Self-publishing, or as I prefer, indie publishing, used to be the red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry. Referred to as “vanity publishing” it often involved paying a publisher to print copies of your book, which you would then have to sell in order to recoup your investment. This investment quite often was in the thousands of dollars.
Most people assumed – and truthfully many do still assume – that people only turned to self-publishing because their book wasn’t good enough to be picked up by a traditional publisher. It’s true that some authors do turn indie because they can’t find a traditional publishing deal, but where the misunderstanding comes in is in the assumption that somehow that means the book isn’t good enough. The truth is, the traditional publishing industry isn’t generally interested in risk-taking, especially not these days. A book has to fit into a certain genre, and that genre has to be popular at the time the manuscript is submitted. A lot of phenomenal genre-bending novels would never see the light of day if authors had to rely solely on the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. Even if a book does fit into a normal genre, there are no guarantees that it will find a publisher. There are just too many authors trying to get too few spots with the Big Publishers.
As I said in Part One of this series, there are also authors who just prefer the idea of being an indie. Whether it’s for higher royalty rates (usually 60-70% of e-book sales, paperback rates vary), or because they want final say on every aspect of their book, or for numerous other reasons, many authors don’t ever attempt traditional publishing.
So if you’re choosing to self-publish, how do you do it? Here are just a few of the decisions you’ll need to make:
1. Do you want to offer your book solely as an e-book, solely as a paperback, or do you want to offer both?
My recommendation, if you care to hear it, is to offer both if you can. I’ll tell you right now: unless you are already fairly well-known as an author, you will sell many more e-books than you will paperbacks. But with the advent of print-on-demand services like CreateSpace and Lightning Source authors have very little financial cost to put out a quality paperback book and have it for sale on bookseller websites. It is difficult, if not impossible, for many self-published authors to get their physical books on the shelves, but for readers who haven’t yet embraced the digital age, it’s not a bad idea to have a paperback version available.
2. Are you willing to hire an editor, and a cover artist? What about a formatter?
Is this 100% necessary? That depends. Most articles will say yes. And if you want to be taken seriously, then the more professional your book is, the better off you’ll be. Using a stock image (CreateSpace, for example, offers a “cover creator” and you can use the images there) makes your book look like potentially thousands of others. I have seen one particular cover image on dozens of books, and as a reader it immediately turns me off, to be truthful.
As far as editor goes, I know it’s not always financially possible, but it really is an important investment, if you can manage it. If you absolutely can’t afford it (and believe me, I understand that) then you ABSOLUTELY MUST have the best beta readers you can possibly find. You have to ask them to not only read for reaction, but to point out typos, grammatical errors, and story inconsistencies. And not everyone is capable of – or willing – to do that. No matter how good of an editor you may be, after you’ve read your story over zillions of times, you WILL skim over parts, and miss things. As far as I’m concerned, it’s impossible not to miss things in your own work. (Time for shameless self-promo: I offer editing services for authors. I will eventually have a page on the site dealing with this, but for now, just use the “Contact Cynthia” page and send me a message.)
A formatter can be invaluable if you aren’t familiar with the finer points of formatting for hard copies and e-books. I consider myself an expert with Word, but the first time I went to format an e-book I nearly drove myself insane. I’m now quite comfortable with it (and as with editing, I will be offering my services through this site, so feel free to contact me if you’re interested in talking more) but it’s a learning curve. Again, you may feel that you can’t afford this service (although formatting is generally fairly reasonable), and each site will offer step-by-step instructions, but if you find yourself frustrated, or just afraid to even try, a good formatter is a godsend!
How do I get my e-books for sale?
Your first stop should be Kindle Direct Publishing, or “KDP” as most authors refer to it. The vast majority of your sales will likely come through Amazon, and it’s easiest to upload directly to them. After that, in order to make your book available for Nook, Kobo, Sony E-readers, and iBooks, probably the best site is Smashwords. You do have to format your book exactly to their specifications if you want it to be in their “premium catalogue” (meaning distributed to retailers, and not just available in their own bookstore) but once that’s done, you can send it to a variety of retailers with a push of a button. When you upload to KDP, your book will usually show up in their store in about 12 hours. Your book will appear in the Smashwords store immediately after you upload it there, but it will take some time for it to be reviewed and put into the premium catalogue, and a little longer even for it to show up in the various stores. I recently read that now Smashwords is offering a “release date” option, so that you can plan better to have your book show up everywhere on a specific date, and I will definitely try that next time. Kobo does have its own publishing service now, but the one thing that I really didn’t like was the high threshold for royalty payments (the amount of royalties you have to earn before they will issue you a cheque or do a direct deposit.)
Once my books are on sale, what do I do?
Your book is now live on Amazon, and you’re sitting back, waiting for those sales to roll in, and… nothing happens! No one buys your book, and you’re feeling dejected. What did you do wrong?
Did you market it at all? No? Well, there you go. I’ll do a longer post later on marketing, but most indie authors will tell you that marketing is their least favourite part of the job. Here’s just a quick few points for now:
- Book bloggers are your absolute best friends. Be polite, be friendly, and just generally don’t be a douche. Make sure you read their review policy before sending them an email.
- If you’re not on Twitter, and don’t have a Facebook “fan” page, fix that. Fix that NOW. While I’m extremely unhappy with Facebook’s latest tweaks to fan pages, they are still a necessary evil. And Twitter is the absolute best way to connect with your readers. However, do NOT:
- send an auto DM to new followers. This is a guaranteed way to piss people off and get them to NOT buy your book,and possibly unfollow you. Plus, every time someone sends an auto DM, a kitten dies!
- tweet nothing but book promo. People will almost always skim right by it, and again, they may unfollow you. TALK to people, and then they’re much more likely to be interested in seeing what you’ve written.
- Make sure to have your Amazon author page live. You can add a bio, a link to your blog, and the glowing reviews that your’e certain to receive.
- Get yourself, and your book, added to Goodreads. This can be a bit of a pain, but it’s worth the hassle. Again, I’ll try to do a more in depth post on Goodreads at another time. Ask as many of your friends as possible to add your book to their “to read” shelf, so that their friends will see it, and possibly add it to THEIR shelves.
Authors – have I missed anything? I’m sure that I have, so please add your thoughts in the comments!