Why I Wouldn’t Self-Publish A POD Paperback (At Least To Start With)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: my debut thriller Distress Signals – think: eerily similar disappearances from a cruise ship in the Med – was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.

So, TRAGIC news: there will be no video blog today. I know, I know. I’ll give you a second to dry your tears.

Once I finish this post I will be unplugging my modem at the wall, putting the first wave of John Mayer’s new album on repeat and gluing my arse to the chair in front of my computer for the next 72 hours or so in order to finish the second draft of Book 2. I just don’t have time for transforming into a human girl, filming the blog and then editing and uploading it, because all that takes hours, especially the transforming bit. I don’t want to break my 28-day blogging bonanza insanity commitment, so I am blogging (obvs) but I’m going to do a bit of swapping around. I give you: a normal blog post.

Earlier this week I posted The ‘Get Published’ Advice I Wish I’d Listened To in which I mentioned, as an aside, that if I had my time over again or I was about to self-publish a new project now, I wouldn’t bother self-publishing a POD paperback – at least to start with. I’d be all e-books instead. And then, if they took off, I’d capitalise on their success by also releasing a paperback. (That’s actually something a number of traditional publishers have started doing with their commercial fiction, especially crime/thrillers: e-books first, sometimes months before the book is available in paperback.) Today I thought I’d elaborate on why.

I Got Over The Fear

When you first self-publish – or when you first get published if your publisher decides to go e-book first, or your book is out in one country but not yet in another – you will probably experience The Fear, sparked by a conversation that goes something like this:

Random person: I can’t wait to read your book! Is it out yet?

You: [heart soaring] Yes! You can buy it right now. [whispers] Please do.

RP: Where can I get it?

You: On Amazon.

RP: What about Barnes and Noble?

You: Um… Well, you see, it’s only available in e-book.

RP: Oh, I don’t read e-books.

You: [sound of heart breaking]

See also: you releasing the first book of a series and someone asking ‘When is the next one out? I can’t wait to read it!’ and you panicking and hitting Publish on Book 2 five minutes later.

The Fear is the fear of losing a book sale. You encounter a reader who wants to read your book, who says they will buy it, except they’re not interested in the existing options for doing that. And so you rush and you panic and you start flailing about in a drowning depth of anxiety at the thought that you might be selling more books if only you were selling them differently. One more book, anyway.

To this I say: get a grip. Ignore these annoying people. Seriously. Because these people are not your target. Your target is the people who already love e-books, who gobble them up, who buy several of them a week, who will definitely encounter your e-book because you have a promotional plan in place, and who will definitely hit that Buy button because you have taken the time to write a great book, design a great cover, etc. etc. They are the millions of people we’re interested in. Not reader97481 who leaves a comment saying they don’t read e-books. Why should we care about reader97481, especially since (a) she is absolutely in the minority and (b) we’ve no guarantee she even means what she says? I guarantee you that despite you feeling like these people are just the tip of the iceberg and that if you just published a paperback, you’d be sitting pretty atop all the bestseller lists and paying your mortgage off in cash, this is not what will happen if you do.

We made an e-book. Like it or lump it.

Clearly, I got over the fear. You should too.

There’s No Point

This is the biggest reason for me: there’s no point. No self-publisher I know is selling more paperbacks than e-books, and I only know a very small number who are selling anything significant in paperback at all (and they are all selling HUGE amounts in e-book). So what’s the point? Unless you are a life coach who goes around talking to enthusiastic audiences of hundreds who all queue up afterwards to  buy a copy of your book (and, in that case, you should really go to a printer where you can get a volume discount and avoid POD), you don’t need a physical book because it’s not going to sell enough copies to earn any kind of statistical significance in your self-published book sales. So why bother? If you have money to spend, put it in a Bookbub or boost a Facebook post. Don’t waste it on this.

It’s Much More Work Than It Seems

The thinking behind also releasing a paperback usually goes something like this:

  • I may as well – it’s not that much more work
  • I’ll sell more books because some people don’t read e-books.

As I said above, you almost certainly won’t sell more books – or at least, not enough of them to make this worth it. So scratch that. Which leaves it’s not that much more work or money. 

But it is.

Let’s do money first. If you do your own formatting, I will allow that it’s not that much more money. But it is more of it. Formatting for Kindle is relatively easy and easily a DIY job, but formatting an entire book in MS Word is a whole other ballgame. And while you might get away with making a passable e-book cover for free with Canva or PicMonkey, you won’t get away with it for a POD cover, which has to be specifically sized to your spine and supplied to CreateSpace in PDF with everything where it should be, including your barcode space. Then it really is another chunk of money. And I sincerely hope you are ordering a proof copy and not just letting people hand over money for something you haven’t actually seen yourself, so there’s that too – plus shipping.

And it is more work – but you don’t yet realise how much more of it, because it’s in the future. POD paperbacks complicate things. If you’re in this for the long haul, you’re going to be releasing a number of books (let’s hope). Each time you have a new release, you need to go back and add mention of it to your previous books, e.g. add it to your Also By This Author list, or maybe include a preview or a link. It’s easy to do this in e-book. You just swap out the file. But with the paperback, you have to swap out the file and go through the proofing process again. You also have to deal with editions. You can’t change anything significant about your paperback without it becoming a new edition, and a new edition is a separate edition. It’s a whole new book. New ISBN and so, horror of horrors, a new listing. You might not be able to bring your reviews for the previous listing over. (That seems to be entirely up to Amazon’s discretion.)

And here’s the worst bit: if you make a new edition, an Amazon listing for your name becomes a wasteland of old editions that aren’t available anymore. Now multiply that by all your online retailers. It’s a mess. A paperback also sets a listing in stone forever. For-EVAH. That listing will never disappear because Amazon keeps the listing active in case MarketPlace sellers have secondhand editions to flog. If you just publish e-books, you don’t have to deal with any of this crap. There’ll only ever be one edition and, if you ever want to ‘unpublish’ it or replace it – change the title, for example – the old one will just disappear.

Actually, no, that’s not the worst bit. The worst bit is that when you publish a paperback, you leave yourself nowhere to hide. You create a huge, new space in which you can make a mistake. In which you can look amateurish. In which you can fail to be professional. What I mean by that is this:

When it comes to novels, self-publishers win at e-books. This is because we format them carefully ourselves and/or we pay other people to do them professionally but in both cases, we build them from scratch. Some traditional publishers use a work-flow to create e-books that takes another form, e.g. a PDF, and converts that into an e-book automatically. This, sometimes, creates errors. I can honestly say that I have encountered more errors in traditionally published e-books than I have in self-published ones. But…

I cannot say the same for POD paperbacks. When it comes to making a physical book, you don’t know what you don’t know. You think it’s easy enough, straightforward. Chapter headings, a table of contents, maybe even a jazzy running head. But so much work goes into the layout and design of the interiors of the books we pick up off our local bookshop’s shelves. You don’t even realise it. And that work is done by professionals. By book designers. Working with far more powerful software and years of experience than you. By producing a paperback, you increase the chances that you will make a mistake. That you will look like you don’t know what you’re doing. (I say this from personal experience. I made mistakes. Embarrassing ones. And if it wasn’t for the likes of The Book Designer, I wouldn’t even have known.) Why do this to yourself when, as outlined above, there’s really no point to it?

