business side

Self-Publishing #9 — Social Media

Last Updated: October 2019

Social media is hot topic among authors, whether traditionally published, self-published, or somewhere in between. Should authors be on social media? Which social network will do the best job of connecting authors to readers and of getting the word out about our books? What’s the best way to utilize the most popular social networks? What’s not the best way?

I don’t think most authors would claim to be social media savants, myself included, but I’ll do my best to get you started, so let’s tackle those broader questions one at a time.

Should an Author Be on Social Media?

Yes. And no matter your thoughts on authors who have traditional publishers backing them up with a marketing budget or authors who have the budget to hire a publicist, you can’t disagree with this one fact: many of your readers are on social media. If you want to find potential readers and tempt them with your book, you have to be on social media, too.

Self-Publishing #8 — Author Website

Do I Need an Author Website?

YES. YES, YOU DO. At the very least, you really don’t want the most obvious domain name to be claimed by someone who may misrepresent you or exploit your readers for their own gain. Maintaining control of a domain name is not a big yearly expense and can save you a great deal of mental and financial stress down the road.

At its best, a slick website is a great marketing tool and provides a way to connect to your readers. It also helps you maintain a consistent author brand, showcase your writing and personality, build up your newsletter list, create hype for upcoming releases, provide extra content surrounding your well-ordered backlist, and so much more.

Where Do I Start?

You have so many options, and most of them boil down to your budget and how involved in the design and maintenance you wish to be.

Self-Publishing #7 — The Legal Stuff (Business Licenses, Copyright)

Last Updated: August 2018

Disclaimer: I Am Not a Lawyer

Nothing in this week’s post should be taken as legal advice. If you have an intellectual property question, a tax question, a contract question, or anything else of the sort, consult an attorney. Also, this post will be extremely US-centric.

Much More Comprehensive Legal Resources for Writers/Self-Publishers:

Writing is a Business, Especially for the Self-Publisher

Even if you’re only traditionally published, your writing career involves contracts, sales, royalties, expenses, tax returns, defending your copyright, and more. For the self-publisher, many small but important jobs quietly taken care of by a traditional publisher, such as paying contractors, buying ISBNs, or sending out DMCA claims against book pirates, now has to be done by you.

Self-Publishing #5 — Distribution and ISBNs

Last Updated: January 2019

Distribution Paths

How a self-publisher distributes their book will boil down to one or a mix of four options as outlined by Jami Gold in her two-part series on Fiction University: here’s part one and part two.

As Jami notes, taking that last option means not selling your book anywhere else. I won’t go into detail about the pros and cons of each distribution option—I can’t say it any simpler than Jami does—but here are some of the questions you should ask yourself:

Self-Publishing #4 — Cover Art

Last Updated: August 2019

The Importance of a Good Book Cover

Your book cover is a marketing tool. One could argue it’s the one of the most important tools because it’s practically the first layer of sales messaging.

Fine-tuning your metadata, choosing the right social media hashtags, and pursuing advertising opportunities are marketing tools for reaching your target audience. Then once you have their brief attention, it’s the job of your cover art and book description to entice potential readers looking for their next fix.

A caveat: depending on how you got a reader’s attention, it may be a logline or tagline that needs to do the enticing. For example, a Twitter user might see your sales tweet via retweet from an author they follow, but sometimes attached media (i.e. your book cover) is hidden, so it’s the text of your sales tweet that will need to win them over. (140-character tweets are limiting, I know. Oh, do I know.)

Anyway, unless you can boast significant author name recognition, your cover art is otherwise doing the talking most of the time. And a well-designed book cover will entice more potential readers to glance at your book description than a poorly designed one.

Understanding the Basics of Cover Design

Whether you hire a professional designer or bravely decide to go it alone, you should educate yourself on cover design basics before going down either route.

Self-Publishing #3 — Formatting

Starting Off Clean

In the previous post, I said that of all the expenses self-publishers face, the one expense they shouldn’t skip is a professional edit. But when it comes to formatting, you can save some money doing it yourself. Should you? Just ask yourself a couple of questions.

Does your book contain complex formatting, such as images with captions, tables, footnotes, and bullet points? The more complex the content, the more time you’ll spend learning how to create clean formatting that will convert without error to other file types.

Do you have the time and talent to learn the ins and outs of formatting? If, for example, you can’t grab more than an hour at a time to work and have never been very tech-savvy, you may have a difficult time using formatting guides.

For more, read “Understanding Your eBook Formatting Options” by Marcy Kennedy via Fiction University.

Doing Your Own Formatting

Let’s say you have a fairly simple book to format, and you’re gung ho to learn how.

Self-Publishing #2 — Editing

Last Updated: April 2018

A lot of ink has been spilled discussing the editing process. I’ll lay out my method for preparing a first draft to be sent to an editor, but my advice won’t be exhaustive, so if you seek additional tips, you’ll find a lot skimming the search results for “edit” at the Writer’s Knowledge Base.

Preparing a Draft for an Editor

First, let me say that you won’t have a first, second, third, and final draft. You’ll have anywhere from ten to a hundred drafts—maybe more if it’s a particularly complex story. For some authors, the first draft contains only the bare bones of their story, and subsequent drafts are when they put in the real meat. These authors take notes as they write of plot holes they created that they must fix, of events they must foreshadow, of character traits they must bring out in greater clarity. They take perfunctory dialogue and revise it for realism and greater emotional depth. They analyze scenes for whether they service either plot or character, and toss or revise as needed. They flesh out descriptions, revise awkward paragraphs or sentences, and make note of any words they tend to overuse.

Self-Publishing #1 — Organizing Your Publishing Plan

Strangely, putting all the things you need to do for your writing business into some kind of organized form is about as overwhelming to some as the task of writing a first draft. As I said in the introductory post, you’ll be engaging in some “yak shaving” if you’re doing all of this for the first time (or if you’re starting over from scratch, as I’m sometimes tempted to do).

I asked authors on the Marketing For Romance Writers Yahoo! Group how they organize both their writing projects and the “business side” of their writing, such as their sales data, marketing campaign notes, etc.

A couple respondents remain old-school and keep their writing projects in physical binders with tabs and sticky notes. Another keeps their writing projects in a single Microsoft Word document and uses Bookmarks and the Navigation Pane to jump around (kind of like an offline-only webpage). Others use alternate word processors designed for novel-writing, like Scrivener, which lets them outline and draft in the same program. Like me, several respondents prefer to use Microsoft’s OneNote to organize the bulk of their writing business while doing their actual writing in Word and tracking their budgets and sales data in Microsoft Excel.

What’s right for you? Let’s look at the most popular applications.

Welcome to Self-Publishing

Deciding where to begin this series of posts on self-publishing was about as difficult as figuring out how to actually self-publish for the first time. What kinds of things do you need to research? What are the steps from first draft to a live product page? What are the current best practices? What are the pitfalls to avoid? And that’s all before any considerations of marketing, which is a raging bag of cats all on its own.

I knew partway through the first draft of Eidolon that I would self-publish it. I wanted more control over cover art and release date. I wanted access to data about where my sales were coming from and what affected them. I had previously worked with an established romance publisher, so I already knew some of the process from first draft to edits to descriptions and excerpts and then finally to the finished product.

However, I knew I would be taking on many more roles than before. Roles I had no idea how to fill. I would have to research my distribution options and decide, for example, whether I would push to iBooks and how. I would have to find and commission an editor. To learn how to format my book for its digital and print editions. To take a hard look at the size of my budget and determine how best to use it.