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

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

How To Sell Self-Published Books: Read This First

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I’ve christened May the How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated, but before we get into the nuts and bolts of marketing and promoting your book, we need 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.

And read all my upcoming posts, of course…!

L-R: the gorgeous spa-style bathroom of the St. Regis San Francisco, which I loved, and the dirty deathtrap of a “shower” in our room at the [cough, cough] “Hotel” San Francisco in San Pedro, Guatemala. Which I did NOT.

I’m testing KDP again with Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America. It’s the story of me (loves Starbucks, boutique hotels and inactivity) going backpacking in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama (climbing active volcanos, sleeping on planks of wood, cockroaches, etc.) and it’s FREE between now and Wednesday 9th May for Kindle. So please, feel FREE (see what I did there?) to download it for yourself, or let your anti-backpacking friends with e-reading devices know that they are also FREE to download it for FREE from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. For FREE.

(FREE!)

See you on Monday!

[UPDATE May 5th: Woo-hoo: Freshly Pressed! Not quite sure how it happened but thanks Word Press—and hello to everyone who came here because of it. *waves* Do say hello below.]

May is How To Sell Self-Publish Books Month on Catherine, Caffeinated. Find out more about here, or read all related posts by paying a visit to the category page. Get every new post direct to you inbox by subscribing to this blog (see the sidebar or footer for the sign-up box).

My New Favorite Twitter Thing: Buffer

The observant among you may have noticed that in the past week I’ve been uncharacteristically tweeting at all sorts of times, e.g. very early in the GMT morning/very late in the EST night. Have I cut out my beloved sport of regular napping? No. Have I suddenly fell victim to insomnia? Chance would be a fine thing. Has my almost total immunity to caffeine undone itself? I wish. If it did, I might get some actual work done.

Was I tweeting at four am? HARDLY. And also: isn’t the headline all you need to know?

No, it’s none of the above. Instead I’ve taken the advice of Steven Lewis of Taleist and signed up for Buffer, a service that helps you to spread out your tweets. And in doing so, enables you to schedule your tweets. And which makes it super easy to tweet links in the first place. And it’s free, by the way.

I’m a little bit in love with it.

Here’s how it works (click the images for larger versions):

You sign up for Buffer and link it to your Twitter account. Create a schedule for your buffered tweets based on your own time zone. I don’t think there’s a limit on times but for a free account you can only buffer up to 10 tweets at a time.

Then put the snazzy little “Add to Buffer” button to your browser. (It’s the one that looks like a stack of three square things.)

Click it whenever you’re on a page you want to tweet a link to and then sit back and relax while Buffer sends out your tweets as per your schedule. Every time you add a tweet it’ll show you by way of a progress bar how many tweets you have waiting to go out, and if you want to tweet it right now instead, you just press the—yes, you’ve guessed it—”Post Now” button.

And you can of course also just write Buffer tweets if tweeting links aren’t your thing. You can do that from your Dashboard.

If you can’t think of anything to say, there’s even an “Inspire Me!” button that throws up all sorts of quotables. And if you use Twitter.com, you’ll see a little “Add to Buffer” button in everyone else’s tweets, so you can add a retweet to your stack of tweets-in-waiting if you’d like.

Scheduling your tweets is not something I ever really worry about, at least not in the “time zone” sense. Yes, it would be nice if someone outside of GMT was around to see one of my 140-character utterances every now and then, but I’ve never stressed about it. Worrying about things like that sounds too much like work to me. BUT my tweeting has really fallen by the wayside recently, and most days I release a clump of tweets mid-morning and then no one hears from me for the rest of the day. I’m just too busy to stop and think about spreading my tweets evenly throughout the day.

Buffer solves this problem, because with it my five minutes of writing tweets or posting links translates into up to ten tweets spread out during the day.

But it also just makes it easier to post links to Twitter, because all I have to do is click twice. Once on the Buffer button in my browser, and then “Add to Buffer” in the window that appears. So the hours of my day set aside for staring out the window and other procrastination activities are safe for now…

Sign-Up for Buffer! (And Help Me!)

I’m not sure if this link will work (I think they intend for you to tweet this link once or twice, not blog it, but anyway…) but if I refer people to Buffer and they sign up, both they and I get extra space for buffered tweets. Try signing up here and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, just sign-up by yourself; I’ll get over it. But whatever you do, do sign-up!

[UPDATE: It’s totally working. Woo-hoo!]

REPLAY 2011: To Launch or Not To Launch?

