I've had several writers tell me they have no idea where to start when it comes to self-publishing their own work. And I understand the sentiment, because I was the same way not too long ago. I'll let you in on a secret. Deciding to self-publish is one of the hardest hurdles. Once you decide to go through with it, your tension will immediately ease. A friend mentioned this as well the other day on one of the loops I am part of. I don't know if it's because you gain confidence by having a direction or what, but you will soon be overcome by a drive to get your work out there. Immediately. Yesterday. But that enthusiasm needs to be tempered. You have several things to do. Now mind you, this is for beginning writers and this is only a list of suggestions.
1) Decide on WHO you are
Are you going to write under a pseudonym? Or do you want the fame (and potential privacy issues) attached to your actual name? You need to seriously consider these issues. Whatever name you use will be seen, possibly, millions upon millions of times, over the life of your career. Yes, you can change your pseudonym, but your digital footprint will already be out there. Good or bad. I know of several authors that can not go to the local grocery store because rabid fans try to follow them home. If, by chance, you make it big, how would you deal with this?
Many writers take several names according to the genres they write. I, personally, have two, although I know others that have taken several. Just remember that however many names you write under is that much more promotion you have to do to build that name and its following.
Part of deciding what name to use is availability. You need to purchase your domain name at some point, and with the way things are exploding in the writing community, I would say sooner is better. There are several websites, such as Godaddy.com, where you can check to see if the name you want is taken. Blogger also has a service. The domain names usually only cost $10-12, but they're good for a year. If you're undecided, buy a couple of variations.
2) Build Your Platform
Though this sounds a little ass-backward, you need to something you build your writing credibility upon before you put out a book. It may be a blog you update once a month, a website space you've staked out as your own, or a review site where you talk about other people's books. Most people start out with blogs, either at Wordpress or Blogger, to talk about their writing journey. Readers sympathize with struggle and everyday life, so even though you may not think so, your journey may be interesting to other aspiring writers. I talked about my animals a lot when I started blogging, and I still make updates on things that happen, but I've gradually focused more on writing and my books.
A blog also gives you an outlet to write. It makes you sit down and organize your thoughts, and will ultimately make your fiction writing better.
3) Hone Your Product
Your book. Your pride and joy. Your mother loves it, your sister loves it, your neighbor's second-cousin's wife loves it. That's fine. But if you are going to approach being an independent author as a professional, you need to take the steps to present a professional product. That means going through the process of writing a good book, then making it better by learning more craft and rewriting it. And possibly re-re-writing it. Some authors work years on one masterpiece, then are too terrified to let it into the world. If you are confident in your skills as a writer, it will be easier to release the book. There are many craft workshops listed everyday, surely something will appeal to you. You know what your weaknesses are, so take the steps to make them better.
4) Have a Professional Support Team
Editing-- I don't mean your family or neighbors or post-man. I can't stress this enough. You may think you are a good writer, but until you go through the editing process and see how many things you missed, you've got your head in the sand. Everybody makes mistakes. You can read your manuscript 500 times and still miss letters or commas and sometimes complete words. Our minds fill in the gaps of what we read, so that the manuscript looks right.
With the rise in authors self-pubbing, so too are those stepping forward to edit. Take advantage of them. Most editors don't charge very much, sometimes as little as a dollar a page, especially if they are starting their own business, and the investment is worth its weight in gold.
Consider the revisions you receive back with an open mind. Ultimately, you are the one who decides what goes out in front of the public. If you rush to get the product out, and don't take the time and attention that your book needs, you will have reader back-lash. Honestly, there's a lot of crap on the internet right now that has not been edited, or correctly formatted, or properly covered, and readers are tired of wasting their money on it. Visit any reader forum and you will get an earful about trash littering Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Unfortunately, ANYBODY can publish a book. It's up to you as an author to put something out that you can be proud of and can stand behind. And will bring the reader back for your NEXT book.
The Cover-- The cover sells the book. Period. Spend the money to hire a professional cover artist that will take as much pride in your work as you do. If you are a newbie author, you will not have as much insight to a buyer's mind as an artist who creates covers everyday. If you are a graphic designer and do this for a living, fine, try your own cover. But make it look professional. I am building lists or service people right now. I have a huge list of cover artists here.
