Self-publishing is a curse word for some, the holy grail for others.
These days you can’t swing a dead cat at a party and not hit a self-published author. Everybody has a book in them, and now, thanks to retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo, an independent author without an agent or publisher can put their masterpiece up for sale. There are no more barriers of entry, no gatekeepers—except the readers themselves. The readers are the ones in charge now.
But it is really all that simple?
When I started self-publishing in 2010, I thought it was just a matter of uploading my books and waiting for the money to roll it. Little did I know what kind of work was involved in the process. Sure, many authors upload their books and then sit back and wait. But are those the ones who are successful? I doubt it.
Digital publishing has offered great new opportunities to debut authors and seasoned ones alike—if they know how to harness the possibilities that are suddenly opening up in front of them. Of the thousands of new authors who now self-publish the books they had hidden in their closets for years, only a handful will make it. And it is easy to see who those few are: hard working authors, who will go the extra mile and spend the extra hour it takes to produce the best product possible. But that’s not all of it. Once the book is done, selling it, promoting it will become a daily task, while at the same time the author’s creative side already works on the next book.
I self-published out of frustration, because no agent or publisher even wanted to read my books. And sometimes the best ideas are born out of desperation. I wanted to be an author so badly and wanted to share my stories with readers that I decided I would go down that route and dip my toe into self-publishing even though I didn’t know the first thing about it. But I learned everything I needed to know about publishing by trial and error, by observing what others did, by emulating successful authors. The result was astounding.
Suddenly I have fans, readers who email me or post on my Facebook page, telling me they are happy that I shared my stories with them, when really, I’m the one who’s ecstatic: there are people out there who read my stories, who get drawn into the worlds I’ve created. And they want more. They are not just readers, they are true fans who go out of their way to tell others about my books. I now have an almost 80-reader-strong Street Team that touts my work and gives out signed bookmarks and trading cards. They do this simply because they care about my books and want me to succeed. This would have never happened, had I sat around and waited for a publisher or an agent to take an interest in my writing. Readers are taking charge and telling authors what they want, and we’d better listen!
But before we get to the point where the reader will see the finished book and click on the “Buy now” button, there is lots of work to be done, many things that go into self-publishing that aren’t evident on the surface.
Writing the best book you can is only the beginning, because while the content is vitally important, if the packaging doesn’t fit, nobody will ever get to see the inside. Because in sales, packaging is everything. It’s what attracts the reader to your book in the first place: the cover, the kick-ass blurb, and the price. Suddenly the author, the artist, has to become a sales person, a business woman in order to bring her product to market.
And that’s not the only hat a self-published author will wear: in the one and a half years that I’ve been self-publishing my books I’ve been everything from PR specialist, cover designer, accountant, contract negotiator, website designer, marketing manager to publisher. A one-woman enterprise. The responsibilities rise exponentially, and while I still had a full time job when I wrote my first books, by the time I published them in mid-2010, I had to quit it in order to devote my time and energy to my new business: being a self-published author.
The challenges are multifold: as the author you always need to concentrate on writing the next book and keeping your fans happy, so they’ll continue buying your books. At the same time, you have to balance your creative work with the demands of the publishing side, with promoting the books you already have, with finding new retailers that want to sell your books, with attracting new readers. Concentrate on one, and you’re neglecting the other. It’s a constant struggle between the business side and the creative side, and you can’t allow either one to get the upper hand.
But don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. The rewards of being a self-published author are huge. Not only are the potentials for making a very nice living virtually limitless, but the freedom that comes with it is what makes it really worth it. You have no publisher who tells you what you can write, nobody to hold you back when you want to publish three books a year instead of the one your publisher would have been able to release in the same time. You can quickly react to the demands of a changing market: we’re seeing this right now with many SEAL romances surfacing after the SEALs received huge press for their mission in Pakistan. Self-published authors can take advantage of time-sensitive subjects like this.
Self-published authors listen to their readers. As my series about a group of Vampire bodyguards progresses, I get more and more reader emails asking for a book about one character or another they have grown to love over the course of several books. Without a publisher breathing down my neck, I can make the decision about whose book to write next, and I take reader’s interest into account. In the end, they are the ones who I serve as an author.
There is pressure though too. The worry that this gold rush will one day dry up, makes a self-published author realize that she has to get more and more books out now while the iron is hot. The danger of neglecting quality can surface at this point, and it’s vitally important to not let the rush to the finish line compromise quality. Because what readers expect, no matter whether from a self-published or a traditionally published author, is this: a damn good book. And I do my best to deliver every time.