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The Difficulties of Self-Publishing

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posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 12:16 AM
Hey guys,

As some of you may know, I am a self-published author, working on fantasy novels. I thought I would share with you all, whether you are an author yourself, or whether you are simply interested in the methods required, what it took for me to get my works into the public sphere and available for purchase/download, as well as some of the issues that I've had after the fact, and my thoughts on the alternatives.

Writing Your Work
Many may not realise this, but the first hurdle is reached when you have decided that you want to write a work for sale. For some, this may come quite easily, but for others, developing an idea into a coherent story can leave them reaching the bottom of the barrel quite early in the process. One could spend weeks, months, even years to finally come up with their work, of which they are impossibly proud, only to hit their second road block.

Preparing Your Work
This is the step that caused me most of my grief early on in the process. Being a self-published author, I don't have a publisher that is willing to edit all of those silly mistakes that I may have skipped over, or even larger errors like plot holes that I filled in clearly in my head, but did not explain on paper.

There are very few options for self-published authors these days, most of them quite expensive, others fairly unreliable. Professional editors will happily peruse your work and correct spelling and grammatical errors for a hefty price (some that I came across were charging into the thousands of dollars), but will not develop your story for you, pointing out errors that affect the work as a whole.

This is where you MUST step up and present your work to others. Friends and family are the easiest go-to, but are not always the best option, as they will be biased towards you, not wanting to insult or offend. Unfortunately, I haven't found another way around this, as any editors I have found will only "black and white" your work, preferring to smooth out the edges rather than reconstruct whole sections. However, once you've completed your edits and you have your final work in your hot little hands, the real adventure begins.

Choosing Your Publishers
There are many, many options out there to sell your new book. Something that needs to be remembered, however, is if the publisher/printer/distributor asks you for an insane amount of down payment, you're being swindled. These publishers are known as "vanity publishers". This means that they take your money, give you your product, and say good day, leaving you with hundreds or even thousands of your books stashed away in your garage for you to sell yourself. Not a good idea.

For hard copies, the better option is to go for a print on demand service. These companies, while costing slightly more per copy, will only print your book if an order has been placed for it. Additionally, some will offer international distribution (sometimes at a small fee), meaning book stores have the option to order your book from the catalogue.

Digital copies are easier. Most of these services are self-serve, meaning you upload your files, determine your pricing, distribution, etc etc, and the system handles it all automatically. The only thing you need to think about is "how much profit do I want to make?".

In the end, you should never limit yourself to one publisher. Distribute through as many as you feel you can manage, remembering that you will be receiving documents and cheques from each of these companies separately. To distribute through one publisher alone is limiting your audience drastically.

Formatting For Your Publishers
This is where you need to ensure that your work appears the way you want it to. For digital products, you can use ebook writing software, most of which can export to any format that you may need. Some of these are even free, but limited in some ways (such as DRM, digital rights management). The advantage here is whatever you can see, the reader can see.

Hard copies are much more difficult. Not only do you have to provide the formatted document, but you cannot be certain that it is going to print the same as it appears on screen. This could take one, two, even three sample copies printed and sent to you before it works out the way you wanted it to. I cannot stress enough how important sample copies are.

Reaping The Rewards
First and foremost: You have published a book. A unique document that will represent you in the public eye. Congratulations! Now you can sit back and watch your profits roll in. Right?

Unfortunately, no. Thus begins your endless efforts to be noticed among the thousands of other authors out there, each attempting to do the exact same thing you are doing. How can you separate yourself? Well, there are several different methods.

Paid advertising, while seemingly a great opportunity, isn't always all it's cracked up to be. If you advertise online, you are going to pay either for each time your ad is viewed, or each time your ad is clicked. In either situation, you need to do your math. If it takes you 50 clicks on your ad before someone buys, and each click costs you $0.20, are you going to make that $10 back in profit?

