I started with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (I don’t remember what they called it then) in January 2010, by re-releasing four previously published books, and with Smashwords shortly afterward. Sales were modest at first, yet they were better than they had been with the previous publisher, and they slowly grew, but not anything to get excited about. I told myself at least they bought the groceries every month. Then in October, they went crazy. Unbeknownst to me, two of my books had been picked for Kindle Free Reads, and in five days they each downloaded over 10,000 copies (for which I was paid). All of my books jumped in sales, and surprisingly they kept on selling for the next month. That got me going and I realized just how big the market was for ebooks, if the readers could find the books and be persuaded to buy them. But they were dwindling, so I decided to do a 99 cent sale to see if I could boost them high enough to catch the after-Christmas rush. I expected a rush but I had no idea how big it would be. My sales suddenly rose to several hundred books an hour, and stayed at least fairly high for months.
I’m approaching my 2 year mark in self-publishing now, and I’ve had six books hit the Amazon Top Seller lists, some going to the top of the Romances list and others moving high into the Amazon Top 100 list. Some times my sales are huge. Other times they suck. But this year has been an enormous upswing that has taught me to value my own work, but at the same time it’s done a good job of keeping me humble.
Everybody wants to know how I did it. They seem to feel I have some special secret, and if they just find it, they too can make a lot of money self-publishing. There’s no big secret, really, unless it’s engaging in relentless effort to keep the wheel going round and round. In fact, one of the biggest suggestions is one that really isn’t possible anymore: Get in on the ground floor. It’s too late for that now, so anyone who moves into self-publishing now needs to plan on having lots of competition in a field where visibility is the main key to success. It gets harder every day.
Self-publishing apparently looks easy to those who haven’t tried it. Well, it’s not. It’s very different from the traditional publishing path. I’m always surprised at the people who want me to tell them how to do it, but then second-guess everything I tell them. And then they feel betrayed because they weren’t the instant success they expected. Heck, they weren’t going to be an instant success even if they did listen to me. I read stats recently that said the average self-pubbing author takes about six months to catch on. I wish that’s all it took me.
What do you need?
1. A very good book. Polished within a comma of perfection. Edited, preferably by someone other than yourself, then polished again. If it’s a previously published book, don’t just assume it’s well enough edited. Go through it again.
2. A very good cover. Find out what makes a good ebook cover- it’s not the same as a paper book. Get a good artist if you can’t do it yourself. Never accept a bland cover. Make it eye-catching.
3. Learn how to format a book correctly for the distributor you’ve chosen. Smashwords and Kindle both have excellent manuals on publishing with them. So does Pubit! Don’t assume you can use the same formatting for all of them.
4. Set up the front pages and last pages of the books much the same way traditional publishers do. Don’t skimp here because you want to lead the readers to your next book.
5. Read the contracts. They aren’t what you think they are sometimes.
6. Read the directions when submitting the book for publishing. Smashwords wants only a Word document. Kindle, on the other hand, asks for Word, but has fewer formatting quirks if html is used.
7. Write a great blurb. Some authors just don’t grasp how vital this is. But when a reader can’t pick up the book in her hands, she needs to at least be able to read what’s exciting about it.
8. By this time, I hope you’ve also built up a network for promotion, with a good Face Book base, lots of Twitter followers, and so on. But you’ll also have to find other ways to get visibility because your book is going to enter onto the Kindle lists with a ranking around 1 million. How will people find your book in that enormous jungle? Try contests. Try offering gift certificates. Try lower prices. Run special promotions. Get book reviewers to try your book. Join with like-minded friends and read and review each other’s books. Most readers assume the first ten reviews are done by your friends anyway, so get them to say what’s good about your book. And don’t get so wound up in how much profit you’re making that you lose sight of the truth that you’re building a career. Sometimes you just can’t look at profit because you have to be constantly re-investing in your career. Aim for finding readers and pleasing them, and eventually the money will come.
9. And while you’re doing all that, I hope you’re also busy writing the next book. The one thing that sells books is selling books. If you only have one book available and a hundred people read it, where do they go next? They don’t. But if you have six books available and they read one and loved it, they’ll go looking for your other books too. So you haven’t sold a hundred books, you might have sold six hundred. And those people also tell other people.
Easy? No. If you can’t do something, be prepared to hire it out. And if you panic easily, take a pill or something. Because there’s no way you can count on success, any more than you ever could in publishing before. You just have to really believe in yourself and keep going, and never stop learning. One good thing, though: You can always pull an ebook and fix things in it. You can change the cover, re-write the blurb, change the title- it’s all fluid now. You’ll make mistakes. But now you can fix them. So no, not everyone can be published now. They could, maybe, but it isn’t for everyone. You’ve got to have relentless guts and determination, and lots of faith in yourself.
If I have anything to suggest, it’s that an author needs to learn what they’ll have to do before beginning.