At this point I’ve cranked two books through a full self-publishing process and have a third on the way with a traditional publisher. I’ve learned a few things and can justify a few opinions about the self-publishing process. Here’s the detail.
My current self-publishing status
Since publishing with a traditional publisher takes a VERY long time, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. Previous options (like Lulu and others) are bad for me, since they require a higher up-front cost. However, Amazon’s self-publishing program – Createspace – is really good, because 1) it’s cheap – if you do your own cover art, it can be as low as $30-$50 to get a published book in hand, 2) there’s no minimum buy, and 3) what you create will be sold for you on Amazon.com with a 70% royalty. As a special bonus, 4) the Createspace service also ties in with Amazon’s KDP program, which is Amazon’s ebook publisher.
The downside? Amazon gives you no active marketing. In order to sell, you must have a good product, or a good fan base, or you’re willing to work years to build up multiple books and fans over time, or ideally all of the above.
To give you an idea of my level in the industry as beginning author, here’s what I’ve done to date:
Superliminal: Dev Manny #1
(YA / adult book, self-published. Available now at Amazon in paper and ebook formats)
Waking the Dreamer: Transhuman #1
(YA / kids book, self-published. Available now at Amazon in paper and ebook formats)
Ghost in the Water: League of Scientists #1
(YA book, completed, to be published traditionally by a small publisher in early 2012)
The self-publishing services I’ve used so far
Amazon Createspace – Paper book self-publishing
Amazon KDP – Ebook self-publishing
I also have a few websites to support my efforts, as well as being an Amazon Associate: I get the usual author’s royalty if someone purchases my books, but if the sale comes from any of my sites, I get an Amazon bonus as well (usually about 4% of the total sales price).
Cover art and the cover design
I’ve written before about what I did to get great cover art, but I also wanted to give a heads-up to authors looking for cover artists, or those who want to do the work themselves:
You might have a great cover concept. You might have a great artist. But does your artist know enough about graphic design to make book-specific cover artwork?
Even though you might be handed a great piece of cover art, what about the other elements? The book titling and fonts and placement and overall graphic design can’t look rudimentary. If you can look at the cover and tell it’s self-published, that’s a bad thing.
On publisher rejections and the publishing industry
The continuous cycle of rejections is disheartening. I’ve had dozens of rejections (or flat out no-communications) from publishers and agents. Authors who have been at this longer than me (and are more skilled than me) often claim hundreds of rejections.
The traditional publishing system is ideally a meritocracy, but many parts of it are broken.
You need to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish and push towards that goal. If you really must be traditionally published, then you have to work within the system. This means you must jump through the hoops – do the submission/rejection/resubmission cycle, develop contacts in the industry, get your name in low-paying publications in order to simply get your name out and work towards the higher-paying jobs.
If you don’t care about traditional publishing, though, the self-publishing route can be very rewarding. A note of concern, though:
Publishing a book is a great feeling, but the act of self-publishing should still focus on quality. It’s easy to publish something now because you can do so in a single day. There’s a temptation to crank out your book without giving it proper editing and revising. Don’t. Make sure other editorial-minded people can read your work and give a thumbs-up before you publish it.
With self-publishing, the lack of an editor doesn’t mean you don’t need one! The obligation to get your book’s quality as high as possible isn’t in the hands of an editor. It’s now yours. It’s a mixed blessing – you get more control, but it’s more work. You may have to pay for services a traditional publisher would provide for free.
How to best market your self-published work? How to get the word out?
While I have a fan base, I’ve grown it from my other projects over the years (mostly from my technology column and Digital Bits Skeptic). I’m hoping some of those readers will have crossover interest in my books. Crossover promotion is powerful. Do you have other interests that could feed a fan base?
I have very little money, and am not able right now to dump cash into paid marketing ideas. Book trailers, for example, are the current hot thing. I have yet to be convinced they pay for themselves, though you can self-produce simple, cheap, slick-looking videos with services like Animoto.
You must have a web presence. Specifically, a Facebook fan page for you or the book, or a blog-like website for you or the book. Some people say you have to do ALL forms of popular social media, but being realistic and as someone with a busy schedule, I’m personally just targeting the most popular ones of the moment (Facebook, a blog/website, and Twitter). I also try to feed all fan traffic to my author site as a main collection point.
As you make posts everywhere online in your usual forums, try to have your website be part of your signature. Get the word out to humans and search engines.
Self-publishing services and resources
Tag your book with topic tags. Use every available one (there’s a limit of 15 on Amazon). This increases the chance of your book matching other books in Amazon’s system (“If you liked this book, then you may also like this book…”). If you’re comfortable bothering others, get them to tag your book, too, increasing the relevancy to Amazon’s matching system.
Get people to review your book. One site for this is Goodreads. Here’s the link to my book “Superliminal” on Goodreads. In short, you offer free books and people get them via a lottery system. Then you hope they review them. I sent Goodreads five books, and of those five readers, three people reviewed the book. I’m lukewarm on this – I don’t think it got me any sales, and don’t know yet if there is a long-term benefit. I probably won’t do this again, but your experience may be different and I want to offer it as an option.
DRM and piracy protection
When publishing ebooks, you’ll have options for activating DRM (an anti-piracy, copy protection measure). I recommend you NOT do this. I don’t restrict my books in any way. Don’t restrict anyone from reading your work. To quote Cory Doctorow, “Your enemy isn’t piracy. Your enemy is obscurity.” Focus on your book’s exposure, not on keeping it from potential readers.
What company should I self-publish with?
You’ll notice I keep mentioning Amazon. There’s a good reason.
At this point, there are three major players and distributors in the self-publishing and ebook world: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple. (Lesser players include Smashwords, Komo and Google eBookstore.) Amazon is far and away the market leader. I work with them because I want the widest availability and exposure (it doesn’t hurt that right now they also have the best royalty setup and the easiest systems to use.)
How much money will I make self-publishing?
Don’t self-publish thinking you’re going to be rich. There are of course exceptions, but if you think you’re one of them, you’ll end up disappointed.
There is money to be made, but it’s not about any single book. A body of work – books and books – has a much better chance of doing so. It provides exponentially more exposure for your work, as well as an income multiplier when a reader likes your books. And each book will be better quality than the last. I’m not great, but my readers and I have noticed a quality improvement after each book I write.
If you want to be a published author, then go ahead and self-publish your book, and boom, you’re done. You are indeed a published author. But if you want to make noticeable money writing, then you can NOT depend on one book. You have to keep writing more.
The above is not meant to be comprehensive or absolute. But for what I’m creating, it makes sense to me.