So you're done with your manuscript and perhaps even tried to get an agent or publisher to read your work to no avail. And now you've decided to self-publish and are wondering what pitfalls await you and perhaps how you might do this without having to pawn your engagement ring or your Mickey Mantle rookie card.
This roadmap will help guide you through the minefield based on my hard-learned lessons in self-publishing The Last Jump. It is by no means a comprehensive "cook book" for self-publishing and its certainly not a "Self-Publishing for Dummies" style article. It simply points out where I stepped on a land mine and what I will or will not be doing the second time around. I'll provide some references at the end of the article should you choose to delve into the life of an indie author and the art of self-publishing more deeply.
Let's get started.
BIGGER IS NOT BETTER
Mistake number one for me was assuming a bigger book would provide a greater value for my readers. The fact that it would be more expensive to produce (and thus carry a more expensive cover price) eluded me. I was compelled to reduce my manuscript by 20% to get the book into a reasonable price range. As you know (or will find out), taking words OUT of your manuscript is the hardest thing you will ever have to do as an author. In my case, it was a blessing in disguise as the reduction revisions tightened up the plot and improved the flow of the story. But it took forever. So try to keep it tight and do it right the first time.
PROFESSIONAL OR PERSONAL EDITING
If all you ever wanted out of life was to see your name on the cover of a book, then you can let Aunt Bertha edit your masterpiece. But if you have any expectations of getting good reviews or perhaps getting mentioned in a book contest, you had better take the editing task more seriously. This problem is unique to self-published authors as traditional publishing houses provide editing services for their writers. So the final quality of your book is squarely on you.
Your worst enemy in this effort will be yourself as you become impatient to see your book published and tend to rush through this final but critical stage on getting your book out there. Professional editing can be expensive but the final product will indeed make you proud. And if you look hard enough, you may find people who discount their prices for any number of reasons (to get started in the business, a college student, a fellow member of the Military Writer's Society of America, etc.), which can save you some money when compared to "professional" book editors. And since few or none guarantee their work, it may be worth a shot to take a chance on a hungry unknown.
What did I do, you ask? I had six close relatives read and edit my book. They found hundreds of errors in punctuation, grammar and spelling (spell check does not flag the correct spelling of a wrong word). Then we published. Some friends who read the book flagged another seventy errors. The publisher required a hefty "reblocking" fee to make corrections after publishing. We paid that fee and republished. Then some other "friends" found another forty errors and we paid the fee once again. I think we finally have a credible book on the market although my relatives are no longer considered "editors" nor are they even close anymore.
SELECTING A PUBLISHER
To avoid confusion, let's define how the term publisher is used in this article.
The traditional publisher dominated the field until just a few years ago. They are extremely business oriented and therefore very selective in the manuscripts they choose. They tend to favor established authors. This is because they take all the risk as well as the lion's share of the profits. Only they could afford to print ten thousand copies of a book at the same time to enjoy the economy of scale. However, Print On Demand (POD) technology has altered the landscape. An average size book can now be printed and bound along with its cover in about a minute. Large print runs are no longer necessary to produce a cost-effective book. If you're a client of one of these traditional publishing companies, you're in the wrong article.
Pure self-publishers do everything themselves including editing, formatting the book, cover design, printing, distribution, marketing and retail sales. This requires great skill and an "insider's knowledge" of the industry. This article is also not for you.
The third choice is the subsidy publisher, also known at one time as the vanity publisher. These companies provide all the services of a traditional publisher for a fee. They are capable of doing all of the specialized tasks required to build, print and distribute a book. There are literally dozens of these companies and they all have different business models which translate into different pros and cons for the author. The use of the term publisher in this article refers to the subsidy publisher. So which one should you choose?
Books have been written on this topic and I will offer references at the end of this article for the ones I felt most helpful to me. For now, I'll just point out the most important points to consider.
- You want to retain all the worldwide rights to your work
- The publisher should allow you reasonable options to price your own book
- Cover art for the book cover should be included
- They should be able to provide an eBook version in multiple formats
We'll talk a bit more about marketing later on but you should know your two biggest expenses will be your up-front publishing package fee and your editing services. They all also try to hose you for as much "revenue" for marketing add-ons as they can squeeze out of you.
PRICING YOUR BOOK
If you are solely publishing an e-Book, skip this section. You already have total control over every element of your book from cover to format to pricing. However, if you are also publishing a traditional book, hang in here.
