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10 Tips for Self-Published Authors

typing by sakshi bhardwajIn publishing there are outliers who release a book straight to the top of the charts, but they are few and far between. Happily, you don’t need this to happen to be able to make a full time living from writing—the slow build to a solid platform is equally viable, albeit longer in the making. With that in mind, I’ve put together ten pointers that I hope will help anyone considering going down the self-pub route avoid some of the pitfalls and hard lessons waiting along the way.

1. Writers’ Cafe on the KBoards Forum

Every day for me starts with a few minutes there. It has a vast amount of information relating to pretty much everything you could encounter as a writer. It’s up to date, with discussions on new developments in the industry usually starting up within minutes of the announcement being made. There’s also ongoing discussion on what marketing methods are working, and those that aren’t. As always, you’ll need to exercise personal judgement in separating the wheat from the chaff, but this will become easier with a little time spent reading up. There are some very experienced and successful writers hanging out there, and more often than not they are very generous with their advice and in sharing their knowledge.

2. Editing

edits by Pierre TabouretIt’s expensive, but in my opinion, vital. Find a good editor and start building a relationship with them. It’s important to have an objective set of eyes look over your work. Find an editor who isn’t afraid to be mean to you. When you publish your work, readers will find any problems that exist—better to know about them when you have the opportunity to fix them. For me, this point extends through the whole range: developmental edit, line edit, and proof reading. I also have some alpha and beta readers look over things before and after the developmental edit. I’ve told them to be as mean as possible too! It’s up to the individual to decide when their work is ready for release into the wild, but bear in mind that no matter how much of your heart and soul is poured into your work, readers expect a quality product. Make sure you give them one.

3. Covers

In my opinion it’s best to outsource this one, unless you’ve artistic ability and skill with the relevant software. I don’t have a whole lot of either, and any DIY attempts I’ve made have looked exactly what they are—amateur. My time is better spent doing what I do, and leaving the artwork to experts. You can still have a lot of creative input with a good designer, but the end result will be more professional if a professional makes it.

4. Formatting

Vellum (logo)I’ve come to the opinion that ebook formatting can be done by the writer. With recent software developments, print formatting has become pretty accessible too. Having this within your control makes it far easier to react to any typos that have slipped through the net (hopefully none!), and also update the front/back matter of the books when needed.

I use an app called Vellum, which produces excellent results very easily. As far as I know, it’s Mac only, but there are work arounds, and it’s so good, I know of people who have picked up a cheap, second hand Mac purely to use it.

5. Distributing

Whether you choose to go exclusive with Amazon to take advantage of the benefits of Kindle Unlimited (KU), or make your book available everywhere you can is entirely up to you. I think there are good arguments on both sides, but I’ve chosen to go with KU as it makes the most sense for me right now. That could change in the future, however—this industry moves fast and you always need to be prepared to adapt. There’s a lot of talk at the moment of click-farming to scam books up the rankings with KU. That raises the possibility that Amazon will introduce changes to KU—perhaps soon—so this is something you’ll need to keep in mind when making your choice.

6. Advertising/Promotion

BookBub (logo)There are a lot of options here for authors, from Facebook and Amazon cost-per-click ads to services like BookBub that send out newsletters with bargain book ads to mailing lists of many thousands of subscribers. I’ve tried a few of the options, and really can’t discount any even if I was disappointed with them at the time. They might not transfer into direct sales, but they may have a less visible effect on platform building and market exposure—it’s hard to say. The genre you write in comes into play heavily here with regard to which advertising method will give you the most bang for your buck.

7. Platform

You need to set up an online presence—Website/Twitter/Facebook. I see mine as being a resource for people who read my books and want to know more, keep up to date, and get in touch. It’s a service for those who’ve already read them rather than a method of bringing more people in. Other people might approach this differently, which is perfectly valid. Follow whichever approach you’re most comfortable with, but remember, you need to have worthwhile content to engage visitors, not just a constant stream of ‘buy my book’ posts!

8. Mailing List

mailboxes by PattiI’ve chosen to give this its own section to highlight how important these are to the budding author. Start building your mailing list as early as possible—it’s a vital part of building your brand and getting your books in front of people. However, don’t be tempted to build a vanity list—one with lots of subscribers but low engagement. Mailing lists can get expensive fast, so having quality over quantity should always be a focus. Don’t allow yourself to get disheartened by other authors talking about having 10k/15k/20k subscribers, or tempted to chase big numbers of signups. Only the engaged subscribers are of any value to you. There are a number of ways to bring in subscribers, such as the common options of using advertising (Facebook Ads being a common method), and subscription links in the front and back matter of your books. Offering a sign-up incentive, such as a free book download makes a signup a more attractive proposition and is something a lot of authors do.

9. Do Your Research

Typewriter by JMeccioPhotography (detail)Being an author is an aspirational occupation, and as with all aspirational things, there will be sharks along the way looking to take advantage of optimism and inexperience. It’s up to you to do your research on every service you use, and every decision you make, to protect yourself against falling foul of these pitfalls. There are plenty of resources just a click away that can help keep you from expensive mistakes, or one that could get your Amazon account suspended for a breach of Terms of Service—the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s (SFWA) Writer Beware blog is one good example, as is the Kboards Writers’ Cafe. Take some time, read everything you can find, and be patient. Keep in mind the old adage ‘if something seems too good to be true, it probably is’.

10. Professionalism

The last, and in my opinion, most important. If you take your writing seriously, and want to make a career of it, the one piece of overarching advice I would give is: be professional. Create a professional product, and behave in a professional way. If you do this, I think you’re giving yourself the best possible start!

Title image by sakshi bhardwaj.

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One Comment

  1. Brian D. Andeson says:

    Great advice – though I personally hate Kboards 🙂 Russell Blake also has some great information on his blog if anyone is interested.

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