Advice

A reader wrote in recently asking for my advice on self-publishing. For those of you who haven’t written anything, my advice is get your butt in a chair and write, write, write. When you’re finished, let it sit for 4-6 weeks. Maybe write something else. And then go back to your finished work and edit, edit, edit. Then show it to some people who like the genre you wrote in… get their feedback… and then decide if you agree. And then edit, edit, edit again. 🙂

But this lady – and some of you out there – have already written something, and are ready to start down the road of actually self-publishing. Here’s my advice, in two parts.

Note: these are just my opinions. Your mileage may vary.

PART 1 – General outline of the self-publishing process with TONS of details

 I’m going to be throwing a lot of information at you. If you ever feel overwhelmed, don’t worry, just set it aside and come back to it later. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

I have more advice in the interview I did at http://latersbaby.net/?p=3571#sthash.KtOaBLn3.dpbs. You can skip down to the bottom, past my links to my websites and things, and that’s where you’ll find general advice.

However, you need more specific, technical advice, so that’s what I’m going to give you.

Before I begin, I would also suggest going and reading the authors’ forum at Kindleboards.com:

They have humongous lists of resources, and there is great advice from million-selling independent authors who still post there regularly (H.M. Ward, Liliana Hart, Bella Andre to name a few). Don’t follow every piece of advice – some people are selling 10 books a month and think they know everything. But when you find people doing well, you can generally take their advice to the bank. I have learned a ton from these forums, on every topic from cover artists to advertising (what’s worth the money and what’s not). There’s a lot in there – don’t get lost, and don’t use it to procrastinate, because you can definitely lose hours upon hours, especially if you start writing responses back to lots of posts! There are tons of new writers in there who have 1000 posts but somehow “can never find the time to finish their next book.” Learn what you need to and get back to writing.

Also, I highly recommend this book:  www.amazon.com/Naked-Truth-About-Self-Publishing-ebook/dp/B00DHPQGN0  Especially the chapters by Liliana Hart. It’s an anthology of advice for self-published writers. Many of the chapters are extremely specific, or offer very advanced advice (like street teams? I’m not doing street teams ANY time soon), or are directed towards writers who are already published through Harlequin or other big publishers and want to self-publish. But it’s a pretty awesome introduction to self-publishing.
Okay, here we go with the main event.

Your books need to go through a lot of phases before they’re on Amazaon or BarnesAndNoble.com. Here are the main ones.

1) Write the book.

2) Get feedback. Ask people specifically if there was anything they didn’t like, or that bothered them, like plot holes or your hero or heroine acting out of character.

3) Get the book edited. There are different kinds of editing, and I’m not even sure of all the types – but this ranges from intensive notes on your story structure (like where it lags) to really basic “he did this here and then he did this later, which is impossible” kind of editing. I’m a hypocrite on this account, because I edit my own works. This is up to you, but I would suggest that you find an objective third party who can read the book and point out any glaring problems. Editing can be expensive, so if you don’t have the money, then I would say just do a really thorough re-reading of your own work and be brutally honest with yourself about what works and what doesn’t.

I have one point to make, and please don’t take this the wrong way (I hate criticism, so I know it can sting), but your email writing style tends to be fast and furious and kind of stream-of-consciousness. Now, maybe your novel writing is different – but if it’s not, I would definitely recommend a third party giving you suggestions on how you can improve the flow of your text, and make everything crystal clear to the reader. I’m not saying I’m fantastic in this regard, but clarity and ease of reading are two things to always strive for in your finished product.

4) After it’s edited, get the book proofread. This is as simple as looking for misspellings, run-on sentences, wonky grammar, and mixing up “feel/fill,”  “your/you’re,” “then/than,” etc. I do it ALL THE TIME. I actually have some friends who read through and spot mistakes for me, but even then, we miss stuff. The main thing is you want to be pretty error-free. There will always be somebody who complains because you have one or two misspelled words, but the majority of readers are very forgiving if they love your story and characters. But try to have your text be as error-free as possible. Again, this can be expensive, though it’s a lot LESS expensive than full-on editing. A couple of possibilities: pay a good college English major to proofread for you. Or if you have a friend who was an English major or is an English teacher, ask if he/she could do it for you. If you read all your books out loud as you proofread them yourself, you will be amazed how much more you will catch. Also, I have heard that some writers paste a page at a time into a “voice” program that reads the books, and you can hear problems and see them much more clearly (if you can get past the robotic voice and occasional weird mispronunciations). Some examples of free programs are http://www.naturalreaders.com/ and http://download.cnet.com/TextAloud/3000-7239_4-10046551.html. I just found these by Googling “free programs that read text aloud.”

