This is a guest post by Linda Cartwright. Linda is an educator and a writer on the verge of coming out as an independent author after years of freelancing and ghost-writing. Her darkest secret is that writing is only her second favorite thing to do… after reading. You can follow Linda on Twitter.
In preparation for her own book launch, Linda has been studying self-publishing basics. She’s sharing here what she’s discovered so far, from choosing the right publishing platform to creating a killer book cover.
We shall come from a presumption that your book is great. You thought of a good story, you were tenacious enough to write it, this baby is ready to see the world. We are not talking about writing a book worth reading, we are talking about how to self-publish it in a way that people will want to read it.
Also, since self-publishing is a wide spectrum, for the sake of this article we shall assume that you have decided to self-publish an e-book via services with no upfront payment or setup fees required (such as Amazon KDP, Smashwords, Kobo Writing Life, PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, Streetlib, etc.) who will distribute your e-book to digital retailers (Google Play, iBook, Amazon Kindle, Scribd, Kobo, etc.)
In order not to lose your sanity over formatting and other technical issues, you should choose the most user-friendly distribution platform, especially if that’s your first time publishing (Amazon KDP, Draft2Digital, and Pronoun fit the bill).
Thankfully, all platforms today offer free conversion of your book to various file formats and even a print-on-demand feature, so that makes it one less thing to worry about.
Another very important thing to consider is royalties and payment policy. For example, some platforms take a fixed 10% cut and leave the rest to you, while Amazon KDP and Kobo offer authors different percentage from book sales (35% to 80%) depending on the price range of the book. This can put you in a situation where the price feels right, but don’t like the royalties. Or the royalties look good, but the price is unrealistic.
So chose a platform where the balance is right for you or you can experiment and tweak your pricing. Also, some platforms set payout threshold for money withdrawal, which can be inconvenient for new authors whose books are priced moderately and don’t enjoy huge success.
Some platforms (such as Amazon KDP) require exclusivity if you wish to benefit from their full marketing services, so keep that in mind as well. Other important things to consider: who owns the rights, who decides the pricing, and can you leave a platform whenever you want if you don’t like the terms. You can find more information on self-publishing services in ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) reviews. They regularly post updates and report untrustworthy publishers.
This is a very important step and it is regretfully often overlooked by self-publishing authors. This results in poor readability that might upset and disappoint your readers.
Many writers skip the editing stage because they want to get the book out there as quick as possible (for example, they want it to be ready before the Halloween season). Another popular reason is cutting the costs.
However, do hire a professional editor. This is a good investment in the quality of your book. Moreover, when your editor sends your edits and comments, you have a chance to benefit from their vast experience in the industry and learn a lot. This way you also invest in yourself as a writer.
You can also turn to one of the companies that provide help with writing papers and editing manuscripts. Usually, their services cost less than the services of a literary editor. However, their expertise is restricted to grammar and clarity. They will comb your text through for mistakes and typos, leaving subtleties of style and composition at your own discretion.
The third option is complete self-editing, which is quite an endeavor. It takes a lot of time and practice, but it’s a skill all writers need to learn. Ultimately, the better you get at it, the fewer drafts (time) and the less editor’s work (time and money) you will need in the future. If you go down this path, you may benefit from online grammar-checking tools like these.
The Internet runs on metadata, so it’s a vital part of your promotion strategy. Ignoring metadata is the worst thing you can do to your book after not publishing it at all.
In short, metadata is information about something else used to classify and find it. For example, when you upload your book to a publishing platform, you are asked to fill out a form with many fields – that’s metadata about your book. There will be about 15 to 20 pieces of metadata used as tags to make your book searchable.
If the metadata about your book is incorrect or absent, it will be shown as an irrelevant result to people who are looking for something else or won’t show up in the search results at all.
Some basic fields are required – you cannot submit a book without those. Most often they include title, subtitle, series title, author, format, and publication date. However, there are other fields that authors often neglect to fill out: category, description, target audience. They are crucial to make your book discoverable.
Imagine a mother looking for a book to give to her 12 y. o. daughter. She won’t be searching your name or the title (she doesn’t know your book exists!). Instead, she will search for “fantasy for preteens” or “books about dragons” (or whatever her daughter is passionate about at the moment).
To make sure that databases will show your book to just the people who look for it, you must know which search phrases these people typically use, aka the keywords. Of course, you will have to spend some time researching. Then, you should put those phrases in the fields where they are appropriate. The “description” field gives you the most freedom. Some platforms also include the separate field for keywords on top of others.
