Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What I've learned (so far) about self-publishing

Self-Publishing, or Indie Publishing, has become a really big movement, what with the creation of ebooks and Paid On Demand services. There are groups designed specifically for writers/authors who "do it themselves", as it were. And I'm no exception.

My first two books, The Unknown Elf and Kas, were both self-published. I also published a short story, Dorcha Adhmad.

So, here are a few things that I've learned since I started trying to get my work out there.

1- Writing is the easy part. Sure, it took me what seemed like forever to write each story, especially since I started both of them way back when I was in junior high, but, really, it didn't take as much time as it could have. (I'm just a perfectionist, so I blame that. And I was still learning, am still learning, my craft.)

I'm not saying writing isn't hard, because it really is. Trying to put down a story, especially when the story/characters don't want to cooperate is difficult. It takes a lot of time and patience, and nurturing, on the part of the writer.

2-Editing is hard. For example, I took apart my novel, Kas, at least ten times over the course of the past ten plus years. And those include the times I remember consciously sitting down to edit. The original version was only like fifty pages long. The end result? Closer to two-hundred.

Editing is hard because you have to take your story and find the right balance between everything. And you have to make sure it makes sense. (I include BETA reading in this category, because every good story needs to get feedback from others.) And then there's content editing and copy/technical editing. I'm not a fan of either. But, thanks to modern technology, it makes things a bit easier. I'm a personal fan of the Hemingway App.

For The Unknown Elf, I asked a bunch of BETA readers to give me feedback. Then I had my mom edit the crap out of it. We used to joke that she could turn any paper into Swiss cheese, or make it bleed red, no matter how perfect. Which is a good thing, because it means she's looking at the basics. For Kas,  I relied on the fact that I'd taken the story apart so many times that the original muse wouldn't recognize it.

In the end, editing is a matter of polishing the story, taking out typos, and making it sparkle.

3-Formatting can be a nightmare, especially if you're not used to computers or the specific programs. Some people find it easier to just ask someone else to do it, either as a favor, or for a fee. I toughed it out and learned how to do it the hard way. Took me a while too, since I prefer to use an older version of Word than any tutorial has instructions for. Call me old-fashioned that way, if you like. I'd write on a typewriter if they were still in fashion.

Every place you publish wants things formatted, though, and that's not exactly something you can do with a typewriter, at least not these days. Once you learn, it's not really hard to do. But if you haven't got a clue, it's TORTURE. And yes, I did purposely cap that word, because that's what the first time I formatted something for publication felt like. Tutorials were useless and I ended up learning as I went.

My advice, if you are not computer savvy, have someone else do the formatting for you. It may cost a bit, but it's worth all the time and frustration you might have trying to go alone. Unless you can find a good teacher, or are just persistently stubborn like I am.

4-Cover Design is essential and can be a real pain. For The Unknown Elf, I knew exactly what I wanted my cover to look like, and I got it because I did it myself. Actually, I've done all of my own cover work, minus having a photographer friend take pictures for Kas. I did everything else.

Your cover design is going to rely on several things. The first thing is your book/story's genre. Take a look at the different cover designs others have done for similar books. No one wants to see a romance book with pictures of serial killers on the front. Not all genres like having an illustration, or a photo. Some prefer simplistic approaches, while others like complex. The point, though, is to look for something that will get the intended audience interested but not push them away because it's "too busy" or has too much information screaming up at them.

If you have skills as an artist, be it graphic or traditional, you have a good chance of being able to design your own cover. If you don't, I highly suggest finding someone to design the cover for you. Sure, it will cost you (how much depends on what you work out with the designer, including the potential for royalties, etc. So do your homework before you hire someone.)

As for me, I practically grew up on Photoshop and art. My mom was a painter (though she doesn't do much with art currently), and my dad is a professor of graphic design. With that combination, it became easy for me to figure out what to do to create my own covers. Almost double-majoring in art with my English degree helped as well. The hardest part, for me, was trying to figure out what I wanted to do for Kas' cover. But once I got the general idea, it just fell into place.

Something else you can consider when creating a cover, illustration vs. photograph vs. manipulation. I think all three have a degree of difficulty to them. Photography requires a location, potential models, lighting, photographer, costumes, etc. Illustration needs some kind of reference material, different art tools (computer or traditional), and manipulation takes a bit of both. So, whichever is your cup of tea, run with it and see what happens.

As for fonts, I highly suggest 1001 Free Fonts as a reference to what's out there.

5- Publish your work. If you've figured out where you're going to publish, great! If not, look at your options. (Pending on what you pick, this step might come before formatting and cover design. Each service is a little bit different.) For me, I like a combination of CreateSpace, Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP for short). They're all pretty easy to use. Once you have everything formatted, cover ready to go, you can pretty much just upload, wait for it all to get approved, and you're done! At least with this part.

Please note that if you go for a paperback (or any kind of "physical" copy, your cover design is going to have to fit specific size requirements. That's part of why you need to know which service you will be using in advance before designing.)

6-Promotion. From everything I've experienced, this is the BIGGEST part of getting a book out there, especially if you want it to sell. And I don't mean just a copy here, a copy there. If you don't let people know your work is out there, they're not going to look for it. So, you have to promote it, which means advertise and putting yourself out there.

I"m still new at this one, but there are TONS of resources out there on how to get your work noticed. Advice spans the horizons of social media sights (facebook, Instagram, etc), to having Twitters, blogs, websites, etc. Marketing your book is exhaustive, time consuming, and seems to need constant care, like a plant that, if not watered and pruned every day, will die. Okay, maybe not exactly that drastic, but still, it works as an allegory.

The point is that your books are not going to sell themselves, no matter how well written, how awesome the cover design is, etc. You have to get it out there. Enter contests. (There are tons if you just look for them.) Join associations and support groups, even promotional groups. They can be a great source of information on how to market.

Research how to do blog tours, book launch parties online. Post facebook ads. Create fan pages just for your books, and one for you. Create a simple website. There are a lot of free options out there if you're on a budget. Wordpress is great, as is Blogger. Or, you can hire someone to create a website for you. Whatever works best for you.

Try different email lists that provide discounted or free ebooks, such as Book Bub or similar. Google them. There are a lot out there. Get on Goodreads as an author and do a giveaway. There are so many options that there is no "sure" way for everyone. You just have to find what works best for you.


Questions? Comments? Feel free to add them!

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