Saturday, June 25, 2011

Self-Publishing Lessons Learned

Since self-publishing my first book in 2004 I have learned A LOT.   Some of those lessons were nice cushy lessons that didn't cost me anything but time, while others were a serious pain in the pocketbook. Pocketbook...who says that? Anyway, I digress.

While publishing a book isn't rocket-science, it is still a very time-consuming and sometimes intimidating process. Since I have been blessed with a wonderful network of very knowledgeable people who were willing to take the time to share pivotal information with me, I have decided to share few key things I've learned with you.

1. Learn your craft.

Just because you like to read doesn't automatically make you a good writer. Not everyone was born to be a writer.  As astonishing as that revelation is, it's true. Not everyone is gifted with a firm grasp of how to articulate the written word, so therefore it is imperative to study the craft and learn your strengths and weaknesses. This goes for the gifted, as well as those who were destined to work a little harder at it. Things like knowing how to put sentences together, formulate a storyline, use proper tense and punctuation are all very important things to know if you plan to write a book.

2. Finish the book.

Finishing your book is the most important part of any book project, because lets face it: If you don't have a finished book to sell, then you're pretty much wasting your time, as well as everyone else's.  Writing a book is more than a notion, and it takes time, dedication and discipline to do. So before you start going around telling your friends, family and everyone else who will listen that you're publishing a book, get the book finished first.

3. Get your book edited.

After I finished my first book I was so excited about the fact that I had finally finished it, all I wanted to do was to get it out for the world to see. I wasn't working with a lot of money at the time, so I figured I would cut corners by editing the book myself and then have some of my friends take a second glance at it for me.  WRONG ANSWER! 

After releasing the first run of my book, which was chocked full of typo's, grammatical and punctuation errors, I was forced to endure the humiliation of receiving reviews that pegged my work as having the potential of being a great story if it didn't have so many editing mishaps as a distraction for the reader to overcome. 

As a writer, it's always a bad idea to try to edit your own work simply because you're not going to catch all of your own mistakes because your brain is only going to see what you "meant" to write. And as far as having your friends do "glance overs" for you, they may not understand the written word as well as you think they do.

So after you finally finish your manuscript, make it a point to find and hire a good editor who understands your vision for your story and has a proven track record with respect to editing.  This is not something that should ever be compromised. This is your work, so be prepared to invest in it. Your readers deserve it.

4. Pick a great cover. 

The cover of your book is your reader's first introduction to your book. For the hundreds, thousands or even millions of people that you want to buy your book, you have to give them a reason to pick it up in the first place. This too was a lesson that I had to learn the hard way.

The cover for my first book, The Breaking Point, was symbolic for me. I wanted it to be metaphoric for the story's subject matter, so it was a picture of shattered glass with a knife behind it with red undertones. It was very cerebral and thought-provoking in my mind, so when a marketing expert told me that I needed to change my cover to be more appealing I was thoroughly offended.

Old Cover
So, I ignored her advice because after all what did she know? My cover was special and I felt that what was in between the front and back cover was much more important that what was on the outside. I was so confident that my readers would just get it, because after my mind, I was a great writer.  As a result I spent a lot more time explaining myself, and my story, to potential readers than I did selling books.

Needless to say, a year later I took her up on her advice and, lo-and-behold, my book started selling itself because people would just walk by and pick it up to look at the cover and would then flip it over to read the back. The new cover gave me what the marketing expert referred to as "shelf appeal".

Revised Cover
 When designing your cover, don't plan to be cheap. Do your research and honestly ask yourself if this wasn't your book, would you pick it up off the shelf?

5. Know your market.

When selling anything, it's always important to know who you are selling to. It's a simple matter of the timeless principal of "supply and demand". If you study, learn and understand who is demanding your product and how to effectively supply that demand, then you will be successful in your endeavors. If you don't, you won't. It's that simple.

Marketing your book effectively takes imagination, drive and commitment.  Imagination to come up with creative ways to make and keep your book relative to your audience; drive to push yourself to find and keep up with the latest and most effective marketing tactics and to educate yourself on all aspects of the craft; and the commitment to see it through to reach and exceed your goals.

In the grand scheme of things, these five principals are the meat and potatoes of the self-publishing journey. If you are able to diligently and aggressively approach them the rest will be a piece of cake!

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Brenda said...

Really good advice Janaya!!!! I published my first and 2nd book myself ('91 and '95) and agree with all you wrote. I appreciate your honesty and sincerity. Your advice about an editor is especially valuable also. Thank you for publishing that valuable info.
Brenda Perryman

Janaya Black said...

Thank you, Ms. Perryman! I am so honored that you took time to read and comment on my blog! Thank you.

Mr.5103inc said...

Hi Janaya,

I have wrote my fisrt novel but I don't know who or how to have it edited? Who did you have to edit your work? And what company did you publish your books through? I have many more question that I truly believe you may be able to help with. If you have the time I really would to chat about the future of my novel. My E-mail address is: Thanks, Have a great day!

Janaya Black said...

I will email you! Thanks for reading.

The Adventures of Princess Zaria said...

Thanks for your advice. As always, you were right on point. Writing the book is the easy part! Te work comes afterwards :)

That Writer Chick said...

This is great advice...I'm still working on #2, lol. But I will definitely follow the tips in this post when I'm ready to move on!