Thursday, November 17, 2011

5 Things Indie Authors Should Know BEFORE They Self-Publish

My first self-published novel, Emily's House, just went live on Amazon on November 15, 2011. There were times during the self-pubbing process that I looked this this:

I learned so much - and much of it the hard way! But you won't make the same mistakes I made because I'm going to share with you what I learned. So brave virgin Indies who dare to walk the Indie Road, I'm here to shine a bit of light your path. If you're new to Indie publishing, read this now but bookmark it and come back and read it further down the road too. And if you find it helpful, Tweet it, Facebook it, Stumble it and pass it along to your Indie friends and cohorts. Here are five tips and truths you should know before you start:

1.  Being a Writer is a Crazy-in-the-Head Profession to go Into and to Voluntarily Choose to Become your Own Publisher is a level of Nuts Generally Reserved for People with Tin Foil Hats Having Conversations with Invisible People at the Bus Stop. Okay, maybe you don't have to be certifiably mental to self-publish, but at times you'll feel like maybe you should be committed for taking it on. In February and March of 2011, Amanda HockingJ.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler were in the news and splashing across Twitter and blogs. And you couldn't help but be infected by their enthusiasm and stories of how they'd done well - very well - without a publisher, thank you. None of them said it was easy. None of them said it was fast. And all of them were honest about the amount of time, energy, effort and published books - lots and lots of books - that it takes to "make it" as an Indie author. 
Okay to be fair, it is possible to write a book, run a spell check, maybe read it over a few times, do some corrections, then upload the puppy, slap a cover on and Voila! You have a book for sale. It is possible to do this for little to no financial investment and a fairly limited time investment. That is possible.
But you will not be successful if you do it that way.  Let me repeat that: If you put in little time and little money and little effort, you will get little to no return. Period.
There's a reason that publishing houses have a cadre of people working on putting out each book. It takes a good half dozen or more people to put out a good book! It really does.
And if you are your own publisher, then you will do a lot of the jobs that several people do at a publishing house + you'll hire people and/or beg and promise food and massages and a signed copy of your "sure to be a hit" first book to people to get the work done. So you'll have to manage those people and deadlines and review thier questions and drafts and e-mails and sometime pull out a bull whip and crack it on them to keep them moving toward your own deadline for when you want the book to come out (and God forbid you set a date and broadcast it across the known Universe).
If you self-publish, YOU are in charge of the project and the people and it's not always easy.
For Emily's House, I worked with six different professionals throughout the course of the writing, editing, and production of the book. This doesn't count the folks that I worked with on the book trailer. Each of these people have other projects and most have a "day job" and do this whole Indie book thing on the side. They are busy people. It is up to you, dear Indie publisher, to keep them all on task to produce the book that you've been dreaming of.
Tip #1 is this:  This is damned hard work and will suck up as much energy and time as a full-time job, if not more, so if you don't have the time and energy or desire to muck around with all the details and just want to write, don't self publish.

2.  Choose Wisely Who You will Entrust with Your Precious Baby. Here's the truth: It doesn't matter how many books the person has e-formatted or pdf'd or covers they've created or manuscripts they've edited, they may not be the right person for your project. Research the hell out of this. Don't just go with the person that created the cover for Josephina Millionseller Bookstar. Look at lots of covers and lots of e-books and Indie print versions of books and decide what you like and what you don't.  Then approach people who you think have done good work and ask them these questions: (1) How long will it take for you to complete my project; (2) What exactly will you do for me; and (3) How much will you charge and what does that fee include and what does it not include. You may have other questions, of course, but these three are essential. And once you've gotten the answers and compared amongst different providers and have chosen who you'll hire to do the work, then -

3. GET IT IN WRITING! Okay, I'm a lawyer so of course I'm going to say that. But believe it or not, I learned the hard way to get it in writing. And no, I'm not saying that I ran into anyone that was a cheat or fraud or anything like that. Get it in writing because it is extremely important that both you and the person doing a project for you have a clear understanding of what the project is; how long it will take; and the price. Don't take no or "I trust you" for an answer on this. If the person won't at least provide you an e-mail detailing the job and ask for your approval of it, then move on to someone else. It's good business to have a written agreement and bad form not to. And just because it's in writing doesn't mean it will happen, so - 

