Guest Post: Aaron G. Niz on Self-Publishing

Before You Self-Publish, Learn From My Mistakes

By Aaron G. Niz

So you wanna publish an ebook?

You want to be the next Amanda Hocking, Karen McQuestion, JA Konrath, etc. etc.?

Join the club.  That’s what I wanted, too.  I’m a newbie at the e-publishing game, and if you’re considering taking the leap into this business, it might be nice for you to have an idea what you’re getting yourself into.  It’s one thing to read about Amanda Hocking putting a book on Amazon and then suddenly finding her book was selling thousands of copies, and another thing entirely to try and replicate her sales numbers.

Most authors will not have the amazing experience that Amanda has had this past nine months.  I sure haven’t.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m absolutely stoked about this new technology and the fact that Amazon sold more kindles this year than any other product in their history (including Harry Potter books).

Yet for an unknown author with no platform, this is still a very tough game to enter.  This is writing and publishing we’re talking about, not little league baseball.  It’s a tough, unforgiving, brutal business.

So if you’re really considering self-publishing, I’d like to prepare you a little by talking about how it’s been for me so far.

Less than a month ago, I decided to make the jump to self-publishing my own ebooks. I did this after reading JA Konrath’s blog and hearing the success stories of other writers (like Scott Neumyer who sold nearly a thousand copies of Jimmy Stone’s Ghost Town in one month). It dawned on me that I had five unpublished books that I thought were pretty darn good.

Were they perfect?  No.  But all of them had been taken on by established agents at one time or another and a few had even made the rounds to the big New York publishing houses.  Most of what I heard back when I was inevitably rejected by these editors was that the market wasn’t right for my books.  Maybe they were letting me down nicely.

In any case, I felt that my books had as much right to go up on Amazon as a lot of the other books being self-published.

I initially published a humorous parody of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  My version is called 7 Habits of a Highly Ineffective Person (Plus Three Other Habits that are Pretty Bad Too).  I wrote it nearly a decade ago when I was in my mid-twenties, living with my parents, working part time, and generally feeling pretty crappy about myself.  It has a kind of goofy, dark, adolescent humor to it.

After hastily putting 7 Habits on Amazon, I set up a blog called “An E-Publisher’s Manifesto” to chronicle my journey, a twitter account, and then I began trying to market the book.

Within a short time my blog began picking up a lot of interest from other authors, which surprised me.  I didn’t expect people to be so helpful and forthcoming, but after few days I had a group of “regulars” who commented, gave me advice, and even bought and reviewed my books.  Yes, books plural.

That’s right, within days of publishing 7 Habits, I went ahead and published the rest of my “backlist.”  People kept telling me that having multiple titles was really important if you wanted to see sales increase.  And besides, I was so darn excited!

And that over-anxiousness is where I made some major mistakes.  The covers of my books are very uneven in quality.  I think two of them–COMPELLED and 7 HABITS–have fairly decent covers.  The others, not so much…

My blog readers informed me that they were having trouble figuring out what genres my books fit into, and some found the covers strange or off-putting.  My wife and I made those covers on our own using simple software and stock images.  We didn’t take an appropriate amount of time to work on them, and they suffered as a result.  As have my sales on those novels.

I also found formatting to be a challenge, and the copy inside the books doesn’t look the way I wanted it to.  This is because Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s publishing tends to change the document a bit and so you need to have a little knowledge and do some research to make sure things don’t go screwy translating from a word doc or html into the e-pub formats.

These are things that I still need to fix, and in the meantime, pray that no bad reviews come in because of my negligence (so far I’ve had only great reviews–knock on wood).

When I’m not busy praying for good reviews or sales I’m busy doing everything in my power to get the word out about my books.

Which brings me to my next point.  This whole thing is a grind.  Since I began e-publishing and marketing my work, I’ve been sleeping less.  Waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, compulsively checking my sales numbers and blog hits. Writing new posts, reading other bloggers and interacting with them on their sites. Checking and responding to emails.  Twittering, tweeting, all of it–hell, sometimes I just yell out my back door.

Lately my head’s always in the laptop or iPhone.  And that leaves me very little time to do anything else.  Like write new material.  After all, the whole idea behind this gig was to have the freedom to write books.  But how can I write a new book when I’m spending 24 hours a day marketing the old ones?

