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 It dawned on me that I had five unpublished books that I thought were pretty darn good.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

Interview: R.C. Rutter on Marketing

R.C. Rutter was kind enough to visit us for a second round of questions. If you missed his first interview on Editing, check it out here. Please, welcome him back as he takes us through marketing strategies.

Last time you were here, you told us about your novel Cave of Forlorn available on Kindle and Lulu. What do you have planned for readers in the future?

Thanks for the opportunity Reena to return and offer more advice.  I am currently working on the sequel to Cave of Forlorn entitled “Shabb’s Revenge”.  A side project is also in the works that comprises short stories.  You might be wondering why I would write such a book.  It is all about marketing!  The more books you have available, the easier it is for readers to find you and I have several short stories that are already complete.  Plus it demonstrates that you are serious about your craft.

I will mention several web sites.  Please note that I am not affiliated with nor have any financial interest in any of these sites.  These are sites that I use to further my writing career.

Marketing: Big topic… When should authors start marketing their book?

If you think it is when the book is published, you have missed some great opportunities.  There are some reviewing sites that will not review a published book.  They require a five to six week advance copy of the book.  Their goal is to release their review the same time as the publishing date to maximize their impact.  Be prepared to send paperback copies of your book to reviewers.  Not everyone accepts ebooks.  I use www.lulu.com for POD (print-on-demand) and I like the quality.  Verify the text layout and covers (front/side/back) before sending out a copy.  There is no up-front cost.  Some of the other small printers require you to purchase a package with x amount of books for x amount of cost.

What are some organizations that review books?  I won’t mention them.  Selecting a book reviewer is a serious and personal decision.  You must do some research.  Do they review books in your genre?  I am not going to send my fantasy book to someone who reviews civil war history.  You must read their prior reviews.  Will they like your style of writing?  Have they reviewed similar authors?  Are they too hard on books?  Some reviewers have a scale of 1 to 5 but never award a 5.  The ideal is to have an impartial review.  Does the reviewer charge?  That is a dangerous area because their judgment might be swayed by their bank account.  There are many avid book readers that are willing to do this for free.  Don’t compromise your principles.

Do you have a web site?  Answering in the negative is NOT an option.  A web site is a single source for everything comprising your authoring world.  You will find yourself on blogs, book sites, social sites, etc.  You will need one location that references everything.  That way you can always refer a potential customer to an easy location.  From my web site, you can not only read about me, but you can buy my book from three different sources, view my photography and book covers, and keep up with the latest news about me.

Should you have more than one web site?  Some have an author web site and a book web site.  Are you looking to build an author brand or a book brand?  Perhaps both?  Let me caution you before it gets too overwhelming.  It takes quite a lot of time to promote your book.  It is not unheard of to work two hours a day doing promotion.

I always have business cards in my pocket so whenever the opportunity arises, I can refer people to my web site.  It has my name, web site, title of my published book, and title of my upcoming release.  www.vistaprint.com is my choice for business cards.  They are well-done professional cards for a very low cost.  On the back of the cards is a one-line advertisement for vistaprint.  I know a lot of people who use these.  When I am out with friends, I will often get introduced to strangers as “Allow me to introduce R.C., he is a published author.”  That is without any prompting on my part.  When I hear that, I am reaching into my pocket for a business card.  (I try not to self-promote too much as it can try the patience of friends).  I am a semi-pro photographer and if I am out in public, I will offer to take photos of people in the tourist areas.  I tell them to e-mail me and I will send them the picture for free (as I am handing them my business card!).  Yes, this has resulted in sales.

I hear the term branding often. What is it, and how does it play into marketing?

  • Harry Potter
  • Twilight
  • James Bond
  • Mark Twain

None of the above requires an explanation and all project an immediate image to you.  That is marketing a brand.  You become the sole source for that identity of location and characters.  Once the brand is established, it garners more attention.  Success in branding is accomplished by understanding the needs and wants of your readers.  Basically, you are writing for your customers.  Marketing is getting your product (book) in front of as many people as you can.  Branding is combining an identity with your marketing.

Your brand then resides within the world of your customers and they become fans.

Do release dates play a role in marketing? And if so, how?

