When I first entered the world of self-publishing in June of 2012, I thought I knew a great deal about the subject. I’d been lurking around for years with a “should-I-or-shouldn’t-I?” attitude, browsing through the CreateSpace and Lulu forums, reading about author scams to avoid and wondering if I was ready to dip my toes in the water of the biggest challenge of my life. I wrote a novel in my favorite genre (m/m romance) and decided to get off the fence and take the plunge.
I wasn’t ready at all, but without taking the leap, I never would have been. I’ve learned a lot of things by making mistakes, so I’m going to share with you my five biggest errors, so you can be aware of the dangers before you take a dive into the shallow end of self-publishing.
1. Assuming my print paperback was the most important version of my book.
I spent a lot of time creating my paperback edition of Written In The Stars. I learned a lot about how to format a book’s layout. I hired an artist to create a beautiful piece of art for my front cover. I honed my back cover and blurb until I was sick of the sight of them. To date, I’ve sold only a handful of physical copies of my novel, mostly to friends and family.
It’s not like I didn’t know about the digital revolution – in fact I’ve been an early adopter of many products, including the iPad and the Amazon Kindle. I just grossly underestimated the demand for digital books, and massively overestimated the desire for the touch and feel of paper. Newsflash: people don’t care. They want to read on the devices they have at hand, not rummage around for their print copy. They want to read a book that catches their eye right away, not wait for it to arrive in the mail, often after inflated shipping fees. They want to purchase books and read them in privacy, especially with GLBT romance novels, many of which have steamy covers and subject matter the readers don’t want to discuss with others.
I will continue to offer paperback editions of my novels, but I won’t focus on marketing them, especially on the Internet. The digital age requires a product to match.
2. Assuming Amazon was the only digital retailer worth bothering with.
I’d heard of the Nook, but I’d assumed that Amazon had the lion’s share of the market when it came to e-books. I made the assumption that no other e-book distributer was worth the effort of converting my book into several different formats, none of which I knew how to create at the time. (The e-book converter Calibre has been a huge godsend in that department.)
Believe it or not, I outsell Amazon at least 3-1 with my short story titles that are listed on All Romance E-Books, a company I hadn’t even heard of until my book had been out for more than a month. By that time, I’d already enrolled it in the KDP Select program, thinking the Kindle Lending Library was going to be a big deal. It wasn’t, and my book won’t be released from exclusivity until September 11th. I have no desire to give my book away for free, so I gained very little from the KDP Select program. I’ve heard it works for others, so perhaps your mileage may vary, but for me enrolling in KDP Select – and being unaware of Smashwords and All Romance – was a massive mistake on my part. Readers have asked me why my book isn’t more widely available, and I cringe to think of the sales I’ve lost while I’ve been locked in bed with Amazon for 90 days.
3. Being completely unaware of Goodreads, book review and writing blogs.
I didn’t know about Goodreads until my book was already out. Huge mistake! A friend told me to get over there at once and I did, signing up for an author account. Somebody had already added Written In The Stars to the catalogue by then, but I was able to join groups not only to promote my work, but to interact with readers and learn about what they love and hate in the genre.
I hope to have my next book, Hearts On Fire, reviewed by professional blogs when it is released. I was unaware that bloggers would be willing to do this and lost a valuable marketing tool. I now follow several blogs on writing, marketing and GLBT issues.
4. Not knowing enough about e-book formatting/creation.
My first e-book wasn’t that bad for somebody with no experience – I basically devised a workaround by creating a HTML file that I could then run through Kindlegen to make a .mobi file. Amazon’s backend added the cover file and I was ready to go. It didn’t have a logical table of contents, but I HTML coded a TOC that worked and while it’s not the world’s most elegant creation, it is functional and the chapters are broken in all the correct places. However, it took me several weeks of wrangling and being ready to hit my head against my computer desk before I even got to that stage.
Of course, when I wanted to upload my short stories to All Romance, they didn’t have cover files or metadata. I was frustrated beyond belief until I found Sigil and Calibre. Sigil creates an .epub file (you can also add a logical TOC) which can then be converted by Calibre to other formats. Calibre also lets you easily add metadata and cover files. I can’t say I haven’t encountered some strange bugs along the way, but these two programs have reduced my stress significantly and enable me to deliver a better quality product. I wish I had known about them when I started out.
5. Expecting to earn money right away.
It’s the mistake of every newbie author – we’ve polished our works until we can polish no more and put them out into the world hoping for fame, glory and a money bin to rival that of Scrooge McDuck. It doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, your costs will way outmatch your profits for months. That’s right – you won’t even break even until you’ve put in thousands of hours of work – not all of it pleasurable.
I’d been warned about this and was more ready for this possibility than the other four mistakes I’ve made, but I’m not devoid of an ego and there have been days where I’ve looked at my sales reports and felt like throwing my computer out of the window.
I’ve had to learn to suck it up and leave my sense of entitlement at the door. Guess what, just because I wrote a novel, I’m not special. My husband tells me that “anybody can write”, much like Ratatouille’s “anybody can cook” – and he’s right. Pretty much anybody can write a novel, given time. What you have to do is prove that you put together a good novel, a novel that people will want to buy. Promote, but don’t be obnoxious. Give out teasers and free short stories that promote your other work and draw in potential readers.
You can’t give up after the first month, or even the first three. Every story that I write sells more than the last as I build a reputation. I’ve had to suck up some one-star ratings, some honest critique and some humbling sales reports, but they’re enabling me to see my own mistakes and not only grow as a writer, but as a person. Perhaps my biggest mistake of all was not embarking on this journey of learning and growth sooner in my life.
VICTORIA ZAGAR is the author of Written In The Stars, a sci-fi m/m romance novel, along with many short stories. Her latest novel, contemporary m/m romance HEARTS ON FIRE, is due to hit shelves in September 2012.
She has no affiliation with the Calibre or Sigil programs, but highly recommends them.