Friday, October 24, 2014

Self Publishing is Hard

I normally don't hit Ctrl+A followed by Del on anything but I did that twice on this post. Why? Well, I wanted to make absolutely certain that what I'm writing isn't coming across as cynical, arrogant, or whatever else negative you want to say here.

There are a few reasons for this particular post:
1) Something that happened last year
2) A post on the NaNo forums
3) Procrastination: I'm doing it. ;)

That's out of the way. We shall move onward to the good stuff.

Self publishing is Hard

For anyone thinking about becoming a self published author I have one simple word of advice for you: Research.

That's it. No seriously, that's it. That's what the entire self-publishing industry boils down to. Oh, you want details? All right. I've got the details. I've been trying to self-publish for exactly four years and a bunch of months. Don't believe me? Go find the first post in this blog. I'll wait. Done? Good. Let's keep going.


There are quite a few posts in the "Writing Tips" tab above this post. Feel free to check them out now (or later) but even writing can be boiled down to research. What kind of research? Well, it can be Google-ing how long it takes for a body to decompose in water. It can be reading about how to take care of a horse. It can be asking a doctor how they can operate on a known killer without having a thought of deliberately messing up. It's also reading. Stephen King says it best: "If you don't make the time to read, you don't have the time (and proper tools) to write." So, everything you read becomes research for what you're going to write. Cool, huh?

Of course you can also read about how to write. You know, all the grammar rules, the posts from other authors about showing not telling, how to create 3D/Human characters, how to world build, how to make things seem believable, all that is research too. And hey, you're only at the writing stage of self-publishing. Don't feel over-whelmed. It gets worse. ;)


You're asking: "Wait, isn't this what this whole post is about? Why does it get it's own section?" Why? Because before you can pass go and collect your $200 you have to figure out what you're trying to accomplish by writing a novel and finishing it. Are you writing for fun or do you eventually want to publish? If you're writing for fun: collect your $200 and move onto the next story. Want to get published? Get some popcorn and keep reading.

There are two ways to publish in this day and age: traditional publishing and self publishing. Traditional publishing can take up to, well, YEARS to do. You'll have to find an agent (researching each one as you go) and hope they'll be able to sell your novel to a publishing house, assuming you don't submit to a small press (after researching each one).

Let's assume you find an agent or publishing house to process your novel and start selling it. Great! Now, the year long wait for editing, formatting, and making a marketing plan. And yes, it will take at least a year to get your novel into a salable form by going the traditional route.

On the other side of the fence, self-publishing may take less time. A word to the wise: AVOID VANITY PRESSES. Anyone who wants you to pay them money to sell your novel is not out to help you. They should be giving YOU money. Also, most of what a vanity press (AuthorHouse, IUniverse, Lulu, etc) does: YOU CAN DO for a lot less. Trust me on that. I've been there, literally.

You know what your task is now? That's right. Go do some research on traditional and self publishing. There are positives and negatives to each and you have to figure out which fits YOUR goals the best. Don't worry, I'll wait.

Done? Good. From here on out we're going to focus on the self-publishing route so if you've decided to go traditional: good luck and god speed. :)


You've finished your novel. Congratulations! It's no longer a work in progress. So, take out the "in progress" part and what are you left with? Work. Yep. Work. And yes, everything after writing your work in progress will be work. It'll feel like you're trying to break through a stone wall with a spoon.

But don't fret fellow writer for there are people out there who are willing to help you. They are Editors and they will whip that novel into shape. But before you get that novel ironed out you have to find an editor. That's right: research. I don't just mean type in "editors" in Google and pick out the first one you see. Dear God please don't do that!

When you find an editor you think might work out you have to do your (that's right) research on said editor. Who else have they edited for? Can you contact the authors that have left testimonials and talk to them? Are there authors that have left testimonials? Are they within your price range?

Wait, what? Price range? Why yes, you'll have to shell out some cash to get your novel off the ground before you start making cash. Hey! Don't look at me like that. You can't edit your own novel unless you've been teaching grammar for a decade or have a major in English. Oh I'm not saying you're unskilled if you meet those qualifications. It's merely a good idea to get someone besides you to look at your work.

Why? Because you're attached to it and you're less likely to "kill your darlings." You're less likely to find the plot holes, inconsistencies, POV shifts and all that other fun stuff if you're the one editing it. So yes, find a good editor and pay to get your novel looked at. It'll pay off in the end.

Editing is like tattoos: you get what you pay for. If you want your book to come out looking totally kick ass, you're going to have to pay in the upper hundreds and possibly close to thousands. BUT, there are editors out there who are in the lower hundred range that will still give you good work. It's a matter of finding them and, you guessed it: doing your research.

The Other Stuff

You've written your novel and you've gotten it edited. YAY! You're not done. Sorry. Now you have to actually put it out there and make it available for people to read.

