To self-publish or not to self-publish, that is the question,
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
The stress and chaos and outrageous fortune,
That can be involved in such an endeavour,
Or take to searching thee for a fine agent,
And with a contract, end them?
So, you have decided to get your book finished or in progress and you are feeling great and very, very writerly indeed. You stop, perhaps, and ask yourself, now what? Now we have, of course the joyfully soul destroying traditional method; query letter after query letter, paying for edits, putting together your marketing portfolio; followed by the rejection slips, the nicely worded emails, the more than likely whole lot of nothing before you maybe get one good lead and an offer. You also have the insane world of self-publishing.
What is self-publishing? Well, there are websites where you can upload your manuscript for free and put together an eBook and, sometimes, even a paperback for sale online. Yes, I said FREE, no cost to yourself but your time. There must be drawbacks, though, I hear you cry, and there must be a catch or more than one, surely. There are of course and here they are;
1). You have to format, edit and proofread your book yourself, or have someone do it for you professionally, which costs money.
2). You have to design your own cover too and, if you want to be seen and compete, it needs to be a good one, so you either use the cover designer some of said sites have or make your own. For that you need a good image to use and some design skills. Or, again, pay someone who does.
3). All of the promotion and marketing is completely, 100% on you. They will host your book and provide a place to sell it but that is about it, unless you pay them for it.
4). It might not sell altogether that very well and what are you going to do about that?
Simply put, it is going to cost you a lot of time and effort; sweat, blood and tears; it may even take over your life for a time and upset some of your family and friends maybe but so too will the tradition route and that might cost you more. So how do we do it then? Here is my guide and also resource for getting up and started, I will recommend some of the stuff I have done but, in the end, just like getting that book written and written well, it is up to you.
I have, so far, done all of it myself. I have some half-decent graphic design skills I've picked up over the years and a love of digital artwork. I managed to come up with some great covers (and some awful ones, we live and learn) as well as character artwork (again, middling to decent but improvement has occured) so I made my website, set up the look of my books and designed some covers and book marketing material myself.
Word of warning though; I had to pull NINE books from Amazon because I noticed that they were full of spelling and grammar errors AFTER I had published them which is that the best time for that to happen. That can put a dent on one's reputation. In fact, even when posting on social media be careful, bad spelling or grammar can turn people off and you have all surely seen how some members of the writer's groups can be....I really don't miss Facebook at all now that I think about it.
Here is what I have refined down to the essential Six-Step Programme;
Step One; Have your manuscript or at least be seriously working on it!
This may sound self evident to some but, believe me, I belong to a lot of different Facebook writer’s groups, I see an awful lot of people floating concepts, and talking badly about other people’s work but seeming to produce none of their own. Talking about your Magnum Opus is not going to get it written. Sit down. Get a pen and paper (or laptop/desktop/etc.), brew some coffee and get started!
Step 2; Proofreading and Editing.
You will have your own method, you may choose to have beta readers (family and friends may work as long as they can be completely objective. My sister is a fine example, she was very honest, often brutally so.), you may decide to do it yourself. If you choose the latter settle in for a task, which may last longer than the actual act of writing itself did. It is an onerous task, granted, but would you try to sell your car when it’s full of trash and dirty? Well! Good luck with that, then.
Here is the boiled down version. You are expecting people to hand over their hard earned money for a book from someone they have probably not even heard of, based on what you present to them. For example Amazon offers it’s “Look Inside” feature and people use that. If they spot a spelling mistake or bad choice words, they probably won’t buy it.
Here is a secret for you; I am a father of five, I work a full time job with crappy hours. Two of my children are three years old; twins, girls...oh yes! Free time is not something I get a whole lot of. My wife helps but then my wife takes care of them all day long doesn’t she, while I’m at work. So I was less than diligent at first when I entered this game, due to my reduced free time and regular distractions. I learned the hard way how quickly a typo or error, bad phrasing or bad book blurb can turn someone off. Take my advice, the word of experience, do it right. Take the time, make the time, sweat that blood, it’s good for you. Sweat ink, you’re a writer!
