There is a particular prestige gained when you can boast that you are an author. Everyone wants to be an author, to have their innermost thoughts and desires shared with others. However, few are willing to put in the long effort to get this completed. From the surface, the concept is easy. You have this story with twists and turns and a satisfying ending. Going deeper, an author needs to understand the multiple arcs occurring and thematic feel of the book. This article isn’t going to focus on the craft of building a book, nor will it focus on building the routine necessary to author a book. Instead, we will cover the higher level outline of what self-publishing means. Let’s start with an overall pros and cons list:
- Writing a novel can be extremely cheap.
- You have complete control over everything: the content, the cover, the marketing. Everything is up to you. [This could also be a con]
- No gate keepers / barrier’s to entry. No one will tell you that you are not allowed to self publish.
- You can build a royalty stream that mostly flows to you.
- Being a good writer is difficult and will take constant work.
- You have to do everything; so if you don’t know a topic (like marketing) you have to learn or pay someone.
- No gate keepers means that there are a lot of people doing this. In other words; there is a lot of competition.
- There is still the assumption that self-publishing isn’t as prestigious as a traditional publisher
Now that we’ve covered some of the good and bad about self publishing, let’s look at being successful self publishing. Please note, this is mostly just about writing fiction. Non-fiction writing is a different beast, because you don’t typically write in series. Instead, non-fiction is about competing in a micro niche for the majority of market share, then forcing out any would be competition. I’ve found non-fiction is more lucrative, but the money dries up quicker. Fans of fiction are willing to keep buying books from you so long as they are fans. Now there are two main goals when you are self publishing a book.
Goal #1: Writing a book just to say you did
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. It can be absolutely amazing to have your name showing on the bookshelf. This is also an easy win scenario. You only need to sell exactly one copy and that’s to yourself. You don’t need to write additional books and worry about a lot of things other writers need to worry about (like marketing and reviews). Instead, once the book touches your shelf, mission accomplished.
This goal can be accomplished by uploading the book to Amazon’s KDP program, then choosing to make a paperback from your eBook. I will outline how to complete that below. Before we get into that, let’s take a look at another common goal author’s have.
Goal #2: To make a steady stream of royalty income from your writing
This is a very common goal but also a very difficult goal. Most people sell a few copies, then shrug and leave the book writing to others. This is far from a “get rich quick” scenario. Instead, writing for a stream of income is a slow methodical process. However, it can fit really well with people that are able to keep after a goal.
Steps for Goal #2:
Here is the sad truth, in the current fiction market, a person often needs to invest large amounts of time before they see any success. This can be troubling because you don’t know if you are on the right/wrong path till much further down the process. However, even if you are on the wrong path, you still will learn a lot from publishing.
Write a lot! There are people who swear by writing a novel a month. To me, that’s a quick road to success and burnout at the same time. Instead, I’ve chosen a slower road. Either way may work for you. However, to get the backlog you need for building a steady stream of royalties, you need at least three full length novels in a series and one smaller novella to give away. Many novels are around 80,000 words. Many professional authors write about 1000 words per hour. When new people hear this, they often think: I write 50 words per minute, which is 3000 words per hour! I can write way faster than 1000 words per hour. Consider this: Are you writing hot garbage or are you writing with a deliberate purpose? Are you trying to balance dialog, description, and foreshadowing? Are you trying to hit the markers needed for the character and story arcs? Now that 1000 per hour doesn’t seem that fast, right? So if you have three novels (each 80k words) and one novella (say 15k words) that is a total of 255,000 words or about 255 hours. This is why step 1 is write a lot. One tip: make the novella a prequel to the there novel series. The next step will discuss why that is a good idea. One additional tip is to write everything before anything is published. You will need to stagger these releases slightly, to gain the maximum effectiveness. However, writing takes time as does all the other components behind writing (getting a good cover, figuring out blurbs, getting a decent editor).
Before you publish anything, build a mailing list. The best way to do this is to give away your novella on website like StoryOrigin and Bookfunnel. By building this mailing list, you have an engaged audience that will hopefully buy your new series of books. This is also why you wanted the novella to be a prequel to the main trio of books. The more you can have an audience ready to buy and leave reviews, the better. Once you reach your desired mailing list, it can be time to start the launch process. The launch process is different for each book. Technically, you’ve started launching by building your mailing list. The next thing you need to do is build reviews.
