When I first started writing, I assumed my career would follow the path that was common at that time (the 90s-now I’ve dated myself!). I would try to find an agent or hope my work made it through a slush pile, and be picked up for one of the big publishing company’s midlists. I write genre fiction, so unless I broke out as a major bestseller, my books would be mass market paperbacks and shelved separately from the more expensive trade paperbacks and hardcovers. But that was OK, because I would be there, in the store.
I’d still like to see my books on the shelf in a bookstore. I adore digital books—both eBooks and audio—but there’s something about holding a physical copy in your hands, knowing that you don’t have to worry about your battery running out or reading in the sunlight. I’m doing print copies of my book, but they’ll need to be ordered online. I won’t even have a single spine-out copy on a bookstore shelf. And while I also know that bookstore sales continue to decline, there’s a certain cachet involved in being traditionally published. The gatekeepers have approved your presence in the rarified air of the Big Five and the brick-and-mortar store.
So I’ll be honest. I’ve got a project that I’m still shopping to agents. I’d like to be a hybrid author, with books through traditional channels and books that are under my own control. But, wow, did I not realize until now exactly how much there is to control!
Here’s a brief run-down of some things I’ve now learned about independent publishing, most of them discovered by making a mistake and having to fix it at the last minute.
- Doing your own covers saves money if you understand how to use graphics software, but if you’ve never actually done anything meant for print, find some tutorials and watch them before you attempt to design your cover. I’m an old hand at Photoshop, but I’ve only ever made graphics that were meant for the internet or small printing, like business cards. There is WAY more to know, and because I made the digital version first, I kinda shot myself in the foot for the print version. I’ll be doing things differently for book two!
- You can never do enough marketing, but you can do too much self-promotion. Marketing here means advertisement, reaching out to new readers through as many established channels as possible. Self-promotion to your friends and family is also OK, but when you’re singing your song to the same people over and over, they’re going to get tired of hearing it.
- Start planning the companion/publicity stuff WAY ahead of time. Write your blogs, social media posts, etc. much earlier than you think you need to. When you get close to release, you’re going to have other things to worry about.
- Leverage your network as much as they’ll let you. I have an amazing one after going through the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction MFA program, and everyone has been incredibly supportive.
- If you’re going to self-publish, hire an editor. I don’t care who you are. Hire an editor. Mine is lovely and wonderful, and this story was pretty much a mess before she started working on it. (If you want to hire her, visit her Facebook page Literally Yours Editing for more info).
- Independent Publishing is expensive if you want to do it right. ISBNs cost hundreds of dollars (I only bought ten, for $300. That will get me through five books, two for each). Copyright requests cost a little less than $100. Then there’s editing services (including copyediting/proofreading), web hosting, cover art (I did it myself, but I still had to pay for the rights to images, fonts, and textures), research books, software (I subscribe to Adobe Creative), formatting services (I used Vellum for my eBook versions), and advertisements. Expensive. I will have to sell several hundred copies of my book to start earning back what I paid out.
That certainly isn’t an exhaustive list. And in the end, it’s all worth it. I am so excited to share my book with the world! Go visit the Fay of Skye series page to see how you can get your copy!