Self Publishing How To GuideOkay, I’m far from an expert in this. In fact, with only two novels out, I’m a decidedly low-to-mid list Self-Published author. However, a few friends and readers have asked about how I got started and how I went about getting my books out there. So, rather than send everyone separate emails outlining all of this, I thought it would be easier to compile into one post and share here.

Please be aware that this guide will basically be pointing you to better-placed, more successful authors and their material. If it helped me, I’ll show it here. While I’m happy with how I’ve done since May of this year, I’m by no means as successful as some out there, not by a long shot. But what I have learned is that to get any kind of success, you need to spend a little bit of money up front. There are ways to keep this to a minimum but I don’t think its avoidable.

Also, decide if Self-Publishing is for you. It isn’t for everyone and traditional publishing is certainly a viable route if you can a deal. Look into the pros and cons of each and make your decision. For the purposes of this guide though, I’m going to assume Self-Pub is the way you are leaping.

Lastly, I will be recommending the programmes I use when Self-Publishing, but these aren’t the only options available to you. Research these first to see if they are a good fit for you.

So, here it is, my guide to getting started in Self-Publishing:

Where to Start?

Okay, this is where I’m going to point you to some others authors who have material that I guarantee will be a huge benefit to you. I mean, I’d still finish this guide, it’s only polite since I’ve taken the time to read it, after all. BUT when you’ve done that, there are two authors you need to look up.

First, go check out Chris Fox. He has a Youtube channel with hours and hours of Self-Publishing gold, from how to plot your novel, to how to launch and market it: www.youtube.com/channel/UCu6RYg6_-pTQxLVq3Fv6lYg 

From there, I’d advise checking out his ebooks that are available on Amazon, starting with Write to Market and Launch to Market. There are more and they are all well worth reading, but these two are definitely the ones to start with.

Next, check out an author called Iain Rob Wright. First, if you like horror, check out his work. It’s amazing! But beyond that, go to his free online Self-Publishing course: https://azofselfpublishing.teachable.com/p/self-publishing-mastery

As I say, this course is free (you only need to sign up) and it is invaluable as it covers every aspect of Self-Publishing and gives clear video instruction for everything. Want to see just how you upload a file for publishing on Amazon? Its here. How about setting up an author website? Yup, covered here too. Seriously, go sign up. You won’t regret it.

I will be referencing both of these guys and their material a lot below.

Will your book sell?

This is important. If you are writing for the love of it and don’t care about making any kind of living from it then have at it and write what you want. But the thing is, can you really hope to write the most random, out-there prose and expect people to like it? Sorry, the world doesn’t work that way. And neither do readers. So it would be an idea to looking into the principle of Writing to Market (coined by Chris Fox). This isn’t just picking the most popular genre and writing that (we’d all be writing romance or erotica if that were true) but rather listing out all the genres that you love and would like to write in. Then do some research – how much can you realistically expect to sell in the genres you’ve picked. I’m going to reference him a lot but check out Chris Fox’s Youtube channel and ebooks relating to Writing to Market. Pick your genre (you can write in multiple, but might be worth using a pen-name to help maintain brand) then come up with a story that, while original, still gives readers what they want.

Plotting

Next, you need to get something written before you can publish it, and that isn’t easy. Especially with your first novel. But you need to get it done. I’ve been writing for years but I always had the same problem – starting something and never finishing it. That was until I seriously tried plotting and also made myself finish a book. Many people say you should write by the seat of your pants and let the story flow, and grow organically. Afterall, they say, Stephen King does it.

Yes.

He does.

He’s also Stephen Fucking King. Are you? Look, if you are able to write by the seat of your pants and get work finished then that’s brilliant. Absolutely continue down that route. If not, get over yourself and give plotting a try. It’s a simple idea – you plot out your novel before you start. The level of detail can vary so you need to find what is best for you, but I’d recommend starting with the Chris Fox How to Plot Your Novel series on his Youtube channel (linked above). Come up with your idea, plot it out, then get your arse in the chair and write.

