I have been asked to write about my journey as a self-published author. Though I have not yet reached the selling standard set by Amanda Hocking, I do have a very loyal fan base and my Witch Fairy series is experiencing great success. Below, I will discuss the passion, the disappointment, the determination, and the techniques that my fairly new experience with the publishing industry has brought me. I am always looking for new ways to perfect my writing and promote my books, but this is what I have learned so far.
As authors, we are all sure that we have written the next great book in our genres. Some of us probably have. Some of us probably have not. So, how do we find out? Our first inclination is to find an agent who will promote our book and make sure it becomes a success. The only problem with that? Agents receive thousands of emails, letters and manuscripts a year, but most are only looking for a handful of new authors to take on. If that many. So, after sending out too many queries to count, and receiving just as many rejections, where does an author go? The answer: one of the many sites such as Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble who let authors self-publish. The next problem? Getting people to read your book. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before starting the self-publishing process, the very first thing authors should do is ask friends to the read their manuscripts. Not your mother, who loves everything you do, but someone you can trust to be open and honest – even if it hurts your feelings. No one does us any favors as authors by telling us they love our manuscript when they really had a hard time making it through the first chapter. Fortunately, I surround myself with brutally honest people. Have my feelings been hurt? Absolutely. Have I learned from the experience? More than you can imagine.
If you do not have people who can provide honest feedback, and even if you do, it is essential for new authors to network with other authors. There are many forums to choose from. The one I found that I liked the best is Book Blogs at http://bookblogs.ning.com/. Here, I found other authors who were just starting out and authors who have been publishing for a while, and I learned a lot about both the industry and my craft from them. Joining a site like this is a valuable learning tool. You don’t have to make the same mistakes that other authors have. Learn what has worked for other authors just like you and what has not.
Once the story is perfected, the next thing the author faces is editing the book. Most of us starting out simply cannot afford the cost of a professional editor. Therefore, we have to do the best we can. I have found that the first book is the hardest to edit well. Many who have read book one in my Witch Fairy series would probably agree. With the first book, we are so focused on the story and the message we want to convey, that often even several rereads make it difficult to edit the book to professional standards. The fortunate thing? In my experience, most readers who love the story are going to overlook most of the typos, grammatical errors, missing or extra words and lack of punctuation. Do not take this to mean that editing is not important. Even the reader who loves the book would enjoy it more with proper editing. So, my advice is to do the best you can. Have others read the book looking for errors, not content. If you listen to honest feedback, and with time and experience, editing your own book will become easier. Picking up a book on grammar and editing is always helpful, as well.
Now, you have a good story and it’s edited to the best of your ability. What’s next? Well, you need people to read it. The absolute best way to get started with this is requesting reviews from serious book bloggers. Even the traditionally published authors are told by their publishers to seek out these bloggers to help promote their books. Not all bloggers accept self-published books, but here is a list of some of those who do: http://www.stepbystepselfpublishing.net/reviewer-list.html. There are also other valuable articles and information on this site to assist self-published authors. Also, Book Blogs and many other sites have lists. Seek them out. Each time a blogger reviews your book, hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people read about it. This is the best free marketing tool available to you. Use it as frequently as you can. Spend a day sending out email after email to the people on these lists, because not all bloggers will want to review your book for a number of reasons – genre, subject matter, etc. Yes, this is time consuming, but you will reap the rewards for the time spent.
There are more traditional, meaning not free, ways to advertise. When I first started, I did a limited amount of advertising on Facebook. It was cost effective and I could target the market I was seeking. You can control how much is spent on your campaign, and you can pause it and/or republish it whenever you need to do so. There are many other sites that you can find cheap marketing, it’s just a matter of googling it. Also, a lot of bloggers let authors market their books on their sites. There are many people out there who want self-published authors to be successful, and they are easy to find once you know where to look. On sites like Book Blogs, both authors and bloggers seek each other out, making the process painless and more time effective.
Most authors also have their own author sites and/or blogs. I highly recommend this. Fans of my books can check out the first chapter of each of my books on my blog. The more traffic I can generate through reviews and sites like Book Blogs, the more exposure I have for my books. Facebook and Twitter are also a great place to start.
A way that I have chosen to help the self-publishing community is by doing book reviews myself. Yes, this is time consuming, but I feel the time is well spent. On my blog at http://bonnielamer.blogspot.com/, I provide honest reviews and do as much as possible to promote these authors. I use the Amazon.com widgets tool to continue to advertise these books long after I’ve reviewed them, so newcomers to my site won’t miss out on these wonderful books. Do I like every book that I receive for review? No, I do not. Do I sometimes pass on well written books? Yes, I do. There are numerous reasons for this. Mostly, it is because I do not enjoy the particular genre. Others may have content that I find uninteresting, or sometimes, just plain offensive. It’s more often the former. Most of the books that I agree to review actually get a review. The ones that I don’t, I send to a page of my blog called ‘Not My Cup of Tea’ where I continue to advertise these books, but there is no review attached to them. I post my reviews on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, as well as Goodreads.com, as most other book bloggers do. The more reviews you have on these sites, the more readers are likely to take a chance on your book. I have even had authors whom I have given excellent reviews ask to use quotes from my reviews on their books. In a completely selfish moment here, that is a great way to get free advertising. Most of this work is for altruistic motives, though, I swear.
When publishing on sites like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, tag words are important. These are words that help direct readers to your book. A trick that lots of new authors use is to attach their name to other authors in the same genre. It’s a little sneaky, but effective. As readers search for books by their favorite authors, your book will show up in the list. That is why when I have new books come out, fans have to scroll through some other authors’ books to get to it. (As sales increase, these new books eventually fall in line with my other ones.) I choose to take it as a compliment that other authors have tagged themselves to my name. I hope it brings them new readers.
The last tip I will give is – communicate with your fans. They will be the best learning tool of all. My interactions with fans on Facebook and my blog have been a great inspiration. Not everyone likes my books, and this will always be the case, but the positive feedback I get more than makes up for the negative. Every positive message that I receive from a reader makes me determined enough and confident enough to write more.
Okay, I lied about that being the last tip. The very last tip I will give is this – write what you love and don’t worry about the people who do not enjoy your words. There will be many more people out there who do. Grow your skin thick and remember that not everyone enjoys some of the greatest authors of all times. Even authors such as Shakespeare, Austin, Patterson, Rice, Irving, Twain, Adams (okay, I’ll stop here, but you get the idea) have had reviewers trash their work. Did it hurt their feelings? I’m sure it did. Did it keep them from writing what they love? No, and I am deeply grateful for that. There will be people who feel the same way about your work, so please, keep writing.
As you do your own exploring, I would love to hear what you learn. If you find new and great ways to market your work that I have not mentioned, please let me know. I am always ready to learn more. Until then, I hope I’ve helped you at least a little bit on your new journey!