The ten months of slumming in query hell looking for a publisher for my novel has taught me two things. The first is that I’m an author/publisher. No adjectives. Don’t need, or want, “self” or “indie.” Just the facts, madam; I’m an author/publisher.
While I mostly think of myself as a writer, I’m also a publisher. However, ten months ago I was a publisher of necessity, of laziness, of old age, and of writing out of fashion books. Not any more. I’ve come to realize that not only am I a real publisher, but I’m the best publisher for my work. I just need to work at it more.
Yes, we all know this. Certainly authors making big money, and those aiming to make big money know this. Indeed, they probably split their time between author and publisher on a 20-80 basis. They know that it’s the selling of the product, not the making of it, that brings in the money. But those of us who are, shall we say, more artisans than business people, likely pay far less attention to publishing than we had ought to.
The second thing I learned is the value of owning our own work. Not just the copyright, but all of it. And always. Ownership gives us unlimited opportunities to promote our work on an ongoing basis. We need not abandon it after six months if it doesn’t succeed, which seems to be the case in traditional publishing.
There are some easy things to do as publishers to keep our books fresh. It costs nothing to revise our blurb every now and again. Or try new keywords. We can change our prices every so often as well as offer sales on a regular basis. Not to mention offering boxed sets and special editions. Little things like this may tickle the almighty algorithm into making our books a little more visible.
New covers are another way of keeping books fresh. Excellent covers can be made at no cost using the free app Canva which offers templates for book covers and plenty of free art to work with. And these days there’s AI generated art. Author/publishers are now using it to make their own covers. There are YouTube videos to show you how to use it, and I dare say, with just a month’s premium membership in Midjourney (at $30 a month) you could probably produce a dozen different covers for every one of your books, and then give each a try to see what one works best.
Trying different publishing strategies also keeps our book catalogs fresh; from going all in with Amazon to going wide, and back again. Nor should anyone overlook any platform. Barnes & Noble offers their own print on demand service for paper books, just like Amazon, along with promotional options for both ebooks and paper books that might be worth looking into. Google is going great guns for me these days, in both ebooks and audiobooks. Audiobooks alone have doubled my sales.
One of the great things about being an independent publisher is that there is a community of us. There are web forums, Facebook groups, and discord channels devoted to writers and publishers like us. Not only are experiences, both good and bad, shared, but things like mailing lists, newsletters, blog posts, and promotional opportunities can be exchanged. I’m not on social media, and my publishing strategy does not lend itself to this type of cooperation, so I don’t know any details, but I know that they exist, and I suspect they are at least worth looking into if you haven’t already.
You can also use social media to get to know people who share your taste in books. There are many book people on Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, and discord servers associated with YouTube channels.. Just trying to sell them your book isn’t likely to work, but becoming an active part of the community might lead to sales eventually. Of course, if you have a promotional budget you can run ads on Facebook, Amazon, or other social media that target the people with similar taste to yours
Alternatively, you can do what traditional publishers do. They court “influencers” on the various social media sites by sending them either paper advanced reader copies of upcoming books or the ebook version. If you can find popular book people on YouTube, and other social media in your genre, it might be worth spending some money to send them copies of your books. Many YouTubers either list a mailing address or have an Amazon wish list that you can use to send them a copy of your book. I know that hosts of YouTube book review channels have “book hauls” to show off the books they receive each month. At the very minimum your book would get some nice words in front of several hundred to several thousand viewers, plus they usually include a link to buy in the description below the video. And who knows, maybe even a nice review.
It may also pay to get the word out locally via calling on local bookshops, donating books to libraries and charity auctions, as well as setting up a booth at local events. We’ll soon see how Mark does with his booth at the art fair.
None of these techniques are likely to start an avalanche of sales, in and of themselves. Still, in every author interview I’ve seen, when asked about how they got published, they cite two reasons. The first is that they kept at it in the face of rejection. And the second is a stroke of luck. Their story reached just the right person, in the right position, at the right time for luck to strike out of the blue. Paying attention to the publishing half of our business is like flying a kite with a key in a thunderstorm – creating an opportunity for luck to strike.
Do you, dear readers, authors and editors have any tips to share with us? Comment below.
I think you’re right, Chuck! When we publish our own works, we have total freedom on how we promote it (or not). Technology has given us a wealth of tools and platforms to experiment with. and a means of joining communities of writers and others as a source of information and support.
