Today we welcome Jennifer Bresnick! Jen is the author of The Last Death of Tev Chrisini and The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun, both of which she self-published. She often blogs about the pros and cons of self-publishing, and we’re very pleased to have her share some of that insight with us. You can read more about Jen and her books on her website.
Self-publishing is all the rage these days, with Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and a host of print-on-demand solutions competing for your attention by boasting of their cheap and brilliant design teams, overnight success stories, and ease of use. But the popularity of self-publishing is a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s easier than ever, and it’s gaining a certain amount of respect in the literary world. But its popularity also means that you’re going to be competing against hundreds of thousands of other budding authors.
Getting lost in the static is more likely than selling a hundred thousand copies unless you are committed, technologically savvy, resilient, and confident that you’re bringing a great product into the world. Here are five things you should think about before hitting the “publish” button if you want to see a return on the investment of your time and effort.
Are you willing to put in the work?
Because it’s going to take work. Believe it or not, writing the book is the easy part. Then you have to edit it, then edit it again because you found a couple of typos and you know there are bound to be more, then edit it a third time because now you’ve changed things and you’re not sure if cutting paragraphs or rearranging words has left weird danglers or missing sentences.
You have to figure out what type of formatting you want, figure out how to strangle Microsoft Word through the computer when it doesn’t do what you tell it to do, and make sure your page numbers, margins, spacing, and fonts work for your print version and your ebooks. You have to choose or create a cover, guide your book through the publishing process, and then the really hard part begins!
Marketing is tough. Finding readers, catching their attention, bludgeoning them into leaving reviews, trudging to book stores and writing conferences and your mother’s weekly book club with a boxful of copies…
Don’t let anyone tell you that self-publishing is as easy as pie. It takes an enormous amount of effort to hit it off with just a fraction of the people who will visit your blog or click your links. If you’re not prepared to be bloody-minded about pursuing your goals, don’t bother wasting your own time.
Can you design (or pay for) a professional-looking product?
We’ve all seen collections of pictures like these, and none of us are really that surprised that most titles that make the “Top 20 Horrible Book Covers” lists are self-published. Creating an attractive and interesting package is hard work. I went through four versions of the cover for The Last Death of Tev Chrisini before a professional designer put me out of my misery and created something I love.
If you can’t do it on your own, then you really need to pay for it. Don’t forget that some of the most impactful book covers don’t use stock photos of muscle-bound men and scantily clad women. A unique and beautiful font and a strong, evocative color palate is sometimes all you need to get eyeballs on your book and sales in your pocket. Study your favorite mass-market books to see what works and what elements you should duplicate to make sure your presentation is as good as it can be.
Do you have your marketing plan in order?
Social media is a huge component of marking your book these days, no matter what genre you’re in. Non-fiction authors have it a little easier, because you can target readers interested in your specific subject matter, but novelists can take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) tactics, too.
All authors can make use of non-Internet marketing strategies, as well. Attend classes or a writer’s group. Get tickets to that conference coming to town. Write a press release for your town newspaper, and try to get your independent bookshops to stock a few copies on their “local author” table. No one can love you if they don’t know you exist, and no one will know you exist unless you jump up and down and wave your arms a bit.
Is trashing traditional publishing on your agenda?
It shouldn’t be! Big presses are a totally legitimate way to get published. So is doing it yourself. As self-publishing grows and sees more mainstream success, the two sides of the coin are going to have to learn how to get along. That means respecting the work of agents, editors, and publishers who may have turned down your query. Why get upset? You’re moving forward with your writing career on your own terms anyway.
How well can you deal with frustration?
You’re going to encounter a lot of setbacks, a lot of dead ends, and a lot of disappointments just when you thought you were going to make it big. One month, you won’t sell any copies. Then ten or twenty will fly off the shelf before the drought starts over again. PR people will ignore you. Readers who tell you personally how much they loved your book will never get around to posting a review. You’ll probably pour a lot more money into this than you’ll get back.
Frustrations are part of every business, especially in the early days when you’re starting from scratch. Competition is fierce, and readers are picky. Can you handle it? Because if you can, the rewards can be amazing.
That first five-star review will leave you glowing for days. Seeing your words in print is a feeling that can’t be replicated. Getting a call from the bookstore asking for more copies will make you break out the champagne. And let’s not forget the glorious, triumphant achievement of simply writing a book and bringing it to completion. Self-publishing is hard, but the rewards you can reap from pushing through the pain are unparalleled.