I’m sure you’ve heard something along these lines: “the [book] cover’s job is to get readers to start reading the description.”1 Think about it for a minute. How often do you buy a book with an ugly cover? Continue reading
Not a lot can go wrong if you have a publisher, can it? Obviously, the promotion effort is on you, but that’s to be expected. If you’re lucky, the publisher will do their bit – after all, it’s in their interest too to let the world know you’re launching a book. At the very least, you’ll discuss with them what sort of promotion campaign to run – when, where, for how long and so forth.
But there’s many a slip etc. Your publisher could go bankrupt – that’s happened to me before. Or else go silent – that’s happened to me now. We’d planned the release of Perfume Island for 20th September, but as the date drew nearer and I had no news, nor any answer to my emails, I somewhat reluctantly called a halt to the whole operation. Then I finally got a response apologising for the absence.
This post is not a gripe. I’m not complaining or denouncing or accusing. On the contrary, although this has thrown me off kilter, I’ve been happy with our relationship up to now, and the ending has been amicable and fair. But obviously, I can’t pretend it never happened. After all, a few people were aware that Perfume Island was due out shortly, and some were poised to write a review, so I needed to clarify the situation in order to be able to move on.
Move on where? Self-publishing. It’s the only option I have. I could hunt for an agent or publisher but none will ever accept the second book in a series if they don’t already have the first. Besides which, the book is ready for release now, not in some distant, uncertain future.
In terms of promotion, the strategy remains the same, more or less. When you have a series, the central plank of your strategy is to offer the first book free, or heavily discounted, using it as a ‘reader magnet’ to draw people on to the second. So what we’d planned was a two-week promotion, offering One Green Bottle free, starting a month before the launch of Perfume Island. That way, people would have time to read OGB, love it (or not) and hop over to Amazon to buy Perfume Island (or not). Cunning, eh? But when the time arrived, I saw that the price on OGB hadn’t changed. Clearly, there was a problem.
The cause of the problem? KDP Select. Now, I did know that OGB had been enrolled in KDP Select at the outset, but I thought it was just for the first 90 days. So I’d assumed that it could now be offered free for a full two weeks, rather than just for 5 days, as stipulated by KDP Select. I repeat – I blame no one here, or at least, the blame can be shared. I should have made sure the book was no longer with KDP Select, rather than just assume so. A misunderstanding, shall we say.
As I see it, KDP Select can be useful, but probably not at the beginning. Fantasy author Suzanne Rogerson has a slightly different take on the matter, which she details in two helpful posts (one and two). My view is that once you have an established readership, fine, but until then, you need the flexibility to make your first book free for as long as you like. Permafree, if you’re up for it. Which is what I intend to do.
As soon as I saw what had happened, I started a novella, prequel to OGB. It’s now turned into a hybrid – part novella, part explanation of the writing of OGB. I’m aiming for a November release, with Perfume Island to follow shortly after.
Phew! As if writing itself wasn’t hard enough, getting it out there and (maybe, conceivably) noticed can be harrowing! Still, the initial dismay having passed, I’m now feeling more serene. I’m not saying that one day, I won’t have another crack at the traditional route, but for the moment, I’m savouring the truth of what everyone says about self-publishing – however much of a struggle, you’re in control of the process.
A few years ago, when I was relentlessly querying anything that moved trying to find a literary agent, a woman I hardly knew asked me a simple question: Why? As in what can an agent get you? What advantage do you imagine professional publication offers over self-publication?
At the time, the questions seemed a bit naïve, maybe even disingenuous. Publication had to mean something. It meant getting past the gatekeepers of the industry. It meant acceptance. It also meant professionalism. How could that not be better than self-publishing? One was rolling out a sleek new model on a showroom floor; the other was stuffing a note in a bottle and throwing it over Niagara Falls.
And yeah. Part of me still feels that way. I have been professionally published (and will be again soon) and I have self-published and let me tell you, there ain’t as much difference as you might think.
My first book, Spark, was published by Lycaon Press. It was professionally edited by the staff at Lycaon. Victoria Miller produced a first-rate professional cover. With the book’s release, I was launched on a blog-tour (six blogs? four blogs? I don’t remember) with interviews and excerpts and a couple of guest blog pieces. It felt so professional. I was part of a stable of authors. I received royalties and quarterly reports.
Well…yeah, technically. Although actually it took a long time before I got paid my first royalties. And—kaching!—let’s just say they didn’t exactly pay for dinner that night. And I don’t mean dinner at a nice restaurant, I mean dinner. Like whatever we happened to be having for dinner that night, my quarterly royalties probably didn’t cover it. And I don’t think my sales results were exceptionally bad. During March, the paperback of Spark was featured for 25% off at the Lycaon website. It sold eight copies, and the owner congratulated me on having a good month.
Just before publishing my second book, Lycaon folded up their tents and got out of town. So there I was. Two books with all the professional trimmings and no publisher. So, I self-published. You know the routine: Kindle, Createspace, etc, etc. I had an advantage, of course, in that I didn’t need to hire and editor or cover artist, but otherwise, I was right back at square one.
And that’s exactly how it felt. I blogged, and I tweeted, and I maintained a Facebook presence, but I was pretty much just a lonely little bottle floating in an ocean, with countless other little bottles all bobbing around with me.
When I first contemplated self-publishing, that is precisely what killed my enthusiasm for the idea. According to Amazon’s own figures, there are over 3.7 million books available in the Kindle Store. If you spent a brief 5 seconds on each title, it would take you over seven months (no sleeping) to browse the entire stock—and by that time, there would be several hundred thousand new titles to look over. While this is a boon for readers (maybe), for authors it’s horrifying. The odds of being plucked—even once—from this vast sea are, well, staggering.
As far as self-pubbing versus traditional, there are some differences. Free editing and artwork are very nice perks, and it does feel like more of a thing—you are professionally and officially published. But as for the rest of it, I haven’t seen significantly better sales from one approach or the other. Either way, it’s a long, hard journey. There are some advantages to self-publishing, too. For one, you can set your own prices (I was never happy with how much Lycaon was charging) and collect a greater percentage of royalties. This also comes in handy when trying to run a promotion or offer a discount. Or when handing out review copies—most publishers will make a number of Advanced Reading Copies available, but if you’re your own publisher, you can decide this stuff for yourself.
But it’s the ways in which the two approaches are the same that tells the real tale. Either way, you will be primarily responsible for spreading the word about your book, for having a platform of some sort, for social media stuff. And (sorry to be a wet blanket) either way the odds are not in your favor. Success requires luck and perseverance. And perspective. These days, success might require setting very modest goals and giving yourself a lot of time to achieve them.
And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. You wanted to write? So write. No one said it was going to be easy.
In case you missed it, yeah, I’m mostly talking to myself here.