Free advertising is another option, but is generally limited to select audiences, namely other people that are attempting to advertise for free. You're effectively going to be showing off your book to people that are showing off their own book.

The best chance you have is to push yourself into the spotlight. Give free copies away, start a website, create competitions in which people can win books or merchandise, start a blog, a twitter account, anything to get your name in as many places as you can. It's a slow, laborious process, but it can offer impressive rewards.

Continued in next post...
edit on 7/8/13 by Scaleru because: Adjusted

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 12:16 AM
My Experiences
I managed to get through the first several steps without too much issue, excluding that it took me 3 years to develop the story to the point that I was happy with it. When it came to editing, I had several friends and family members that were more than happy to help, and were thankfully brutally honest when it came to changes.

My real issues began when I started to consider selling. My initial plan was to sell only through my personal website, an ideal that I abandoned very early. While the profits would have been higher, the traffic my website saw was practically nil. As a result, I moved to digital sales through some of the larger markets.

Amazon was my first stop, and their process was simple. Upload the book, set my payment options (which being in Australia is only by cheque), the regions in which I want my book to appear, and the price I wanted to ask. After a while dedicated to Amazon, however, I decided I needed to broaden my scope.

I joined Kobo, another large retailer with a very similar process. Shortly after, I applied through Apple, which was a nightmare. I was required to set up American tax details, Australian business details, as well as apply for GST, which is something normally reserved for high profit businesses ($50,000 revenue), all lengthy processes.

Finally, I attempted to join Google. I applied over 8 months ago and am still awaiting approval. Dismal.

Moving on to physical sales, I signed up with CreateSpace, an Amazon affiliate, that provides print on demand services and sales through Amazon's various localised websites. Their sign up process was simple, and works separately from their digital distribution service.

Which would I say is the best? Well, they each have their own advantages:

If selling solely through them, offer a program where you can offer your book for free a few days a month, but as a condition, you cannot list your book through any other online seller. I did see a high number of books downloaded during these free days, and a few sales during the other days, but they have since dwindled.

They also offer a small amount of free advertising in the form of "best sellers". During my free days, I reached the top 70 on several occasions, giving me much better visibility in the listings and potentially getting more interest for the days that it was at the regular price. Note: You cannot list a product for free as a standard price.

Sales reports are also quite detailed and really useful. You receive information on each region individually, including sales, refunds (if people accidentally purchase your book for example), free copies, price matched copies, and your revenue.

I haven't really had much happen here. I have one book listed at a standard price, the other for free. I've had one sale through here.

The biggest issue I really have with Kobo is their lack of detailed reports. I can see my monthly sales, yearly sales, etc etc, but there are no statistics (at least that I have found), that list free book downloads.

I'm going to be honest here: This, while not the most profitable, has been the best option thus far. iTunes offer free days, just as Amazon do, but you do not need to join a special program to do so. Above all this, all my free book downloads have been on normal days (as I have the listings the same as Kobo).

Apple's reports are also quite detailed, giving you a day by day breakdown of sales as well as monthly/yearly. Initial issues aside, I would highly recommend their services if you were planning on publishing yourself.

I really have nothing to say. An abysmal system and zero customer support. If anyone has had a better experience with them, please let me know, as I may be doing something wrong.

I've really had a good experience, even though I've had practically no sales. They provide a quality product (if a little bit thin on the covers), and for a small fee ($20 from memory), international distribution to physical stores. The system works well, provides you with digital versions of the final printout, and even gives you a direct storefront for people to purchase direct, giving you higher profits over Amazon's site.

Their payment system, as I mentioned, is completely separate from Amazon's, as they are technically separate entities. Overall, from my research of other POD service providers, CreateSpace is the best by far.

Continued in next post...
edit on 7/8/13 by Scaleru because: Adjusted

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 12:16 AM
Reaching Out
There are a few websites that I've been using to try to get my name out a bit better. I started with my own website, which I decided was completely missing the point, and I promptly dismantled and rebuilt into a more user friendly form. Beyond that, I've played with GoodReads, BookDaily, and a few others that really aren't worth mentioning. These sites work to share you with the rest of the members on the sites, into the hundreds of thousands. It really can't hurt trying!