The exceptions to all this are, of course, books that really need to be published in print, like reference, cookbooks, workbooks, children’s books, YA books, etc. In other words: where the target audience prefers a print book. And you might need a proof for reviewers and/or to giveaway on Goodreads, but in that case (a) you don’t need a cover design, because Cover Creator will do and (b) it’s okay if proofs are just the text of the book without any ‘design’ element. They only need to be readable, not real books.

But for everything else, I just wouldn’t bother. Work smarter, not harder and all that jazz. Yes, you want to hold a physical book in your hand. Who doesn’t? But that’s a personal, emotional decision, not a business one. And this, if you’re doing it right, should be above all else a business.

Now, off to the writing cave with me for the weekend. Send coffee.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

How Self-Published Books Are Made: Start to Finish (PART II)

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In last week’s post, How Self-Published Books Are Made: Start to Finish (PART I), we assembled everything we needed to self-publish, decided whether to go e-book only, e-book first and then paperback or e-book and paperback together, sorted out our US tax situation and finally, self-published both an e-book with Amazon KDP and Smashwords, covering all major e-book retailers, and a POD paperback with CreateSpace. (Or we went to somebody like eBookPartnership.com because removing tabs and putting back in italics got all a bit much for us.)

But that was only half the battle. What do we do now that the books are here? How are we going to let people know they exist, and convince them to buy a copy? How do we sell our books?

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Please Don’t Say ‘Social Media’…

Sorry, here it comes: the best way to sell self-published books is by using social media. But before you roll your eyes and throw in the towel on this whole self-publishing thing because ‘twittering is for teenagers’, let me say this: just think of it as word-of-mouth. That’s what’s always sold books, and it’s what sells books now. Taking it online just amplifies the numbers and, for self-publishers, levels the playing field too.

The readers of books like yours are out there, online, and you can reach them directly in numerous ways. That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is reaching them in the right way (tip: not in a way that annoys them or smells like spam) and, once you’ve done that, convincing them that your book is worth a read.

It is possible to sell books without using social media, and I’m sure you all know someone who did this. I do too. But there are the exception to the rule, and you can’t assume or expect to be the exception. There’s usually something else in those stories too, like impeccable timing or luck. I think you should do everything you can to try and sell copies of your book, not sit back and relax and hope for a cloud of fairy dust to burst above your head.

I also think you should avoid traditional PR. It may work for books that are in stores but I’ve never seen it work for self-published e-books and paperbacks that are only for sale online. I’ve only see it spectacularly fail, leaving self-publishers with empty wallets and bitter disappointment in its wake. If the item is for sale online, keep the promotion online. And do it yourself. Hiring someone else to tweet for you, for example, is like paying someone else to give your friend a hug.

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Self-Published Book Selling 101: No One Cares

No one cares about a book just because the book was written, because it exists. Just think about this in logical, familiar terms. Why did you buy the last book you bought? And why did you buy that one, and not any of the other ones that were on the same shelf or in the same store or mentioned in the e-mail Amazon sent you? Why do you care about some books and not about others? What’s the difference?

Your job, as both writer and publisher of your work, is to make readers care. To give them genuine reasons to. (I once got an e-mail on Goodreads from an author who said—and this is a copy and paste—’This is not a giveaway, or a blog tour, or anything remotely related to an ‘event’. [He’d sent it through the Event feature.] Just a statement from one blunt person to all of you. Buy This Book. You’ll like it. I promise.” Oh, you, the writer, promises I’ll like it? Really? Pinky-swear? Well, let me just run out now this very second and buy this book with the terrible cover and boring-sounding blurb that has no reviews and doesn’t even bear a slight resemblance to the books I like to read. Color me convinced! Yeah, right.) You need to make the potential reader think, hmm, this sounds interesting and then, this seems like something I’d like and finally, the price is right and I think I will like this: let me go hit that Buy button!

Think of what has to happen in order for someone to buy a book:

  1. They find out the book exists (through social media, like a mention in a tweet or a blog post, or through Amazon search results, or through a review they see online)
  2. The cover is eye-catching enough to make them stop and take a look. It also instantly identifies the kind of book it is, which hopefully is the type of book this reader likes to read
  3. The blurb makes you want to read the book
  4. The author bio convinces you the writer can write
  5. There are reviews that don’t seem to be written by family members, friends, etc.
  6. The price is high enough that you think quality but low enough that you think trying this book is risk-free.

Consider how many of these elements—the cover, the blurb, the author bio—will have been decided during the publication process. That’s why it’s so silly when self-publishers do all the self-publishing bit and then say, ‘Right: how am I gonna sell this baby?’, as if the two things are entirely disconnected. You are selling copies of your book through the decisions you make every step of the way.

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The ‘This Book Exists’ Bit

In an extremely simplified way (because this is supposed to be a summarized overview type thing, not a 10,000-word rehash of everything I’ve blogged about and written about already), here are the five stages of letting the world know that you book exists, i.e. step 1 above in what has to happen for somebody to decide to buy a book.

  1. Build a core of support. If you want to sell 10,000 books, you don’t need 10,000 Twitter followers. The Big Three of social media—blogging, Twitter and Facebook—are there for you to connect with people who are really more interested in you, the writer, than necessarily the subject matter or plot line of your book. They want to support you, just as you want to support them—and in a very genuine way. I’m talking here about your social media friends: your blogger friends, the people you chat to on Twitter, etc. This might also extend to a mailing list of subscribers, if you’ve been at this a while. This is the group that when your new book comes out, buy it mostly because it’s by you, and also tweet about it, post reviews online, invite you to guest post, etc. They get the ball rolling—they don’t buy every book you plan on selling. They are your (small but enthusiastic) core of support.
  2. Build anticipation towards a launch date. Most self-publishers don’t use launch dates, and I think that’s a grave mistake. Traditional publishing uses launch dates, and so should you. (As opposed to ‘My book will be out in the summer’ or ‘The e-book should be ready next week’.) You need something to build towards. And it doesn’t matter if the books are available before the date you pick. It’s purely for promotional purposes. Before this date, you should be blogging about your book, perhaps organizing a little blog tour, running Twitter giveaways for advanced reader copies (ARCs), video-blogging, posting photos of the proof copies to Facebook, etc. etc. See Why Promoting Your Book Online is (a bit) Like Fight Club.
  3. Target specific readers. If you publish your e-books on Smashwords, you can download both an ePub and a Mobi (Kindle) file of your book that you can then e-mail like you would any other file. This is perfect for reviewers. Find relevant book bloggers, Goodreads users and Amazon Top Reviewers and offer them a copy of your book. Remember though that just like the steps above for buying a book, reviewers must also be convinced to read and review your book. See How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed for more. You can also set up a Goodreads giveaway for paperback editions of your book; the winners will post their reviews online.
  4. Maximize launch. Your launch day is most likely when the maximum number of virtual eyeballs will be on your book, and when your sales rank gets the best opportunity to rise up (or down, it being the lower the better) on Amazon as your core of support goes out to buy it. You want to create events around this time to maximize this, like a blog tour, or a big giveaway, or a blog post you know will get lots of readers. It’s up to you, but my key point is don’t let this day pass just like any other. Make something of it.
  5. Help Amazon sell your book for you. Sign up for Amazon Author Central and go into the back end of your Amazon listing through it. Add formatting to your blurb, add extracts of the book blogger and Goodreads reviews you’ve now collected, add any evidence you’re a good writer to your author bio. Perhaps run a price promotion or even (if you dare) run your book through KDP Select. This will all encourage sales, which will push your book higher up search results and into things like ‘Customers who viewed this item also bought…’ etc., which, if you can keep it going, will inevitably lead to Amazon doing all the hard work for you.

