Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Paying It Forward
Paying It Forward:
What I’ve Learned About Independent E-Publishing (So Far)
It’s one year since I put my first book up on Amazon.com, and it seems right that I should share what I’ve learned. Why? Because I had help and encouragement from other authors, and now it’s my turn to pay it forward.
Writers are the most generous group of people I’ve run across in my professional career. Where else will you find people in the same line of work who willingly offer their time and expertise to help others succeed?
A lot has been written about Independent Publishing since Amazon set up their KDP platform. KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing, and when you step into that arena, you truly are independent.
Why do you want to be independently published?
Ask a group of authors to give ten reasons why they “went indie” and you’ll get a wide variety of responses. But most agree on several things.
Hurry up and wait. In the ‘old days’, if you went by the rules (as set out by the publishers), you sent your manuscript to only one publisher at a time. It wasn’t unusual to wait a year, eighteen months, or even two years for a response – even from a publisher with whom you’d worked before. If they rejected your manuscript, often for reasons unspecified, you had to start all over again with your next choice of publisher.
Then there are publishers’ guidelines. Necessary. I understand that. Publishers have developed their markets, and want to serve them. But writing a predetermined number of words, and including a specified level of sensuality (I write romance), even tailoring the actions and dialogue of the character to meet said guidelines tends to take the creativity out of the process.
Maybe you want to go indie so you can get rich. Come on, don’t tell me you’re not interested in money. It takes a lot of time and effort to write a book and the truth is, some publishers, both traditional and e-publishers, don’t pay very well. To make things worse, publishers are now expecting you to promote your own books. Some authors complain that they’re doing more work for the same, or less money. What’s up with that?
Speaking of money, we’ve all heard about wildly successful authors who have self-published in e-format. I salute them. Would I want to be one? Sure! But that’s not likely, and you shouldn’t expect to become one of them either. Having said that, write every book like it’s going to be the next big thing...because it just might be.
Still With Me? Okay Then, Where Do You Start?
I’m not going to tell you how to write. You already know that, right? Right? If not, then you should learn. Take a creative writing class, or if they’re not available in your area, read a lot of ‘How-To’ books.
I know a romance author who was educated, who read a lot, and who had a lot of good story ideas. She wrote her first book and sent it in. She waited for a response, envisioning the editors gathered around a conference table, salivating over her amazing story, debating about how much of an advance they should offer. In those days you got a letter back. Not a form letter, either. A real letter with a few words about the manuscript. When she got her first rejection letter she pouted for a day or so and then got back to work. The next one would sell, she knew it!
It took five years for me to figure out that I didn’t know what I was doing, and that I’d better learn. A few years after that, I sold my first two books to the same publisher at the same time.
Before you start writing, learn about formatting. It can save you a lot of hassle later. I learned a lot from the Smashwords formatting manual, which I will mention again below.
Know Your Genre
I ‘know’ some authors on various writing boards who write more than one genre. I admire them for that, but I don’t think I could do it.
When it comes to romance for example, certain things are expected, even from an independent author. Yes, you can stretch the parameters, but you’d better give the reader a HEA ending! Happily Ever After.
Study best-selling authors and see what works in their stories. Read everything you can on the craft of writing, and then write your best story.
You’ve finished your book and you’re eager to get it ‘out there’. Not so fast.
Ideally, if you follow the advice of Stephen King in his excellent book On Writing you will put the manuscript aside for six weeks. When you come back to it, you’ll see it through fresh eyes. You’ll edit and polish and proclaim that it’s ready for publication.
Not just yet. Now is the time to send it to your Beta Reader. Choose someone who will tell you the truth. If you have doubts about any aspect of the book, point that out and ask them for their comments. Don’t waste your Beta Reader’s time if all you’re looking for is validation. Ask for a fair and honest critique. I see people on message boards who ask for opinions on their work and when another author takes the time to read what they’ve written and send comments back, the author argues against every point made. They don’t want to hear that their book could use some more work; they want to be told how wonderful it is. Don’t be one of those people.
At this stage, some authors send their books to an editor. That has to be your choice and it’s a difficult one. You have to balance the cost of an editor who in almost all cases will improve your book against putting out a not-so-great book and harming your reputation. Lack of funds might be the determining factor, but in any case, put out the very best book you can afford.
Speaking of Money, How Much Can You Expect to Make?
