Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Publishing Independently
August 31, 2016
1. No matter how great your book is, it won’t sell itself.
The book industry is a really competitive business. People want some prior acquaintance with your book before they will be tempted to buy it. This involves exposure and sales opportunities. They also want to be secure in the knowledge that other people (preferably those with a celebrity status) think it is wonderful too. They expect that your book should receive praise from independent book reviews. Having a book distributor who can supply to major bookstores and on-line companies gives your book further status and credibility. Achieving these customer expectations does not happen over night.
2. An original idea isn’t necessarily always admired.
As an Early Childhood educator I saw a need in the children’s book market for a recount (a description/record of events), as most children’s books are narratives (they present a problem and series of solutions). In my first book, The Magic in Boxes I wanted to highlight some creative play ideas, featuring two young children who explore an imagined world using household junk, in the recount genre. In a world dominated by technology I aimed to remind children to engage in play.
Despite having the teaching background and being able to recognize a book like this would be very valuable to any early years educator or daycare centre, my book was not snapped up by a publishing house because it doesn’t fit the mould.
However, my biggest supporters have been those in education. So, to be honest, as they are my target audience it is their approval which means the world to me.
3. A background in retail would have really helped.
I have sold over 1300 copies in the past 10 months. My greatest sales have been direct ones. Customers have liked meeting the author, having the educational theory behind the book explained to them and purchasing a signed copy. I have really had to put myself out there, engaging people at markets and in bookshops. I am a relatively introverted personality type, so initially the thought of approaching a complete stranger and pitching my book was utterly terrifying. Basically, I just had to get over the nerves and try to be as friendly and sincere as possible. Thankfully the vast majority of people I have met have been really lovely and with time it has become much easier.
If I had retail experience I would have also known how profitable hitting the Christmas market is and I would have organized more book signing opportunities at this time.
4. Having an on-line presence is expected.
Chasing free publicity is time consuming but necessary to promote your book, make sales and raise your profile. When pursuing magazine articles and other publicity opportunities, journalists will expect to see your attractive website and at least two forms of social media being utilized. It is believed blogging can also be an important part of building your audience. Personally, I know I don’t blog enough. I am worried about saturating my followers’ news feeds too much and putting them off. I also want to wait until I have something I think is worthwhile reading … I struggle to find the time (and motivation) to do everything properly. This includes, working on my next book, chasing publicity leads, posting Facebook/Instagram posts, blogging and have a personal life.
5. Very few self-published/independently published authors make it big.
Everyone who has had a great idea for a book and shown enough self-disciple to make that idea into a completed manuscript, believes whole-heartedly that it could be the next best seller! The reality is not quite so optimistic. According to Amazon only 40 authors (out of the estimated thousands listed) make money while most rely on a secondary source of income. You can read more about that in an article by Claude Forthomme here:
6. Self–published and independently published authors have to brush off some serious negativity.
Resilience is a necessity in order to push ahead. Not only are there numerous set backs along the publishing journey (which can be expected in any manufacturing industry) but dealing with rejection from publishers, book shop retailers, journalists and customers requires growing emotional calluses. It is true that everyone is entitled to their own opinion - and believe me when I say it – they won’t hold back in telling you their’s, usually without any sensitivity.
Unlike the UK, Australian self-published/independently published authors do not always gain respect. "Oh you're self-published?" is not said with admiration. It is usually implied that there must be something wrong with you, or your book, or both. The fact that you have gone out on a limb, shown an incredible amount of self-believe and taken a huge financial and emotional risk in becoming self-published is not appreciated at all.
7. Nothing comes easily.
The harder you work for something, the greater you appreciate it. This is true. When it comes to independently publishing, the buck really does stop with you. If you don’t do it, no body will. If a mistake has been made, that was you also! The entire publishing process (from concept to print) is an act of love and dedication. Any short cuts in editing, creativity, graphic design and paper choices will be obvious to the buyer and the critics. As self-published/independently published books have a stigma attached to them already, it is imperative your book is a cut above the competition. I strive for people to pick up one of my books, read it and then be surprised when they look at the back, discovering it was independently published.
For anyone thinking a self-publishing is an easy option, think again.
8. My friendship circle has been my greatest asset.
It has always been my dream to write and illustrate children’s book, although when I finally took that big step and started on my first book, I was incredibly shy about telling anyone. The fear of failure was very real. I didn’t want to have to explain to anyone at a later date that I had attempted this and it didn’t work out. How foolish I was, as it has been my nearest and dearest who have encouraged me along the way. The constant string of questions and words of encouragement kept me pressing forward (even when things weren’t working out like I had planned). Some of my very talented friends even provided some valuable editing and graphic design input. Others have been complete gems, religiously sharing my posts on-line.
Joining an authors’ networking group has also been insightful and a wonderful support. I highly recommend every author reach out and support others in the industry.
9. It costs way more that you think.
I thought I had thought of everything when I wrote my first budget. I was wrong. Like any new business just starting up, there are unexpected expenses and independent publishing is no different. Without boring you with all the nitty, gritty accountancy details (and despite my preparation), I did make mistakes. I think a fair assessment would be that a book does not start to make money until after the first print run (1000 copies).
10. Decisions of integrity don’t pay the bills.
The Magic in Boxes is 52 pages children’s book. To fully explore the concepts I wished to illustrate, I believed the extra pages were necessary. This has not only been more costly to manufacture but also the hard cover version is slightly over the minimum postage threshold and very expensive to freight. Needless to say, I am planning to stick to the 32 page system next time round.
The use of cardboard boxes as a tool for creative play was not accidental. I wished to transcend economic and cultural barriers, as well as endorse sustainability. To my knowledge no other children’s book on the market uses so many recycled paper and card choices. Sadly, I discovered (when I had my retail hat on) not everyone cares as much about the environment. Many people would rather just pay less. That being said, I would rather stand behind a product I am really proud of than compromise.
One of my sons has had a very difficult time living with severe allergies. I thought it would be nice to donate one dollar of every book sale to allergy research. Supporting a charity is a worthy cause, however perhaps I should have committed myself to this after I started paying tax and cleared my debts.
In closing, it is probably fairly obvious that I didn’t really have a clue what I was getting myself into when I started this journey. Am I glad that I have independently published? Absolutely! The buzz that I have felt when walking into a bookstore or library and seeing my book on display cannot be described. Receiving photo posts from complete strangers sharing their child’s pleasure, engaging in box play is exhilarating. It confirms that I am following my calling and it washes away all the self-doubt I have felt along the way. I have done this! And I have done this without the support of a big publishing house and a team of experienced specialists ensuring my book’s success. And if I can do it –then there is no reason why you can’t too.