But the real story, I think, is that in 2012 I published my debut novel, The Day After Yesterday. This has been a thrilling experience on so many levels. It's very validating to see your book on shelves and on the web for sale; to see reviews that understand what you were trying to accomplish with the story and characters; and to finally, finally get paid for your work. (Not that I've made a huge amount of money, but it's the first time I've been paid for writing that wasn't part of the day job.)
I've learned a lot with this book, and will put what I've learned to work later this year, when I publish my two-book suspense series: Ashes will be published in March, with Reckoning to follow some time in the fall (exact date TBD).
So for what it's worth, here are some observations and lessons learned from my jump into self-publishing.
- Get an imprint - that is, a publishing name for you and you alone. This will prevent you from having to use, for example, the CreateSpace imprint from Amazon, which some readers and reviewers avoid. Be sure to get a nice logo that you can use on letterhead, marketing materials, and so on.
- Make sure you get ISBNs. This is crucial if you're publishing multiple books in more than one platform (print and ebook). You can buy a bundle of them from Bowker.
- Don't be shy - tell people you're published. I know how difficult it is to hustle one's works. It requires a certain amount of social skills, and frankly if I had a plethora of those I wouldn't be a writer. Find a way to mention it without bragging or sounding pretentious, and I think you'll find people are generally impressed and interested. If you have a print copy, carry one around so you can show people.
- Don't be shy - ask people for reviews. This goes for asking friends and family members for Amazon reviews. This also goes for asking bloggers and others to review your book. Not every request will pan out, but some will, and over time they add up. Be gracious and thank reviewers for their time and consideration - this can benefit you in the long run. If a reviewer likes one book of yours, if you ask nicely they may be receptive to reviewing your next one.
- Don't be shy (are you sensing a theme here?) - talk to your local indie bookstores. Some may have established consignment programs that you can participate in (some will also provide advertising if you pay for it). Some may not have an established program, but are still willing to take on your book. Which leads to....
- Follow the golden rule, and respect your fellow indie book folk. When an indie bookstore stocks your book, pick up the unsold copies at the time agreed-on, or provide postage or some other easy way for the store to return the books. Indie bookstores have a hard enough time these days without having to worry about your books and how long those will be clogging up the inventory. Likewise, respect the book bloggers who are receptive to reviewing indie books. If the blogger says they're too overwhelmed to take on new books to review, respect that. Check back later and see if the schedule has cleared up. If the blogger focuses on, for example, science fiction or romance exclusively, don't send them your cozy mystery. Target blogs that take your genre or are open to any kind of novel. And above all: SAY THANK YOU! In person, via email, or send a thank you note. I've done all three, and now have stores and blogs who are looking forward to my next effort. It's nice, and it pays off. Karma, people.
- Don't get mad when things don't pan out. Sometimes a review request or other promotional opportunity doesn't pan out. Sometimes you get a bad review. Don't take it personally, and above all do not turn into one of those writers who gets into an online grudge match with the critics. Just repeat the wise words of The Dude and say "Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man" and move on.
- Take time to edit, polish and otherwise make your book the best product it can be. Self-published work has a perception problem, and only by producing quality self-published product can we change that perception.
- Remember the great trade-off of self-publishing: you have the freedom to publish whatever you want, whenever you want; but you have to make things happen yourself. You're responsible for getting your book reviewed, and for getting ads, interviews, and other publicity. You're responsible for getting your book into the available ebook formats and into bricks-and-mortar bookstores. It won't be easy, and while there are free options out there, you will have to spend some money. Find out what your options are - again, don't be shy. Ask around. Do some research. But don't get so involved in the marketing of your work that the writing ceases to be fun. Get enjoyment out of making your work available, and take pleasure in the recognition and revenue you get, no matter how much (or how little it is).
Above all, have fun.