There may be no greater disparity between expectations and reality than in the world of self-publishing. The average self-published author is unhappy, needy, often desperate and demoralized. Not necessarily because his book failed to make any money or get press, but instead because no one, including family members, colleagues and neighbors, read the book.
Yeah, I might know a thing or two about it.
I am a sort-of B-level self-publishing success story. I am not E.L. James or Tucker Max, nor did I make hundreds of thousands of dollars and develop a loyal following. Nevertheless, it would appear I won the self-publishing lottery. I wrote my first—a memoir about being confined to special education and the various jobs/experiences I had after college—with blind enthusiasm, little working knowledge of grammar and an unrealistic hope that I had a masterpiece on my hands. After many trials and tribulations, including one book agent stating my work was devoid of literary merit and should be retitled My Life as an Idiot, I was not only able to sell the book, but the movie rights were optioned and eventually made into a horrific feature film called American Loser.
Along the way, I have experienced all the horrors that plague the wannabe (otherwise known as the self-published) author. And yet, I have come out on the other side with credits to my name. My advice for those ready to brave the treacherous waters:
1. Chose an Editor Wisely: After you write your book, you need a steady hand to guide you through the editing process. Finding a reputable editor is vital, stay away from Craigslist. Once you choose one, make sure to define the role of “editor.” These people are necessary and can be of great help, but don’t assume they will write the book for you. And if they try, don’t let them. Many editors want to tinker and add their own voice. Only let them make suggestions and fix basic grammar. Do the work yourself.
2. Get Endorsements: It is critical that a self-published book have blurbs. Getting a blurb from a reputable source however, is not easy. Expect it to take time and energy. You have to get lucky and take advantage of opportunities. I used to do stand-up comedy with Zack Galifianakis, so when I saw him out at dinner one night, I pounced. I had to track down Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt, a good friend of my step-father’s, on a golf course in Southampton, but I went.
3. Finishing Touches: Books are in fact judged, at least in part, by their covers, so you should have a good one. You can buy a template online or pay a graphic designer to create one for you. A book cover and an ISBN number should cost you $200- $300 or up to $2-3,000, but you get what you pay for. And remember to edit carefully. Once your book is on Amazon, that’s it. Even if you find typos later (and you will), there’s no going back. Any mistakes will make you look bush league and the press won’t take you seriously.
4. Upload the Book: Through Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon allows you to publish your book directly to any Kindle devices. If you can put a photo on Facebook, you can upload a manuscript on Amazon. If you want to print copies of your book, you need to use other platforms such as CreateSpace and iUniverse. Make sure to direct readers to where they can buy the book so when the press finally comes knocking, your work is easily accessible.
5. Promotion: Be careful when self-publishing platforms try to sell you PR packages. They won’t do anything for you. When it comes to promotion, work to get your own press, and in doing so, focus on three sources: word of mouth, bookstores and the digital space.
6. Cash In: The best way to sell copies of your book is through word of mouth. Ask your friends to put a link on their home page. Or have a book signing party at an influential person’s home. It is not good enough that a local bookstore agrees to carry your work on consignment. Unless a store is willing to promote your book in their window, on their website and give you a book signing with all the other “real” authors, they are flattering you, not helping you.
Facebook is a marvelous vehicle to get your book seen, but remember, “Likes” don’t translate into sales! Become a member of digital book clubs and ask some members if they would be interested in reading your book. Sites like Goodreads.com have millions of active readers. It’s best to use these to target people interested in books similar to yours. Punch in a popular book on your subject, look for reviews you like, then message the user, asking him to take a look at your free book and review it.