Advice for new writers from a slightly-less-new writer (long post)
So today I got an e-mail asking for advice from a new writer from a lovely gentleman. I was shocked. lol, me? Give advice? That’s like an eighth grader asking a freshman football player who gets benched every game for advice on how to make the team! Anyway, here’s the long answer I DIDN’T send him (mostly because he asked for quick advice).
His question (edited to preserve his identity):
I am currently about 3/4 of the way through writing my first book. I am just a little overwhelmed with how and where to try to publish / sell my book. I noticed you have been pretty successful and have several books on the market. Was just hoping you could give me some quick advice on where to start. All the information online is conflicting; self publish, don’t self publish, use a service but self publish, sell here, promote there, register your ISBN etc etc. My head is spinning a bit. Do you have any advice / recommendations about where I should begin?
My “quick advice” was as follows:
Unfortunately I doubt I’ll have any good news for you. First off, I don’t sell many books so if that’s what you’re after, then I don’t have the magic answer for that.
I want to be brief but you asked after so many different things…I’ll do my best not to make your eyes go cross in addition to the head spinning.
Re: conflicting information
The conflicting information online is probably due to the different intentions people have. Some people want money. Some want fame. Some want to get a traditional contract and think beginning this way is the way to go. Some want complete creative control over their work. Some are reacting to rejections from traditional publishers/agents. And yet others are just feeling people out (that was me).
So first figure out what your intention is.
If you’re just wanting to get your story out there and get a feel for how people will take your work, my advice is to find a local writing group or people online who read the same sorts of things you write and see if they’re willing to beta read.
If your intention is to become a better writer so you can get a contract, then don’t worry about publishing yet. Instead, keep writing, keep reading books, and read those annoying “advice” posts written by authors. Each new story you write will probably be better than the last.
Once you get something you think is ready for prime time (and probably NOT the book you love with all your heart and soul), I’d go with an Indie publisher. They’re plentiful these days. Definitely submit your work to several first before you try to go the self-publishing route. It’s a worthwhile experience to work with a publisher, even an Indie one, because you get to go through the editorial process. I’ve learned heaps just in the past few months from the advice I’ve gotten from editors at my different publishers.
However none of the three publishers I’ve worked with do any promotion. That’s all on you. They gave me advice (Twitter, Facebook and “author loops” aka Yahoo Groups). I’ve only followed one of them and that was Twitter. Twitter has been awesome simply because I get to chat with other writers and they’re all super supportive. (And Facebook is where they all post pictures of hot, shirtless guys HAHA)
Anyway, I wrote up a shit ton more but you wanted brief, so there’s your “brief”.
Have fun with the last 1/4 of your book and thanks for the e-mail!
Here’s the REST (and the less optimistic stuff I was certain the lovely gentleman would not want to hear):
First book? Yipe!
My first release, Lore vs. the Summoning was not my first book written. My first book was an absolutely horrible piece of drivel I’d cry if I was forced to read now. (Mind you I got an A in my College Creative Writing class/English classes a decade ago, by that virtue one would think I was a pretty good writer. Not so!)
By the time I’d written the version of Lore that is now on Amazon, I’d written something like ten other books including four Lore prequel books written in the YA genre. They all went into the trash bin.
Even now I’m ashamed of portions of things I released for 99cents less than a year ago. My point here, is that your first book ever might not be the one you want to start shopping around. Start with something you don’t care about as much (but clearly, one you believe you’ve written well). If you don’t care about this one, then okay, maybe stick with it.
Several authors I know have done short stories and submitted them to magazines, contests and anthologies. This might be a good way to start if you can write short stories (I suck at them). I don’t know how the editorial process works on those sorts of things, but any experience you could get with real editors would definitely help you in the future.
If you decide to go the self-publish route, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is really the only place to go. I know there’s a lot of conflicting reports about this but the bottom line is they have the audience. They’re the Walmart of books. No one competes with them.
It’s free to publish. They take a cut. I get something like thirty cents for every book I sell with them because I am offering my work for 99cents (royalty is 70% on $2.99 and up, but since my stuff isn’t professionally edited, I don’t feel right charging more). For me, this was never about money. It was about seeing if anyone would even want to read the crap I wrote.