There's so much that comes to mind for this section that I couldn't really give it a good title. First off you have to (research) pre-market. What's pre-market? Well, it's all that talking about your book that you do before actually putting it out there. Now would be a good time to sign up for Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and a blog of some description. Start connecting with other authors, talk to people, but don't say "Hey, I've written a book and will be publishing it in three months! Go buy it" over and over because people will stop listening. You have to be suave about marketing and you can't keep shoving it in people's faces.

It's hard, I know, and I haven't mastered it. If I had I'd be writing full time and not working a 9AM to 5PM job.

Okay. So you're premarketing, that's great. Good job on making it to this point. Don't give me that look. Yes there's more.

Where do you put it? Keeping our minds out of the gutter, you have to decide how and where to put your masterpiece. Smashwords (online), Amazon (Kindle), and Barnes and Noble (Nook) tend to be the big three. All three have a bunch of legal hoops you have to jump through and different processes to formatting and submitting your novel. If I put it all here this blog post would go over the limit for what I'm allowed to write, I'm sure.

While you're pre-marketing (and even before you're editing) go to all three websites and check out how you submit a novel and what you need to get it up. Oh look, there's that word we're going to love to hate: research the publishing in self-publishing.

All right. You've written a novel, researched how you want to publish it/what you want to do with it, gotten it edited, pre-marketed and you're pretty sure you know how to put it up there. Great!

You're not done. For one: do you have a cover? A summary? An author bio? No? Well, you're going to need them. Covers can run you anywhere from free (if you're good at photoshop) to $500+ depending what you're looking for. What are you looking for? Professional. Eye-catching. Memorable. Neat. Concise and something that gets what your novel is about in one picture.

The summary is a paragraph about your novel that doesn't reveal everything but reveals enough that it makes someone want to read it. I know, I know, confusing. But do some *insert the dreaded r word here* on summaries by reading the summaries of your favorite novels and applying it to your own.

Author bio? Oh that's another hard one. It can be as simple as "John Handcock lives in Texas with his two cats and his muse" or as complicated as "John Handcock lives in Texas with his two cats and his wife. He works for X, and graduated from College with a Degree in X. This is his first novel and he hopes it won't be his last." Please don't take either of those word for word and again, do some research (again) on what others are doing. Writing is one of the few things where looking at someone else's work can help you with your own.

Okay so, you've written a novel, done your research on how you want to publish it, gotten it edited, have a cover, have a summary, an author bio, and set up pre-marketing. Now you can publish and start living the dream, right?

Nope. Oh you can publish it. You can totally hit submit on Smashwords, Amazon and all that and get it up there but you're not done. What else is there?
Continued marketing. You can't just stop marketing once you've hit submit. You've got to keep talking to people, slyly mentioning that your wrote a book and they should check it out. You've got to get reviews (this can also be a part of pre-marketing) and you have to get people you know buying your book.

That's not all you have to do. Oh I know, it's hard enough to market in such a way that is interesting, engaging and won't piss people off. You know what else you have to do? Start the whole process over again.

Yep. You read that right. You have to do it all again, well, minus the research part because you should know all that if you're doing it again. Anyway why do you need to start over? Well, you can't make a living off one novel unless you've got the next Harry Potter in your hands. If you only publish one thing and nothing else people will forget who you are in the myriad of all the other self-published and traditionally published authors out there.

Oh my poor sweet (summer) child, I know, it's enough to make you want to say screw it, right? It says right in the title of this post that self publishing is hard. What did you expect?

No one, and I mean no one, can write a book and become a best seller within three months. It takes months, years even, of dedication to writing and researching (you're cringing aren't you?) before you can finally make writing your living and even then you might be lucky enough to live slightly better than you are now.

Despite what people think writing a novel is not going to make you an instant millionaire and you can't expect to go from writing your first finished piece to self-published author in three months or less. You probably have a better chance at winning the lottery. Even the most successful self-published author I know (Russell Blake) took THREE YEARS to get to the point where he's making six figures. Guess how many books he's written? No, not three. Try a good dozen. Yeah, A DOZEN. He spends all his time writing and promoting and you know what? All his HARD WORK paid off and he's living the dream.

But, yes, it is HARD WORK and there is no short cut. There's no magical spell or pill you can take to make you an instant best seller. Most of it's trial and error. All of it is, wait for it: RESEARCH.

You know the fun part about self publishing? It's just that: SELF publishing. Who's at fault for not finding the right editor? You. Who's at fault for a cruddy cover? You. Who's at fault for sucky marketing? You. Who's at fault for not doing the research needed to be a success? You. Who gets all the credit  (and cash) if you do become the next JK Rowling, Stephen King, GRR Martin, James Patterson, Anne Rice or *insert favorite author here*? You.

Until next time: comments, questions, rage, rants and everything in between can be directed to the comments. And if you want to help a writer out check my kickstarter campaign to get a diverse book published.

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