How to self-publish successfully

51JzBmdq88L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_A few months ago I self-published my first novel, The Yoga Sutras. Three months is surely too early to judge whether it’s a success or a failure, but already I can see the things I did wrong.

Or rather, I can see some of the things I did wrong. No doubt there are others that I just haven’t spotted yet.

Planning

The physicist John Wheeler once said that time is what prevents everything from happening at once. The same could be said of planning.

Writing a book is terrifying. Self-publishing a book is terrifying. Writing a book and then self-publishing it is beyond terrifying. The result is panic. To avoid panic, you will need to plan. Failure to plan was my first mistake.

tropicalisland

I did not buy this tropical island paradise with profits from my book.

The author platform

An author platform consists of your website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, a blog and a presence on sites like Goodreads.com. The author platform enables you to make contact with potential readers and tell them about yourself, your interests and your book. If you fail to do this you will not sell many books.

Here’s the most important fact to understand about your author platform. It must be built before you publish your book. It should be obvious why.

I had (accidentally) built an author platform without even knowing it. I had a blog with 1,000+ followers (a solid start, but more would have been better), a Twitter account with a few hundred followers (a few tens of thousands would have been helpful), and I had three friends on goodreads (Yes, three. Please, don’t say anything).

You might also have some real-world friends and family that you are counting on to buy your book. All I can say is don’t count your chickens. Or your friends.

So I was halfway there. When I launched my book, I managed to generate some initial sales, but it wasn’t enough for Amazon’s algorithms to identify the (surely enormous) sales potential of my book and propel it to bestseller status.

So start building your author platform the day you decide to become an author.

I did not buy this fast car with profits from my book.

I did not buy this fast car with profits from my book.

Planning (part 2)

Yes, more planning, so boring. If you were a professional publisher, you would launch a book simultaneously on all platforms – Kindle, iTunes, Kobo, etc, plus a paperback version. If you are an amateur and a publishing virgin like me, you will blunder into this process releasing one version at a time over a period of several weeks. This is not good. You are literally throwing away potential sales by not making your book available in the form that readers want.

Preparing your e-book for the different platforms and getting them approved takes time. Plan the process.

Publishing as a paperback is quite painless these days, but takes longer than an e-book. I used CreateSpace, but people tell me there are other options too.

You can see how much research I did, can’t you?

I did not buy this private jet with profits from my book.

I did not buy this private jet with profits from my book.

Giveaways

What!? Give your book to people for free? Yes. Most bestselling writers and publishers give away copies of their book. Not to anyone, you understand. This is part of the marketing process and it only works if you plan it. That P word again.

An effective giveaway (on Goodreads for example) is part of the pre-launch process. A month before the planned publication date you start a giveaway process. People register in the hope of receiving a copy of your book. Most will be unlucky, because you will only be giving away a small number, but the process creates hype. Some people may choose to buy your book as a result.

The lucky winners of your book will be thrilled and may write early reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. The giveaway is also a chance for you to make friends with potential readers on Goodreads.

You will also have sent pre-release copies of the book to influential bloggers and reviewers to generate more buzz. If you know any. Guess how many I knew. It was a number smaller than one.

I did it my way

So this is the anatomy of a successful book launch circa 2014, at least as far as I can tell. If I had known all this before I published, I would have done a much more professional job and would have made more sales. As it is, I can’t complain. I am delighted that some of you bought my book, and if reading it gave you pleasure then I can consider myself a lucky person.

If you felt this article was of any value, please rush out and buy my book, and there may still be a chance that Amazon’s perfidious and unpredictable algorithms will latch on to it and send it on its way to stardom.

I bought this packet of seeds with the profits from my book.

I bought this packet of seeds with the profits from my book.

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24 responses to “How to self-publish successfully

  1. This is very helpful, and I will buy your book soon.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

  2. I don’t plan on writing any books, but I love what you wrote here!

  3. What you’ve learned will better prepare you for the release of your next book.

  4. This post is bookmark worthy because I am considering self-publication. There is great info here. Plus, I audibly laughed while reading it, so bonus points. Based on The Yoga Sutras’ reviews, the book is an even funnier read so you’ve peaked my interest there too. Enjoy the carrots! You’ve earned them. 🙂

    • If you are considering self publishing, I would say, go for it. It gives you the chance to take control of your writing. And you will have lots of carrots to eat too 🙂 Seriously, there are people doing it right and selling more than traditionally-published authors.

  5. But just think of all of those tasty carrots! Sounds like a win to me. 🙂

  6. You have three friends on Good Reads? Whoa-three more than me, lol! Seriously, this was great information–thanks for sharing your experience! (I dread it myself and will refer back to this 🙂

  7. I forget to mention this in my article, but I took it for granted that you have written a stunning blockbuster book with an inspired title, a brilliant, attention-grabbing cover design, and that is well-priced. I took that for granted.

  8. Love this post. Sadly, these are the reasons I may never finish my book. I’m not into the marketing portion of the process. Good luck!

  9. I hate the business side of writing, and for this reason, I’m searching for a literary agent to take on my novel. So far, no success, but I’ll keep trying, until…I don’t know when. Then I may consider self-publishing.
    By the way, I nominated you for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award. The rules are on my current post. You may not be into awards, and if so, no problem. I just wanted to put you there so I did. 😀

    • Thanks for the nomination! Although, if you don’t mind, I don’t really like doing awards.
      Perhaps if you stop thinking about self-publishing as a “business” and more like “connecting directly with your readers without an agent and publisher getting in the way” you might feel more positively about it. Personally I’m very glad I decided to become an indie publisher. Instead of sitting around waiting for someone to do something, I’m now in charge, and my work is out there being read, which is wonderful.

      • No problem, Steve, just wished to put you on my list, no strings attached.
        I may self-publish eventually…haven’t decided yet. I’m able to sell short stories directly to magazines, so I have considered pitching directly to book publishers that accept non-agented submissions. The book business is a different world from the one of yesteryear; if you aren’t already a well-known author, have connections, or are an ignorant celebrity with a ghost-writer, it’s extremely difficult to get picked up.

  10. What a fantastic post! Self-publish is available to everyone, however I don’t think people really know how to go about it, what to look out for, or what questions to ask. But soaking up any info that’s out there, especially from other’s experiences, is so helpful! There is a great book out there called “Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook” by Helen Sedwick. Her website, http://www.helensedwick.com has a lot of really helpful info along with more about her and the book. Not only is she a business lawyer, but she is also a self-published author; it’s definitely a book worth checking out for self-publishers! Thanks for the post, wonderful advice!

  11. Sales is certainly one measure of success in publishing. So, no island… no jet. But you succeeded in writing your book. And you succeeded in getting it into print – which may be easy but it’s not automatic. I’ll bet, if you’re honest with yourself Sir Steve, you derived a great amount of joy in the process – before even one copy had sold. You may be more successful than you give yourself credit for. Plus, you’re an optimist. You rolled those publishing profits into a packet of seeds… when you could’ve just bought the carrots.

    • You are exactly right. As a writer, there are many, many rewards in writing. To express your thoughts and feelings in words is a wonderful thing. To create characters and a story is thrilling. To complete a novel is a huge achievement. And to know that a single person read your novel and held your own innermost thoughts in their mind for an instant is indescribable.

      So every writer succeeds.

      But as a publisher, it’s all about sales. And without an income there is less time available for writing. So I do want more sales, and I think I’m on the right track.

      The long-term key to success is more books, so expect to see more soon!

  12. Some interesting advice

    The Science Geek

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