I don't know that I'm really in a qualified position to give advice, usually that's reserved for those bestsellers who churn out 50 million books a year. But I have experienced a successful beginning as far as Indie publishing goes, exceeding far beyond my expectations, as well as the norm. I decided to close out the year with a little advice for those who are published or are considering publishing. Take it for what it's worth, this is just based on my personal experience through the past 15 months.
It's a long post, but really directed at those who are considering publishing, or are already in it.
THE COVER IS EVERYTHING.
Don't let anyone tell you that the cover doesn't matter. If your book is that great and word of mouth circulates enough that your crappy cover makes the bestseller list, you're an exception. Most of us browsing on Amazon don't have time to click on every single book to read the blurb. The only thing you see initially when doing your quick scroll are:
A. The Cover (better make it good)
B. The Author name (if nobody knows you, this doesn't count)
C. The Price. Seems simple if you're a 99 cent book. But if every other book in your genre is also set at the same price, who cares? Then where are we at? The cover.
The cover is enough to get a reader to click on your book and find out more. It doesn't guarantee sales, or even that they'll like your book. But it's no different than stores who gussy up their window displays, or car lots who put the best cars in front by the street.
The second cover didn't work out. The title was bad, the males head was cut off, there's too much dead space in the middle, and the author font is horrendous. It had potential, it just wasn't pulled together.
It's never too late to get a new cover. If what you have isn't working because it doesn't represent your book or could be better, then redo it. It won't guarantee your book will sell, but it won't hurt to have a new and improved version.
YOU ARE NOT AN EDITOR
Most of us graduated high school and may own a few English books, but does that mean we have a firm grasp on the English language? No. Editors do not come cheap, but they will help get your book where it needs to be. As many steps as I go through with edits, my editor makes my books bleed red ink. There are different types of editors, so do your research. I speak from experience because with Sterling, I couldn't afford an editor, nor did I have the resources on where to find one. Honestly, I thought only 10 people would buy the book. Who knew?
Don't go into publishing thinking like that or only 10 people will read your book and give it 1-star ratings based on your editing that you can never erase.
What can you do?
1. Get a team of beta readers together, some with experience. Lots of eyes catch different things that you don't. Do not rely on beta readers to edit your book. They are not qualified editors. You should also have plenty of books on grammar on your bookshelf.
2 Purchase editing software. It won't make you write better, but it will identify homonyms, typos, glue words, slang, English/British usage, etc. Don't always trust the suggested change - do your research if you're not sure.
3. Text to speech software. Your eyes see what they want to see, and even read what you think it says. Hearing someone else read your words is enlightening.
4. Hire an editor. Try different ones to see who fits your style. Yes, genres have certain writing styles. Usually you have to book them weeks to months in advance, and most editors do not come cheap. Do not bypass the editor. If you take your writing seriously, this is not an optional task.
5. Hire a proofreader. Your editor is not your proofreader and neither is your spouse.
On the above: whenever you pay for services, be sure to look at their portfolio. Go check out those books and read their sample and reviews. Also, accept the fact that not everything will be caught. These are all steps in producing quality work, which is as equally important as the story.
YOU WILL NOT BE THE NEXT E.L. JAMES
Just accept it.
Hug your pillow and cry a little bit when you've published your book and it doesn't soar to the #1 spot on Amazon. There are millions of books on Amazon and it's immensely difficult to get noticed. Learn to be content with where you are at, and just keep writing. When that one fan mail comes in, that one review, that one comment that totally makes your day, then you'll see how much it was worth it. Do we all want to be able to quit our day jobs and make a living doing this? By all means - YES! I'd love nothing more than to tell my boss to shove it after working as a corporate bottomfeeder for the past 10 years, but a reliable paycheck is what I need to make sure my bills are paid. It puts added pressure on me to be able to publish as a side job, but that's how passionate I am about writing.
WRITING IS EASY, PUBLISHING IS NOT
I could write a whole book on this topic, because there's this perception that all you have to do is write one book, get famous, sit back and watch the money roll in, doing little else outside of a little Facebook promotion. I work 18 hours a day. How committed are you willing to be to this profession?
