I spend a fair amount of time here rambling back and forth about self-publishing, the potential benefits as well as the pitfalls and issues. Mostly, it’s on the wary side of things, which I think is apropos of the current state of digital publishing. I may give the impression that I don’t like self-publishing, but that would be a misnomer. I think it’s potentially great, but there’s the equal potential for epic failure. So, I thought I would put down here (as my current state of thinking on this particular day) what I would do if I was going to self publish right now, given what I’ve learned in my poking around.
- Write more than one book. Success in self-publishing relies a lot on momentum. Assuming for the moment that you garner some interest in a first book, you want to be able to follow it up with another. I don’t mean in six months to a year either. You want to get a second book out close on the heels of the first, which means a month, maybe two at the most. I’d want to follow that up with a third within two to three months. This provides a six month window to not only work on building readership and establishing a connection to them, but time to write another book. My end goal here is 3 books a year on a continual basis.
- Write short. Short stories are a great medium to add to the characters and worlds you create in longer works. Being able to throw these in on occasion is an appreciated bonus to readers and gives you something to put up in those inbetween times. I’d want at least on short of some kind in between each book. Also, keep the novels to a word count on the lower end. It takes time to write an epic. While I love epic stories, it takes a longer time to write them. My goal would be in the 75-90k range. If you really want to write long, break it down into manageable chunks.
- Create a social media presence. You need a blog or fb presence, i.e. a fan page. While you don’t need to necessarily have a platform from which to speak, you do need a place to interact with readers, a place to run contests/giveaways and a general venue for building interest in you as an author. Wherever your books are sold, this presence should be easily found, through your bio or information about the book.
- Find an editor/copyeditor/cover artist. I’ve spoken about the need for these before on the blog. The vast majority (99.9%) of writers do not have the skills in these areas to do this themselves and do it well. This is one of the biggest problems in the self-publishing world. New writers don’t understand the value and necessity for these things, and until you work with professionals in these areas, you won’t truly get the benefit and need. They make your book better! A LOT better. Don’t insult readers by putting out a poor product, because that is what you do when you put out a poorly edited book with a crap cover. “My first book will be free so I don’t need to worry so much about these things” is not an excuse to not do this. You will kill any chance you have by starting out with a poor impression to readers. I won’t self-publish unless I can afford to get these services enlisted for my books. If this means waiting and saving, so be it. I value my work and the investment of readers too much to not do these things. You should too. There is no such thing as “good enough for self-publishing.” Either do it right or don’t do it at all.
- Pay attention to reader feedback. One of the big benefits of self-publishing is the fact that your product can be improved after the fact. Errors can be fixed, content can be added or rewritten, and covers can be remade. If 90% of your readers complain about the pacing in the first half of the book, look for ways to improve. Unlike traditional publishing, you always have control over your content at all times. Take advantage of this fact. Another benefit of reader feedback is that you may get an idea of what kind of story they’d like. I’m not saying you should simply pander to reader desires, but if you created a compelling side character that a lot of readers love, you might consider creating a story about them. If you don’t pay attention to your readers, you will never know these things.
- Build brand recognition. Don’t write a thriller and follow it up with a romance. Decide what kind of story you like the most and stick to it, at least initially. You want readers to keep coming back for your books. Many readers stick to story types and will expect you to provide something similar. Don’t throw them a curveball by publishing wildly different stories. You want to build a solid house before you start working on another. I’d put out half a dozen books of one genre before I thought about giving readers something different.
- Get your book out there far and wide. I wouldn’t recommend locking your book into Amazon only. I don’t like their programs that lock in exclusivity. I don’t care that it might generate some more money within their store. If you’re happy with what you’re making from there, then fine, go for it, but I want the chance to build readership and to do that means having my story out in as many venues as possible. Anything that increases visibility and the opportunity to bring in more readers is a good thing. Don’t limit yourself. Personally, I’ll never lock myself in to Amazon.
- Be positive. Not everyone will like your stories. I’ve had my share of bad reviews on my Deadworld books. That’s just part of the game and you have to accept the fact that not everyone will like what you write no matter how good it is. Some people like to throw the hate around. Again, nothing you can do about this, and responding in kind does nothing to promote yourself. Always be positive in response to readers. ALWAYS. “Your book sucks moldy cheese!” Well, sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but perhaps you’ll like my next book better. Don’t get caught up in defending yourself. There’s no need and it’s counter-productive.
- Keep plugging away at traditional publishing. Self vs. Traditional isn’t an either/or scenario. There are benefits to both and there are drawbacks to both. If you’re in a position like me, where resources are limited, having someone who can do all of the non-writing elements and potentially get me to readers I’d never be able to reach is a huge bonus. More readers and a better quality books is a good thing. Yes, you take a big potential hit on money. It’s a trade-off, and one I still feel is worthwhile, even if I do believe authors deserve better terms with traditional publishing. My hope is the changing industry is going to force better terms, but one can’t underestimate the benefits of a good editor/copyeditor/cover artist/marketing dept. You don’t get these in self-publishing without paying for them, and you can pay a lot for good, professional services.
- This kind of goes back to #4, but don’t compromise. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “good enough.” If, for whatever reason, you don’t feel your story is as good as it can possibly be, don’t publish it. Saying, “it’s as good as I can do” and knowing it could be better with a good editor or a better cover and so forth, isn’t good enough. Have integrity as an author. Respect the art of the story. Because if you don’t, readers will pick up on this. They aren’t stupid. If you respect the reader and the story, you won’t compromise on anything that goes into your book.
Ok, that’s my general run-down, and given all of that, it’s the reason why I won’t self-publish anything today. I’m not in a position to put out the best book I possibly can. I have put out one, and I regret doing it. It could and should have been better than it is. I won’t do that again. I will likely self-publish in the future, but it won’t be until I’m ready and able to do it.