by Alan Petersen (@AlanPetersen)
Recently I was asked to moderate a panel discussion for the Northern California Book Publicity and Marketing Association (NCBPMA) on self-publishing. Alan was one of the other panelists, and I was interested to meet him because he’s one of the few authors I know who also has an extensive background in internet marketing. I asked Alan for some input that would help authors just getting started with self-publishing, and here’s his response.
Self-publishing has become quite the hot topic recently.
Earlier this year, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos informed us that, “Sixteen of the top 100 bestsellers on Kindle today were self-published.“
It’s that type of news that is sending many authors to search for those old manuscripts that have been tucked away in their hard drives, so they too can cash in on the self-publishing gold rush.
Self-publishing is also just so darn easy now. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can have your book available for sale on Amazon, the Barnes & Noble website, and other online retailers.
Adding fuel to the fire is the amazing success of many self-published authors, including popular ebook authors like Amanda Hocking and John Locke, and even lesser known authors, now making their living as full time writers. There are also more casual writers who are supplementing their income nicely with their self-published works.
According to Amazon, E.L. James has sold more copies of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ than the entire ‘Harry Potter’ series combined—making her their best-selling author ever. She owes this success to her initial attempts at self-publishing her books.
But before you rush to self-publish your book, there are some things you should be doing first, and there are definitely some things you should avoid entirely.
First, let’s start with the three essential things you should do before you self-publish:
- Have a selling/marketing plan. Sure, you could get lucky and sell a lot of books just by publishing them, but that’s highly unlikely. If your goal is to simply publish your book, then congrats, you’re done. Your friends and family will be proud. But if you want to get your book into the hands of as many readers as possible, you’re going to have to sell it. And as an independent author, you’re going to have to do most of the selling and promoting yourself. It’s best to have your book marketing plan squared away before you self-publish, so you can hit the ground running.
- Hire a professional book cover designer. The old adage, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t apply here. You are competing with many self-published authors as well as many traditionally published ones from both the big publishing houses and smaller publishers. The competition is tough, and the main factor that will stop a perusing prospective reader from clicking on your book is your book cover. So unless you’re a talented graphic artist or book cover designer, go get yourself a professional designer that will be able to transfer what’s in your head into a sweet-looking book cover.
- Hire a professional editor AND a proofreader. In the ancient days that ushered in this new self-publishing era (way back in 2009-2010), many of these trail blazers uploaded their unedited manuscripts onto Amazon’s Kindle marketplace. Their foolhardy ways subjected readers to an onslaught of misspellings, typos, and grammar errors. They might have not known any better, but now we do. So please, don’t treat your paying customers as beta readers. Hire a professional editor and a proofreader.
Note: There are several different levels of editing. A copy editor handles line editing that focuses more on the mechanics, while a developmental or substantive editor delves into your manuscript, checking for flow, improving characters, deleting paragraphs, and more. This is the type of comprehensive editing your manuscript needs.
Once this phase of editing is complete, hire a proofreader (someone other than your editor) to give your manuscript a final read through before publishing. You’ll be amazed how many grammar mistakes they catch.
You’re never going to have a perfect, error-free book – not even the biggest publishing houses can accomplish that feat. But you’ll at least publish a well-edited and proofread book that will appease most of your readers. This will cut down on a lot of one-star reviews from angry readers who might have even liked your story, but couldn’t get past the poorly edited writing.
Five Things to Avoid
Now let me share five bad ideas that you should avoid like the bubonic plague. I’ve actually seen these recommended to newbie self-published authors on the interwebs.
- Go get your book cover designed on Fiverr.com. For just five bucks, voilà, you’ll have your book cover ready! As stated above, the book cover is important, so please don’t skimp out on it. Prices vary wildly. When I was researching book cover designers, the prices varied from $5 to over $2,000. I would suggest you budget at least $200.
- My manuscript looks great on Word, I’m ready to self publish! Formatting can be tricky and Word is infamous for the funky formatting nightmares it unleashes. This is different from book editing. Book formatting is how your book will look when it’s printed or how it will display on the popular e-readers (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc). If you’re tech savvy and have time on your hands, you can learn it yourself. If you’re not, I would recommend you hire an expert. You’re looking at $40-$1200 (depending mostly on formats and manuscript size).
- Oh, I can’t believe that reader left that nasty 1-star review, I’m going to reply and give them a piece of my mind! Authors need to have thick skin. Not everyone is going to like your book. In fact, some people are going to hate it. And some will be vicious about it, since the anonymity of the Internet makes it easy to be mean. You can learn from bad reviews, so you should welcome constructive criticism. But resist the temptation to pick a fight with your reviewer. When an author does this, it usually goes viral. And no matter how nasty the review, it’s the author who ends up looking really bad. If you’re going to respond to negative reviews, keep it light and professional. Don’t get down in the mud.
- You can buy 100 five-star Amazon reviews for cheap? Cool! There are a lot of sites out there where you can buy fake reviews, Tweets, followers, Facebook Likes, etc. Stay away from all that. The online reader is not dumb. They can sniff out fake reviews like a French truffle hog sniffing out that gourmet food. Major corporations have been caught buying fake reviews, and more than one book publicist has been axed for the same offense. So it’s not just self-publishers going down that shoddy road. The practice of fake Amazon reviews has gotten so bad that many prospective readers don’t even trust five star reviews anymore.
- I’m going to send this template email asking these influential bloggers to review my book. The fastest way to tick off bloggers is by sending them a canned, generic letter asking for a book review. Bloggers deal with email spam, comment spam, social spam via Twitter, Facebook, etc., so your template request won’t get you far. It might even get you permanently blacklisted. Get to know the blogger and send them a personalized request that shows you know about their blog and their readership/subscribers. Your book might be awesome, but you’re not doing them any favors by sending them your book for free (please, don’t ever charge them for a review copy). They’re doing you the favor—if they choose to review your book.
There you have it. Three things to do and five things to not do. As self-published authors, we’re living in very exciting times. So go for it. But please do it right. Your reputation and book sales will be better for it.
If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please leave a comment below. I’ll be checking back, and I’ll try my best to respond.
Alan Petersen is a blogger and affiliate marketer with several online properties in a variety of niches. He is also a self-published author of both fiction and nonfiction. You can read his blog, Fictive Universe and connect with him on Twitter @AlanPetersen and Facebook.
Blog header photo by procsilas