Having self-published four ‘real’ books, plus a small ebook of short stories, I’ve figured out quite a few things that I think would be very helpful to any aspiring writers, so thought I’d share them with you all.
Use LyX to write your book in. It has the least user-unfriendly interface of any word processor I know of, and produces beautiful typesetting in a variety of formats. The book Self-Publishing With LyX will give you a few tips. Output your book as a PDF – this can be used directly to typeset the printed version – and as an RTF file, which can be edited in LibreOffice, OpenOffice or similar to produce the text for your ebook versions.
If you have an index, don’t do it until *after* you have produced an RTF or .doc version for ebooks. LyX has a wonderful indexing system, but it leaves formatting marks in your RTF output, which will cause problems for ebook versions.
Serialise your book on your blog. This will build a readership – and you can later link every post to the released book. Don’t worry about people reading it for free who would otherwise pay – blogs and books are such different media that people *will* pay for a book version of blog posts they’re interested in. What I tend to do is add an introduction, extra footnotes, an index and so on to the book, so it still gives purchasers a reason to buy. I also revise everything before publication – and here the eyes you’ve got from your blog posts are invaluable, because people will have noticed the most obvious mistakes before you put them in print.
That said, before you publish your book, get at least four other people to read it over – ideally have two or three of them be people who know something about the subject/genre in question, but also have one or two be people who know as little as possible about the subject, but who are proficient in some other area (especially important is to get at least one person who is able to spot your spelling and grammatical errors – which you *will* have). I learned this after my first book, when two separate people (Plok and Mike Taylor) said “It’s a good book, but…” then made the same suggestion, which would have improved it.
Use Lulu for print versions. Yes, I know not many people buy print versions of books online, but some do, and you want every sale you can get. Make your book available as paperback and hardback, as well as PDF. Hardbacks won’t sell very much, but there will be *some* people who want them – some will even buy both versions of the book, to have one as a reading copy and one for their collection.
Do not, however, make your books available as ePubs from lulu. Lulu use an insanely complex auto-checking system that falsely marks many valid ePubs as being badly formatted – I suspect so they can sell you their ePub formatting service. Don’t fall for it.
For ebook publishing, the single most important thing you can do is to get on the Kindle. You can upload an RTF document at kdp.amazon.com. Don’t put DRM on your book. All it does is annoy customers – anyone who wants to ‘pirate’ your book will do so anyway. Learn from the mistakes of the music business, don’t repeat them.
Make sure you price your book above $2.99 in the Kindle version, as that’s the point at which Amazon will let you take 70% of the revenue, rather than 30%. My own experience has been that about $5 is a reasonable price for a ‘proper’ ebook (i.e. not one like my book of short stories, which is only 20 pages long). You’ll get slightly more sales at a lower price than that, but not (in my experience) enough to make up for the lost revenue. On the other hand, pricing the book at any more than that just makes you look greedy.
The pricing advice, however, will vary depending on how fungible a good your books are. Amanda Hocking, who writes stories about teen vampires in love (or something like that – ‘dark fantasy’ anyway) prices her books (or at least the first in each series) at 99 cents, because that’s a market with a lot of competition (and she’s managed to sell over a million books, so she’s doing something right in that market). Joe Konrath, who writes thrillers, publishes at $2.99, and again sells more than me. But I think in the case of Hocking or Konrath, their customers want ‘a dark fantasy’ or ‘a thriller’, and have thousands of choices. If your book’s in a more niche market, as all mine so far have been, you can afford to price it higher.
Also get your book onto smashwords.com – they will get your book into all other major ebook channels (Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, Nook etc), and will convert your RTF into the appropriate, DRM-free, formats. Make sure you follow the Smashwords Style Guide though (you can use your smashwords-formatted RTF to upload to KDP too).
Don’t let Smashwords put your book on Kindle, though – make sure you do that separately, yourself. Smashwords only pay quarterly, *and* take a percentage of what you make, *AND* it takes time for them to get paid by third parties, *AND* if you’re outside the US you have to jump through tax hoops which can take five months or more unless you want to lose another 30% of your money. If someone wants your book, direct them to Lulu or Amazon – Smashwords is only there for the less than 15% of the market who want ePub books. Put your book there and look at any money you make from it as a pleasant surprise.
Get a decent cover. People *do* judge books by their covers, and even if you can’t design things very well yourself (and don’t have a friend who offers, as my friend did for the cover of my Beach Boys book), there are enough public domain images available that you can get something quite striking.
Get somebody to read your blurb over. This is even more important than getting your book proof-read. I’ve seen some truly horrendous blurbs on Amazon from self-published writers – some actually illiterate.
DON’T join in any self-publishing author fora. There may be some useful advice there, but it’s lost in the noise of pyramid-scheme “I’ll buy yours if you buy mine” and people ‘reviewing’ others’ books (just giving them encouragement, rather than advice on how to get better). If you want to see what self-published authors are doing, look at some of the links in Joe Konrath’s blogroll, and just read the blogs that seem useful to you.
Write a *lot*. You won’t make much from any one book, but each of my books makes me between £25 and £50 per month. That’s not enough to live on, but that’s because I only have four books out – the more books I put out, the more money I’ll make. That said, it’s important not to churn out crap. Every book you publish *must* have a reason for existing. There’s nothing in any of my books that I haven’t felt compelled to write.
And finally, if you don’t have time to go through that whole list of advice, just look at this, do the opposite of what she did, and you should be OK.