I’m trying to write at least a post per week leading up to release day. This post is in part a reflection of my self-publishing journey so far; I’ll also share some things that I’ve learned along the way and offer what I hope will be helpful advice. I’m not an expert, but I can tell you what worked for me, and what didn’t. I hope some of my tips will work for you, too. 🙂
I started this blog in the summer of 2012…looking back at my old posts, it was June 6, 2012, to be exact. I wanted to get back into creative writing, and a blog seemed as good a way as any to do so. I had tried blogging once before, in undergrad–I created a Blogspot blog, where I posted a young adult sci-fi book I had written (and had been rewriting since high school) chapter by chapter. I don’t think anyone ever read it, lol. I didn’t know how to direct traffic to it. I’ve found WordPress to be a lot more straightforward as far as networking with other bloggers goes, but that’s just me. Anyway, I started out on this blog, The Urge to Write, by posting random excerpts from stories I had written, book reviews, and pretty much anything else I felt like. Eventually I made a little blog schedule…which I have since abandoned…but it worked pretty well at the time. I accumulated some WordPress followers and started a Facebook page so my friends and family could follow along, too, if they wanted (and, for some reason, many of them did, and I feel so blessed!).
I also posted the earliest draft of Reborn, a chapter per week. At the time, it was called The Fallen. (I’m glad I changed the title, because, among other reasons, there’s a pretty popular YA series out right now called Fallen.) I can’t say publishing it on my blog was the best decision ever–but I don’t really regret it, either. On the one hand, it was a really, really, really rough draft and wasn’t ready to see the light of day. I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. I didn’t even have all of the mythology ironed out yet. (The Eros and Psyche back story–which obviously turned out to be kinda important to the book–was something I went back and added later.) On the other hand, a few people read it and liked it, and it forced me to write every week.
Eventually, I took it down from the blog, but continued to work on it and refine it. My goal was to do something with it, whether that was going the more traditional route or self-publishing it. After a half-hearted attempted at trying to get an agent by sending out a handful of pretty terrible query letters, I decided to do the self-publishing thing. I realized there was, unfortunately, stigma attached to it, but I thought, if I did it right, it would help me build a readership base. I didn’t know what to expect. Well…that’s not entirely true. What I expected was that Reborn would languish on Amazon and sell two copies or so after months and months and months.
OK–here comes the bragging part. Somehow, miraculously, that’s not what happened. Well, maybe it isn’t so much a miracle as partially the result of the various marketing strategies I experimented with (see below). Most of it’s probably due to Heidi’s awesome cover art, which is the first thing people see. And I think I wrote a pretty intriguing book summary. The rest of it’s due to taking advantage of Amazon’s free promotional tool. Reborn hit Amazon’s free bestsellers list; it peaked at #15 in New Adult and College Romance and #16 in Paranormal & Urban Fantasy. That was unexpected and super cool. (Of course, it also makes me really nervous. I mean, even if Relapse didn’t do as well, it would be fine, but still…..) Including the free copies, I’ve sold over 4000 copies of Reborn, and over 1000 paid copies. Considering I had really low expectations, it’s been really overwhelming.
Now, here comes the what I’ve learned/advice part (in no particular order):
1. It’s not going to be easy. It’s like the saying goes: Anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy. I’m an impatient person, so accepting that this wasn’t going to be an easy undertaking (if done right) was a big step for me. There was a point when I was tempted to just throw the original version of Reborn up on Amazon because it seemed so easy. Obviously, I’m glad I didn’t…when I reread it I realized how much work it needed, and I got some valuable input from beta readers and such that I was able to incorporate. I’m just saying: The temptation to put up an unfinished product will be there, but you must resist! I appreciate all that Amazon’s done to make self-publishing easier for independent authors, but I don’t like that they overemphasize the “easy” aspect in all of their marketing materials. Yes, maybe getting your book up there is relatively easy, but you have to realize and accept that there’s going to be a lot of work leading up to that moment. (On a side note, it’s not as simple as Amazon makes it out to be. You have to strictly adhere to their formatting guidelines and then check the previews to make sure it’s going to look good on someone’s Kindle screen. No, it’s not rocket science, but it takes up a little bit of time.)