There are review dates as discussed previously.  Traditional publishers send out a catalog several times per year.  If you miss their fall catalog, you would then be forced to wait a year to have your Christmas book available (for example).  With self-publishing, that is not a concern.  You can flex your timing.  Would you rather release a ghost story in the springtime or around Halloween?  A pirate book now or should you wait until the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie is released in 2012?  How about a vampire book?  Did you notice how many were released very quickly once Twilight became popular?

Simply telling readers to “buy my book” isn’t effective, so what kind of promo ideas are effective in reaching readers?

If I could just get Oprah Winfrey to hold up my book and say “Buy this!” I could retire.

You have to let people know your book is available.  I take every opportunity that comes my way to do an interview about being a published author.  Of course, www.reenajacobs.com and I have also interviewed with David Wisehart http://www.kindle-author.blogspot.com and I have been featured on www.bargainebooks.blogspot.com.  So we now have a cross-promotion situation.  I am promoting these very websites in my interviews; the interviews drive traffic to the sites which drive more people to view my books.

Google is very good at adding pages to its database.  If you do a search for “r.c. rutter cave of forlorn” without the quotes, you will see pages and pages of references to me.  Bear in mind that I only published my first book this past September.

I have lost count of how many friends and family members promised to buy my book once it was released.  I have heard this from other authors as well.  Simply telling people to buy your book is ineffective.  The best method is word of mouth – a recommendation from someone they know.  Your fans are your best marketing tool.

Some options are to join a site such as www.goodreads.com and promote your book with a book give-away or Amazon gift card.  A new idea I have seen recently is to have people “like” your page on www.facebook.com where a drawing is held for a prize from all the people who signed up.

There is not one size fits all scenario for this unfortunately.

How can an author use social media to their advantage?

I do a pre-announcement and post-announcement on my web sites for anything related to my life as an author.  I announce up-coming interviews, posted interviews, new reviews, etc.  I do this on www.facebook.com, www.rcrutter.com, www.lulu.com, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.com (message boards).  In between, I give updates on my writing progress and snippets of the storyline.  I have a master list of places to update so I don’t miss any.  It can be confusing at times keeping track of all your sites.

What are some of the cost considerations for marketing?

You will have to pay for a web site, business cards, paperback copies of your book, and a quality book cover.

Cost of the web site.  I use www.fatcow.com and their customer service has been excellent!  A high quality book cover is part of your marketing.  Expect to pay in the several hundreds of dollars.  This is your first impression and don’t overlook the readability of the thumbnail image.  Most readers will scroll through the list of books viewing thumbnails until one catches their eye.  If it is blurry or not readable, you might loose that sale.

You need to have printed books available for reviews and for purchase.  My book costs $14.00 to print.  As an author, I can purchase them a little bit cheaper but not by much.  So when I give away a book, I can feel it in the wallet.  I have to add $ when I ship the book to reviewers.  I have given away some as door prizes at social events but can’t really tell if that has made a difference.  It has generated talk about the book but I don’t know if that directly translated into sales.  Taking the book to a social function does allow me to carry it around.  You can spot the avid readers in the group.  They will make eye contact then do their best to ascertain the title of the book you are carrying.

What are some brief tips on obtaining book reviews?

Use www.google.com and www.facebook.com to search for book reviewers in your genre.  Read their specifications for submittal.  Read their prior reviews.  Ask about their expected completion and posting timeframe.  Use the message boards the various sites requesting reviews, again checking on their previous reviews.

Any final comments on marketing?

I was unprepared for how much time was involved in marketing.  Of course, this is occurring at the same time that I am writing the sequel.  It can be challenging at times but I feel it is definitely worth the effort.  I can now add “published author” to my name.  Once I sell the movie rights, I will add “Ferrari owner” to my name too J.

Thanks again for the opportunity Reena.  I really appreciate it!

For more information, where might folks find you?

www.rcrutter.com
Facebook
author@rcrutter.com

Thanks a bundle for sharing your tips with us, R.C.

Cave of the Forlorn is available at Amazon

Guest Post: Elizabeth Kolodziej on Self-Publishing

Today, Author of Vampyr Kisses, Elizabeth Kolodziej, joins us today to talk about Self-Publishing. I came across her after reading her experience about getting her books into brick and mortar stores. Please give Ms. Kolodziej a friendly welcome. 🙂

Vampyre Kisses is an enthralling story about a young woman named Faith, who was content with her life, but deep down craved more excitement. Then a mysterious man named Trent enters her life and everything changes. Surprising to Faith, Trent is a green-eyed vampire from Ireland. She is even more surprised to find out that she is a witch, and the last of her kind.

