I recently published a book called Life, Heavy Sigh. If it were five years ago, I probably would not have done this, because self-publishing was still mostly taboo and difficult to do and five years ago I didn’t really know how to write.
But it is 2014 and a time when self-published authors are becoming rich much quicker than traditionally published authors. And where these authors are respected just as much, the more successful of whom are subsequently begged to sign contracts with publishers for huge advances. One word — profit.
In today’s world where the biggest publishing companies have just gotten supersized because of merging and their marketing teams have lower budgets but higher salaries because they are the ones to decide on many of the titles, new writers and unique voices are having to take matters into their own hands — because the hands of traditional publishers are full with their bulging wallets.
So today’s authors are becoming entrepreneurs, because self-publishing involves writing, designing, producing, marketing, selling and distributing your own books. If an author does that all him/herself, and successfully, then he/she is practically a superhero entrepreneur. Why not take on the challenge? I did, and here were my steps towards doing that…
WRITE THE BOOK
Many people will be at this stage, either having written a bit of their book or nothing at all. Many will be wondering, as I did; how they could possibly write a book and what in the heck would it be about?
Well here are some ideas for what you can write about:
- Find interesting news and world events and change the ending, predict the future or give your take on it.
- Don’t underestimate the intrigue other people might find in your own philosophy — let that be the basis of your story.
- Look at what books are doing well and follow the market trend (if you are one to follow trends).
- Look at what books are doing well and do something COMPLETELY opposite.
- If you like writing romance, there are well-known formulas to doing so. Find them and follow them. Or re-define them.
Try and test your ideas. Let them come to you. Brainstorm daily. One day an idea will come to you and you will fall in love instantly. A great idea is an essential starting point.
Of course, I don’t think I have to spend too much time talking about how important it is to actually know how to write. I never learnt how to write (I studied sciences and only read textbooks and Scientific America) but I did spend the time working as a journalist under a hardcore boss, doing a lot of small editing and writing jobs and reading 50 Essential Tools for Every Writer (GOLDEN) and watching DVDs on Writing Great Sentences.
Ok, I realise it is important for me to say it again: you MUST respect the craft and science of writing and spend time perfecting your sentences, making sure your stories flow, practising writing short stories and taking them to other writers and experienced critics. Truth be told there are some people out there who are just natural talents who were born to write, but at least read one book about it before you venture forth — it will make your sentence construction easier.
A good way to improve your writing is to join a writer’s group or workshop. I’ve been part of groups in London, Paris and Trinidad and they have always been great sources of encouragement.
Yes – ENCOURAGEMENT. Because I believe that if you write a story and everyone in the room is indifferent or tells you it is rubbish, then it is, scrap it. On the other hand, positive critique, unbiased encouragement and compliments are neon signs that read ‘You’ve got something good going here’.
So with preparation, the idea and the encouragement, you are ready to write your book. It is simple. No one is going to write it for you. You just have to find the time, not go to your friend’s birthday party, give up exercising as much, and set a target — 2,000 words a day was mine, so I was done in two months. Try NaNoWriMo if you have little self-discipline.
TIME TO PUBLISH ALREADY!!!
Well, publishing is superbly easy — self-publishing that is. Traditional publishing is extremely difficult verging on almost impossible for a rookie author. Here’s why:
Self-publishing involves no upfront costs. All you have to do is write, layout your pages and chapters, design the cover, upload, set your price and voila — the book arrives with you within 10 days. A caveman can do it.
Traditional publishing involves sending hardcopies of your book to at least 100 agents (because you will probably be rejected by 99), which involves a lot of printing and postage and a lot of money as well as a great deal of rejections (that rarely come with explanations). Some of these agents take a year to reply, and they don’t even give feedback. You can’t send directly to most publishers because they only accept submissions from agents, whom mostly need to be well-established. I mean some people reading this will be natural talents and will get lucky, but statistics show that is really the 1%, the exception. Most will spend a lot of time waiting and have to deal with a lot of rejection.