In my opinion, if you think any of this is “easy,” you’re doing something wrong.
2. Tell people about it. “It” being your book, of course. This is probably the hardest step for most writers. Many writers are introverts and may not feel comfortable with marketing their work, putting themselves out there. I’d say I’m an introvert because I like doing intellectual or creative solo activities and I sort of live in my head a lot. I definitely have hermit tendencies, lol! But I’m not the type of person who’s afraid to put themselves out there or talk about my work–or talk in front of people, for that matter. So maybe I’m not a true introvert. In any case, you may have to dig up some courage to market your book(s) because, otherwise, people simply won’t know about it or how/where to find it. This advice goes for any author,not just self-published. I’ve heard that a lot of the promotional responsibilities fall to authors just starting out, even when they have a publisher. Maybe you think your book should just be able to stand on its own–and, if it’s a good book, people will find it and read it. That’s a nice thought, but, if potential readers don’t even know your book exists or where to find it, they’re not going to read it.
As far as social media goes, Facebook and this blog have worked the best for me. This blog was a great way to connect with fellow authors and book reviewers, and it’s also how I found my incredible graphic designer! My Facebook page enabled me to update my family and friends about this blog and, later, Reborn, and I’ve managed to build up a small following on there–mostly by following other Facebook book club pages and pimping my page there. Twitter has worked out ok, I guess. I have over 700 followers on there, but except for a handful of people, I’m not sure it’s very meaningful–at least not yet. There are a lot of spam profiles on Twitter. Twitter seems best for, again, networking with authors and book reviewers. (By the way, when you’re first starting out, a lot of the people who are going to read your book are also writers.) Fellow authors: I’d like to know which social media platforms have worked for you, so please share in the comments!
Goodreads is another platform you can use, although don’t stalk your ratings/reviews on there unless you have a thick skin. Then again, if you’re going to do this and put your work out there, you’re going to have to
3. Grow a pair. Haha, I’m just being blunt. But, seriously, you’re going to have to. Because, even though I’ve interacted with a lot of nice, supportive authors, bloggers, and reviewers out there, there are a lot of @$$holes on the Internet, too (as you may be aware of from reading any comments section to basically any article on the Internet, ever). You might think you’ll be able to handle it well–that first time someone criticizes your work–and, hey, maybe you will. But I don’t think most people (writers) are like that. Now, I have noticed that, in the indie author world, people don’t seem like they think anyone should ever criticize their work, ever (I’m talking about helpful criticism here that might actually help you develop as a writer). I mean, no matter what you do in life, no matter what you choose to pursue, someone out there is going to disagree with it/criticize it/have something to say about it. Or maybe because I’m in grad school I just go into everything now expecting to get shot down. To be honest, this is why sometimes I find the atmosphere of the indie world to be a little thin-skinned.
That being said, the first time you get a bad review , it probably won’t be from a fellow author or a book reviewer, and it’s most likely not going to be the helpful kind of criticism that helps you improve your craft. It’s going to be someone venting about how your heroine is a slut and that, ugh, there are cheerleaders and sorority girls in this book! 😉 Yep…I can’t help you there. The book is simply not for you. And you have two hands and a keyboard and can vent about whatever you like on Goodreads, Tumblr, whatever. The anonymity of the Internet gives everyone the urge to vent.
