Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why Self Publish? (Continued)

(Continued from Part 1)

Not long after publishing Blood for Wolves - and I really do mean not long - I got responses. I thought to myself, "I guess I should make an author Facebook page..." Maybe 20 minutes after creating said page I had a reader pop on to tell me they loved the book. That surprised the heck out of me. Not that they liked the book (but that was pretty cool), but that they had somehow found it out of all the other books out there, read it, and then discovered my FB page with such speed. The numbers for sales were pretty surprising too. I supposed it was because somewhere my book was being shown on some Amazon "Just In" page that I hadn't seen (and still haven't so who knows?).

I also discovered my book in some interesting places when Googling it several weeks after it came out. I found it at:

A USA Today web article
Once Upon a Time Book Blog
Maryse's Book Blog
Romance Lovers
Brightdreamer's Book Reviews

I hadn't contacted any of these people and requested they do anything - post my book or review it or anything. And it's other places as well, lists that included new releases, places that list books when they're for free (since I offered mine for a free on 5 different days), Goodreads lists (and I didn't even put my book on Goodreads - someone else did), and yes, even places that hijack your book and give it out for free download. And no, I wasn't mad about that. Not at all. Because 1.) If that's how they want to get their book, then nothing I can do will stop them, and 2.) I'd already given away over 3,000 free downloads anyway. Why would I flip out over a handful of unauthorized downloads? Metallica flipped out over Napster - meanwhile Paulo Coehlo pirated his own book in other countries. Who came out on top?

Am I an amazing bestseller? No. Do I need to do more marketing myself? Absolutely. Does it matter that some of those links above are just little personal blogs? Heck yeah. Because even if one person looks at a blog and decides to buy my book, that's one more sale, right? And if they like it, they might tell others about it, which leads to more sales. Those places are a part of your reader base, remember, so don't ever think them beneath you or meaningless.

Since publishing, I have learned a lot of things I don't think I would have found out otherwise. Do I still want to break into traditional publishing? Of course I do. I see it as a massive challenge. Will I ever be able to? We'll see. As of right now I'm revising another book in my Figments series to hang out with Blood for Wolves and will simply go straight to the electronic shelves. I'm also very seriously considering e-publishing my science fiction novel as well under a different name. Because at this point - why not?

Life is so short, and that's one of the big reasons I don't have a problem with self publishing anymore. In the past it could tarnish your reputation with agents and editors - give them a negative impression of you and your work. But those times are slipping into oblivion. Even if they weren't, a lot of successful e-published authors don't care becuase they're making a nice bit of income from their digital sales. I think, what might happen tomorrow that no one ever gets to read some of my other books? Why am I holding back? Just because one too many editors said no? Sometimes they have finite spaces to fill and can't pick all the books they might want and hand out the old, "It's good - but we can't market it right now" stuff, or some other reason they can't use your story. Authors have heard countless reasons and excuses over the years. Now there really aren't any.

Just remember - don't put out your first draft. Have good readers examine your work and be willing to hear them tell you it sucks. And don't cry and hide under the bed when they say that. Suck it up and get back to work. Kill all the typos and grammatical errors. Fix pacing and adjust characters. Erase scenes if necessary. Don't know where to turn? Seek out writing groups or workshops. Take a class if you have to. If you think your work is the best thing since sliced bread, know that it's not. Or at the very least, that someone somewhere won't think so. Be ready for negative reviews and grow a thicker skin than you think you had. Work just as hard - if not harder - before hitting that self publish button because you won't have agents or editors to make you tweak things or discover flaws. You have only your fellows, yourself, and that's it. In the end, the books all end up in the same place - the readers. And you want it to be the best book it can be.

Why Self Publish?

Times have changed a great deal since, well, even a handful of years ago. E-readers, tablets, and even smartphones and PC apps have made it possible for people to read a book at any given moment. In the past, authors looking to get published had to make it past agents, then editors, and then their superiors, all the while hoping someone along the way didn't decide that their manuscript wasn't good enough, thus putting yet another temporary halt to their dream.  Self publishing was left to the stigma that it was the place to go for authors who weren't good enough. For those that couldn't make it past the agents and editors and had to resort to sub-par or self-indulging practices to get their story out. True, there are plenty of authors who, both in the past and present, probably should have had someone (or multiple someones) take a look at their manuscript before sending it out into the wild. Yet at the same time, take a second to look up all of the now famous authors who started out self published, selling books out of their car trunks and so forth. I'll wait.

Back? Yes, I know, it's an impressive list, isn't it? My point, before I start rambling too much (although given the name of this blog, should be expected by now anyway), is that self publishing has a lot of positive points and can be a very freeing tool for an author to use. Today it's easier and in many ways better than ever because we have such amazing access to technology. We're not stuck spending thousands of dollars and prodding as many people as possible in the hopes of selling all of the hardcopies. Instead, a single self published author using the right mode of distribution doesn't have to spend a dime to get their books to people. And not just people within their home country, but around the entire globe. Any self published author from this particular digital era will tell you that there's something very cool yet rather surreal to see that they've sold a book in Germany, the UK, or Japan.

There is - somehow - still the worry that the book world will get too saturated. As if it weren't already. Work in a bookstore long enough and you will see for your own eyes just how many books come in each and every day - old and new alike - and you'll realize that the publishing world is still chugging along and books are EVERYWHERE, self published or not. People will find your book whether you help them or not. Whether it's electronic or not. I may have even linked a great article by Nathan Bransford about this in the past. The only real challenge is to make yourself known - but this rings true for any author, self published or not.

I can use myself as an example. I used Amazon's platform to publish my book, Blood for Wolves, and then moved on to use Smashwords as distribution to the rest of the e-reader world (Nooks, Kobos, Sony readers, etc.). But Blood for Wolves is not, I repeat, NOT my first book. Not by a long shot. Rather, it was my sixth. I went the traditional route with it, got a lot of nibbles, but no bites. I kept looking at the self publishing world, but continued to resist it. I was extremely curious though. How did it work? What kind of results would I get? How much would a good cover cost? Would I be able to make back that amount? What kind of reviews would I get? Was the 3 month exclusivity with the KDP program worth it?

Finally, one day I just said, "Fuck it." And I began my little experiment. Yes, I know, one does not just experiment with self publishing. But one does not just walk into Mordor either - and guess what? That's right. But I also wasn't just chucking out a garbage story, either. I revised it multiple times, had several fellow writers review it so I knew what needed fixing, if I'd missed any typos, how the pacing was, and so forth. I lost track of how many times I revised it, in fact. Eventually I got to the point where revising again would probably mean I would end up jumping off the roof of my house instead. So I hit the publish button and let it out for all the world to see.

And let me tell you, that's one of the more terrifying and exhilirating moments of my life. Terrifying because you don't know how people are going to react - how much they'll hate it or love it. Exhilirating because you know that even if they do hate it, there are people who will be out there, miles and miles away, reading the words you agonized over for a year or more. But at the very least, I would learn more about publishing electronically than just reading about it. I could view my stats, explore great ways of promoting my book, and make adjustments if there ever was a next time.

Now, knowing what I know, there will indeed be a next time...

(Continued in Part 2)