Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Honest Look at the World of Self Publishing

More often than not, I’m asked what it’s like to be a self published author.  I happen to enjoy what I do, but it isn’t for everyone.  To thrive as a self pub you need extreme determination and grit.  You also need time and most importantly, you need to have realistic expectations.

At this point in my career I’ve spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring authors who had unrealistic expectations of what would happen when their first book became available.  (By the way, I was one of those folks in the beginning so I’m not poking fun at anyone.)

Here’s a list of commonly believed myths about book publishing:

1.  I can quit my day job because the book is live and sales will be more than enough to pay my bills.

FALSE.  Chances of you making enough money to support yourself in the beginning are slim.  You have to keep in mind that as a new author, you most likely have little to no reader base.  If you sell 50 (and that number is very high) copies in the first month, you are doing VERY well.    Now I know 50 might not sound so bad to you, but let’s work the  numbers.  A .99 cent book on most web stores will garner you a whopping .32 cents per sale.   50 x .32 = $16.00.
Not so awesome, right?  If we say the minimum base to cover household bills is $1,000 per month that would mean you would HAVE to sell 3,125 copies of your book per month, to meet that requirement.  Even if your book is $2.99, you’d still have to sell 479 copies per month to make the $1,000 goal.

TRUTH: There are authors out there who, right out of the gate, had huge sales and were able to do this.  They are few and far (I mean really freaking far) between.  It can happen, but generally, that is not the way it goes down.

2.  As soon as my book releases, my reader base will grow exponentially.

FALSE.  Although it is easier to get new readers when you actually have something for them to read, getting people to pick up a book from someone they’ve never heard of, is harder than it sounds.  Take into consideration how many books are on avid readers TBR lists.  They might have 100 books on that list from authors they’ve already read and love.  How do you get new readers to bump you to the top of their list?  If you figure that out, clue me in.

3.  My friends and the people on my fan page will share all my links and soon everyone will have heard of me.

FALSE.   Okay, sort of false.  I’m sure you will have friends who will relentlessly pimp your book/books and you might even find you have a few super fans who’ll do the same, but don’t expect that to last too terribly long.  It’s the friends of your friends/fans who will throw the wrench in the works.  People get tired of seeing the same old thing in their news feeds.  Eventually, someone will make a complaint.  Then another, then another....then the sharing will either stop completely or come to a very slow crawl.  This is in no way, shape, or form a reflection of your friend/fan’s feelings about you or your work.  It’s simply the way it is.  (By the way, if you happen to find people who don’t care what others say about what and how much they post.....ask them to be on your street team and start one. LOL)

You must also take time into consideration.  People use social media to connect with friends and family.  Some use it simply for down time to play games and relax.  With facebook’s changes and new policies many of your followers are no longer even seeing your posts, so those who might share for you, don’t know the post is even there.  You can’t count on shares to build sales or a reader base.

TRUTH.  Joining giveaways from bloggers and book pages is a great way to build a reader base.  Building a dedicated street team can be instrumental to boosting sales and visibility. 

4.  I have hundreds of authors on my friend’s list.  They will help me get the word out!

FALSE.  This particular issue is one I see come up almost daily.  Let’s take a look at any given day in my life to get to the bottom of why authors don’t share as much as readers. 

I get up, make coffee, sit down at the computer to check emails and sales, then move to facebook.  Once there, I answer any messages I might have on my fan pages or in the inbox.  I try to post on the fan page, check in with my street team and PA...and then....IF I see posts in my feed about other authors books that need shared, I will absolutely pass them on.  IF....  Sometimes my feed is full of nothing but funny pictures and save the animals kinds of things.  So I scroll.  There are days I scroll for five minutes looking for a post to share before I actually find one.  Then it’s time to work.  (Or if I’m not caffeinated yet, I play a game and get my mind in the zone.)  Now, in between all of this, and trying to write, I have phone calls, grandkids and kids coming in and out of my work space.  Although I try to share something every time I’m on facebook, I don’t always find anything.  (And I don’t have time to stalk people’s pages most days.)

So are they being mean and shady?  Absolutely not!!!  If it’s that hard for me to find posts to share, and this is my full time job, imagine how difficult it must be for the working author who writes on the side.  Wowzers!!!

TRUTH.  More times than not, I have found that other authors, be it Indie, Self Pubs, or Traditional, are happy to pass the word along about your book.  Do keep in mind that many authors, especially authors who are doing very VERY well, must take into consideration what they are passing along to their fans.  They MUST.  If you haven’t read a book, and have no idea whether it’s good or not, and pass it along to your plethora of readers....and they don’t like’ve just damaged your credibility as an author.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t share books we don’t know anything about.  But if you are expecting your NYTs Bestselling buddy to pass your book along and they haven’t read your book, don’t get offended if it doesn’t happen.  It’s not personal I assure you.  (Which brings us to the next myth...)

5.  I have 150 NYTs bestselling authors on my friend’s list.  I’ll have them read and review my book!

FALSE.  And seriously? many books do you have time to read?  Do you have any idea how many books are being released and published every day?  Add into that how many authors follow/talk to Bestselling authors.  If they did that for everyone, they’d never write another book.  It’s not personal!!!  I promise!!!  It’s unrealistic to think they’d have the time to do this and if they started with you, where would it end?

6.  My book cover is good enough.  People will read the blurb and know what it’s about.

FALSE.  It has been my experience that most folks don’t bother reading the blurb unless the cover catches their eye.  I don’t even know how many people have stated they had no clue Birthright was a vampire novel until they started reading it.  I can’t count them.  (Hence the recent cover change.)

If you want your book to sell, you need the BEST cover you can provide.  The BEST blurb you can write.  AND (and this is so very important) the BEST editing you can afford.  And even then, it may not sell.  Not having these things is an almost guarantee it won’t sell, but it doesn’t lock in those sales for you.

7.  I don’t need an editor.  I got good grades in English and I have spell check.
FALSE.  See number six above and holy cow!!!

8.  My book is awesome.  Good reviews will pour in and that will sell my books!

FALSE.  Oh wow.  This is a hard one.  First, understand that getting reviews is difficult.  Getting people to actually go to a site and take the time to write down what they think about your book is akin to shoving a stalled locomotive uphill, in the snow, barefoot, with just your own physical strength.  (Believe it or not, that’s not an exaggeration.)  

The flip side of this is that people who hate your book, will do it in a heartbeat.  They have no qualms about telling the world how bad it sucks. LOL  You have to have thick skin to weather reviews.  I mean triceratops thick.  And while we’re at this point....PLEASE do not EVER respond to a bad review.  Don’t even talk about it in public, unless it’s something you find amusing. (I happen to have a favorite one star review.  The person who wrote it is hysterical and I’d seriously like to meet them, just because it was so funny.)  Responding to a review can damage your reputation.  Yes, your fans might rise up to stick up for you, but in the long run...even that could do more damage than good.  You know that whole saying about any PR being good PR?  Don’t fall for it.  That is a lie.

In conclusion:
I could go on for days with this, but this post is already much larger than I intended.  I am in no way trying to discourage anyone from self publishing.  I love being my own boss.  I LOVE having the final say so over how things will work.  However, some days I hate those things too.  You won’t know if self publishing is for you until you try it.  Try it!  You might love it too!  But be realistic in your expectations.  Over the last several years, I’ve watched people fight to tackle their dream of being an author and then give up and walk away.  This career is a long haul career for most of us.  It could take decades to get where you want to be.  It might never happen at all.  If this is really what you want to do, if writing and publishing is your absolute passion, do your best, and keep your expectations in check...and no matter what...don’t give up.  Just don’t!!!

Willow Cross