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How To Self-Publish in 32 Easy Steps: A To Do List

If I was self-publishing a new, full-length book right now, here’s how I would do it.

  1. Write the book
  2. Get your US tax issue sorted, if applicable
  3. Check you’ve money to (potentially) lose in the bank
  4. Create a marketing/promotion plan for your book, including a schedule, a blurb and a launch date
  5. Start blogging about the book, i.e. building anticipation about it
  6. Research reviewers, make list of potentials
  7. Research and decide on prices
  8. Find and hire an editor
  9. Edit book, meanwhile:
  10. Find and hire a cover designer
  11. Mock-up paperback interior to determine page count
  12. Download cover template from CreateSpace and:
  13. Send cover template to cover designer
  14. Proofread book
  15. Create two copies of the manuscript
  16. Create interior PDF for inside of paperback from Copy A
  17. Okay cover design from cover designer
  18. Upload files to CreateSpace and order proof copy
  19. Format Copy B for e-book conversion
  20. Upload files to Amazon KDP and Smashwords but publish ONLY on Smashwords (leave KDP in ‘draft’)
  21. Download ePub and Mobi files from Smashwords and immediately unpublish (so no one can buy the book for now)
  22. Check e-book files using Kindle App for PC/Mac and Adobe Digital Editions
  23. Check proof copy paperback, publish if all okay but set to ‘Private’ (so no one but you can order it and it doesn’t go out to retailers)
  24. Order x amount of paperbacks to send to reviewers
  25. Contact reviewers, offering paperbacks or e-book files. Send them.
  26. Two weeks before launch date, publish paperback
  27. One week before launch date, publish on Amazon KDP and Smashwords
  28. Wait for Amazon listings to go live
  29. Sign up for Amazon Author Central, email them to get them to link Kindle and paperback listings
  30. Announce to the world on your (chosen by you) launch day that the book is now available
  31. Sell loads of copies of it
  32. Start writing your next book.

This is obviously a very simplified version of an actual self-publisher’s To Do list, but I think it’s a good working order and has all the main stuff on there. You might also be interested in the post I did that listed everything I actually did to self-publish my book Backpacked, How Much Work Is Self-Publishing?

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Sales Reports and Payments

All of these websites—CreateSpace, KDP and Smashwords—have sales reports you can refer to any time. CreateSpace and KDP pay you by the month, Smashwords quarterly.

You can also make changes to your books at any time by uploading new cover or interior files.

But I Did All This And It Didn’t Work!

Welcome to publishing! A popular anti-publishing point is that the publishing industry can’t tell you why one book sells and another doesn’t. But that isn’t just publishing. That’s BOOKS. (And also, TV shows. And movies. And broadway shows. And breakfast cereals.) It happens to traditional publishing companies and self-published authors, because we just don’t know how the reading public is going to react to any given book. I’ve seen this even within my own range of titles—I’ve done pretty much the same thing with all of them (although, thanks to a decreasing amount of free time, probably less and less as each title has come out) and yet one of them still sells steadily three years later and the one I think is the best never seems to catch up. It isn’t just publishing professionals who don’t know why one book sells and another doesn’t. Nobody does.

So brace yourself: you may do every single thing right, from writing a great book to making your Amazon listing the best there is, and you might still fail to sell any copies. That’s just the way it is. There are no guarantees. And you’ll just have to deal with that.

What Next?

Start writing the next one!

Any questions?

I wrote, like, a whole book about this you know. You can buy it in paperback or e-book, and you can even buy the e-books directly from me. You can also browse all my self-printed themed blog posts here or sign up to receive all future posts by e-mail in the sign-up box in the sidebar. I’m also on Twitter @cathryanhoward

How Self-Published Books Are Made: Start To Finish (PART I)

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To mark the occasion of my 601st blog post (and I wonder why The Novel isn’t finished yet…), and after seeing that a number of people regularly land on this blog by googling ‘how self-published books are made start to finish’, I’ve decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: outline a basic master plan for self-publishing.

The internet is awash with posts about specific topics like formatting your e-book or maximizing your Amazon listing or using KDP Select, but there’s very few ‘this is everything that needs to happen and in this order’ posts—and I include my own blog in this. So let’s do it, starting today with Part I.

I should say: this isn’t how I did it (certainly not the first time!), but it’s how I’d do it now were I to get the chance to do it over. It’s how I’d do it now knowing everything I learned through trial and error over the last few years. Please let me what you’d do differently, add/subtract, etc. in the comments below.

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What You Need To Self-Publish A Book

  • A book that’s ready for the world in a MS Word document
  • Money to invest in said book. I wouldn’t start this without $1,500 in the bank marked ‘I can lose this’
  • An editor/proofreader (a MUST) and a cover designer (optional but preferred) to spend that money on
  • An EIN or an ITIN if you are self-publishing using the companies I mention and living outside the US
  • A thick skin (for the inevitable baaaad reviews)
  • A plan for how you’re going to sell copies of this book, and an idea of who you’ll try to sell it to
  • The professional attitude, energy and drive of a entrepreneur
  • A dose of reality
  • An antidote to anxiety
  • As much coffee as Guatemala produces in a year.

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E-book & Paperback or Just E-book or Just Paperback?

I think there is no point self-publishing these days without self-publishing an e-book, and I think there is no point self-publishing an e-book unless you do it on Amazon’s Kindle store. (Assuming that your goal is to get as many readers as possible and perhaps afford to buy a few ink cartridges or something.) So for my money, not publishing an e-book is not an option.

As for paperbacks, it really depends on the book and the author. I like having a paperback available, and I especially like getting the proof copy of that paperback in the mail. Seeing your book on your Kindle just doesn’t have the same kick. (And what will you put on your shelves?! See photo below.) I waver from this stance from time to time, but if I was pushed, I’d say go paperback. It’s not that much extra work or money, and although e-books are now a very significant part of book sales and increasing all the time, a lot of people (most people?) still don’t read them. Paperbacks are also good for giveaways, review copies, etc. (You can’t giveaway an e-book on Goodreads.) If you’re just starting out and already feeling a little daunted though, try e-book only first and see how you go.

The best advice I can give you on this though is be creative. Think of the e-book like the hardcover: publish it first, then bring the paperback later. (This is a good way to take advantage of KDP Select’s only remaining benefit: compensation for borrows. Release a Kindle only e-book for 90 days, then after that go full distribution and bring out your paperback.) Or release the book in e-book only installments (like I’m doing this year with Travelled) before a full-length paperback. Or make the physical copy a special edition.

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The Clue is in the Term ‘Self-Publishing’

You can’t self-publish by yourself. You need an editor and a cover designer, and you may need some other help at various points along the way. But there shouldn’t be, in my opinion, any middle man between you and that editor, or you and that cover designer. A self-publisher should be the project manager of their own book. You shouldn’t have to pay someone else to do that for you.

‘But I can barely e-mail!’ is something that comes up a lot when I talk to self-publishers. I understand that all this stuff may seem like rocket science to some of you, and an abacus to others. But don’t pay someone else thousands to do the whole shebang for you. Find someone who can e-mail—a family member, a fellow writer, a friend—and get them to help you. That way, you remain in total control and keep costs down. (And it’s really not rocket science. All these services are designed to be used by everyone, and there is plenty of help out there for the tricky bits.)

Read more: Why You Need Some ‘Self’ In Your Self-Publishing

Before We Begin

If you live outside the US, you’re going to need to sort your tax situation out first. You can do it yourself or go to someone like TaxBack.com.

