At the beginning of my writing journey, I never thought that I would wind up self publishing. My motto, at the beginning, was traditional publishing or bust. I had a lot of fear about the self publishing industry, which I still believe to be relatively justified. It’s a complicated industry like any other, with scammers and potential pitfalls to avoid. But self publishing brings benefits traditional publishing does not, and unlike traditional publishing, self publishing has no experience requirements.
Ultimately, it was the experience issue that sent me into the loving arms of self publishing. I tried sending query letter after query letter, but my pitifully blank experience section wasn’t working in my favor. It was extremely frustrating because, after all, I was trying to publish my first novel. How could I have experience if it was only my first novel? I wasn’t interested in short stories or single shot poetry pieces, the sort of written work I could have submitted to literary magazines to build up my resume. My experience writing for the high school gazette was fun and fulfilling, but it did not inspire confidence in the world weary publishing agents I was trying to approach.
My book was also too weird for most major publishing houses. Of course, there are fabulous indie publishing houses willing to take more experimental pieces, and I urge you to try them first. But even the indie places found themselves swamped with more submissions than they could possibly print.
Out of desperation, I turned to Amazon. Initially, I was thinking of just releasing a kindle edition of my story. Something digital and cheap and easy to promote. While I did have a fantastic time self publishing on kindle, it was the paperback edition that totally blew me away.
I didn’t have to buy copies of my book in advance. This was radical to me, because my biggest hesitation about self publishing was that I didn’t want to buy 500 copies up front. I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the space, and I definitely didn’t have the time to try and sell my book in person. Amazon has a fantastic program where you can design your physical book, put it on Amazon, set your price, and whenever someone buys a copy, Amazon makes that one copy and mails it to them.
This is where you hear the angels sing.
The downside to Amazon’s publishing system is that because of the overhead in making books not in bulk, your royalty is less than what you would find traditionally publishing. But honestly, if you’re writing with the goal of making money, you’re going to be disappointed no matter what route you take. If you are writing, it is because you are compelled to. There is a story that you want to tell, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity Amazon gave me to share that story.
So, without further ado, here are my tips and tricks for self publishing:
Edit. You’ve heard it a million times, I’m going to say it once more. Between when you start writing and when you publish, you will have learned so much. Go back and check what once sounded flawless. You’ve grown since then, so don’t leave sections sitting stagnant.
Understand formatting. You’ll need to pick the size of your book, which will impact the margins you need on the file you submit to be published. Don’t be afraid to play around as that’s the best way to get a sense for what different dimensions actually mean.
Use your network. I hate networking, so this tip is not ‘network,’ but to be aware of the people around you. You might have a brutally honest friend who is willing to tell you to scrap the entire second half of your manuscript (thanks Jake). You might have an internet friend who is an amazing artist, or a brilliant social media genius. These people can bring a perspective to this project that can elevate your work to the next level.
Think outside of the box. The day I realized that Tumblr book bloggers accepted comped copies of books in exchange for reviews was the day that I actually started getting readers. This kind of thinking is important because it’s not what the traditional publishing houses are doing. This is something that self publishing gives you the freedom and flexibility to do, and it’s wonderful.
Write for yourself. You are writing a story that you want to read. This may not be a story that anyone else wants to read, and that’s okay. Not everyone will like it, and it might not be any popular now. But when it gets tough, I find it helpful to remember that one perfect, weird book you found as a kid. The battered copy in the back of the library that no one else has checked out for decades. The book that you fell in love with, that mattered to you. Personally, if anything I write ends up being that one weird book for someone else, I would be immensely satisfied.