You do? Huh, what’s wrong with you? Completely kidding. Total snark. Yes, come back here! Considering that I’ve successfully made it through my first year as a self-published author, I think a post with some advice for those hoping to enter this field is appropriate. And, really, you can approach me on Twitter or something, too, I swear I don’t bite. (Seriously, not ever, because I don’t like close physical contact with people I don’t know, and I am terrified of the zombie virus.)
First — welcome! Go, you! You’ll find we’re generally a very friendly community, and we support each other. Through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, you should be able to pretty quickly find some other authors who write/publish in your genre, and are more than willing to connect. (In fact, most of us don’t bite.) The readers’ base for indie works is growing, too, so reaching out to people who you hope to interest in reading (yes, even purchasing) your work one day is also important to networking and making new acquaintances.
Next, here are my major tips for new self-publishers:
1. Do your research.
Not for social media connections or marketing platforms. Yes, do that, too. But in this instance, I’m talking specifically about your book. Is it fiction, or nonfiction? Which age group are you aiming it at (little kids, elementary school, teens, or adults)? What’s your setting (century, real or invented)? Whether you’re writing about real people or characters you made up yourself, you need to have the details of their lives right. Take into consideration slang of the era, the technology, religion, education level, industries, hobbies, cooking, fashion — all of it (even in a fantasy or sci-fi setting!) makes a BIG difference in whether your book really comes alive to readers.
2. Do the other kind of research.
For the marketing stuff. What’s your genre? Check out what other indies in that same genre have recently released. And do not compare yourselves to them. Do not even go there. Be looking for what readers said they liked — for example, do praise for worldbuilding and character growth seem to be major factors in garnering high-star reviews? Listen to them. Use this to your advantage. If an indie author has a big following (say, 5,000 people subscribe to their newsletter), check their site for anything they may have posted about how they developed their winning formula/strategy.
3. Don’t quit your day job.
Sorry, guys, but selling (realistically) a few dozen to a few hundred copies of your work a year won’t pay all the bills. A lot of self-published authors are also teachers, professors, librarians, college students, graphic designers, etc. (And if any of these occupations seem a bit cliche, hey, it happens to be the truth — most writers are people who have a good grasp of language, the entertainment culture, and creative endeavors.)
4. Be informed of what trends, topics, and genres are currently hot in traditional publishing.
Not just so that you know what to avoid. Being informed is important so that you can decide what you want your own work to reflect. Are there particular tropes in your genre that you really want to turn inside out? Certain authors of the past (or present) that you’d like to pay homage to? Is there a movement or cultural discussion going on right now that you actually want to be part of? For example, as an autistic adult, I belong to a Twitter movement called #ActuallyAutistic, since too many of the books being published with “autism rep” are in fact authored by non-autism-affected individuals.
5. Time is not your friend.
It will not just hand over an extra 4 hours each day to you and you alone. Real life does not stop just because you are writing a book. Beating time into submission and making it your slave is vital. Carve out space in your schedule for writing, research, editing, proofreading, and marketing. Take plenty of breaks. On a daily basis, eat, sleep, exercise, be face-to-face with your family. An awesome perk of being an indie author is the ability to set your own deadlines.
6. Learn about creative writing.
There are many ways to do this. Read books by editors or successful writers (in this case, yes, I do mean lots of sales), watch podcasts, join a group at your local library or on Goodreads. This covers everything from flushing out characters to make them feel more real or writing dialogue that doesn’t read like a 1950s laundry detergent commercial, to tips on hosting giveaways of your new release and not spamming your Twitter feed with “buy my book or my dog will eat your comfy slippers.”
7. Interact with your readers.
After all, without them, whether you’re just posting on Wattpad or Tumblr, or you’re actually printing or releasing digital copies and hoping to get paid, you don’t have much going. Writing is meant to be read. So reply to their comments, thank them for their support, respond to their questions about your future plans for the series/next title.
8. Choose your platforms.
This should probably come earlier in this list, actually. If social media seems terrifying, DON’T DO IT. Yes, it’s a big part of marketing, but you are not required to have an account on every single site under the sun. I limit myself to Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. I find Goodreads to be especially kind to indies, as they give your books all the stuff trad authors have — the ability for readers to star rate, review, interact with you, share with each other. And it’s free to join.
9. Carefully select your printer/distribution center.
I tried to work with Amazon, and just creating an account for self-publishing made my head want to explode. I did not find their system helpful or not confusing. Plus I heard they weren’t paying indies as much as they really should be. So, to start with, I found a local printing press that does individually copyrighted books, and for a reasonable cost, they formatted, proofed, put together the cover design, and printed 100 copies of the first edition of Masters and Beginners. It got my baby out into the world, and I was very happy.
The reason I decided to switch to Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press was because the price of shipping all my orders myself became a bit rough on the wallet, and on the socially anxious part of me. (I was becoming slightly paranoid that the post office clerks rolled their eyes every time they saw me walk in the lobby.)
Barnes & Noble has been awesome in helping me through formatting or account concerns, I find their uploading/proofing software very simple to use, and they do the shipping for me.
10. Have fun.
Writing is also meant to be fun for the writer. Yes, publishing is work. But if it ever becomes a hassle or feels like a struggle, take a step back and remember why you’re trying to craft those words. Recently, I read in a review of Rulers and Mages that the ending was “slightly evil and hurt my heart (in the best way)”. That’s why I do this, folks.