Reboot of Self-Publishing Musts for Starting Out

I wrote this over two years ago when I was young and naive…. ahhhhh. The good-old days.

But, since it still gets hits, I figured I should update it. A lot of things have changed (some for real, and some just my opinion) and so, here goes:

The thing is, I’m still a newbie in most ways. I still work my day job about 60 hours a week and squeeze writing life in as much as I can. I’m not on the cutting edge or even aware who is in a lot of ways. I’m VERY LUCKY to know several people who are at the top of their Indie Game and able to learn from them constantly.

SELF-PUBLISHING REBOOT!

There’s a lot to do and consider before Indie Publishing. A friend asked me for my advice and I decided to think it through for a few days and share it here as well.

I put this list together so my friend could make a decision and then start to prepare with as much information as possible. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to the costs. Yes, I had friends who edited. Yes, I have a friend in PR I could go to. Yes, I found a cover for cheap (although, if you follow my blog you know that I waited until I got a good cover. It actually held up publication. Don’t go live with a bad cover, an unedited product, or any other bad corners cut off to spite your face. Also, ignore any mixed-metaphors in this post.)

I worked under the assumption you did all the pre-work. You wrote a good book. You revised and edited and had beta readers and worked that thing until it was so shiny it blinded you. You’ve made a conscious decision to self-publish your book and you asked yourself the two important questions first (EDITED: Sorry, everyone. I didn’t realize the blog I did a guest post on had been shut down!) Everything on this list comes after that.

So, here’s the list I came up with. I’m sure as I get further from my original pub date and closer to my next launch, I’ll find a few things to add to it. Right now, I feel pretty confident in handing this off.

Good Luck.

