It’s been three years since I self published my first book. It’s definitely been a learning experience marked by relative successes and failures. As I mark the 3rd anniversary since I self-published Before the Legend here are the top ten things I’ve learned over the course of three years in no particular order.
- Marketing is your responsibility. With traditional publishing companies you can expect a team to help market your book to your target audience. Even then you can’t sit back and relax. Some effort is required to reach out to your target audience wherever they may be found. This is especially important with indie writers because they have no big-name publishing company doing the marketing/advertising for you. This can be very daunting especially for new writers who know little about marketing and what’s involved in marketing a book. After all getting your manuscript polished and formatted is just the first hurdle. Getting people to find and read your book is a whole other monster. What can help is seeking advice from other experienced writers on how they market their books. This is a great starting point especially if you have no background in marketing.
- Don’t bother responding to negative reviews. This one is easier said then done because naturally when we get a review that we don’t agree with or is downright hateful we get defensive or angry. While my reviews have been mostly positive I have received a handful of constructive criticism on certain parts of my story. When you find yourself getting worked up over a review it’s often good to take a step away from the screen and come back to it later. This will allow you to 1) Cool off and 2) Be able to reflect on the criticism given with an objective mind. Was the reviewer being spiteful or did they have a valid point? If it was the latter you may be able to extract a gem or two from the criticism and use that in the future. Even if the review has no validity to it, responding to the reviewer is not only a waste of time but can potentially damage your reputation. How you handle the review is important because readers examine your every word under a magnify glass. Readers expect to express their opinion without fear of intimidation or that they are being stalked on cyberspace. Responding to a negative review will likely come off unprofessional and may even deter future readers. Whether you like it or not it’s best not complain online. I’m afraid writers don’t have that luxury.
- Know the market you’re writing for. This point is important especially as it relates to marketing. What is the target audience in which you’re writing for? What does your audience expect? These are questions you want to ask when you first start writing not after you publish. I found out the hard way when I first published. Knowing your audience will help you to tailor your marketing/advertising to the right groups. It will also help you position your story so that it can be more readily found by those searching for your particular story. Knowing your audience will also help you to set realistic goals in terms of sale. If you’re writing a romance, you can be guaranteed there is a huge market for that genre. For other genres such as historical fiction that will have a smaller, less mainstream audience. However even genres that fall under a smaller niche can still be profitable. After all in popular genres such as romance or YA which have many competing works, there are readers searching for a specific type of book within those genres. At the end of the day if there is enough of an audience for a particular niche, you can expect relative success.
- Have a plan. This is a reminder from an earlier post but I think it’s worth being mentioned again. Having a plan to market your book, garner reviews, and etc will make your life much easier as you take the journey to self-publish. New writers can sometimes make this mistake of going into self-publishing without thinking everything through. Granted you can’t plan everything like how people will respond to your book. That’s out of your control. But you can control the overall presentation of the book. Focus on what you can control and be flexible when one path doesn’t work out. This will cut down on a lot of unnecessary stress.
- You will not strike it big the first-time around. With the exception of a few, most writers will not make the bestseller’s list the first time around. That may not even happen the second or even third time around. This is not to be negative but is the reality of the business. Even if you’re fortunate to crack the bestseller’s list, to maintain your staying power week after week is very difficult because you’re constantly competing with thousands upon thousands of books. Your sales rank can and will fluctuate depending on how well or not well other books in a similar genre are doing. This is contingent on the algorithm that sites such as Amazon use to determine your sales rank. It’s even rarer to find books to top the list and garner attention from Hollywood like Hunger Games or the Lord of the Rings.
- Don’t quit your day job! This goes along with point #5. Since you can’t guarantee how well a book is received it would be very unwise to quit your day job. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins or the elite few you will likely not make enough money to live off your books. At least not yet. Until a writer gets high enough revenue from a consistent basis, most writers find it advantageous to still work their day jobs. If anything when you’re starting off, it will be the writing that will be supplementing your income not the other way around. To make a lot of money from writing takes skill, concerted effort, good fortune and churning out more books. If you’re expecting to be rich from writing, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
- People like free things. Generally I find that rule to hold true. That’s why free runs will catch people’s attention. You’re more likely to get people to download your book when it’s free than full-price. This can be a good and bad thing. From my own experience once the book goes back to full price after a free-run the downloads will dry up significantly. This is because people who may have had reservations about your book are more likely to take a chance on your book because they know they have nothing to lose (except time). That’s why some authors make their books permafree or permanently free as a marketing strategy to gain new readers who will hopefully be invested enough to buy the next book in the series.
- Self-promotion is your best friend. Not only is it the cheapest form of marketing but word of mouth can be effective. This can be challenging especially if you’re an introvert like myself. If you can get enough people interested in your book, chances are they will share it with their friends or on their blogs for you. Every time people share your links, re-blog your article, write reviews, they’re giving you added exposure.
- People are more critical of self-published books. Although I haven’t felt the sting as other indie writers, one of the things I learned early on is that people are more likely to be critical of books that are self-published. Unfortunately some readers and reviewers view self-published books to be inferior, amateurish, or unprofessional. While there are self-published books out there that fit that criteria, I feel that indie writers have to try even harder to prove our books are as good if not better than traditionally published books. That’s why having a polished manuscript and a professional looking book cover are very important to set yourself apart from the competition.
- Reviews are very important to us. I honestly can’t stress how important reviews are for a new writer especially an indie writer. Do our readers like our book? Did they get our vision? We’ll never know that unless someone tells us. Having feedback on our work is what motivates writers to keep writing. Having reviews can also be beneficial for undecided readers so they can make an informed decision. Granted no one likes bad reviews so having a bad one could dampen your spirits. At the same time if you have all glowing reviews you better hope they’re valid. If readers detect that they are biased or paid reviews, it can take away from your credibility.
So if you can sum up these ten points in one sentence it would be: Self-publishing is not easy. In fact it’s not the most profitable route to take to make fast money. Many times you’ll actually spend more money trying to get it published/marketed than your actual profit when you factor in royalty rates. However if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to put out a solid book and have a solid plan to market your book to your target audience you have a chance of getting your book out there to the fans that will actually appreciate your book while gaining sales in the process. With self-publishing you really have to be willing to put in the work to see results. It’s a learning process that will push you in ways you never thought possible. Even if you take nothing else from the experience, you’ll be a better writer than you were yesterday.
The things I’ve learned about self-publishing doesn’t end with this list. I’ve learned so many things about the process from illustrations to copyright protection which is important for any writer to have.