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. This was first posted back in February and addresses the question of whether or not real world activities, such as a book launch, have any place in self-publishing, which is best done when confined to online. 

We’re coming up on the year anniversary of me taking the self-publishing plunge with Mousetrapped and now with the benefit of almost twelve months worth of hindsight I can see clearly what I did right, what I did wrong and what I did really, really wrong. (That’s selling books through my website, if you were wondering, and Createspace’s shipping charges is why.) But one of the things I’m still on the fence about is my bookstore launch/glorified signing.

As a self-publishing author, should you have a launch?

Initially I wasn’t going to have a launch at all. I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I found out real, live people were behind the books I loved and so that first book launch, be it a signing or a party, was a Very Big Deal. I wanted to “save” it and not “waste” it on my self-published book which, don’t forget, was nothing much of anything at the time. I wanted my first book launch to be a glittery affair, one that had an agent and an editor on the guest list, complimentary wine and the wearing of an expensive designer dress. (And to be skinny for it, but that’s another story…!) I wanted it to be for a novel someone else had published, not a travel memoir about working in Walt Disney World, NASA and the Ebola virus that I had produced myself.

I took a baby step, and informed my mother we would be having a Florida-themed party in our house to celebrate the book’s release. There would be American flag bunting, tropical themed cupcakes and shortbread cut with a Space Shuttle-shaped cutter. (And it would have been so cool.) But we wouldn’t be able to invite anyone but friends and family, and that would nix any publicity opportunities; you can’t invite your local newspaper’s social diarist to a party you’re having in your house, unless you’re Michael Flatley and your house is Castlehyde. So we decided instead on a bookstore.

I was terrified at the thought of approaching my local independent bookstore, Douglas Bookshop, and asking if first, they’d stock a few copies of Mousetrapped and second, let me have my launch there, but they couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. And so around lunchtime one Saturday last May, Mousetrapped had its launch-style signing in a brick-and-mortar bookshop. It was great fun, but self-publishing is a business, and with that in mind, was the launch worth having? Did it make financial sense? Did it result in sales, or a loss of profit?

The Arguments For
  • It felt good. I really enjoyed the day and it made me feel like a proper author.
  • It gave my self-publishing operation a sense of professionalism. My books were in a bookstore, I had a well-attended launch and I managed to get some publicity for it.
  • The event got great newspaper coverage locally. There was one piece in my local paper, Cork’s Evening Echo, a couple of days before the launch, another afterwards and then a two-page of photos taking at the launch. It also led to an hour-long radio interview on county radio shortly afterwards.

The Arguments Against
  • It didn’t result in any extra sales, and practically all copies on the day were sold to family and friends, i.e. people who would have bought copies anyway.
  • I made less money from the sales I did make, because instead of selling them to my family and friends directly, I sold them to the bookshop who then sold them to the attendees. The difference in the profit for me was about 30% of the list price.
  • It cost money in other ways. I had to print posters, invites and postcards and order in the stock so I could sell it on (incurring shipping charges).
What Should YOU Do?

I don’t think you should automatically have a launch or signing for your self-published book, but then I don’t think there’s anything self-publishing related that you should do automatically, without any thought. Every single book is different and needs to be treated as such. I think you need to ask yourself, What will I get out of doing this? and when you find the answer ask, Is that what I want?

If all you want is to feel like a proper author for a couple of hours, then go ahead and have whatever sort of launch/party/signing your heart desires. Buy a new outfit, hire a photographer and arrange nibbles. Invite all your friends. It’ll be great fun, but be prepared for it to cost you money.

If what you want is publicity, stick with a signing or “appearance” where maybe you give a little book-related talk and then scribble your name in a few copies. Get in no more stock than you think you can sell and avoid any glossy and expensive extras, such as posters or even invites. Send an e-mail to every editor, radio show producer, social diarist, etc. that you can find and get your mug in the paper, preferably with a hand holding your book up just below it. Take plenty of pictures to put on your website or blog afterwards, and maybe even rope a special guest, such as another writer or a local celebrity connected with your book or your book’s subject matter, into attending and saying a few words.

If it’s sales you after, you’re going to need to do a lot of work. Start with everything above. Then calculate all your costs and work out how many books you’re going to need to sell to recoup that money. Then, get out and sell them. This means hand-selling them at the launch, forbidding anyone you know from buying a copy beforehand (so they buy it on the night instead) and getting as many people you don’t know to attend as people you do. It won’t be easy but it’ll all be worth it if it works.

Good luck!


