Today’s guest post continues the 12-part series I’ve launched in this new year: asking self-published authors what are the top 5 things they’ve learned in the last year. Last year I featured numerous guest posts from indie authors who’d been successful, and I noted the diversity of reasons for their success—some completely in contradiction to another’s—so I thought it would be helpful to have more authors give their insights into the most valuable lessons they’ve learned. Hopefully it will help you navigate the convoluted and confusing maze of indie publishing and give you ideas on how best to spend your time so that it produces the results you desire in your writing career.
Today’s guest post is from D. M. Jarrett
Here are the five important things I learned last year through my self-publishing experience:
1. The competition is fierce. I set out expecting to work hard and hoping to make an impact with my first e-book and to follow it up with a second. A few months ago I saw the statistics! The volume of authors self-publishing has risen exponentially in the past few years. Which means that attaining visibility in front of readers is incredibly tough. Sure you can try all the social media tricks you can think of, however it is like an echo chamber as someone put it. Authors are bouncing messages around with other authors. Where are the readers? (Earning, sleeping, watching TV . . .)
I’ve found there are no quick bucks approaches in this evolving industry. For a start the traditional publishers have (most) of the really big names and still have the visibility, even now. Secondly your own titles (no matter how well crafted) will become literally buried in lists and selection results among hundreds of thousands of other similar works. Which affects your sales, your morale and your ability to reach actual readers online.
2. Choose your genre carefully; promotion to readers is vital. If I started again (and I may yet) I would write for an older audience. As it is I’ve begun a series for youngsters because that’s what my first big idea was about. Why would I change? Because there are far more people aged 35+ in the world than there are youngsters (say 8 to 14). This may sound simple (and my apologies for the generalizations but it really matters. My biggest challenge to date has been trying to promote my work to youngsters in the genre of adventure science fiction.
So where can I reach these readers?
In my case you can’t! It’s basically seen as pretty much illegal to contact a youngster directly (which I understand completely) and therefore you face the catch 22 of “they’ll find you when they know you, but how will they ever know you until they find you?” In other words, choose a genre where the readers are readily accessible because it is far more cost effective for you to reach your potential readers online. Otherwise you are looking at expensive promotional campaigns and print stock placement in bookshops. (Oh yes!)
3. You’ll need help. By which I mean that you’ll need professionals to edit your text, design your covers, format your e-book and print book files and of course to print your books. I learned upfront that your cover is your best shot at marketing in the early days. It then becomes equaled in importance by the volume and quality of the reviews you receive across the internet and in the real world. Of course on day one you don’t have any. So you need a top notch professional designer to create a top notch professional cover. It’s all about perceptions. If it looks great it’s seen as ‘has potential’ and vice versa.
Similarly for your manuscript editing you will need helpers who are kind enough to be cruel. It’s no good receiving comments like “yeah, it’s okay/good/not bad.” You need people to go through line by line criticizing the rubbish and pointing out the outright mistakes. Word spell check alone is not enough!
Now hiring a good editor is not cheap. So in my case I took on this role myself and it hurt! Six passes of my manuscript later I was still finding outright mistakes. Ouch! Fortunately my beta readers spotted some of the bigger errors, but a beta reader is not the same thing as an editor. In short I learned the hard way how to edit and I outsourced the rest on a tight budget. Website? DIY with a cheap tool based provider.
4. Beware of the sharks; do your research! So far I think I’ve been fortunate and I believe this has come from doing a lot of research on the internet about self-publishing, writing, book production, editing and such like. I was also a trainee accountant so I look at things through a business lens. I think you have to because publishing is a business. Repeat—it’s a business.
Consider this: I have an ebook in all formats, a quality printed book available on demand, and I have some superb artwork. I also run a website, a blog and several outposts. Have a guess what my total outlay has been to set this up? Before I tell you (and no skipping ahead) I will add some context. I own all my rights. I control everything about the content, look and feel, branding etc. and I already run a limited company (which helps). What I have not done is pay for any form of online promotion or traditional promotion (magazines etc). A number of companies will offer a self-publisher their services. Some will assist with e-book preparation and upload, print preparation and promotion. Many will ask you to sign a “publishing contract” (it’s not!) and will take cuts from your gross profits. Some will try to sell you a package of services for anything from £5,000 to £25,000. But the thing is you can manage all this yourself!
My total set-up costs to date? £1,300.
5. You’re a writer, so write! Last and by no means least to call yourself a writer you have to write. A lot. And edit. A lot. And publish a lot. (Yikes!) Working smart helps, but there is no getting away from the fact that you need to spend hours typing, scribbling notes, brainstorming, learning about writing, writing promotional material, blog entries etc. So if you don’t love writing and are not prepared to work hard at improving all forms of your writing: Try a different type of business or keep writing as purely a hobby.
I’ve read previous passages that I wrote and groaned. Then I’ve edited them twice and groaned. By the sixth edit they were better. By the seventh I was wondering if I could actually write. There is though a happy conclusion: on reading back the final printed version I nearly wept with joy. And then I found three things I still wanted to change . . .
I believe that to be truly good at anything takes years of practice and I’ve only just begun. (Hmm!) My learning point is this: the more you write the more you improve. And the more paranoid you become that you’ve made a howling error earlier in your blog entry. Ho hum.
I hope you find my experiences to date useful. Happy writing.
D.M. Jarrett is the author of Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief, a fast paced adventure/comedy/sci-fi series for tweens, teens and light readers. It is currently in print and e-book distribution here: Amazon. He is working on the follow-up, Hunters Hunted. Visit his website, Sean Yeager Adventures.