Advice on self-publishing

PUBLISHER_WEEKLY_HEADERHere’s another article on self-publishing from the heavy hitters at Publishers Weekly.

It can be a jungle out there for self-publishers. Just try Googling “publishing an e-book,” and you get a staggering 54,400,000 results. If you search “self-publishing an e-book” you come up with 2,510,000 results and if you ask for “self-publishing advice” you will be directed to a sweet 3,070,000 offerings.

We decided to simplify matters by going to some of the leaders in the self-publishing world and asking them one simple question: If you could give someone starting out in self-publishing only one piece of advice, what would it be? As it turns out, the key is to know what you want, and to be patient.

Jane Friedman, professor, speaker, blogger, and publisher of Scratch magazine had this to say:

“The most important advice I can offer is don’t rush. Many first-time authors make a lot of mistakes along the way — some of which are inevitable — but I find that some authors don’t even have a clear idea of what their goals are. I tell authors: Before you do it, take time to understand why you’re doing it, to research your opinions, and to hire experts if needed to help you achieve your goals. Take enough time to produce a product that’s worth your reader’s time and money.”

When we asked writer, blogger, and consultant Joel Friedlander what advice he has to offer, he said:

“Know your goals. Be absolutely clear about what those goals are and how you plan to achieve them. Self-publishers need to understand why they are writing this book, who it is for, how they will reach those people, who they will have to hire to help, what their budget is, and what they want to get out of all this. So many times I’ve seen authors spend thousand of dollars unnecessarily and run into dead-end after dead-end because they simply didn’t have a clear set of goals in mind when they started out.”

Hugh Howey, celebrated author of the Wool and Silo series and self-publishing expert, offered this advice:

“My one piece of advice would be patience, both in publishing and in expectations of sales. Make sure your work is as amazing as you can make it before putting it out there, and once you do publish, don’t worry about how the work sells out of the gate. Books are now available forever. Start writing that next book. Don’t be in a hurry.”

For Ron Martinez, founder of the direct retail and social media marketing service Aerbook, the author/reader relationship should take center stage. He said:

“Remember that the most important relationship in the book business is the one between author and reader. Make your books as widely available as possible in our increasingly networked world. There has never been a better time for books to find their readers.”

Carla King, blogger, writer, adventurer, and self-publishing guru, had this advice for people new to self-publishing:

“Premature distribution is one of the most embarrassing mistakes made by self-published authors. Avoid it by starting small, publishing beta versions of your book, and growing your author platform as you perfect it. You don’t want to publish and then discover copy-editing errors, realize you should have invested in a better cover design, or wish you’d spent more time on marketing copy, metadata, and back of book information. So upload your book in places that allow you to publish, sell, remove, revise, and republish in just minutes.”

Cindy Ratzlaff, social media strategist and brand evangelist, said: “My first piece of advice would be to write every day. But my second piece of advice would be to hire an editor. Even the best writer needs the trained eye of a professional editor.”

And finally, author-marketing expert Penny Sansevieri put it this way:

“Self-publishing should be treated as a business. You would never open up a brick and mortar store without doing some competitive research and having a business plan and a marketing plan in place. Yet it amazes me how many times authors launch a book with no idea of the market or how they plan to get it out there.”

So there you have it. According to these experts, self-publishers need to be patient; know their goals; make their books the best they can be; network to find readers; avoid premature distribution; write everyday and hire an editor; and research your competition. Sage advice, indeed, and it sure beats sifting through the 3,070,000 suggestions offered by Google.

Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder and CEO of BookWorks.

*****

Personally, I think there’s nothing worse than premature distribution, but some interesting advice there from more people who’ve been there and done that. 

Self-publishing – 5 questions to start

Joe’s Post #104 – So, as Silk posted, there is more than one way to skin that ‘get-published’ cat. Things that used to be true, hey, just aren’t anymore.

Being me, I wanted to talk to an expert. I’ve talked to a lot of people who’ve gone the traditional publishing route – Write, get agent, get published.

Now, it’s time to see what’s possible in this new fangled world of ours.

Here is what Karen Abrahamson had to say. A self-published author and a great writer.Afterburn Cover 6x9 cover  for interior

Joe – What brought you to non-traditional publishing?

I climbed on board this horse fairly close to the start. I was at an Oregon Coast Writer’s workshop and the instructors got talking about it as an option for publishing stories/novels that had either sold previously, or for novels/stories that have never sold.