And spare me the groans about red tape and bureaucracy: you’re allowed to sell whatever you damn well want on the largest bookstore in the world. A few forms is a TINY price to pay.

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Who Does What When

I would recommend that you publish your e-books with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Smashwords, and your POD paperback with CreateSpace, which is also owned by Amazon. This will get your e-books available on every major e-book retailer (Amazon’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble’s Nook Store, etc.) and your paperback on the US and European Amazon sites, among others. You’ll also be able to download copies of your own e-books which you can e-mail as attachments, if you like, and order copies of your paperback at cost.

All these services are completely free to sign up for. When books are sold, they take a cut and you keep the rest. KDP will give you 70% of your list price if you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, 35% otherwise. There’s some terms and conditions to this (to say the least!) but that’s generally what you’ll end up with. Smashwords varies, but it’s around 60-80%. If you publish a 220-ish page 5.5 x 8.5 paperback with CreateSpace, it’ll cost you around $3.50 to order a copy of it, and if you sell it for $15 on Amazon.com, you’ll keep around $5 once manufacturing and the retailer’s cut are taken out. (NB: These are all massive generalizations. For specifics, go to the service’s websites.)

Presuming you have both the interior file (i.e. the inside pages) and your cover file (we’ll get to that) ready, between signing up for CreateSpace and seeing your book for sale on Amazon should take about a fortnight, presuming you order a proof copy. (There’s an option to skip the proof copy: please don’t.) Smashwords will publish your book on their website and make it available to buy from there almost immediately, but their ‘Premium Catalogue’ (i.e. other retailers like iBooks and B&N) distribution can take a while. Amazon KDP is twelve hours from pressing the ‘Publish’ button to being for sale in the Kindle store, but in my experience it usually takes less than that.

Impressive, no?

Can People Pre-Order My Book?

Do you know what you just did? You murdered a fairy. MURDERED!*

(And no, they can’t.)

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Every self-publisher should have one of these

The Process

For e-books, you need:

  • Your book in a MS Word document, formatted a very specific way so that when KDP or Smashwords runs it through their automated conversion software and turns it into an ePub or Mobi file (i.e. actual e-books) it doesn’t read like gobbledegook
  • A front cover image, i.e.a JPEG. Both KDP and Smashwords will give you exact dimensions to adhere to, but the bottom line is make it a big one
  • A blurb, i.e. the text that would normally appear on the back cover of a paperback.

You have some options here. First, you don’t have to commission a cover. I think it’d be better if you did, but if money is tight, you could possibly save some here — but only if you do it right, and don’t turn into one of those parents who thinks their baby is the most beautiful baby that was ever born. And don’t be getting any fanciful ideas. Those cookie cutter covers? Crime black with silver text and a sinister picture? Chick-lit in pink pastels with girly type and shoes? Bodice-rippers with, well, ripped bodices? They’re like that for a reason: so readers can easily identify books that are similar to books they’ve already enjoyed. Study the competition and stick with what works.

KDP recently launched Cover Creator for e-books, which I haven’t used yet myself but if it’s anything like CreateSpace’s Cover Creator, I’d stay clear. (Have you used it?) Template covers are easily identifiable and never cut the mustard. The other downside is that you won’t be able to use it on your Smashwords edition (I’m presuming).

You don’t need an ISBN to publish on KDP and Smashwords will give you a free one. Take it.

Read more: A New, Even Easier Way To Format Your E-book

For POD paperbacks, you need:

  • Your book in a MS Word document, sized to exactly match the dimensions of your chosen trim size (i.e. the length and width of the pages of your book) and formatted to reflect how you want it printed. (You can collect a correctly sized template from CreateSpace before you start.)
  • A full paperback cover. CreateSpace will generate a cover template for you once you plug in your trim size and page count that you can send off to your cover designer. Alternatively you can use their Cover Creator software but for the love of fudge, please don’t. None of them resemble real books.
  • A blurb to pop in your product description.

A few things here: you need to create your MS Word interior document BEFORE you start thinking about the cover, even if it’s just a quick mock-up. The reason is that the cover designer needs the template, and the template needs to include the spine, and the spine size is calculated based on how many pages you plan on using. Trust me when I say that a guesstimate is not sufficient. You must mock-up the interior of your book. Remember you’ll have front matter, end matter and start each new chapter or section on a right-hand/odd-numbered page. When you add this, and add headers and footers, change your font size, change your paragraph settings, etc., it changes the page count. And if you end up with 10 or more pages more than you planned on, in my experience, your insides won’t fit your outsides. The cover will be rejected by CreateSpace for being the wrong size. So FIRST, mock-up your interior document to get the page count. THEN start work on the cover.

CreateSpace will give you a free ISBN. (Say it with me now…) Take it. If there’s a free ISBN on offer, put your paws on it and say ‘Thank you.’ You lose nothing by doing this but you gain cash, i.e. what you would’ve spent buying your own ISBN. So WHAT if CreateSpace (or Smashwords) are the publisher of record of your book? Do you think readers pay a tack of attention to who published a book? Don’t even worry about it.

They will also put a barcode on your book. Neither you nor your cover designer needs to worry about that. (It goes on during the publishing process and the template will have a space marked off for it.)

Yes, shipping books to yourself from CreateSpace gets really expensive outside the US. But why are you thinking about this? Aside from maybe one box of books for yourself, friends, family and perhaps even a little party you’re throwing yourself, why would you need books? We’re doing this so people can buy our books online while we sit back and relax. If you do need a lot of stock (because you’re braving bookstores, or you do seminars or something) publish your paperback with CreateSpace for online sales and then find a book printer in your area or city or region who’ll print physical copies for you to sell.

Read more: How To Make a Real BookProofing Your CreateSpace paperback.

No Humans Were Used In The Self-Publishing Of This E-book

A while back I read a blog post (written by someone who I thought would know better—he was a journalist, and had been traditionally published) that detailed one newbie self-publisher’s many phone calls to CreateSpace as he published his book. And all I could think was, ‘What the fudge are you calling CreateSpace for?!’

That, and how it reminded me of a situation I was in a few years back, when I was working for someone who, having spotted a Facebook status written by a college student that said something nasty (but utterly true) about our company, got me to type and print and send a letter threatening the sending of a solicitor’s letter to Facebook HQ.

This entire process is automated. Humans may be involved from time to time, but only in the shadowy background, or perhaps through a support e-mail if all comes to all. You don’t submit your manuscript to Amazon, you just upload a file. And Amazon don’t accept your book for publication, their software program publishes it. It’s like booking a flight online versus walking into your travel agent and taking a seat at his or her desk. This is the first one. No humans involved.

And they don’t need to be involved. Smashwords has an entire e-book you can download for free that tells you everything you need to know. CreateSpace is one of the simplest websites to use, KDP comes a close second and they both have extensive help and support pages, and community forums. Plus, there’s this:

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It’s taught me everything I know.

(If you really need help though, eBookPartnership are great for all things e-books, and The Book Designer has a great and affordable range of POD interior templates.)

Join me next week for Part II…

Also, I wrote this.

*Every time a self-published author wonders aloud if readers will be able to pre-order their book, a fairy dies. FACT. 

***READ PART II OF THIS POST HERE***

Operation Full Distribution

One of my goals for 2013 is to fully distribute all of my self-published e-books.