Emotionally it takes a toll.  There’s disappointment. Slow sales days, dipping blog traffic, mixed reviews (or no reviews).  Watching your book somehow climb onto an Amazon list and then slip off that same list in a matter of hours.

All of these things contribute to a feeling of anxiety.  I’ve had, in some ways, more success than I imagined I would.  My books have sold over 70 copies in under a month. Not anything to run and call family members about, yet something that gives me a lot of pride and happiness.  But in order for these sales to continue, I need to continue.  I need to keep working and slogging away at the business side of things while still doing creative work so that I can add to the back-list and hopefully increase my online presence.

Not to mention, I still need to attend to a little thing called my real job–that thing I get paid for.

Self-publishing is a lot to take on and you’d better be ready for all of it. This is an exciting time for authors and readers.  If you’re an author, start taking notes and getting ready to jump into the fray.  If you’re a reader, take a look around in the 99 cent bin on Amazon.  You might find some pretty great bargains!

Aaron Niz has written five books, including COMPELLED, which can be found on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Aaron’s blog, An E-Publishers Manifesto, chronicles his successes and failures in e-publishing and he would love to talk more with you there.  Please visit!

Compelled is Barnes & Nobles || Amazon

9 thoughts on “Guest Post: Aaron G. Niz on Self-Publishing

  1. Great guest blog, Aaron! And not just because you mentioned me and my book 😉

    I think most people don’t realize just how much work it is to market the book(s) once they’ve hit the marketplace. It truly is a grind. It’s a hell of a lot of work, but totally worth it when it works.

    Good stuff, man!

  2. Yes, selling stuff you make is hard work. The first time is the worst. The second time that’s the worst too! After that you just get used to it and learn not to look for too much meaning in sales figures and everything else.

  3. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the dreams and success of others. It’s nice to get a dose of reality once and awhile. A bit of “The Truth About…” Thanks for the wonderful post, Aaron.

  4. Thanks guys for the comments! I hope my honesty will help some other authors avoid the pitfalls I’ve encountered. Funny because I was in a really good place when I wrote this somewhat “heavy dose of reality” post. But shortly after, my sales have totally dropped off as has my blog traffic. What I said in this article is all too true.

    It’s a grind and it can be a tough grind with some low lows that any writer must be able to withstand if they want to succeed.

    An E-Publisher’s Manifesto

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  6. Nice blog post! I started about the same time as you (coming up on my one-month anniversary), and I try not to worry about other’s successes. It’s way too early to get discouraged.

    One of the things I found out with blogging is that, while there are a few magical people who find success early on, most of those making a living from their blogs are able to do so simply because they stuck with it after others got discouraged and gave up. Sometimes it’s better to have a I’ll-do-a-little-bit-each-day approach rather than trying to do a zillion things right off the bat and getting burned out.

    Good luck!

  7. Hi,

    Interesting article on the pitfalls of self publishing. I think it’s great that you’re getting your work out there. On the other side of that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. In the article you mention putting all your novels up and hoping you don’t receive a negative review. It sounds like you know the work needs another rewrite, so why did you publish?

    Will you be rewriting any of these novels? If you’re selling it as a work in progress is there anything to clue your audience in to that fact?

    What are you working on now? What are you writing?

    I wish you the best of luck!

    Lance
    @lanceliot

  8. Wonderful questions, Lance. And I agree, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 🙂 After all, I could break into a house and rob the place, but that doesn’t mean I should do it.

    As far as books go, one thing we have to understand is not everyone is going to like everything you put out. Look at the top books on Amazon. Most of them are loaded with 1 and 2 star reviews, yet they’re still selling well. I’ve read some traditionally published works which I though shouldn’t haven reached the shelves, yet they did. And someone loved it enough to take a chance on it, which shows tastes are subjective.

    Most authors hope for positive reviews and no negative ones. If an author went into the situation to never publish because they feared someone might not like their work, there would be no books on the shelf. 🙂 Eventually, you just have to take the a chance.

    One article I love to refer to is one written by Dean Wesley Smith: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=6033. In self-publishing, he refers to the earlier publications as practice. Each novel is better than the last. Meanwhile, you’re building a fan base. If you’re not publishing, you’re not building a fan base. Definitely make sure your work is ready for publication, but don’t let fear hold you back.

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