Not long after I self-published my first novel, WOMAN KING, I sent out a tweet promising that I would “try never to make the same mistake twice.” If you count the fact that I frequently fall short of my goal to tweet daily (oh the irony) to keep up my social-media presence, then I have made many of the same mistakes more than twice.
Welcome to the world of self-publishing!
It’s a place of vast opportunity, but also great potential disappointment. The roadmaps for self-published authors are newly inked, and all of us are the cartographers of a future that is still taking shape. On some days I feel like an intrepid genius, on other days, not so much. As I embark on the new year – and Book Two of my trilogy – I thought I’d share some food for thought about the lessons I’ve learned and some fun tools I’ve discovered:
Don’t be in a hurry. In traditional publishing, books can wait years for publication; self-publishing has the opposite problem. The ability to click the “upload” button without any gatekeepers whatsoever to stop you means that many stories reach the public before they’re ready. I did take time to have my first novel WOMAN KING edited, but I should’ve given myself more time. Now as I work on a second edition of WOMAN KING with an editor, I’m contemplating a longer timeline for editing and review of the second book in my planned trilogy.
Free, or nearly free, is often the norm. I used to think that being rejected by an agent was the most humbling experience I could have as an author. I’ve actually encountered something vastly more discomfiting: the frugalness of consumers on the Internet- especially for untested writers. It wasn’t until I made WOMAN KING free as an eBook that I began to see any interest. My advice? Don’t be afraid to give a certain amount of your work away to build a readership.
Build an audience. One of my main tasks as I prepare to launch my second novel is to amass a following through reader reviews, social media, and blogging. Trying to create witty tweets while also finishing a novel, managing my day job, and being a participating member of my family is no easy feat, but it’s necessary if I want to bring my work to the attention of readers in a saturated marketplace. I regularly read other blogs, magazines, and online newspapers to help curate good content for my followers. I also speak at the public libraries in my area about self-publishing and attend local author events in order to be an active member of the community. To help manage my time, I write my blog posts and essays (like this one) in batches, rather than trying to draft something original every day. However you choose to engage readers—be it through social media or good old-fashioned networking–do it early and often.
Create a publishing team. Writers write. We don’t design book covers, create marketing documents, edit our own manuscripts, or do any of the other myriad things it takes to bring a book to life. Or at least, we shouldn’t try to do all of those things ourselves. Whether you pay or barter for services (or end up just owing a friend a huge favor in return for their help), create a team of specialists who can help you bring your book to the marketplace that mimics the suite of professionals employed by a publishing house. At the end of the day, we should all want our work to be as flawless as possible.
Be ready to make changes. The freedom of being online is that readers can discover or sample your work at any time, which means that you can adjust the price, alter your marketing content, or even revise the manuscript itself at will. Don’t be afraid to go back and make changes that can help you expand your audience; take advantage of the fact that an eBook is a living document.
Explore serial fiction. Woman King began its journey to publication with my uploading it chapter by chapter onto Juke Pop, a curated serial fiction site. This turned out to be a huge opportunity to get the book in front of readers, where they promptly voted WOMAN KING one of the Top 30 stories on the site. Eventually, I published WOMAN KING as a standalone novel, but you can be sure I’ll be placing excepts from book two on Juke Pop later this year.
It turns out a picture is worth a thousand words. As of late I’ve been dabbling in Pinterest and experimenting with way that images can help writers tell the story of their books and engage readers in ways that were never available before. What does a character or a setting look like? Do you have a music playlist that inspires you as a writer? Share images of the album covers or artists from that list. There are endless ways of posting images about interesting subjects related to your work so when you’re building your social media strategy, don’t neglect these opportunities.
Keep writing. Being a writer is a tricky business. Many of us are introverts who are secretly wishing for mass approval as we write our hearts out on the page. But don’t let that be a reason to stop. Seeing my imagination take shape on the page is always exciting and fills me with a real sense of accomplishment. So, be nice to yourself, and keep plugging away.
Evette Davis is a veteran political consultant, and author of WOMAN KING, the first book in a fiction trilogy set in foggy San Francisco. She’s currently working on the second installment in the story. She lives with her family near Golden Gate Park. Connect with her on Book Country, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
Curious about self-publishing your own book? Join the discussion on Book Country!