It’s recently come to my attention that I’m doing pretty darn well as a self-publisher. My sales numbers have been steadily growing, I’m gaining more followers every day, and my latest novel, Fool for Love, has been sitting in the top ten on iBooks list of paid historical romance for over a week. Not too shabby! Plus I was recently talking to a group of traditionally-published mid-list romance writers, all of whom were eager to know how I did it, since they’ve either started or are considering starting self-publishing themselves. Yep, that’s right. Traditionally-published authors are curious about self-publishing.
I’ve long seen teaching workshops at writing conferences and beyond as part of what I want to do as a writer. What better way to start that ball rolling than by sharing my knowledge and experience of self-publishing? I am, apparently, good at it, and after nearly two years and five novels, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, what you can expect from this path and what you can’t expect.
So for the next few Wednesdays I’m going to be blogging about self-publishing as a way of gathering my thoughts on the subject into topics that I can use as lessons in workshops of the future. Yes, you are my guinea pigs. Here goes….
Self-publishing. Once a one-way ticket to notoriety of the wrong kind in the publishing world, now it’s the hottest thing going. The digital publishing revolution has made it possible for anyone – and I mean anyone – to publish whatever they want to. On the one hand, self-publishing has given us giants like John Locke, Bella Andre, E.L. James, and Amanda Hocking. On the other hand, it has given us thousands of cringe-worthy, half-baked, forgotten novels by well-meaning writers who don’t quite know what they’re doing.
And of course each of us thinks we’re the next sizzling sensation, not the next big yawn. But how do we know? How do we decide whether we’re ready to jump into the self-publishing waters to tempt our fates or whether it would be better to pursue the classic publishing route of agent, editor, deal?
How do you know if self-publishing is right for you?
I believe that the answer comes down to personality. Contrary to what you might think, I don’t believe that self-publishing is the choice of the excitable and adventurous. It’s easy to think that people who would be attracted to this route to publication are the independent ones, the rule-breakers and the envelope-pushers. This is cutting-edge stuff, right? So the doers and the shakers are the ones who should take advantage of it, right?
Not quite. Writing a novel, working it through its paces through draft after draft to form it into something suitable for curling up in bed with on a stormy night is a hard, hard business. It requires focus, dedication, and more self-awareness than you might be comfortable with. It requires waking up early to write before work or staying home while your friends go out to finish the chapter. It requires networking and participation in writers organizations, attending writing classes and conferences and studying books to hone your craft. Writing is hard work!
If you’re self-publishing, that’s only the beginning of the work you have to do. There’s still formatting, revisions, building a platform – not to mention maintaining it, networking, combing the web for marketing opportunities, and lots and lots of money.
Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, thrill-seeker would have much patience for, does it. Because it’s not. Writers who get too excited about the ease of digital publishing and who don’t have the patience to follow all of the steps that a book goes through when it has been contracted by a publisher the traditional way are the ones who end up with wince-worthy efforts that drop off the map as soon as they hit it.
If you can’t hold yourself to a rigid schedule, if you don’t have the patience to let a manuscript sit in order to gain perspective, then to go back and edit it five or six more times, if you don’t have skin thick enough to hand your half-baked prose around to a plethora of beta-readers, if you don’t have the humility to hire a professional editor and cover designer, and if you aren’t willing to mirror every step those big, bad publishing companies take before shipping a book out to brick-and-mortar shops, then self-publishing isn’t right for you.
But what if you are willing to put in the work? What if you are serious, determined, patient, and dedicated … but also broke. I said above that one of the things you need to self-publish is money. Really? Can’t you self-publish without money?
Sure you can. But if you want your book to look and read like a traditionally-published novel – and don’t we all, really? – then you need to treat it as an investment. I’ve spent roughly $300 on each of my novels to get them published. That includes hiring a professional editor and cover designer. That’s also way, way cheap (I got lucky). I’ve spent more than that on marketing, some of which worked, some of which was a waste of money, but that’s a story for another day. So yes, you do need to invest a little if you’re going to self-publish.
So are you willing to buckle down, make sacrifices, and do the work? Are you willing to follow every step, even the boring or painful ones? Are you willing to put up some capital? Then self-publishing might just be for you.
Next week, we’ll take a closer look at what self-publishing is and isn’t, and we’ll examine the essential things that you’ll need in order to do this thing. Ready?
If you have any questions or anything specific you’d like to know about self-publishing, go ahead and ask and I’ll include it in future lessons/posts.