Tuesday, May 3, 2011

10 Things I've Learned from Self-Publishing, Part One

This June I'll be bringing out my fourth self-published book Everliving, which, in these days of low bars, makes me something of an expert. Google "self-publishing" and you'll receive thousands of results, many of them useful, but here are my particular learnings:

  1. Self-publishing printed books and self-publishing ebooks are two entirely different things. This doesn't sound like much of a Eureka moment, but it was for me. I began with printing up 250 copies of my debut novel Mourning Becomes Cassandra and then proceeded to twist friends' arms--er--I mean invite friends to come to launch parties. I put up the Kindle edition rather as an afterthought, priced it outrageously at $9.95 (it's now $2.99), and forgot about it. In the end I've printed up 1000 copies of MBC and only have 15 or so left in the garage, but it's the Kindle (and Nook) editions that are still going strong.
  2. To sell a printed self-published book, you need a platform. I'm the Hillary Clinton of self-publishing. Meaning, if not for my husband, I would probably not be in the position I am today. The hubbie pastors a fairly large church, and many dear people in the congregation bought my first book out of curiosity and affection. Some of them felt, when my second novel The Littlest Doubts came around, that they had done their duty with the first book and could go back to reading C. S. Lewis, but enough of them actually enjoyed my writing to pony up for another round.
  3. To sell any kind of book, you need a professionally-designed cover. Don't skimp on this one. Even if you have a very large extended family whose lives you saved from certain destruction and who Owe You Big Time, if you want them to do more than buy one copy for the Goodwill pile, make it look like a real book. Make it look like a book they could read in public or have sitting out around the house or recommend to a friend without apologies (e.g., "Really, I know the cover is kind of lame, but it's a pretty good read"). While one big bonus of e-readers is that, if you devour trashy novels with naked torsos on the cover, no one is ever going to know, it's still the tiny thumbnail of a cover image that makes people stop and investigate in the first place. You could have the best hook, the best copy, and the best endorsements from famous people, but if the cover is a dog it's all for naught.
  4. To sell a printed self-published book, the independent local bookstores are your friends. Yes, many of your readers will only order off Amazon, but push local bookstores at every opportunity. These are the wonderful people who will accept a review copy of your book, consider holding an author event, recommend you to local groups for speaking gigs, display your book prominently, and let you distribute bookmarks and such. Since I volunteered myself and was graciously accepted by University Book Store Bellevue, I've gone on to do seven other bookstore events, some successful, some piddly, all worthwhile.
  5. If you are shy and hate pushing yourself on people, better stick with self-publishing ebooks. For printed books, the best marketing efforts are person-to-person: throwing parties, speaking at book festivals, forcing your way into bookstores, inviting yourself to book clubs. Marketing Kindle books or other ebooks, however, can just about all be done sitting at your computer. I enjoy both--hence my books appearing in both formats, with the exception of my children's picture book Mia and the Magic Cupcakes.
Stay tuned for Part Two of this post, including the answer to the question, "How much money can you expect to make?"


  1. Thanks for sharing. One thing I love about self publishing is that you're in total control of how your book is marketed, which can be a distinct advantage. If you're not a well-known author and you're lucky enough to sign with a major publishing company, you can't expect them to promote your book. They're mainly interested in blockbusters, and all their other titles generally suffer as a result.

    1. I think marketing is the hard part! Certainly having a publisher behind you is no guarantee of a helping hand nowadays, but I wouldn't turn down the (even slightly) increased visibility.