My Disastrous Journey Into Self-Publishing: What You Can Learn From My Mistakes

A Guest Post by Brad Vertrees

I’ve read some horrible ebooks over the years that, much to my surprise, have hit the Amazon bestseller list. I thought to myself, “I can write a better ebook than these hacks.” So I quickly came up with a plan to publish my very first short story on Amazon. I was going to be one of Amazon’s big success stories; from unknown author to writing superstar.

Like most aspiring authors, I saw Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program as a golden egg. If I published it, readers would come in droves. They’d buy my ebook and shoot it to the top of the bestseller list, making me rich and famous.

But when I finally did self-publish my first story I learned the hard way that just putting your ebook up for sale guarantees nothing. My story didn’t just flop, it was dead on arrival. I made about every mistake a self-published author can make. The experience was a huge blow to my ego, to say the least, and taught me that being a successful writer is more than just putting words on the screen.

How big of a failure was my first self-publishing endeavor? My ebook was listed on Amazon’s Kindle ebook store for a little over two years. In that time I think I made less than a dozen sales. I also published it on Smashwords, with the same results. I even made the story available as a PDF download on a previous incarnation of my personal website–-resulting in zero sales.

The following list is all the mistakes I made during my first publishing experiment (that’s what I refer to it as now, just an experiment). Many of the mistakes are obvious, but to a writer eager to self-publish, it’s very easy to let the fantasy of being a successful author gloss over the harsh reality.

I Assumed The Title Would Attract Readers

With a title like ‘I Took Grandma To The Strip Club’ (yes, that is the real title of my story) how could it not sell? A title like that draws readers in like bees to honey, right? Nope. The title did absolutely nothing to bring in sales, at least not that I’m aware of. Maybe one or two readers bought the story because of the title. But the title certainly didn’t cause it climb to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list.

I’m not saying the ebook title isn’t important, because it definitely is. What I am saying is that the title alone won’t do the heavy lifting in the marketing of your ebook. Further, if you’re publishing non-fiction and your title is a clever play on words then you’ll probably end up confusing readers. While you have a little leeway with fiction, non-fiction titles must be very straightforward.

For example, in my second attempt at self-publishing, I compiled all the blog posts I wrote for a blog I started back in 2007. The blog, called Brad’s Reader (now defunct), focused mostly on writing tips/tricks, inspiration, self-publishing and ways technology is leveling the playing field for writers. I only included posts about writing and titled the book, ‘The Brad’s Reader Guide To Writing.’ Big mistake. First, I just assumed people would know what my blog was about. Second, the title confused people because it was a guide to writing, but had the word “Reader” in it. Yeah, that ebook flopped too. My self-publishing career was going up in flames before it even got off the ground.

I Used Twitter As My Main Marketing Method

I’ve been on Twitter since 2009 and have only recently hit the 1,000 follower mark. The kid who delivers my morning paper probably has more Twitter followers than I do. Further, most of my Twitter followers are fellow authors who are also trying to promote and sell their own ebooks. So how well do you think my constant promotion of ‘I Took Grandma To The Strip Club’ on Twitter went? I’d get the occasional ‘Like.’ But I never saw a single sale after tweeting about my ebook. My big problem was my twitter followers were the wrong audience.

In fact, beyond Twitter, I didn’t do much else to market my ebook. I had a sales page on my website dedicated to the ebook, including a link to Amazon, but that didn’t do much either. I assumed that my blog would draw readers in and they’d naturally gravitate towards my ebook. Again, like my Twitter followers, my blog was geared more towards other writers, not readers who’d be interested in grandmas going to strip clubs. I didn’t think my marketing strategy out very well, to say the least.

Only One Person Proofread The Story Before Editing

I found a beta reader on Goodreads that proofread the story before I slapped it up on Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, she made some great suggestions and found a lot of embarrassing mistakes. She even said it was a good story.

Looking back, I shouldn’t have relied on one person’s reading and should have splurged on a professional editor who could turn a mediocre story into something more polished, professional, and something worth publishing.

After publishing ‘I Took Grandma to the Strip Club’ on Amazon I reread it multiple times. While I never found any glaring mistakes or plot holes, I knew it could still be much better. A story can always be better. The fact that I felt satisfied enough to publish it after only one reader’s feedback should’ve raised a lot of red flags.

The Cover

I outsourced the design of the cover to a designer on Fiverr—the gig website where people perform basic tasks for five dollars. To be fair, the designer I hired had a very impressive portfolio of ebook covers. I bought a stock photo of a cartoon picture of what looked like an old lady dancing around a pole for the designer to use.

The finished cover made me chuckle and I actually still like it. However, just because I like it, doesn’t mean it’s good and will help sell the ebook. Looking back, maybe I should’ve let the designer pick out the image to use for the cover. I simply don’t have a good eye for this stuff.

What Did I Learn?

There’s a hard truth about publishing: people simply don’t care about what you’ve written. A big part of a writer’s job is to make them care by marketing not only your work, but also yourself. Had I done some marketing legwork before I published my story then I’d be writing a very different article.

What am I going to do differently the next time around? Well first and foremost, I’m going to make sure that the ebook I publish is the best ebook I can produce. It’s going to be edited by a professional with a cover that says, “read me!” I’m also going to start marketing myself before I hit the publish button on Amazon. This means building an email list of readers who are interested in buying the ebook.

List building is perhaps one of marketing’s greatest secrets. An email list is valuable because the people who sign up are actually interested in what you have to offer. With enough subscribers, an email list can almost guarantee sales when your ebook is first released.

The biggest lesson I learned, however, is that self-publishing is not easy. It’s not a way to get rich overnight. Most of all, it will take more than one book to build up a readership. That’s how the money is made. One ebook simply isn’t enough to stand out from the millions of ebooks on the

About the Author 

 

About His Book

Kindle Scout – Another Publishing Option for Authors

A Guest Post by Teresa Roman

2016-05-11 book write writing magnifying glassIn 2015, I finished writing my first book, Back To Us. I combed through it repeatedly looking for errors, and finally sent it to an editor. Then I found a book formatter and cover artist. A few weeks later I had a fully edited and formatted book along with a cover I loved. I was ready for the next step, which at that time I thought would be to self-publish.

But then I got an email from Kindle Scout. According to their website, “Kindle Scout is a reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.”

2016-06-06 Kindle Scout

The Process

2015-07-13 Handwriting2Here’s how it works: You go to the kindle scout website – www.kindlescout.com. From there, click on the Submit Your Book link, which will take you to a page that explains the process of submitting your book. At the bottom of that page you will be invited to start your book submission. To proceed you will need an Amazon account.

One of the things that attracted me to this program was the promise of being informed whether or not my book would be selected in 45 days or less. For those of you who have ever tried sending out query letters, I’m sure you can relate to how frustrating it can be to wait and wait and wait, not knowing when or if you’ll receive a reply from an agent or publisher.

In order to submit your book to Kindle Scout, you will need to have a fully-edited manuscript as well as a book cover. Once your book is submitted it stays on Kindle Scout’s website for 30 days. During this 30 day nomination period the goal is to get as many people to nominate your book as possible, and keep your book on the coveted Hot and Trending list.

For some writers, myself included, this part of the process was the most difficult. I worried about crossing that fine line between asking for nominations and bugging people. Some ideas to garner nominations include announcing your Kindle Scout campaign on social media, emailing your friends and family, and sending out a newsletter from your website.

While having a good number of nominations, and being on the Hot and Trending list is important, these are not the only determining factors Kindle Scout uses during their selection process. In fact, which book gets selected and why is still sort of a mystery, as some authors with a huge number of nominations haven’t had their work selected, while others with far fewer nominations have.

A few days after my Kindle Scout campaign ended, I received an email informing me that my book was selected. I was beyond thrilled. As a then debut author, this news was huge for me.