Again, if you don’t have the money, find cheap ways to do it. But don’t NOT proofread. It’s important.

You can find editors and proofreaders on Kindleboards’ “Yellow Pages for Authors”:  http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=123703.0
5) Sign up for accounts at all the major ebook retailers. They have tons of information for you to read, but don’t get overwhelmed. I can tell you want you need to know.
BarnesAndNoble (Nook):  https://www.nookpress.com/
If you want to distribute directly to Kobo and iTunes, you can Google their programs. You get to keep slightly more money, but with iTunes you have to have a Mac to format your files (I don’t), and it’s kind of a pain for a relatively small number of sales.I use Draft2Digital for Kobo and iTunes, and Smashwords for a special marketing trick and for Sony, Diesel, and other retailers.

6)  Optional (but really not): Sign up for a Mailchimp.com account so you can put a link in all your books so people can sign up for your email list when you release a new book. This is extremely important, because it’s the best way to tell people who like you, “Hey, I have a new book out!”There’s a free option on Mailchimp where readers sign up and don’t get an automatic email back (up to, like, 2000 people or something), or you can do $10 a month and email them back saying “Thanks!” I recommend the $10 a month if you can afford it. The email back helps solidify your response in readers’ minds.

If you’re leery of this, the easy way to start off is to just tell readers to email you directly and ask to be notified when your next book comes out. The problem with this is, once you really start building your list, it’s tough to handle it. I got about 200 people on my list and decided to just pay Mailchimp to do it, and life was so much easier after that.

7)  Get a great cover. Again, I am a hypocrite – I did my own covers. However, they are kind of amateurish, and probably held me back in terms of sales. So I paid a lot of money to a professional cover designer to get a cover for Volume 2 (and also for Volume 1, and to ‘reboot’ All That He Wants Part 1, the freebie). I ended up paying $400 per cover, but it’s worth it to me. To be honest, a great cover is the most important thing that influences a reader to buy your book IF they don’t know anything about you. (Word of mouth and recommendations from friends is equally or more powerful, but it will take you a little while to build that up.)
So do yourself a favor, and if you can’t spend money anywhere else, spend it on a great cover.
The good news is, you can get absolutely GORGEOUS pre-made covers for $50-$100 apiece, if you’re willing to be flexible on what you’ll accept. Check out http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=123703.0 or http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=148623.0  for a list of premade cover sites. Some awesome ones include…http://www.goonwrite.com/
http://mycoverart.com/premade-designs/
http://ebookindiecovers.com/pre-made-covers-fiction/

If you read Kindleboards, sometimes they do sales and even give away covers as promotions. My $400 a cover artist just gave away some beautiful covers, just days ago. His premades are a little more expensive at around $195, but they’re great:  http://damonza.com/packages/predesigned-ebook-covers/
The other option is just to search Kindleboards’ Yellow Pages and forum posts for up-and-coming artists. There are plenty of people out there who will make you a cover, made to order, for $50. Just look at their work, though, and make sure their covers look professional.
Also, if you can tell an artist “I want this picture from this stock photo site,” that might make your life easier, and they might cut you a break. Stock photo sites are sites where photographers license photos for $3-30 apiece, and they can be used on ebook covers. This is why you’ll see many indies who have very similar covers (including me). A truly original cover with an exclusive image might cost $1000+, if you hire a photographer and models to do a photo shoot. I won’t be doing that for quite awhile. 🙂
Also, always give your artist examples of other covers that you like – the style, the colors, etc. That will help them give you what you want.
Be sure to research your artists, and never pay more than 50% upfront unless you trust them implicitly. There are unfortunately some cover artists who are unprofessional and never deliver what they say they will.
Some stock photo sites (just google “stock photo sites”):
http://www.bigstockphoto.com/

There are literally dozens of them.

8)  Once the book is proofread, you have to format it.  Formatting means converting the text in your Microsoft Word document (or whatever word processor you’re using) into a file that can be used by ereaders. It’s not a hard process, but there are a lot of steps, and it can be daunting at first.