As it stands, Backpacked is handcuffed to KDP Select, Mousetrapped is on Smashwords but I never re-submitted it to their Premium Catalogue (read: third party retailers) after my last update and although you can purchase a gorgeous ePub or Mobi edition of Self-Printed directly from me (thanks to the lovely people at eBookPartnership.com), the only other place you can get it from is the Amazon Kindle store, although we did have a brief flirtation with Kobo Writing Life a while back.

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Why is this? Well, there’s a few reasons:

  • It’s easy to make a good-looking Kindle book. I still format my e-books the way I’ve done it from the beginning, three years ago: by re-formatting the text in a MS Word document until it adheres to a strict set of rules. I’m really good at it now, and sometimes I almost find the process relaxing. (Sometimes…) Ever since I discovered, via a tip in the Smashwords Style Guide, that Kindle conversion automatically indents all your paragraphs and the only way to make it stop is to set the indent to 0.01 inches on the lines you don’t want to appear indented, I’ve found prepping your book for Kindle conversion practically easy. And I like easy.
  • It’s simple to keep track of sales and profits. KDP must have the best-looking user interface of any self-publishing platform. It’s so easy to use: two pages and your book is published. Log in at any time and see at a glance what you’ve sold so far this month, what you sold in total last month and how the past six weeks were for you and your books. Prior months royalties can be scrutinized in a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, and cheques arrive promptly every single month. (In three years, only one KDP cheque has failed to arrive, and it was a lost-in-the-mail situation. They quickly cancelled it and sent another.) My euro sales even go straight into my bank account now. Trying to figure out how many copies I’ve sold via Smashwords on other retailers is like trying to do my taxes with an abacus, and everytime you add another site—be it Kobo, or iTunes Connect, or whoever—you complicate things further.
  • The majority of my sales come from Kindle anyway, so the rest of them don’t seem worth the trouble. Now, I know what you’re going to say: if my books are only available on Kindle, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, it is now. But all throughout 2010 and for a good half of 2011, I was on Kindle and everyone Smashwords could hook me up with, and my Kindle sales were something like 95% of all e-book sales. And this wasn’t because I did such a good job of marketing my Kindle book, because I was never active on dedicated Kindle forums, nor did I advertise with Kindle Nation or anything like that. Kindle just sold my books more, for whatever reason. When KDP Select came along—and the first time I used it, it gave me something like a 150% boost on sales the month after my free promotion—I drained my glass of Kool-Aid. I was all in.

And so, over time, I became less and less enthusiastic about non-Kindle e-book sites. When I updated Mousetrapped, I didn’t bother putting myself through the horror that would be formatting it for Smashwords’ Premium Catalogue. I couldn’t upload the shiny ePub of Self-Printed 2.0 there, so I didn’t bother uploading anything. And I pulled Backpacked—waiting over a month for Kobo to let go—so I could chuck it in KDP Select and promote it as free.

Eggs, one basket, all in.

Up until recently, I wasn’t at all bothered. My Smashwords sales had never lit the world on fire, and who had the time to be checking what people were saying about you—I mean, about your book—on more than the three main English-speaking Amazon sites? But then the tectonic plates beneath the self-publishing world began to move and shift, and so did my thinking.

I’m iniating Operation Full Distribution, and here’s why.

Sales of dedicated e-readers are in decline. This means that nowadays, someone is more likely to buy an iPad than a Kindle, i.e. a device on which they can read e-books but on which they can do loads of other stuff as well. Kindle may be the dominant player now, but will they always be? Yes, you can download the Kindle app for iPad, but iBooks/iTunes’ slice of the e-book pie grows ever bigger. Isn’t it better to hedge your bets and be ready for the day when Kindle books might not dominate?

If one was to be cynical and say that Amazon being nice to us—KDP Select, huge KOLL compensation funds, letting us self-publish on there in the first place—was all just a ploy to get us to fill the Kindle store with titles, many of them exclusive, and to teach their customers that e-books should be cheap so that traditional publishing would, eventually, start to lower their e-book prices too, then one could also say that that job is done. There’s well over a million titles in the Amazon.com Kindle store, and the Top 10 e-book charts on Amazon.co.uk boasted seven traditionally published books for sale at 20p when I checked it on New Year’s Day. They’ve even got agents skipping publishers altogether to publish directly to the Kindle store, and have started publishing books themselves. It’s becoming harder and harder for self-published e-book authors to achieve success, and the odds are decreasing all the time. (Charging sofa change for your e-book so readers will take a chance of you no longer works, for example, because readers can get a book that has been vetted by an agent, editors and maybe even The Sunday Times book reviewer now for less than the cost of your 99c book.) How much longer are Amazon going to need us? And when they don’t need us anymore, what will happen? I feel the tugs on the rug Amazon has laid beneath our self-published feet; it might only be a matter of time before they pull it. Since we don’t know what that world could look like, it might be better to start spreading the risk now.

As Smashwords founder Mark Coker is forever reiterating on the Smashwords blog, sales ranks are very important for discoverability. The higher or better your sales rank, the higher chance there is of you being discovered by a new reader, generally and simplistically-speaking. I’ve been on Amazon now for almost three years with Mousetrapped, and my other books have been on there since they were published. I’ve never “interruppted” their Amazon ranking, and as sales rank history is partly responsible for where the sales rank is at today, that’s a good thing. But how many times have I published/unpublished on Smashwords? Well, um, a few. And each time I republished, I was basically starting from scratch on, say, Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, or iBooks, or wherever. So I wasn’t giving my Smashwords retailers a chance to do as well as my Kindle books. As has been pointed out in many blog posts on the subject of Kindle dominance, self-published authors also have a tendancy to direct potential readers to their Kindle listings more than anything else, and I was as guilty of that as anyone. So now, let’s see what happens when I give it a proper chance.

There’s a but coming though, and it’s in the shape of a dollar sign. I ran Backpacked through KDP Select back in November, and it was downloaded for free something like 20,000 times in the five days. Since then its sales have really picked up, especially on Amazon.com, and borrows are way up too. And when you consider the “bonus” KDP Select fund, it means than whenever a copy of Backpacked is borrowed, I stand a good chance of making as much or even more than I would were it purchased — and my new reader pays nothing outside of their Prime membership fee. This improved sales effect has lasted about six weeks, at this stage, so I’m going to ride it out. That means no Smashwords for Backpacked, for now. Not yet. I make a large part of my income from my e-book sales, and so I can’t be completely experimental with my approach to it. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you updated.

My new book, Travelled, will be released in three e-book only parts this year before the full book is released in e-book and paperback just in time for Christmas, and I think KDP Select could benefit that, if it’s still going by the time it comes out. With three parts making up a whole book, I think it’d be a good idea to run the first part through a free promotion the week the second part comes out, to help snare new readers. So I don’t plan on abandoning KDP Select completely; I’ll still use sparingly as long as it works for me.

But my ultimate goal is, by this time next year, to have every book of mine available everywhere e-books can feasibly be sold. Let’s just give the other guys a chance—a proper chance—and see what happens.

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What do you think? Do you have your e-books only on Kindle, or elsewhere as well? Any good reports from the land of full distribution? Or is KDP Select results keeping you sweet? Let me know in the comments… 

Replay 2012 | How Much Should I Charge for My E-Book?