I've really hit a wall when it comes to advertising, which is drastically limiting my sales and potential profits. I've tried paid advertising, free advertising, Facebook, Twitter, my own website, sending copies to professional reviewers, giving out free copies, eBay, almost anything you can think of.

The Rest

What I've come to realise, however, is that the profit is not in the monetary value that you obtain, but in the joy of writing and knowing that somewhere, someone is reading your work, and maybe even enjoying it. That's what has made me continue in my efforts to write more.

Well, this turned out a lot longer than I was expecting, and to anyone that has read this far, I thank you. I hope that my experiences can help others that are either in my position or are planning to publish a work themselves. If you're feeling like it's hopeless, don't! There is always a bright side and always another option or step to take that can lead you closer to your goals.

If anyone else is publishing through these outlets, or can offer any further information on others that may be a good idea, please post below. I could always use another idea to keep me busy!

S. J. Vellenga

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 12:31 AM
reply to post by Scaleru

I've got over a dozen books published through Amazon's KDP and most of them have also been formatted for paperback using Createspace. I am in their Select program, meaning I must publish ebooks exclusively through Amazon. I do not do this for the free days, which I have never used, but do it for the Borrows. In Select, your book is eligible to be borrowed by any member of Prime and each Prime member can borrow one book per month. In June (July data is not available yet) the borrow royalty was $2.24. My books were borrowed 51 times so I made over $100 just in borrows.

A tip about Createspace. After about a year, Amazon will mark down your paperback price. Say you were selling for $9.99 and your royalty was $3.00. They mark you down to $8.99. This does not cut your royalty. You would still make the same $3.00 you were making before, the discount comes from Amazon's royalty.

When my first book got marked down, I tried an experiment. I raised my price to $10.99 and waited, a week later it was marked down again to $8.99. But my royalty went UP due to MY price point of $10.99. So if they discount you, take advantage. Lots of writers get angry they were discounted, I am making more money so...

I would encourage any writer who wants to publish to use Amazon. Stay inside their rules and you'll do just fine.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 12:40 AM
reply to post by Ameilia

Borrows are something I'd completely forgotten about! They are a great addition, but due to the restrictions of Select, I felt that I wanted to widen my scope to other marketplaces.

Out of curiosity, what genre do you publish?

Edit to add:
The price match royalty system works just the same. Some of my research has shown that several people have listed on Amazon at say $5.99, had Amazon price match to $0.99, and they are still receiving the same royalty amount for the higher price as you describe.

S. J. Vellenga
edit on 7/8/13 by Scaleru because: Added

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 01:04 AM
reply to post by Scaleru

Ooo, I didn't know that worked with ebooks too. That is almost enough right there for me to leave Select, publish with SW at a higher price, and pray for a price match. I might have to run an experiment on my next book. I don't want to mess with anything I've got going now since they are all producing well.

Why I chose to stay in Select:

I published a very short book in January at $0.99. Instead of enrolling in Select, I published to B & N. Grand total after 30 days:

Amazon: 97 copies sold
B & N: 2 copies sold

Now being at $0.99, that means I made 97 x $0.35 on Amazon and 2 x $0.40 on B & N. I immediately yanked my book off B & N and enrolled in Select. Borrows usually come in around $2.00 and I KNOW I would have had at least 1 freaking borrow since I sold 97 copies, which would have been worth more than the $0.80 I got off 2 sales (in a MONTH). That cured me of wanting to reformat all my stuff for every other publisher out there.

But of course, I've also seen writers saying they get 0 or 1 borrows, so, it must depend on what you are writing. I am writing nonfiction.
edit on 8/7/13 by Ameilia because: spelling!

