Copyright © 2013 James D. Best
Originally published by 1st Turning Point, 2010
There’s not much you can believe about self-publishing. Information from self-publishing houses is suspect, and most of the other data comes from people who make their living off striving writers. As someone who has both published with a traditional house and self-published, I’ll try to give you the straight scoop.
First, I Indie-publish by choice. It didn’t start out that way, but now I’m convinced that self-publishing is the best route for me.
My first book was published by Wiley. It was an agented, non-fiction book. After I completed my first novel, Tempest at Dawn, I secured a different New York agent that specialized in fiction. While the agent shopped my lengthy, historical novel, I wrote a genre Western titled The Shopkeeper. Since the advance for a Western wouldn’t make a down-payment on a small Korean car, my agent declined to represent it. No problem, I’d self-publish.
Currently, I’m one of the bestselling self-published novelists. My novels are in print, large print, audio, and every eBook format. I’m making money, but what is more important, my platform continues to grow. (The agent didn’t sell Tempest, so I ended up self-publishing .)
Why I Stay with Self Publishing
Three reasons: speed, income, and control.
Traditional publishing moves at a glacial pace. I’m in a hurry, and I don’t want to wait by the mailbox for a query response—I’ve been that route. It takes months to secure an agent and more months to see if the agent can sell the book. Editing, proofreading, design, and production take forever. Once the book finally makes it into print, it takes another nine months before royalties make it to your bank account. I estimate self-publishing takes about one-third the amount of time.
Self-publishers offer a greater royalty percentage, pay quicker, and Amazon offers two to three times the royalties that traditional publishers offer for eBooks.
Finally, I like being in control, especially of the ancillary rights.
How Do You Sell Self-Published Books?
If you self-publish, you’re the one who must promote and market your books. Actually, unless you’re a celebrity author, the onus will always be on you. There are differences in promoting a self-published book. To understand these differences, it’s necessary to absorb some unpleasant facts. Bookstores seldom stock self-published books, mainstream reviewers shun them, award judges brush them aside, and despite the hype, social media will not make you a household name. If that’s not enough, the field is massively crowded, and getting more crowded as print-on-demand and eBooks make it possible for everyone to be published.
Here are my three rules for promoting self-published books:
1. Produce a good product
2. Know your market, and sell directly to your market
The most powerful promotional tool is word-of-mouth. The rules are meaningless if you don’t have a product that can generate positive word-of-mouth. A good book is more than well-written. It has a professional interior design, a striking cover, and is edited and proofread. These aspects of book publishing are expensive, so many convince themselves that the standard self-publishing package is good enough. It’s not. These services are expensive, and if you can’t afford them, then it’s doubtful your book will be successful. For example, you should budget about $3,500 for a 70,000 word fiction or narrative non-fiction book. You’ve probably invested over a year of your life into this book, so make this additional investment. Besides, most self-published books are amateurish, so a professional appearing book without distracting errors will cause yours to stand out.
If you self-publish, you need to forget about bookstore sales—also forget about Walmart, Costco, Target, the airport, and the local drugstore. None of these outlets will stock a book that isn’t returnable. (Wheatmark is one of the few self-publishers that allows returns.) If you publish non-fiction, sell your book where people go that are interested in your subject. As a novelist, I went to Amazon and used every lever they provided.
The biggest difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing is the timing of promotion. Traditional publishers are adept at creating a publicity tsunami on publication. They want everyone talking about the book as it hits the shelves. This is partly because the book must move or retailers will dump it. But self-published books aren’t on those shelves, so slow and steady promotion is more effective. The biggest mistake self-published authors make is to give up. It takes fortitude to market and promote a book. If you self-publish, commit to the long haul.
Is Self-Publishing Right for You?
You should relentlessly pursue traditional publishing if you can’t afford to finish your book properly, or feel you must have a big house behind the marketing and promotion. You may not have a choice, however. The Kindle and similar devices are changing the game. Print-on-demand and eBooks will soon be farm teams for the big publishers. You’ll have to prove yourself here first.
For me, the move to digital books is great. Over half my sales are now Kindle, and the iPad is growing like crazy. If eBook sales continue to grow, being in bookstores won’t matter. Besides, Amazon tells me hourly how many eBooks I’ve sold, pays a 70% royalty, and makes monthly deposits to my account with only a 60-day lag. What could be better than that?
The Steve Dancy Tale
Honest Westerns … filled with dishonest characters