It is commonly said that writing is a lonely task. We spend most of our time sitting behind the keyboard, fuelled by coffee and tea, grinding away at the metaphorical page. And all of this by our lonesome selves.
So what about once you have finished your book and it’s ready to go? God, this must be the best time, the time you get to present your spectacular piece of art to the outside world. It’s time for the world to bask in your magnificence – because your book is the best thing that’s ever been written – don’t deny it, you know it’s true. But hold on, now you need to get it published.
Editing, agents, publishers, manuscripts, more editing, rejections, no replies, more editing and then you realise nobody wants your book. You have two choices. 1) Throw it in the chest and start the next book or 2) Self publish.
I read a lot of articles on how to self-publish successfully. I don’t often read about what the reality is for the 99th percentile.
I chose to self-publish, because, hey, I worked my behind off writing this book, and I at least want to let people read it. Once I made the decision to self-publish a whole lot of truths became apparent. Let me share some of them with you.
Truth 1: You are starting a business.
As easy as it is to publish your own work in today’s world, you are setting up a business. And if you have never set up a business, it takes a lot of work. It also takes a lot of research and a lot of reading up on things that you have likely never thought about. Setting yourself up as a sole trader, tax, forms, phone calls, formatting your manuscript into a published novel or ebook, creating or commissioning a cover… the list goes on.
Yet, again, this is where you realise how alone you are. Sure you may spend a lot of time as I do reading other writers blogs and participating in online writing communities. They do help to make you feel less alone, but only so much. Because at the end of the day you still need to do the work, no one is going to publish your book for you – self-publish remember!
Setting up everything to allow yourself to publish takes a long, long time. Especially if you have a day job that isn’t writing. But don’t despair, it is all worth it and thankfully most of these tedious parts are one offs.
Truth 2: You have published your book. Nobody Cares!
No really, nobody cares. Ok that’s not entirely true. Most of your friends and family – assuming they aren’t all overachieving, highly successful millionaires – will be very impressed and provide you with kind words of encouragement. They may even buy your book! However the rest of the world doesn’t care.
Why is that? Because there are so many books out there to buy. Readers are swamped by an endless sea of tweets, facebook posts and ads that are showing them what to read. It’s oversaturation, and when faced with too many options, people go to what they know is good, what is already successful and what others are recommending. It is the only way of sorting through the, for lack of a better term, slush pile.
Truth 3: Publishing just isn’t enough.
They say that a self-published book on average sells 100 copies in its lifetime. Unless you market your book, you are not going to get sales. It sounds simple but it is true. And sadly the easiest methods are not often the best. You can post on twitter with constant links to your book under every hashtag that you can think of. You can spam your facebook friends until the cows come home. You can post on forums letting people know that your book is out. A lot of people will click on the link and have a look at your book. But how many will actually buy it. Sadly it is a very low number.
We can hardly blame people. You have to ask yourself, how many books have you bought after clicking on a link that a random person sent you? I can tell you that for me it is a total of 0. I have enough famous authors to read and it is a sobering fact that this is the case for the rest of the world. The percentage of people who will take a gamble on an unknown author is small.
So the task is to try and build a name for yourself. Join the discussion on forums and blogs. Don’t post about your book, just post about topics being discussed. Post something interesting and if you have your website in your signature, maybe they’ll have a look on their own accord.
Truth 4: Don’t publish too early.
I will admit for the first time here that I published my first novel, Dawn of the Valiant, far too early. I released it into the market eagerly and had not done enough editing. I thought I had, my eyes and fingers were telling me I had, but the truth was there were errors in my novel. A lot of them were simply grammatical mistakes, ones easily missed by a reader. Others were blaringly obvious and somehow overlooked by both my editor, beta readers and me. These can hurt your reputation. And often you only get one shot.
Thankfully the beauty of self-publishing is that continuous improvement is but a new upload away. I have now had a professional editor go over the book and, doing some extra editing of my own, sorted out 99% of the issues. Regardless, that should have been something I had sorted before my prospective readers picked up my work. You don’t want to be known as that guy who published a book, but left in all the typos. I look back at it as an important lesson.
Truth 5: Yes there are success stories. But they are the exception.
How often do you hear about 50 Shades of Grey or Wool or any other author who has successfully self-published? Hey don’t get me wrong, good on them, I myself hope to someday be mentioned beside them. The truth is you will probably publish a lot of unsuccessful books first, even if you are lucky enough to hit the big time.
There is some hope here though. Brandon Sanderson wrote 13 books before getting published. C.S Lewis received over 800 rejections. The trick of course is to keep writing. Eventually you’ll get it right. And if you don’t at least you can pass on a whole heap of books to your children.
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So there a few of my learnings, there are plenty more. Yet, despite all of these revelations I loved self-publishing. I will continue to do so until I manage to trick a traditional publisher into signing me. And if that day never comes, I will remain thankful that in this day and age it is possible and affordable for me to get my books out into the market by myself.