Become a Published Author
There are a number of reasons why you should think about becoming a published author, but from a marketing perspective having a book published with your name on it sets you one step above your normal competitors.
So how do you get started?
Let's take a look at self publishing............
Self-publishing is easy.
Self-publishing a print book is easy. Self-publishing an e-book is even easier.
Since this article is mainly about self-publishing a book in the normal print format, here's a quick explanation on what it takes to put together such a book and some ideas on taking it to market:
- You choose a size for your book,
- format your Word manuscript to fit that size,
- turn your Word doc into a PDF,
- create some cover art in Photoshop ( or get one designed ),
- turn that into a PDF,
- upload it all to the self-publisher of your choice
get a book proof back within a couple of weeks (or sooner) if you succeeded in formatting everything correctly. You can then make changes and swap in new PDFs.
After you officially publish your book, you can make changes to your cover and interior text by submitting new PDFs, though your book will go offline ("out of stock") for a week or two. Companies may charge a fee (around $25-$50) for uploading a new cover or new interior.
I have used CreateSpace and they offer good instructions for the DIY crowd and it's not that difficult to come up with an OK-looking book (people's definition of OK will vary).
Digital, not print, may be your best bet.
The first thing I'd suggest to you is that print should be their secondary focus. I'm advising people who have text-based books (no graphics, illustrations, or photos) to test the self-publishing waters with an e-book before moving on to hard copies. It's much easier to produce an e-book, particularly when it comes to formatting and cover design. And you can also price a digital book for much less than a paperback, which makes it easier to sell (the majority of self-published print books cost $13.99 and up while the majority of indie e-books sell in the $.99-$5.99 range.
All that said, you can, of course, do both print and digital easily enough.
Once you have your book finalized in a Word or PDF file, it's relatively easy to convert it into one of the many e-book formats -- or just offer it as a download as a PDF. There are several e-publishers geared to "indie" authors, including Smashwords, BookBaby and Lulu, to name just a few. And needless to say, Amazon's CreateSpace steers you toward uploading your book to the Kindle Store via Kindle Direct Publishing.
Note: Please see the article by David Carnoy "How to self-publish an e-book" for more information on e-book creation.
Quality is good.
I can't speak for all self-publishing companies, but the quality of Print On Demand books is generally quite decent. The books look and feel like "real" books. The only giveaway that you're dealing with a self-published book would be if the cover were poorly designed -- which, unfortunately, is too often the case, so it is very important that the cover looks good, after all this is the 1st thing the viewer sees.
Have a clear goal for your book.
This will help dictate what service you go with. For instance, if your objective is to create a book for posterity's sake (so your friends and family can read it for all eternity), you won't have to invest a lot of time or money to produce something that's quite acceptable. Lulu is probably your best bet. However, if yours is a commercial venture with big aspirations, things get pretty tricky.
Niche books tend to do best.
This seems to be the mantra of self-publishing. Nonfiction books with a well-defined topic and a nice hook to them can do well, especially if they have a target audience that you can focus on. Religious books are a perfect case in point. And fiction? Well, it's tough, but some genres do better than others. Indie romance/erotica novels, for instance, have thrived in the e-book arena.
Most self-publishing operations will provide you with a free ISBN for both your print book and e-book but whatever operation provides you with the ISBN will be listed as the publisher.
Create a unique title.
Your book should be easy to find in a search on Amazon and Google. It should come up in the first couple of search results. Unfortunately, many authors make the mistake of using a title that has too many other products associated it with it -- and it gets buried in search results. Not good. Basically, you want to get the maximum SEO (search engine optimization) for your title, so if and when somebody's actually looking to buy it they'll find the link for your book -- not an older one with an identical title.
If you're serious about your book, hire a book doctor and get it copy edited.
OK, so I've just told to avoid "packages" from publishers and yet I'm now saying you need editing and copy editing. So, where do you go? Well, before I sent my book out to agents, I hired a "book doctor" who was a former acquisition editor from a major New York publishing house (like most editors he worked at a few different houses). He happened to be the father of a friend from college, so I got a little discount, but it still wasn't cheap. However, after I'd made the changes he suggested, he made some calls to agents he knew and some were willing to take a look. He was part of Independent Editors Group (IEG), a group of former acquisition editors who take on freelance editing projects for authors.
While I didn't use his copy editor (I used a friend of a friend who currently works at a big publishing house), he and other editors in his group can suggest people. To be clear, this isn't going to be a better deal than what you'd get from a package deal with a self-publisher, but these people are experienced and are going to be upfront and honest with you. They're not just pushing your book out to move it along the line on the conveyor belt, though they are trying to make a living. (Warning: they don't take on all writers).
By no means is IEG the only game in town. There are plenty of good book consultants out there, including Alan Rinzler, who has an excellent blog and straddles the line between being an executive editor at an imprint of John Wiley & Sons and providing services to private clients. And there are plenty of others.
CreateSpace and other self-publishing companies are always offering special deals on their various services. There isn't whole lot of leeway, but it doesn't hurt to ask for deal sweeteners -- like more free copies of your book (they often throw in free copies of your book). It also doesn't hurt to ask about deals that have technically expired. In sales, everything is negotiable. Remember, these people have quotas and bonuses at stake. (For their sake, I hope they do anyway).
Ask a lot of questions and don't be afraid to complain.
When I self-published, I paid an extra $300 fee to be able to talk directly to a live person on the phone for customer support. Companies like Lulu and CreateSpace have complete DIY options and require no upfront setup fees. That's great, but when you're dealing with a superbasic package, you're most likely going to be doing customer support via e-mail or IM, and get very little hand-holding. It's nice to be able to call up and complain (in a nice way, of course) directly to a live person on the phone, so take that into account when you're examining your package options.