Before your price is printed on the book cover, some publishers will offer a choice of what's called the retail discount. Typically, they will let you choose some percentage between 20% and 40%. This represents the percentage the bookstore can discount the book and still make a profit. Therefore, the higher the discount, the higher the book must be priced. And you will be told bookstores will not handle any book with a retail discount of less than 40%. You will also be told you need to purchase a returns guarantee to cover the cost of unsold books.
Don't do it!
First of all, the publishing world is undergoing a huge metamorphosis driven by POD technology and the emergence of online eBooks. Large publishing houses are losing their clout and bookstores are going out of business left and right. What you need to do is take the lowest retail discount allowed to keep the price of your book as low as possible. You're competing with other books and you want as much price advantage as you can get. Don't be bullied into the larger retail discount just to be in bookstores. Not being in traditional bookstores won't matter. My book, The Last Jump - A Novel of World War II, is available online in hard and softcover versions as well as an e-Book. Seventy-five percent of my sales are for the Amazon Kindle. So, focus on getting (a) the lowest price and on (b) the online buyer. You won't be sorry.
One final thought. You can still get your book in local bookstores with a 20% retail discount. Local bookstores may be interested in stocking your book, having book signings and capitalizing on the notoriety of a local author. You just need to send out email queries and/or make some personal visits or phone calls to aggressively pursue this opportunity on a one-on-one basis. Doing this I was able to place my book in the Army Heritage and Education Center bookstore in Carlisle, PA and the Toccoa Military Museum in Toccoa, GA. Exactly the kind of bookstores I want to be in.
MARKETING YOUR BOOK
Finally! Your book is published and available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Some of you may even have it available on Smashwords.com. If you don't, you should. Smashwords makes your eBook available in multiple formats compatible with Sony iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm and other e-readers. The formatting requirements are stringent but the service is FREE!
But I digress.
When you are done making your title available, it's time to market your book. There is "old" marketing (magazine ads, radio ads, personal appearances, etc.) and "new" marketing (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Some marketing approaches are expensive and some are free or cheap and the benefits do not always accrue to the more expensive (the saying "you get what you pay for" does not apply to marketing a book).
Here are some of my expenditures that yielded little return along with others that I rejected out of hand.
- Banner Ads - in America in World War II magazine and in As A Mom's monthly eZine - MinuteMom.
- Web ads - in weaslezippers.com. It is very difficult to gauge the effectiveness of magazine and web ads but I never saw that spike in sales that would justify the expense. So, never again for me unless I get a great promo deal.
- Paid for book reviews - Book reviews are important and you should get as many as you can but avoid wasteful ways of accomplishing this. For example, don't mail books until you get an agreement from the other party they will do a review. Send email queries instead until you get a response committing to a review. Even then, you won't get them all back. I also paid a small fee for a book review "service" who was supposed to hook me up with lots of reviewers. I'm still waiting.
- Book Contests - If you choose to enter any, contact the contest owner directly and do the work required to submit your entry. Some publishers sell this as a "package" but it is nothing more than a rip-off. They charge exorbitant prices to do the administrative work that you could easily do yourself.
- Press Releases - Some publishers try to sell a service that would send/fax the press release of your book to a million contacts. (Well, maybe not a million but they exaggerate the number too). Don't bother. It's a waste of money.
- Publicist - Some publishers try to sell a publicist services but their staff is typically not full time publicists. This is one mistake I didn't make and I hope you don't either.
- Promotional Materials - Some publishers try to sell a package of business cards, posters, magnets, bookmarks, T-shirts and all sorts of unnecessary junk. The business cards are the only item that makes sense and could be acquired much more inexpensively via online vendors like Vistaprint.
- eBook Formats - My publisher sells multiple packages designed to provide various e-Book formats for iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android etc. Smashwords provides this service for free. My publisher charges to provide a Nook book. Barnes and Nobles provides this for free through their Pubit service. My point is, do not bite on these packages from subsidy publishers until you adequately explore alternatives. You will almost always find a less expensive option.
FREE MARKETING (Or at least cheap)
- Website - This is a must. It's home base. It's where you send everyone who shows the slightest interest in your book to get more information. It's where outsiders can contact you for comments or get information. You can link to your book's online product page directly from your site. You can get a website for free from WordPress.com (some upgrades may cost a little money but the basic setup is free)
- Facebook Page - This is also a must. A Fan Page for your book to go along with your personal page will keep your book in the public eye. Post frequent updates and expand your friend base in order to get your message "out there". Sign up to join "groups" that share your passion for your book subject (whether it be romance, mystery, history, etc. there are likely to be more than a few groups who share your interest). Post whatever updates you can to all of these group pages and your fan page as events transpire and things occur. It's free.