  1. Pay a full service editor. Even with a writing degree and copy editing cert, I want to have the security that it was done and done right.
  2. Edit the book again. Yes, I know. You hired an editor. Some Indie Authors hire two…or three. Maybe you can’t afford that, but hiring at least one is not the place to skimp. Now, do your writer thing and work through all those edits with your brain on. 
    1. What I meant here, because I’m not sure it’s obvious, is don’t just hit “accept all” to your editors comments and corrections. You’ll find things you disagree with. You’ll find things you want to fix differently. You’ll find things you both may have missed. Do the full read thru again on high-speed as you work through your edits.
    2. I’ve actually added “proofreader” to the last step since the first book. I found that too many edits  to not have a last set of eyes. The problem was  finding a proofreader who doesn’t charge the same as your editor. I understand proofing a book is a time commitment, but as someone who is literally looking to grab those last few typos, it was a challenge – but, I’m glad I did it! I’m glad I know I’m sending out the best product possible.
  3. Research. Research your genre. Who are they? How are they tagging? Who is selling the most? Why are they selling?  Do they blog? What do they blog about? How are they advertising? What do the best book covers in your genre look like? Don’t move to the next things on the list till you do the research.
    1. Ahhhh Tagging. How I miss thee. It used to be that readers and writers could tag books. It was wonderful — I say this from a reader’s perspective. Now, you can’t but you can pick “keywords” and 2 categories when setting up your book. Just be prepared for Amazon to completely ignore what you pick. Barnes & Noble is better at paying attention to these.
  4. A cover. Start looking now. I actually do a run through of some sites to see if I can get another great deal. With the cover for It’s in His Kiss I was lucky to find a double sale for $22 – and I love it. The cover counts a lot.
    1. I do still look at pre-made sites regularly. It let me change out my The Last Single Girl’s (Caitie Quinn) cover for a really reasonable price – and it immediately started selling. The old cover was adorable and people always complimented it, but it just didn’t sell.
    2. BUT, I also have my full length’s covers done by a designer. I’m willing to make that investment especially if they’re in a series. 
  5. The Title: Check that the title works for the story, genre and readers. Make it catchy and memorable…If you’re anyone but me, make sure a really, really, really famous author with the same last name doesn’t have a book with the same title *head desk* And seriously, no one in the Invisible Posse picked it up either until I paid for the cover.
  6. Join groups. For example:
    1. Join Kindleboards. There’s a lot of good info and support there.
    2. Romance Divas and the Rom Indie yahoo group. I’m a lurker in both of these places but, they’re great for specific Rom stuff. Find some in your genre.
      1. I’m less group orientated than I was when I began. All those sites were amazing ways to learn and connect. I’m to the point where I’m really lucky to have a couple small groups of very smart people to bounce industry ideas off of. BUT, without starting in the groups, I never would have gotten this far or met those people.
  7. Join reader forums. No, you’re not going to pimp your book, but you need to be out there where your genre fans are. It’s going to do several things: Keep you in the loop and get your name familiar. Remember, the needs of today’s readers can be filled more quickly by Indie Authors. (To add: If you aren’t a fan of your genre and there anyway for the fun stuff, maybe you’re writing the wrong thing.)
    1. Two years ago things were so different. Now I’d say, yes, stay in touch with your genre. If you don’t love it, if you wouldn’t bring a bunch of them on vacation with you, are you really writing the right thing? AND, it can be fun to be part of reader groups, but things change so rapidly now that you just have to write what you’re going to write. 
    2. That said, I really do enjoy some of the reader groups I hang with AS A READER. Because I still love reading for reading’s sake.
  8. Set up your Amazon author page and author central stuff so you’re ready to go.
  9. Tag your book on Amazon. These help people find your book based on their interests. I also ask people if they liked It’s in His Kiss to please hit the “Like” button at the top. I’ve been told (although I have no proof) this bumps you up the search ranks. Regardless, it is something I look at now – did people like the book enough to come back and hit that button?
    • UPDATE: If they like you as an author, tell them they can also “Like” you personally. If you click the author’s name on any of their book pages, it brings you to their Author Central homepage. Toward the top, right-hand corner is a “Like” button. We’ve been told that magic might happen when you hit certain numbers.
    1. Sadness – Tags are gone. Liking is gone. You can still like an author on their page (I just checked) but all my “Likes” are gone so I don’t know if this went away and came back or was deleted and still shows up. Regardless, it sounds (from the lack of chatter) that it’s not weighted. Of course, if you want to test that theory, go like me HERE
  10. Set up a Goodreads author account separate from your account. I can’t stress this enough. I estimate that about 70% of my sales come from GR reviews and recommendations.
    1. I haven’t been commenting on things I still agree with, but 2 years later I believe this even more. I also used it during my cover reveal for the first book (Wreckless) and got 250 new TBR listings on GR from it. Did all those people buy or read the book? No, but buzz is buzz. If even 10% did that’s 25 readers who I got to share my work with.
  11. Start blogging and tweeting about it 3 months in advance (during edits) just like you would a trad book deal and share the ride to publication and launch date with your readers. But remember, only talking about your book is boring, rude and exhausting. If you have nothing else to say, maybe just avoid social media.
    1. This isn’t me now that I’m balancing more books — BUT I do think for your first book, when you probably have a bigger ramp up plan, this is still important. 
    2. I will say this — I’m finding that readers who LOVE book one are not auto-readers for book 2. You’re probably always going to need to promo. Sure, Susan Elizabeth Philips could whisper in the dead of night while surrounded by a frozen tundra that she’s putting a book out the next day and it would hit the Times, but most of us need to hit the pavement before ever hoping for hitting anything else…. Every time.
  12. Write an actual promo plan.
    1. Are you going to advertise? If so, where?
    2. Does your blurb stand alone? Is it well-edited?
    3. Do you have a promo timeline?
      1. These are only the places to start thinking. Almost everyone needs a promo plan of some sort. Even if you’re pretty passive about it. You should think thru what you’re willing/unwilling to do. If your plan is “put the book online and hope for the best” that’s fine, but you have to be honest with yourself about your expectations from that.
  13. Set up a blog tour. Note this isn’t part of the promo plan. Yes, you’ll work it into the plan, but this is a must.
    1. I did a small blog tour for Wreckless. It was a lot of work. If I do another I might hire someone to organize it. But, personally, I didn’t enjoy it. It was a lot of blogging about for me in a small amount of time. 
    2. Also, it seems like there are trends in what’s hot for blog tours. I don’t typically fall into any of those categories, so if it comes to spending hours blogging for no return/interested parties OR writing, I should probably go with writing. So, make sure to take that into consideration when considering and planning a tour.
  14. Send out ARCs for review – This is scary, but I’ll definitely do it next time. I had a few reviewers write-up It’s in His Kiss just because. They were so encouraging and I know for a fact their readers tried me because of their reviews.
    1. I’m sad to say that of the ARCs I sent out for Wreckless, 1 person blogged/reviewed it. And all those ARCs were requested. Do I think all of them hated it… I doubt it. But, we’ll never know, will we? So, was it worth it? Well, that one reviewer has become a reader and someone I exchange info with. She’s really nice and very smart. So, I’m really glad I got to meet her. I wouldn’t have without the ARCs.
    2. Of the ARCS that went out for Secret Life not one person reviewed it in the 2+ months it was out ahead of time to now (3 weeks after release.)
    3. So, when you add that all up, I doubt I’ll do ARCs again. *deletes insane writer paranoia* 
  15. Giveaways: There are two types of giveaways.
    1. From You: If you have a following, these will go wonderfully. You’re tribe will be looking forward to getting their hands on your book. Do some the week before it comes out and the two weeks after that.
    2. From Others: It wouldn’t hurt to offer free copies to a few places that review or discuss books as reader giveaways. They’ll reach people you’d never be able to on your own.
      1. I’ve been heavily rethinking giveaways. A lot of that is because I’ve noticed most other people aren’t doing them any more. I quit doing almost all giveaways for other people this past year. Part of the reason was that about 50% of people never claimed their prize when you gifted them (meaning you gave Amazon money for a book that was never received) AND that there weren’t a lot of people doing giveaways for me.
      2. This isn’t about tit-for-tat, but more along the lines of thinking “how much money am I spending on others and how much am I spending on my own promo?” I had to shift that over to my own. You have to have a budget. It’s easy to spend money really quickly in self-publishing and you need to decide where that money is going to go.
  16. Schedule your Business Hours. When will you be online networking and marketing? If it’s written down, you’re more likely to do it. Also, you’re more likely to limit yourself to that instead of getting sucked into the *refresh* addiction.
    1. NOTE TO SELF: Bria, you still need to get better at this.
  17. Barter, Beg, Steal… Okay, don’t steal. But, use your resources.