Self-publishing is a contact sport.
The biggest mistake people make when it comes to self-publishing is that they expect to just put out a book and have it magically sell. They might even hire a publicist and expect something to happen. It's just not so. You have to be a relentless self-promoter. Unfortunately, a lot people just don't have the stomach or time for it.
What's the secret to marketing your book successfully? Well, the first thing I advise -- and I'm not alone here -- is to come up with a marketing plan well before you publish your book. The plan should have at least five avenues for you to pursue because chances are you're going to strike out on a couple of lines of attack. It's easy to get discouraged, so you have to be ready to move on to plan c, d, and e (and the rest of the alphabet) pretty quickly.
These days there's a lot of talk about a "blog strategy," and many well-known authors do virtual book tours where they offer up interviews to various blogs. You probably won't have that luxury, but you can certainly research what blogs might be interested in your book and prepare pitches for them. There are social media campaigns to wage, local media angles to pursue, organizations to approach, and all kinds of out-of-the-box gambits you can dream up. None of this will cost you a whole lot -- except time and perhaps a little pride.
Then there's the stuff you pay for. And it's tricky to judge what's a good investment and what's not because the results vary so much from book to book. A friend of mine who has a "real" book from a traditional publisher experimented with placing $1,000 in Facebook ads targeted to people in "cold" states (his book is called the History of the Snowman and it does very well around Christmas). He's still trying to figure out what impact the ads had, but Facebook does have some interesting marketing opportunities. Google AdWords/Keywords is another popular option. And a number of self-serve ad networks are popping up, including Blogards Book Hive, which allows you to target a number of smaller book blogs for relatively affordable rates.
The author MJ Rose has a marketing service called AuthorBuzz that caters to both self-publishers and traditional publishers. She says the best thing for self-publishers is a blog ad campaign--it starts at about $1,500 for a week of ads (the design work is included) and heads up in increments of $500. She says: "We place the ads in subject-related blogs, not book blogs. For instance, if it's a mystery about an antiques dealer, we don't just buy blogs for self-identified readers -- who are not the bulk of book buyers -- but rather I'll find a half dozen blogs about antiques, culture, art and investments and buy the ads there and track them." Rose claims she can get your book in front of at least a half a million people with that initial investment. She also says that you can't really spend too much, you can just spend poorly.
I agree. However, I can't tell you what impact a week or month of ads on blogs will have on your specific book's sales. There are simply too many variables.
Bonus tip: When it comes to self-promotion, there's a fine line between being assertive and being overly aggressive in an obnoxious way. It also doesn't impress people when all you tweet about is your book (the same goes for your Facebook and Google+ posts). As one friend told me, the state you want to achieve is what she likes to call "comfortably tenacious."
Getting your book in bookstores sounds good, but that shouldn't be a real concern.
You may have always wanted to see your book in a bookstore but bookstores aren't keen on carrying self-published books and it's extremely difficult to get good placement in the store for your book so chances are no one will see the three copies the store has on hand anyway. Furthermore, your royalty drops on in-store sales. Some of the self-publishing outfits offer distribution through Ingram. CreateSpace offers its Expanded Distribution program for a $25 a year fee. It uses Baker & Taylor, as well as Ingram, as well as CreateSpace Direct to make your book available "to certified resellers through our wholesale website." You also get distribution to Amazon Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.de).
Self-published books rarely get reviewed -- for free anyway.
Yes, it's true. It's very hard to get your self-published book reviewed -- and the mantra in the traditional publishing world is that reviews sell books. But that's changing a bit. People didn't take bloggers seriously at first and now they do. And what's interesting is that reputable book reviewers such as Kirkus and more recently Publishers Weekly are offering special reviews services geared toward self-published authors. In the case of Kirkus Indie, the author pays a fee to have the book reviewed (around $400-$550, depending on the speed) and a freelancer writes an objective critique (yes, they do negative reviews) in the same format as a standard Kirkus review. (You can also submit books that are in an e-book-only format).
As for Publishers Weekly, it offers something called PW Select. While you can submit your book for review for a fee of $149, only about 25 percent of the book submissions end up being reviewed. But for a lot of folks risking that $149 is worth the opportunity of getting into the PW door. Of course, there's always the possibility that the review isn't favorable.
A third option is BlueInk Review, another fee-based review service targeted at indie authors.
Design your book cover to look good small.
Traditional book publishers design -- or at least they used to design -- a book cover to make a book stand out in a bookstore and evoke whatever sentiment it was supposed to evoke. Well, with Amazon becoming a dominant bookseller, your book has to stand out as a thumbnail image online because that's how most people are going to come across it. If you're primarily selling through Amazon, think small and work your way up.
If you're selling online, make the most out of your Amazon page.
I'm a little bit surprised by how neglectful some self-published authors are when it comes to their Amazon product pages. I've talked to self-published authors who spend a few thousand dollars on a publicist and their Amazon product page looks woeful -- and they've barely even looked at it. I ask, "Where are people going to buy your book?" They don't seem to realize how important Amazon is. True, some people market through a Web site or buy Google keywords to drive traffic there. But you need to have your Amazon page look as good as possible and take advantage of the tools Amazon has to help you surface your book ("Tags," Listmania, reader reviews, etc.). It may not have a major impact, but it's better than doing nothing. You should check out Amazon's Author Central to get some helpful tips.