It’s been an entire year since my first novel, Still Waters was released into the big, wide world. What a learning experience! Back then, I didn’t know anything about this book selling business. I had only signed up to Instagram and Twitter a few weeks before, and I was basically scared out of my mind.
Fast forward a year, and I’m beginning to come to grips with what self-publishing really involves. I’m not just talking about writing, oh no, I’m talking about all of the other stuff. If you’re a new writer, or you’re contemplating self-publishing, or even if you’re just curious about what it’s all about, then this post is for you. Now, there are plenty of articles about self-publishing online, and they will no doubt be more informative than this one. This is just my experience as someone who started knowing literally nothing at all and who now kind-of knows a few things.
Ok. So you’ve written a book. Now what? You have a couple of options. You can go the traditional route, which means trying to find an agent to take on your book, or you can submit your manuscript to publishers who offer “pitch days” for unpublished authors… or you can self-publish. First off, when I say book, I mean an edited, proofread manuscript, that is the appropriate length for the genre and has been read by at least three other people who do not love you and are willing to be honest. A first draft should never be submitted anywhere, including to any self-publishing websites. The traditional route can take months and it’s very, very tough to be picked up by a publisher. Like lottery tough. So, like many writers (including myself), you might decide to have a go at doing it all yourself.
A lot of people freak out when they think of all of the things that need to happen to make a book ready for publication. There’s editing, proofreading, formatting for both ebooks and paperbacks, cover design, marketing, website.. you get the idea. You can pay people to do all of this for you easily enough. But if you want to do it yourself, you absolutely can.
This is how I did it:
Still Waters and The ‘Ohana Tree were read by a small group of beta readers who then offered me their feedback. I like to do this once I’ve polished up my first draft and have made any changes I think need to be made. Once the manuscript is as good as I think I can make it, I run it through Grammarly. This is an add-on to Word (and a website) that scans your writing for errors – not just spelling and grammar, but tense, passive voice, things like that.
Once that’s all done, I send it out to a couple of people who are proof reading for me. I have been extremely lucky to have a couple of friends with eagle eyes who are willing to proof read. The ‘Ohana Tree also went out to a Hawaiian reader (who happened to be an English teacher – bonus!) and he checked the cultural elements of the novel, as well as proof reading it. I didn’t actually ask him to proofread.. he just did it because his teacher’s brain couldn’t help it. Awesome for me. I found my Hawaiian reader through a Hawaiian community page online – I basically posted an ad in a forum and he emailed me.
The covers have all been designed at home using Photoshop and Shutterstock for images. There are free photo websites out there, too, and I have used Unsplash a couple of times (the cover for Still Waters is a modified free photo). I purchase fonts from dafont.com (because there is nothing worse than a recognisably generic font for your title – Comic Sans, anyone?). The dimensions for ebooks and paperbacks are all available online.
Formatting is a complete pig, I’m not going to lie. I’ve done it twice and I hated it both times.. and I used to format documents for a job! Guidelines are again available on the relevant websites (Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, etc.) but it’s time consuming and can be soul destroying. For my next book, I am seriously considering paying someone to do it for me.
Ok.. so now you have your book ready. You’ve created accounts on Kindle Direct and the others if you want to (more on that later..) what else do you have to do?
A lot, as it turns out. You will need a social media presence, ideally months before release day. You need a fan base to sell your book to. So that means Facebook page, IG account, Twitter, a well designed website. You will also need a Goodreads author account. I’m rubbish at networking, but I make myself read and post in author FB groups, GR groups and generally try to participate where I can. You have to do this, because no one likes a person who only turns up to promote their book. You’ve got to build relationships with other writers and especially with the reading community.
Now.. let’s fast forward and pretend you have your book for sale online. You’re running promotions through book blogs, Facebook, Goodreads, and if you’re selling exclusively with Amazon’s Kindle Direct, then you can also do countdown deals and free book offers (these are only available if you are only selling through Amazon. I don’t love that I’m not selling on ibooks and Smashwords at the moment – but the benefits of the KDP select or exclusive program outweigh the negatives).
Now that everything is ticking along, you might even like to write another book. And you should. But here’s the all of the other stuff part of the post. These are the things I had no idea would become a part of my life when I hit that publish button one year ago.
Blasty is a website that will scan Google for illegal, downloadable copies of your book. You can then ‘blast’ them, essentially removing them from the web. Yesterday I was alerted to the fact that I had 403 blasts to look at. 4-0- freaking-3. I have to go through each one, make sure they are actually offering my book for free, then submit a blast. And that was only for Still Waters. I’m currently under 200, but I have at least an hour of that to fit in this week.
You will need to make promo photos with text overlays, FB cover photos, take and edit IG photos. This is a daily job. Social media waits for no one.
Interesting, on topic news and links
Facebook, Twitter.. they all need to be fed. Coming up with things to post takes time, as does replying to comments and keeping up that networking / participation I mentioned earlier.
Offering and sending freebies
Reviews are the single most important factor for someone who wants to self-publish. And they can be the hardest to get. We all dream of a well known book blogger raving about our book to the world and then suddenly we’re selling thousands of copies overnight (a la Colleen Hoover), but the reality is that most readers what to read books by authors they know. They don’t want to spend money on a book they might not enjoy. The answer to this is to offer free copies to book bloggers, bookstagrammers (that’s a thing), and readers who are likely to promote your work. You can do this by buying a book blog tour on various marketing websites, by buying a social media promo package, by paying for Netgalley, or by finding these people and emailing them, introducing yourself and offering a free book. Bookstagrammers will want a paperback because it photographs better so you will have to factor in getting your book sent to your reviewers, as well as paying for a copy of the book to be printed. I have a spreadsheet with a list of people I’ve emailed. It’s a long, long, list. You might get a reply every 50 emails you send. You might pay almost $200 for a term on Netgalley and receive zero reviews back for the free books you gave to readers who requested them (did that sound bitter?). You might also send paperbacks across the globe and the person who wanted it never gets around to reading it, let alone reviewing or photographing it. This is all normal and should be expected.. but it can be hard to stomach.
Websites and blogs
Lastly, there is this – your blog or your website. This is where people go if they Google you. Make sure the information is easy to find and your book links are front and centre. Don’t be afraid to reveal a little about yourself. I completed a 30 Days of Confessions challenge a while ago and it was fun, and it gained me some new readers. Your blog is somewhere where you can let your guard down a bit, and even have a rant if you want to (just keep it polite – this is the storefront of your business, after all).
With all that being said, the most important thing is that you find time to write. You must make that the priority, otherwise – what is the point? So now it’s time for me to follow my own advice. I’m about 8K shy of a completed first draft so that’s all from me. The manuscript I have called “New Thing” for months because I cannot for the life of me think of a title is waiting to be (one day soon please God) finished.