Also, it goes without saying that you should have a word processor version of your book. If you’re writing longhand, you have to get it typed into a computer program like Word.

Back to formatting. There are two ways to do this.

A)  The easy way: pay somebody else to do it for you.  I’ve heard good things about http://e-bookformattingfairies.blogspot.com/. There are other services – check out the KB Yellow Pages for authors.

B) The initially harder way that ultimately gives you more control, is way less expensive, and you don’t have to wait on other people for minor changes: learn to do it yourself.

I would suggest doing this, especially since you have five books. It may be frightening at first because it’s new, but after you do your first one, it’s a piece of cake.

There is a way to just import a Word document right into Amazon and they’ll format it automatically, but I have heard this leads to wonky formatting. I would suggest either doing it my way, or maybe paying a grandchild (if they’re old enough and computer savvy enough) to follow these directions.

Quick tutorial on formatting files. Amazon uses its own proprietary file formats called .prc or .mobi files.

Nook (BarnesAndNoble.com) and other ereaders like Kobo use a file format called .epub and you will heard people call them ePubs.

Apple.com uses ePubs, but they are notoriously finicky, and you have to format your books on a Mac or it won’t work. I don’t format my own Apple files. I would suggest either paying someone to do this, or using…

Smashwords.com or Draft2Digital.com are two competing aggregators. This means they take your one file, done in a Word format, and they change it into different file formats for Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, and a bunch of other services. For this, they take about 10-15% of the sales price, I forget which.At this time, though, they can’t get Amazon to take their files, so you are going to have to either pay somebody to format for Amazon, or do it yourself. And you MUST distribute on Amazon, in my opinion. 85 – 90% of my sales come from there. It’s not the same for all authors – some actually do better on Nook or iTunes – but Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla. You should NOT ignore it. In fact, Amazon has a program that helps you market your book in exchange for exclusivity. I’ll talk about that later.

The easiest way to do it is to pay somebody to format your Kindle file, and also pay them to format a Smashwords file (or D2D file, your choice, depending on which one you want to use). Then submit the Kindle file to Amazon, and submit the Smashwords file to Smashwords, and from there Smashwords will distribute for you to Nook, iTunes, Kobo, Sony, etc.
By the way, Smashwords pays only every 3 months. D2Digital pays every month.
Okay, here’s how you’re going to format your Kindle file first. I will give an outline, and then explain each thing in detail.
1)  Save your proofread Word file as “Web Page, Filtered.”
2)  Open this “Web Page Filtered file” in an HTML program, the type used to edit web pages. (Don’t freak out, it’s not hard.)
3)  Clean up all the crap that Word puts in there, and add things like title pages and links to your other books.
4)  Once you have things nice and neat, use a free program called mobipocket to turn your “Web Page Filtered” file into an Amazon .prc file.
5)  Either import this file onto a Kindle, or use the free Kindle reader program, and check every page to make sure all your formatting is correct.
6)  If you made mistakes, go back to the “Web Page Filtered file” in step 3, make your changes, and then do steps 4-6 again until your ebook looks fantastic.
7)  Now you can now submit this to Amazon.
If you want to submit to Nook and have BarnesAndNoble.com links to your books on there…
A)  Make a copy of the final “Web Page Filtered” file you finished in step 6.
B) Change the links to point to your BarnesAndNoble book links, and make a new .prc file using mobipocket.
C) Then use a free program called Calibre to turn your .prc file into a .epub version.
D) Either import this file into a Nook, or use a free Adobe product called Adobe reader to open the ebook and look for mistakes, exactly like you did in #6 above.
E) Correct mistakes. Unfortunately, a couple of things show up nicely in Amazon, but don’t show up so nicely on the Nook. To correct your Nook mistakes, you will have to open the Nook link version of your Web Page file, make changes, convert it to a .prc file using Mobipocket, and then convert it again to a .epub file using Calibre.
I know it sounds horrendous, but it’s actually fairly easy after you’ve done it once or twice.
I’m worn out, so I’ll give you minute, detailed instructions in PART 2 sometime in November.
Smashwords is a whole other can of worms. They have a whole style guide on formatting Word files, and they’re sometimes infuriatingly picky. I can give you a breakdown on how to do it easily, and send you a sample file so you can use that as a template, if you decide to go with Smashwords.The nice thing about Smashwords is you can do something in marketing your book that only they can help you with (I’ll tell you later). The nice thing about Draft2Digital is that you can use an ePub file without any links, and they can submit that.