As for what you use to write, I recommend a programme called Scrivener (available for both Mac and Windows). It’s quite popular with authors and for good reason – whilst not expensive it is light years beyond Microsoft Word with regards to putting together a manuscript. Unfortunately, you probably still want to have a copy of Word or Pages as well so that you can convert to a file an editor can use. More on that later.

Editing

Don’t self-edit. Well, do self-edit, of course you should self-edit. But don’t think that’s the only editing you will need.

It isn’t.

You will need to hire an editor. When your manuscript is ready and you’ve edited it as best you can, hire an editor and send that sucker off to be ripped to pieces. You could hire a developmental editor to help with the story, but as a minimum you need to hire someone to line edit and proof-read. I use Josiah Davis (www.jdbookservices.com) and he provides both line-edits as well as some developmental input. He provides a first class service. After the line edit, I make the changes then send it off to him for another pass and proofread.

You will have to spend money here. Make your peace with that.

Also, if you can find people (not friends and family) who will read your book and give feedback (known as beta-readers) then that is always a good thing too. They can help spot things you have missed before it goes for an edit.

Cover

judge a book by its cover, and it’s easy to understand why with all of the choice out there. A cover is the first thing they notice and it will determine if a person clicks on your book or moves on to the next one that does catch their eye, leaving your masterpiece to sink into oblivion. Unless you have experience in this do not design your own cover. It will look amateurish and people will avoid it. Why go through all of the work in putting together a story and then having it edited just to cut your chances of success off at the knees?

Now, custom covers can run anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pounds/dollars to have produced. But the best ones pay for themselves. However, an alternative that I have used for both of my books (Horror in the Woods and The Demonic) is to use a custom cover that fits the tone and mood of your book. There are some amazing custom covers out there and I have used www.thecovercollection.com for both of my books and have not been disappointed. So if you are on a budget you can pick on of these up for £50 (for the ebook, to add the print version and audio is another £50 and is well worth it).

However you do it, make sure your cover rocks.

Formatting

Now, you have your manuscript and your cover… how do you get that uploaded to the web and start making money? Well, you need to have it formatted into the correct file types. There are a number of ways to do this, from paying someone to do it for you, to doing it yourself if you understand how to.

I use the third way.

Vellum.

It is a programme that takes your manuscript and converts it into any required file type ready for upload (Amazon uses a .mobi file extension, and other outlets use different ones). This one programme converts everything with the click of a button and the results are fantastic. It will cost you a couple of hundred to buy and is currently only available for Mac, but its one of the best purchases I’ve made. In addition to ebooks, if you but the upgraded version (which you should) it also formats your manuscript for print as well.

One click, all done.

Magic.

If Vellum isn’t for you, or if you use Windows, then look for another method to get this done.

Exclusive or Wide?

Now you have your ebook ready for upload-woohoo! BUT before you do, you have a choice to make. Do you upload it everywhere you can or should you be exclusive to the big boy in town – Amazon?

You might think the answer is obvious – get that sucker out everywhere as it will get your book in front of more people.

Well… no.

The thing is, if you are exclusive to Amazon (just talking ebooks here) then you can enrol the book into something called Kindle Unlimited. For readers, this is kind of like a Netflix for books. People pay a subscription and can read as many books in KU as they want. As an author with a book in the KU programme, you get paid by pages read.

Well, you might think, surely the other stores combined would more than make up for this. Again… no. If Amazon is the biggest player in town then the second biggest player is KU. And the price of entry is exclusivity.

Not ideal, granted, and there is a very convincing school-of-thought that says going wide is the best and only way. But being in KU as two big benefits. First, the more people that ‘borrow’ your book, the more it helps your sales ranking on Amazon, which helps push it in front of other readers. Second, you get to use a Kindle Countdown Deal during every enrolment period (90 days). These allow you to reduce your ebook to a lower price point but still claim a higher royalty rate (discussed more in the next section).

