Now that my first month of self-publishing an ebook has come to an end, I feel a bit more ready to talk about my experiences and thoughts on the process. I’m not an expert at all, but I hope this is helpful to any other writers out there curious about publishing ebooks!
One thing to remember is that I didn’t go into self-publishing as an unknown, new author. I’ll admit that having two traditionally published books could possibly help as far as name recognition among readers, but just judging from people on Goodreads who added The Boyfriend Thief to their lists, I’m willing to bet that a good portion of the people who bought it had never read one of my books before (because most of them don’t have either Troy High or Something to Blog About on their Goodreads lists). Why did they buy my book? I’ve seen comments that some people liked the cover, some liked the summary, some got a recommendation from a friend or reviewer. Some probably just stumbled across it through Amazon’s recommendations feature and decided to take a chance on it.
My goal for my first month was to sell 30 copies. That’s it. 30 copies would allow me to earn back what I paid for the stock photo that I used for the cover. My sales trickled in for the first week. Two or three a day. I cheered when I reached 30 copies sold. Honestly, I didn’t expect much more than that. But two weeks in, things changed and, well, went crazy. It hit Amazon’s top 100 bestseller lists on both the Children’s Fiction Love & Romance Kindle books and the Teen Fiction Love & Romance general books categories (general books meaning both print and ebooks). Why? I don’t know. This change occurred before any of the blogs I had sent review copies to started posting their reviews. There was no marketing at the time other than my own blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon’s recommendations feature. Since then, some reviews have gone up and hopefully those will continue to help spread the word about The Boyfriend Thief.
Some things I learned:
1. Don’t dive in without doing your research. READ. READ. READ. Read the blogs of other self-published authors and learn about the tips they offer. Lurk (or participate) at Kindleboards.com‘s Writer’s Cafe to read about other experiences and get answers to tons of questions. Don’t decide one day you’ll just throw a book online and let it sell and that’s all you have to do. Study the formatting guides, read as much as you can from other people who have been through it and will offer their advice. Find writers in the genre you’re writing and follow their blogs. For YA, Katie Klein gives good behind the scenes info on her experiences. Also check out David Gaughran’s blog for great posts on digital self-publishing.
2. Get a good cover. I did the cover of The Boyfriend Thief myself. My degree is in graphic design and my day job is in graphic design. Still, I felt a bit apprehensive about doing my own cover. I decided to do it myself in the end, but I found a great photo (taken by someone else) and then I had a group of friends who weren’t afraid to offer their honest opinions on my cover mockups. Find someone who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings and will tell you when something isn’t working for them!
3. EDIT. Then EDIT again. Repeat. As I said in #1, don’t just throw a book up there. It has your name on it, right? (Or your pen name at least.) This book represents YOU. Make it the best representation of your skill that you can. That doesn’t mean obsess over whether everyone will love it. Not everyone likes every book, it’s all a matter of taste. But make sure you understand the basics of storytelling, such as plot, character development, and motivations. And edit out as many typos as you can find. Hire an editor or find a friend who is really good at grammar/spelling to help if needed. Approach self-publishing with as much professionalism as you would if you were sending your book to an agent or publisher.
4. There will probably still be typos. Even traditionally published books aren’t safe from typos. I spotted quite a few in a brand new bestselling print book I read recently. No matter how many times you look at the book, there will still be some typos. You can decrease the number of them by having other people read it–critique partners, editors, or beta readers.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’ve found that a lot of the self-published authors (or indie authors, whatever term you prefer) are very friendly and very willing to help. If you have questions about the process, ask!
6. Remember that it’s a new market and we’re all still figuring it out. I never predicted what would happen with The Boyfriend Thief. My name is not a bestseller by any means, though I do have a wonderful group of fans who write to me. However, because of the fact that many of my readers found Troy High through their school book fairs, I wasn’t sure how well an ebook only novel would do for me since it wasn’t something they’d find in their school. I don’t even know how many of them have ereaders or regularly read ebooks. But I wanted to give any readers who would be willing to read an ebook from me something new in the wait between print books. I took a chance and so far it’s been a great ride. I know that the ride could end at any time. Sales could stop. Amazon could change things. Something different could come along and wipe out ebooks (maybe brain-books? Books implanted directly into your head? Who knows…). Just take the whole process one day at a time.
7. Try not to obsess about book sales. This is the toughest part of the process! The good news is that you have access to your sales numbers any time you want. The bad news is you have access to your sales numbers any time you want. That first week, I was logging in every five seconds to check my sales. IT WILL DRIVE YOU CRAZY! I cut myself down to checking only twice a day, once in the morning and once after work. Lately, I’ve cut it down to just once a day. Hopefully next I’ll be down to once a week? Your sales will do what they’re going to do, no matter whether you check them constantly or not. So resist the urge as much as you can and focus on writing. Writing your next book and getting it out for readers is the only part you can control.
8. That being said, it is good to know your numbers. If your sales drop, you know to do some marketing. Try reaching out to reviewers or line up some interviews or guest blog posts. I took a few days and went through the blogs listed at this YA book blogger directory. I read the review policies of every one and made notes about which ones accepted self-published ebooks and which ones regularly read contemporary YA. But be sure to check back at these blogs before you send out a review invitation because the bloggers are often inundated with requests and they may change their policies at any time. I actually had that happen–a blogger I was interested in changed her policy in the days between my taking note of her blog and the time that I was getting my review invites ready to go out. She had made a note that she was temporarily not accepting books so that she could get caught up on what she had. Which I completely understand. (I wish there was lots more time to read books!) But if I hadn’t checked back before sending out the email, I would have risked annoying her with an unwanted review offer and the last thing I want to do is tick off reviewers!
Have I given up traditional publishing? NO. Do I think one is better than the other? NO. Both have advantages and disadvantages. I like being in the situation where I can experience both sides of the line and can bring knowledge from one path to the other. I have been surprised and amazed by this past month and I’m excited to see what happens next. As I’ve mentioned before in another post, I’m currently working on a Troy High novella which will be published as an ebook, and I’m hoping to release more ebooks in the future as well as releasing more print books.