Within the last sixteen or so years, self publishing has been ushering stories into the world. But many are misled by the concept of self publishing: it’s not easy, and it’s not fast. I hope some of these tips for self publishing help you understand what you may be doing right, or could be doing better.
It’s a business.
If you are looking to make an actual career through writing, then you have to invest in it. This is a business, whether you like that mentality or not. I know, I know. “Business” makes it sound like a lot of work, but guess what, it is. It’s a job. It’s a day-to-day, 14+ hours a day job, but if you have a passion for writing, you’ll enjoy it.
The trick here is knowing where to invest. Investing does not mean signing up for a vanity press that will have you throwing thousands of dollars to their company, claiming they’ll do all the grunt work for you. They will not give you proper edits or a proper cover. They will not give you a fraction of what you need to be successful in a writing career.
If you don’t want to be involved in the production bit of publishing, then find a small press or start submitting to large publishing companies and/or agents. They will not ask you for money. If they do, they are not a real publishing company.
But we’re talking about self publishing here.
Self publishing is not a speedy way to fame or fortune.You have a greater chance of getting struck by lightning than you do getting quickly lifted to the top. It takes time to build your brand, and show your face and covers in enough places to be seen and eventually recognized. You’re starting along like a little jellyfish-writer in a massive swarm of other jelly-fish writers trying to make their way. Some are legitimate writers. Others are scammers. It’s your job to take the proper steps to make yourself and your work stand out among the others. Be the pink jelly-fish in a swarm of blue.
You know the whole “Don’t judge a book by its cover” adage? It’s drivel. Don’t listen to that. At least 10% of my physical sales are made just by the cover. I’ve had people at every con walk up to me, pick up the book, and shove it into my face while saying, “I want this. How much?” Without even reading the blurb or asking what it’s about! Covers matter and an awesome one can make your sale. (Just please, please make sure the inside is as good as the outside, for your own sake. I’m trying to give you some helpful advice on this post to do just that!)
When it comes to covers, you want to do it right.
You don’t want to use stock images just anyone has access to. They generally look clunky or simply pasted onto a background if you don’t have any talent in Photoshop. So,
- If you have no artsy talent yourself, get a cover designer. Someone who can make you something custom is best, but I know this can cost a pretty penny. Luckily, there are amazing artists like those at Killer Book Covers who make magic with stock photos, and are pretty friggin’ affordable. They even have pre-made covers for even cheaper! The thing with their work is that though they use stock images, they manipulate them so much that it is extremely unlikely you would even notice the image on someone else’s cover. So, you basically get a custom cover done with existing images. Working on The Dragon Cager with Venkatesh from Killer Book Covers was an extremely smooth process and I have gone back to him with help on covers since then!
As for fully custom-designed covers, there is nothing quite like finding an artist who works in the style that would best draw in your audience. For example, when it comes to The Chronicles of Jaydür, I had to do some serious thinking for long-term selling here. My stories are inspired by my childhood and teenhood in video games. I wasn’t an addict, as I mostly watched my brothers play more than I actually played myself, but the games put the spirit of story-telling in me. Naturally, my books are often enjoyed by gamers. So I wanted covers that would “speak” to gamers from a distance. When I met Vlad Botos, an artist from Romania who has worked with gaming companies, I knew his work would be a perfect fit, and I haven’t been disappointed. It’s made my self publishing experience look professional.
So keep things like audience and genre in mind when looking to get a cover drawn from scratch.
Typography just as important as the image you choose for your cover. You want the title of the book to stand out and be easy to read. You don’t just want to type up words and slap it on a picture. That sucks, and most readers will think it sucks. You need color and shape to your title. But at the same time, you don’t want so much shape that no one can read what your title actually says. I almost made this mistake before and I got a lot of trouble for it. Luckily, that happened before I published the book.
So how do I do it? I have Vlad Botos do the art on my covers, then Venkatesh from Killer Book Covers does my typography. It’s a wonderful team and I am forever grateful for all their hard work! I just hope I’m as easy a person to work with as I have felt they are!
This. This right here was nearly my downfall.
You never, ever, ever, everevereverevereverevereverever want to publish a book with only your own editing. Or your friend’s editing. Or your teacher’s editing. If you want to have a successful writing career, this is one of the greatest pieces of information you should be taking seriously. Readers will know if your book is unedited. I suppose if you’re writing for kids, they might not notice as much and you might get away with it for a while, but if you ever plan on writing for young adults and adults, they will notice and you will be called out on it. It’s not an easy place to come back from.
Yes, editing can be expensive. Yes, it can be grueling. But it is always worth it. It’s the biggest investment you should be putting into your work, for your own sake, now and in the future.
When seeking out an editor, the important thing to look for is a track record; the editor needs to be able to provide successful reports of previous books they worked on.
Joshua and I have been using a company called Proof Positive for the last year or so. And listen, I have worked with editors from Scholastic and I have worked with editors from a shady small press. There is a massive difference between a professional editor and someone who just has a knack for editing. Proof Positive definitely provides what I call professional edits.
