Today I’d like to talk about self-publishing. I receive lots of e-mails and Facebook messages every week from writers who are in all different stages of writing and publishing their first novel. Some are just beginning while others have already taken the plunge and clicked the publish button on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, CreateSpace, etc…
I thought I’d share the answers to the questions I’m asked most frequently. I’ll add a tab somewhere so the information can be permanently and easily accessed. I’m also in the process of writing a guest post for fellow author, John Hansen, which will provide a detailed account of my self-publishing journey. I keep promising to get it to him and he keeps pretending it’s not months overdue because he knows I’m super swamped. Did I mention he’s awesome? Because he is.
Before we get started, one of the things that really concerns me is the number of people who write to me and want to know what self-publishing company I used.
I didn’t use any company. I uploaded directly to Amazon (via Kindle Direct Publishing for the e-book and CreateSpace for my paperback), Barnes & Noble (via PubIt!), and Smashwords. On the Island was formatted according to the Smashwords guidelines and was accepted into the premium catalog. This meant that the e-book was also distributed to Sony, Apple, Kobo, and Diesel. I do believe you can upload directly to Apple and Kobo now, but please check because it’s been a while since I self-published and things are changing every day. I also released an audiobook via Audible’s ACX program.
You don’t need a company to self-publish, but you DO need retailers (I’ve just listed the ones I used above).
These are the places you will sell your book.
Cost to upload On the Island to these retailers:
I PAID NO ONE.
Please don’t ever think you need to pay someone to do for you what you are perfectly capable of doing yourself. Self-publishing is not easy, but the actual uploading process is pretty straightforward. There are lots of companies out there that will try to convince you that you need them to publish your book (for which you will pay a hefty fee). They’ll probably throw in a bunch of stuff about how they’ll market your book for you and do all kinds of things you should learn how to do for yourself anyway. So run, run far away from these companies.
That being said, while it’s true that uploading is free, editing, formatting, and a nice cover will cost some money. But there are plenty of talented freelancers who can do this for a flat fee so there is no reason to give an individual or company a percentage of your book earnings to do any of these things for you.
SO DON’T DO THAT.
You’ll make me cry.
To recap: You are the publisher. Uploading to retailers costs nothing. Don’t give anyone a percentage of your book sales (no matter how much they try to convince you that you should).
Okay, back to basics. First of all, is your novel complete? I get a lot of e-mail from people who are just thinking about writing a book and would like some advice on how to get started. Honestly, this is the hardest part of writing a full-length novel. For me, it helped to let the idea percolate in my mind (in my case for about 4 months) before I even wrote the first word. Then I jotted down some notes and thought about the story some more. Finally, when I had a general idea of the beginning, middle, and end, I came up with a loose outline and started writing. I hear a lot of, “Oh my God, I could never outline. I can’t be limited that way. I must let my story emerge organically, without constraints.” That’s perfectly fine. If I tried to do that I’d find myself staring at a blank screen every day since I really need to have some idea of what I’m going to write about before I sit down and open my word document. But that’s just me. Part of writing a novel is figuring out the method that works best for you. Whatever you choose, don’t stop doing it until you type THE END.
If your novel is complete, is it revised, edited, and polished? Have you given it to your critique partner and your beta readers and received their feedback? And then revised again? All of these steps must be checked off your list before you’re even ready to begin the self-publishing process. A surprisingly high number of people write to me and say that they’re just thinking about writing a book and want me to tell them how to self-publish it. My answer is always, “Finish the book first, and don’t worry about anything else at this stage.”
The next step is research. I spent approximately two months reading everything I could find about self-publishing. I actually typed ‘self publishing’ into the Google search box and went from there. It may seem overwhelming, but breaking it down into smaller pieces really helps. www.kindleboards.com is a great place to learn valuable information and connect with other self-published authors. And all of the retailers you’ll be uploading to have really great FAQ’s which should answer a lot of your questions. If you’re going to self-publish, learning everything you can about it is also part of the process. When I first self-published, I spent a half hour per day scouring the Internet, reading blog posts from successful self-publishers, and exploring promotional opportunities. That’s not a lot. There’s a myth that self-publishing means you will constantly be marketing and promoting your book, but I don’t think that’s true. If you work smart, it should not take you endless hours per day.