Step Three; Choose your Launch Platform
There are many options out there, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. I chose Amazon myself and I stand by that decision but am moving onto other platforms too. My advice? Focus on one as your initial launch platform and then migrate to others. Why? You are married to this venture now, if you want it to succeed, you have to keep pushing and pushing until it does. Remember Sisyphus? That’s right, you’re going to need a thick skin but I’ll get to that later.
Here is a great rundown of those online publishing platforms (I have no shame to direct to other people’s work, this is a guide not an essay);
There are several new ones around now too;
Kobo.com ; Offer their own bookstore, just like Amazon and a few others but are tidy and claim to be one of the best out there, they focus on eBooks only but this is a very much growing market and is proving to be quite larger than traditional paperback. I think that is a shame, eBooks don’t smell the same but that’s me.
Nookpress.com ; The Barnes & Noble eBook flagship but also offering paperbacks too, they have stores after all. Their own store and brand but very easy to use and navigate. Quality is key here as their standard s are high. Not quite as complicated as Smashwords.com can be but a close second!
Those mentioned in the link and above are the only ones I would consider, personally. If you know of any others, which are worthy additions, let me know and we can do that.
Step 4; Marketing and Promotion
Telling your friends and family, while a good start, won’t be quite enough here, it’s going to need some of that hard work we have been talking about. Here is the my favoured 7-step approach;
1). Author profile on your chosen platform. You are selling your book and your work yes but, as with selling anything else as an individual, you are ultimately selling yourself. Make your author profile interesting, talk about yourself, your motivations to write, express your personality. Add a decent photo, if your photo is bad, people may well pass it by. Sad reality is that, when it comes to selling, appearance is everything.
2). Your book blurb. Just like your cover is what draws people to your book, your blurb is what is what makes people pay attention and decide on whether to actually purchase or not. If your blurb is not interesting, if it not engaging, if does not draw them in, they’ll probably not buy it.
3). A website and a blog. You are marketing yourself so you need an online presence. You need to make yourself interesting and you need to attract an audience. You need to create a persona, fulfil a need and engage people. Start a blog and post some interesting things. Think about it this way. A well-written and interesting blog post on your webpage means your book may be well written and interesting too. Also a blog is a good way to build yourself an audience and a following. In doing this, you are going to learn about something called SEO, your site’s ranking on the internet. This matters because the higher it ranks in search results, the more searches will find it. Ergo, the more people will visit your site as “walk by traffic”. We will touch on improving your SEO another time, because that it a topic all in itself.
You will also need to find a hosting site here;
is the page I used to choose mine. Do your research and decide which features matter to you most. A lot of these are free so it’s all about features and which model you think will fit your image and potential audience best.
4). A Facebook Author Page; Your personal Facebook page - with those embarrassing pictures and that video you don’t want everyone to see? Your shoe-gazing musings about the last episode of “People Upset about Their Lives Talking about How Upset They Are”, your favourite sources of humour – are these are things, which your audience should be associating with you, as a product? Do the buyer of a brand of toothpaste need to see how the toothpaste is made and how the workers who did it felt about the process? They probably do but it won’t sell much of that toothpaste! Same here; you need a professional looking ‘store front’ for your professional image in the social media world. Your Facebook Author Page is it. Add your website and other links here and make your profile engaging here too. Make your photo a good and attractive one again. Think about the design, think about how it represents YOU. Now you can post all your book and author related stuff from there, not your personal account.
5). Facebook Groups; Join as many as you can. Another good way to get known and noticed is through networking. You can plug yourself and your work on groups by all means (some don’t like you to or only allow that on certain days, which the admins will usually advertise or will pin a post regarding these rules) but the key is to participate, participate, participate! Network, make contacts, get yourself respected and known. Of course if you’re going to participate remember, some of these people, being writers too, could end up helping or hindering your career. Think before posting or picking fights I always say. If you do need to post things, which may prove offensive or upset certain sections of society, especially your potential readership, use your personal account for groups and do not touch any of them with your Author account.
