Monday, October 20, 2014

Self-publishing: How it worked for me and how I did it practically for free

Self-publishing.  I think this is as hot a topic now as it was when I first started looking into it in December of 2010.  I also think it has just as much merit now as it did in 2010, possibly even more.

Let me go back.  Allllll the way back to where I was before I read Twilight (which is what prompted me to write my first book.  No, I'm not kidding. LOL)  I was a registered nurse before I started writing. I had never so much as kept a journal before then, never once considered that I might one day be a writer.  It just never entered my mind.  Not only that, but I was the type of reader who got my books from bookstores, had never been on a blog of any kind and hadn't heard of a digital reader. I had a Facebook account that had been closed for years, and had only a vague idea what Twitter was. So as you can see, your beginnings, no matter how humble or clueless, need not effect your future. Yes, things might've moved faster had I been familiar with...all this, but they still moved. So consider yourself to be ahead of the game as of right this minute. LOL

Because I wasn't a part of this digital literary world, when I wrote my first book in June of 2009, I queried it the traditional way. It's the only way I knew of, the only way I thought it could be done.  So I went to the library and borrowed a book (actually, it was two HUGE books) called the Literary Marketplace.  I'm sure there are websites that you can reference now, but again, I did it all the hard way. I'm goofy like that.  LOL  Anyway, once I began to see that many of them had websites, I started visiting them.  I emailed an obscene amount of literary agents and publishers.  Basically anyone who was open to submissions, I submitted. It's easier to do that these days, of course, with the advent of email and the popularity of paperless processes.  It was as simple as looking up that agent/publisher, reading through their preferences and then tailoring my electronic letter and attachments to their specific wants and needs.  None of that helped with rejection, of course. LOL  There was no book or website for that.  And like most people who write a book, I was absolutely certain that NONE OF THEM could go another day in their life without snatching up my work.

About six weeks after that is when I got my very first check. It wasn't the kind you can cash, though. It was the reality kind. Bahahahahaha  Lemme tell ya, the competition is stiff and your work truly has to stand out among the rest to get noticed.  Consider yourself warned that not everyone will fall as much in love with your project as you have. But that's okay.  I think as authors we have to love our work and our characters long before anyone else does and long after.  They're very personal to us and there's no amount of coaching that can prepare you for what it feels like when others who you look up to essentially tell you that the love of your literary life isn't good enough.

Here's where the first (well,  maybe second) realllllly tough spot occurs.  Do you give up and admit defeat? Or do you continue?  Throw in the towel or write more, learn more, keep at it until you get better?  I hope that, like me, you will continue on. I can't even imagine my life right now had I given up.  I mean, I just can't...I can't even... Nope. Not gonna go there.

Okay, so back to self-publishing.

It was after those rejections that I found Amanda Hocking. Well, actually my husband did. She was the breakout star of independent publishing and hubby had been trying to convince me to follow in her footsteps since June of 2010, one year after I'd written my first (and second, by that point) novel.  I refused to listen at first, thinking that self-publishing was tantamount to giving up.

Now before you get offended, let me tell you that I no longer feel that way AT ALL.  That was simply ignorance on my part.  Y'all, self-publishing changed my life. Since the moment I first hit PUBLISH on Amazon KDP January 30, 2011, I have gone on to sell hundreds of thousands of books, appear on the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and a few other best seller lists multiple times, and secure not only an incredible agent, but three traditional book deals with my amazing publisher, Berkley as well.  I'm not boasting; I'm just saying that NONE of that would've happened had I not taken that first scary step!  I wanted people to read my book and I was willing to publish it myself in order to accomplish that.  And what a crazy-awesome, wonderful decision that was!  Self-publishing took me from quitting my day job with nothing more than faith and the support of my husband, through a couple of months of getting gas money from rolling quarters and grocery money from selling some of my gold jewelry, to being able to write full-time and make a living doing something that I love.  Finally!  Believe me, I'd be the first person in the world to sing the praises of self-publishing. In fact, I often am. LOL

Anyway, I wanted to share with you how I went about it not because it's a big secret, but because I did almost everything for free or for very little financial investment.  It's not that you can't figure all this out on your own, but maybe it can be one or two less things that you have to think about or google the crap out of.  I would've loved, loved, loved to have information like this when I started out, so I hope that you find it helpful.  I'm going to put it in a step-by-step format, just for ease of reading and to keep myself on track.  <----we all  know how susceptible I am to tangents. hehe

#1- Your Product-  Make sure before you do anything else that your book is as polished and shiny as it can be.  If you need help with the writing process itself, do an internet search for writing groups or ask around on Facebook.  Very often you'll find some invaluable information in those places and you'll likely make some friends.

      #1A-  I'll also mention here that it's good to have a critique partner, another author who can give you honest feedback about your work.  At first, I had never even heard of one, much less known to go find one, so I used my husband and my sister.  Granted, those probably aren't people who were likely to be BRUTALLY HONEST, but they did a wonderful job for me!  They both even caught some mistakes along the way, which made editing a lot easier.