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 01:15 AM
reply to post by Ameilia

Whether it works or not, I'm not certain, as I'm writing in a flooded market and get little attention. My current works are vampire/werewolf/witchcraft in a fantasy setting which, unfortunately, means I have a pretty hard market to crack. I've not had anything price matched yet, probably due to the little attention that I get.

I'm one of those writers that sees very few borrows. A grand total of 0 in three months unfortunately. Though my sales aren't much better (around 10 across all markets in 10 months, thankfully I'm primarily writing for fun).

I had planned to list through B&N at one point, but they only offer to American residents. Rude.

Non-fiction is a much more forgiving market to write for, so no wonder you are seeing much more success! I must say, well done, and you must be quite knowledgeable to be able to write so many books

S. J. Vellenga

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 01:25 AM
reply to post by Scaleru

It isn't that I'm particularly smart or know lots about a lot things. It's very specific knowledge that I have on a very few things. Everyone has that, on some subject or another.

Since you are writing vampire/werewolf/witchcraft...honestly the vampire and werewolf thing is flooded right now just like you say, but you know what isn't? Witchcraft. I assume that is all in one book? Push the Witchcraft part of it. Recategorize your book to a category dealing with Witchcraft.

For price matching, have a friend (or friends) go to Amazon and use the Report a Lower price button on your book's page. I see authors talking about doing that for each other all the time. I haven't done it myself, but I hear it works for others.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 01:32 AM
reply to post by Ameilia

I'm one of those odd people that has lots of little bits of knowledge about lots of different things, no single area has really interested me to the point of "I have to know as much as I can about this!".

More important things!
Yeah, I've focussed more on the witchcraft side of things (and none of this wand waggling crag that everyone seems to think is magic), but I think I may need to work on my presentation. Category, as you say, is important, as is the blurb and cover (which I have a family member redesigning for me). More hurdles to jump over!

I'm not really too concerned about price matching, as I have it standardized across the markets. Neat to know how it works though

With the other books I'm working on and the website I'm developing, my time is pretty stretched. These are the kinds of things that go on my "to do" list, which is really my "I'll probably never get around to this" list.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 01:37 AM
reply to post by Scaleru

At least re-do the cover if you aren't happy with it as it is, and if the book isn't selling. I've re done covers for books selling a dozen a month only to have them start selling 100+ a month with the new cover. Right now I have one book only selling 7-12 a month and I can't for the life of me figure out a new design I like. Lots of time can be spent on covers unfortunately.

I bet when you get another couple books out your sales pick up.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 01:50 AM
reply to post by Ameilia

Yeah, covers aren't really my forté, I'm terrible with them.

I'm hoping that I'll get a little more interest when the second in the series is finished (currently sitting atop my aforementioned list). I originally planned for a quadrilogy and a series of short stories to link together, but then came up with another "world" that I wanted to write (also on the list) and had a dream a few months back that I want to novelize (again, on the list). Too many ideas, not enough time unfortunately.

Well, I just went and recategorised on every platform. Time will tell if that helps.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 02:06 AM
reply to post by Scaleru

The good news is you are having ideas. It's much better to be in 'too many ideas, too little time to write' than in writer's block.

There are tons of websites that will make covers, you can even buy them custom on Fiverr (they aren't so great for $5 though) and I've seen good ones for as low as $30. I make my own using GIMP and purchased stock images because I've never found a single pre-made cover I liked and of course it's like $300 for a custom cover.

It took me maybe a year to get really good at GIMP. In the beginning I'd have an idea and buy my image(s) but take forever to implement it. Now I can pretty much implement whatever, but sometimes get stuck not having the right idea.

I know someone who has used Darkdawn Creations and I see she has pre-mades that are pretty good for $15. Darkdawn Creations I haven't used her, just heard that she is allright. These covers are exclusive to the buyer.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 08:06 AM
This is some great information for budding writers and though I'm not one of them I can appreciate the time and effort you put in to this thread.
Here's to all those helped in the future thanks to you.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 02:41 PM
This is very interesting.

