The Self-Publishing Grind
Jack: Writing blogs is tough work. Talk to anyone who has attempted to write a regular blog and they will tell you the same thing. We failed in our first attempts to keep a regular blog, and to be honest, we had a hard time trying to decide where to start because really: who wants to read the random thoughts that go through our heads on a daily basis?
Ashley: That’s a bit harsh. Did we really fail? Can’t we just say we were so focused on getting the books out that we didn’t have time to blog?
Jack: That’s fair. But we have definitely learned that selling books in today’s market is not always about writing the best book. You have to engage readers on a regular basis, or they forget and move on to the next best thing.
Ashley: Well then, let’s blog. I realize that there are a billion topics that we could talk about, but we should focus on one of the questions that readers ask us most often: What’s it really like to self publish books?
Jack: That is a great question. Ashley and I have made a lot of great choices on our journey, and we have also made a lot of mistakes. There wasn’t a lot of candid discussion on the topic when we first published, so we had to learn most of what we know after the fact. Can you point to the most important lesson you feel we have learned along the way?
Ashley: I would have to say the most important thing we have learned is the importance of a high quality product. It starts with the writing process on our part, but there is a lot more to it than that.
Jack: Yes there is! Also, with the market the way it is today, it is a lesson that we have to relearn on a regular basis. There is nothing more important for an author, in my mind, than cultivating a regular reading habit. Outstanding works of literature can teach you more about sentence structure and grammar than any class ever can.
Ashley: As an English major, I might disagree with you on that, but I can’t disagree about the importance of reading when it comes to the ability to write with a strong, consistent voice, generate relatable characters, and develop an engaging plot that leaves readers satisfied but still wanting more.
Jack: True. But you would probably have to concede that my reading habits have made a significant difference in the quality of my writing? Remember the early versions of The Wand-Maker’s Debate before I was able to convince you I could do better?
Ashley: I won’t argue with you there. And I suppose I won’t take all the credit for defeating your comma habit with my constant nagging, either.
Jack: I, did, like, my, commas,.
Ashley: Seriously though, one of the greatest investments we have made as authors is a high quality professional editor.
Jack: Oh, snap! You had to play that card. I have to agree with you that we both have learned a lot from our last round of editing.
Ashley: Our beta readers have been a big help, too. It’s amazing what a few extra eyes can catch that we would never see.
Jack: Yes, a little distance helps to gain some perspective. But learning where to get editors and beta readers was an expensive lesson -- one I would gladly pay to learn again. Nothing against our early editors, but there is a significant difference in the knowledge base of someone who does it for a living at a high level compared to a startup that has little experience with highly successful books. I wish there had been a way of vetting an editing company before we began our journey, but alas nothing exists to help the inexperienced in that area.
Ashley: Nothing teaches better than experience, and trial and error was a rough instructor. We made it through the early years, though, and now we have a trusted team of professionals that we work with. When it came time to find an editor for the third book in the series, there was no secret to success in hiring a good fit. It took hours of online research to find someone with the credentials, rates, and personality that would work best for us. That time paid off, but there are no shortcuts. The same is true for finding beta readers. Most of our process for recruiting involved social networking and word of mouth discussion.
Jack: Absolutely! Social networking is a great tool, and used properly you can find any service you are looking for with just one post. You still have to do your research, but all the information can be found in just a few minutes. That is another lesson we learned along the way.
In order to build a good foundation on social networks, you need to offer consistent engagement to your audience. I think we mentioned that earlier. Nothing will slow down progress faster than letting your audience forget why they clicked the “like” or “follow” button.
Early in our writing career we managed to gain a large following by working hard to offer fresh posts on a regular basis. Then, falling into the trap that I am sure many authors encounter, we decided our success was at a level that allowed us to back off... sorry about that.
Ashley: We were wrong. We should have realized that the reason we were hearing from fans so often is because they had something to respond to. There was engaging material on the website, interesting posts on the Facebook page, and Jack’s eager ramblings of 140 character tweets. When the interactions on our end stopped, the commentary from the readers slowed, and ultimately so did the sales.
Jack: Yes. And as authors we had to take a good look at ourselves and ask, “Why aren’t we selling books like we did last year? This book is even better than the last one! Our reviews are showing that we have managed to improve our brand. We just don’t get it!”
Then we looked back on everything that we had done to earn the thirty thousand dollar year. The truth of the matter is that we did thirty thousand dollars worth of work to get there. This time around, we did far less work and expected an even better result because now “we have fans!”
Man were we naive. I’m fairly certain that if we had continued our concerted effort things would be much different today. With that lesson firmly realized, Ashley and I are going to make an effort to bring our fans (I still have a hard time using that word) a great deal more between books.
Ashley: While the insight into our successes and failures may not be as exciting as Osric’s adventures, we are hoping that we can pay it forward a bit with some of our knowledge about the writing process and the struggles in publishing. We had a lot of help along the way, many times from authors like us just trying to muddle through the muck of the industry.
Jack: It’s not a smooth muck, either. There are so many “businesses” that are there to take advantage of you. Luckily, we were able to avoid that. We managed to find many people who were genuine in their attempts to help other authors to succeed. Although, many of them ended up being wrong, we can’t fault them for trying.
Ashley: It wasn’t just the editing and beta reading that made a difference in our book quality. The cover artist we found, again through trial and error, has made an amazing improvement in the face of our series. The companies that we use to distribute the books also play a big role in the quality of the product that ends up in the readers’ hands. We want to thank everyone that has helped along the way to producing these books, and we hope that we can help other aspiring authors trudge a little easier through the muck.
Jack: I think we should let everyone know who we use, for those who haven't read the books anyway. And of course we will linky-link them all for you so you can find them if you are looking. We wish we had found some great referrals, rather than spending three years searching for good quality. Best of luck to you!
Ashley: The best advice we can give to someone considering self-publishing is to look into all of the options. There are quite a few services out there that sell expensive publishing packages. We steered clear of all of those because we felt the inflated price was not worth the limited services that went along with it. We chose to hire our own editor, to format the documents for print ourselves and hire someone to format the electronic document for Kindle, and to pursue our own marketing strategies. We learned some great tips from the folks at the Indie Book Collective (they are no longer offering classes that we are aware of.) and from various blogs and websites devoted to the exciting and terrifying adventures of self-publishing. Set realistic goals, work every single day, and celebrate the small successes. It’s all worth it
when a complete stranger tells you how much they love your books!
Editor: Scott Alexander Jones
Cover Art: Rodrigo Adolfo
Ebook publishing: KDP
Paperback publishing: Creatspace