6). YouTube Account; again, making a new one for your Author persona might be advisable if you ever uploaded something from your personal Gmail account. Again, if it fits with the audience you are aiming for then cool but maybe clean slates are better eh? Video Blogging or Vlogging is a very popular media now too and you the saying “a picture can tell a thousand words”? Well a video can make your message one thousand times more effective, literally, if done well. My regular posts can get between 2-500 hits on average, my videos get between 2-5,000 on average. Maybe that has more to do with me being an incredibly handsome and charming man (ha-ha!) with a nice British accent and that I tend to post in the nude? To be serious, though, that is a true and genuine thousand-fold increase in traffic. A good 2-5 minute video posted on YouTube, then the link embedded on your website and blog and shared to some of those groups from your Author Facebook page.
7). Other Social Media; Twitter is essential because it is very popular and pretty much everyone famous has an account they tweet from regularly. I suggest you do the same. Share blog posts, book information and news, maybe tips and advice for other writers. We’re networking again here and you need to get noticed and seen. Follow famous writers and people, you might get a very lucky break if a post attracts their attention. I would also recommend Tumblr, Instagram, StumbleUpon and Pinterest. Again, new profile if you already have one (some of the web hosting sites I linked for your webpage building will give you free emails addresses or create a new one yourself using your provider of choice) is best, I feel to limit your material to writing based things only. Each one will serve a different purpose. Here is my model;
Twitter; news, updates, releases, teasers, previews and networking. There is Live Video too but I’ll let you know about that once I get my new phone.
Instagram; Blog posts (another tip, give your blog posts a good and relevant ‘cover’ image too), updates, teasers, trailers, and videos.
Tumblr; Same as Facebook, find common interest type people, network and post your interesting things.
Reddit; more of an agregator than an interctive space in my experience but perhaps I'm doing it wrong. Helpful way to get your tags, keywords, and links seen. I always share my blog posts here.
Pinterest; Mainly images and collections here so more challenging but book covers, motivational type writing memes, graphical writer self help stuff; all of that can be helpful.
Mastodon; quite new and unknown to many but a great Facebook/Twitter alternative without the restrictions and advertising. Very popular in Asia so great for #Manga and #chibi artists and writers. Has a number of 'spaces' which are dedicated to different interests so you can find a specialised crowd there.
MeWe; relatively new kid on the block but starting to gain some traction. Popular among 'Facebook Exiles' like myself. Very much community and chat-driven and popular with a younger audience. You will need to very proactively engage and network here.
Now, you might have noticed that this is starting to involve quite a bit of leg-work. You need to engage with your audience - or engage with people in order to create an audience at least - at least once a day. With as many different accounts and platforms as I am suggesting, that's quite the handful. Indeed I am hearing cries of
"We DO need some time to actually write something, sort of, like, BOOK related, you know?"
You are, of course, completely right and there is a solution. It is called the Social Media Manager or Social Media Calendar. These lovely apps (some free, others with a free and limited version, others subscription only) allow you to register all of your social media accounts (or the mainstream ones in some cases) in the same place and through their interface, compose, set up, and ever schedule posts for what are considered the best times based on your audience activity (some of the smarter ones do that). They are, I will admit, a bloody lifesaver. Below are a couple I am familiar with;
Tweetdeck; predominantly Twitter oriented but very useful if Twitter is one of your dominant platforms. Completely free and unlimited as it is made by Twitter.
Buffer; quite useful as it provides real-time analytics and allows you to integrate your popular social media accounts. Limited free plan and three paid plans.
Hootsuite; More of a team or brand based platform. Very useful but has a lot of features a one person limited enterprise might not need. Does allow integration of some of the less well-known social media apps such as Mailchimp, Slack, and Trello. Free and paid plans.
Zoho Social; I got into trying this one because I use their free domain to email service (which I recommend, 5 email addresses for free, associated with your domain and quite easy to set up). It's quite a decent and robust platform but only allows you to add on the Big Four of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and, strangley Google My Business, which I do have but wasn't expecting to use here). So, as a result of that, I also use...