I don’t have the answer to this one. Go to the Community page in the Kindle Direct Publishing section of the Amazon website. Click on Voice of the Author/Publisher. There are some extremely helpful authors here. They’re supportive of each other, and talk often turns to how much they’re making. Don’t expect authors here to quote you dollars and cents on their latest sales, but you’ll get a good idea of the range, and it’s wide.
I read an article recently (I wish I’d kept a link) which stated that a high percentage of independently published authors earn less than $500 per year. I have no idea if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Where Will You Sell Your Book?
Let’s start with Amazon. At the present time, they have the largest share of the market so it makes sense to start with them.
You can publish with Amazon in two ways. Firstly, through KDP. Secondly, and this is also through KDP, you can choose to enrol your book in KDP Select. When you choose Select, you agree to sell your book exclusively through Amazon for a period of 90 days. If you choose not to extend to a second 90-day period, it’s a simple click of the mouse. Otherwise, your book will automatically be re-enrolled. The rules are straightforward and are spelled out on their site.
Why choose KDP Select? What’s in it for you? When you are enrolled in Select, Amazon Prime members can “Borrow” one book a month. If you’re lucky, it will be yours. The Prime fund can be a nice source of additional income for those with popular books.
Also with Select you can make each book Free for a maximum period of five days in each 90-day period. You can do five separate days, break it up to 2 days now and 3 days later, or run all five days at once. It’s up to you, and setting it up is simple.
You’ll find authors who love the free program and those who hate it. Those who love it say that it helps their future sales. Those who hate it say that with so many free books out there, Amazon is making it difficult for them to sell their titles.
I’m a Libra, and I can see both sides of the argument. You’ll have to choose for yourself.
Then there’s Smashwords. This company will act as a clearinghouse for your books, taking care of putting them up on B&N, Sony, iBooks, Kobo, etc. See their website for a complete list of vendors. They don’t distribute to Amazon. They take a small fee.
You can also upload your own books to Barnes & Noble, and other vendors. I’ve never tried to upload directly to iBooks, but I read on some sites that you have to upload from an Apple computer. You can check that out for yourself. Many writers upload directly to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and let Smashwords handle the rest. Keep in mind however that when you want to make changes to your cover or your blurb or the price, you’ll have to go to each vendor, not to mention changing it everywhere else it’s listed.
One last thing about e-tailers. Try to keep up to date on the business aspect of things. Maybe find an e-zine that covers this segment of the market. When it comes to trends in e-publishing, there’s no such thing as too much information. You don’t want to be the last one on the bus...there might not be any seats left.
Keeping Track of Sales
Both Amazon and Smashwords offer online charts where you can check your sales. It’s not real-time, but very close. I always purchase my own work when it goes ‘live’ because it looks different on my Kindle, and I’ve noticed that the sale takes an hour or two to show up on my charts.
Do You Need More Than One Book to Start?
Ideally, yes. More books equal more opportunity for cross-promotion.
Let’s say you enrol your book in KDP Select because you want to offer it for free. If you have a lot of free downloads, which in the romance category means 20,000 and up, then two things happen. Your book will be positioned a little higher on the Amazon browsing pages. More visibility equals more sales. The extra sales will keep your book visible for a while but this higher position doesn’t last for long.
The second thing is that 20,000 people will eventually read your book and if you have other books, they might choose to buy those as well. So yes, more than one book is ideal. I’ve read that somewhere between 8-10 and up will give you a good start. I think most of us don’t have that many good books sitting around, but put up as many as you can. As I’m writing this at 1:00pm PST on Wednesday there are 485,599 books for sale on Amazon under Fiction. 80,897 are Romance, and of those, 26,270 are Contemporary Romance. That’s a lot of competition.
By the way, if you're on a message board asking questions, or just interacting, use the correct terminology. Free downloads are just that...books you've given away for free. Sales are money.
Instant Gratification? Not Likely
When I started a year ago, I read a lot of blogs and articles from successful independent authors. Every one told me the same thing: be patient. It takes time. Assuming you have a good product, are willing to promote yourself, and have a good number of titles, you will find an audience and your sales will grow. But it doesn’t happen overnight.
In my next blog I will cover what I’ve learned about Formatting, Uploading, Covers, Blurbs, Promotion, Nasty Reviews and a lot of other stuff.