Back in August 2011 I wrote a post on my self-publishing journey so far and what it took to be successful in self-publishing. Since the release of On Dublin Street, and because of some of the media I’ve done here in Scotland, I’ve had quite a number of emails from aspiring writers enquiring about the ins and outs of self-publishing. Unfortunately, life is manic right now and I’m unable to answer everyone, so I thought I’d do an updated post on self-publishing.
I’m not an expert, and with the changing face of the publishing industry, I’m like every author—learning something new every day. It seems to be clear from my own experience and from others that, currently, the ebook Top 100 lists are the new slush pile. Writers can spend months, years, sending out their manuscript and receiving rejection after rejection (that’s if it even makes it off the slush pile) or they can self-publish, hone their craft, gain experience, build a readership and hopefully one day make it into a top 100 list and catch the eye of an agent or a publisher. It’s really down to the individual and what they want out of writing.
For those writers serious about making self-publishing a full-time career, I can only tell you about my own experiences and how that’s colored my opinion on what I believe it takes to be successful as an independent writer.
When I began self-publishing in February 2011, self-pubbing was really beginning to take off among aspiring writers, particularly in the U.S. Now the marketplace is filled with indie writers. This is great for readers, but it also makes it harder for indies to stand out in the crowd. One of the very basic ways to do this is by paying attention to one word: quality. Just as there are a lot of indie books out there that are polished and professional, there are those that are not. It’s clear not even a copyeditor has taken a look over some of them, never mind an editor. Get an editor. A good one. Sometimes it can take a while to find a good one, but it’s worth it. Moreover, find beta readers you trust to read your work as you’re writing it. Their input can be invaluable.
As well as a good editor invest in a good cover artist. When your cover art is professional it tells the reader on a subconscious level that the author means business. Cover art is also a great piece of marketing. A great image can draw readers in even more than a blurb. It’s not just about cover art though. Typography is really important too. I do all my own typography using Photoshop and it took me a number of months to finally get it right—sometimes the simplest font has the greatest impact.
Quantity and quality go hand in hand. When I first researched self-publishing I realized it was the authors with a healthy catalogue of books who were making enough money to write full-time. Even if their books weren’t doing overwhelmingly good individually, collectively they were doing well enough to generate a healthy income. This point doesn’t always stand up to the evidence. There are independent writers out there who have been incredibly successful with their debut novel and are living quite nicely off the royalties from that one book, but for the vast majority of authors a catalogue of books is where part of the success of being a full-time writer lies.
And momentum is everything.
When I first started out I already had a trilogy written and I published it over the first three months while I wrote a fourth novel. After I published the fourth novel I worked my ass off writing a fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth novel. Fifteen months later I’d published ten young adult novels and a novella. This momentum (and constant promo and marketing) kept me on reader’s radars. I really believe this plays a huge part in being successful as an indie. For example, since the success of On Dublin Street and being picked up by Penguin, my life has been chaotically busy because of this series, and that means my self-pubbed titles haven’t received near as much attention as I usually give them. I haven’t self-published a young adult book since last July. The collective monthly sales of my self-pubbed books have more than halved since July 2012 because I’ve dropped momentum. So that’s something to be aware of when you take the plunge.
Promoting and Marketing
Promoting and Marketing is so important. I always tell people when they ask me about self-publishing that you can’t go into it with hopes of becoming a full-time writer unless you’re willing to work your ass off. At first I sacrificed a lot of my social life for self-pubbing because between writing, formatting and promoting my books it really is a 24/7 gig.
Promo and marketing doesn’t need to cost money, however. As an avid reader I already stalked quite a few book bloggers so when I started out I contacted them individually, letting them know how much I enjoyed their blog (I never mass email bloggers), that I knew who they were and I was specifically interested in them either reviewing my book, hosting a guest post, interview or giveaway. Bloggers take time out of their very busy lives to review books and their word of mouth about a book can do wonders to its sales. They deserve respect and politeness. The vast majority of them don’t like being treated like a random number you’ve emailed, so I advise against it.
Another free way to promo is through social media sites—Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Wattpad, Movellas. Not only are these a great way to connect with your readers but a wonderful way to promote your work. Information on these sites can travel fast, especially if you network with other indie authors. The community is amazing and most of us are surprisingly helpful, so connect with us. It’s a great way to ask advice, give advice and share experiences and readerships.
Giveaways. Hold giveaways on your blog, social media sites or enlist bloggers to host the giveaways for you. Giving away ebooks costs you nothing.
There are a number of platforms for self-publishing. The platforms for ebooks that I’ve used are KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) by Amazon and Smashwords. KDP is very user-friendly and Amazon provide an easy formatting guide for authors to follow before publishing to the program. For authors looking to publish on other ebook retail sites such as Apple, Sony, B&N and Kobo, Smashwords is the platform to use. You can upload your ebook to Smashwords using their formatting guidelines and then Smashwords will distribute your ebook to the different retailers. The percentage they take on top of the royalty rate is very reasonable.
Barnes& Noble also has a self-pubbing platform called Pubit. It only allowed U.S. authors to self-publish with them but has now expanded Pubit into the UK market.
To self-publish a paperback, I use Amazon’s CreateSpace. Now you can either pay someone to do the formatting for you (and that will save you a lot of hair-pulling) or do it yourself. I had no money when I started out so I format my paperbacks myself. I find Photoshop very helpful in that endeavor :)
Anyhoo, I hope this helps somewhat for newbies. Good luck and Happy Writing.