4. Follow Up but Don't Wait Until the Deadline for Their Work to Be Completed and to You has Already Passed. This one I learned the hard way - more than once! Don't be such a pestering PIA that your editor or cover designer wants to hurl sharp objects at you. BUT, don't be afraid to check in with them and see how things are going. If your designer said it would take two weeks and it's day 13 and you haven't seen or heard anything, check in with them. Send a short e-mail note saying something like, "Looking forward to seeing the draft of the cover. Do you have everything you need from me?" I had two significant delays (i.e. each time a week which, when you're on a deadline, can be killer) because I didn't check in with the person. In one instance, the designer thought she'd already sent me my file and hadn't. In the other instance, another person was waiting on a file from me and e-mailed me, but it was during a period was I was having a problem with the Cloud (that's another story) and I didn't get the e-mail. So there she is waiting for me and here I am (with a cloud over me) waiting for her, and in the meantime because I didn't want to pester I didn't have what I needed to move forward. Don't let this happen to you!
Remember, it's your proejct. It's your job to stay on top of it. You don't need to be an asshole. You do need to be vigilant and keep all the folks working for you on task.

5. It's Not as Simple as Pushing the Upload Button and There's a Whole Lot of Crap You Need to do / Should do After You Upload and Your Book Won't Be Available for Purchase in Every Store in Every State and Country Across the World in 24 hours so Don't Expect That. I'm not kidding on this one. It takes longer than you think. And until you hit "Upload", there's not a big note in bold from Amazon (or Smashwords or CreateSpace) telling you just how long things take (at least not that I saw). And this is important to know so take notes:

Kindle Direct Publishing - Once you upload your files for the Kindle version of your book, KDP says it will take up to 72 hours but generally it takes about 24 hours for it to go live in the U.S. That's actually amazing when you think about it but I guarantee you it will feel long! But remember: That is for the U.S. Amazon only. It can take 3-5 days for it to go live on Amazon UK, GE and FR (if you choose to sell your book there). So keep this in mind when you are announcing your book to be on sale on a specific date. To be safe, you better plan for at least 5 days for the e-book to be live on Kindle.

CreateSpace P.O.D. - Here's the scoop on timing. First, you will upload your files and you MUST order a proof copy (only order one because truly it is a proof - it will have "PROOF" written on the last page). You have to wait for this to ship before you can "Approve" your book to go to Review. Once you approve your Proof copy (and please, do take the time to thoroughly review this proof), then your book goes to the "Review" stage. My experience was that this stage only took a few days but they say to allow up to five (at least that's what it said when I did it).  So if you're doing the math as you read this, you'll see that from the time you upload your beautifully produced bestseller-in-waiting, you will need to wait approximately 7-14 days to have your book available on in paperback on CreateSpace. Then, if you want copies to give out or to sell yourself, remember that you have to order those and wait for them to be delivered (mini tip: CreateSpace shipping costs are pretty high and it will cost a fortune to have them rush delivered, so plan on enough time to get your books without rush delivery). CreateSpace is quick at printing and shipping, but still, it takes time so plan for it.

Print Version on Amazon: Even though the paperback version of your book will be available right away on CreateSpace, it will not be available right away on Amazon.  It took a full week for my book to show up on Amazon after it was uploaded at CreateSpace. AND, just because it shows up there doesn't mean you're all done (I'll go into more on that in my next blog post so check back).  My suggestion is that you plan on 10 days from the point that you upload your files to sending people to Amazon to buy the paper copy of your book.

Extended Distribution Channels:  If you upload to Smashwords (which I recommend) to get your book into the Barnes & Noble, iBook store and others, it will take 5-7 WEEKS for that to happen. You read that right. Same is true for CreateSpace paper version. So your book will be available on Amazon in print and as an e-book within a week of you uploading to CreateSpace and Kindle Direct, but your friends and family won't be able to go to their local Barnes & Noble and order your book - yet. And your legions of Twitter followers and Facebook fans and the rest of the world will have to sign on to Amazon or SmashWords or CreateSpace to obtain your book when it first comes out. Not that that's a bad thing necessarily, but some people in this world don't like to buy from Amazon.

Is sweat beading on your furrowed brow right now? Are you having heart palpitations just thinking about it all?

If you are it's okay. Take a deep breath, bookmark this page, and come back and read it again in a few days after you let it all sink in.  Then follow the links and get started, that is unless you've decided that writing query letters is easier after all.

COMING UP NEXT POST: A list of some really great folks that I worked with and can recommend to you as well as other nifty facts you should know before you leap over the edge of the self-pub cliff.

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