Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Self Publishing (So You've Ruined Your Life)


I am here today to welcome you to the exciting and fast paced world of self publishing. The electrodes implanted inside your skull are there to assist in any questions you might have. Please, sit back, relax and enjoy...enjoy...please enjoy...I am to welcome.
Is this thing on? Good. Come with me if you want to...well, you probably weren't going to die before per se, but people were gonna lance open your wallet and steal whatever tumbles out.

So, you want to get into the self publishing business? You just finished your first manuscript and you still affectionately refer to it as your baby. Congrats. The writing is the hardest part.

Have you begun editing yet? Asked a few people to beta read your mess for you? No? You might want to think about all that before beginning the long road of self publishing. The editing is the hardest part.

Oh, one more thing. Before you even put your fingers down to keyboard and inked that first word across a blank page you should have already set up a twitter/facebook/blog/BrainFuse (still in the test phase). Welcome to the world of you have to build your audience before you even have something to sell them. Now, perhaps it's not best to think of your dear online friends as an audience, but ya know. Welcome to the real world.

Finished editing? Wow, that was fast. Now, lets talk formats. Perhaps you're one of those old school people who despise technology and still has pony express hand deliver your mail for you (or you attached a cardboard silhouette of a horse to your bike and peddle it around yourself. Who am I to judge?). You prefer the feel a book in your hands. There are plenty of services that offer that experience. CreateSpace through amazon, Lulu through I guess lulu. Ingram. But don't fool yourself, none of these companies are here to make you money. They exist to get money from you. Make your choices based upon what's important to you and always with an eye towards the cost, not just for you but your readers.

A 200 page paperback from an unknown author that costs more than $15? What are the chances anyone would take that risk? What are the chances you would? It's a numbers game, and this is business, not personal.

I'll be straight with you, in this crazy interconnected world of the beeping and the bopping and Johnny Depp inside our computers (I dated this post beautifully) if you want to make sales, you need to have an eBook. My ebook sales are easily 80-85% of my total. But in order to sell an ebook you have to have an ebook file, so let us move to formatting.

Formatting is the hardest...actually formatting isn't that difficult. I use Scrivener to write. I adore it even if we fight over a few things like its need to decide what is and isn't a chapter. It will make a .mobi (amazon ebook) or .epub (everyone else) file at will. Assuming you do not have scrivener, there are a few sites out there willing to do the work for you. Never ever pay for it. It is a waste of your money. Because, assuming you have Word (because we're all stuck with word) all you really need to do is build up an index.

Find every chapter, alter the text to "Heading 1" and word will build an index for you. Upload it to Amazon, B&N, or smashwords, or wherever you want your ebook to go and it will handle most of the rest. It may not look the prettiest, but you'll have an ebook and not be down $100.

Let's slap some paint on that book of yours.

The old adage is to never judge a book by its cover, which would be apropos in the naked mole rat kingdom. Here in the land of split second impressions and retinas all people do is judge books by their covers. I cannot count the number of times I've seen responses to negative reviews be "Pity, it's such a pretty cover." "I got it anyway because the cover's so gorgeous." Everyone judges books by their covers, if they didn't we'd have a single black title on a white background and that only worked for the Beatles.

I make my own. I know, but I'm cheap. You can find tons of graphic artists begging for scraps of food but anticipate dropping a couple hundred dollars. Also, check out their book cover style, especially any in your genre. It is especially doubly important that your book look like what's inside the text. To have, say, this picture:
associated with a YA fantasy with no romance and a big old pile of fart jokes would be an incredibly stupid idea. Such a terrible idea. I can't believe anyone thought to do it, in fact. People feel cheated and will hate your book no matter how much they normally would if they expected one thing on the cover and got another. And don't expect them to have read your synopsis. Never expect the reader to read.

Why don't you want a cheap looking, nothing but stock photos cover? Perhaps it's time we talk about the self publishing stigma.

When people are flipping through the multitudes of legion crowding through the aisles of the Amazon store, their eyes aren't going to stop at what looks a free image with a bit of text lackadaisically tossed on top. They're more likely to think contained within is a pile of incoherent summaries of the possibly racist and sexist story from the author and then suddenly the back half is a manifesto about how "Hitler had some good ideas."

Unfair? Perhaps, but there is good reason for the stigma.

So what you have to do it combat it? Fancy cover, actually read back through your manuscript a few times, edit your summary, edit the book, edit your hair. Be professional at all times. This is really important for the next step.

Okay, so we have the book. It looks presentable to the world and fits your theme. Now it's time for the next stage, the never ending stage: marketing. Forget everything I said before, marketing is the worst part. It is also the part you will never ever stop. It's the carousel ride of publishing, you may switch mounts but you're always going around and around and around.

