Self Publishing - Amaze or in A maze?


In 2014, I started my debut novel. Encouraged by the grades I received for the First four thousand words of a novel and encouragement from a writing buddy, I decided to complete it and have a go at self-publishing. After several drafts, I sent it to The Literary Consultancy for a professional critique in 2015. After receiving some very helpful and positive advice, I spent the next few months redrafting and was finally ready for the big step earlier this year. I decided to use a professional publishing/printing company to format my book and they linked me with a book cover designer. I chose the company e-printed books (American) because they offered a service that would format my book for downloading on several sites including Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, i-books etc. It felt like a good deal and they were true to their word. The only problem I had was getting my vision for the front cover over to an American artist. It's surprising how very different we were when it came to describing particular clothing items. I kept asking for one of my characters to be wearing a collarless shirt and a waistcoat. It was amazing what kept coming back. I eventually sent some suitable photos. Apparently, our 'waistcoat' is a 'suit vest' in America. Only a photograph managed to convey Leg o' mutton sleeves for the main female character's blouse. It was quite funny really. We got there in the end and I was very pleased with the result. The company uploaded all the files for me and the 'book' version was loaded on to Createspace in May of this year. Createspace allows the author to buy books at cost price but there are obviously shipping costs to take into account if you want to sell some books yourself. I took advice from my accountant on how to fill in the online tax forms for Amazon and Smashwords to ensure I didn't fall foul of any tax rights and treaties. I would definitely recommend anyone who is thinking of self-publishing to do the same.

I was thrilled when I saw my book on Amazon. Tearful even. The icing and the real emotion came with holding my first printed copy in my hand.

Job done? I'm afraid not. This is where the real work starts. How to get noticed among the millions of books already on Amazon, Smashwords etc. This where I realise I am totally out of my depth and clueless about marketing.

In the first instance, I asked a few friends and family if they would buy the book or download it to read and then post a review. They were very obliging and I soon had a dozen reviews. I was clear that I only wanted honest reviews and they reassured me that what they had put was exactly how they had felt about the book. I hoped they were telling the truth but when it's people you know it's almost inevitable that they will hold back in order to spare your feelings. I longed for a review from someone who doesn't know me. I signed up for KDP select so that customers who have Kindle Unlimited could download my book for free. Amazon pay royalties on number of pages read. It hasn't earned me any royalties but it has kept my book higher in the rankings of the category I have put it in so it's worth it for that. Eventually, I did receive some reviews from people I didn't know and that was so encouraging.

I didn't get any sales from the Smashwords or Kobo sites over the first few weeks and when I received an email from Amazon to say that I couldn't sell my book anywhere else if I wanted it to remain on KDP select, I removed it from the other outlets.

It was suggested, on the Amazon website, that running a 'FREE' download promotion on Amazon was a good way to get a book noticed and would encourage people to write reviews. I ran the promotion in the middle of August over three days (including a weekend) and also advertised the fact on my Facebook page so that I could reach a wider audience. I had to 'boost' the post and that cost me around $60. Using their ads manager it is possible to target an audience by, age, gender, genre, country. The possibilities seem almost endless, if you know what you are doing. The result was an amazing 602 downloads. I'm afraid I am still waiting for those reviews. I have run a few 'boosted' posts on Facebook since trying to get 'clicks' to the Amazon link. They have been reasonably successful but don't necessarily result in a sale. I have also run an advertising campaign on Amazon, which wasn't very successful. Probably because of my lack of expertise in making it sound a 'must read' in very few words. On a more positive note, I joined Goodreads. This is an excellent site for readers and book clubs. I created my own bookshelf and put on my favourite books plus my own book. All books can be linked to Amazon or other e-reader sites. I have had some very good ratings for my book on there. The thought that people are recommending it is wonderful.

Reading posts by people on Facebook, professing to know the route to successful sales, suggested the way forward is to get readers to subscribe to your website by offering something for free (a free book download). Alternatively, they say you could run a prize draw where the customer has to subscribe to your website, download your book and post a review to get a chance of winning a prize. I haven't tried this as yet. I can't decide if it's what I really want from putting my work out there.

My latest attempt is a countdown deal with Amazon where they reduce the price of the download for a couple of days and then put it back to its original price. I have also emailed Amazon, on their help line to ask them to change the categories my book is shown under as I realise from reviews that I should be aiming it more at women rather than men.

This might all sound a little negative but I have honestly learned quite a lot along the way. I never thought my book would be a best seller and the pleasure I get from seeing it in print and on-line is priceless. My advice for anyone thinking of doing the same is to think hard about what your motives are for self-publishing.

I've already started my next novel but it may take another couple of years as I try to fit it in with my creative writing degree course. I might just try the traditional route next time and see what happens.

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