This is a long post, so before you go scrolling through, 3 things:
- This is not a ‘How To’ guide to self-publishing. If that’s what you’re after, Google’s your friend. These are my thoughts, opinions, and experiences. There are no definite answers here.
- I don’t intend to convince you to go indie or traditional. I’ll tell you a bit about what I’ve done – you take it from there.
- I can’t teach you to earn money. My goal is to write and sell books, not get rich. Your goal shouldn’t be that either, but hey – you do you.
All right – before I start: this post is the result of a few things I’ve wanted to talk about, a few things people have asked me about, and a Tweet where I asked if people had questions regarding particular aspects of self-publishing. Therefore, the answers given to various things may vary in length and detail – also, if there’s anything else you’re wondering about, just ask.
And just because you’re probably asking yourself: “Why does Trey think he knows anything about this?” I written since I was young, wrote my first novel in 2015, self-published in May, 2017, and intend on publishing the next one in 2019. Buckle up.
Why I’m Self-Published
First of all, if you’re aiming for traditional publishing and you’re in the middle of querying, well done! I’m rooting for you, you can do it, just don’t give up. I’ve been there, I went down that route to begin with. After a while I noticed that the constant work (because it is a lot of work), and the rejections wasn’t what I was after. I wanted my book to be read. So I went this way.
Notice, I’m not saying one is better than the other (and you shouldn’t think that, because it’s not true), I’m just saying: this is what worked for me at that point in time. I fully intend to try querying again, at some point. But right now I’m happy.
And you should be too, again: if you’re going traditional, that’s amazing! If you’re not, that’s also amazing!
Like I said in the beginning, I can’t teach you to earn money, because I’m not earning money. I’m selling books, but that’s not the same – and if you’re aim is to get rich, sorry, can’t help you. With the costs of equipment (pen, paper, laptop), services (editors, proof-reading, cover design, webpage), and marketing (ads), I’m losing a lot of money. But I have a day job and like I said, I didn’t get into this for the money.
I suppose this is what you get for going indie – you have to take the costs yourself, but you’re also in charge of how much you want to spend. It’s all up to you.
I hesitate to use the word ‘hobby’ when it comes to my writing, but I kind of see it like that, same as with my music. If I counted how much I’ve spent on guitar, drums, amps, and software, compared to how much I’ve earned, well… More passion, less career – you get the point.
Where I Published
I went straight to Amazon and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). I don’t see any point in my book being available anywhere else, and I don’t intend to pursue other publishers (not now, at least). I remember reading articles of how big a chunk of the book market (both physical and ebooks) Amazon own, and it’s a lot. I’m not going to try to remember the numbers, but some quick Googling will give you those. Regardless – if people want your book, I don’t imagine they’re going to care a lot where they’re getting it from.
But then again, I’ve never had issues with Amazon or KDP and I know some authors have. So that could be a reason for wanting to go elsewhere, not a reason I share, because my experience has been good, but you need to decide that for yourself.
Also, by being an Amazon exclusive author, you can put your book on KU (Kindle Unlimited) and KOLL (Kindle Owner’s Lending Library) where customers can read your book without buying it, all the while earning you royalties per page read. I see this happen a lot so again, I’m happy.
Amazon KDP is super simple, you make an account, fill in a short tax form, and you can start publishing your book. The manuscript and cover is just files to upload, and then you fill in various info like title, genre, etc. Super simple.
Avoid The Scams!
I still have a contract from a vanity press lying around somewhere, that I got sent home to my personal address without even sending them my full manuscript or talking to them at all, after the initial query. Apparently they “loved my work,” and wanted to publish it right away, for the small sum of $2000.
Don’t fall for this!
They’ll probably actually publish the book for you, but it will be terrible and they won’t market it for you. I’ve seen people go this route and it makes me sad. In fact, I read a traditionally published book this year which I suspect was published by a vanity press because it was absolutely terrible. Beautiful cover; good premise; bad book.
I won’t name the company who tried to scam me, but on a completely unrelated note I’ve heard Austin, TX is nice this time of year.
Point is, you either do it alone and pay your own editor and your own cover artist, or you go traditional and someone takes the cost for you. You shouldn’t be paying to be published by someone else, not in this way at least.
What You’ll Need
Get an editor. What I did was that I checked up who had edited the indie books I liked and compared prices. Found one I’m happy with and work well together with. There’s a piece of advice that goes around the industry, saying: “Hire slow, fire quick.” Do your research and don’t be afraid to sack someone if it isn’t working out. Also, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. My first editor was absolutely horrible, he probably wasn’t even an editor.
If you’re looking to do the editing yourself, I can recommend Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, and Dennis Hays’ ‘The Fiction Writer’s Handbook: 10 Minute Edits.‘ But these books in no way replaces an editor.
Get a decent book cover, unless you’re some kind of designer. I used a home-made one for a while, it’s not something I recommend. For my cover I found someone on Fiverr. It’s super simple, pay them, send them some ideas, they get back to you with a cover. Usually they’ll do as many edits as you want. You get a .JPG, upload to Amazon, boom! Book=done.
That being said, I’m always looking for new cover artists, so if you have someone in mind, let me know?