To Launch or Not To Launch?

We’re coming up on the year anniversary of me taking the self-publishing plunge with Mousetrapped and now with the benefit of almost twelve months worth of hindsight I can see clearly what I did right, what I did wrong and what I did really, really wrong. (That’s selling books through my website, if you were wondering, and Createspace’s shipping charges is why.) But one of the things I’m still on the fence about is my bookstore launch/glorified signing.

As a self-publishing author, should you have a launch?

Initially I wasn’t going to have a launch at all. I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I found out real, live people were behind the books I loved and so that first book launch, be it a signing or a party, was a Very Big Deal. I wanted to “save” it and not “waste” it on my self-published book which, don’t forget, was nothing much of anything at the time. I wanted my first book launch to be a glittery affair, one that had an agent and an editor on the guest list, complimentary wine and the wearing of an expensive designer dress. (And to be skinny for it, but that’s another story…!) I wanted it to be for a novel someone else had published, not a travel memoir about working in Walt Disney World, NASA and the Ebola virus that I had produced myself.

I took a baby step, and informed my mother we would be having a Florida-themed party in our house to celebrate the book’s release. There would be American flag bunting, tropical themed cupcakes and shortbread cut with a Space Shuttle-shaped cutter. (And it would have been so cool.) But we wouldn’t be able to invite anyone but friends and family, and that would nix any publicity opportunities; you can’t invite your local newspaper’s social diarist to a party you’re having in your house, unless you’re Michael Flatley and your house is Castlehyde. So we decided instead on a bookstore.

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I was terrified at the thought of approaching my local independent bookstore, Douglas Bookshop, and asking if first, they’d stock a few copies of Mousetrapped and second, let me have my launch there, but they couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. And so around lunchtime one Saturday last May, Mousetrapped had its launch-style signing in a brick-and-mortar bookshop. It was great fun, but self-publishing is a business, and with that in mind, was the launch worth having? Did it make financial sense? Did it result in sales, or a loss of profit?

The Arguments For
  • It felt good. I really enjoyed the day and it made me feel like a proper author.
  • It gave my self-publishing operation a sense of professionalism. My books were in a bookstore, I had a well-attended launch and I managed to get some publicity for it.
  • The event got great newspaper coverage locally. There was one piece in my local paper, Cork’s Evening Echo, a couple of days before the launch, another afterwards and then a two-page of photos taking at the launch. It also led to an hour-long radio interview on county radio shortly afterwards.

The Arguments Against
  • It didn’t result in any extra sales, and practically all copies on the day were sold to family and friends, i.e. people who would have bought copies anyway.
  • I made less money from the sales I did make, because instead of selling them to my family and friends directly, I sold them to the bookshop who then sold them to the attendees. The difference in the profit for me was about 30% of the list price.
  • It cost money in other ways. I had to print posters, invites and postcards and order in the stock so I could sell it on (incurring shipping charges).
What Should YOU Do?

I don’t think you should automatically have a launch or signing for your self-published book, but then I don’t think there’s anything self-publishing related that you should do automatically, without any thought. Every single book is different and needs to be treated as such. I think you need to ask yourself, What will I get out of doing this? and when you find the answer ask, Is that what I want?

If all you want is to feel like a proper author for a couple of hours, then go ahead and have whatever sort of launch/party/signing your heart desires. Buy a new outfit, hire a photographer and arrange nibbles. Invite all your friends. It’ll be great fun, but be prepared for it to cost you money.

If what you want is publicity, stick with a signing or “appearance” where maybe you give a little book-related talk and then scribble your name in a few copies. Get in no more stock than you think you can sell and avoid any glossy and expensive extras, such as posters or even invites. Send an e-mail to every editor, radio show producer, social diarist, etc. that you can find and get your mug in the paper, preferably with a hand holding your book up just below it. Take plenty of pictures to put on your website or blog afterwards, and maybe even rope a special guest, such as another writer or a local celebrity connected with your book or your book’s subject matter, into attending and saying a few words.

If it’s sales you after, you’re going to need to do a lot of work. Start with everything above. Then calculate all your costs and work out how many books you’re going to need to sell to recoup that money. Then, get out and sell them. This means hand-selling them at the launch, forbidding anyone you know from buying a copy beforehand (so they buy it on the night instead) and getting as many people you don’t know to attend as people you do. It won’t be easy but it’ll all be worth it if it works.

Good luck!

Click here to read all my self-printing posts.

Click here to read more about Mousetrapped, the book I self-printed.