Do your research here and go with what feels right for you. Currently, I’m going with KU as the benefits are great for new authors. I will likely try going wide in the future but for now, my ebooks are only one store, which brings us to…

Amazon

This is the biggest bookstore in the world so you must get your book uploaded here. Going wide or KU is up to you, but make sure your book is on Amazon at least. And you also want to think about your price point, because different prices net you different royalty rates. If you price your ebook under $2.99 then you only get 35{8f61c4fd0efda8f250d8caa5ee0bc25fb11249aaac5f3c057c3b9464f4eb1cab} of any sale. So if your book is priced at $0.99 then you don’t get much. However, a lower price point could mean more sales. Conversely, between $2.99 and $9.99 (I think) nets you 70{8f61c4fd0efda8f250d8caa5ee0bc25fb11249aaac5f3c057c3b9464f4eb1cab} of each sale. Better return, but consider if you will sell as much. Not an easy thing to decide and there are certainly authors who use the $0.99 price point who are killing it (Matt Shaw and Amy Cross come to mind). Currently, my books are on there at $2.99, the lowest price that still nets me the 70{8f61c4fd0efda8f250d8caa5ee0bc25fb11249aaac5f3c057c3b9464f4eb1cab} return.

And with the above in mind, you can now see how the Kindle Countdown Deal is beneficial. The lower price will spike sales and visibility but you will still get 70{8f61c4fd0efda8f250d8caa5ee0bc25fb11249aaac5f3c057c3b9464f4eb1cab} of each sale.

And as I mentioned, the KU programme pays by page reads and the royalty per page fluctuates month to month depending on how many people have books in the programme and how many subscribers there are. There has been a bit of outrage over this recently from authors who saw the rate plummet due do scamming (I won’t go into it here) but it seems to have plateaued somewhat recently. Even so, I tend to make roughly match what I made via direct sales with page read payments each month. Sometimes higher, sometimes lower, but that is a rough average. You need to decide if the other stores combined can match this. For some it will, but I have a feeling for most it doesn’t.

Then there are the mysterious Amazon algorithms. This is how Amazon will sell you books. Its good to have a basic understanding of this and I will, therefore, direct you to Write to Market and Launch to Market by Chris Fox. The ebooks are cheap enough to pick up but you can also look at his Youtube videos that cover this. It is these algorithms that make Amazon what it is, so you need to be aware how to use them to your advantage. One of the key things here is that when you book goes live DON’T get your friends or family to buy it. If they buy a lot of books in your genre, it’s different, but Amazon works by matching your book up with people it thinks will like it. If all of your family buy your thriller book, but they normally buy cookbooks, it will mess with the ‘also bought’ section and start showing your book to the wrong people. Sales will flatline. Don’t do this. Get it into the hands of the right readers.

With regards to how to upload your books, again, sign up to Iain Rob Wright’s azofselfpublishing which has instructional videos on how to do just that (as well as the best ways to upload when going wide).

Marketing

I’m not going to say much on this as I’m very much still learning. The best marketing will only subsidise your book, so you need to have something that will sell first. Get that covered and you are one step ahead. Ther is a mammoth amount of marketing you can do (Facebook ads, Amazon AMS ads, marketing emails through companies like The Fussy Librarian or Bookbub (if you can get a Bookbub then do it, they are gold) but experimentation is key here. Always remember, these methods complement and aid a book that has a market and they aren’t a magic bullet. Again, look at azofselfpublishing and Chris Fox’s stuff for more info on these methods.

Website / Social Media

Social media can be a time suck so only use those that you are comfortable with. And don’t spam your book, try to engage people and build natural relationships. However, I would definitely recommend having a website. Mine isn’t fantastic as yet (that will change) but they are easy enough to set up by buying a domain and using a wordpress.org theme. Think of this as a base of operations where people can find you. Yet again, azofselfpublishing has more info on how to do this, as does The Creative Penn (www.thecreativepenn.com) which is another fantastic resource.

