Advice for Self-Publishing Authors

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Finding your way as a self-published author can feel overwhelming. After all, there’s a lot to do and keep track of. Indie authors are largely responsible for their own marketing, and unless they’re willing to spend some money, they will also be responsible for their own editing, formatting, typesetting, and design. 

While the self-publishing trend isn’t exactly new, it’s still in its formative years, and finding reliable information can be a challenge. There are plenty of internet “experts” who claim to have the inside scoop on closely guarded trade secrets, but much of the advice they dispense is motivated by self-promotion rather than a desire to educate writers. 

Ultimately, the keys to success for self-published authors are the same as those for any entrepreneur: a business mindset, a long-term outlook, smart capital expenditure, and rigorous discipline. Let’s delve into these essentials in more detail. 

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You are your own business

Achieving success as a self-published author starts with a shift in perspective. Instead of seeing yourself solely as a writer, you need to view yourself primarily as an entrepreneur. Since you’re self-publishing, you don’t have the resources that publishing houses offer. This can be a challenge, but with determination and hard work, you can ensure that your book is as successful as possible. 

Essentially, getting published is all about selling a product (your book) to a consumer. As with any product, there are questions that need to be answered. What problem or need does your book address? What is the target audience? Are you adding value with your content? If you can’t answer these questions, keep working until you can. 

Having a business mindset is what separates the professional writer from the amateurs. It shifts the focus from an internal one (the author) to an external one (the reader). Major publishing houses have teams of editors to help authors develop their material for a target audience to achieve specific aims. In the self-publishing world, that responsibility falls on you. Thus, you’ll need to do your research to ensure that your book will appeal to your target audience. For instance, if you’re writing a young adult novel, make sure the content is appropriate for that audience. Get familiar with other books in your genre so that you can learn what works and what doesn’t.

Adopt a long-term outlook

Don’t expect success to come overnight. The worst thing a self-published author can do is get discouraged because money doesn’t start rolling in after the publication of their first book. This will rarely happen, but you shouldn’t lose hope or stop believing in your skills. Success in writing is far more likely to come incrementally as the result of constant work and perseverance.

One of the best steps you can take to keep readers interested once you’ve published your first book is to get started on the next one. Try not to think too much about sales, which are largely out of your control. Instead, focus on those aspects of your business that you can control. The more you write, the closer you will be to finishing your next book. 

Also, by setting this routine for yourself, you will be less likely to allow sales numbers to mess with your head. Though the business side of being a writer is important, it’s equally important to remember that writing is a creative endeavor. Hence, you shouldn’t let business matters impact your ability (or desire) to write.

Build your brand by using a mailing list

Unless you’re already a household name, it takes effort to stay relevant to your readers. You could be the most prolific writer, turning out book after book on Amazon, and still struggle to stay on top of the search results. There’s simply too much material out there, and attention spans are too short.

Stay connected with your readers by creating a mailing list. Use it to let your fans know what you’re working on and when your next book is due out and to offer other important updates. Creating an account is easy with any of the numerous online providers (like this one)—whatever you spend will pay dividends in terms of building an enduring personal brand.  

Subscriptions to your mailing list can be far more valuable to your business than sales. Why? When a potential buyer sees your book on a search page, they make an immediate decision whether to purchase it or not. It’s a one-shot deal. Subscriptions, however, give you multiple opportunities to connect with your readers. There’s no better way to generate repeat business. 

You can drive subscriptions to your mailing list with “reader magnets.” These are freebies you offer people joining the list. They could include advance releases of new material, bonus chapters, or free copies of your previous work. The point is to reward your subscribers for their interest in the hope that it will translate into future sales. By building a connection with your subscribers, you’ll make them feel like part of an elite club. Moreover, they will get to know you better as both a person and a writer, which will make them more likely to want to purchase your books in the future.

You might ask, “What about getting the word out about my book on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)?” We’ll answer with another question: When was the last time you decided to buy a book based on a tweet by the author? That’s not to say social media can’t be helpful, but it’s more effective to use targeted (paid) services such as Facebook Ads to promote your book than to launch a campaign of Facebook posts or tweets. Look into the marketing options available to you and make sure you’re spending your money as effectively and efficiently as possible.

When it comes to editing and artwork, go with the pros

If you’ve heard the phrase “spend money to make money,” then you should know it definitely applies here. Your brother-in-law has done a few t-shirt designs and says he can knock out a book cover for you on the cheap? Hard pass. Think of your book cover as a business card that the world will see. A Photoshop hack job won’t cut it here. 

Do yourself a favor and hire a professional designer who specializes in book cover design—we can help with this, too. Hiring a pro is worth it; this is one area where you don’t want to cut corners. Though readers are often told not to judge a book by its cover, they still do, and you don’t want your unsightly or dull cover art to be the reason why someone passes up on your book.

The same applies to editing services. Even if you’re excellent at grammar, it’s best to have another pair of eyes go over the text to make sure everything is correct. Typos, grammatical errors, and missed punctuation are unprofessional, and readers will be turned off by an unpolished book. 

Editing services run the gamut from developmental editing (aimed at tweaking the overall plot/narrative) and copy editing (adjusting for clarity, flow, and grammar) to proofreading (scanning for correct punctuation, capitalization, formatting, and the like). Make an honest assessment of what you need and choose accordingly. Kurt Vonnegut wrote that the best editors “could tell a writer how to fine-tune a story as though they were pit mechanics and the story were a race car.” That’s money well spent.

Learn as much as you can, keep improving, and stick with it

Keep developing as a writer. Read as much as you can across as many genres as possible and learn from other authors. Pay attention to how the writers you admire organize their chapters and develop their narratives. And, of course, keep writing! Crank out as much material as you can without worrying about getting it perfect at first, then go back and whip it into shape. The first draft will never be perfect, but all books have to start somewhere. Write what you’re inspired to write, even if it doesn’t make the final cut. Set a schedule and stick to it. You should be writing every day, if possible; if not, at least make sure you’re writing for a set period of time each week.

A note on the myriad of creative writing courses available online: Save your money and master the craft by doing it yourself. Make your own mistakes and learn from them. Solicit feedback from people you trust. In doing so, you’ll develop your own voice instead of just learning to emulate that of someone else, for better or worse. 

The business of writing is arduous, especially for self-publishing authors. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Even the most successful writers face failure and disappointment from time to time. Yet, just like other entrepreneurs, they stay on top of their game by getting up every day, embracing the grind, and doing the work. 

If you’re ready for the next step in your journey as an author, we can help. Read more about our full suite of services for writers of all types—from traditional to self-published. Whether you need help with plot development, typesetting and interior book design, or comprehensive formatting services for your eBook, we’ve got your back. 

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