The Right Stuff

Anyone can independently publish. Just not anyone should independently publish. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not because independent authors are a cliquish set. No, we just like to feel successful, and not every genre has the right stuff to feel successful in indie publishing.

Now that I’ve sounded all snooty, I’ll redeem myself by pointing out that it’s because of the numbers. Not every genre sells well when indie published—but some do amazingly well. In fact, in the last five years, Amazon has sold more print books and ebooks in self-published romance, mystery, and sci-fi/fantasy than in traditional.

It’s not really clear why this is so, because traditional publishers still have a lot of clout in the marketing field, which should mean they can get their author’s work out to way more people, and get more sales. But Forbes Magazine interviewed Mark Coker, the CEO of Smashwords, an ebook distributor, who feels that independent publishers in genre fiction have an edge for two reasons:

  1. Their stories are narrative, so they are easily re-flowable on various screen sizes.
  2. The quicker turn around involved in self-publishing allows writers to be in direct sync with what their readers want, rather than having a lag of up to two years between writing a book and having it published.

So, if you write in romance, mystery, or sci-fi/fantasy, self-publishing could be the best option for you, as far as a paycheck goes.

Great! What are we waiting for? You’re going to be a best-seller!

Just hold your horses, because there’s more to consider than that. Independent publishing requires a lot—and I mean A LOT—of extra work (read: time that you can’t be writing). Arguably HALF of an indie writer’s time is going to go into marketing to their potential audience and building and keeping their readership.

Let’s break that down:

First, you need to build your brand. Yeah, like Campbell’s soup or Tony the Tiger. I know, I know, you’re shaking your head and saying, I’m just an author! I won’t even have a face to all these people! I just want to sell books! Well, if you want to get the most bang from your indie publishing buck, you’ve got to put some thought into how you come across to people—how they will identify you. All traditionally published authors do the same thing. You need to find your fan-interaction voice (which may or may not be different than your writing voice) and you should create a logo or style that will really speak that voice.

Second, you need to be active on social media (hence, the voice and the style). And I mean active, like not just scrolling through your feed and liking or commenting on other people’s stuff. That’s part of it, but you have to be actively creating posts and interacting with the people who comment and subscribe to your pages. People want to feel engaged in something that is ongoing, and they may lose interest if they get the feeling that you’re just going to fizzle out on them.

Third, you need a website. Yes, if you simply can’t or don’t want to shell out any money up front, you can do a free-hosted website like Wix or WordPress, and a lot of authors do that and do just fine. But if you really want to take off running, you don’t want a URL that gives the impression that you’re only half in, half-baked, not the real-deal. Self-publishing has come a long way, but there’s still a stigma attached if people are given a reason to question your quality.

Fourth, you have to put yourself out there. Yeah, that’s about where I ducked and ran for cover. I HATE getting in people’s faces, especially about myself and my stuff and what I want from them. But in independent publishing, there’s no big marketing team ready to set you up, so you have to do it. You have to find people (ideally with some sort of clout in the market) to review your books, and look for ways to market your work (which may involve asking people for favors if you don’t want to spend money).

Now, if any of that scared you away, well, now you know. Good luck with your efforts in getting traditionally published, and may your self-esteem survive.

But if you’re like, ok, I got this—then welcome to the club! I’ll be doing a post on each of the above four to-do’s to hopefully ease the transition, and get you started on the right foot.