Self-publishing is your friend
When I resurrected my writing career recently my idea was to self-publish. I thought it was easy and straightforward – anyone could do it. I put my first book up in January of 2012 with a generic Amazon cover, no professional editing or formatting, and certainly no advertising or blogs. I sat back, waiting for the sales to roll in. I waited…and waited. As it turned out, my book didn’t leap onto the bestseller rank just because I released it. Over the course of the next few months it sold six copies, most to friends and family.
I discovered that self-publishing is a business just like any other. Its success lays primarily on the shoulders of the person running it, in this case the writer, who is also their own publisher and marketer. Sure, anyone can do what I did, toss a book up there without doing the footwork, but it is likely those books will suffer the same fate my book did. It’s the curse and the benefit of self-publishing. As much as it gives us the control, it also controls what we do. There are thousands of books self-published every month and most of them sell few, if any, copies.
How do we stand out? How does a self-published author rise above the rest to sell copies? Just like other media, I think there is no one answer. I work at a movie studio and even the best marketed titles fail if they don’t resonate with the marketplace. They may get an initial bump at the box office, quickly fade.
When I first got serious about self-publishing, I was overwhelmed by the things my PR friend told me I should be doing. I have a list: Facebook page, Website, Goodreads, Amazon Author Central, Instagram and Twitter. Wow! That’s a lot of things to update to engage the audience! I do them all now, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and effort. I did allow myself to be convinced to spend money on a professional website, a decision I do not regret.
I have tried many routes, from begging for reviews to posting on my Facebook pages and blogging every week. I have learned a lot. I am sure I’m doing many things incorrectly. I don’t always publish with fanfare. At this time I use pre-made cover art from a site I like called The Book Cover Designer, although they also have a custom option I am considering using. I upload to Amazon directly, but there are many sites like Formatting Fairies who will do this work for you for a fee. There are free .Mobi sites to translate your book into Kindle formatting, a necessity for some reviewers. Before I send my book to a copy editor I put it through AutoCrit, an online editing website, which catches many of the duplicate words and other writing mistakes I make.
Self-publishing is a long term game. The chances of overnight success are slender and the odds daunting. We can do everything right, market our fingers off, and there is still no guarantee people will like us and buy us. For every Kate Danley there are thousands more who aren’t a blip on the Amazon radar. Yet. But the only way to fail is not to try.
When I won my first contest back in 2007 I happily shoved my manuscript into an envelope (ah, back in the day) and sent it off to Harlequin, convinced the contest win would translate to publishing fame and fortune. Needless to say, it did not. Today that book is up on Amazon as a self-published novel. It doesn’t have perfect reviews, but they are decent. Self-publishing afforded me that opportunity. At this time I only publish on Amazon, but I can foresee a day when I branch out to the other available options, like Smashwords or Apple.
I hope to have a traditional publishing contract someday, but I also want to continue to self-publish if I did get that contract. My goal is to be a hybrid author. Self-publishing allows people to tread cautiously in the marketplace, and not feel pressure to take the first contract offered. With self-publishing you own everything: the copyright, the foreign rights, the sequel rights. You never get caught in a publisher going bankrupt or closing, taking the rights to your precious books with them. There are many cautionary tales out there that make me nervous about certain publishers, and I don’t have to go down that road if I don’t want to. I can self-publish, as long as I’m willing to do the work. I can be the master of my fate. I like that a lot.