Below are some truths that apply to any self-published title, fiction or nonfiction. These harsh realities are meant to help you with what comes after you’ve written your book and it’s been edited. Some of these lessons I learned from others; some I learned the hard way…as is my nature. Some points include my opinion/experience, but all are issues every author should know and contemplate before publishing. After you read this, you may think “she’ll never publish again,” but you’d be wrong. I’m a masochist (rhymes with journalist) and when confronted with a wall, I throw myself at it. And then I do it again.
1. Social Media Platform: Don’t know what that means? Then you’re not ready to publish. This is so important — that’s why it’s No. 1 on my list. Writing and editing the book is just the beginning of the publishing process. Before you go to market you need to build your presence on social media. You’ll need to create an author website, set up a public Facebook page, build up your LinkedIn connections and get on Twitter and build your following. Twitter, really, you ask? YES. Twitter has a huge writer, reader and book blogger community. It’s an excellent place to promote your book and yourself and tout your literary accomplishments, as well as your snarky short-comment writing skills. Instagram and Snapchat? They’re helpful too, but not as important as the other social media outlets I’ve listed above.
2. Amazon or Another Publisher? The Dark Side of Kindle Unlimited: Reality check, Amazon OWNS the book world, especially when it comes to self-published book sales. If you go with another print-on-demand publisher, you’ll be shut out of various Amazon advertising opportunities and your book will probably be priced higher than competing Amazon titles in your genre. If you still decide to go with another publisher, be sure that your contract states that you retain all rights to your work and to all the files created on your behalf: cover art, Word documents, PDFs, etc. That way if you decide to switch to another publisher (probably Amazon) it’s easy to make your exit. It’s rough admitting that you must kowtow to the all-powerful OZ (Amazon), but you’ll just have to get used to it. And if you decide to participate in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, a subscription program for avid e-book readers, you will not be allowed to sell other e-book formats, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc., while you’re participating in the program.
3. Editorial Reviews, Awards and Bloggers: As a self-published author, you’re going to have to pay for editorial reviews. It’s the only way to get them, and regardless of what some wonks say about whether these reviews increase sales or not you need them to compete with all those other great books in your genre that probably have editorial reviews. If your book gets some good reviews, then you should also spend the money to enter a few book contests. Being a finalist or an award-winner gives you great bragging rights for your book publicity. Book bloggers: Self-publishing gurus will tell you that you can get free reviews from book bloggers. Sorry, that’s old info. Most book bloggers are beholden to large publishers and publicists. There are only a very few who will review an indie title.
4. Beware of the Blood Suckers: There are a zillion “consultants” out there to “help” you publish, promote and advertise your book. They’ll try to sell you services for building and managing your website, your Twitter and Facebook following, SEO (search engine optimization) and your presence on various websites, lists and publications. With some perseverance, you can do all of this yourself. Save your money for editorial reviews, award applications and advertising that works (see No. 6).
5. “Friends”: When you publish your book, it will be one of those moments in life when you find out who are your real friends. Some of your friends will go out of their way to read early drafts, help you with social media, read and review your published book and promote it unabashedly to anyone remotely connected to them. They are angels to authors. On the other hand, be prepared to be disappointed by many folks you thought were friends, who say they’ll read and review it and never do.
6. Promoting Your Book After Publication: Some book bloggers do Q&As with new authors. These are great for getting your name and your book out there and they’re often free. Also, there are book promoters who, for a fee, will advertise your book to their email lists. These promotions do generate sales and they’re affordable ($30 to $100). I’ve had good experiences with Freebooksy, Reading Deals and Riffle Books. Paying for Facebook to “boost” a post touting a book sale also works. Also, some publishing “experts” say you should do giveaways to promote your book — either prizes or free books. I don’t like to give away my work, and running a contest is just too corny for me. Then again…you never know.
7. The Truth About Book Sales: We’ve all heard stories about that indie author who sold hundreds of thousands of books. It’s bunk. Most newbie authors sell a few hundred copies…and that’s if they wrote a decent book and it got a few good reviews. Those stories about mega sales are being propagated by all the takers in the book industry (see No. 4).
8. Criticism: Be prepared for criticism, fair, unfair and just whacky. Many people aspire to literary greatness and think they should be a critic for the New York Times. And writing is art — tastes vary. Everyone from obnoxious bookstore owners to loud-mouth authors to literary know-it-alls will tell you what’s wrong with your book. You’re going to need virtual body armor, a sense of humor and a “screw them all” attitude to survive (this advice applies to No. 9 too). You need to be tough and you’re going to need to fight for your art.
9. The Taint of Being an Indie Author: Forget about getting your book reviewed by ANY name publication. It won’t happen, even if you have outstanding reader reviews and strong sales — even if you’re a journalist. You’re an indie author; in the publishing world, you’re a lower life form. You’ll be looked down upon by newspaper and magazine editors, booksellers, and yes, other authors. You’ll get sideways looks from some so-called “friends” and potential readers simply because you self-published your book.
10. Independent Booksellers: Perhaps you’d like to be in your local bookstore or hometown bookstore. That’s great, but there are a few issues. First, you’ll have to convince the stores that your work is worthy (see No. 9) and you’ll need great reviews, maybe an award, and some fine pitching skills to win them over. Second, some bookstores will carry your indie title on consignment (typically the only way they’ll stock an indie title) if you pay them a “stocking fee.” These fees range from $15 to $100. If you pay a big fee, you’re likely to lose money on each book sale through that bookstore. Lastly, if you use Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand service to publish your book many independent booksellers will not carry it, no matter how good it is or how well you pitch them. They are in a battle for their lives with Amazon, and they’re not going to put a single dollar into the enemy’s pocket.