Find beta readers and critique partners!
Some people will say that these are different people, but the point is to have someone help read your stuff and give you pointers. I have 3 people I know personally who are all super helpful. They read, correct, suggest, and help me edit. And no, none of them is my mom. I like to use them both as alpha readers, meaning I sometimes send them first drafts to bounce ideas off them, without ever bothering about details, and as betas later for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I trust them all with my life, which means I can send anything to them, at any stage, and not have to worry.
I have also met authors on Twitter to do this with. I’d say be a bit cautious before you send your manuscript away, and maybe do what I do, and get them to critique only parts of it. That way you don’t have to wait for long turn-over times, and you still get valuable feedback, without giving away your whole manuscript. I’ve had at least one bad experience with a guy who never got back to me, but hey, what are you going to do?
Point is, you should work with people you trust and in the beginning of a relationship like that, maybe swap work to make sure you’re both in the same boat.
(Also, if you end up doing this for other authors, make sure you actually have critique to give. That’s the point, after all. I had someone send me an email saying that they loved it and didn’t have any comments, which though flattering, isn’t very helpful).
Social Media & Marketing
I’m slapping two topics together here and it’s not without reason – they’re so interlinked that you can’t be separating them.
That being said, Facebook is pretty much dead. My experience is that no one on Facebook wants to connect with anyone they don’t already know and unless you’re already famous no one is going to like your page. I have a Facebook page for those who don’t have Twitter, basically, and it’s very static, with slow, periodical updates.
Instagram is great for connecting with authors and to get a peek into their lives beyond the writing, so please, do go and follow me there. I love Instagram, I love seeing what people are up to, and I do get quite a few redirects to this blog from there.
Goodreads is awesome for connecting with other readers as well as authors, to see what people are reading and how your book is coming along. If you do use it, jump over there right now, add me as a friend, and please do add my book to your to-be-read list if your interested in crime thrillers.
Twitter is where it’s at though, for connecting with other authors and it’s just an incredible font of knowledge and wisdom. But it’s not a place to market yourself and this is where a lot of people go wrong. I’ve been there myself, when I first joined I walked in there as if I was the only one who’d ever written a book, and began spamming my book. That’s not the way to go about it. The key to gaining Twitter followers is to simply interact with people. Ask questions, answer questions take part in games. It’s what makes it fun, and believe me, there’s plenty of books I’ve added to my list from people I’ve talked to on Twitter, and it’s not because they’ve asked me to. It’s just organic.
Now, you’re probably wondering, “How should I market myself?”
I don’t tend to market myself physically a lot, in the sense that I don’t ask my coworkers to read my book – in fact, none of them know I write. But the easiest and first thing you should probably do, is to just ask people – Hey, want to read my book? I’ll do it right now, and ask you to check out my crime thriller, The Consequence of Loyalty. It’s right there on your right, or you can check it out here. People you connect with organically, will not be offended as long as you don’t get offended when they say no. In my experience it’s fine to talk about and be excited about your book when it’s either, (i) in person, or (ii) one on one. But don’t spam your book on Twitter or on your Facebook wall without any other content. That makes you and your book annoying.
The other thing, which has been way more successful for me, is ads. I’ve tried Facebook ads – thousands of hits and hundreds of click, but no sales. This is what I mean with Facebook being dead, no one there seems interested in anything but memes and fake news.
Amazon ads is what’s worked for me. There’s a couple of different types, and you’ve got to experiment with various keywords and what works best, but in the end it’s just a numbers game. I never realized this, because I don’t use Amazon that way myself, but Amazon is a search engine. People go there looking for stuff, typing in words, and if you know what they’re looking for, you can sell your book. The conclusion is: Amazon ads work, at least for me.
I’ve also tried various sites that promises to send your books off to thousands of readers, without any success, and I don’t think any of those sites will work if you’re not able to sell your book yourself to begin with. By all means give it a go, but for me, that’s not where I want to spend my energy.
I’m not quite sure how to answer this, but someone asked me how you know you’re successful as a self-published author and I’m not sure. I hardly feel successful now, and my experience has bettered a lot the last 6 months.
I think maybe this is were traditional and indie publishing differ the most, (not that I really know). But with traditional publishing, there seems to be more small victories to celebrate. There’s getting an agent, selling your book, and then 2 years later there’s the actual release of your book. By then you’ve already had 2 years of happy news. With self-publishing it feels slower and more lonely, at least to me, (I like lonely though).
I’m still not quite sure what to answer, but I know that when I started seeing reviews and sales, and lots of KU and KOLL reads – I felt successful, I think. This might be cynical of me, but I feel like I have to tell the cold, hard truth here which is that when you start seeing people buying and liking your book, who the hell cares if you’re self- or traditionally published? It should be all about the book, right? That’s how I see it at least.
These are my experiences of self-publishing so far, and however one-sided they are, I hope maybe they’ve been helpful and shed some light on some things? To summarize: go out there, do your thing, don’t be afraid, don’t give up, ask for help, connect with people, interact, and buy my book.
If you have any questions, if there’s anything I’ve missed, gotten wrong, or you just need a hug, I’m right here or on Twitter @TreyStoneAuthor