Self-Publishing has really taken off. It use to be that authors who self-published were viewed as the ugly red-headed stepchild you locked in the attic. You didn’t admit you self-published, especially to a fellow author. If anyone asked, you pretended your book was picked up by a very prestigious, highly selective, obscure publishing house—and oh, you never heard of them?
Well those days are over, my friend. Self-publishing has launched many careers, and while you can argue whether or not the books are actually any good, the fact still stands that these authors have found success in the publishing world. Amanda Hocking, author of the Trylle Series, started selling her books on Amazon. Over night she became a best seller and now her series has been optioned for a movie. And we can’t forget the mother of self-publishing success, EL James. Whether you love or hate Fifty Shades of Gray, you can’t deny that the series has taken off like wildfire. Four books, a movie (with more to come), and a plethora of merch that ranges from sex toys to make-up lines, this series has turned EL James from a Twilight Fangirl to an overnight sensation.
Now I don’t want you to think that if you put a story up on Amazon you’ll immediately become the next big thing. It doesn’t work that way. Like everything else in publishing, half the game is sheer luck. The one thing Amanda Hocking and EL James share is that they were both very fortunate.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t find success on the self-publishing markets. Well before the Amandas and James took up the banner, authors like John Grisham were hawking their books. Grisham printed off his very first novel and went around selling it himself. What self-publishing really boils down to is hard work and perseverance.
Sure, you can throw your story out there and hope that it’ll catch a bite, but unless you actually put effort into it, you’ll never actually turn a profit.
In a 2014 article from Publishers Weekly, they reviewed the Authors Earning Report. From this report they gathered that The Big Five traditional publishers only account for 16% of e-books listed on Amazon’s bestseller, and that on Amazon alone 31% of their e-book sales are self-published novels. Self-publishing is taking all genres by storm, but the most popular to self-publish in so far have been the tree big genres: sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and romance/erotica. Success in literary fiction hasn’t been as wide spread as other genres, but don’t let this discourage you.
There are now dozens of places for you to sell your self-published masterpiece. Places like Smashwords, Amazon, Createspace, and Lulu offer services for editing, cover design, and publishing. From there you can sell anywhere on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, Smashwords stores, Oyster, Scribd, Kobo, and if you communicate with your local libraries, you may even be able to make your book available locally. Some of these services even offer a traditional publishing option so that your book isn’t exclusively in e-book format.
The important thing to remember when self-publishing is that you’re taking on all of the work. Traditional publishing offers the benefit of having an editor(s), a marketing team, and someone to actually sell your book. Your workload is cut in half when you traditional publish. With self-publishing, you’re the entire publishing team. You have to be the editor (or hire an editor), the marketing team (or hire a marketing team), and be the one to arrange all the sales. It’s a lot of effort, so you need to decide if you’re willing to put in the time and money (both of which you will have to put a great deal into).
But the benefit of self-publishing is that you have complete control over your work. You can decide where it’s sold, what it looks like, and if the day comes you want to pull it, you aren’t bound by a contract. Self-publishing puts the power back into the hands of the author.
If you do decide to go the self-publishing route, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Form a strong marketing campaign. You can’t just put your book out there and expect people to know about it. Set up blog tours. Create advertisements and videos. Get the word out that you wrote this book and explain why someone should by it.
- Don’t half-ass any process. Don’t skimp on editing, because people will know. Don’t go cheap on a cover. Despite how the saying goes, people do judge books by their covers, and a nice cover is more likely to sale than a cheap, slapped together photoshop image your twelve year-old nephew did.
- .99 is no longer the price to sell at. You’d think making a book below a dollar would make it an instant success, but that isn’t true anymore. So many authors are doing it that it doesn’t have any real effect. According to Mark Coker, owner of Smashwords, the best price to sell at is anywhere between $2.99 to $.399. What you should do is review also how much your royalties will be. You’d be surprised to find that you make less with .99 cents as well as $2.99 on Amazon. If you’re trying to get maximum royalties, a good price is $1.99. BUT, if you want to sell more books, try the $2.99-3.99 price range.
- Series vs. Standalones. Which is better? For self-publishing, go with series. Or standalones in a self-contained series. But readers like returning to a world/environment, so creating a strong series is a better bet than writing a single novel.
- The market is now saturated with short micro-stories. There are stories selling for $1.99 that barely hit 50 pages. These aren’t selling as hot as novels at traditional lengths. Save your time, money, and effort, and focus on a novel instead of a short fling that you can get out there. The same goes with doing series. Don’t do a string of short novels just to get them out there.
- Free vs. Pre-Orders, which is better? Freebies are nice, but once again, free stories are saturating the market. So many authors are taking advantage of the idea of making their book free for a set period of time that most people don’t even bat an eye at them. Pre-Orders are a great way to utilize a marketing campaign and get readers pumped for your story. Line up a pre-order with a tour and watch the numbers climb.
- Take advantage of opportunities. There are sites out there that will help bump your book up. A quick Google search can pull up a page of sites that offer either free or cheap advertizing. Use this. Remember, you’re your own marketing team. You’re going to have to spend some money to make some money. But be smart. Don’t go for the first site you see. Check out the ratings, reviews, and see if they are legit. You don’t want to sink your money into a scam.
Self-publishing is risky and doesn’t always offer success. You’ll definitely have to work hard, maybe harder than a traditionally published author, but there are a lot of benefits to self-publishing.