What I've come to realise, however, is that the profit is not in the monetary value that you obtain, but in the joy of writing and knowing that somewhere, someone is reading your work, and maybe even enjoying it. That's what has made me continue in my efforts to write more.

I agree. I've often thought that if someone writes a book merely for profit, then they shouldn't be writing at all. I would want to write to tell stories and entertain or to educate. If someone read my book (and didn't even pay for it) but obtained a love of reading from it or even writing, then I'd consider it mission accomplished really.
edit on 7/8/13 by Kram09 because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 02:54 PM
I have a novel that I want to get published in print. I've been trying the agent route for years (between two different books) and haven't gotten any hooked yet. I received more encouragement from magazines years before when I was trying to sell short stories. I got some really positive feedback from a couple (with no sales though.) One was a popular Sci-Fi magazine which denied my story only because its science was wrong (which didn't surprise me because I write fantasy but I dabble in Sci-Fi sometimes.) They asked me to either edit it or to send them a new story! I didn't...and I seriously regret that. I should have tried. They liked me!

I'd say the wisest advice would be to focus on short stories. Once you get one published, BOOM! You're now a "published writer." Getting a second one published won't be as hard, and so on. After you've sold a number of short stories (considered writing "credits") you can then try to get a book published as a "published writer," or you can wait for them to come to you.

This takes time but I now regret not taking that path.

As for self-publishing, I've been considering writing an ebook for publication on Smashwords. They use various Readers, including Kobo Reader (which I have.) They're a popular site and the key points for sale seem to be:
1. A good cover; something bold and provocative. It needs a simple design because, remember, the cover will appear small for most and sometimes in B&W only.
2. A striking title (of course.)
3. A brief, striking description (hook) for busy people quickly breezing by.
4. Pricing at around $6.99. This was considered the best price for sale, or at least it was by the demographics released for Smashwords in 2012. Books priced lower or higher didn't seem to sell as well.
5. The longer the better. It's often a writer's instinct to keep a book short and to-the-point, but this goes to the in-print publishing mentality for the sake of cost. When it comes to ebooks a lot of readers apparently feel cheated when they pay for a short book. With people's short attention spans these days you'd think shorter would sell better, but no, long ebooks often sell better than short ones. I'm not saying that you should write epic-long books, but it's better than wicked short.

Advertising seems to come second to this stuff. When you start off, you're nobody. You want your book to be noticed on the site and sales to rise. This is how you can achieve it, based on what I've researched.

I know nothing about self-publishing in print.

As for getting published in print, of course you have the two standard routes: agents: (salesmen who only understand a good sales pitch) and publishers (executive types who only understand a good business proposal.) Your query has to not only entice them with your natural skill and charisma as an author but you must also learn to speak their language and be manipulative (like or not.) A third option is the best, if accomplished: find a contact! Someone who can say: "Hey, I know this guy Joe who wrote this book. It's pretty good, you should read it." The agent or publishing house editor would then say: "Yeah, OK, I'll get to it later." Suddenly your manuscript actually gets read, plus you have a "second opinion" (someone else who likes your book beside them (these agents and publishers don't even trust their own judgments because the business is so risky!)

So, these are my shared thoughts and knowledge. Personally, the creative side always came easy to me and I've had published writers and professional editors encourage me with how impressed they were. Getting published is always the hard part for me, and I must say, so far, agents give me the least enthusiasm.
edit on 7-8-2013 by LoneCloudHopper2 because: (no reason given)

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 03:03 PM
Great information guys. I am looking to publish a graphic novel down the road, and this info is very helpful.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 05:07 PM
reply to post by Scaleru

Scaleru and everyone, also check out 2 free user groups on the librarything website. Librarything is run by professional librarians. The 1st group is writerreaders:

The 2nd is writer's brag and rag bag:

Both share loads of tips about the problems and solutions associated with writing.

