and it doesn’t matter if you’re wildly successful? Or does money not matter in the slightest, who cares how many people download your book, because it’s all about telling a decent story and proving that you can?
What’s your end goal here? That’s not exactly the easiest question to answer, and you’re the only one who can determine what that answer is.
But once you know your goal – you’ll have a better idea of what advice applies and what doesn’t.
If you want that household name and thousands of Twitter followers – well, then you’re going to need to put in the time and money for advertising, online book tours, professional covers and formatting, professional editing services, and even paid review sites. There’s an old adage: You have to spend money to make money. It’s not far wrong, sometimes.
If all you want is to publish a book and money doesn’t matter – well. You probably won’t want to worry about some or even all of those things.
Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle. I mean – sure, who wouldn’t like to consistently be in the Top Ten Bestsellers list and rub shoulders with the likes of J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman and Insert Your Favorite Writer of Choice Here? But I doubt all of us are willing to put in the time, money, and effort involved in getting there completely on our own – at least, not at first. I didn’t want to spend money on book covers – and look how that almost turned out. Now I’m convinced it’s worth it – and I know how to find them at prices that won’t break the bank of a newly published author.
But I would like to sell my books, so I’ve created a webpage and Author Pages on both Amazon on Goodreads. At some point, I’ll apply to have The County Omega included in some of the pay-for-inclusion digests that are sent to thousands of readers, and I’ll look at different ways of advertising it and its successors as well.
Not everyone follows the same rules. I’ve got my online presence now – but not every self-published author has done even that much. Heck, not every traditionally published author has done those things (much to my sorrow; there’s some questions I’d like to ask Connie Willis, who seems to have minimal online presence).
Just because one author has done something – even an author you admire and aspire to be like – doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for you. Don’t feel compelled to do anything you don’t want to do, or what you don’t feel is going to work for your end goal. There’s no hard-and-fast rule to any of this. There’s only what works for you.
That’s what I think I did right – other than writing a good book, I mean. Here’s what I wish I had done better:
- Create an online presence earlier.
This is really the big one for me. I waited until nearly the last minute to start creating my online presence – that is, my Twitter, this website, the newsletter. None of it existed more than about a month before The Country Omega was released.
I think that was a mistake. One of the biggest parts of having a successful book launch is the “buzz” you create beforehand. I had very little buzz, in part because I didn’t have a platform from which to create it.
My inexperience in these things also hampered me. I’ve never had a Twitter account, wasn’t much interested in having one – but in my research, I was convinced that having it would be beneficial. (And it has been, that’s absolutely true.) But I would have liked more time to get used to the platform – I still don’t quite understand how to make it work for me, and I know there are things I’m completely missing there that would probably help me even more.
That’s also true for this website. If you’ve been here before, you may notice that the layout has changed. I haven’t had a WordPress account before, but I realized that it really is the best platform for hosting the kind of website I need. When I chose the original layout, I didn’t really know what I needed, though – now I do, and now I’ve got a layout that is better for me. (It’s not perfect – and there’s still things I’d like to do with it – but I’m happy with the changes I’ve already implemented, and this style will support what I eventually want to do – and if it doesn’t, I feel more comfortable with changing it again.)
All of this is stuff I could have been doing months ago -but I didn’t, and I wish I had. I’m happy with the way my launch went – but who knows if I could have made it even better? And definitely, I’ve got a ways to go before I’m fully happy with my Twitter experience and this website. (Ask me again in a year, and we’ll see how I’m feeling.)
2. Research different options; don’t assume the first choice is the only choice.
I know this seems basic. For some reason, I had to relearn this one several times.
I had it stuck in my head, almost from the very beginning, that the best – and possibly considering my genre, only – way to publish was via Amazon Kindle. Now, I still think I made the right choice, but I wish I’d taken the time to look at other options as well. I never even considered options that would have allowed me to sell a physical copy of the book, which I could have easily done and still enrolled the digital copy in KDP. It wasn’t until I was fairly late in the game that I looked at companies that specialize in self-publishing – such as Lulu.com.
And honestly, that’s ridiculous, because I’ve been aware of Lulu.com as a self-publishing platform for at least a decade. But I was stuck in the mindset that in order to have my books available on Kindle – I had to work with Amazon. And that’s not true. It’s probably easier, but it’s not the only option.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I went with Amazon. But I wish I hadn’t had my head stuck in the single mindset of “MUST GO WITH AMAZON.” And I have no doubt that I’ll branch out with another book at some point in the future.
I’m sure in another year or two or ten, I’ll probably be able to expand that second list somewhat. There’s probably half a dozen things I’m screwing up even now, and I just don’t know it yet. But on the whole… I don’t think my opinion on the things I did right is going to change all that much. I’m really happy with my book, with how it’s done sales-wise, with everything, really. What more could a first-time published author ask for, honestly?
(Apart from the NYT Bestseller’s List, that is. Hey, a girl can dream.)