You’re going to find hundreds of companies trying to do your marketing for you. They’ll promise to tweet your stuff, push your stuff out through several different channels, and reach some hundred thousands of eyeballs. Don’t be quick to fall for their show of numbers. Many of them will get you in the “eyes” of bots rather than people, and just leave you wanting for sales just as much as if you weren’t doing anything at all.
Running advertisements is a great way to be seen, but again, this is a business investment. Depending on where you are putting out ads, some will need you to put a lot of money down before you see any sales come from it. Others will be cheaper. In my own experience, I have not seen a whole lot come from Amazon ads, Twitter ads, or Goodreads ads. Facebook ads have been my biggest success for online marketing. To be honest, though, I have not experimented a whole lot with the others, as I have been very wary of where I’m putting my money. As you can see, I’m still learning!
When it comes to reviews, this part is seriously a pain, and one thing you have to work for all the time until you reach a certain level–heads up, I have not gotten the reviews thing mastered. Personally, it’s a never-ending struggle of mine, because though Facebook friends want to review my books, their reviews get removed by Amazon. And a lot of my readers I meet at comic cons rather than online are not the type of people who want to bother with leaving reviews. Josh and I get a lot of, “Yeah, I don’t do that. I’m never on Amazon,” when we do ask them to take a moment and do us the favor. Though it’s a little disheartening, we move along and just keep writing and asking others.
One thing we’ve seen is an author run giveaways or contests via their newsletters to get reviews, which is technically against Amazon rules and can get your account shut down. I personally have never done this. I really don’t see messing things up with Amazon being worth anything at this point, but that’s going to be up to you. It’s easy to see when someone is buying reviews, too, as they are often repetitive, or don’t even make sense when it comes to what the book is actually about. Other times, you get a literal, “I’m leaving this review because of a giveaway” or “This review is so I can win the contest run by [author’s name.]”
Market to readers, not writers!
You’ll have a million writers telling you what you’re doing right and wrong. You’ll ask your writer friends to leave reviews, and they’ll leave a lengthy criticism of your character development and comma usage. Your writer friends will make you feel self-conscious about your work.
But readers want your story. Sure, some are very aware of all the ins and outs of grammar and punctuation, but number one, you should have that worked out before self publishing. And number two, there are millions who can care less about another writer’s opinions on a book they’re considering delving into.
What I’ve learned at cons is that your everyday Joe doesn’t spend his life in the mindset of a writer. He’s just a dude, and he just likes to read. He likely doesn’t know a thing about your journey of self publishing or even how the book in his hands became a book. He doesn’t care. He’s just there for the read.
Comic Cons and Events
If you are able to make your way out to events like comic cons, then go for it, though they typically work better for people with several books rather than just one or two. If you do have just one or two books, but know someone who does comic cons regularly, then you could ask to join them at the table and pay a portion of the fee that author is already paying, at least for the experience and “getting your feet wet.”
The great thing about comic cons is that you really get to connect with readers before they pick up your book. Readers you connect with are the readers most likely to stay with you in the long term and buy all your other books.
- In the beginning, attend local cons to save on gas and hotel stays. These are the biggest costs you’re going to have, besides buying the physical books themselves.
- Look like a pro! Make banners. Have a cool tablecloth with pictures from your books on them. We use a company called Soda City Sign Shop who does all our eye candy for us. Use book display racks and single book holders.
- Play music! One of the best things I’ve been doing at cons to draw in the gamers? I play the Skyrim theme song at our table! There have been so many instances when a group of people would stop by our table and look around like the music is coming from heaven. When they realize it’s from us, they come over and start asking questions about the books. Of course, not every gamer is a reader, too, but most are! So, it’s like fishing with music!
- Don’t just sit. You get a chair at your table, but you don’t want to spend the whole time on your butt. Be interactive. Talk to people. Draw their attention. Wait for eye contact or someone eyeing your rack–of books (see what I did there?)–and ask them, “Hey! What caught your eye?” Or “You a big reader?” Be funny! Not everyone is a reader, but they’ll buy a book if they like you. For example, a person is walking by and glances at the books. Josh says, “Hey, you a big reader?” The person replies, “No. Not really.” So Josh responds, “Hey, need a new paperweight?” They laugh. We laugh. They come over, we talk, and they decide, “Eh, okay. Let me see what you got here. If I don’t like it, maybe my kid will.” And voila. Another sale.
I really could just make a whole blog post entirely on Comic Con tips and etiquette but I’ll leave it at this for now, since this post is already pretty lengthly.
The biggest point I want you all to take away here is this: Work with people who know what they’re doing! Understand that a real publishing company will not charge you a dime, but self publishing is a business and does require some investment. It’s not a game of who can get to the top the fastest, because there is no fast way outside of being found out by some big name. Being a successful writer takes time and commitment. It requires some action on your part to get into the right mindset. If you don’t take the time to do things properly, or with any semblance of expertise, then you’re just going to be another jellyfish in the swarm.
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