I strongly encourage you to pay for outside editing. Because you are the publisher, you’re responsible for the same things that all publishers are responsible for: editing and copyediting. I also believe in hiring a professional editor. You may have a friend, relative, or co-worker who thinks they are perfectly capable of editing your manuscript, but unless editing is their profession, they’re not qualified. And you really, really need a good editor. Someone who is an expert when it comes to grammar, spelling, and punctuation, not to mention the general rules of fiction writing. I’ve seen so many self-published authors skip this step but it catches up to them eventually when the low reviews start pouring in. This is a really bad thing and I don’t want it to happen to you. Take pride in your work and edit BEFORE you upload. Even a handful of reviews citing a lack of editing may be enough to turn potential readers off. One more thing: proofreading is not editing. We can all spot typos (they’re surprisingly easy to see in others’ books but somewhat more difficult to find in our own manuscripts). Proofread your own work carefully, but hire a copyeditor to catch everything you missed.
For developmental editing, I used Alison Dasho. A good developmental editor will do several things: check your manuscript for pacing, plot problems, characterization, prose, etc…If you’ve got tense changes or head-hopping or repetition that does nothing to move your story forward, they’ll tell you about it.
For copyediting, I used Anne Victory at Victory Editing.
Feel free to contact Anne or Alison for a quote. They are awesome. If they are booked there are many freelance editors out there (just make sure to do your due diligence so you know that they’re qualified). I also outsourced my e-book formatting to Guido Henkel. He’s amazing and affordable. He will format your e-book beautifully and give you a nice, clickable Table of Contents (which I feel strongly you should have). Tell him Tracey sent you (not because I get any kind of kickback, but just because I like him so much).
You’ll also want to register your copyright at www.copyright.gov. It’s the best $35 you’ll ever spend. And you’ll need an ISBN which you can get at www.bowker.com (you’ll need a separate ISBN for each retailer and another one for your print edition).
After you’ve done all that, it’s time to make your cover. I used this site to choose my cover image. For On the Island, I bought a photo (it was an actual beach in the Maldives) and my awesomely fantastic friend Penne applied the text for me. You can do whatever you want, but you should spend some time on this step (and whatever your budget allows), because people really will judge your book by its cover. My cover image cost $360 because I bought the 300dpi size (which you will need if you’re going to release a paperback). Otherwise, you can buy the 72dpi size. Sarah Hansen is a fantastic cover designer. You can find her here.
You will also need to write your product description (AKA your blurb) on Amazon, B&N, etc… I cringe when I read a blurb that has grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors (I had my copyeditor take a look at mine to make sure it was okay). If your blurb has errors, readers will assume your book probably does, too. Please pay extra attention to this step. Along with your cover, this is often the only thing potential readers have to look at when they’re considering whether or not they want to buy your book. It’s important.
How did you market your book?
To get started, I used a combination of social media (Facebook, Twitter, and my blog) to do a book launch. What I did not do is send DM’s on Twitter asking people to read my book. Twitter is for making friends. If your profile information includes your book title, people will check it out if they want to which is preferable to you asking them to check it out. Ditto FB. It’s okay to make sure people know about your book by posting a link on your page, but let them take it from there. You should also set up an author page on FB.
After I launched the e-book I did a giveaway on Goodreads for four signed copies of the paperback. I also purchased paid sponsorships on Pixel of Ink and Kindle Nation Daily, both of which paid for themselves in increased sales.
I think there’s a misconception that following a specified formula will automatically equal a successful self-published book. On the Island was largely a word-of-mouth book. There is no promotion that will ever be more effective than a large number of readers talking about your book. If there’s any secret to a successful, self-published book, that’s it. It doesn’t mean that everyone will like your book – because it’s impossible to write a book that every single person will like – but if there are enough readers who connect with your novel, and they recommend it to other readers, you’ll probably do very well.
Should I query agents with my self-published book?
I would advise against this. If your self-published book sells well, agents may very well reach out to you. At the very least, you will need to have sold 50K+ copies on your own in order to garner any interest from an agent (and subsequently a publisher).
