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 Jade Kerrion:
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but began self-publishing in June 2012. Since then, I’ve learned a great deal, but if I had to pick the top five lessons learned in 2012, it would be these:
1. Investing in yourself is the best investment you’ll ever make. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours (that’s 5 years of full-time work) to become an expert in your field, whether you’re a plumber, electrician, musician, or author, and it’s not just about putting in the time. It’s about doing the right things during those 10,000 hours. It means learning the art and craft of writing, and practicing it. It could mean classes; it could mean reading books on writing; it could mean working with well-trained editors or critique groups.
Over the past year, I worked closely with an excellent editor, and she was instrumental in helping me clean up my writing style. She was more than an editor; she was a writing coach. She sent back paper edits with extensive notes (40+ single-spaced pages) on all the mistakes I made, and I incorporated those changes into my manuscript, learning along the way. I spent over $5,000 with her on three manuscripts, and you have only to compare the first and third edited manuscripts to realize how much progress I made over twelve months of working with her. I wasn’t just investing in my novel, I was investing in myself, and it was the best investment I’ve made so far with the most immediate and tangible returns.
2. Learn what it takes to do it yourself before deciding whether to outsource the work. There are many elements to publishing and marketing: how to format an e-book, how to format a paperback, how to design a cover, how to market, where to market, how to organize a virtual book tour, etc. There are companies out there that will do these things do you, but how do you know if they’re charging a fair price if you don’t have a sense of how much time it takes to do it? You don’t have to become an expert in everything (no one has time enough for that), but you should know enough to know if you’re paying a fair price for the work someone else is doing for you, and if they’re doing good work.
As for me, I learned that formatting the basic e-book is easy, and that there was no reason to pay someone else $60+ to do it unless it involved tons of images and tables. I learned that designing a cover required more skill, talent, and time than I had, and paying someone $60+ to do it was a fantastic investment. Same dollar amount, but the time saved on one far exceeds the time saved on the other.
3. The first time will take more time than you think, but then it gets easier and quicker. I spent 8+ hours formatting my first paperback for print. I couldn’t get it quite right. The page numbers screwed up on me, and then I decided to change the size of the paperback; that was another 8+ hours. It was a truly wretched experience, and the joy of holding my actual book only partially made up for that nightmare. Today, it takes me a half hour to format my paperback for print.
The same is true of my ebooks. The first time I formatted my e-book for distribution on Smashwords (which is much less forgiving than Kindle), I spent hours fixing the format of the word document. Today, it’s no time at all. I have a template that works consistently with Smashwords and KDP, and I just type my novel directly in the template. When it’s time to upload it, I insert the copyright statement, and off it goes. Half a minute, literally.
The experience curve is a proven fact. You will get better. You’ll learn the shortcuts, you’ll develop templates. You just need to get past the first time, and be prepared to do it again, and again, until you get better.
4. Stop comparing! No two books are alike. Two science fiction books could involve aliens and Area 51 and still be completely different. You could execute the exact same marketing plan as another author, but your books are different and therefore, the payback will be different. In other words, you will never be able to explain why one book sells by the thousands and another doesn’t. For a rational data freak like me who’s always looking to get to the bottom of the great mystery of how to create a bestseller, it’s galling to admit that I’ll never be able to understand it. There are lots of ingredients that go into a fantastic breakout novel, but it’s hard, if not impossible, to account for the mood swings of readers. So, learn from what others do in marketing, but give yourself a break and stop comparing your sales to other authors’ sales. It’ll always be comparing apples to oranges, anyway, so why even start?
5. Give yourself time to succeed, and don’t give up your day job yet. Remember why you’re doing this . . . I bet you could name several indie authors who have gone really big. We know their names, but the debut author who strikes it big is more rare than you think. They are really just a tiny fraction of one percent of indie authors. Most authors (whether self- or traditionally-published) don’t make it that big, but they have a solid following of fans. Most of them succeed over several years, and many of them hold other jobs that pay the bills. It is hard even for traditionally published authors to make a living off writing; many of them don’t earn out their advance. As self-published authors, we have the advantage of being able to sell our books indefinitely and to keep writing even as we do other things that pay the bills.
I don’t intend to quit my day job. I happen to like what I do for a living, and besides, it would take a ton of book sales to replace my income. I’m a businessperson at heart–I blame it on my MBA. Sometimes, in frustration over the lack of an obvious financial return on my writing, I’ll grumble to my husband, but he always responds with, “What else were you planning to do anyway?”
He’s right. I write because I love writing. I was writing long before I self-published, and self-publishing has allowed me to get my work into the hands of readers without waiting for the wheels of traditional publishing to slowly turn. I may not be selling my books by the thousands, but I’ve had fan mail from around the world, including Egypt. I’m doing what I love, and that’s why I’ll be sticking at this writing and self-publishing business for a long while yet. I hope you do too!
Jade Kerrion unites cutting-edge science and bioethics with fast-paced action in her award-winning Double Helix series. Drawing rave reviews for its originality and vision, and described as “a breakout piece of science fiction,” Perfection Unleashed, and its sequels, Perfect Betrayal, Perfect Weapon, and When the Silence Ends, are available in print and ebook through Amazon and other major retailers. Connect with Jade on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her blog here.