Hi, here are 7+ things I have learned about self-publishing by doing it myself, researching, talking to professionals and discussions with other authors (independent and traditionally published).
Now before we start, I am the living embodiment of ‘learning from not yet succeeding’ at this point, so please consider these thoughts and how they apply to you. In other words, I do not profess to have the magic gift of how to sell self-published books, yet. I have succeeded in progressing this far and the genuine positive feedback from readers has been what has sustained me to this point. That said these are honest findings from the coal face without sanitizing to suit my sponsors. (My little joke – I don’t have any sponsors).
I have self-published two books for 8 to 14 year olds and here are some things I’ve learned along the way. Check out my books online here and here, If you know readers in this age group please support me by reading free samples of Sean Yeager Adventures either on my website here or with Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature. If you feel inclined please purchase a copy.
- Yes you can self-publish
- The mechanics are relatively straight forward to execute, learn the ropes and DIY with CreateSpace, Smashwords and similar. Do not pay someone else huge amounts of money to format or create your book. If you need some help with e-books it can be worth a modest sum £60 / $80 to resolve formats with a first edition. You will however need a cover designer and help with editing your book, because different perspectives will help you to increase your book’s quality. The cover in particular is critical to how your book is perceived. I suggest budgeting according to how complex your cover needs to be and negotiate good terms. Editing is all about raising your game to professional writing standards, for which you will need to find a good editor with knowledge of your genre.
- Self promotion is challenging
- There are numerous articles on the internet about how to promote books. Essentially you need to have a promotional plan and ‘reach’ to sell books. I define ‘reach’ as the number of people you can put your product in front of with a promotional message. That can be real world, online or through paid advertising. I have found promotion to be a challenge. You also need to clearly understand your target market and make sure you can reach them. (e.g. mine is mums & dads buying for children aged 8 to 14 who like adventure books)
- Twitter – does not sell books. It is too noisy and full of pushy self-published authors and promoters of the same. I have also heard it said that people go there to dump emotions not to buy. If you find an exception go with the flow. You can gain interest about yourself as an author and possibly clicks to your website. None the less, Twitter users are reacting and want to say something, direct sales for books are less likely.
- Facebook free – rarely sells books unless your reader audience is online, typically aged 20 to 35. You need genuine organic word of mouth to encourage people to buy your books. I have also heard it said that people are checking out their interests and connections, browsing rather than buying.
- Facebook paid advertising – is good for targeted visibility, but rarely sells books in my experience. Now that may again be due to the ‘mode’ people are in when using Facebook. Browsing rather than shopping. Clicks to your website will help, your website then needs to convert the interest to actual sales which is the tricky part.
- Google Ads paid – rarely sell books, but will send traffic (briefly) to your website. It is complicated to use Google Ads and it can be expensive. The click-through location is where the selling would really happen, hence the challenge. Can you set up a compelling shop to convert traffic for your books into sales? It is worth remembering that you can not advertise your own website and also direct traffic to your Amazon page in the same Google Ad.
- Goodreads – can sell books, if you receive good word of mouth, reviews and give away books. Again your target audience need to be using Goodreads for this to be effective. The Goodreads audience is broader than Facebook and book-centric which helps. The rest is down to how you engage with your Goodreads audience. Claim your works, add a blog, run some giveaways, contribute to some forums, but never argue with anyone on Goodreads about your own works.
- Book blogger reviews – might sell books. I honestly would not know because hardly any book bloggers with good reach are open to reviewing new books in my genre. It seems the market is saturated and traditional publishers are targeting book bloggers. If you can have your book reviewed by a book blogger within your book’s target market I recommend it. The visibility is probably worth the effort.
- Face to face selling – does sell books, but in limited quantities. The buyer is buying ‘you’ as much as the book. It can be embarrassing the first few times, but it is satisfying if the reader genuinely likes your book and gives you balanced feedback (which I am pleased to say has happened to me).
- BookBub (newsletter) does sell e-books, but only if they accept you and you are targeting an adult reader market. And yes it is not a given that they will accept your book, they price and prioritize based on the market reach for your book’s genre. It is worth reading their price list alone to understand the market size you are dealing with.
- Your own Newsletter – can sell books, especially when you are launching a new book to an established list of people who have signed up to hear more about your work. You will though need to incentivise them and add the links into the promotion you send out. I suggest treating your subscribers as you would prefer to be treated, with relevant, infrequent and genuine offers. I do not propose spamming with news updates or trivia because this tends to annoy people and they will most likely junk your emails.
- Your own website – might sell books. I see a steady trickle of traffic to my website www.SeanYeager.com . (Most people think I am Sean Yeager which is entertaining.) You can control your own content on your website. I suggest using a relatively cheap provider who can support what you need and where you control all the content yourself, hands-on – blog, pictures, about, product information etc. If you need a shop you need to be more careful, because it is more complex to set up a compelling store online, especially for mobile phone users. Likewise for video blogs and storage. Shop around and trial some.
