Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. -Winston Churchill
Having been knee deep in the trenches of self-publishing for the last several months, I feel as though I’ve gotten a pretty good perspective on what’s really going on in the industry. Not an expert opinion, mind you, but certainly an insider one. What I see before me are thousands upon thousands of writers finally taking that first step towards becoming officially published authors, and I cannot commend Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and others enough for giving us the opportunity to do so. For too long it seems as though the Big 6 Publishers have reigned over the industry picking winners and losers, and thank god we finally have a free market venue where anyone and everyone can have their shot at the big time. Isn’t it fantastic? It definitely makes my heart sing 🙂
But it’s not perfect, that’s for sure, and the stigma over self-publishing is thankfully dying off but it is still there, as evidenced by traditionally published author Sue Grafton’s nasty comments from a couple of weeks ago. But even with this stigma, Indie authors are pushing through and claiming success as their own each and every day, all the while inspiring more writers to step into the arena. With all of this competition entering the marketplace of books, how can this be anything but fantastic for readers everywhere? Not only have the costs of books gone down thanks to the wonderful invention of the eBook and eReader, but now we are no longer only reading what the Big 6 deemed suitable for the market. No, we now have tighter niche markets (including erotica, and I don’t think I have to utter the words ‘Fifty Shades’ to remind you of that awesome success story!) and a broader selection of books to pick and choose from. Now, instead of the Big 6 deciding what is good and what is not, we have put that authority into the hands of the consumers, the readers, and that, my friends, is the beauty of a free market system. Books that don’t rate well won’t sell as well, while those that spark interest and good reviews will rise to the top, becoming bestsellers in their genres and even, in some cases, bestsellers on the NYT list!
I can tell you right now that not every author out there who self-publishes will sell millions of books and make money, but those who harness their talent and wield the sword of hard work and ambition will find themselves rising and, even in some cases, exceeding the boundaries that had once been put in place to work against many writers.
But I want to share some tips and suggestions of things I have learned along the way that will help any aspiring writer hoping to self-publish in the near future. There is no exact science and all of us are learning day by day how to utilize the system we have been given to share our work with the masses, but these tips should at least help get you on your way to success. Just remember that the best things in life come to those who work the hardest to achieve them.
- Accept that you will never be 100% happy with your manuscript. You may achieve 99% happiness, but there is a certain point where you need to let go and content yourself that you’ve written something worth reading. Perfectionists and nail-biters will hover around the finish line, too scared to let go and take that final leap to the win. Don’t be that person! Have faith in yourself and your abilities and go for it!
- Have AT LEAST two people read and proofread your manuscript before you publish. If financially possible (and ideally) hire an editor. They range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on how much work they have to do to fix your book. Trust me, though, it is WORTH hiring a professional to at the very least check grammar and spelling because some readers are nit-picky about this and will leave you negative reviews, even if the story is solid. Unfortunately, bad spelling and grammar is a stigma that Indie authors are still dealing with, so make sure to rise above the rest and make your manuscript as professional as possible. If you need a contact for a great editor, I use Joni at Blue Harvest Creative.
- Invest in a sublime cover design. I stress this all of the time on this blog, but I want to say it again here just as a reminder. If you know how to use Photoshop, then you’re way ahead of the game. If you have no clue, then I highly suggest you hire a cover designer. Again, it’s usually a couple hundred dollars, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on what you want, but it will literally make the difference between a bestseller and a flop on Amazon.
- As soon as possible, preferably before you publish, begin networking. Set up a Facebook fan page, an author Twitter account, a Linkedin account, create a website and/or a blog for you and your work, and begin establishing yourself in the Indie author community. Check out websites like World Literary Cafe and make friends with other authors. They will be your support system, and while they may not be able to help you get sales, they will be there to give you advice when you need it most.
- Once you are ready to publish your book, utilize Amazon’s partner Createspace and have print-on-demand copies of your book available. You may not sell very many of these at first, but they are great to give to family and friends and to do promotional giveaways and (hopefully!) book signings! Also, big tip here, choose cream colored paper and not the white when setting up your print version for publication 😉
- When publishing your book, do NOT choose the Free Createspace ISBN. This greatly limits you as the word “Createspace” has a stigma with book stores and they will be less likely to carry your book. Instead, choose the $10 Imprint ISBN, where you can establish your own publisher name to have connected with your new book. The best part about this is that on the Amazon page for your book under publisher it will have the name you chose listed and because of this less readers will identify the book as a self-published work, thus giving it a much more professional and commercial appeal.
- Be consistent in all that you do. Utilize similar font types and color schemes on everything from your book covers, website, blog, Facebook cover image, Twitter background, etc. This is especially true in regards to book covers. Make sure your author name is consistent on each cover, no matter how different the covers themselves may be.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When you start making author contacts through social networking, be sure to retweet and share for them as they will retweet and share back for you. This is what keeps the Indie author community strong and thriving, our willingness to help each other, and it will not only be great exposure for you but will also keep your networking bridges sturdy and solid. Plus, a great benefit to having author friends is that they love to read, and many of them may offer to review your book!
- Set realistic goals for yourself and stay focused on achieving them. Success in self-publishing is entirely up to the individual author, and your ability to time manage and set achievable goals is going to make or break you. There’s a reason so many Indie authors were offended when Ms. Grafton suggested we were lazy, it’s because we know the blood, sweat and tears we pour into our books and the countless hours we spend trying to promote them. It requires full dedication to succeed, and no one is going to go out there and do it for you. You have to take control and do it yourself!
- Watch webinars on book marketing and publishing before you publish, just to give yourself the upper hand. My favorites are by Jim Kukral of Author Marketing Club. It’s amazing the amount of information you can obtain by simply doing the research, and let me tell you, it will be worth the hours you spend the minute you start selling books.
- Content yourself with knowing that it is impossible to do everything perfect the first time. You will make mistakes, and nothing I say can help prevent that. But we all make mistakes and the beauty of it is that we can tweak and perfect and adjust our methods until we reach a level that at least brings us to the success we so crave. So just know that it’s okay to not get it all right the first time. Self-publishing is a learning curve for all authors who embark on this journey, but it only makes us stronger and better to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others.
- THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE OF ALL. I could talk for hours about this, but I’m just going to keep it simple. KDP Promotions. Free days for your book. Amazon Kindle Lending Library. Utilize this amazing tool! When done right, it WILL make you a bestseller on Amazon and it WILL get your book out there for consumption by the masses, even if you don’t generate money from it. Trust me, it is worth doing at least once or twice. I credit it as the main reason my books have done as well as they have, so ignore the critics and give it a shot!
So that’s it, guys! I hope some of these tips have given you insight into what self-publishing is all about, and hopefully you will be encouraged to take those steps towards publishing your own manuscript in the near future. It’s a long road, but the end goal is, now more than ever, achievable. Opportunity is knocking for all who choose to answer it, and we finally have a chance to shine.