Things I've learned from self publishing

3 things I’ve learned from self publishing

I knew nothing about self publishing when I decided to book this blog and publish it as the Love & Other Brave Acts. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Actually, that’s not true. I knew nothing about self publishing (other than: I’m quite IT savvy so how hard could it be?) and a bit about publishing (as in: I’ve been rejected by both major and minor publishers alike, and I read published books). What I did know was that I wanted to publish and more importantly, with the tools that are currently available, could publish. And publish I did. Two books down and four more to go, plus an infinite number of possibilities for Love & Other Brave Acts. And a whole lot of other writing and publishing projects demanding my attention.

The good thing about publishing one book though, is that when you start the second, you know more than you did when you began this crazy adventure and the whole process gets easier. From designing the cover, to collating my content, to editing, to understanding ebook file types, to uploading my book, to marketing, I’m much more efficient and confident. And much less scared.

(Actually, if anyone tells you that self publishing isn’t a scary kind of caper to be involved in, they’re either lying or stupid or both. It’s all kinds of scary. You have your work—you!— right out there with no protection, no safe cover, no camouflage, waiting to be judged by readers. And judged you will be. From people disliking your cover and your structure and your pacing and your font and your editorial choices, to schadenfreude over a missed typo and derision and/or disappointment over not doing a print run—you will be judged! Lucky for me, I’ve been blogging for a while, so my hide is reasonably tough. For those of you hitting the publish button for the first time, well, I feel your pain. And anguish. And vulnerability.)

Part of my journey included incorporating the learnings of other self-publishers who had gone before me, and who generously shared their own experiences via their books and blogs. These included the dreaded tax requirements of the IRS when sorting out Amazon and Smashwords payments for non-U.S. residents, to Kindle’s blurred cover issues, to Amazon’s missing reviews, to setting up my MailChimp opt-in on this blog. So in the interests of adding to this bank of knowledge, here’s my two cents worth.

1. Outsource the bits you don’t know how to do, or don’t have time to do

I write in Scrivener, and love this software because it make the process of writing so easy. However, I found ebook output files weren’t as pretty as they could have been. Rather than fiddling around with it and getting frustrated—I was on a tight timeframe because I wanted to have my first ebook available for preorder on Amazon before I went to India—I outsourced the conversion. It was cheap, quick and easy. I did the same with the second, but in the meantime, I learned to code my own ebooks.

I designed my own cover because I could. As a photographer, and having worked in marketing communications—and I have a Masters degree in this area—I have a good eye for design and I know what works in terms of establishing a brand. Ditto with editing—I did it myself because I know how to (I was an editor in a past life also. And yes, I may have missed something here or there, but every book I’ve ever read, even from the major publishing houses has an error or two. The best analogy I can come up with is this: just because you go fishing does not mean you catch all the fish in the ocean!). I’ll also do my own marketing and promotion—I’m comfortable in this space and have the requisite knowledge to as good a job as any publicist.

The point is: I outsourced what I didn’t know how to do, or didn’t have time to do. And you should to. If you can’t do a professional job on any element of your book, you must—for the sake of your readers—hand your project, or bits of your project, over to a professional who can. The reviews will kill you if you don’t.

2. While a print run is tempting, it shouldn’t be your first option 

Yes, I know a handful of people who would love to buy your book because they are “old-fashioned” and “only read paper”. Yes, it is disappointing that you can’t accommodate these people—yet. In the scheme of things, this handful of people who prefer print numbers about five—ten, if you’re lucky—versus the millions of people on Amazon, Kobo, Apple etc who are happy to read your book on their mobile devices.

Make no mistake—I would love a copy of my book sitting on everyone’s “to read” pile next to their bed. Or see someone on a bus or plane or train or ferry pull my book out of their bag and start reading. Or write a personal dedication to an avid reader in their copy of my book at a book signing. These are all wonderful, aspirational things, but they are grounded more in ego than an effective marketing strategy (see next point).

When I started the Love & Other Stuff series, it wasn’t even a series. It was going to be one ebook with a print run, with say a 95:5 digital to print ratio. To cut a long story short, after taking the KindleIn30 challenge (this is an affiliate link, by the way), I realised this was not the best way to approach self-publishing if I wanted to build a sustainable business over the longer term. I will still do a print run, but it will be a print on demand, and it will only be after I have released all the books in the series. And I will also consider audio and translation into other languages as part of a comprehensive product diversification strategy.

3. You will not become a gazillionaire overnight

Visibility is the number one problem for 90% of authors—how can you make a living writing if no one knows about, let alone buys, your books? Blogging has given me a bit of exposure, but I know from my sales that just because people follow my blog and like what I write doesn’t mean they’ll buy my books. I have a Facebook page, and I know that hardly any of my likers have bought my books. I have over 1800 followers on Twitter, but probably only one or two have bought my books. I’ve had a bit of media interest but it didn’t translate into sales. I’ve had the most sales success with work colleagues who’ve been following my journey, but haven’t had the same success with Facebook friends, all 60(ish) of whom I know personally.

While it’s easy to be disheartened and disappointed, after all the interwebz is abuzz with stories of .99c Kindle authors who become gazillionaires, I also know from my time working in marketing communications that these things take time. And from everything I’ve read about those who do make it, they write and publish LOTS. Lots of good quality books in lots of different genres and formats, leveraging lots of different products in lots of different markets via lots of distribution channels over long periods of time. As an authorpreneur who’s just entered the business, I’m at the “few” or “some” or “not many” end of the spectrum. And, art and creativity and the muse are an integral part, it’s about business. Luckily, I like the business side, but many writer-publishers don’t.

And when someone—who has neither bought any of your books, nor expressed an interest in buying any of your books—asks how many copies you’ve sold, smile enigmatically and use words like “long tail” and “product funnels” and “portfolio diversification” and “brand promise” and “marketing communications strategy” in your response to them.

Last word 

One of my favourite writers is Seth Godin, and I subscribe to his blog for my daily dose of business wisdom, and you should too.

One post in particular has resonated with  me: it’s about rejecting rejection. No one has to wait be chosen any more, because we have the tools to not only make good art but also distribute it. Filmmakers and musicians and photographers and storytellers can use YouTube and Vimeo and SoundCloud and Instagram and Flickr and Wattpad and WordPress and completely bypass the gatekeepers and middlemen and go straight to the market. All you have to do is pick yourself and do hard and beautiful work.

So what are you waiting for? Pick yourself, because as far as I’m concerned, there has never been a better time.


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