One Year Later: Five Things I Learned About Self Publishing
Well, its been a full year since Textual Healing came out, my senior capstone project turned novel. Over the course of that year I learned a lot about the self publishing process. It was incredibly frustrating and cost me a hell of a lot of money, but in the end, I think it was all worth it, despite the rising anger in my chest every time I think of the self publisher I used.
When it came out, Textual Healing received a lot of nice press. Tons of book bloggers wrote about it and said glowing things. I even saw some print press, which is a really hard thing to get when it comes to a self published book. It has an average 4 star review on Goodreads, with nearly 70 ratings. It even sold enough copies to recoup nearly half of what I spent getting the book published in the first place.
All in all, a success as far as I’m concerned.
However, as more and more of my friends and folks I’ve met through the Internets talk about self publishing, I find myself concerned. Because really, while I’m happy with the result of my silly book, I know a lot of people would be epically disappointed if they had my results.
So, I’ve written this little list of key things I’ve learned about the process, to hopefully help folks that decide to do something similar. Because it is hard, it is frustrating, and ya’ll need to be prepared.
1. Have Low Expectations: You’re psyched. Your first book is coming out. You’re daydreaming about watching your Amazon rankings shoot up into the stratosphere, making best of lists, signing movies deals, and…
Yeah… please stop doing that. Please.
Yes, there are lots of awesome success stories when it comes to self publishing, but those are rare considering the sheer number of books that get churned out from these publishers. Don’t count on your book getting a ton of press, popping up in bookstores across the country or making you a ton of money. Press won’t want it, your self publishing company can’t get it in bookstores and even if your book does sell a thousand copies, you’ll probably just barely recoup your expenses.
If you are doing this for the money, you’re already #doingitwrong.
Me, I went in with pretty low expectations regarding my book. I was lucky. My silly book did get a lot of press, but really, most of that only happened because of Geekadelphia, my existing relationships with bloggers and my own toilsome marketing tactics (a podcast that failed, Goodreads giveaways that I spent lots of money on, etc) for the title.
If you go in with low expectations, everything great that happens, whether it is a press hit or a kind review on Amazon, will only feel 100% more fantastic. There is nothing wrong with daydreaming, but stay realistic.
2. Book Bloggers Seldom Review Self Published Books: Yes yes. You’ve written the next Great American Novel or whatever. You’re like Paul Giamatti in Sideways. Great book, no one wants it. So you go ahead and make things happen yourself, thinking everyone will want to read it.
Eh, not so much.
I took this review policy screenshot from Well Read Wife, a book blogger I ADORE working with when it comes to promoting Quirk titles. She doesn’t accept self-published books, and really, I can’t blame her. I’ve seen my fair share of self published author pitch emails sent to Geekadelphia, poorly written press releases, etc. It hurts, knowing that these folks are putting their baby out there without proper support (that’s why you get a publicist), and book bloggers simply don’t have the time to read through all that (to borrow an editorial term) slush. They have tons of quality stuff heading their way on a weekly basis.
If you want a book blogger to review your book, make sure you check out their review policy first. If they do take self published books, there are likely a lot of savvy writers like you scoping out blogs this way. Make your pitch worthwhile. Show them that you’re different. A lot of people are going to be trying to do the same. If you can afford it, your best bet is to pool together a list of these bloggers, and deliver them to your publicist.
And sorry, large media won’t want your book either, unless there is some sort of outstanding story connected to it. Or you know, a horrible, HORRIBLE scandal.
Note: Book publicists are not tools who wear Bluetooths
3. Hire a Publicist: So I mentioned publicists in the first and second piece here, and there’s a reason. Unless you’ve quit your day job to support your self published book (are you out of your mind, why the hell would you do that?), you are going to need help getting your book out there. Sending out pleading emails asking bloggers to review your book is great, but you’re representing yourself. That… well, that looks kind of sad. It’s bad enough you’re self published. And like I said, most bloggers don’t WANT self published books. And bigger media? Forget it. Not going to happen.
Your best bet is to hire a publicist to represent you and make you look good. Some self publishing companies do offer up publicity in the packages for a little extra, but with over 26,000 books coming out from some of these publishers a year (A YEAR!) how much time do you think they will really have to dedicate to your little book? Is it better to spend a couple grand extra on a publicist that won’t have time for you, or hire a personal one that you can meet one-on-one for the same price?
Not a hard question to answer now, is it?
Me, I was fortunate. I had a friend who worked at a publicity firm UPSTAIRS from my day job. Amazing, right? She did her best, and helped get the book some local print coverage, which I’m quite thankful for. My budget was super limited (self publishing a book is expensive!), and she did what she could with what I had. Her firm even bent over backwards when I was late with a payment. Good people.
4. Hire a Damn Editor: Alright, this is a lesson hard learned. I brought a friend on to look over my book, who did it for free, and unfortunately my book was still slammed with mistakes. In most reviews of the book, people noted that as much as they liked the story, it was in dire need of an editor. And really, they were right.
I mean, I’m from New Jersey, and I spelled Jägermeister wrong. Down the shore, my people live for that stuff.
Yes, you’re already spending a ton of money to get your book published, designed, etc. Spend a little extra. It’ll save you the embarrassment of flipping through your book after a review is posted, and epically facepalming. The more you read your own work, the less you notice the mistakes. You’ll start skimming. It’ll happen. Get some help.
This is your self publisher, when you call.
5. The Publisher Does Not Care About You: This concept is utterly ridiculous to me, considering I work at a place where we care a great deal about our authors. Unfortunately in self publishing, these people aren’t interested in you as a person, a creative individual. You’re just a big ol’ burlap sack with a dollar sign painted on it.
Yes, I realize that is a sweeping generalization. But with AuthorHouse, such was the case.
Here’s the thing. Your publisher isn’t going to go mad promoting your book, because really, they’ve got nothing to lose if it doesn’t do well. Remember that large sum of money you plopped down to make your book happen? Whether it was $500 or $5000, the publisher has already made their money.
And promotion? Forget about it. While just about every real publisher is thrilled to bring your book to expos and conventions (ie: Comic Con, Book Expo America, etc), a self publisher will charge a gross sum of money to toss your book on a shelf. In fact, a recent email from AuthorHouse invited me to have my book on display at the Miami Book Fair… for $500.Unfortunately, this kind of promotion fools less than savvy new authors. I’ve seen those self published books, lining the selves of vanity presses at book expos. And now that I know how much it cost them, it breaks my heart.
With Textual Healing, phone calls to the publisher regarding issues that to do with the book design, layout, marketing, publicity, etc… proved incredibly difficult. I would be on hold for close to an hour each time, and made a habit of calling them on my way to and from work. However, any calls or emails that had to do with purchasing bulk boxes of books… immediate answers, never on hold. Surprise surprise.
So sorry kids, your self publisher isn’t going to go mad helping you with your book… because they’ve got nothing to lose if it doesn’t do well. They just want your money. Don’t do it.
Conclusion: Am I saying you shouldn’t self publish a book? Eh. It isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have the funds to get a publicist on board, hire an editor and design a really nice cover, do reconsider. If you don’t already have some sort of platform to promote yourself, you’ll need to build one. It isn’t a point and click process, no matter what your check out cart w/ the publisher may say. Get ready to work to make things happen.
Further Reading: Here’s some good reading on self publishing.