As I haven’t been very active in the self-publishing community (outside of my network of author friends) I imagine a lot of people arriving here will be hearing my story for the first time. So to start, I’ll talk about where I came from, what I’ve accomplished so far, and most importantly, what I’ve learned from it.
February 18th was the one year anniversary from when I published my first story, Claimed by the Alphas: Part One. I was twenty-three and after a two year struggle with cancer, I was up to my elbows in bills I couldn’t pay. Without money to continue college, I took a string of entry-level jobs, finally ending up in a call center. Partially for a creative outlet and partially for the desire to make a few bucks, I began penning a romance story in between shifts. Writing had always been my passion, but the idea of people reading what I wrote was quite intimidating. I probably would have never had the nerve to publish my story, but as fate would have it, my husband was laid off at the beginning of February. We were already living paycheck to paycheck as it was, so this was a devastating blow. I had to write a book and it had to be successful.
And boy, was it ever.
Those first two weeks, I vividly remember refreshing my my sales dashboard in between customer service calls–absolutely blown away. By the end of February I’d had somewhere around 2,000 free downloads on Claimed: Part One, then, I published Part Two. Two weeks after that, I quit my job to become a full-time author.
Last February, I was making less than $1,600/month after taxes. In my first full month of self-publishing, I made $9,000. In my second month, around $13,000. By summer, I was making over $1,000/day, and to-date, between twenty ebooks, one audiobook, and a few meager print sales, I’ve earned a quarter of a million dollars. Along the way, I’ve also managed to pick up New York Times & USA Today titles via two anthologies.
I think it goes without saying that this was not easy. My experience is not the typical self-publishing story. There are a handful of people who have experienced equal or more success than me, but there is a whole slew of people who haven’t.
So what the heck am I writing? Must be some phenomenal, revolutionary stuff, right? Or is it that I’m a literary genius? Or have a figured out a way to game the system?
Nope, nope, nope.
I write romance stories with equal parts of genre cliches, originality, and my own personal flair. I have no formal education in writing and err on the side of simplicity. There really isn’t any gaming the system, I just had to figure out what works for me.
So why has my career been so successful? Well, we all know the two secrets of success: never tell everything you know. That said, I will tell you my golden rule and the mantras that fall under it.
The Golden Rule of Self-Publishing: Self-publishing is a job.
1. I cannot always write exactly what I want to write; I am beholden to the ebb and flow of the marketplace.
2. My readers are my employers; I must deliver a product that satisfies them to the best of my ability.
3. I must continually demonstrate my value to my employers; consistent and timely releases are crucial.
4. I must deliver a high quality product to my employers; stories should be edited and the covers should be professional and appealing.
These fundamental policies are what set successful self-published authors apart from hobbyist writers. Now, that’s not to say that if you follow all of these rules, you’ll make thousands of dollars a week. For that, you’ll need a few more things.
Things every self-publisher needs before they start:
1. The ability to write a compelling and cohesive story.
2. The ability to write compelling characters.
3. An understanding of the genre you wish to write in.
4. A basic understanding of how to market yourself.
6. A fair bit of intuition.
It would take me weeks to adequately outline each of these for you. What I will say is that most of these things you can learn through time and dedication, with the biggest exception being intuition. Without good intuition, you may catch a windfall only to find yourself languishing on the ground a few months later. This is because you’ll either fail to keep up with the market trends or you’ll fail to figure out what it was about your books that your readers enjoyed.
So, if you’re still with me, let’s move on. Forgive me if some of this is redundant, but it’s just so darn important.
Things every self-publisher should have when they publish:
1. A professionally edited and formatted manuscript.
2. A professional cover that is tailored for the book’s target audience.
3. Social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, mailing list, and a website (even if it’s just a landing page or WordPress blog)
4. A plan for the next book.
Admittedly, I got away without having professionally edited manuscripts for nearly a full month. To this day, my ARC readers are still emailing me typos here and there. But please, do what I say and not what I did! Unless you’re Rosalind James, hire an editor! There are several you can find via KBoards or even freelancing websites that will do it for cheap.
Now, are you writing 8k erotica shorts? Are you a graphic designer or someone with a sound background in Photoshop (i.e. Sylvia Frost)? Then by all means, make your own cover! If you’re not, don’t. No, seriously, don’t. Your books won’t sell and people will laugh about you behind your back. I’m like the third nicest person I know, and I will laugh at your cover.
In your early days of social media, you’re probably going to feel like a lame lame-o who’s talking to themselves. And you may very well be. But pretty much every successful self-publisher started that way, myself included. Suck it up, send out those new release tweets and post to your Facebook.
Most importantly, know what you’re going to write next AND have a general date for it. If your readers aren’t anticipating your next work, they’ll quickly forget about you.
Things to do after you publish:
1. Inform your readers via social media outlets.
2. Start writing the next book.
Things NOT to do after you publish:
1. Take off for a couple months.
2. Write negative reviews for other authors.
3. Ignore bad reviews.
4. Ignore good reviews.
Especially early on in your career, it’s critical that you try to publish something at least every 90 days. Unless you’re JK Rowling or Stephen King, Amazon’s algorithms will bury you if you’re only publishing two books a year.
Writing bad reviews for other authors, even if they’re your genuine feelings, is simply bad form. It will also make you a pariah in the self-publishing community.
I’ve stopped reading reviews. Mostly it’s because I’m 4 months pregnant and ruled by my hormones, but it’s also because by now, I know my readers. I know the things they love, the things they hate, and the things that keep them reading the next book. How did I learn all of this? Well, for the first nine months of my career, I read every. single. review. Reviews can be extremely uplifting and they can also be utterly disheartening, especially in the beginning. Still, I read them all, not because I enjoy emotional whiplash, but because hidden in each genuine review is a message: I am your reader and this is what matters to me. Listen to your good reviews and try to take constructive feedback from your bad ones.
These are really just thing things I thought of at 3:30am, an hour after taking a Unisom (hence the numerous typos). There’s sooooo much that goes into being a successful self-published author, but if you do all of this you will succeed (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed)! On what level you succeed is really dependent on how well you execute these things and your own, unique talents.
Wishing you the best,