Will you read my book if I send you a copy?
I love reading, and I would love to read every book that is offered, but my TBR pile is in serious danger of toppling over. I also have manuscripts to beta read and/or write blurbs for, and those take precedence over everything else. And I’m one of those authors who can’t read anything when they’re at a certain stage in the writing process. But if I’m not under a deadline and the book being offered is in a genre I regularly read, I’d love for you to send it to me (although it may be a while before I get a chance to read it). Thank you so much!
Will you review my book for me?
I don’t write reviews anymore. Authors writing reviews for other authors is starting to come under fire as a conflict of interest which is unfortunate because writers are often voracious readers and when I love a book I want to shout it from the rooftops (and leave reviews on Amazon, B&N, and Goodreads). However, in light of some recent changes to review policies I will no longer be writing reviews. But if I enjoy your book I will definitely recommend it on my personal Facebook page and also my author page.
Can I be your beta reader?
The beta reading stage is one of the most important stages on the way to a book’s publication. It’s also extremely stressful for the author (or at least it is for me). This is my baby, and showing it to someone for the first time can be quite nerve-racking. I used a lot of beta readers for On the Island and I gave out a lot of ARC’s. There are many people who have asked to beta read Covet, and I have all your names on a list. However, I will be adhering to whatever guidelines Penguin asks me to follow which may involve reducing the number of people involved at this stage.
Can I send you my manuscript?
Unfortunately, there’s really nothing I can do with your manuscript. Sending it to me (especially unsolicited) will not get you any closer to your goal of publication because I’m not an agent or a publisher and therefore cannot do anything that will help you. If you want to pursue a traditional publishing contract you’ll have to write a query letter and send it to agents. If you want to self-publish, you don’t need anyone’s help because you are the publisher.
I have a really great story to tell, but I can’t write. Will you write my story or co-author it with me?
Unfortunately, I’m unable to write anyone else’s story. I take the ideas I can’t get out of my head and turn them into books, and I have enough ideas floating around in my brain to last me for a long time. I don’t know that I would be capable of turning someone else’s idea into a novel, but I encourage anyone who has a story to tell to give it a try themselves – they might be pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy getting their story down on paper.
When will the On the Island movie be out? Do you have any say in the casting?
I don’t have any movie news to pass on at this time. MGM has optioned the rights for a feature film and screenwriters have been invited to pitch the studio. I’ve been cautioned that Hollywood moves quite slowly, but if/when there is any information to pass on I will definitely post it on my blog, FB, and Twitter. Unfortunately, I do not have any say in who is cast in the film (but I’m going to lobby hard for John Goodman to play seaplane pilot Mick because he would be super awesome).
Should I enroll in KDP Select?
It depends. This is really a personal decision and I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer. I did not enroll On the Island in KDP Select because I am a firm believer in making your book available through as many retailers as possible. If you enroll in KDP Select, you will only be able to sell your book on Amazon. After having the amazing Guido format my book for several different retailers, and uploading to them, the last thing I wanted to do was take the book down from those sites.
I’m sure Nook owners wouldn’t like that. Or those who prefer Kobo or Apple or Sony or Diesel.
I am a BIG fan of Amazon KDP, but less a fan of Select. Also, the ability to make my book free for a certain number of days was actually a turnoff to me. I know that some authors have used KDP Select’s free days to their advantage, but I simply can’t fathom giving something I worked 18 months on away for free. But again, this is a personal choice and you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. It sounds like Select has lost a bit of its oomph lately, so do your research and see what other self-published authors are saying about their results.
One thing to remember: Self-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve had several people tell me how amazed they were that On the Island took off so fast, but it really didn’t. I’ve seen other authors hit the top 100 on Amazon within 3 weeks of publication. It took my book 6 months to get there. Be patient. If you write the best book you can and put out the most professional product you’re capable of, readers will follow. Start your next book and don’t worry too much about it. And a word of caution: this business is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy and there are no shortcuts. Start developing a thick skin because you’re going to need it. But it’s also incredibly fulfilling and there has never been a better time to be a writer.
I’m sure there are questions I’ve forgotten and I’ll try to add to this FAQ as I remember them.