A.  Formatting: This was hard. I stunk at it. On top of that, the wrong version accidentally got uploaded.

If I didn’t have two friends who are gifted come along side me and fix my mess and explain stuff to me, I’d be in a boatload of trouble – One reader told me later (when I mentioned I was having a corrected version uploaded) that she saw the format mess, but was pulled into the story so much that she forgot about it and never let me know.

This was incredibly flattering, but I know the only reason I got away with that was it was a short.

Do not skimp on formatting. Period. It’s the difference between a new reader for life and someone who doesn’t trust you to put out a quality product.

Also, where are you going to publish? I’m currently only on Amazon, but the second check is earmarked for formatting for Smashwords and BN.

B.  Proofing: Yes, even after you pay for an editor the book still needs to be proofed.  At a minimum, find someone you trust to mark it up even as a “finished product” and you’ll be golden. A nice Starbucks card goes a long way here.

Yes. I’m glad I went professional with this later on. It took the pressure off me and my volunteer readers.

  1. Get a cover quote or two. No seriously. If you have the connections or (the you-know-what that rhymes with falls) contact another writer to see if she’d give you one. Who are the successful Indie Authors in your genre?
    1. I got a cover quote for the first two RVHS Secrets books. It’s hard and scary. Is it worth, I don’t know yet. The hope (I assume) is that the quoter will really love your book enough to mention/ tweet/ facebook/something that she read it and blurbed it because that would be where the real worth would be.
  2. Set up your budget: How much are you willing to pay total? How much are you willing to pay for each thing? Are you going to do advertising? Where does it work the best (hint: check Kindleboards for this type of data.)
    1. Still true. Know going in what you can spend. I track what I spend on what for each book and have an “Earn Out” page in my tracking spreadsheet to know when the book has paid for itself.
  3. Set up a tracking system. I’ll be blogging about this later. But, do not go live without someway to track your expenses and income.

This is a business. Treat it seriously.

This. Yes. So much this still.

  1. Send an email to friends saying how excited you are about this. Share that you’re nervous about doing it without the support of a publisher and that their support has been invaluable.
    1. This is great for the first book, but you don’t want to become the I Only Hear From Her When She Needs Something friend. We all have some of those and we all feel less and less like helping them out. But, say thank you.
  2. I’m working on a blog called How To Love Your Indie Friend… because the support needed is more moral. People don’t know how to help and support you if you don’t tell them.
    1. I did this. I may reboot it as well. I was shocked how much even writer friends didn’t know about the basics of putting a book out and what helps a lot.

The best advice I can give you: DO NOT RUSH. I know, I know. You can’t wait to get it out there in the world. But do it right and give it the wings it needs to really knock it out of the park (remember, we’re not mocking mixed metaphors today) – So, go forth and be successful.

I still believe this. But, “Do not rush” means different things to different people. It will even mean different things to you based on your book, your job, life, how you’re feeling, if you’re rested or drained… Just remember, put out a product when it’s done. Defining what is “done” for you should happen before you get to the end. 

I’d highly recommend having an informal standard that you know is what you publish your books at. Don’t use this to knock others down for their process or put someone else on a pedestal. Look around. What is the standard for your book (the entire package) – now make a deal with yourself. The deal is, your book is “done” when you reach that standard.

This will help not only those who are quick to pull the trigger, but those who can’t seem to hit “publish” as well.

I’m sure that all this will change or get updated again over the years as I get more experience and the industry continues to change. But, for now, there it is.

So, for all the people who have asked for an update or have bookmarked the old one: There you go. I hope it gives you a little bit of help. 

kk, 

Bria

Comments

  1. Hello Bria,

    I was looking for an answer for some difficulty with the Kobo Writing Life site. (not the Bank trouble), and it brought me here to your Blog Reboot. I’m always interested in the journey writers are taking, so I read it, and contained myself from editing it. (It needs a little clarification here and there – but I know you’re busy and I caught the gist of it anyway) (heaven knows – I’m way behind editing my own books, so I have no self-aggrandizing leverage anyhow – [sigh]) And I just finished six months of editing and designing and formatting a client novel, so I’m all edited out. http://sundaybloodysundaythenovel.weebly.com/

    Anyway, to the point. Regarding your link to, “Two Important Questions First”: It leads you here – ( http://www.authorrescue.com/2011/08/18/indie-year-one-great-expectations/ ) which doesn’t make any sense to me. So, repressing my editing malady, this is all I wanted to inform you about.
    And… I also want to let you know how impressed I am with your ability to write on such a continuous basis, while also holding down a full time job out there in the ‘other-reality’ world. Bravo…

    id

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