Recently, I saw a writer on Twitter asking for advice re: her agent rejections, to which someone replied she should “just self-publish” and focus on getting readers instead of getting an agent. They said this was her job. I understand the temptation to self-publish, and I think it’s a great path for certain writers, but it is by no means as easy as people make it seem. There are so many things to take into account, so many things you have to do, and even if you do all of them right, there’s no guarantee that your book will do well, in fact chances are it won’t. That’s because there’s a lot of competition out there, and because unless you have loads of time, experience or money to spend on marketing — the only thing that will make your book stand out is luck.
Getting the book ready:
Before you self-publish you need to do what all writers have to regardless of the path they choose, and that’s produce a solid book. You shouldn’t be publishing your first draft if you care at all about quality, and you should give the book a few rounds of edits, work with a critique partner, get feedback from beta readers and (if you’re self publishing) have it professionally proofread. This takes time, a few months at the very least. Hiring an editor can also be expensive, so be prepared to do the research to find a reputable one and have the funds to pay them.
Oh so important, considering how many bad covers are out there and trust me there are a lot. I work with many self-published authors during my day job, and it’s a shame how many have decent stories but awful covers. Think of how many books you see on Amazon. First you have to break through the popular and well known authors, then the ones who are new but getting a big boost from social media, marketing and buzz, next there are the smaller authors who have their own fan base, then there’s you. Nobody knows who you are yet (unless you’re famous or already have a platform) so getting people to look at your book, to look at it instead of all the others I described above is akin to this level of Mario:
It’s not impossible, but it’s FUCKING HARD. And that’s one thing that the “just self-publish it” people forget to mention. Because sure you can do it, anyone can, but doing it well, getting noticed and having a book that sells well, is a giant challenge. You need to know that going into it.
This is where things get really difficult. If you have marketing experience, a social media platform, or the time and willingness to learn you are ahead of the game. If you don’t have any of those things, prepare to spend money for a publicist. Self-promotion, especially for writers who consider themselves introverted, is an uphill battle. I have a fellow writing friend who did it all one her own, and three books later got a publishing contract for a novella as part of her series (and more books to come.) It’s not impossible — building a readership, selling books, and doing it on your own is not this mythical beast that only the gifted can tame, but it’s also not a walk in the park. I can also tell you my friend has a knack for marketing, she’s smart, she’s hardworking, and she writes FAST, so she can get books out quickly which helps when you’re self-publishing. It’s a great path for those willing to put in the work, for those with the skill and for those who know what it takes to make it work and accept that even if you do all those things, it might not.
A few of the things to consider in terms of marketing:
- Making sure you’re promoting the book at least six months ahead of your release date. Building buzz is not just important, it’s essential. This can include anything from a Goodreads giveaway to a book blog tour to a cover reveal and should ideally include all three plus more.
- Having a Twitter, Facebook, blog or website (that you update regularly). Twitter especially is super important for the writing community, but make sure you don’t become a buy-link-tweeting bot who only sends out links about where to buy your book/reviewing your book etc. Social media should be used for networking first, and the rest should be a bonus. Also, it should be noted that having 70K followers, when you follow 70K people is not so much a platform as a follow for follow strategy that does not work. For the most part those followers are not genuine ones. Everyone is tweeting into a giant abyss of other authors, and unless your tweets are actually gaining traction in likes and retweets, they’re most likely getting lost in the fray. Slow and steady, but real, is better.
- Advanced reviews on Amazon are a big help ahead of release. If you have a good chunk of reviews online it will up the chances of readers finding and buying your book once it’s released. Sending out ARCS, beta copies and giving away the book pre-release in giveaways and raffles can all help in this respect.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s also book trailers, interviews and contacting your local press, book signings and more. It all sounds exciting (and honestly it is) but remember you will be organizing this all yourself unless you spend money on a publicist, and even if you don’t you will still be paying for promotional material like book marks, postcards and copies of your book for signings and giveaways. To say it’s a lot of work is a colossal understatement. I would never want to discourage someone who genuinely wants to self-publish, because I really do think it’s a fantastic option. But just like traditional publishing, it’s not easy. Neither option is. My hope is only that those who do choose to self-publish know what it takes to make their book succeed , that they know what is truly involved with the process, and are ready to roll up their sleeves and work.
As a bonus, here is a video on why it takes so long for books to get published: