I’ve been featuring guest bloggers who’ve had some success with self-publishing, in print and with ebooks. Some have been traditionally published and others have ventured out as indie authors. By having many authors writing in various genres around the world speak about the publishing experience and sharing helpful tips, hopefully their insights and suggestions will smooth out your road to success.
Today’s guest post is by author Elaine Orr:
I started out trying to sell fiction to traditional publishers. Sometimes an editor or agent would write a paragraph about what they liked and say it “just wasn’t for them right now,” and I appreciated their encouragement. Finally, I decided to just write what I liked and created a cozy mystery series with a set of characters who like some of the things I enjoy (living near the beach) and have a similar quirky humor. Nothing autobiographical, just fun to write. Luckily, the first book of the Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery Series did not sell to a traditional publisher, so I stopped submitting after a few tries and wrote the next two books. As I did so, I developed the characters more fully and ended up changing the first book (Appraisal for Murder) a bit.
Important Things I’ve Learned
At that point, independent electronic publishing was possible and Create Space made on-demand paperbacks a less expensive reality. Here are some things I’ve learned that may be useful to others:
- Just write. Initially you can’t think about selling, the money you’ll make, or an interview with David Letterman or your local radio station. If you are not wedded to writing, you will fritter away what free time you have.
- Pay a proofreader. The first or second draft of a book is not likely to be very polished, and a traditional publisher would not let it out the door. If you do, you risk a couple reviews that comment on a meandering writing style or the number of typos.
- Study eBook publishing requirements even harder than those of a print publisher. You must transfer your book into a program with no formatting (such as Notepad in the Microsoft programs). If you do not do this, your ebook will be full of mysterious changes in font or type size. You need to put it into Notepad and then back into your word processing program and redo all special fonts (italics) or spacing. Do not move the file to another computer as it will again acquire odd fonts and such. Yes, it’s tedious. That’s life as a publisher.
- Pay a proofreader.
- Read the Smashwords Style Guide. It does meander, but Mark Coker has written it in a breezy style so you keep reading. I have looked at the guides on Kindle, BN, and Kobo, but everything I needed to know was in the Smashwords guide. That said, if you are doing an illustrated book for one of the newest e-readers (such as Kindle Fire), a retailer’s style guide has very specific instructions.
- Pay a proofreader.
- Think about whether you want to publish separate editions for Kindle, BN, Kobo, Apple or others. Smashwords is an aggregator–they convert your book and all retailers, except Amazon will use the Smashwords editions and pay through them. I sell through Smashwords and now do list some titles separately on some other sites. You get a larger royalty. However, I spend more time than I like loading books.
- Have a professional do your book cover. Smashwords has a list of referrals (not recommendations), and a Google Search will turn up hundreds. Prices for eBook covers are reasonable. I have done a couple of my own covers and you can tell the difference.
- Pay a proofreader.
- Send copies of your book for reviews (by professionals or other writers) several weeks before it reaches ebook retailers. Send to friends, but don’t ask them to write a glowing review. It’s tacky. You can ask them to read a book quickly and post a review on several sites. Look for sites that review your genre and pester them, as well as local papers. Aim high–send it to leading papers and trade publications too.
Once your book is posted, there will not be hordes of people making an electronic cash register go ka-ching. Your book may be so engaging that the first few readers write glowing reviews and someone mentions it on a cable talk show. Don’t bet on it. Read books and articles on marketing your self-published book. I recommend Jeffrey Marks’ Intent to Sell: Marking the Genre Novel. It is available in print and as an ebook.
Give yourself a set amount of time to deal with social media and traditional marketing each day or week and stick with that. There is a black hole that eats time spent on social networking sites, and the law of diminishing returns is in full force. Tell your friends and colleagues what you write. In a monthly e-mail I say what I’m working on and mention any new sales channels. I include one or two very short points that do not relate to marketing and encourage people to say if they do not want to receive the monthly e-mail. I may add someone without asking (such as someone who sends a fan e-mail), but if you add people who barely know you it will tick them off.
What About Amazon KDP Select?
Should you enroll your eBook in Amazon’s KDP Select program? If so, the ebook cannot be listed anywhere else for 90 days, and Amazon checks. You are able to give your book away for five days during that time. Why would you do that? Because it generates interest in your book and can lead to more sales for that and your other books. Most authors I know find KDP Select worthwhile. Schedule your free dates at least a week in advance, and do tons of advance publicity. Most people do a couple of two-day free events; do not use all five free days at once. Your book will likely rise quite high on the Kindle Free Books list for your genre.
Appraisal for Murder came out in October 2011, and I gave away several thousand copies through KDP Select and then it went to number 40 in paid Kindle ebooks for women sleuths. It’s not a New York Times ranking, but it definitely made my bank account happy. And it was fun.
I experiment with pricing. My ebooks are $2.99, except the first book in the Jolie Gentil series. It draws readers into the series so I keep it at 99 cents. If you list a book on Amazon for $2.99 (the lowest point to get a 70% royalty from Amazon, rather than 35%) and list it for less elsewhere, Amazon will match the lower price. However, because you listed it for $2.99 at Amazon you still get a 70% royalty. Thus, I put the lower price on Smashwords. Amazon explained this to me when I asked why they were paying a higher royalty than I expected when the book was 99 cents.
I have only anecdotal experience about how taking books off KDP Select affects sales. I could be wrong, but I think books come up lower in a search (for example, mystery writers with women sleuths) if they are not enrolled in KDP Select. I saw lower sales when I took most books off KDP Select. I now keep at least one on and will likely put each Jolie Gentil series book on KDP when it is first released.
What I Need to Do Better:
- Create a true press package (complete with book blurbs, photo, bio, and more) and send it to every media outlet in my state
- Visit bookstores and be cheeky about asking if I can do a book signing or perhaps bring a group of authors to the store for one
- Stop talking about marketing and get back to writing
Elaine L. Orr writes fiction and nonfiction and recently introduced the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series. Jolie is a real-estate appraiser, a profession that lets her meet a lot of people and gives her an opportunity to get into a lot of trouble in her New Jersey beach town. The first book in the series is Appraisal for Murder, then Rekindling Motives and When the Carny Comes to Town. She has written plays and other light mysteries, and Biding Time, which is geared to young adults, and was one of five finalists in the National Press Club’s 1993 fiction contest, the club’s first. Her books are at Amazon, Apple, and most e-retailers, and in paperback. Check out her web page, her Amazon Author Page, and her blog.