At the time I was in one of those horrible places in my writing career. I felt stuck and knowing that an editor was going to look at one of my novel manuscripts just about had me immobilized in terms of writing. At the time I knew I was in trouble because my production had decreased from four novels a year to about one and I wasn’t feeling particularly good about those single novels.

Learning that there was an alternative to New York editors and agents, or a place to go if the New York thing wasn’t working was like a lifeline.

So I grabbed it.

I started with Smashwords and Amazon and a single story and started to see sales. From there I put my backlist of short stories up and then novels. It hasn’t been particularly lucrative–I haven’t made my first million yet, but every month sales trickle in and that’s more than those stories would have gotten sitting in my drawer.

It has also been wonderful to actually have readers around the world and to occasionally get fan mail!

What advice would you give to someone looking into it?

krisdeanI would say first of all go check out some of the good blogs on indie publishing, such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s, Dean Wesley Smiths, John Scalzi and so on.

Hugh Howey is another one. Some are people with longevity in the publishing world, while others are newcomers with recent success.

I would also be really realistic with my expectations. The indie world still has great opportunities, but it isn’t the gold rush it was a few years ago. Still, new writers are selling all the time.

I would also caution against getting caught in the ninety nine cent ghetto. When indie publishing was young you could give a story away or sell it for ninety nine cents as a loss leader to get known and to get people to read your books.

Nowadays it doesn’t work the same, so you need to be prepared to continually upgrade your knowledge either through following the blogs or workshops or listserves.

Hand in hand with not going to the ninety-nine cent ghetto, is knowing how to price your work appropriately. It’s easy to undervalue yourself, so look around for guidance on this and watch what other are doing, but don’t give your work away.

(Joe note: Ok, seriously, you have to look at everyone she mentioned. They’re amazing!)

What pitfalls are there?

Well, there is the WORK.

First there is the website – as an Author you should have one, but this is even more important when going indie. So you need to get one established and populated and then keep it updated.

Then you should also establish a publisher – yes, you become a publishing house so that your books come out under a publisher’s name. And of course  publisher needs its own website, too.

A bigger time sink is the publishing itself, there are a couple of ways you can go about Indie Publishing.

One way is to write the book and send it to someone who can prepare it for publishing for you. Reputable companies like Lucky Bat Books will do this without the writer having to sign over any royalties like you would with an agent or traditional publishing house.

I also urge caution about just sending it to a friend who says they know how to format. A friend of mine paid another friend to format their electronic files and they formatted incorrectly resulting in numerous problems trying to upload the novels to Amazon, Smashwords etc. But a reputable company will hire an editor, a copyeditor, a book designer, a cover artist etc. to get your book publication-ready or you can pick and choose what you services you want to purchase. But it costs.

The alternative is to do the work yourself which has the other problem– it takes time and work to learn the programs. For example, to get manuscripts ready for electronic publication, you can generally do it in Word. There are a variety of formatting niceties that need to be adhered to, but they aren’t insurmountable and there are lots of helpful sources of information on line.

But to go into print, I’ve had to learn InDesign, a publishing software that took a lot more time. I also do my own covers, and that took more time and Photoshop which I, thankfully, knew due to my interest in photography. But it takes a fairly substantial amount of time and it helps to have friends also going the same route who you can call for help. There are good courses to learn these skills and I would highly recommend Lynda.com as a place to learn the various software programs.

And of course software changes. I’ve recently started using Jutoh and it is a wonderful program to create Mobi files (for Amazon) and e-pubs (for everything else). So you have a choice here: a money sink or a time sink. And don’t even get me started on the sinkhole of time spent on social media. Unless you are a person who loves the stuff, don’t go there.

What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started?

I’m not really sure here.

Perhaps how to design a better cover? Some of my early ones were pretty poor, but I’m not too displeased now. The trouble is that cover styles change so that you have to keep upgrading.

Oh, and how to write decent cover copy.

karenIt really is being able to change hats from writer, to marketer, to editor, to publisher. It takes a lot of time (at the start, less so as you get experience) and you need to decide where to spend limited time, but the publishing should never take over your writing time. Writing must be number one. As a result I’ve had to keep rebalancing my focus from creation to publication. I also think it would have helped me if right from the start I’d started to think in terms of creating a publishing schedule to help me hold myself accountable.

What’s the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Cruising airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow is roughly 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour. Of course if you want the air speed for an African Sparrow I’ll have to do the calculations again….God bless Monty Python.  

Karen’s Website is www.karenlabrahamson.com

Thanks for sharing!

Next week, more info from people who’ve been there and done that.