From Self-Published to Published, 8 Dos and Don’ts I Learned Along The Way
This is my third year in the publishing industry and I’ve learned so much from this process. Chief among them are two things I wish I had known three years ago. 1) Avoid self-publishing and 2)Your book is only as good as the hard work you, yourself, put into getting it out there.
Before, I had thought that a publisher would wave a wand and instantly have a book in every book shop and on the tongue of every major reviewer. Sadly, only three or four of the major publishers have the heft to achieve this and if you’re published by them, then you wouldn’t need to read this anyway. For the self-published author however, marketing difficulties are often compounded by the stigma that comes from saying your book is self-published.
Even medium sized publishers have to justify the marketing dollars spent on your book from a business standpoint. Small and boutique publishers are working with limited budgets so, with them, marketing often falls to the author anyway. The short of it is this: unless you’re the next Peter James or Jojo Moyes, marketing will likely fall to you. Having said that, here are eight dos and don’ts that I learned on my journey from self-published to published.
- Get Out Early.
Your book coming out is like a dinner party you’ve decided to host. You’ve spent hours trying to get it all just right. Trying to get the right combination of flavours; the right wine; dinner music and atmosphere. You want it to be perfect so your guests always want to come back. Now imagine you did all that but forgot to invite anyone. That is what happens when you make the mistake of doing marketing AFTER your book is published. Not getting out early with marketing is the equivalent of laying out an awesome dinner party then spending hours suddenly inviting people over. By the time guests arrive, the food will have turned cold. Now, which marketing approach you decide on — depends on your type of book. But watch other books similar to yours and take note of trends. At the very least, you will learn something you didn’t know before.
2) Don’t Be Upset if People You Asked to Write Reviews Don’t Do So.
People are busy and unless they’re professional reviewers, keep your expectations measured. You love your book and writing likely comes easy to you. Others may not have that ease and may some feel some performance anxiety when you ask them to write a review for something you’ve written. In other cases, people may agree to things out of excitement and support that time constraints then don’t allow them to. Don’t take it personal and keep moving forward.
3) Don’t Count On Your Friends for Immediate Support.
See point 1. Friends are great but counting on them to help with your marketing calls to action can be a let-down. Not because they don’t want to help but everyone doesn’t have the same tastes. If your book is a detective novel with a supernatural time-traveling twist — it may not be the cup of tea to your business-minded CEO friend who would likely feel a little embarrassment at sharing it with his/her circle of friends. Instead, take the time and find your target audience and draw them to your website/social media avenues. This will help you create organic rather than forced reach.
4) Realizing Your Dreams May Make Others Want to Realize Theirs.
When you publish, you now have the power to inspire. Other people, especially loose acquaintances, will deal with this in different ways. Some will feel pride at knowing you and others may feel you don’t deserve the sudden adulation. Some will feel inspired and may even seek you out for advice. Some may even see you write and publish a book and will say to themselves, “Well if “X” can do it, then I surely can too.” When I self-published my first book, about six months after it hit the shelves, I noticed that at least three people I knew then decided to write and publish as well. I was happy for them but I also noticed that they were the same people who had completely ignored my marketing calls to action from friends. The bottom line is that real friends will support your effort and journey; and as the saying goes “the haters are gonna hate” It’s your job to keep giving them reasons to.
5) Do Not Self-Publish Unless You Have a Big Following.
Again, don’t make a big dinner unless people are coming over. Self-publishing is a tough, time-intensive road and if you’ve decided to go that route, build a decent sized following first. Doing so is a good marketing practice anyway. I self-published my first novel and while the people who read it loved it, professional reviewers just wouldn’t touch it. Book shops refused to carry it and being self-published earned me no points when looking for a literary agent. In recent years the more savvy self-publishers will incorporate their own publishing company and then publish under that imprint. While this may be enough to fool most readers who would otherwise refuse to buy a self-published book — book stores and other reviewers will see through it with ease (see point 8). Having said that, in the publishing world you’ll still find some great people. Keep these people close and listen to their advice. You’ll also find people who will think nothing of belittling the massive effort you undertook so get your extra-thick game skin on if you decide to self-publish.
6) Get a Professional Editor.
There is no worse feeling than knowing you’ve spent hours, maybe days and weeks getting all the story elements just right and plot hole-free; the characters fully fleshed out and the twist — so well hidden, that even you forgot it was there. Only to have the perception of your work ruined by excessive grammar, punctuation, or style mistakes. Mistakes that are often the result of tired eyes or impatience. If you’re self-publishing — hire a professional editor. Or if the self-publisher offers editing at a cost, — take it. Because unless they’re professional editors in the industry, your mom, your best friend, your old English teacher will probably not be able to deliver the same quality. The sheer number of manuscripts that come across a publisher’s desks means that anything less than near perfectly edited on arrival, will be often dismissed. It’s a buyer’s market out there so ensure that your product is the best it can be.
7) Don’t Rush Your Work
This should be self-explanatory but so many fall into the impatience trap. It’s hard not to, you’ve spent maybe up to a year writing your manuscript. Then another six months editing. The maybe another year approaching publishers and agents. All the while, rejection after rejection is eating away at your confidence. Then, once you’ve decided to self-publish or you’ve found a publisher, your first instinct is get it out there as soon as possible. Stop! This is when you should absolutely slow it down and strive to deliver the best work you possibly can. The old proverb goes, it’s better to measure ten times and cut once, than to measure once and have to cut ten times. As a writer, there is no greater nightmare, than later finding out an excessive number of mistakes made it into your book. Take the time, follow the publisher’s time table and ensure that your finished product is as spotless as you can make it. You will sleep better.
8) Beware of Social Media Blogging Sites That Run Like Mafias
Independent blogs and author interviews are a great way to get the word out for your book but some may not be as independent as they appear. This is another reason why building your own following is important. Social media is the convergent point for so much of our lives now and it is fast replacing word of mouth recommendations. As such, be wary of book sites and professional bloggers who claim to work independently but are actually under the direction of a publisher. They won’t announce it. What happens is some publishers will create a consensus of popularity for a book by putting it on a “blog tour” with a dedicated group of bloggers and their followers. 7 or 8 supposedly independent bloggers will rotate dropping reviews or author interviews around that book’s release date. I came in contact with such a group and noticed they only reviewed authors and books from one or two publishers. Other indie authors from different publishers would hit a wall when trying to get their books reviewed by them. If your book is self-published, it may save you time to avoid approaching blogs and blog groups that run this way. Before you approach a blogger, look at their history of reviewing and the publishers they have worked with.
Getting published is difficult and comes with no guarantee of success afterwards. In fact, the odds are so stacked against you, it makes zero sense to even attempt writing novels as a full time career. But if you’re like me, you don’t do it for the money. You do it because the written word is little more special to you than it is to other people. To you, it isn’t just a method by which we convey our thoughts to others, but a way in which we make others feel in their hearts what we saw in our minds. This is why the most important thing you should do is to keep improving your craft.
[Sergio Monteiro lives in Asia with his wife and is the author of two books. His first book, Other American Dreams, dealt with the migrant crisis of Africa and Europe and was compared to the writing of Portuguese novelist, Jose Saramango. His latest work, Enoch’sMuse, follows the life of Enoch, a biblical figure, and is due out in November, 2018. Enoch’sMuse has been selected as a finalist in the 2017 Proverse Prize for Unpublished Fiction, Non-Fiction or Poetry and has been compared to Mary Renault’s, The King Must Die.]
- Silvio Borges Graciano— Administrator, Macau Literary Festival.