      #1B-  You can also find beta readers or other authors who might agree to help you fine-tune and even edit your book.  Many of them will automatically point out any errors that they come across.  And while at first, you don't know who to trust, find a few reputable people to take a look at your book.  It's always better to have more than one set of eyes on your work before you put it out in the world.  Hiring an expensive editor isn't always the ONLY way either. To this very day, I still edit my own books.  Most would advise against that, and yes, there might still be a few mistakes, but I find mistakes in traditionally published books, too.  Nothing is perfect and expectations like that will only end in disappointment.  The fact of the matter is, when you're just starting out, money is often a sticking point, so I'm just telling you how you can get all this done with as little spent as possible.  Not being able to pay for a professional editor isn't the kiss of death for your book. Just go over it as many times as you can, run spell and grammar check on it every time you make changes and always, always, always look at places that others point out to you as questionable.

#2-  Formatting-  Formatting is different for each site, so be sure to reference the guidelines for the etailer you're uploading to.  This is also a good time to set up your account with each site.  That's how you get paid!  Whoop!  But back to formatting.  Here's what I have found (accurate as of 10/2014):

  • Barnes & Noble will accept a Word document.  As far as I can tell, Nook Press does a great job of converting it to epub, although you can convert to epub using Calibre and upload straight to site if you choose.  Here is where you get started with Nook Press.  

  • Smashwords has very, very, very specific guidelines. If you intend to publish through them (which could actually cut out many steps, as they will publish to Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Kobo and several other sites), I would highly suggest that you read their Style Guide BEFORE you even type the first word so that you can set up your document that way and not have to go back and fix things.  But, I assume that you have at least a portion of a book already completed or you wouldn't be so interested in this. In that case, read it now so that you can clean up your book and get fewer errors upon publication.    **Hint:  Here's the way my blank Word document is set up.  I use Times New Roman, 12 pt font.  I don't use any fancy fonts or page headers.  I never use the tab button.  I never hit enter more than twice. I always use hard page breaks (or section breaks) to separate pages.  It might seem overwhelming at first, but stick with it.  And they also have a great support team!  Mark Coker is just wonderful! Here is where you get started with Smashwords.

      #2A-  I also want to mention here that you should have a different copy of your book for each site, one that includes which site you're publishing to as well as links SPECIFIC to that site.  That way, when you have more than one book, people can click the link and be taken directly to all your work on that site.  It's a bit of a pain when you're publishing, but when you have to go back and update something or have 10 books under your belt, you'll thank me:)

#3-  Your Cover-  There are dozens of sites that have pictures you can download for free, but just because they don't cost you anything does NOT mean that they are ROYALTY FREE.  That's what you need to worry about.  For me, I found that the best thing was to buy a picture package from  a stock photo site. I use Shutterstock.  At the time, I bought 25 pictures for $49.  I think it's a bit more than that now, but it's still a great deal!  You can also use some of your downloads for graphics and teasers if you want.  Just be sure to give credit for the photo as specified by the site.

       #3A-  As for making it pretty, I downloaded for free to my PC and learned how to manipulate pictures and text until I had a cover that I was pleased with.  That's something else that I do to this very day.  With the exception of books through Berkley, I still do all my own covers.  For those who want to try it this way and have a Mac, I use the Pixelmator app.

#4- Marketing-  This is a loaded topic!  What works today will be obsolete tomorrow, so I'll just be brief and say that if you haven't already set up a blog, a Facebook Author Page and Twitter and Instagram accounts, get right on that!  LOL  And if you've never met a blogger, go browse around the blogs that host some of your favorite authors.  What you'll find there are some of the world's most amazing women who share your passion for the written word. They're as much a part of this community as the books themselves.  Many of them have been doing this for years and are wise beyond words!  Most of them are very helpful if you'll but ask.  As for submitting your book to them, always adhere to any guidelines that they have posted about review submissions or genre preference.  It's the very least you can do since probably 90% of them blog and review for the love of reading rather than to make money.  Be sure to be respectful of their time.  As far as paying for any kind of marketing services, I would just suggest asking around the author community for a good recommendation and then putting in some time doing research. In fact, I would suggest researching pretty much all of this stuff before you strike out to publish your book. That's what I did and I learned a lot of valuable stuff along the way.

Well, that's pretty much it in a nutshell.  I'll add to this as I think of other things you might find useful.  Remember that things change almost daily in this industry, so all this might shift to some degree. I do believe, however, that there will always be options for doing things in a cost-effective manner.

Don't let all this dissuade you. It might seem daunting at first, but just take it a step at a time.  The biggest hurdle is finishing your book.  Once that's done, just look at the rest as tiny bumps in the road to getting your baby in the hands of those who might really enjoy it. And when that time comes, revel in those readers!  They're investing in you.  They're taking a chance on you.  They're spending their hard-earned money on the blind faith that you'll deliver what you've promised. I never take that lightly, which is why I'm always gushing about how much I love my readers. Because I do.  They took a chance on me...ME!  And they change my life for the better every single day.

I wish you the best of luck with your journey.  Try to enjoy every step of it.  Rejoice in the good, learn from the challenges.  You just never know what's around the corner and how different your life will look in the space of twenty-four short hours:)