However please note, doing self-publishing right will cost money despite Amazon etc being free. You’ve got to pay for cover images and for editing of your manuscript (unless you’re bad like me and skip that step). For cover images I’d suggest Royalty Free photo web sites because taking random images off Google and using them is technically not legal and can get you in serious trouble. Personally I like http://depositphotos.com/ because they’re fairly cheap. You can also find Creative Commons licensed photos on Flickr. Regardless of the image issue, it’s going to take some time to recoup the costs of editing, etc. And worse, you might never recoup it.
Promotion – Social Networking etc
Well, the only thing I can personally stomach on that front is Twitter and running my blog (this thing, right here). Many say Facebook too but I have a personal distaste for that (however I am trying anyway). There are a few services out there that will take a look at your Twitter followers and tell you when is the most active times to post. For me its 11am, 4-5pm and 6-7pm but it’s going to be different for everyone. (I used http://www.tweriod.com/ to figure this out, they’ll do a free analysis, ignore their crap about credits and premium stuff).
When I have a new release, for the first day or two, I Tweet about it during those three time blocks. I like to add why I’m resending a msg on the repeated notes so people who are insane enough to follow everything I say 24/7 aren’t ticked off. (I use Tweetdeck to schedule tweets during those blocks. Hootsuite will do the same.)
Also, it’s super important that you’re not ONLY tweeting about stuff you want to sell, which I don’t see is going to be your problem since, you know, you’re a real person Tweeting real things too 🙂
My blog has been where I found out people were actually reading my stuff. I had fans, yes, seriously FANS, leaving me comments about when the next book would be out. I know, I was shocked too. So yes, definitely get yourself a blog. And start writing posts.
Other promotion – Kindle Select Program
The Kindle Select program on Amazon is a strange tool that has mixed results. You have to enroll your book in the program for 90 days and can’t have it available for sale, or free anywhere else. Select enables you to run free book campaigns 5 days during your 90 day enrollment.
I think my top download number on a free campaign was somewhere around 750 downloads in one day. I think I reached number 35 in my genre on that day. I’ve seen people on my Twitter feed claim they got 16,000 in one day. No idea how.
What did this do for me? Well, I got NO reviews as a result. That was a huge bummer. However I did notice my sales increased slightly after because my book’s ranking had gone up.
DON’T spend the money to buy one! Amazon will give you an ASIN when you publish with them, you don’t need to spend money for an ISBN. And if you’re wondering about physical books, I’d go the CreateSpace route for that. They’ll also do free ISBNs. (I’ve not actually completed a book on there though so I’m at the limit of my advice for them).
If you want your e-book to be available on the Barnes and Noble store as well as Apple’s iBookstore and a few others, Smashwords is the place for that. They’ll give you an ISBN for free (a requirement for the Apple store). There may be one or two other services that do the same thing but I don’t have experience there.
Speaking of Smashwords…
They can be a pain in the butt when it comes to creating the perfect Word document for their “premium catalog”, but it’s a small bit of effort for free publishing. You can charge whatever you want on Smashwords. Their royalty scheme is pretty good over there (better than Amazon’s) however they don’t have the audience Amazon has.
And last, the best advice – Network! (a.k.a. the NEW method of promotion)
Find super awesome people like me and be cool, yo (hahaha, I can’t even TYPE that with a straight face)!
What I mean is, find a group of Indie authors/readers/reviewers on Facebook, or Twitter, or Amazon etc that write the types of things you like or that you write (or read what you like/write) [and since this gentleman’s specific genre is pretty, well, specific, he might want to branch out]. Promote their blog posts, their releases, their humorous tweets with RT’s. Read their work when you can. Review their work once you’ve read it (you know, if you can stomach it, if you have nothing good to say, just keep quiet). Comment on their blog posts. Some of them will in turn promote your work. They’ll read your work. They’ll review it. And reviews *shakes her head* baby, those really help! Even the bad ones lol.
I honestly thought that was BS advice when I read it in a new author guide from one of the publishers. I’m like what? Be stalker obsessive with other authors? No way! Yes, way, well, not so much with the stalker obsessive as just being supportive. When I started out on Twitter, it wasn’t my plan to advertise myself. I thought the advice in that guide was a little manipulative. But I started meeting some really awesome people and they were super nice by retweeting and encouraging me. I couldn’t help but be nice back.
So THERE. That’s the huge, crazy ass response to all the original questions the lovely gentleman asked. I think… *scratches her head*
P.S. to the gentleman I wrote the post for, if other “accomplished authors” blew you off, they’re asses. We all have to start somewhere.