- Your own blog – can sell books. However you need ‘reach’ and ‘relevance’ for this to be the case. Often authors become ‘author helpers’ or ‘consultants’. When this happens I wonder to what extent their viewers perceive them as a service provider or advisor instead of a book seller and author. In fact they may well make more income from services & advertising than books. Or from books about ‘how to self-publish’, no pun intended because it is an industry in its own right.
- WordPress is a really good platform and the free offering is great. If you need more features, I suggest shopping around for the right balance of price and ease of use. If you plan on becoming a professional blogger / expert, it is important to have enough storage for your video blogs and articles. I have no such aspirations at this time, so I stick with WordPress Free. (And no they do not sponsor me).
- Don’t give away free e-books
- This will be controversial to some. I suggest keeping a price and protection on your e-books at all times. Firstly, because it puts a value on your work. Secondly, because people will pirate your work more easily otherwise. I do not believe that people who take free books are inclined to buy future books. Also, you would need to have a lot of different books available to benefit from any halo effect caused by your first free book. Instead, I suggest making free chapters available on your website. Or consider cheaper offers for your book for a limited period. Smashwords are good with offer codes which you could combine with your newsletter for a new release.
- Learn to think like a marketeer
- At first you need to think like a writer, because let’s face it you need a lot of good ideas and hard work to complete your book. However, you also need to embrace thinking like a marketeer for your work as a product as well. This will be needed for all the strap-lines, brief book blurbs, the back and inside covers, your website text, how you position your work and of course your promotional plan. Fortunately it is possible to learn about marketing, advertising and promotion online using resources in YouTube and on career marketeer’s websites. This will speed up your learning curve.
- People will discriminate against a self publisher because you are not ‘published’
- Rightly or wrongly people will assume that your product is not as high in quality as a traditionally published work. The truth is that no matter how emotive you may be about this lack of fairness, it is going to happen. You therefore will need to dig deep and find your coping approach and support. There are successful independent authors who self publish and as far as I can tell they will sign a deal with a multinational to gain reach and a better deal once they have gained attention. And to be honest I would be tempted myself depending on the nature of that ‘deal’. In the meantime, you can sell books despite the discrimination, only don’t bank on leaving your day job for a while and best of luck with the selling.
- Book fairs – I was asked for my publisher to forward my back-list before even being considered to be part of a book fair. It was the published authors’ subtle barrier. Now if I knew what a back-list looked like and had a publishers’ letter head I could play along. Most likely they would then have me marshal a car park.
- Book bloggers – most do not want self-published books to review and they say so. You could try to bypass this, but honestly you could equally annoy them into a poor review.
- Book stores – pretty much struggle as it is. Those that do not are probably open to local authors to some extent. However, if you mention self-published / independent you can pretty much see their eyes glaze over. Best tactic is to not mention it and put forward your charm to sell yourself and your sale or return books.
- Book store head office – will routinely ignore your self-published book unless you somehow manage to meet someone sympathetic to the qualities of your book. They already get bombarded with books from traditional book publishers who offer all kinds of incentives, so the competition is fierce.
- Libraries and e-libraries – may take a free gift of your book. They may also tell you that someone has to vet it first before putting it on the shelves. It’s worth a try. However, e-libraries are now locked down by a handful of suppliers who only deal with publishers who offer a minimum of 6 plus books. So you’ll need help to get around the restriction and gain an account with them.
- Book giveaways often do not lead to book reviews
- Book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads make a difference. Getting them and keeping them is tough. I do not recommend attempting to rig reviews because people notice and Amazon has been known to remove them. I do recommend asking anyone who is willing to write an honest review and post it on Amazon and Goodreads. Now, giving away a print copy on Goodreads may lead to a book review. The odds are about 10%. Goodreads prefer that you do not contact the winners or entrants, which is not so hot. I suggest you write a note when you send out the physical book to winners and ask for a review from them. It does not always work and sometimes the receiver can be mean in the review. However, it is still a review and decent people will give you a fair review in exchange for a free book.
- You will need trusted beta readers
- It’s a tricky balance – who do you trust? Well you can start by trusting yourself. Next, hopefully your partner, though be aware they could become jealous or dismissive, it happens. What you need is a set of beta readers who are interested in your genre of book. Ideally you need them to be balanced in their feedback. That said, if you have some overly critical, some more relaxed and plenty of mistake and typo spots, you are onto a good thing. I suggest you follow-up on everything they spot even if it does not make sense at first sight. I have known five people to overlook the same typos and plot holes before now. And you need all the help you can find to maintain high quality writing for your book. Also thank them and gift them a signed print copy, it’s a win win.
Hope these thoughts help you on your quest. Best of luck. Remember to share this link with people you know and feel free to drop by www.SeanYeager.com .
Thanks for visiting.