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It’s that time of year again, and I’m not only dragging out the Stuff I Found While Procrastinating Online Gift Guides, but also replaying some of my most popular “self-printing” posts from the last twelve months for those who might have missed them first time around. They’re in no particular order, popularity-wise. Today’s asks—and attempts to answer—the question, how much should I charge for my e-book? (Also, see the end of the post for some news on how much I’m charging for my e-books this December…) 

I’ve experimented with my e-book prices at lot over the past couple of years. For a week—its first—Mousetrapped was $4.99. I soon learned my lesson there, and dropped it to $2.99. Just before Backpacked came out (at $2.99), I dropped Mousetrapped to $1.99 hoping it would lead to more sales, thus leading to more sales of its sequel. When sales of Mousetrapped inexplicably tanked for a month or two, I dropped it to 99c to get them going again. Half-way through its life, I increased the price of Self-Printed from $2.99 to $4.99. I’ve run four of my titles through KDP Select.

How much should I charge for my book? is one of the biggest questions facing the soon-to-be-self-published author. But I think self-published authors a year, two or three years in should also be asking themselves how much should I be charging for my books now? The answer is as much as you can, i.e. the highest price at which your books continue to sell consistently well. Lower than that, and you’re doing yourself—and possibly your work—a disservice. You might also be sending out subconscious messages about your book that are turning off prospective readers. Higher than that, and your sales might slow to a trickle. Yes, it’s nice to earn seven or eight dollars off each sale (!!), but not if you’re only making two or three sales a month.

So how do we decide how much to charge for our e-books? I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is almost always $2.99. At $2.99 you earn 70% off most Kindle sales and you say my book is worth something. (For those of you who doubt that $2.99 is a high enough price to say that, you may be in the wrong business.) I’ve decided that going forward, $2.99 is going to be my default price for full-length books. Here’s why.

99c is SO Last Year

Once upon a time, 99c was the go-to price for self-published authors—especially authors of fiction—but the tide appears to be turning against such low-priced books. Setting your book to such a low price no longer guarantees sales, if it ever did. Whether or not it’s true, having the lowest price-tag possible attached to your work sends a message to potential readers that it may only be worth a sum they could make up in change found beneath their sofa cushions.

I know it’s extremely difficult for us self-published authors to get perspective when we are surrounded by other self-published authors all the live long internet day, but you have to remember that the vast majority of readers do not read self-published books. You’re kidding yourself if you think they do. Yes, they might read them by accident, but they’d never choose to. Many avoid them, as a rule. So our next task, as self-publishers, is to show this group that our books can be as good as the ones they’re used to. We must show them that our books are worth their attention. And I don’t think 99c is the way to do that.

Now I know the other end of this argument is that if we’re supposed to think like that, we should be charging $9.99 for our e-books, because that’s what traditional publishing charges (as a sweeping generalization). But we have other factors in play—no track record, editorial approval, credibility, etc. being one giant one—and when we take that into consideration, I think we land on $2.99.

Sometimes we also have to consider the other books in our category. This happened to me with Self-Printed. I was charging $2.99 for it until I went looking for a reference guide myself about another subject, and noticed that the #1 bestseller was $9.99, while the #2 was only $1.99. I thought two things: the #1 must be a fantastic book if it’s so expensive and it’s still #1, and the #2 must be pretty rubbish if it’s so cheap and still can’t manage to overtake the #1. When a book promises to contain valuable information, the price has to go some way to conveying that.

A Discount On Sofa Change? So What?

As a newly self-published author, you need to build a readership. It’s your main priority. At the beginning, this is far more important that earning money. So you do whatever you can to entice people to “try” your book. Right now, a free promotion period with KDP Select seems like a good option for any self-published author just joining the party. If I was about to release my first ever self-published book, I’d definitely give it five days free as part of its launch. Readers, reviews and potentially even some Amazon algorithms looking our way: what’s not to like?

A discount on 99c is what’s not to like. Free isn’t all that attractive if the book is normally 99c. And remember that in other currencies, it’s even less. In Euro cent, it’s about 77c. In British pence, I think it’s 59p…? So if you charge 99c for your book, neither free downloads nor Prime borrows sounds like a good deal. But $2.99 to free? Now that sounds like something I can get on board with.

The first time I KDP Selected Results, it was 99c. It was downloaded just over 3,500 times. The second time, the price of it was $2.99, and it was downloaded over 20,000 times. Coincidence? I think not.

The same goes for review copies, or giveways on your blog. Why would I bother entering a competition for a free copy of something if I can just have it for 99c?

The Discerning Reader

I personally believe that the less you charge for a book, the less time people spend humming and haahing over their decision whether or not to click “Buy”. Therefore if your price-tag is 99c, you’re likely to experience what I call the “I’ll Give It a Go, I Suppose—And Then Hate It and Shred Your Insides With a Spiteful Amazon Review” factor.

Those of you who live in Ireland will be familiar with the phenomenon that is Pennys. (Primark, in the UK). It’s like a cheaper, high-fashion version of Target, except without all the non-clothing departments. In Pennys, you can get the latest trends for less than the cost of the magazine you had to read to find out what they were. The clothes are so cheap they’re practically disposable. Combined with the fact that the stores also tend to have the longest fitting room queues on the planet, you’re more likely to walk out with something you hope will fit rather than something you know will. If it doesn’t work out, so what? It was practically for nothing. If you don’t like it, you can bring it back or, at worst, be down a few euro. No big deal.

The same thing happens on Amazon with 99c cent books. Except if you don’t like it, you get to tell everyone else by way of an Amazon Customer Review. Horrible, acidic, ego-blasting reviews written by people who got something they weren’t expecting because they didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t take the time to read the synopsis, or even the other reviews, because what’s the worst that could happen? They’re only down 99c. It drives me mad to read one-star reviews that complain about things that either a) have been covered in the product description or b) already highlighted by another reviewer. Why didn’t they read that before they bought it?! Because we were charging so little for our work that we encouraged them not to.

99c Leaves No Room for Manoeuvre

My absolutely favorite thing about self-publishing e-books is the flexibility it offers. Whether you’re a self-published or traditionally published author, whether writing is your business or your hobby—or even if writing isn’t anything to do with your career at all—you can use this e-book business to your advantage. In other words, not every published e-book has to be a full-length book.

I’ve just released an e-book of all my “self-printing” themed posts, The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated. I’m charging $1.99 for it. [UPDATE: This e-book is currently 99c.] This is partly to compensate me for the money I spent on the cover and the hours I spent, first of all, writing those posts and then the far more headachy hours I spent compiling and formatting them, and partly because that’s where it “fits in” in the scheme of all my other books.

We’ve established that Self-Printed is $4.99 because it’s 110,000+ words of valuable information that I believe will help other authors sell books. Next, my full-length books—Mousetrapped, Backpacked and Results Not Typical—are $2.99 each. [UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, I began selling Backpacked at $3.99 because it was “newer” than Mousetrapped—and it sold at that price.] Then, The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated, coming in at $1.99. Why didn’t I charge 99c for it? Because next month I’ll be releasing a smaller, shorter book—More Mousetrapped: A Little Bit More From That Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida—which, it being only 35,000 words and intended to be bonus material to the main book, is only going to cost 99c.

So:

  • Self-Printed, reference, 110,000 words+ @$4.99
  • Mousetrapped, memoir, 70k words @$2.99
  • Backpacked, memoir, 70k words @$2.99
  • Results Not Typical, novel, 95k words @$2.99
  • The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated, blog material, 120k+ words @$1.99
  • More Mousetrapped, bonus material, 35k words @99c (not out yet).