Faith finds out that she is destined to restore her witch line and becomes more powerful as she gains confidence and knowledge, but danger lurks everywhere. Especially when unknown assailants steal the most important gems from the vampire master and werewolf royalty.

Now surrounded by a world full of mystifying vampires and werewolves, can Faith gain enough power to help her friends and rescue the stolen gems?

“Kolodziej created a mystical tale full of magic and mystery. It’s a fascinating world, completely unique compared to the cookie cutout worlds most vampire authors use.” – Vampires.com

“The storyline was full of action and excitement, clearly described, and I would be interested in reading more about Faith and Trent’s continuing journey.” – Mary at BittenByBooks.com

Ebook available at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/27943

Paperback available at: http://amzn.to/aGDg3w

Self Publishing: Your Not Just An Author Anymore

Hi everyone, so glad to be on this terrific blog doing a guest post! I thought long and hard about what I would write about and a certain subject came to mind.

You see I was talking with my publisher about Barnes and Noble buying copies of my book. Let me first say, I didn’t realize how big a deal this was for a self-published author, now I do! It’s such huge news!

Anyways! This person from Strategic Publishing said to me:

“Seriously, I cannot tell you how much I wish all of our authors were exactly like you! You should be our official poster child! :)”.

Well, I had the biggest grin on my face and thought, “there is my ego boast for the day!” Ha ha.

But seriously, I wrote her back saying this:

“Thank you so much. I think a lot of self published authors don’t understand that not only are they an author but they are now there number one promoter, marketer, everything! They gotta take charge and learn the business the best they can. And make tons of author, writer, publisher, and editor friends. Cause they can give you the best advice sometimes and help you through a certain marketing or writing task. I have learned so much from all the books I read, sites I visit, and people I talk to.”

So this is my advice to every writer, author, soon to be author, aspiring author, you get the point. Please learn the business behind your craft. It is so important. Learning about the business side will keep you from being scanned, wasting money, and much more. It will also make you look that much more professional! When self-publishing you are becoming on entrepreneur. Any good entrepreneur doesn’t learn half the business but all of the business.

What makes something like learning the industry so easy is the real simple fact that just about every author or person in the business is really helpful. Though getting an agent or getting published by a big publishing house can be cut throat or you may have your bad experiences, people in this world are just so nice and want to help you succeed.

Now for something even more fun! Here is a book I would recommend if you want to learn more about marketing and promoting. I think it’s the best book to begin with. If I remember correctly he recommends other books you can look into as well. I totally trust this author.

Plug Your Book by Steve Weber

(not only is this a brilliant book made easy to follow but you can actually get in contact with the author to ask questions!)

Along with that here are some sites that if you aren’t a part of yet you should be. Going to websites like yalichat.com, shewrites, bookmasons, writerspace, goodreads, etc are some terrific place where you can not only meet other like minded people that can become great friends, but it will be a place where you can learn, be taught, and teach.

These are the basic principles that I think more writers should know from the beginning. Yet, so many don’t because, like me, you don’t realize it’s out there to do! Or you just don’t know what your getting yourself into when you self-publish. I really hope this helps lots of people out there though.

And remember, you get what you give so be kind to others and help them out as much as you can.

Last thing I promise! You should also remember one thing when it comes to promoting. Do not let it affect your ability to write your best book:

“…The more anxious you are about forcing success through self-promotional effort, the less creative energy you have for the writing itself.

Simple Guideline:

Do what you can without

A)    taking away from the quality of your writing time

B)    taking away from the quality of personal relationships

C)     taking on debt”

(pg 243-244, The Art Of War For Writers, Bell, James Scott)

Happy Promoting!

Liz ^_^

You can find Elizabeth Kolodziej on her website (www.vampyrekisses.com), Twitter (@ejkolodziej), and Facebook (www.facebook.com/kweenkitten)

Find Vampyre Kisses at Barnes & Nobles || Amazon || The Book Depository || Smashwords