Here it is: the list of things I’m doing, book-wise! I’m sharing it partly because I know some of you are curious about all the Very Important Tasks I’ve been muttering about, and partly for anyone else considering self-publishing. But please, note that I mean everything I say in this and future posts about it in a “this is what I’m doing, follow along to see if it works!” sort of way, not a “do this, it’s a good idea” sort of way.
Bold headings are things I’m planning to do individual posts about later. I’ll come back and add links!
Oh, and one last thing: this list sort of starts at the “I have a finished, polished manuscript” stage. See the rest of this blog for the roundabout, tear-soaked route I took to get there.
Okay, let’s do this!
Plenty of self-published authors skip this step, which is either a pragmatic allocation of resources or the beginning of a literary apocalypse, depending on whom you ask. I’ve seen knock-down, drag-out fights about it in indie author communities. (Then again, some of those communities would have a knock-down, drag-out fight over, like, Coke vs Pepsi, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.)
The issue is that editing is expensive, by most people’s standards (as it should be, when you’re paying for hours of someone’s skilled work), and it’s very, very possible for a self-published book to sell only a handful of copies, meaning that you never make the investment back. On the other hand, a professionally-presented book stands a better chance of attracting readers, and getting good reviews that attract other readers. Like a lot of things on this list, it’s a gamble. [Update: here is a post about that.]
Originally, I wasn’t intending to get The Rose and the Mask professionally edited. Given my fiscal situation (which might conservatively be described as “LOLarious”), I just didn’t think it was a sensible use of money. In the end, what changed my mind was looking back at the amount of work I’d put into it. I spent years of my life drafting and re-drafting this book and agonising over the tiniest of details (again, see the rest of this blog). After all that, the idea of readers dismissing it as slapdash because of whatever typos and plot inconsistencies I was inevitably missing was just too horrifying.
As it turned out, hiring an editor was the right choice for me—and an amazing experience. Yes, my editor caught a bunch of mistakes and inconsistencies that I’m glad will never reach paying readers, but I also learned a lot from the experience that I can use to write an even better book next time, right out of the gate.
Choosing Sales Channels
This is where it all starts to become a lot less writery and a lot more businessy. (Those are technical terms, keep up.) You’re choosing where you want your book to be available. The obvious answer is “EVERYWHERE!!!” but there’s a little more nuance to it than that.
With ebooks, the primary sales channels are Amazon (Kindle), Google Play (for Android Devices), Apple iBooks (for iPhones etc) Barnes and Noble (for Nook devices) and Kobo (for Kobo devices). Unless my extensive forum- and blog-lurking has led me astray, most self-published authors make the vast majority of their sales on Amazon.
Amazon have been at the forefront of the self-publishing movement for some time now, basically leaving all the other retailers scrambling to keep up with what they offer. For example, they are (as far as I know) the only retailer that incentivises authors to publish with them exclusively. By enrolling an ebook in their “KDP Select” program, authors agree not to make it available anywhere else (on a 90-day rolling contract) in return for certain privileges. The most notable of these is that the book will be included in Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read them for free – but the author gets paid depending on the number of pages read. It’s also rumoured that Select books get preferential treatment in terms of visibility on the site, but (again, as far as I know) that hasn’t been proven.
Essentially, then, your choice is mostly whether to enrol in Select or to use Amazon plus all the other channels (which indie authors tend to refer to as “going wide”).
If you want to make a physical, paper copy of your book available, there are choices to make there, too. Although, in my opinion, the stakes are less “where will I make more money?” and more “where will I find less stress?” Most self-publishers sell only a very tiny number of paperbacks, even the ones that are doing well in ebook. That’s basically a price thing: self-published books are usually sold on a “print on demand” basis. That means that—instead of a large number of copies being ordered at a bulk discount and stored somewhere until they’re sold—individual copies of your book will be printed to fulfil individual orders. But printing books one at a time is expensive, and that’s reflected in the retail cost of a self-published paperback, which, in turn, is reflected in the sales figures.
Offering a paperback for sale, therefore, is mostly a vanity exercise. It has a couple of practical upsides—for instance, Amazon will show the Kindle price as a “saving” on the paperback price—but those are only maybe worth the investment of time (and money, if you use any professional design or formatting services). But a lot of writers (including me!) want to see and touch a physical copy of their book, so that it feels real. And, if that’s why you’re doing it, you can probably take your businessy hat off for this one.
There are really only two main players for print-on-demand: Amazon (again) with their CreateSpace, and IngramSpark. Honestly, I can’t see much of a difference between them, so you’re in the wrong place for a detailed comparison. Since I plan to enrol The Rose and the Mask in KDP Select, I’m also going to use CreateSpace, thus centring everything on Amazon for the time being.