Mailing List

Set one of these up (I use Mailchimp but to be honest it’s a bit of a pain and I always get emails from people saying they can’t sign up… grrrr). This is basically where people give you their emails if they enjoyed your work. Now that you have their email, when you have a new book, you email the list and hopefully net a few sales from your readers. Add links to this list in both you ebooks (front and back matter of the ebooks) and also on your website. This could end up being your life-blood as a Self-Published Author, so spend a little time setting it up (again, azofselfpublishing will show you how). One thing that will help is to give readers a reason to sign up beyond just liking your work. I offer two short stories (one a prequel to The Demonic) which are all automatically delivered by Mailchimp and Bookfunnel. Get this automated sequence set in place and build your list gradually and organically. Start early as the results will be more than worth it down the line.

Reviews

I have let reviews come in organically and I think this is the best way. There are ways to cultivate Advanced Reader Review Teams (ARC – which stands for Advanced Reader Copies… or something, I’m not too sure) but I’m wary of these. If your book sells well the reviews will come. Don’t panic on this. Just let it happen. And when you get a bad review on Amazon (and you will) just cry in private. DO NOT EVER argue with the reviewer. EVER.

It’s hard to see your work trashed but it happens to everyone. Get over it and move on.

Paperback and Audio

To supplement what will be your main income, ebooks, I would also recommend having paperback and audio versions of your books available. If you have vellum and get a cover suitable for print, then this step will cost you nothing extra and it should bring in a little extra income. There are a few methods but I use something called Createspace, where copies are made to order and you get whats left after print costs and Createspace take their cut.

Similarly with audio. For Horror in the Woods (The Demonic is coming) I use a service called ACX. You can pay for a producer upfront using ACX, but there is also a royalty split option where the producer creates the audiobook for free and you split the royalty (after ACX has taken its cut). Nice and easy and no cost… so why not? Finding a narrator can be tricky and I use Han Hills who, apart from having the single greatest name in all of creation, is absolutely fantastic at what he does (https://hanhills.com)

These may not be your mainstay in terms of sales but they do provide a little extra each month.

Next Book

Don’t rest on just one release. After you have one book out, get to work on the next and get it out as fast as you can. Different people have different circumstances and speeds so output will be different, but you need to push yourself to get new books out as quickly as possible. If that’s two a year, great. If it’s four, even better. Whatever you can do. That is the single best way to grow your readership and beats any marketing tricks hands down. I’m not going to say much more on this as its there in black and white. Put in the hours and produce books readers of your genre love. If you treat this like a hobby (and that’s fine if it’s what you want) then your results will reflect that.

And that’s it…

Like I say, this isn’t exhaustive by any stretch. Just a brief guide to what I’ve tried and what I think works. There are far better people out there who can guide you if you need more info but I think this should be enough to get you started. Just remember, that if you are reading up on this stuff non-stop but producing nothing, you are doing it wrong. Stop reading and start writing.

Using the above outline, since May of this year (2017) I’ve sold over six thousand ebooks, had over 2.5 million page reads in KU, sold close to 200 paperbacks and 94 audiobooks (only my first book so far). All of this was done by putting out only two books: the first, Horror in the Woods, came out on May 5th, 2017. My second book, The Demonic, that was released July 18th, 2017.

These numbers are not amazing. Anyone can do that – or better it – but for a period of time just short of eight months, and with only two books, I don’t think it’s too bad.

The plan for 2018 is to put out four books and increase my readership to see how far this can go.

I hope this has been useful and, if so, good luck. This stuff isn’t rocket science, it just takes work… so get on with it.

– Lee

[Photo credit: www.nicolassolop.com]

 

 
 
2018-05-07T16:33:43+00:00

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