In the past three years we’ve all watched the e-book market move from non-existent to a significant percentage of sales. That revolution has resulted in a change in publishing that I would never have imagined when I started writing for children over ten years ago.
Authors are moving to independent electronic publishing with astonishing results.
No longer is independent publishing “self-publishing” or “vanity publishing” with negative connotations. It’s a little hard for a traditionally-pubbed author to feel superior to someone who sells 5000 e-book copies a month, reaches the Times bestseller lists, and/or makes over a million dollars a year.
Yes, I’ve met or corresponded with more than one of these successful authors.
After listening to any number of tales from trenches, I’ve got a few thoughts on the new world order. If you are considering taking the plunge into publishing your book electronically, here are some things to ponder.
- Write a great story. Regardless of anything else I say, this is the only way to be truly successful. That means writing a story that captivates the reader with worthy characters and a strong plot, a story that doesn’t bewilder or bore, a story with an arc and a satisfying ending. And the writing needs to be grammatically correct and error-free.
- Consider your readership. Some genres are more successful as e-books than others. Romance, in particular, has a vast audience of readers willing to read quickly and often, who are used to purchasing an inexpensive book every few days, and are loyal to authors and sub-genres. Mystery readers are right behind romance readers in appetite. Science fiction and fantasy for YA and older is good. Literary fiction? Middle grade? Not quite there yet. Resources: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5NRfjnOAu8
- Hire an editor. Even if you think your book is perfect it pays to hire a freelance editor to give you holistic plot advice, and/or to copyedit your text for grammar, punctuation, etc. Resources: http://www.the-efa.org/ , http://www.free-expressions.com/service-overview/
- Create a fabulous cover. Most of us are visual, and most readers choose their reads based in large part upon the cover. For your book to find an audience, it must have an attractive cover and one that translates to thumbnail size. If you’re not an artist, or are not facile with Photoshop, pay someone to make you the perfect cover. Resources: http://www.bookcoverpro.com/, http://www.earthlycharms.com/home.htm
- Hire a formatter. For books to be uploaded onto Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any of the other e-book vendors it must be formatted correctly. Yes, you can do it yourself, but unless you are gifted in formatting I suggest hiring someone to do that bit for you. Resources: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2MB3WT2D0PTNK, http://mcwriting.com/MC/eBooks_ePubs.html
- Consider these costs. Editing costs range from the hundreds to the thousands. If you are already a strong writer, you could hire a grad student from your regional college to copyedit. Cover costs run in the mid to high hundreds. Formatting costs in the few hundreds of dollars. The writers I’ve heard from have paid between $500 and $1000 to get their books ready to market. Resources: http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2013/05/the-real-costs-of-self-publishing-book (I do think the numbers in this article are on the high side, based on personal feedback I’ve had with successful authors.)
- Tag for your audience. Metatags for your book should be correct and targeted. That’s the only way for readers to find your book among the millions of e-books. Consider genre, sub-genre, regional flavor, age range, and character hobbies among other things. Be truthful, or you’ll turn readers away. You should check your “subject keywords” as you upload content. Amazon only allows for two categories per book. Resources: https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/help?ie=UTF8&topicID=201231280
- Consider a low starting price. One best-selling author I’ve met launched her first e-book on Amazon for $0.99, with a royalty rate of 35%. Within a couple of months she was selling 5000 copies a month. A year later, when she launched her second book, she’d gained enough of an audience to give book two a $2.99 price point and still sell at the same rate. With an Amazon author royalty rate of 70% for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, you do the math. Caveat: the vast majority of authors don’t even make back their expenses. Resources: http://www.authorems.com/money-matters/tracking-sale/
- Grow your audience. The best way to grow your audience is by writing your next book. The second-best way is to participate in social media. That means having a website, Facebook author page, and a Twitter account, at the very least. And keep it all current without driving yourself insane. http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2013/02/guy-kawasakis-10-social-media-tips-for-authors045
- Keep up with changes. The publishing industry is experiencing a revolution. What I say today (except for the part about writing a great book!) won’t be relevant tomorrow. Be aware of industry developments. Join a group like Romance Writers of America, SCBWI, or Mystery Writers of America.
If you decide to go for independent publishing, please share your experiences, and if I can I’ll feature you in a follow-up post.