The important thing here is that if you aren’t sure you got it right, you can experiment and improve your metadata. You can change categories (it doesn’t have to be just one), rewrite description, and add keywords that you have discovered later and think they will help to make your book more visible.
Create a file for your book’s metadata and keep it for further use – you want to be consistent across all the platforms where you distribute your book. Every time you will need the next submission form, you will have everything ready at your fingertips.
They say don’t judge the book by its cover, but that’s what people always do, especially when purchasing an e-book without a chance of flipping through the pages. Therefore, the cover is a big deal that can influence the sales of your book greatly (or gravely).
Make sure both the title and your name are easily readable even on the preview. Otherwise, you miss a chance to grasp the reader’s attention as they browse through the category/search results.
Another important thing is the artwork. Of course, it’s another thing where indie authors prefer to cut the costs because the services of a professional designer might be pricey. However, self-published doesn’t have to scream “amateurish”.
If your book is a fiction it is even more important to have a decent artwork that represents the overall theme or some important aspect of your book. People read fiction to be entertained – they crave a certain atmosphere, want to immerse in a certain mood. It’s in your best interest to put what your book has to offer front and center.
It doesn’t mean that you cannot make it on a budget. You can spot talented artists in communities and on freelancing sites. You can get the idea of what their style is from a portfolio. The artist doesn’t have to be renowned – skilled is enough.
The artwork must satisfy three important criteria:
- Being clear, not confusing, and easily interpreted even from a small preview. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? You reader must not squint and guess. This isn’t a Rorschach
- Reflecting the tone of your book (cute/cheerful, dark/mysterious, etc.) This doesn’t mean that the cover must be literal (a book about depression in monochrome or romance in pink), but it must convey the appropriate feeling. Be creative, yet make sure the cover is not divorced from your text. Another extreme is being too obvious and stereotypical, yet even this is better than confusing and misleading. Finding dystopia under the guise more befitting comic fantasy is a bummer.
Also, don’t base this important decision solely on your personal taste. Ask the designer if they can make two or three versions with different background colors so you can experiment and see what works best for your readers. Ask people who don’t know what your book is about to guess its genre and theme by the cover.
- Appealing to the right audience with regard to age YA paranormal romance must not look like children’s fantasy, for example. Look at the covers of other books in the same genre and test it with someone who represents your target audience.
You can find some more tips on creating a killer book cover here.
Many indie authors try to present readers with a plot summary for a blurb. Not only it is too full of details and overwhelming for the reader – it’s also absolutely beside the point. You don’t want them to write an essay about your book, you want to leave them hungry: “That’s interesting. Tell me more!”
Your blurb must be intriguing. Even if your book isn’t a mystery novel. The entire point of a blurb is to entice and make an emotional connection with the reader.
I know, boiling your book down to a couple of hook sentences might seem tasteless, but in fact, blurb writing is an art in itself. Try going through blurbs for the best-selling books in your category and study the patterns. This can be very instructive. Sometimes a fragment of the book makes a great blurb – but if you go that way make sure it’s short, snappy and encapsulates a conflict from a book.
The same goes for the sample. Depending on a publishing platform you have chosen, the sample can be the first 300 words or a piece of text from the middle of your book. If that’s the first page of your book – make sure that it does not include dedications, prefaces and so on. It must be an actual beginning of your story. If that isn’t enough to hook the reader and drag them in, it probably says that you have begun the story too early. Think of appropriate edits to make things going from the first start.
Here are some great tips on how to write the perfect blurb.
Don’t stop promoting your book. The worst thing you can do is to give up after three months and declare your defeat. Experienced authors stress that promotion is an ongoing process rather than a stand-alone launching event.
However, when I say “promoting” it doesn’t mean flat-out selling. Don’t just say “Buy my book! It’s awesome, I promise”. Instead, leverage social media and your blog to direct your audience’s interest towards your book and your personality. Tell about your writing process or what you like the most about writing. Share some interesting details you’ve discovered while doing the research for the book. Thank for reviews and support, retweet positive feedback.
Sometimes even offering your book for free is a wise promotional decision. However, this option is only viable if you have other books your readers will potentially want to buy or you plan on launching next one in the nearest future.
Overnight success stories are a thing of the past. It doesn’t mean that you cannot be successful through self-publishing. It just means you have to be patient. It takes time to build your author reputation and write enough books to be noticed!