Crowdfire; I discovered this one by accident and it is not that well known. It allows integration of pretty much all of the common social media channels and some of the less common ones. As with the other ones mentioned here, you're limited on the free plan; to four social media accounts in the case of Crowdfire. One feature I like is that scrape stories from the internet based on your preferences and present them for you to share. They have an article section and a picture/meme section. I actually learned what I consider a clever trick here; I started to share those motivational memes that are popular and noticed the number of retweets and Instagram likes and mentions that they got. I had a quite literal "Aha!" moment and startled one of my daughters...it was hilarious but you had to be there. Here is a secret; all of those posts from Crowdfire include hashtags so, when you post it, the hashtags follow but you can edit before sending. Remove any you don't like and add your own hashtags (your author name and book title without spaces is ideal) in. You get possibly hundreds of shares and your hashtags go up the charts. Instant SEO strengthening if you built those same keywords into your webpage. CoE went from page 3-4 of the Google results to page 1 because of that.
Now search for 'Chronicles of Enoch' and see that we pretty much dominate the results. That took a lot of hard work and some very creative thinking, I can tell you. I will not harp on about Seo here though, there is a seperate article all about that.
Step 5; Rinse & Repeat.
You are probably going to want to publish more than one book. Maybe you are happy with one, the achievement of having done it. Don’t get me wrong, please be proud, burst with pride, glow with it, you deserve it. Writing and completing a book is no mean feat. Bask in that feeling, by all means, if that is your goal. If it is not, get that smile off your face and get back to work!
You need to continue marketing and promoting yourself pretty much forever. The market for books, especially self-published ones, is huge and there is a ridiculous quantity of competition out there. At lot of it, in my opinion, shouldn’t be there, but this a free world and people are entitled to express themselves but there are avenues for that; blogs, Facebook groups, other social media and websites; not books. Too much of that type muddies the waters for those who are serious about their craft but are also too poor or occupied with living the day to day to follow the traditional route (or like me, too old to have the patience for it). I will not harp on about that topic because that is going to upset a lot of people, especially younger people but I am middle-aged and a parent so that is actually my other full time job. I am supposed to upset young people, at least certain young people who also happen to call me “Dad” at least!
Anyway, back to topic. You have a lot of competition out there. On average, 50,000 new self-published books are out there each and every year, and that number is increasing exponentially. Also, on average, only 40 of those books will actually be commercially successful. That is quite a statistic isn’t it? Let’s do the maths here that is actually 0.08%...not even one in a thousand, close but no cigar. That leads me to my sixth and final step.
Step 6; Grow a Pair and Thicken That Skin
You will be new to writing perhaps. You might be learning the craft or maybe you’re an old campaigner like me who’s just out of practise (a lot out of practise) and in need of retraining. It’s going to be a rough ride, I can tell you, make no mistake. You’re going to learn a few things, I hope. If you don’t learn them then your career as a self-published writer is probably going to be a short one. Let’s break this down;
1). You are likely to get criticism, perhaps a lot of it. Maybe your writing really does suck, I don’t know. Maybe mine does. We all think we have written THE book/short story/poem to end them all. We writers are not precisely a modest lot exactly, at least not when it comes to our word babies! Other people may not share your opinion nor enthusiasm. This being the internet they may be quite direct in expressing this opinion. My advice; smart little fishie do not bite, go the other way and out of sight. Sometimes it’s even possible they are jealous and putting you down makes them feel better.
2). Following from above, it’s a fine line between ignoring criticism because your work is beyond world changingly amazing and letting one jealous troll or helpful guide destroy your confidence entirely. Here is the actual very, very hardest part of them all. You have to be, must be 100% and completely and utterly honest with yourself. This is not important, it is essential. Grow a pair, step back and give a good and truthful opinion. Look at what was said, what criticism was given and read your work again to see if you can see what they mean. If you can, take it on the chin, learn the lesson and make sure that’s the only time you make that one. You’ll make others, you’re human. You should be used to it by now.
