When I published The Last Death of Tev Chrisini in March of 2012, I was a helpless neophyte when it came to the world of self-publishing. I made a series of awful cover art decisions, went through about twelve new versions of my text after its initial release, didn’t do any marketing, and generally thought that my novel would somehow automatically become a shooting star without any actual effort on my part to hoist it above the crowd.
After a year and a half of trial-and-error in the self-pubbing world, The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun is ready for its debut (stay tuned for a free preview of Chapter One on Thursday!). In honor of this momentous occasion, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned, even if I wish they weren’t true. Here are the top five things I kind of hate about self-publishing, but that I feel are necessary to understand, accept, and act upon if you want to make your mark in an increasingly crowded, competitive industry.
You’re an author, not a marketer? Then get out of the game
You’ve read this in every Writer’s Digest advice column, every PR magician’s blog post, and every agent’s frustrated tweet about the self-pubbing world. You have to be both. You just have to be. Authors and marketers often seem like polar opposites, since writers tend to be internal people, and marketing is about charming the external world. It’s difficult, it’s tedious, it’s frustrating, and it sucks.
But unless you’ve got the big bucks to hire a publicist, it’s a necessary evil. Whether you’re talking to book review bloggers, trying to get your book into the local shop, using Twitter and Facebook effectively, or going door to door and asking readers one by one to give you a chance, marketing isn’t optional. If you don’t grin and bear it, and don’t acknowledge that this is a hat you must learn to wear, no one is even going to know your book exists.
You need to get down to each nitty-gritty pixel
I don’t have a graphic designer. I don’t have an editor, and I don’t have a manuscript formatter. Even though the covers for The Last Death and The Spoil were created by a professional, I ended up doing a lot of personalization (The Spoil cover is largely a product of my own efforts), not to mention wrestling it through the CreateSpace cover process, which is a saga for another time.
A lot of people don’t have the technical skills to produce an attractive and intriguing cover, or to format their manuscript in a way that’s easy to read and adheres to industry conventions. If you’re not one of those savvy people, skip to the next section. If you are (or you think you are), then you’re going to end up spending a couple of hours at 400% magnification with a 1 pixel brush, and that’s not a step you can skip. Your audience sees your cover first. Make it a damn good one.
You will need to make some financial investment
I happen to possess many of the skills necessary to produce a book from start to finish. If you don’t, and you’re really serious about trying to make a career in self-publishing, you’re going to have to invest in professional services. Self-pub companies like Lulu and CreateSpace offer their own pros, but you can also tap into the freelance market with sites like Odesk, which are a better option for the cash-strapped.
And even if you shepherd your book through the process on your own, there’s money involved. Buying copies to keep on hand, giveaways, fees for contests, purchasing ISBNs, and proof copies are all things that add up, trickle by trickle. The publishing process might technically be free, but this is a game that requires some initial outlay before you can even hope to make a profit. And don’t hope too hard about that part. If you’re in this for the money, prepare for a rude awakening.
Self-publishing is a lot like online dating
Don’t ask me how I know, okay? All I’m saying is that you’re going to send out a lot of pleas for attention, and you’re rarely going to get any positive responses – or responses at all. Readers are bombarded by blind entreaties for their time and money, from countless authors who have unremarkable presentations or simply don’t match what that reader is looking for. Don’t be offended when someone ignores you. You ignore other authors (or potential suitors) all the time, too.
Finding your audience – or your new favorite author – is about making that magical connection with someone who speaks to you. You’re going to start a lot of novels or explore a lot of markets that seem promising, but end up explaining their last colonoscopy appointment in great detail while you pick at your salad. Being angry or bitter when you get a bad review, get dismissed by a blogger or agent, or get snubbed by a PR opportunity is the same as writing a nasty Facebook status about your boring dinner companion. It doesn’t do any good, and it just ends up making you look petty and foolish.
Sometimes “no” will be the answer, and you just gotta deal
Because rejection is going to happen. People are going to hate your work. They’re going to say unflattering things, or misinterpret your favorite character, or even return the $2.99 e-book they just bought, which has always kind of puzzled me. “No” is the answer a lot more often than “yes” is. “I didn’t care for it” is a lot more common response to a book than “this is the best thing ever.” Those three-star reviews can sour your day, but they aren’t a death knell unless you freak out about every single one.
Writing is hard. Publishing is harder. Self-publishing is a thankless, Sisyphean task. You’re not going to sell a million copies your first month. You might not even sell one.
But you’ve written a book. You’ve finished it. You have enough courage to expose its marvelous, flawed, creative, joyful beauty to a hostile world. Be proud of yourself, enjoy the experience, and push as hard as you can to get that boulder up the hill. Because all the “no” in the world can’t match the feeling of holding your bound, printed, published work in your hands for the first time. If I’ve learned anything during all of this, it’s that all the trouble is so totally worth it.