Self-Publishing 101

On January 17th, the Howard County Chapter of Maryland Writer’s Association had a panel of three independent authors discuss their self-publishing experiences, which I was one. Let me say, I enjoyed spending the evening learning from the other 2 panelists, L. R. Trovillion, and Eileen McIntire, as well as from our esteemed audience.

I wasn’t able to capture all the information (I was too busy talking and listening), but I do want to pass along some of the information that stuck with me long enough to scribble some notes later.

Questions from the Audience:

How did you select your editor(s) and what type(s) of editor(s) did you use? Were they in-house, or did you contract them separately?

It was my son who inspired me to write my first novel. So, I contacted my son’s editor. Why pick someone different? At that time, I didn’t know there were different types of editors. Later I realized I’d hired a copy editor when I needed a developmental editor. Why? Because I was new to writing, knew nothing about writing a novel, and too new to know about plot holes, mucky middles, and information dumps.

After the editing process, and before publishing the story, I realized the need to measure my story against traditionally published novels. Did I miss anything important? Was the protagonist likable, even loveable? Did I put the ‘v’ in a villain? Were the three acts apparent?

I did some research and discovered 2nd Draft Critique Service who for a fee would read my story, and summarize all its parts. I was beyond thrilled to get the results. Of course, there were suggested improvements, but the critique also acknowledge where I’d struck gold, graphed the emotions of the reader, and I got kudos for an unpredictable but satisfying ending.

One of my ‘biggest’ mistakes was doing the copyediting first. After the critique, I made changes, and I kept making changes as I developed my writing skills. Never trust anyone to catch all the mistakes, and that goes triple for you, the author.

The second time around, I did the developmental editing first. I learned from past mistakes but made another. I turned the manuscript over too soon after my first drafts. I’m now in the process of learning how to do my own deep edits before handing it to a professional. So, maybe the third time is the charm?

Describe your marketing process, especially to independent bookstores

The marketing question brought the most groans. I admit it’s where I’m the weakest because I don’t give it a lot of thought. I know, I have to do better than walking away from the chore, I think it will be.

A chapter member talked about the importance of incorporating a promote before publishing plan. Books aren’t going to sell themselves. Social media, an author’s platform, branding, and blogs are a writer’s responsibility if they want to sell books. Traditionally published authors are also finding it necessary to market.

I’ve listened to Social Media experts say if you’re smart about it, it will only take you minutes a day. You can set up automatic tweets, and rotate blogs between social media apps, and Instagram yourself to notoriety. I argue to get to that level of expertise, it takes time to learn new tricks, it takes time to build up an email list, it takes time to get organized, and to create a habit (66 days). Is it worth splitting time between marketing and writing? Time will tell.

Writer or Salesperson?

How many writers hate the spotlight? How many of us are introverts, who hide behind our laptops or squirrel away at our writing desks? The idea of selling our wares, of saying Hey, look what I did, makes us wake up in a cold sweat.

Guess what? Readers don’t like that type of approach, either. Don’t bombard their email boxes and social media apps with your advertisements. What’s more appealing, is you – the creative, the artist. Talk about your journey, your thoughts, your lessons learned. Maybe then, after someone gets to know you, they’ll consider purchasing something you created.

So, do I plan to take on the marketing challenge? Clichés pop into my head: it’s a bitter pill to swallow, my kryptonite, a necessary evil. I’ll have to put on my big girl panties and do it, just do it.

Maybe next time when I’m asked to talk about self-publishing, I’ll be able to talk about working with independent bookstores.

What would you advise self-publishers to avoid?

This sounds like a good place to have a list.

  • Avoid trusting yourself to find all your grammatical errors, hire a professional editor
  • Avoid the temptation to have an artist friend create a book cover
  • Avoid taking the word of friends and family that your book is well-written and ready to publish
  • Avoid scammers who want your money, do your research
  • Avoid rushing to publish your book, think twice before you hit submit

Do you have more advice?

How does one go about getting self-published?

Let me say upfront, I’m self-published, but I’m not an independent publishing expert. There are too many variables to consider, and the industry is continually changing. I chose to go through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Though it may seem like a basic question, it’s not easily answered. Other questions are needed to be asked and answered, first.

Why do you want to be published? Some authors dream of trading in their day jobs to become full-time writers, or to take a book tour or sell their books sitting beside talk show hosts. Others want to share their worldview. Maybe, it’s satisfying to have a hobby that pays for itself. It could be for attention and adulation. And the list of reasons goes on into infinity.

Depending on how you answer the question drives the direction of how to get self-published.

What type of genre are you writing? If you’re writing non-fiction or fiction or poetry, consider hiring professionals who understand what’s needed to produce the best results.

What do you want to gain? Turn this into a why question. Why do you want to get published? For me, it’s because I never thought I could write a book.

I’m an avid reader, but write a story? I couldn’t, no way. Writing dialog scared me. Grammer scared me. I doubted I had a story in me others would want to read.

It took one of my sons, Bicycle Walrus, to determine he was an author, and he was going to write a book, and then he did. It woke something inside me. If my son, the son that read the least, could write a book, then so could I.

I want my granddaughters to know their dreams can come true. Reading my book and my stories to them was one of my most monumental experiences.

My grandmother and great grandmother told me their stories that I’ve had to carry in my head. How I wish they’d written about traveling from New York to Arkansas in a covered wagon, surviving the 1930’s dust bowl, and how the family started over in California.

I didn’t publish a book to become a full-time writer, though it would be nice. I didn’t publish a book to get on the New York Times Best Sellers list, though it would be nice. I didn’t publish a book to strike it rich, get famous, or to get interviewed by talk show host. Though it would nice.

I published a book to see if I could. I’ll publish a second, so it’s understood, I have what it takes for authorhood. (My poor attempt to be a poet.)

My Takeaways from the Self-Publishing Meeting

Book Signing or Not: Instead of a book signing, writers are changing tactics and doing presentations. As one person put it, you could spend some personal time with your family sitting around for two hours waiting to sign books or present a topic that gives people another reason to come beside buying your book.

Local Library: There were mixed reviews about asking the local library to carry your book. Some experienced a lack of interest or noticed the shelves for local authors were put in the back, or hidden away.

Go Wide: A new term to me. Instead of going exclusively with Amazon, look for other opportunities to get your book out into the world. Ingramspark was mentioned as an alternative. After doing some research, I found this article: Go Wide. For more information: Ingramspark

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS): I’ve not used this, though I’ve briefly considered from time to time. For more information: AMS

Book Covers: Don’t judge a book by its cover! An old saying that no one heeds. It’s the cover that must draw that potential reader to what’s hidden inside. It’s the cover that entices the reader to take a closer look. It’s the cover that suggests the genre.

The best advice is to work with someone who’s experienced in the art of book cover design. They know the title should be seen clearly along the spine, the dimensions needed, and all the other details such as the back cover summary, ISBN location, and etc. Don’t skimp.

The Wrap Up:

I’m sure I’ve missed some great advice. Please share your thoughts. The one thing that struck me most is that the people who attended the meeting had unique experiences and various paths that led to getting self-published.

After the meeting, I was asked what I had done right. Well, what I did right was act on my desire to get published. I researched all my options, made a plan, and saw it through.

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