Saturday, July 12, 2014

6 Observations on Self-Publishing (So Far)

"What advice can you give new authors?"  I read this interview question on Goodreads and laughed.  Advice?  Am I qualified to give it?  Considering I'm a newly self-published author (I'm not counting the poetry), getting my second novel ready for publication before my first book even reaches XX in sales, I really don't think so.
Photo by Steve Linster from

Then again, I've read an awful lot in the last dozen years or so since I decided I would be a published author one day.  Some of what I've read is garbage - a lot of it actually.  Here and there, though, I've found bits of wisdom, so I've decided to share some of what I've learned, and how it pertains to me on my self-publishing journey.

If you're thinking about self-publishing (or being a published author in any form), you have to be realistic about your expectations. Otherwise you're just setting yourself up for disappointment, and ultimately failure.  What defines success?  As with most things, it depends on who you ask.  Forbes put out an article in December with some figures that give a real income reality check for indie authors. (Read it here.)

I would be ecstatic, truly, with replacing my previous income.  It was modest, honestly, especially for Southern California.  Will it happen?  I'm not hanging my hopes on it, but I'll keep trying.  That's what I do, chase dreams.  I don't know any other way to live.

Self-publishing isn't as easy as it sounds.  I mean, yes, you need nothing more than a computer, the ability to create a .doc or .pdf file, and an internet connection. KDP will help design a basic cover.  Any idiot can do it.  Well, most of them.  Myself included.  But there's a little more to it than that.

Assuming you've written a complete book, and edited thoroughly, which is a huge undertaking in itself, you now have to format it. I highly recommend reading, and learning, Mark Coker's Nuclear Method on formatting in his Smashwords Style Guide.  When he says "Hug a loved one," I would listen.  It helped, a little.

Then comes proofing, because, yes, even with professional editing, you're likely to find something amiss.  My book still has some minor errors, I think, but I hope they aren't worth noticing at this point.  The most recent release by a formerly self-published author (i.e. it was published through one of the big houses) had three pretty noticeable errors (that I found) in the e-book version I bought.  I'm not the grammar police, and am in serious need of my own editor, but they were there.  It didn't take away from the story, I just thought it was funny that even after she went with the "pros" the mistakes were there.  I'm still looking forward to the next adventure she takes me on.

Books do not sell themselves.  Unless you have money to throw into advertising, it's a grassroots word-of-mouth marketing campaign.  That can take time - I'm talking years - to build up.  The best angle I've found to work - readers want to get to know the writers behind their favorite books, and the internet provides the tools to connect for free.

Social networks only help if you interact with others; you have to build a following.  Don't expect others to "like" your page because you liked theirs, but the more you "like" others, the better chance someone else will come back to "like" you.  Do exercise good etiquette, and try to share another author's post if they share yours.  (I feel like I'm reciting "The Golden Rule.")

Little by little, I see more results from Facebook.  I've still not started with Twitter - I'm scared of getting sucked into it, as I do with everything else - but I keep reading that it can be an indie (or any) author's best friend, so I'm inclined to believe it. (Update 10/20/15: Twitter still scares me, but I've seen more results in the last six months than I did in two years on Facebook. So, if I have to choose one now, I'd probably keep tweeting. )

Write your first draft for you.  Edit for the reader.  I toiled for years over my first two novels - both of which are in need of serious overhaul before I publish them - because I was so concerned with who I was writing for, it dammed the creative flow.  With The Shadow Watcher, it started the same, but last year, when I really set out to do it, I wrote the first draft for me.  It was ugly, but it was something to work with.  That's the only way I was able to finish, and have it published in nine months.  I wrote the first draft of the sequel, A Shadow in Doubt, last November, during NaNoWriMo, but didn't even really start working with it again until mid-April.  If I have it out by October, as planned, that'll be about seven months on that one. (Okay, it actually took a lot longer. Life happens.) 

Not every book is for everyone.  It doesn't mean you quit.  It's a fact we're better off accepting early on.  Not all of us like the same thing - that's the beauty of diversity.  I can't confirm the number of people who've read The Shadow Watcher in it's entirety, only the number of downloads. While I wish everyone in the world would read it, I know it won't appeal to everyone.  Reaching just a thousand readers in a year or two, to me, would be impressive.

More books = more sales.  Simple math, right?  As a reader, I don't like to let go of characters, I like to read series novels.  I'm also more likely to read an author who has written more than one book.  So, I challenge you not to be discouraged if your debut novel isn't flying off the shelves, so to speak.  Focus on the book after the next.  

You don't have to write a series, but having multiple titles available makes you more credible to your potential reader.  Build your brand.  Keep looking ahead.  Plan, be ready for the day your dreams do come true, and they just might.  That's what I'm working on now.

Guess I had something to say after all.... Hopefully, you'll find some of this helpful, or maybe it's just more of the garbage out there - I'd love to read your comments below ;)  Either way, I hope you're having a beautiful day!