Then again, knowing/accepting this isn’t going to make handling bad reviews any easier. You’ve dedicated precious time between work/school/your family/whatever to perfecting your novel, and in two minutes someone finds a way to shoot it down. I’m not sure I have a great advice on how to handle it, except to be ready for it…and maybe don’t stalk your reviews (especially on Goodreads, which has a lot of trolls). It’s hard to resist, though…I don’t do a very good job of it. The best way I’ve found to deal with it is to vent to my family and friends…and also to incorporate it into my book somehow, lol. Yes, I got a few people who, in so many words, called Siobhan a slut…and so several side characters in Relapse make snide comments about Siobhan’s love life/how many boyfriends she has. (I don’t cast these people in the best light…let’s stop calling women sluts, ‘k?) I’m not saying my approach is going to change any minds–and I’m not trying to–I’m just putting it to creative use rather than continuing to mope about it.
And, whatever you do, don’t do the reverse catfishing thing that one author did to the person that gave her a bad review. I’m not even linking to the author’s article on here because she went way too far and mentioned way too many personal details about the true identity of the reviewer (even if she didn’t mention any specific names).
4. Become Amazon’s bitch (at least at first). I’m borrowing the phrase Amazon’s bitch from Mr. Tom Benson. (I hope you don’t mind, Tom.) You can read about his self-publishing experiences on Amazon here and here. Besides everything else I’ve talked about so far, utilizing Amazon’s free promotion deal, which gives you up to 5 days of offering your book for free for Kindle (assuming that number hasn’t changed since I used it), enabled readers to take a chance on a new author (me) with no strings attached. There are also a lot of Twitter accounts, blogs, Facebook pages, etc. that scour Amazon for free books and promote them without you having to do anything (except make your book free). The only downside is, in order to use Amazon’s countdown deals or free promotion, the electronic version of your book has to be exclusive to Amazon for three months (hence, you are “Amazon’s bitch,” lol). Which might sound like a bad thing, except, as a self-published author, most of your sales are going to come from Amazon, anyway. Reborn was exclusive to Amazon for the first three months or so, then I uploaded it to Smashwords, which in turn makes it available to Barnes and Noble (Nook), the iTunes book store, Scribd, etc. I’ve made a little under $5 from all of these other sites combined.
Do whatever works best for you, but I would seriously consider being exclusive to Amazon for the first few months, especially if you’re just starting out.
5. Edit, edit, edit. I also get the sense sometimes that some indie authors place less importance on the editing part than the writing part. And get offended when a reviewer mentions it. Polishing your story for spelling/grammatical errors/typos is just as important as any other aspect of the process. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when I’m reading something. I don’t bother to mention it in my own reviews of fellow indie author’s work–because I notice a lot of avoidable errors in all of them. Yes, I’m reading critically, but there are usually a lot more in self-published books than traditionally published ones. This is a tough area, too, because, let’s face it, a lot of writers don’t have the money to hire an editor at first, or even a copy editor. And I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using Amazon’s editing service, although I don’t speak from experience–it just seems like a bad idea to send your precious book off to some faceless editor you haven’t built a relationship with.
But at least have more than yourself read over it, even friends and family that are sticklers for picking out these kinds of mistakes. Make it as polished as possible. Your book is, essentially, a product–don’t sell someone a bad product. Don’t sell something for $4.99 that isn’t finished and still has a bunch of spelling and grammar mistakes.
(As another aside, even when multiple people read over your book, a few mistakes are of course going to slip through the cracks. Poor editing is one of my biggest pet peeves, and yet I noticed the other day, when I was looking something up in Reborn, there’s a typo in chapter one–it says “titled” instead of “tilted.” It made me cringe. I’ll go back and fix it, at some point…..)
6. Be patient. I said this before, and I’ll say it again. Building up an audience is going to take time. Just have patience and keep on writing. It’s great to have people to write for, but remember to still write for yourself–because it’s something you love to do.
And, last but not least:
7. Don’t give up! 🙂 Even if your first book sells two copies in two years…even if it has a one star average on Goodreads…don’t give up. Just keep learning, keep improving your craft, keep writing!!!
I hope some of this, at least, was helpful! If you’ve gotten to this point, thanks for “listening” to me babble. And get excited, because Relapse releases December 2, 2014! You can read the prologue here.