Two things are at play here: fairness and expectation. It’s simply not fair to charge $4.99 for a book that, if it were printed, would only have 10-15 pages. I don’t care if it contains the meaning of life; it’s just hoodwinking people. It’s fiddling the mileage on a used car. Similarly, if I was still charging 99c for Results, readers would expect More Mousetrapped to be the same length, since it’s being offered at the same price.

And if you think that people would in fact be thinking, Wow, I got a great deal on Results!, tell me: how are the sparkly unicorns in Delusional Meadow? I admire your faith in humanity, but PEOPLE DON’T THINK LIKE THAT.

(While we’re on the subject, I think if you’re offering a shorter-than-normal e-book, you should specify the word count on the Amazon product description.)

Selling Less Makes More

Obvious, but worth stating nonetheless.

At 99c, you make a 35% royalty, or about 35c. That means you’d have to sell around 286 copies to make $100.

At $2.99, you make a 70% royalty, or about $2.09. That means you’d have to sell around 48 copies to make $100.

Big difference, eh? I think in the first year of your self-published career, readers have to be the priority. If that means charging 99c for your books—or some of your books—so be it. I also think if you have a number of titles, charging 99c for just one of them (the first in a series, for example) is a great promotional tool. But once you’ve established yourself, you should move away from 99c, using it only for shorter books.

The answer to the question how much should I charge for my book? is as much as you can and still sell copies of it. For the average self-publisher, I believe that’s now $2.99.

UPDATE 5/12/12: Between now and Christmas, I’ve decided to have a little e-book sale. I’ve dropped the price of Mousetrapped from $2.99 to 99c, Backpacked from $3.99 to 99c and Self-Printed from $4.99 to $2.99 on Amazon’s Kindle store. If you’re considering downloading Self-Printed, remember you can buy it directly from me on My E-book Store page in all major formats. 

Click here for a list of all my self-printing posts.

Replay 2012 | How To Sell Self-Published Books: Read This First

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It’s that time of year again, and I’m not only dragging out the Stuff I Found While Procrastinating Online Gift Guides, but also replaying some of my most popular “self-printing” posts from the last twelve months for those who might have missed them first time around. There’ll be in no particular order, popularity-wise, but I can tell you that today’s replayed post was the most popular, not only of the last year, but ever, on this blog. (Thanks in no small part to Freshly Pressed.) After lacking in the quality blog posting department I decided to make last May my “How To Sell Self-Published Books Month” but before we got into the nuts and bolts of promoting your book, we needed to have a little tough love session first… 

At my most recent workshop I started off by saying to the participants that my aim for the day was to send them home with everything I wished I’d known before I started self-publishing, or in other words everything I had to learn on the job because when I started self-publishing, I didn’t have a clue. And yet clueless and all that I was, I was operating with a huge advantage: realism. Because I’d spent a good decade of my young life poring over every How To Format a Manuscript for Submission To Within an Inch of Its Life Because, Yeah, That’s What’s Going to Be the Deciding Factor (Not!) and 500 Pages About Submitting to Agents Even Though You Haven’t Written a Word type books, I knew way more than I’d ever need to about the way the traditional publishing world works, and so I knew that as a self-publisher, I wouldn’t be sitting at the top table. I mightn’t even be in the same room. But that was fine by me. I still recognized what an amazing opportunity digital self-publishing provided, and I was excited about getting to avail of it. And because I knew the score, I could manage my expectations. (Truth be told, I didn’t have any.) Ultimately when success came, it was a welcome bonus. So before we get into the practicalities of selling your self-published book, let’s have cold blast of reality, shall we?

1. By Default, No One Cares About Your Book

Just because you wrote a book does not mean people are going to want to read it. Sounds suspiciously like common sense, but as I’ve said before, common sense isn’t as common as you might think.

Think of all the books you hear about on a daily basis. Think of all the books you see when you walk into a bookstore, or through the book isles of supermarkets. Think of all the books that pop into your line of vision while you’re on Amazon. Do you buy them all? Are you even interested in them all? Or are you like me—and, I’d suspect, most book-buyers—buying and ultimately reading just the very cream of the crop, the top 0.5% or less of the books we know about, just the ones that get us interested in them and wanting to read them, i.e. just the ones we care about?

At least once a day I receive an e-mail from an author I don’t know saying “I’ve wrote a book. Will you review it?” If this author knew that every Friday Oprah’s Book Club sends me an e-mail recommending several books—books that, this being Oprah’s Book Club, are hugely publicized, high advance, this-is-gonna-be-big traditionally published books—and that, on average, I make a note of maybe two of them and ultimately buy maybe one of them for every five or six e-mails I get, do you think they’d do anything differently?

It is very hard to get people to care enough about your book that they go and buy it. It’s the hardest part. And before you can even do that, you have to get them interested in it, and before that you have to let them know that it exists. But embracing this will help you achieve this, because you’ll know what lengths to go to in order to make it happen. I blogged a little bit more about this in How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed.

2. Your Book is a Product—and It Had Better Work

We’ve seen time and time again that the self-publishers who enjoy consistent success are those who treat self-publishing like a business they’ve started up. They act like entrepreneurs, and make like their book is their first product—which it is. Your book is a product. While you were writing it you could be all writer-like, hanging out in hipster cafés with your soy milk lattes and your well-creased Moleskine, but now that the book is going to be out in the world, for sale with a price-tag on it, the romance must drop away and the book must meet standards and be a viable product. When it comes to books, we’re talking about a professional polish and it having appeal. I talked about appeal in Why It Doesn’t Matter Whether or Not Your Book is Good, so let’s focus on the professional polish bit here.

Self-publishers against enlisting the services of a professional editor and/or proofreader seem to be against it because it’s expensive and/or because they don’t understand what editing means. The “I can’t afford it” thing drives me completely cuckoo because if you can’t afford to spend some money on your product, you shouldn’t be self-publishing it. If you’re not prepared to invest, why should I be expected to buy? And buy a sub-standard product at that. Which brings me onto my next point: not understanding what editing is.

Generally we can divide editing into three stages: structural (think re-writing), copyediting (think language) and proofreading (think errors). (If there’s any editors hanging around these parts, feel free to correct me on that, or elaborate.) I can understand why self-publishers would skip the structural bit, because it’s the most expensive and going back to the business analogy, you wouldn’t buy Egyptian cotton tablecloths for a fast food joint, because you’d never make the money back off a $1.99 burger. But you would have tables, right? And chairs for sitting around them? Of course you would, because that’s what’s expected. That’s a minimum standard. When we go into restaurants, we expect there to be somewhere to sit. And when we buy a book, we expect it to be error-free. (Or at least almost error-free. I’m still searching for a way to make perfection happen right out of the blocks.) We expect the language to be correct. We expect clarity and consistency. And that’s what a copyedit and a proofread does: it brings your book up to the minimum industry standard.

Every time I mention this, I get comments and e-mails saying things like, “But if a reader likes the story, they’ll overlook misspellings, etc.” I’m just going to say this once, okay? ONLY IF THE READER IS YOUR MUM. Take an hour to read a few Amazon Customer Reviews and then see if you still feel the same way.

3. Social Media is About Connection

I am evidence that social media does sell books, but only if you don’t use it to sell books. This is something I’ll be blogging loads more about this month, but for now I’ll just say this: you can’t use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to blatantly sell your book, because no one will buy it. Being subjected to the hard sell is not why anyone is using those platforms. We’re there for one or more of the following reasons: connection, entertainment and valuable information. Where does you saying “My book is on Amazon now: just $4.99!” or “My book is out now. Buy it!” fit into those? Obviously it doesn’t. (And no, it’s not valuable information!) I have a little giggle to myself every time I meet someone with a business who mutters, “I really have to get on Facebook” or “We really should start tweeting” as if social media is California during the Gold Rush and all you’ve to do is show up and start digging and—hey presto!—you’re a millionaire. News flash: starting a Facebook page does not equal sales.