8) Tips and tricks. Just some various pieces of information that are insanely important.
Amazon has two tiers of royalties: 35% and 70%. From 99 cents (the cheapest price Amazon will ‘officially’ allow) to $2.98, Amazon only pays you 35% of your cover price.
From $2.99 to $9.99, Amazon will pay you 70% of your cover price.At $10 and above, you drop back down to 35% again.

Amazon REALLY wants you to price your books between $2.99 and 9.99. So don’t price less than $2.99 unless you’re selling a short story, or unless you’re doing a sale, or you want to try to lure in readers with freebies. (I will explain freebies in a minute.)
The other retailers are similar, though Smashwords and D2Digital both charge 10-15% for their work. Unless you’re selling more than $200 per month through Smashwords or D2D, they’re worth it to use them.
 
By the way, your payments from Amazon and BandNoble.com will be 60 days out. Meaning, for the books you sale in January 2014, you won’t get paid until about March 28th-April 1st – about 60 days after January 31st. Just remember that.
9) Now your book is for sale. What now? MARKETING, that’s ‘what now’! 

Actually, I am wiped out now, so I will save this portion for another day.But this should get you started. You have a lot of reading and researching to do at this point.

If you have money to spend, it can be a very easy process, because you just hire other people to do the grunt work. But remember, don’t overspend, because if you spend $1000 prepping your book (editing, proofreading, cover, formatting), you need to sell 500 copies at $2.99 to make back your investment. (You get 70% of $2.99 on Amazon, so $2 roughly per book.) That can be discouraging, so if you can get your books ready cheaply at first, it’s much nicer to start making profits at 50 books sold than 500 books sold.

A few quick parting shots:

Keep your expectations low. Sky-high expectations will sap your energy when they’re not met, so aim low, but do your best, and be happy if you exceed your mark.

There are two ends of the spectrum that are deadly: laziness and perfectionism. Laziness is where you don’t proofread, you don’t edit, you do a sloppy job. Perfectionism is where every… little… thing… must… be… absolutely PERFECT before you hit ‘Publish.’ If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll never publish – or you’ll publish one book every four years. If you’re lazy, your sales will suck and people will give you 1-star reviews for bad spelling, grammar, and writing. So aim for somewhere in the middle, hopefully closer to perfectionism, but several degrees shy of it.

Want to succeed? Write fast and give your fans a lot of material. I’m trying to do that myself.

Liliana Hart says if you can put out 5 novels (or 3 novels, 2 novellas, 1 short story, or any combination therein), you will have a much better shot at hitting a critical mass and getting more sales quickly. She did that because she wrote for years and never got a publishing contract, so she had five books ready to go when she started self-publishing. She went from something like 200 sales her first month, to 1500 the next, to 20,000 in the third. She’s very good, but a big part of that was she had a lot of ‘real estate’ on Amazon with five novels and novellas.

I can also add, that the more books you have out in the beginning, the better. One book and readers might forget you by the time you have the next one out (which is why it is MANDATORY to start a mailing list).

As far as series, series can be novels – 200-400 pages with the same characters or similar characters – or they can be shorter serials, like ALL THAT HE WANTS. Be forewarned, if you do shorter serials or break up your full-length novels into shorter bits, you will get some 1-star reviews. Some people HATE shorter works. My new policy is to try to give people 30K – 50K installments from now on. I think I lost some readers because I charged $2.99 for ALL THAT HE DESIRES, which was only 19K words. But I wanted to get the 70% structure.

Also, unless you are publishing 5K – 10K short stories, or are doing a sale to boost readership, don’t sell for 99 cents. You get 33 cents of that. Unless you really don’t care about money at all, it is nearly impossible to make anything with 99 cent stories unless you are selling thousands upon thousands of copies.

99 cents is also good for an intro into a series. Free is even better. I will talk about that next time – KDP Select (5 free days out of 90 days exclusive with Amazon), and how to do ‘permafree,’ or ‘permanently free.’ Which sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t.

Okay, gotta go. Let me know if you have questions in the comments. It’s a ton of material, so if you get overwhelmed, take a break and come back to it in three days!

Hopefully I’ll do Part 2 sometime before Christmas… 🙂