I’ve been self-pubishing since 2012. A lot has changed in the industry since I put up my first novel on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and I’ve changed too. I started off writing traditional Epic Fantasy, and have since shifted into Historical and Fantasy Romance.
I love self-publishing. It suits my character perfectly as I’m a ‘hands-on’ kind of person. I like to be involved in all stages of the publication process. Not just the planning, writing and editing of a novel, but cover design, formatting and marketing. I adore it all!
Sometimes I read stories online of indie-authors who have managed to establish a career in just a couple of years. That’s impressive, but for me it’s been a longer game. I think for most of us it takes time to learn our craft, and everything else that goes with it. Self-publishing is still relatively new, and has only just become acceptable in many people’s eyes. For years, it was looked upon as ‘vanity publishing’—the refuge of those who weren’t ‘good enough’ to make it traditional publishing.
How times have changed!
However, if I could travel back five years, there are are many things I’d do differently, which would have definitely got my career started faster. But hey, we could all say that about life—as they say ‘hindsight has 20/20 vision!
That said, here are the top three things ‘I wish I’d known’:
- Treat it like a profession from day one: some people write as a hobby, and that’s fine, but others (like me) have always wanted to make a career out of it. What stops us? Self-doubt, fear of criticism from others, fear of not being able to survive financially … the list goes on. However, getting novels written requires discipline and planning. Think of yourself as an author from day one and the road will be much easier. I made this transition last year, after attending the RWNZ (Romance Writers of NZ) conference. There I was sitting in a room full of writers—some of whom were making a good income from their writing. Suddenly it didn’t feel like an unattainable goal anymore. Since then my productivity has gone up, as has my confidence. I already saw myself a writer in my day job (as a marketing copywriter), I just hadn’t started thinking of my self-publishing in the same light. Ask yourself: If this was my career, how would I approach it?
- Do some market-research before you start writing your first book: there’s a huge amount of debate around this—do you write what you love, or write what’s currently selling? I believe the answer is in blending the two. This is what I now do, I just would have saved myself a lot of work if I’d faced this five years ago. I initially started writing what I love (Epic Fantasy) without any thought to what might be commercially viable. Sure, there are plenty of fantasy readers out there but Epic Fantasy books take a long time to write (generally, being door-stoppers), and edit. They also have very discerning, hard-core readers. It’s a market that once you crack, can give you legions of fans, but it’s not a genre I’d pick if I was hoping to make a steady monthly income. After that, I shifted to Historical Romance—great, that’s a more ‘commercial’ choice. Only, I wrote mine in a ‘non-traditional’ time period: Dark Ages Britain. This meant that I had to do a tonne of work building my audience and basically carving out a new genre (there’s no ‘Anglo-Saxon England’ category on Amazon). After chatting with a literary agent at last year’s RWNZ conference, who told me that Scotland is a ‘hot’ setting for Historical Romances, I embarked upon a new Scottish Historical Romance series set on Dark Ages Isle of Skye. The first book in this series, BLOOD FEUD, was released just over a month ago, and although it’s early days I can see that this novel is much easier to sell, market and find readers for than my previous books. Meeting the market isn’t about selling out. Before you embark on that first novel, search Amazon to find out how popular your genre is. I’m not a traditional romance reader, but I’ve always loved Epic Fantasy, sweeping Historicals and Space Opera adventures with love-stories in them. Making the shift into romance just made sense, and it was a great decision.
- It’s never to early to start building your audience: it took me years to get my mailing list started—oh how I wish I’d started connecting with readers earlier! As a self-published author, it’s up to us to reach out to new readers. The best way to do this is to get a mailing list started, put an opt in on your website, and as soon as you can offer something for free to get readers onto your list. I’ve got a big backlist now (currently eight novels and one novella) so I recently started offering a ‘starter library’ (Mark Dawson, from the Self-Publishing Formula, suggests this and it works!) which gives you the prequel novella and first two books of my Kingdom of East Angles series for free in return for signing up. I also put the first book in the series up as a permafree on Amazon, and have a pretty ‘sign up to my mailing list and get my starter library’ graphic at the start of all my books. You might think giving so much away for free means I don’t get many sales of that first series, but that’s not the case. Actually, since I started offering the permafree and the starter library, sales of The Kingdom of the East Angles have gone up! Another way to connect with readers is through sites like Goodreads. Set up an author page but engage as a reader, not an author. Contribute to groups, post reviews and focus on sharing your love of books and reading (rather than pushing your own work). Of course, you’ll have a link to your mailing list on your author profile on Goodreads too! Set up a Facebook author page as well, but try to refrain from posting ‘buy now’ style posts. Instead, post interesting stuff your readers will like—info-graphics with quotes from your books, snippets of research, cover reveals, cool images or news related to your genre. Feel free to share a free promotion of your book, or a woo hoo if you’ve reached a bestseller list or won an award—but keep the posts 80% in favour of sharing ‘cool stuff’ rather than self-promotional material. You connect with potential readers by helping or entertaining them, not selling to them.
There is so much more I know now that I wished I’d discovered years ago, but as this post is already getting lengthy, I’ll share these in future blog posts! Self-publishing is a huge subject, and one that is constantly in flux. One thing I’ve discovered is that you never stop learning.
Are you a self-published author? Is there anything you wished you’d known when starting out? Please share in the comments below!