3). You probably won't receive a jubilant call from your bank manager any time soon. Self- publishing gives instant gratification, it is true but it is really no different from the traditional publishing in many ways, one of them is that you cannot led people to bookstores at gunpoint and make them buy your book. Best Sellers take a lot of hard work, advertising and often the author (or supposed author a lot of the time) is famous already. Also, traditional Publishing Houses have their own marketing and that is all they do ; promote and advertise books. You’re doing it all, by yourself! Do not allow slow sales, blip sales (one, two or several then nothing) or no sales stop you or make you lose hope. Think of the phrase "Dance like nobody is watching" - OK I've done that but someone may have thought I was having a seizure and...well, it was embarrassing - you want to write like nobody is reading or better put; writing as if the whole world is reading.
4). You write for you, or you wouldn’t be here. If you do not write for you and your passion for the craft, you’d have stopped reading this already so never have gotten here. Well done, you passed the test! But remember, you need to write for you, for your passion and love of writing not for commercial success. You writing will have no art, no elegance, and no soul if you do that. It won’t be you. So do not let some bad opinions stop you! You write because you love it, you write because it is a release, it is therapy, whatever. It is yours and it owns you. You know this. So, those other people, well to badly misquote the Bard intentionally “my they enthusiastically fornicate with their own selves!”
5). Learn your lessons. We are none of us perfect, none of us knows everything. Not even me, you might be surprised to hear! I learn new things, refine my craft and change my writing a little bit every day. I have my style, this is true and I will keep my style. Not everyone is going to like my style but that’s alright, not everyone is going to read my book either. I don’t expect them to but those royalties would be unbelievable if they did! I will keep my style yes, because I am writing my work, not someone else’s, so I will not write as other people might. I am not them. However, if people tell me my word is over-wordy, indecipherable walls of words, which is very had and not enjoyable to read? Well, I need to take a look at that because I can guarantee they are not the only one who thinks that, just the only one to speak. Take feedback, learn from it. If someone says “your writing sucks, you sucks, it’s too hard to read and all one block of words I can’t understand! Oh and your mom is ugly!” You may well take offense but filter those words and look for anything, which may have merit in them. Not the part about your sainted mother, of course, she has the countenance of an angel! But take a look at your writing and ask yourself, is it easy to read or is it, actually, painful? Maybe break up those walls of words, split those paragraph long sentences into smaller ones and split those walls into paragraphs too.
6). Do Not, Not Ever, Give Up! You can do this, this is your passion, you dream! You will not, you cannot give up. I, for one, will not let you! I don’t care if you write about vampires who fall in love with Cthulu and make blood-sucking giant octopus babies together. I don’t care if everyone in your book is always lonely and sad and all commit suicide in overly dramatic ways. I don’t care if your book is about magical puppies that solve crimes in parallel universes. I don’t care if you write erotic Ewok fan fiction. I care that your passion is to write. We do not all like the same things; I tried to read some of my Mum’s favourite books and wanted to beat someone to death with it before I got halfway through, I have taken a look at what my teenager reads and it made me want to take it outside to be beaten into sense. I hate some genres and some styles of writing but those styles and genres are very popular with other people, got made into movies and inspired some of your, perhaps, to write fan-fic about them. Good on you! You go, you keep doing that, you march on forward and anyone who tells you that you should stop; shame on them and I again badly misquote the Bard! I might not read your work and, if I do, I may well not like it but I will NEVER tell you not to write or insult you personally. I am Old School, I have manners and was brought up as a human being. I may well give you suggestions and things I think might need improvement and I will do my best to be polite about it (though people have suggested I ask Denis Leary if I can license his theme song) and not hurt feelings. If I am right, I hope you take it on board and get better. If you do better than me; good on you! I applaud your success and wish you the very best and I hope it continues!
At the end of the day, that’s why I do this, I want your success. I am asking for a lot from God and the Universe for my own self so giving something back is important, plus I enjoy it!
I hope you find this useful and, as ever, if you have anything to add, message me, right?