I have been listening to a pod cast called “Publishing Rodeo” in which two recently traditionally published authors talk about all the issues in traditional publishing that that traditionally published authors don’t dare talk about in traditional publishing. It is pretty eye opening. I think that if we can find satisfaction in publishing our own work at our own scale, we’re better off doing it ourselves.
I haven’t talked myself into using any of the social media platforms. I did try some discord channels for several booktubers, and the Self Publishing Science Fiction Contest, but I found it too disconcerting, too fragmented to have much a good discussion – but that is likely just me. That said, I think if you can find the right platform and the right group, it would be a very positive experience. Have you found any one, Audrey?
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As you know, I’ve tried query hell also (and I may try it again), but I just don’t know if I ever want to give up the control one must sacrifice with going the traditional route. I think the only way I would do it is if I got a deal with a major publisher who was going to market the hell out of the book.
My use of social media is limited. My blog and Goodreads are about it. Blogging (reading and commenting as well as writing) takes enough of my time already. I don’t think there’s a single perfect strategy, and I’m happy to have an “organically” grown readership. 😉
The only thing among your reccomendations which would not be valid in my country would be changing the cover. It means a new edition, therefore a new ISBN and so…
I have changed the covers of my paper books without Amazon changing the ISBN number. However, when I changed the size of the book, then I had to start over with a new addition and a new ISBN number. You would think the rules would be universal.
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Amazon is not universal. I was not talking about Amazon (which, as far as I know, has ASIN, not ISBN). It does not have delivery in my country, or it did not a couple of years ago, when I needed it last and I asked someone abroad to buy me a book and send it to me…
Hi Chuck, I have published a number of books through a small publisher and have recently self published four books on Amazon. Certainly, I find the pricing and marketing much easier for the books published directly to Amazon. There are some limitations which I need to sort out, namely, using my own ISBN and not an Amazon generated one as that is a bit limiting. I also won’t publish through Kindle Unlimited if I want to sell my books privately and have some published locally.
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Hi Robbie, I must admit that I simply use the free ISBN numbers supplied by Amazon and Smashwords. I realize that while it makes them the publisher of record for my work, I don’t see how that limits anything I care to do with my work, and so I don’t see any need to buy my own ISBN numbers. I realize, however, that if I want to try to sell my paper books outside of Amazon, no bookstore would want to carry even a print on demand book “published” by Amazon. Thus, if I was serious about being a paper book publisher, I would need my own ISBN numbers. The millionaire who started Journey Press talks about the process of getting paper books into bookshops,, its sounds like a lot work, more work than I care to do. I intend to look into Barnes & Nobel’s print-on-demand services. I do know that they will print books without ISBN numbers if you just want to privately print your books to sell on your own. A lot of books stores will use their own numbers instead of ISBN for their accounting so that would seem to be an option to sell locally.
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I’ve struggled with what to call myself. For years, it seemed the popular phrase was self-publisher. Then people started to change that to indie publisher. But I think you’re right … we’re just publishers/authors/ No additional description is required.
I agree with every other point you make. I don’t devote enough attention to the business side of the thing. But … as a result of transitioning from Amazon’s publishing service to Draft2Digital, I’ve done a few things you describe. I’ve republished several books with updated and better covers. And I’m trying, if slowly, to take advantage of D2D’s broader distribution. I fundamentally believe that going broader than what Amazon allows is the way to go. It’s just question now of taking full advantage of it.
But … like you, I’m more of a 90% writer/10% publisher. The business side is just not where I focus and that needs to change at some point.
Amazon’s print on demand paper books, unlike the ebooks, have ISBN numbers which identify Amazon as the publisher.
If anyone is at all curious about how traditional publishing works, check out the “Publishing Rodeo” pod cast. It features two authors who published in the same genre in the same year with the same publisher, and had very different experiences. They and their other guests share numbers, like advances and sales, etc, that people usually don’t share in public, as well as what you have to give up to be trad published. I just find publishing to be a very interesting business.
I never realized that using Amazon’s ISBN meant they were the publisher.
I’ve thought about art fairs and selling books. Mark will have to update everybody on how it goes.
One more week. I’ll post about it afterwards.
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I don’t think I have it in me to attack-the-sales, however that might get done. Compete with the million new novels every year? Why? It’d be like someone wanting to make a go at becoming a country or pop-star singer. Or a successful youtuber. If that’s the goal — count me out.
Now, writing for the sake of writing, and then, with minimal effort offer my stories to others — for free, sure. But aggressive publishing tactics are not in my blood.
Draft2Digital/Smashwords has POD now too.
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