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 07:09 PM
reply to post by Scaleru

could your methods also work with graphic novels as well?

I'm in the planning stages for a GN and smetimes I feel I'm going nowhere or that it's just not good enpugh for publication.
Although it goes on the worn out post-Apocalypse dystopia trope, it's a very unique take on it, so could you give advice for graphic novelists?

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 07:50 PM
Thanks for the info... I have one I sent through Iuniverse a few years ago mainly because i wanted the hardcover version of my book. It's a good company but fairly expensive and its near impossible to edit the interior if there are more than a few changes. I'm glad you posted because I'm looking to self publish my next book and forgot most of the steps I'll have to go through.....

posted on Aug, 7 2013 @ 08:44 PM
Wow, this has gotten far more attention than I had expected! I'll try and keep up with everyone:

Yeah, ideas are great, but it's frustrating when I can't get them all down! As for paying for covers, while I have considered it and done a bit of research on the topic, I'm not really in a financial position to do so. Luckily, my cousin is a budding artist, and she has agreed to take on the challenge.

Hopefully someone will find my ramblings useful!

Originally, to be honest, I started writing out of spite. I read the Harry Potter series and didn't like the way magic was portrayed, so I set out to create something that felt more "real". Eventually, I got over my overzealous youth, and realised that I actually enjoyed what I was doing.

I have to agree though, if you're writing for profit, you're not going to create a believable story, you're just going to pin everything on dollar values. It's the fast road to simplistic styles and predictable narratives.

I considered the agent route myself, but came to the conclusion that it was a thing of the past. While the traditional route does still get some attention, the publishers tend to hang on their existing, well known authors. This is probably a result of the digital industry taking such a leap forward, threatening the profit margins of print. Why would someone pay $20-30 for a book, when then can get the same thing digitally for 10% of the cost while sitting in their loungeroom?

This change in the industry also puts forward another issue: Is now really the time to try and wade through the masses of generic writing to try and get your little work noticed? That really depends on your long term goals, I think.

Short stories are a great way to start, not only from a publishing perspective, but from a writing perspective too. If you set yourself a length limit, say 20,000 words (I think technically classed a novella, but stay with me), and give yourself a fully fleshed out story to cram into that limit, it really pushes you to create engaging text that still remains descriptive enough to tell the whole narrative. I have always felt that if you can produce quality fiction on a smaller scale, building it up to a larger novel shouldn't really pose much of an issue.

The big thing when it comes to self publishing (at least from my experiences) is your presence. As you state, creating a bold cover is high on the list, and your title should not only be descriptive, but enticing. Your blurb is something that you really need to think about. If you can't snatch the reader in the first sentence, you've not done your job right.

I'm curious, can you link me to the information regarding pricing? I've done extensive research on this topic while preparing to release my first novel, and found endless conflicting information. Some sites backed the $0.99 route, while others the $2.99, and yet more claiming that $5.99 was best. Even more sites were saying to stay away from the 99 syndrome, and focus more on arbitrary numbers just shy of the dollar. Apparently, a book priced at $2.97 has a higher chance of selling than one at $2.99. Haven't tested this yet myself.

The longer the better? Hmmm, maybe, but I'd be inclined to push for quality over quantity. My first novel was ~80,000 words, my sequel (which I am still writing) is probably going to hit closer to 100,000. Does this mean that the second is better than the first? I hope it is, but for other reasons

I would agree with you on advertising, in a sense. Paying for ads or banners hasn't been successful (for me at least), but interacting with the general populace has.

Self publishing in print is effectively the same process IF you go with a POD service. If you prefer to try and make the sales yourself, you're going to have to have a lot of time for marketing and sales.

Some nice information in there, curious to see your thoughts on my counter points.

Glad we could be of help! Hope it all goes well for you.

I haven't heard of that site before. I'll have to give it a look and see if I can make some time for it.

Continued in next post...

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