While you want all your books to have great reviews, it is best to start with the main focus. You want as many reviews as possible on book 1. It is best to build an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) campaign. In this idea, you give away your first full book, for free, to gain honest feedback on it. This is done before the book is ready for purchase. The goal is to have all these reviewer ready for the first day of your first book’s release. I would even argue that you want to continue focusing on getting reviews on book 1 after it releases. People are not just judging your book by the star rating, but by the number of ratings. Reviews on book 1 are more important than making any money from your series.
The next step is to time book #2 and book #3 to be released. With each release, it becomes a balance of marketing the newly released book and marketing the series as a whole. Make sure to link all the books together so that it will be easy for readers to read the next one in the series. After you’ve released book #2, determine what marketing / ad stacking works and what didn’t work. Refine that process and try again on book #3. Once you are done researching how book #3’s release went, you can move onto the final main step.
This is where the cold, hard truth is finally realized. With all your material released, and several marketing campaigns under your belt, you can finally understand read-through. This is the amount of people that read book #1, then book #2, and finally book #3. Knowing this read though, and what marketing is best, you can calculate if the series of books will make money or not. Many authors focus on keeping a constant stream of marketing on book #1 while only doing bursts of marketing for new books. Once you know how much a particular series makes, you can understand if you have a solid stream of royalty revenue on your hands.
So… beyond the time, where do you find the money for all of this? Covers are expensive, as are editors, as are marketing campaigns. Writing a book, let alone a series of books, is very expensive. Let’s not even go into building audiobooks, which is an extremely costly enterprise. To pay for writing books, many fiction authors will dabble with non-fiction. There are two main ways of doing this where I’ve found some success. The great thing about combining non-fiction and fiction writing is that you can further diversify your income stream.
Place #1 for Non-Fiction: Hubpages
I’ve had a lot of success posting non-fiction on Hubpages because it feels like they care about how your article does. They will go in and modify a few things to help you rank higher in the search engine. They try to give you scores and methods to make your content better. They make it easy to update the articles with a few fresh tid-bits. My personal preference on building non-fiction is Hubpages.
Place #2 for Non-Fiction: Freelance and Content Mills
I haven’t spent a lot of time building a freelance portfolio, though I know that can work well. I did spend some time digging through content mills. There is a lot to be desired by content mills. My favorite was Blog Mutt (Now call Verblio). I liked this one because I could find a decent amount of work, I could influence if it was successfully accepted, and I got paid a fair amount (fair to me may not be fair to you). I wrote 86 articles which earned me $687.25. Each of these articles was about 300 words, so that’s 25,800 words total. That equates to around 2.6c per word. That’s nowhere near the professional freelance rates of 10c to $1 per word. However, I got to somewhat choose the topics I wanted to write about and influence if the article would be bought or not. Since I just wrote about what I knew, it took very little research and pre-work. That made the 2.6c per word a quick-ish way to a bit of extra cash.
In summation, there are two main goals when you are self-publishing on Amazon. The first is just to be proud that you published a book. The second is to build a stream of royalties. You can accomplish the first just by building a paperback and selling it to yourself. You can accomplish the second by writing a lot. The focus is to build a series of books and a freebie to help build your mailing list. Once you’ve released all the books, and you understand marketing and read through, you can have a solid stream of royalties. However, for most new authors, they need to spend a fair amount on book covers and editors. After all, there is very little barrier to entry, which means the market is flooded with bad books. The only way to stand out is to have a wonderful book. So, to get the funds necessary to publish, I recommend two things. The first is building up a non-fiction portfolio that can help pay for the fiction side of the house. The second is to work on gigs and content mills to build a small pool of money. You can then use this money to better perfect your fiction product. The hope is that your fiction product sells enough that you can then launch an audiobook. Once you have an audiobook, you can translate the book into multiple languages. Another option is to simply write more in the series. The eventual goal is to make enough that you feel happy with your venture. Writing is amazing and getting paid for your art is beyond amazing.