Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mistakes I've made in Publishing

Like many indie authors, I've made mistakes... and I've payed for them, dearly.

I learned a lot about the book biz after publishing my first novel, Killing the Giants, with Outskirts Press in 2008-2009. Of course, I didn't really have a choice in the matter - I didn't know diddly squat to begin with. All in all, I payed about $1500 to get that gem of mine in print... and my left eye still shakes and jerks every time I think about it. Yeah, big mistakes have a way of creating new bodily ticks!

But why has that experience damaged my optical nervous system, you ask? Simple. I hadn't heard much about going indie and I didn't know anything about the Kindle at that point, and after a long, disappointing run with agents and publishers, I finally gave in to my impatientness. Besides, I wanted that book darn it! And I just knew the rest of the world did too!

So what did I learn about the "self-publishing" world that is so disappointing? Here's a list of some of the things I know now.

  • Don't get in a hurry. This seems to be the second biggest mistake authors make, and self-publishing companies rush you through the process, because they want to publish as many books as possible. I rushed the whole process, even to the point of neglecting to get a professional edit. If you want your book to succeed, you have to take the time to get it edited, and plan for a longer pre-release schedule (more on that to come). Slow down and do this right.
  • Only spend money on the essentials. No one should pay to publish when you can epublish for free. That sounds so simple, but it's true. The publishing world is changing so fast it just about makes my head spin, and so why would you want to invest your $$$ in publishing a print copy of your book, when technology in 2011 allows you to go online for free with Kindle/Smashwords publishing and/or Createspace/Lightening Source? You don't have to. All of these sites have excellent tutorials and customer forums that will help you format your interior and or provide you with names of people who will do it for you for next to nothing ($35-99). Good formatting is vital, but you don't have to sell off your body parts to get it done.
  • ePublishing makes great training. If you are working on your first book, and have tried the agent/publisher routine, you should definitely take advantage of these low cost publishing options. Then as you grow your audience and your platform, you can spend more on cover, design etc.
  • Cover art is massively over priced ($299-$599). Although the first step to getting someone to buy your book is through good cover art, I've learned to make pretty decent covers by using picnik.com and it has cost me $0. I've seen some book covers professionally designed and wanted to puke! I felt so bad that someone payed for junk. I did - it came with my "package". But now, all you need is a picture that fits with your book and lots of practice. Picnik.com has an array of cool tools that will make a good cover. You can always spend more later on your next masterpiece.
  • Do pay for the most important things. If you are no good at cover design or formatting, you should pay for those things, including editing (the number one thing authors fail to do). They are that important.
  • Don't pay for Amazon add-ons. I payed extra to get my book in the Kindle edition and to get the "Look inside" option. Duh! It is all FREE. I was too scared to investigate and figure out how to format my book, so I payed about $299 for those "services". Nuf, said. That was stupid. Lesson learned.
  • Don't pay for reviews or a blog tour. I've sent out about 45 review/blog tour requests and to my surprise, the blogger/reviewers are graciously accepting to review my book AND do an interview/guest blog spot. This cost me zero, but would have cost at least $299 if had someone else arrange it. 
  • Allow time for Reviews and a blog tour, because no amount of local media and local book signings will give you near as much exposure as a blog tour. The fact is, a good book signing will net maybe 5-10 book sales. You should do book signings and book release parties, but they are only good for building local hype, and will not help near as much as a blog tour where book buyers are waiting to hear specifically about your genre. Again, don't get in a hurry to publish...take your time and plan to get reviews before you publish. You can even use some of the review blurbs on the back cover! Here's a link to a long list of reviewers.
  • Plan a release date. This is the number one way to get a major jolt in intial book sales. After all the reviews and guest blogging and Q & A sessions, you'll have a gazillion readers standing in line to buy your books. So why not have an online book signing/release party the day you release your book? You'll get a much better initial rating with a sudden leap in book sales, which will in turn, create more visibility through the ranking systems. The authors of Machine of Death accomplished this with great success. Of course the authors already had a following, but if you utilize a blog/review tour, you can do it too. Also you can use the same Press release site the self-publishing sites use to post a press release. They don't pay anything, why should you?

  • Get Social Media. Get involved in Facebook and Twitter and blogging. Don't always talk about your book. Share other valuable information dealing with the content of your book or writing or reading, but get people to listen to you and just be yourself. People like buying from writers they know and trust.

Mainly, I've come to the conclusion that I can do almost everything I payed for, with more passion, greater attention to detail, and at or near zero cost (with the exception of time).  There are other things I've learned, but I think I've demonstrated enough of my stupididy for one day. My pride can only take so much abuse, you know.

But what about you? What have you learned that could help the unsuspecting  author ready to cash in his life savings to publish his or her latest and greatest masterpiece? Got any more ideas? Share them and comment vigorously! BOOM!


  1. I'm sorry you had to go through such a financial expense. I made a quick decision to self-pub my current book when it was turned down "not our style" rejection but I did a lot of research. I'm financially broke but I'm cheap by nature ;-) I'm lucky that I'm also an artist/illustrator so the only cost I shall incur when I send this puppy in is a print copy so I can make sure the paper/cover quality is good.
    I do have some suggestions for people who want to make their own covers - I'm working on a blog topic about it - but the most wonderful thing online? Open source. Get Gimp or Inkscape. You don't have to be an artist - free tutorials abound for text/fonts, photo manipulation, etc - if you have a digital camera with at least 8mp - you're good to go.

    I do agree about "professional" horrible novel covers. There are blogs about that. haha!

  2. Thanks for the pointers R.L! Much appreciated.


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