Way back in 2012, I embarked on a new adventure--self-publishing. I missed the first few heady months of Amazon's successful Kindle Direct Publishing program, but I hastily jumped on their indie bandwagon and began producing a series of novels all by my lonesome.
2014 is now coming to a close. I've written 10 novels, 4 short stories and even one kid's middle grade reader. I've got something like 19 products on sale on Kindle (and iTunes, etc) and I managed to make several thousand dollars this year in royalties.
Has it been worth all the work? Well, yeah. Therefore, I enourage anyone who enjoys writing, and who wants to make some money doing so, to consider self-publishing. To that end, here's the most important things I've learned since 2012.
1. Readers want good stories. That's it. Very simple. Readers aren't all grammar-nazis. Most don't expect perfection, they expect entertainment and value for their money. I've read countless Big Five-published novels that sucked, had typos and errors and stupid plots. Books that surely didn't deserve shelf space in a book store. But me and countless others bought them, because we were hungry for stories and got suckered by slick marketing pros.
2. People do judge books by their covers. Especially now. There's such a huge glut of books on Kindle, that readers will indeed look at your cover and decided to move on or not. So you need something that's eye-catching and doesn't look like crap. Now, bear in mind, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you need to tailor your cover to the market you're appealing to. Doing a romance novel? Have bare chests and sultry women on the cover. Doing something with action? Try an action-oriented cover, say with people fighting, shooting, etc. Don't mix these two up. Femme fatales staring wistfully into nothingness may cause a male reader to pause to admire the model's beauty, but it might not sell that many books.
Additionally, once your cover has caught someone's eye, you need a good blurb. You know, the little tidbit of a tease normally on the back of a paperback. It's what makes people want to look inside. And on Amazon, they can do the same thing. Or they can move on because your blurb is boring or stupid.
3.You must advertise. It does no good to write a book and then shove it in the back of a filing cabinet. No one will see it. Similarly, if you publish your book, putting it alongside millions of others on Amazon's virtual shelves, people may not see it. Oh, sure, it could show up for 30 days as a new release, but so will hundreds, if not thousands of others.
You may not have thousands of dollars to Russell up and invest in your book, plastering the internet with ads, but you can start small, offering free days on twitter, facebook, etc. Use those first few days of advertising to buy more ads. No sense editing every stray typo out of your book. Perfection doesn't magically attract readers. Ads do.
4. Readers want more. You can't write just one book. Well, you can. Maybe it's a therapeutic release, or you way of telling the picky gatekeepers to take a flying leap, but if you want to make money, you can't offer just one product. You're not a hotdog cart... although you might be a lunch truck. Write several books, preferably series. People like series.
5. Frequency is an Ad. The more often you release books, the more often you show up as a new release. That is a free ad. It's like buying multiple quick pick tickets in the lottery. Yes, no one might buy or even see your books, but you have more chances with more books. Shotgun method here. Plus, if a reader likes one book, and you have more, they might buy more, instead of moving on to the next indie.
6. You don't have to DIY. It's great if you can do it all yourself: making your own cover, editing, proofing, marketing... but like any industry, self-publishing has spawned thousands o hungry sharks circling the online seas looking for your money. Hire with caution, as many suck and just want your money. They can be no different than con men or home improvement fraudsters. Be selective and bargain shop. There's more "professional" services available online for indies than you can shake a stick at. Get quotes. Compare prices and results. And remember #3--you've got to have ads. They take priority.
7. Conventions suck (for selling). When you go to a comic book convention or a scifi convention, you look at products to determine if you want to spend money on them. With a book, it's really hard to tell if it's any good before buying. And conventions are costly: booth fees, print costs to have dead tree versions of your books, food you'll eat while there, gas to get there, maybe even hotel rooms. Selling a print copy and making $1 to $5 a copy, you better sell a crap ton of copies to even break even. Don't listen to people hyping "networking" or "word of mouth". It's a money pit. Spend the money on ads online. Or maybe try a bookfair where people are actually looking to buy books.
8. Join an online community. Lurk a lot on line, reading what others have done and taking notes on what works and what doesn't. Of course, you have to filter out a lot of boasting, like folks who claim to be best sellers because for 2.3 minutes their book was #1 in Fiction>Mysteries>Detectives>Eastern EuropeanGhosts. NEVER PAY FOR ADVICE. At least not until you've exhausted what free resources there are online. Yes, you can buy other writer's books and programs and what not, but odds are with a little work, you can find the same information for free.
9. To make money requires hard work. Writing is fun, but you need to keep at it. You can't slowly relish unfolding your epic masterpiece over a decade. You need to crank it out like a TV show. Produce, produce, produce. Any of the successful indies online had one of three thinsg that led to their success:
a. Lots of money to pay for book doctors, editors, proofers, cover artists, ads, etc
b. A stroke of huge luck
c. Connections with someone important or in the public eye who hawked their book for them
d. Buckets and buckets of elbow grease
It doesn't cost anything to do this. Work hard, be patient and you can eventually make some money and enjoy doing so.
10. Not everything works for everybody. Meaning everything I've written up to this point could be completely useless. Take in lots of opinions and advice and figure out what works on your own.