My advice for rookie authors is to self-publish AND submit to agents. Actually send your published books to agents — even better than sending a bunch of A4 papers. There is VERY LITTLE risk in self-publishing but great chance for reward. Here are some great benefits of self-publishing:
- You have something to give (sell) people when they ask you: ‘so what have you written?’ And A LOT of people will be impressed and interested if you say you have published a book. People will buy it just because it is impressive. So it becomes a fantastic business card that can help you establish yourself as a serious writer.
- You can build an audience and readership that will become your fans and buy your other work (even your smaller pieces because they trust you know how to write). You can promote your second book, which should be even better than the first, to agents in the future and talk of this readership you already have.
- You can sell loads and make quite a bit of money. With self-publishing you make 70% more than you do with traditional publishing. For a £10 book, you could make around £4.50. So if you sell 10,000 that’s £45,000 in your pocket right there. It takes a lot of work to sell 10,000 though (which is a bit of an understatement) but it is possible.
- You can become a superhero entrepreneur who creates, produces, markets, sells and distributes your own product. I mean that is just awesome in itself.
- The reviews you get, which will hopefully be positive and encouraging, will help you continue on in your career as a writer which by this time feels a lot more like a career than it would have before you self-published (trust me, it has done wonders in this regard for me).
Those are a few benefits. But how do you sell 10,000 copies? Some of you will be great writers but horrible marketeers so here are a few tips.
MARKETING YOUR AWESOME BOOK
I recently met a 21 year old boy from Trinidad called Trinikid who started a blog in 2011 (he was merely 17) and since then it has grown to have 6 million hits. This in itself is golden in terms of marketing. Some established magazines do not have that many hits. So right there, with a lively blog and dedicated followers, all you need to do is post about your book and BAM… at least 10% of them will buy it. He has found some great success in doing this.
So… BLOG (about something interesting) and give your readers a (free) taste of what they will be getting if they decide to pay for your book. Sort of like product testing.
And… use Facebook (pages) as a way to promote your blog and share everything you post. Organic reach is boosted by 200% through Facebook (unless you are versed in SEO and can get your site to reach the top of Google rankings but SEO is some Greek word I really don’t feel like translating). Facebook pages are the bomb and people are always swayed by the number of likes you have — ‘OMG so many people like his page, I probably should too’.
I’m really breezing through this because the blog is already very long but hopefully you didn’t publish your book halfway through this blog because I need to tell you that your choice of cover, title, blurb (the description of the book on the back cover) and the way in which you describe your book to others is key. Just to illustrate the cover point; I once approached a publisher at a book fair and he challenged me to pick out the five bestsellers and five worst-sellers out of the books on the table. I did this based on the cover design and title and was 90% correct! Cover is KEY! I chose this cover because it related to the story in my book.
Basic marketing principles — decide who your audience is and target them by finding them on Twitter, following them and tweeting to them, posting in groups on Facebook and connecting with people in those groups, and sending free books to review in magazines whose readership is in line with yours. Write press releases that are like new reports — with a punchy headline at the top explaining in less than 10 words what is SO special about your book. Write blogs like that that will be read by 1,000s of writers (and readers) and then put in a plug like: BUY MY BOOK NOW ;)
or ‘Love this blog? Then you’ll love my book‘
or ‘I’ve gotten great reviews for my book. I definitely think you would like it.’
or ‘You should probably read my book to get the full gist of what I am saying.’
or ‘Be in the 10%, buy my book‘
There are so many ways to market. You could send out fliers, pay for advertising, write guest posts on blogs and mention your book, submit for awards, give some away for free in exchange for free promotion, sell them along with another more saleable product, create a viral video or meme and attach the link and a call to action (‘buy the book now‘), or wear a t-shirt every day with the title of your book on the front and in the back have the address to your Amazon page.
Marketing is all about creativity and not seeming like you are marketing. Do it in a way that when people decide to buy it seems like it is all on their own accord.
So write, publish and market your book with confidence, voracity and boldness. As I said before, self-publishing has few risks but many rewards. Make sure though that you are always aiming to be the best you can possibly be and know that that might/will one day earn you a great book contract from a traditional publishing company. Or, you might strike it rich with self-publishing and just want to keep it that way — you would be a superhero entrepreneur after all!
MOST IMPORTANTLY: Write because you LOVE to tell stories. Do it because you LOVE to. And people will buy into that.