Formatting-- If you are not at least computer literate, you may want to hire somebody to do the formatting to the distribution channels for you. It can be very confusing. Every channel, Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, takes a different format of your manuscript. I thought I was fairly savvy on the computer, but I had issues I couldn't work out. My buddy Donna McDonald saved my butt and helped me format my first self-pubbed book. She's indie pubbed 10 now, or thereabouts. Will I try it again? Yes, probably, because I hate failing to be able to do something. But if you know you can't do it, hire a formatter. Again, they only charge about $50 bucks and up.
5) Decide Where to Upload
You need to decide where you want to sell your book. If you want to sell everywhere, your best bet is to go through Smashwords. Download their style guide and follow the steps. Once you've had your manuscript formatted, you upload a version to smashwords and their 'meatgrinder' churns out all the different format variations for Kobo, Sony, Apple, Diesel and Barnes and Noble if you want it to. Amazon you have to load to directly, and Barnes and Noble gives you that option as well through Pubit. For the most part, I hear that the meatgrinder does ok, although it does seem to take several weeks to distribute to the other channels. All Romance Ebooks is another valuable seller for your books. The channels Smashwords distributes to pay out quarterly. Amazon and Barnes and Noble( I think) pay out monthly.
For my first book, I chose to go with the Amazon Select Program. It targets their Prime members and gives you the option to run 5 free promotional days. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it actually boosts your ranking incredibly, leading to more sales after the promotion is over. You are required to stay with the program for 90 days, but after that you can upload to Smashwords and distribute everywhere. My 90 days will be up in the middle of May, and I plan to distribute then.
Unfortunately, there are advantages and drawbacks to either way you choose. But, the advantages and disadvantages seem to be different for every author.
6) Write your next book
You thought I was going to say promo, huh? Well, not exactly. The general consensus with indie authors is that the best way to make an impact in the market (more money) is to have multiple books for sale, particularly series. Yes, go ahead and announce on all your loops and social media that your book is available, but don't spend hour upon hour on promo, to the exclusion of writing. Having product available is the most important thing.
Imagine this: Jane the Housewife goes to Amazon and downloads your book, reads it and thinks it's the best thing since microwaveable veggies in steamer bags. She LOVED it. She tells all of her friends, the ladies at the playdate, her hairdresser, her dentist, everybody she knows. Then she goes back to Amazon hoping to find something else that you've written, and is so incredibly disappointed when she can't find anything else. Will she remember you in 6 mos or a year when you release a new book? You hope so.
Promotion deserves pages of info, but I'm going to keep it relatively short. Become proficient at social media is the biggest thing I can tell you. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Youtube, and more other options than I can list. Get all of your author pages, personas set up, and learn to streamline. I use Tweetdeck to keep Facebook and Twitter together, so that I'm not bouncing everywhere all day. It's all on one page, as well as several streams of tweets that I keep track of.
You will find that you will have a preference where you hang out. A chaptermate, Kallypso Masters, has developed a rabid following on Facebook. She takes the time to respond and interact as much as she can, and it has been a boon to selling her books. She actually spends very little time anywhere else. Facebook is her niche. And it works for her.
Personally, I am published at 3 e-publishers, as well as self-pubbed. I will probably continue to submit to e-pubs simply because it broadens my reader base. As my e-pubs grow, my backlist titles are discovered and more people connect with me on FB and my website.
8) Develop your own Path
Other authors can tell you what has worked or not worked for them, but everybody's experience is different. We're all different people, different authors. We write about different things. So it's only logical that all of our career paths will vary. Find what suits you. Ask questions. I can honestly say that the indie authors I have met are so much more forthcoming than traditionally pubbed authors.
The advantage that we have as indie authors is we drive our own careers and can change what we are doing at any time.
I hope you find this information useful. It's certainly not all-inclusive, but it should answer some questions. Over the coming weeks, I'll try to develop posts for each of the 8 suggestions. If you have questions, please list them in the comment section.
Authors, post your suggestions as well. Was there any 1 thing you really wish you had known before you started on your indie journey?
Post by author JM Madden