Sunday 7 September 2014

You Declare Yourself a Self-Publishing Expert

Signs of a problem: you find yourself talking for the sake of talking; you feel compelled to offer advice on things you know little about.

The symptoms: delusions of grandeur.

One month after publishing your first novel, you begin to realise the depressing fact that unknown indie authors are treated with less respect than a large dog turd smeared over three paving slabs.

“What,” you ask yourself, “can I do to make people respect me?”

Then, suddenly, you have the answer: proclaim yourself an expert on writing and publishing. If you tell everyone that you know what you’re talking about, if you provide an answer to every single forum post ever written, if you change your screen name to ‘Super Self-Publishing Guru’ surely people will trust you enough to buy your book?

The problem is that after one month of writing, you are not an expert. Spouting opinions as fact may wow people for an hour or two, but then somebody who’s been self-publishing for two months will point out the flaws in your advice and you’ll be exposed for the fraudster that you are.

I’m not saying don’t offer advice – indeed the indie scene is based on peer-to-peer support. What I’m saying is don’t herald yourself an expert until you actually are one. Even then, it might be a good idea to exude some modesty. Authors who’ve been in the game for several years don’t take kindly to somebody breezing in and having an unshakeable opinion on absolutely everything.

Later, when you actually are better than everybody else, you may wish to consider publishing an ironic self-publishing self-help book, but personally I think that’s a bit lame.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Lucas Bale

I first decided to self-publish in January 2014. I can’t remember what the catalyst was for that decision, but it wasn’t a hokey New Year’s Resolution. I recall weighing the options: I could write dozens of letters to agents and paper my toilet with the rejections as Stephen King suggested in On Writing; then wait for my agent to pitch to publishers who would themselves need to pitch it up the line to the various departments within their own company that need to sign off on a new book. Then, my book would then need to find favour with a distributor. It would have four weeks to sell well enough to be kept on the shelves and not pulped. I would have no say in the cover design or marketing and I’d get a much smaller proportion of the royalties (if my book earned enough to even pay back the advance, if I got one).

Or I could self-publish. One click and my book is online. No agents, no publishers to convince – just get it out there. I get 35% or 70% royalties. I have the freedom to choose my own covers and the manner in which I market and the book stays online, forever. Sounds like an easy choice, doesn’t it?

It’s not. Traditional publishing companies have experience I don’t. They have contacts I might never have. They know the business of publishing. Successful self-published authors consider themselves both authors and publishers, so I need to learn it too. I picked up a book on the area, read it and found it was out of date already – the main thrust of the marketing was the power of free-runs in Kindle Select, but then Amazon changed their algorithms and the whole landscape changed. I read another book, Write Publish Repeat by Johnny B Truant and Sean Platt, and found it tremendously useful. I dipped into blogs and forums, and read more books. Every self-published author had an opinion – they sold 250,000 books in two years, and were living the dream, and they knew exactly how I should do it. Most of them were romance or erotica authors for whom the game is very different – they can release short books quickly and they have a high-turnover audience. Not every tactic fits every genre. What I found most was that there was a wealth of material which was overwhelming. And every self-published author seemed to think that teaching others how to write was the best way to get readers – that blog posts or tweets on writing was what their readers were interested in.

Aside from producing an excellent product – a well-edited, intelligent, gripping story with a great blurb and an eye-catching cover – you need to get people to see it. You need to promote it, market it and make it discoverable – you need to engage in the dark arts and the skulduggery that people associate with selling. And there are dozens of ‘experts’ willing to tell you how to do it. Some are good (Rosen Trevithick, for example, and I also like Joanna Penn), some not so much. Most are rehashing old ideas and not keeping up with the lightning-fast sea changes happening in publishing. The key is having a stable platform of your own that you control – a website no one else can take from you is a must. The second essential ingredient is a mailing list of fans who will give every new release a push. The rest is all about you – how you connect with your readers, how you think you (as a reader) might discover your own book, and what you enjoy doing to promote your book. And keeping your expectations realistic – none of us are experts, we are all learning the trade of publishing and we always will be.

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