Self publishing seems to be the subject of every other question that newbies ask. I totally understand why, too. There are lots of stories of indie authors who’ve made it big. Like, phenomenally big. The indie path often seems paved with glitter. And for some, it is. For many, it’s not. So if you choose that path, you need to do it right.
How exactly do you do self publishing right? I’ll give you some advice on that gleaned from my five years of self publishing but first…
What does glitter mean? Success has a personal definition for everyone and it’s the first thing a writer should figure out when considering self publishing. What does success mean to you? Is it as simple as publishing your book and seeing it for sale on Amazon? If so, you’re probably a hobbyist, because the hard truth that some authors don’t like to talk about is most of us are doing this for the money. Does that sound crass? I really don’t care because all of the authors I know (ALL OF THEM) have bills to pay.
If you don’t have bills to pay and you just want the right to say “You can buy my book on Amazon” this post is not for you. This post is for people who want to earn a living from their writing, who want to quit their wretched day jobs, who want the ability to provide comfort and stability for their family, who want to put their kids through college, and yes, it’s also for those of you out there who really just want to improve your shoe wardrobe. I don’t judge. Your reasons for making money are yours.
I’d also like to say that this post is also for people who have a decently firm grasp on the craft of writing, storytelling, grammar and punctuation. If you don’t know what an adverb is or what the point of conflict in a story is, this post is not for you until you’ve done some more work on the basics. Cool? Cool.
So how do you do self publishing right in such a way that your books make money? I’m sorry to tell you there’s no one answer and no guarantee, but there are some things I’ve seen work. Let’s talk about those, shall we? (And bear in mind that when it comes to traditional publishing, the answer about making money is pretty much the same but with far crappier odds of succeeding. For realz.)
1. Write to market.
What that means is studying the bestseller genre lists on Amazon and figuring out what’s selling, then deciding if any of those genres speak to you. Let’s say Amish dinosaur shifter romances are blowing up right now and the idea makes you giddy with excitement. Great! Go write T-Rex Yoder and his tale (tail?) of love! If you can write fast enough and get the book out there before the wave subsides, chances are good you’ll make some money.
But maybe those types of books seem as unwritable to you as historical romances seem to me. (Love to read them, can’t imagine doing all that research to actually write one!) That’s okay too. What you can then do is figure out how to turn what’s popular into something you can write. Maybe it’s a different kind of shifter. Maybe it’s a sweeter version of the current trend in contemporary romance. Maybe it’s a hotter version of a sweeter series that’s climbing the charts.
Whatever it is, it needs to resonate with you as a writer. It needs to be something you want to write, feel comfortable writing and seriously, are capable of writing. Because…
2. You need to write a series.
If you’ve never written connected books in your life and aren’t interested in writing connected books, you’re going to have a hard row to hoe in self publishing. Standalone books are great – I’m not dissing them – but we’re talking about how to be successful here. And series is where it’s at. (I have proof of this in my own work.)
When readers find a book they like, they want more of the same. Series provide that. Standalone books, while perhaps still all written in your voice, don’t always translate into more of the same for the reader. You know how some families vacation at the same spot every year? It’s the same for readers. When they fall in love with a place and characters you’ve written, they want to go back there. Again and again and again.
3. Write fast. Or at least look like you do.
I can already hear the moans and see the hand-wringing. Calm down. Notice I said “or at least look like you do.” What I mean by that is get the first three books in your new series written before you even think about publication.What? That means months of work with no income? Oh, you poor thing. You didn’t know there was going to be actual work involved? Well, there is. Lots of work. Deal with it or find a different line of employment.
Once you get these books written, what do you do with them? How do you publish them in a way that’s going to make the most impact? I’m glad you asked.
Take those three books in your new series that you just wrote and get them edited, proofed, formatted, have the covers made and THEN release them either A. all at once or B. in a measured, timely fashion like one a month for three months.
For those of you still reading, you probably want to know the reasoning behind this. There are a few. For one, it’s a great way to build your backlist fast and backlist is how you make money. (See the second paragraph on point 2.) Secondly, it’s a great way to launch a new series (or a new pen name or a previously unpubbed author) because it builds momentum and creates buzz. Thirdly, it will give you some longevity in the Amazon algorithms that will help with sales, which is really a whole ‘nother post. And fourthly, these books will now provide income while you write the next book in the series. Which you’d better be doing.
The other major benefit to getting three books out like this is you can finally…
4. Stop worrying about marketing.
By marketing, I’m talking about all the stuff that gets thrown into the mix of “things you have to do when self publishing”. I mean things like price pulsing and ads and putting the first book free and so on.
The best way to sell your books is to write more books. So do that. There’s no point in worrying about which site to advertise on when you only have one or two books out. Frankly, you’re wasting your money. Build that backlist, build that series. Get four or five or six books out. THEN your advertising dollars will be selling all of those books, not just one.
A few more suggestions:
1. Don’t design your cover yourself unless you went to school for that sort of thing. Seriously. Don’t. If you can’t afford a designer, find a friend who has the skills and then barter with them. Trade them proofreading if they’re a writer too or babysitting or whatever you need to, but in the name of all things holy, please don’t put a homemade cover on your book. It will be ugly (yes, it will be) and your book won’t sell.
2. Hire an editor. Not sure how to find one? Talk to other self published authors. Read the acknowledgements in self published books you’ve enjoyed. This isn’t a step you can skip unless you’re writing short stuff and you’ve been at this a long time. Personally, I think anything over 30K needs an editor. Please don’t skip this step.
3. Get as many proofreaders as you can. Friends, family, beta readers, paid professionals – one of each would be great. Put out as clean a book as you can.
4. Have fun. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it will show in the work. This is why you need to write something you enjoy. I love what I do. It’s incredibly hard and there are days when the story seems impossible, but I still love it.
Clearly, this is just scratching the surface of the topic of self publishing, but I hope it helps. As always, questions, comments and suggestions are welcome. Have at it!