While I actually think Amazon (primarily) have made self-publishing remarkably straightforward, there is, regrettably, slightly more to it than just uploading your manuscript straight to your Kindle Direct Publishing account. Your book needs special formatting—and it’s different for ebook and paperback versions.
Ebooks—and I’m thinking mostly of Kindle books, because I’m most familiar with them, but I think it’s the same for the other formats—actually don’t want much formatting at all. You can’t choose the fonts, you can’t number the pages (because ebooks don’t have pages) and so on. What you actually want is a complete absence of formatting—save for bold, italics and underlines, if you use them. And that’s actually a lot harder than you’d think, especially if you use Microsoft Word. Word is so clever that it often cycles right around to stupid, and what looks to you like plain, unformatted text is actually all kinds of complicated under the hood, and somehow contrives to look spectacularly crap on a Kindle.
Paperback formatting, however, is at the other end of the spectrum. The print-on-demand printer will print your book exactly as you provide it to them, which means you have to perfect every detail yourself. That means styling the fonts, making sure the words don’t break up across lines in a way you don’t like, that there are no pages with just one word on them, that the page numbers start and finish where they’re supposed to, that the table of contents has all the right page numbers on it, that the margins are the right size and none of the text disappears into the binding… Excuse me while I breathe into this paper bag.
Formatting is another thing that you can (and many authors do) pay a professional to do for you. Having read the above, you might think it’s worth it. Personally, I feel like I should be able to do it myself, so I’m going to—no matter how many inventive new expletives I come up with in the process.
My guess would be that this is the thing self-published authors are most likely to pay a professional to do. I mean, there’s no connection between being able to write a book and being any good at art or graphic design. And, while a lack of editing might get you bad reviews, or lose you sales at the “download a sample” stage, a bad cover will stop readers from even clicking through to learn more about your book.
Again, though, this is something I feel I should be able to do, so—out of a combination of stubbornness and lack of funds—I did it myself. Those of you who’ve been here a while will have seen me make several different ones, each time thinking I’ve finished the job, only to redo it a few months later. Here’s the latest one, hot off the… well, fresh out of Photoshop.
Honestly, I like it and feel good about using it, but I’m sure a professional could have come up with something much better, both visually and in terms of appeal to my target readers. This is definitely a case of “do as I say, not as I do”… if you’ve got the cash.
Most obviously, you need a blurb—but this also includes any other writing you might use to sell your book. So, an author bio, your Amazon description, any additional writing for your website, stuff like that.
I’ve said that a lot of things are “the worst”, but writing a blurb is the woooooorrrrrrsssssst. I honestly thought that knocking out a few paragraphs about a book I know inside out would be easy, but it was horrible. You have so little time to catch someone’s attention, so you have to keep it brief, which is where knowing what you’re writing about very intimately is actually extremely unhelpful. And striking a balance between teasing people with your best plot points and giving away the entire story is very tricky, too.
You can see what I came up with over on the book’s website, if you can’t read it on the back cover above. My best tip would be to make a list of the key things you think are appealing about your book (in my case, that it’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling, that the heroine is a thief, that her brother is Giacomo Casanova, that the setting is 18th century Venice and that the hero and heroine are trapped together by a curse) and then concentrate your efforts very firmly on conveying that as succinctly and intriguingly as you can. But honestly, I did that and it was still a giant headache, so what do I know?
Nobody knows the secret to selling a large number of self-published books. People are doing it, but no one really knows how—or, if they do, they’re wisely keeping quiet about it because, once everyone knows and is doing it, it won’t work anymore.
However, there are plenty of things that might work. Here are some of the ideas I want to try:
A blog tour. Well, sort of. A blog tour is where, over a set period of time, your book is featured on a bunch of different blogs. Those blog posts could be a “cover reveal”, an excerpt from the book, an author interview or a review of your book by the blog owner. You can pay companies to organise one of these for you, and they’ll guarantee a certain number of posts from their “network”. I’m trying to organise my own by choosing and emailing bloggers directly. [Update: this did not go that well.]
A Goodreads giveaway. Goodreads offer two kinds of giveaway: ebook (which you have to pay a not-inconsiderable fee to do) and paperback (which are free apart from the cost of sending out the books). I’m not hugely interested in paying to give my work away for free but the paperback ones seem to attract a decent amount of attention so I’m excited to give one of those a try. [Update: I did!]
Paid advertising. Again, my budget can sort of be described with a sad trombone noise, so I’ll have to be very careful about this. But I like the idea of advertising on one or two popular romance blogs. Amazon have also just introduced pay-per-click ads, which I guess is kind of like the big publishers paying chain stores to include their books in promotions.
So, there you have it: an overview of what I’ve been up to for the last few weeks and will continue to be up to, into and generally all over until the release. Like I said above, I’m planning to expand on all of this in more posts, as well as update you on how all of this works out. It’s a learning experience, let’s put it that way!