I hope you built up that audience of like minded friends because now you're really gonna need them. A few months before a date you picked from thin air or the launch, ask if anyone wants an ARC. That stands for advanced reader copy and is the form of a book publishers would send out to a multitude of people to help prime the pump before launch day. Being a self publisher, you have to do this yourself.

And send out a shit ton. The fact is, for every "sure, I'll read and review your book" you get, perhaps 10-20% will actually do it. You can rage about how it isn't fair, they're taking your baby, blah blah blah, but that's the game. You are asking for work in trade, just knock that person off the list you ask next time and move on with life. Whining, especially in public, will never ever help.

You may think, well, I'll just wait for the reviews to roll in from my new readers. Asking is cheating. Yeah, you keep dreaming that dream. Unless one of those professionally amateur reviewers picks up your book the only ones you'll get are from people who hated your book. It takes a lot to drive people to take the time to put down their thoughts, either exquisite love or hatred are the biggest pawns in the game (I think being related to the author is the little horsey). Middling reviews are so rare because no one does them on their own.

Is it...should we now? Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself on the timeline, but I think we need to discuss bad reviews.

Sit down, please. I know, you believe your life's work is so mind shatteringly brilliant that no one in the history of mankind can ever find it anything but perfect. But someone will. Perhaps he actually is a turnip that gained sentience from a freak accident with a plutonium rod and some fundip and it cannot actually read, it only despised your bias against talking turnips it invented inside its stolen brain. You can't say a damn thing.

Say it aloud, to yourself, perhaps as you explode splicers or dice up darkspawn. Working through the disappointment is human, but if you drop for even one second that you not only saw the negative review but also disagree with it online, you will have the "Authors Behaving Badly" posse on your ass so fast you won't be able to sit down for a month. The internet loves a good shit storm, and someone daring to show a bit of emotion stirs up the WASPs like no other.

I actually have some thoughts on authors responding to reviews at all, but I shall save that for another day, for they are nuanced and come with a side of fries.

Back to marketing. Along with asking people for book reviews, it's also a good idea to try for guest posts or author interviews. It's more work on your plate, but you are asking for free advertising. It only seems fair. The nice thing about guest posts is that it allows you to show off your chops and get people interested in your writing style before reeling them in with your book.

Before you start really gunning for the marketing stuff, you'll have wanted to submit your book to amazon and goodreads. This gives people an easy way to add their reviews and/or link back to your book. Never heard of goodreads? It's interesting (that's midwestern for "be careful in there"). But it's quickly becoming the place that a lot of self pubbers work their magic on, so it's something to watch.

I know, I know, self pubbers don't get a pre-order option so your book will technically be up for sale before your launch date. If that really bothers you... I don't know what to say. Them's the breaks. I can't think of a reason to keep the book hidden away once you're ready to go. Attention span is teeny tiny, and another option can easily distract people away from your book. Links, include links everywhere you can. Plastered across facebook, your blog, twitter. But for god's sake, do not spam people. Here's the difference. Making it public on your space is cool. Forcing it upon others on their timeline or on their wall, not cool.

Marketing, marketing? What else haven't I talked about in the classic bag? Oh, giveaways. If you're going to do a giveaway you need to make certain that to say enter for a free copy they should like your facebook page or retweet your contest. Something so all those who entered because "Hey look, free!" are snagged into your web and might come back later to buy the book. Or, perhaps they'll pick up a later one. Scratching backs is the name of the game in this race. If you want to have a giveaway on goodreads that's a whole nother ball of wax. I'm going to try it for the first time this year and see how it goes. I'm putting my money on "interesting" again.

Repeat to yourself, if anyone is asking for my money to help market my book they're full of shit. PR releases are added to a bank of other PR releases that no one in their right mind would greedily read. The long and short of it is that money you spent on marketing to pay someone else to do it is maybe maybe what you'll make back in sales if you're incredibly lucky. Breaking even is at best what some hope for. The name of the game is exploitation and first time self publishers are a great market.

It's why PublishAmerica (the Who's Who scam of the POD game) still rakes in suckers despite the mounds of warnings across the internet. Rejection is hard, rejection hurts, but it's a scar you have to let weep every once in awhile if you want to even try at a creative field.

Well, I guess that's it. If you've done all that I've lined out (and probably more shit I don't do because I'm an introverted hermit, like contacting media), time to sit back and wait for launch day when you can celebrate for a moment before you climb back on that marketing ride or, god save you, plan out your next novel.

To sum up, editing good, book cover very important, have an audience, ask for reviews. Don't pay anyone for marketing unless you know exactly where an ad is going. And that's the name of the game.

Now I'll return you to your regularly scheduled brain washing.


Katherine Hajer said...

Wait, did you mean "index" or "table of contents"? If it's a listing of all the chapter headings, it's a table of contents. If it's a reference listing of all the major keywords, it's an index. Usually fiction just has tables of contents.

rebisaz said...

This was hilarious. And informative.

Travis Ford said...

The post is interesting.