When you are self-published, you don't have a publisher taking care of everything.
That's ALL you.
1. You're in charge of editing, hiring an editor, locating betas, adhering to a schedule, and not going nuts.
2. Social networking means more than a few Facebook ads. You should be interacting with your readers on a daily basis, as well as making sure other sites are kept up to date, like Goodreads, Twitter, your Blog, etc.
3. If you do a blog tour, hire someone to organize it for you. It's still going to be work because you have to sit down and write up guest posts, answer interview questions, or do other things.
4. You're in charge of your cover design. Either doing it yourself, or working with a cover artist by negotiating the price and discussing the design concept. If you go on your own, then you have to purchase your own stock art and know about photoshopping.
5. Organization. I am a series writer so I have to keep my stuff in detailed tables (Bios, world building info, chapter descriptions, etc).
6. There IS a constant need to rush, because if you're fortunate and gain popularity, you want to maintain the momentum and not have too long of a stretch between book releases. Sure, Gena Showalter can do that because she's a NY times bestselling author and has a publisher marketing the crap out of her. But you are a small fry.
7. Oops, don't forget writing! You always have to be working on your next novel. But who has time to write when you're busy doing all of the above? (And then some)
That doesn't even scratch the surface of everything going on. This is a full-time business, so you need to be familiar with federal and state tax laws. You'll need to know how to negotiate contracts (should they be offered), and will spend an excessive amount of time each day doing tasks that "you didn't sign up for". Writing is only half the battle.
This is not to be discouraging, but don't make the assumption that all you'll be doing is writing by a sunny window at your own leisure. You have schedules to stick to. It's hard work, but worth it if you really love this job.
DUCK AND COVER
So your mom and three cousins read your book and said it was going to be the next big thing. Prepare for a cold splash of reality: Not everyone will like your book. There's a lot of talk about "Sock puppets" in the publishing world (which do exist) where other authors rate down each other's books through fake accounts, but aside from stupid behavior like that, some people will just genuinely dislike your book. Some may even loathe it. Please try to find a book that has no low star ratings. Most people only post reviews when they have something to say, and that's usually when it's really good or really bad. Don't spend too much time reading reviews. You can get 100 fantastic reviews and that 1 star is going to make you question what the hell you're doing with your life. They're also eye opening; if you happen to have a lot of low ratings because your story jumps around or typos, then those are things you can work on with another edit, or future books. The point is to improve your craft.
But seriously, don't have any illusions that you are worth the marks you get from reviewers. I wish more people would post reviews, but if you don't have thick skin, you'll never survive reading those on a daily basis. Just step away. Reviews are for readers to help one another in making informed decisions on their purchases. If someone wants to contact me directly, I'm easy to find.
The above is one reason I'd strongly recommend against children publishing, as some teens may be going into this. I don't know of any, but it will bury their self-esteem. Work hard in school, keep writing, and remember that publishing is not something you should be in a "hurry" to do.
At the end of the day, be proud of your work no matter where it does (or doesn't) take you. I had a saying on my sidebar I made up that said, "Art is not a competitive sport." The line came to mind when I was seeing how competitive writing really has become - watching other author's take off while you're in the dust. Authors shifting genres due to the current trend. Maybe genre switching and writing to a formula will propel you into the bestseller list, but just be sure that you're proud of your work. I talked about this with a couple of friends of mine and decided that I only wanted to write the story that was in my head, even knowing that my books will never launch like others, simply because UF/PNR genres are not a huge seller. They are in their own right among readers, but when I'm talking about the bestseller list, those are reserved for YA and contemporary romance. Many readers will have issues crossing over to the darkside where vampires and shifters lurk.
I hope this helps someone, even if one piece of advice sticks. Think of your book like a car. Tune her up, make sure she runs good, give her a fresh paint and polish, shine the tires, and just know that maybe she won't be the fastest car on the block, but her next owner may think she's the shit.
And that counts for something.
My final piece of advice?
Appreciate everything that comes your way, but don't expect it.