25 Nov

Thanks, Mary, and Gem State Writers for inviting me. Mary asked if I would talk about my involvement in the new world of the independent published author.

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.


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16 responses to “CAN ANYONE BE PUBLISHED? by Delle Jacobs

  1. Patsy

    November 25, 2011 at 6:26 AM

    Great post! I did this with my first two novels. Pulled them back from my publisher and am trying the indie route. Slow like you said at first, but am hopeful! Thanks for the info.

  2. Liz Fredericks

    November 25, 2011 at 7:21 AM

    Good information, Delle! Thanks for blogging with GSW. I know a great many individuals will be interested in your advice.

  3. ramblingsfromtheleft

    November 25, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    Wonderful way to introduce unitiated writers to the world of indie publising. Thanks so much, Delle … this is not only good advice, it is also a good journey with you into the world of ebooks 🙂

  4. Janis

    November 25, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    This is a good primer to copy off and refer to as needed. Thanks for visiting Gem State Writers. Valuable info.

  5. Gloria Antypowich

    November 25, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!. I am printing it off, to put in my file of writing info.

    I am a self published author, am networking on twitter and facebook, read many books and leave reviews on Amazon, and have began to post book reviews on my blog,and have recently lowered my ebook to .99. However, to my knowledge no one on line has read my book yet. However, I am determined to succeed and I have never been a quitter. I will continue to build my base and support other authors, “paying it forward” and I have faith that in time my star will shine!

    I have sold books locally, to friends, acquaintances and even people I don’t know and had great reviews,and that really encourages me. Several people told me they wanted to know more about the characters in my first book; they didn’t want them to just fade away. I had initially planned to write a different book, but when I got that kind of feed back, I rethought things. These characters are my “family and friends” and I know them, so I have decided to write a trilogy and am well into the second book.

    When I dipped my finger in the self publishing world, I had no idea about Amazon`s self publishing program or Smashwords, or any of the other options available. I had a friend who had self published through a company, and I decided I would do the same thing. This whole process has been a great learning curve for me. Next time I will use some of the new tools I’ve discovered through blogs like this,as well as face book and twitter.

    Publishing wise,I have already decided to do things differently with this book. I intend to format the ebook myself and publish with Smashwords, Then I can make changes without it costing me more money. I can “pull” the cover and redo it if I feel I should. I can change the blurb. I can give free certificates in promotions, and from what I see Smashwords is available to many ebook formats and venues. Also I can easily have control over pricing, not be dictated to by the publisher who printed it and unable to make the changes unless I invest a lot more money in the process. We live and learn!! If I decide to do so, I can always go for the printed format afterwards.

    And then again–who knows. By the time I have finished this second book, maybe I will have learned of other tools from wonderful people like you, who give of their time to share their knowledge with “beginners” like me!!

    I’m learning what to do AFTER beginning!
    Thank you again!

  6. Carley Ash

    November 25, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    This was fascinating, Delle. Thanks of sharing this great information.

  7. Meredith Conner

    November 25, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    Thanks for blogging with us today Delle. In this ever changing world of publishing it’s important to know as much as we can about all of our options!!!

  8. Mary Vine

    November 25, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    Congratulations on your success, Delle! It is amazing how things have changed so much and are continuing to change in the publishing world. Good for you for keeping up on it. I especially liked the part where you say that you need to invest to grow the business. It’s easy to think you can’t give books away because you won’t make any money.
    Thanks so much for sharing your info with us!

  9. Marsha R. West

    November 25, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    Great post, Delle. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s all very intriguing.

  10. Delle Jacobs

    November 25, 2011 at 3:53 PM

    Thanks again for having me here, and for all your kind remarks. Yes, I agree, the publishing world is changing rapidly, in ways we couldn’t have expected even two years ago. For those of you who are looking to joining the self-publishing world, or those who already have but want to improve their professionality, I have another resource for you, from the guy who is the guru of formatting for ebooks, Guido Henkel
    His advice is lengthy, in 9 parts on his blog. but well worth reading and committing to following. I admit I don’t follow his advice exactly, but I think I would be better off if I did. The most important part of it for me is to always submit in html for Kindle. And I just use the clunky “web page” in Word for html. It works just fine for me. But in the next few weeks, I’m going to be publishing an illustrated edition of my traditional Regency, THE MUDLARK, and because it will be so heavily illustrated, I have to learn the new html 5, or I will probably end up with junk. I hate having to do that, but not doing it will produce something too sloppy, and I’d rather not publish at all than be sloppy.

    Gloria, I’m sure you know there’s absolutely no guarantee of huge success in indie publishing, even if you do everything completely right. Readers are suspicious, and they don’t want to pay for or to give up the time for a bad book. And there are lots of bad books out there to burn them.

    But even with a very enticing book, with great blurb and cover, none of that matters unless the readers know you’re there. Many authors are still struggling to find that visibility to readers, and until that happens, they just don’t have a lot of sales.

    But keep this in mind: if you sell only 1 book a day, that’s 365 books in a year that you wouldn’t have sold. And your book is not available for just a few short weeks, it’s available for now and for years in the future. If it’s still available in ten years, It’s still making money for you. And the more books you get onto the virtual shelves, the more books you have to earn money. Even if you don’t take off like a rocket, some sales are better than none. And as far as promo is concerned, you just keep at it, building name recognition one step at a time. Once people start looking for your books, you see more and more sales.

  11. Dean K Miller

    November 26, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    Can anyone get published? Yes. Should anyone? No. Will they anyway? Probably.

    Your path illustrates that while different than traditional publishing, self-publishing requires persistance and hard work as well.

    Success is fleeting…depending on your own definition of success.

    • Delle Jacobs

      November 26, 2011 at 10:23 PM

      You’re bringing up an excellent point, Dean- and a rather delicate one. We writers are usually very reluctant to tell other writers they aren’t good writers, and I don’t think it’s up to us to make that pronouncement on someone else. But that often leads some who should probably not pursue publishing to do it anyway. I judge many contests every year and I have to say I see a lot of entries for which I can find almost nothing encouraging to say. But I’ve also seen some of those very same authors doggedly persisting, consistently learning and growing, and some of them have in the end become very well-known published authors.

      With no filter between the author and the reader, though, how does an author know he/she is ready for publication-ready to be read and enjoyed by readers? I doubt if I would have had the courage to self-publish if editors had not first taken chances on me. But I know others who have been very successful who have never been traditionally published. Some others have not yet found the spark of excitement that generates characters the readers want to know, and until they find that, no amount of hype or promo will make the difference. Still others haven’t found how to find the right readers for their stories.

      It will be interesting, even a bit scary, to watch how this all sorts out. In the meantime, I find myself regularly repeating something I heard Jo Beverley say more than a decade ago: “If you can quit writing, well then, you probably should.”

  12. Clarissa Southwick

    November 27, 2011 at 11:07 PM

    Delle, Thank you so much for sharing this great advice with us. There’s so much useful information in this post, I’m sure we’ll refer back to it again & again.

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