The following is something I wrote about self-publishing back in 2009 or 2010. Somewhere in there. I’ve had to update the material to reflect current publishing realities. But the point is that you can do this! It’s not always easy and/or fun, but you can! Anyway, here’s what I had to say:
When I first ventured into fiction writing, conventional wisdom was to never self-publish one’s work. This amounted to nothing less than professional suicide. Writers who self-published were looked down upon as poor, pathetic, desperate souls who didn’t have the talent or persistence to impress agents and/or publishers (especially the ones in New York, aka, “real ones”).
I followed this advice and ended up signing a contract for a three-book mystery series with a small press, which went under nine months later. My debut novel went out of print. So much for that. But I kept writing and querying agents and small presses, anyway. Over the years, I revised one novel, wrote a sequel and completed two standalone novels. Meanwhile, I still had this out-of-print novel just sitting and burning a hole in my computer. Finally, I took matters into my own hands. I decided I’d flout conventional wisdom and self-publish the book.
I was encouraged to do so in part because my local chapter of Sisters in Crime had previously published a short story anthology with the same small press I’d been with and decided to reissue their book through Lulu.com. It was through that company that I began my self-publishing journey.
When I made this decision, I had absolutely no expectation of making a lot of money from the enterprise. I was well aware of the realities of being a published author, let alone a self-published one. There’s marketing involved, no matter what. That’s assuming you intend to sell any books, which is clearly the desired result for most authors. That much seems obvious.
I also had no clue whatsoever about ebooks (keep in mind, this is 2009) and had given no thought at all to publishing them. It was only after I read a couple of “bloggers in the know” on the topic that it even occurred to me to produce electronic copies of my book. But there was this new-fangled thing called the Kindle, being offered by (then) online bookseller (and future Everything Store) Amazon.
Since my intent in self-publishing was to create awareness of my work, with the end goal of finding an agent and/or a publisher, I gave very little thought to any notions of making bestseller lists or winning awards. I just wanted to build an online presence and have the opportunity to show them (“them” being pretty much anyone involved in the publishing business) that I could tell at least a halfway decent story.
When I decided to check out this ebook thing that was supposed be so hot, I made sure the agreement specified nonexclusive rights to distribute my work. This was extremely important to me, because like I said, I was still looking for a publisher.
Right away, I saw that it took much less time and planning to publish an ebook than a print book. So, in a move I once would’ve called desperate and/or ridiculous, I released my first novel as an ebook initially, followed shortly by the print release. As a result, the novel Identity Crisis ended up being published as an ebook in June 2009 and in print in July 2009. If I had known at the time where this was going to lead, I would have been nothing less than astonished.
Here I am being interviewed during a piece on what was then a new phenomenon—ebooks!?—for Voice of America. I appear at around the 1:06 mark.
While I anticipated most of my sales would come from print books with some of my income deriving from ebooks, in fact the opposite was true. If anyone had told me I’d sell nearly 13,000 downloads of my first novel by the end of January 2011, I’d have laughed. The simple fact is I did just that. Not only that, but the ebook version of my novel became the #1 hardboiled mystery on Amazon for about a month during 2010.
But that was nothing compared to what happened next.
Toward the end of 2010, I was making enough money from publishing novels (keep in mind, I had published a mere two novels, at that point) to essentially live on the income. In addition, I’d heard rumors that the New York Times bestseller list was being expanded to include indie authors. I made two crucial decisions at that point.
The first was to stop freelancing and devote myself to writing fiction. Trying to do both was wearing me out, due to my chronic health problems. Between writing books, blogging, and trying to freelance, I was wearing down and sacrificing time I could spend writing novels on doing “writing for hire,” or to put it another way, writing in which I held no copyright. Good for a bit of quick cash, but not the hoped-for focus of my writing career.
The second was to keep my novels priced really low at 99 cents, while everyone was counseling that the better move was to charge at least $2.99 for books and get a higher royalty (70% for books priced at least $2.99, as opposed to 35% for books priced lower than that).
As a result of these and a variety of factors completely beyond my control, my first novel made the New York Times bestseller list. Twice. I also made more from selling ebooks at a lower price based on volume.
In fact, I did well enough to be invited to appear on this panel during Bouchercon 2011 in St. Louis, MO.
Again, it would take another book to explain the whole sales debacle that took place after Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited. But that isn’t why I’m writing this.
The point here is that without being a tech genius or particularly gifted on the computing front, I managed to bring my out-of-print book back to life and continue to write books in the series and release them.
If you are interested in self-publishing books, the best bet is to publish your work in ebook form. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and depending on your comfort with learning basic technical skills and the manner you choose to distribute your work, there are ways to minimize the costs of producing the books. At one time, ebooks represented an exponentially growing market. This is no longer the case. Audiobooks now lead the way in terms of growth areas for book marketers.
Whichever format you decide to release your books in first, the bottom line is that simply getting your work out there and visible will serve you better than waiting for others to approve of it based upon your query letters. It will also help establish your brand, your platform, and all those other
awesome marketing terms components that make up your online presence. This is true whether you wish to remain an indie author or, eventually, find a publisher.
This is part of a series of posts about self-publishing that I hope will encourage you to take the plunge!
One of the things I’m trying to accomplish is to share what I’ve learned from my experiences with indie publishing.
Probably the most important take-away is that you have complete control of the rights to your book when you publish non-exclusively. That makes a great deal of difference in terms of your ability to adapt, perform, price, license, and/or give away what you create.
Whatever you do, you’ll certainly want to take the time to write a good quality book. I can’t guarantee you bestseller status if you publish your own work. But you definitely won’t do well if you write a book no one wants to read. The key here is to focus first on making sure your writing is the best it can be. Not only can I provide you with a simple step-by-step guide to publishing books as an indie author, but I can also advise you on how to write a
half-decent book people will actually want to read.
In fact, scroll up to the top of the sidebar, look right under the search function, and you’ll see I already have a beginner’s course on mystery writing published through Thinkific. I also teach the course on Udemy.
I plan to offer more writing and other personal development courses, as my time, energy, writing, and other projects allow.
If you’re interested in keeping up-to-date on my latest offerings, just click here to download a free writing journal.