In the last decade, even as self-publishing a book has gotten easier, becoming a successful author has gotten far more challenging.
That’s because self-publishing is just the first step! The long game involves keeping your expectations and goals in check, outlining a solid book marketing plan, learning from your mistakes and adopting new strategies, and of course, writing and releasing your NEXT book.
With that in mind, here are 12 things no one tells you about self-publishing a book.
1. Assume no one has ever heard of you.
Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, or you’re standing inside your own publishing house, assume that nobody you meet has ever heard of you or your books. If they have, you can be pleasantly surprised.
2. Booking events is the big win.
The current pandemic has made booking author events both easier (because you can do it yourself on a virtual stage) and harder (because in-person events may be suspended indefinitely at your venues of choice). When you DO book an event, be grateful – it’s a competitive market. And have realistic expectations: five attendees when you’re expecting just a couple is always going to feel better than 50 attendees when you’re hoping to get 100.
3. Focus on what’s really important.
Blurbs achieve almost nothing. Everyone in publishing knows it, and everyone in publishing hates them. Don’t hold your book release for blurbs, and don’t assume that big time review will actually sell your books – the reality is one big time great review IS nice, but it’s also not necessary for success.
4. Take advantage of moments of success.
Bestseller rankings can come and go overnight, so when you’re lucky enough to hit that coveted spot, screenshot your win and share it everywhere. Now is also the time to pitch bloggers and remind people to post reviews. Because the reality is, when your book is on a bestseller list, people find you more amusing and respond to your emails faster.
5. Take advantage of moments of calm.
When your book isn’t on a bestseller list, the upside is that you have more time to write and construct your marketing plan – without being in the trenches of shopping your book at 100 miles per hour.
6. Be realistic about your media goals.
Self-publishing a book should not be done for glory; let that concept go. The goal is not to be a media sensation; the goal is to have a career. Getting media coverage is fantastic, and it’s a great way to build your resume, but much like blurbs and big name reviews, media doesn’t equal sales – media is a long game and you should approach it as such.
7. Be prepared to roll with the punches.
It’s not your responsibility to convince people who don’t like your books that they should. Taste is subjective, and you’re not running for elected office. If you get a bad review, or even a handful of bad reviews, that’s a bummer, but when the book is already out there, there’s not much you can do. Now, if the bad reviews speak to poor editing, a jumpy storyline that’s hard to follow, or other issues that can be fixed, by all means commit to doing so and doing a re-release as soon as possible. Otherwise, let it go.
8. Social media needs to be a part of your book marketing plan.
If you aren’t on social media, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. In today’s market, social media is one of the best brand-building tools you have and the easiest, most effective way to stay in touch with fans and in front of potential readers. But don’t worry; it’s not about being everywhere, it’s about being everywhere that matters. And that’s a combination of figuring out where your strengths are and where your reader market is hanging out online.
9. Finding time to write that next book will be hard.
Fiercely, fiercely, fiercely protect your writing time. Unless you’re independently wealthy and live alone, you’ll probably struggle with finding time to write. Definitely don’t fall into the trap of, “I’ll write my next book once this one does well.” That is completely backwards. Few authors are a success with their very first title, and I challenge you to name more than five without Googling a list. The sooner you release your second book, the more momentum you’ll create within your genre, and you’ll also establish yourself as a sure thing. Readers are investing their time and money in you, and proving you’re going to keep delivering the goods is one of your best sales tools.
10. Self-publishing a book doesn’t have a perfect time.
It’s alright to move forward with self-publishing a book if you can see its flaws but don’t know how to fix them. But do not let your book be published if it still contains flaws that are fixable, even if fixing them is a lot of work. This includes hiring a professional editor, with a proven background in your genre, and a book designer with experience designing for bestsellers.
11. No one can predict what will be a bestseller.
Sometimes good books sell well; sometimes good books sell poorly; sometimes bad books sell well; sometimes bad books sell poorly. Back to J.K. Rowling: she was rejected 12 times but has currently sold more than 500 million copies and counting. You just never know what lies ahead…. But I do know it involves hard work.
12. Self-publishing a book doesn’t determine your worth.
You don’t need anyone’s approval or permission to write a book and enjoy getting your thoughts, ideas, stories, and expertise on record. Yes, I talk about the importance of writing for a specific, detailed market if you want to make a living as a writer and sell books, because writing for a market with purpose is the easiest first step in that road to success. But if your goal is simply to say you published a book, or books, then more power to you – and enjoy the process.
I applaud the creative spirit that leads so many of you to tell your stories and share your ideas, and I encourage you to be as creative and resilient in your life as an author as you are when you sit down to help your characters overcome the obstacles and conflicts you also set before them. Or when you take on the challenge of communicating your ideas to an audience who is, as yet, unfamiliar with the new ideas and resources you bring to the table. Make time for self-care as well as self-promotion and don’t forget to bring joy to the process.
Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. To learn more about Penny and AME, visit www.amarketingexpert.com.