- Twitter/LinkedIn - Social networking is just beginning to shape the world of communication and marketing. Getting in on Facebook and Twitter as well as LinkedIn is essential for the new author. Joining them is free but learning how to use them efficiently will take some time. But the effort will result in more free exposure than you could have ever hoped for.
- Email Signature Line - Populate your email signature line with your book(s) names, awards, website, Facebook and Twitter addresses. Every time you send or respond to an email, you will be promoting your book. As you develop your persona as an author, along with your book title, your every-day interactions on the Internet will become a promotional vehicle for you and your book.
- Media Coverage - Local radio stations and local newspapers often look for local content. I was able to successfully obtain 3 radio interviews on a local radio station just by calling the station manager. In addition, I had 4 articles in local newspapers published shortly after my book was published. All I had to do to get these "Local Author Makes Good" pieces published was to email the newspaper editor. However, even though I got these goodies for free, I'm still not at all sure how much of a positive impact they had on book sales.
- Facebook Ads - I have had some great sales months in the last year and for the most part sales have grown quarter to quarter. Since I've tried so many different things, it's impossible to determine precisely which efforts fueled my sales growth. But one thing has remained constant throughout and that is my paid Facebook Ads. So I'm staying with them. If you decide to go with this I recommend you study the guide on Facebook. Set your demographic and interest profile to reach at least 7 million people (more if possible). Also, use the daily expense cap to limit your expenses. Finally, I found paying for a thousand images more effective than paying for each click-through (to my website). And I bid well below the Facebook recommended range. (Facebook recommends I bid in the range of .42-.62 per thousand images but I bid .10 -.15 and usually hit my $2.00 daily cap every day). I also suggest you keep track of your impression count, and expenses alongside your sales on a spreadsheet. Change your ad content regularly and analyze sales within the same expense periods. This should help determine which ads work better than others.
- Business Cards - I found this to be a worthwhile investment. When you meet new people or discuss your book with old friends, it's always helpful to leave them a card. Make sure your website address is on the card. I always carry a few cards in my wallet. When I go to well-traveled public places (doctor's office, automotive service, restaurants, etc) I always leave a small stack of cards.
- Appearances - Most of my appearances are at military-friendly functions. I attend as many re-reenactment events, reunions, air shows, recognition functions, etc. as I can schedule and drive to. There you can meet people who share your interests, take pictures for your social media sites, pass out business cards and develop relationships. The cost is in the travel expense including an occasional layover at a Motel 6.
- Organizations - In order to stay in touch with like-minded people, you should bite the bullet and pay the dues to join organizations with people with similar interests, challenges and perhaps solutions. Being continually "wired-in" keeps you engaged and in touch with the rapidly changing trends and technologies of interest to the author. The ones I recommend are the Independent Author Network, Goodreads and, of course, The Military Writers Society of America.
If you were able to secure a traditional publisher, all of these worries would be on someone else's desk. But you decided to self-publish. The upside is you have much more control over your writing adventure. No one is telling you what to do, arranging your appearance and book-signing schedules or making decisions you might not agree with. And you got your lifelong "dream book" on the market while you were still young enough to read it.
The downside is you'll be hard pressed to make great progress on that second book while you're functioning as the Marketing Executive of your own first book. It is a demanding job with many false starts, dead-ends and dumb mistakes. Hopefully this piece will help you prevent some of them and chart a course fraught with less danger. Now you need to delve into the particulars and do the research necessary to utilize the tools available to you.
If you have anything you would like to add or discuss, just contact me on http://www.thelastjump.com/
All my best and good luck!
John E. Nevola - Author of The Last Jump - A Novel of World War II
See what I mean. J
REFERENCE MATERIAL AND RESOURCES
The Independent Authors Network
The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, Fourth Edition - Everything You Need to Know About the Costs, Contracts, and Process of Self-Publishing - Mark Levine
This book will help you select a reputable publisher for your self-published book. Available in paperback and Kindle
The First Ten Steps: Ten proven steps to build a solid foundation for your e-Book using free social networking - M.R Mathias
There are some interesting tidbits of information about social networking in this book. Even if your book is available in hard or soft cover, these tips apply. Besides, it will like be available in eBook form some day.
How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months - John Locke
This very popular book (see 225 reviews) provides much useful information for the indie author. John Locke has good Internet karma. We exchanged emails on a number of occasions as I asked him for clarification of some of his points. This book is like panning for gold but the few nuggets in there are worth the effort.