Worse than the shameless self-promoter is the person who has no interest in blogging, tweeting or using Facebook but reluctantly comes to the table to flog their wares anyway. If you don’t genuinely enjoy connecting and sharing with other people online, what are you doing there?

A presence online takes time to build, and it isn’t suitable for people who don’t really want to be there or who don’t have an instinct for how it all works. So if you’re planning to self-publish a book and your marketing plan is to tweet a link to its Amazon listing once an hour 24/7/365, you’ve failed before you’ve even begun.

4. You Can’t Sell New Concepts with Old Ways

In my experience if your book is only for sale online, you should only be promoting it online. Time and time again I see self-publishers with money to burn hiring publicists who draft press releases for them and then send them round to all the usual suspects—newspapers, radio shows, magazines, etc. This is totally pointless, especially in the beginning, unless your book has a specific local interest or something. If you want to spend money, you’d be far better off doing it on a Goodreads ad or a Kindle Nation sponsorship, i.e. a place where readers gather online. You need to let go of any existing ideas you may have about selling books (especially if you’ve been traditionally published in the past) and haul them—and yourself—into this brave new digital world.

In February 2011 a series of events meant that in the space of a week or so, I was featured in The Sunday Times and appeared on several national radio shows, including the second most listened to show in the country with an average of 400,000 listeners. As far as I could tell, it led to no bump in sales. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that when I read about a book in a newspaper, chances are I’ll later walk into a bookstore, see the book on the shelf and think, Oh, yeah. That’s that book I read about. I must get that. But when you read about a self-published/only for sale online book in the newspaper, there’s no chance encounter later to remind you of it. And since apparently you have to be reminded of something three times before you’ll take action and buy it, it never translates into sales.

John Locke famously spent a fortune on “real world” advertising all to no avail, but became the first self-published author to sell a million Kindle books when he started focusing online instead. Traditional methods for selling books just don’t work when those books aren’t being sold traditionally.

(Note: I’m not saying say no to print and radio interviews. Say yes! They’re great fun and will make you feel like a proper published author. And your relatives might even believe you now when you say you’re selling loads of books online. Just don’t pursue them as a means to advertising a book, because they’re not effective when the book isn’t widely available in stores.)

5. You Are Not The Next Amanda Hocking

In all probability you’re not, anyway. And I’m not talking about becoming the first household name success story of this modern e-book self-publishing era—I’m talking about having to do little other than upload your e-books to achieve stellar sales. As in, chances are you’re going to have to do a lot more than that to shift any copies at all.

Let me explain. As in all walks of life, some people get really lucky at this self-publishing e-books thing. They upload their e-book and sell thousands of copies the first week, without ever having blogged or advertised. They massively outsell self-publishers who have been at it for years, and they do it almost instantly. So we should copy them, right? We should find out what they’re doing and do it ourselves. Wouldn’t that make sense?

No, it wouldn’t. Because they’re the outliers. They’re the extremes. You’d be better off focusing on the people in the middle, the ones who never meet the bleak abyss of failure or the dizzying heights of success, but instead consistently sell and can tell you what they did to achieve it. As I’ve always said, it’s better to hear from me, a moderate seller who can say I did x, y and z to sell my books and you can do it too, then a mega-seller who isn’t quite sure how they managed to sell a hundred thousand books.

Think of it this way: You meet a newly published author who is now sitting atop the bestseller lists with a debut novel that scored her a top agent and a six-figure deal. A movie adaptation is in the works. She’s rich, successful and she has achieved a lifelong dream. How did you do it? you want to know. She says that she was interviewing for a position as her agent’s assistant when they got talking about a recent news story, and she said “I bet the girlfriend did it. Wouldn’t it make a great story if she did?” The agent instantly got dollar signs in his eyes, told her to forget about being a PA and instead go home and write a one-page synopsis, which she did, and seven days later she had her six-figure deal. Now, knowing this, what would you do about your own published writer dreams? Would you continue to polish your novel, write a synopsis, craft a query letter and politely submit to suitable agents and editors, or would you start scanning the jobs listing for admin openings at literary agencies and publishing houses?

(I sincerely hope it would be the former!)

Your model for success shouldn’t be an extreme, because chances are you’re not going to be one. Millions of authors have self-published but only a relative handful had found success comes easily. Instead, get ready to work really hard.

Click here for a list of all my self-printing posts

Checking Your Kindle Book

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In Tuesday’s post, Proofing Your CreateSpace Paperback, I outlined the three options you have when it comes to checking that everything in your print book is good to go.

But what about the Kindle edition?

I would say that it’s far more important to check your e-books than it is to check your paperback because the former has a much—MUCH!—higher chance of having something wrong with it than the latter, but the truth is it’s equally important to check any book you’re putting out there, regardless of the likelihood that you’ll find something to correct. But as we all know, uploading a MS Word document to Amazon KDP for automated conversion can be a tricky business and to ensure it hasn’t caused a nuclear meltdown of your life’s work, set aside a day for checking it, line by line.

You can check your Kindle book in the Kindle Previewer which will appear at the end of Page 1 during the process of “adding a new title” on Amazon KDP. It will only appear AFTER you have uploaded a file, and that file has been converted to Kindle format (or a “Mobi” file). It’s an approximation of what your book will look like on a Kindle screen, and it’s functional: you can flip back and forth, increase and decrease the font size, etc.

Until very recently, it looked like this:

But now KDP have got a clue, and have not only upgraded their Kindle Preview to something a lil’ snazzier (that’s far easier to navigate) but also taken into account that there are different Kindles, and that some readers do not read their Kindle books on a Kindle at all.

Aforementioned snazzier Kindle previewer:

Or see what your book looks like on the Kindle Fire:

Or even on the iPad, with the Kindle app:

Or with the Kindle app on an iPhone:

And you can even change the orientation:

Isn’t that fun? Yes, it’s fun—for the first five minutes. Until you find a paragraph indent out of place and spend the next six hours trying to figure out why it’s just that one…

What’s the downloadable previewer I can see a link to in the screen shots above? you may be asking. Well, it’s a downloadable version of what you’re looking at above. And it’s really for people who have done things far more complicated than merely uploading a MS Word document, so don’t worry about it.

You may also be asking, Are those… BULLET POINTS I see in your e-book, Ms. Howard? Bullet points! In an e-book! What’s next? A hairdryer in the bath??! 

Yes, I have bullet points in my e-book. But that’s because with Self-Printed, I didn’t upload a MS Word document. It just wouldn’t do, not with a book like this. So the lovely people at eBookPartnership.com converted the books for me, and I uploaded the ePub to Amazon KDP.

And it worked a treat.

Note: I think it’s extremely important that everyone who decides to release a Kindle book should get their hands on a Kindle as soon as possible. Borrow a friend’s, play with a demonstration model in-store or even invest in one. It’s not enough to have some vague notion as to what a Kindle is, or how your book will look on one. While you’re at it, enter the Kindle store via the device. Only then will you truly appreciate the obstacles between your book and a potential reader deciding to buy it.

Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (The Second Edition) is out now in paperback and e-book. Woo-hoo!