Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Year In Self Publishing

Chambaud’s Dictionary. Some old leather-bound ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Now Beirut – An Explosive Thriller is out, I thought I could afford to sit back a little and take stock of the past year and perhaps share some of the things I’ve learned since I decided to take the law into my own hands and publish Olives – A Violent Romance myself. I started to document them, then realised I was going to end up with a book about publishing books! I've put some of the top line things down here, but will post separately tomorrow on book promotion and marketing because it's such a huge topic in itself.

People are nicer than you think.
For someone with a generally low opinion of humanity, this has been a real eye-opener. The supportiveness and positivity I have encountered from total strangers has been breathtaking. I have been genuinely surprised at peoples’ reaction to learning you have written a book – it’s generally seen as something of an achievement. The next question is invariably ‘What’s it about?’ and I cannot stress enough how important it is to have worked out a snappy, crisp answer to that question.

Publishing online is easy.
Once you’ve got your head around things, it’s really just a few clicks here and there. While this is neat, it’s also dangerous, because you can get pretty glib about things – then find you’ve posted a document stuffed with errors. The great news is that it’s just as simple to upload updates – the bad news is you can lose hours or, in the case of print books, even weeks of sales availability.

Publishing offline isn’t.
The Middle East lags many other markets in e-commerce and this is very true of ebooks, with zero support for the region from retailers such as Amazon. This forced me to produce a ‘Middle East Edition’ of Olives, getting government permission to print a book in the UAE, finding a printer who could print novels and arranging distribution. I’ve lost a significant amount of money on that edition – printing 2,000 books has resulted in something like 300 sales (I still haven’t got sales returns from retailers beyond disitributor Jashanmal’s own stores, so can’t be sure of the exact number. Likewise, I haven’t got any money from them a year in!). I've made more money (and as many sales) with the online editions, by the way.

Editing is key.
The printed edition of Olives is a flawed work, with some awful errors in it. Apparently the average traditionally published book contains over 70 errors, but one is too much for me. The worst of these, IMHO, is two paras in which Lynch’s eyes change from green to blue. For the record they’re blue. Although the book was edited extensively, including an edit from pro Robb Grindstaff, it was also tinkered with post-edit. Send your final version to the editor and then leave it alone. This resulted in one snarling review on Goodreads – the only truly negative one I’ve had – which suggested Olives was a great story told by the wrong writer. Which was nice.

Book clubs are cool.
Don’t get me wrong – I could never belong to a book club. But they buy your book, read it then invite you to come and spend a couple of hours talking about yourself and your work (my two favourite subjects) then thank you for coming! Amazing. They’re also core readers and significant providers of word of mouth recommendation, so are worth assiduously courting. They are also a great way to get to understand your work from a reader’s point of view which, in my case at least, resulted in a totally new approach to the whole process of writing. It's scary when you first realise that people are actually reading your work, analysing your characters' motives, getting immersed in the world you made - and getting pitched unceremoniously out of it if you've made an error or flub. This has led to something of a catechism for me - there's a relationship in reading a book and it's two-way. The writer is an unwelcome guest in the room and it's his/her job to be totally invisible.

Book marketing is a bitch.
 Traditional publishers are struggling with book marketing in the e-age and I have some sympathy with them. I should stress when I say ‘some’, you’ll need nano-scale measuring equipment to quantify that. The good old days of stuffing bookshops have gone, you have to find new ways to bring your work to the public’s attention. Most of that involves putting yourself out there (so it’s lucky I’m not shy, isn’t it?) which can be unbelievably rewarding but is also exhausting.

An online presence is critical.
 Twitter, book websites, blogs, posts to Facebook. These things are wearying to maintain but critical to building engagement and pulling people in to your book. I’ll talk about them more in that post about book marketing tomorrow, but you absolutely need an online strategy. While I have come out of this with a huge amount of respect for the role of book reviews, I remain unimpressed by ‘blog tours’ as a tool for finding readers and selling books.

Book bloggers and media are frequently wary of self-published authors.
A professional, crisp approach and a website packed with glowing reviews help to get over that, but some simply won’t countenance self-published authors and I can actually relate to that because there are a huge amount of needy voices out there and, worse, there’s a great deal of dross. Finding the good stuff, however, is surely what book reviewers are there for, so it’s a shame that the volume defeats some. That volume is unlikely, BTW, to diminish!

It takes an awful lot to make people buy – and read – a book.
You’d have thought ‘buy my book, it’s nice’ would be enough, wouldn’t you? But it takes a great deal more than a single ‘touch’ to get people moving. In fact, it takes seemingly endless and relentless promotion, reminders and pushing. You’ve got to be like a literary Modhesh, popping up and wobbling your tentacles (sausages, whatever those things on his head are) at people. And it’s a fine line between engaging, nagging and irritating.

The most important book sales tool in the world is...
Word of mouth.
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1 comment:

richard pierce said...

Great post, Alex, and spot on for those writers published by small presses, too. Looking forward to tomorrow's post. And you're so right about blog tours. R

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