The Pros and Cons

How to focus while you're writing

How to focus while you’re writing

Fast forward ten months…Since the time my book was selected I’ve been able to observe some of the pros and cons to choosing Kindle Scout as a publishing option.

For one thing, your e-book royalty rate is lower, which means less money for you. If you wind up selling more copies because of the marketing you receive, the lower royalty rate might be worth it.

While your book will be eligible for pricing promotions periodically, not every Kindle Scout book gets the same promotions. Some fellow Kindle Scout authors have found not having control over their book’s pricing to be a big negative. Essentially you are counting pretty heavily on Amazon to market your book. However, if you are lucky enough to have your book chosen for a promotion, it can have a major positive impact on your sales.

I truly believe that without Kindle Scout I would not have sold nearly as many copies of Back to Us as I have.

So if you’ve been struggling to get your books noticed, or are a debut author intimidated by self-publishing in such a hugely competitive market, Kindle Scout is definitely an option worth looking into.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them below and I will get back to you.

About the Author

2016-06-06 Teresa RomanIf it was possible to be born with a book in her hands, that’s how Teresa Roman would’ve entered this world. Her passion for reading is what inspired her to become a writer. She loves the way stories can take you to another time and place. Teresa currently lives in beautiful Sacramento, CA with her husband, three adorable children and a dog named Parker that her son convinced them to adopt. When she’s not at her day job or running around with her kids, you can find her in front of the computer writing, or with her head buried in another book.

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About Her Book 

2016-06-06 Teresa Roman - Back To UsAbandoned by her abusive parents at fourteen, Jessica knows what it means to struggle–and she’s tired of it. Though Jessica’s vowed that getting her college degree is the only thing she has time for, a summer internship brings Justin into her life, and she can’t stop herself from falling in love with him.

But Justin has scars of his own. A tour of duty in Afghanistan has left him with wounds–some visible, others not. A medical discharge from the Navy leaves Justin struggling to make sense of his new reality. Then he meets Jessica, who brings him more happiness than he thought possible. But can two broken people leave the past behind them to make a new future together, or will the pain they’ve fought to free themselves of tear them apart?

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Making the Most of a Story Critique

A Guest Post by Tal Valante

2015-06-08 EditThe first critique I got for my first novel is memorable. That is to say, I don’t remember a word of it, but I do remember feeling like a combination of being punched in the gut, hollowed out, and going up in flames, all while people insulted the newborn baby in my arms.

Come to think about it, my second critique felt the same way.

Today, at over dozens of critiques from a wide variety of professional editors, I’ve grown quite a thick skin. Here’s what I would have said to myself that long time ago.

2016-05-02 Making the Most of a Story Critique

Start Small

For your first few critiques, don’t engage a roomful of professional editors and agents (as in a convention round-table critique). Unless you have extra-thick skin, that’s a sure recipe for a crash and burn.

Choose a professional editor who has your trust and respect but doesn’t terrify you. Start out over email. It’s one thing to receive a written critique, it’s quite another to receive it face to face where you have to master your expression and body language (and, occasionally, tears).

On the other hand, don’t start so small that your critique giver isn’t a professional editor. From unprofessional editors or agents, expect to receive varied and often contradicting feedback, based on their personal preferences more than on a solid understanding of the art and market.

Cool Off

2015-05-27 book pagesWhen you first get your critique, you’re likely to have a gut reaction to it. Ignore it. Overcome it. Read the critique once and then put it aside, for days or even weeks, until you’re no longer obsessed with it. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t read, consider, or so-help-you-the-heavens start working on the critique while your emotions run hot.

Once you can read the critique without feeling shortness of breath or proneness to cursing, you can start working on it.

Go on Record

After you’ve cooled off, take note as you sort through the critique. Next to each critique point, mark down how you feel about it: does it chime with you? Are you unsure about it? Do you instinctively object? Do you object for a solid reason?

These marks will help you when the time comes to consider each remark and how you should treat it.

Sort and Evaluate

2015-11-11a paper pile buried under paperwork stacks pagesEven a good critique is not the Bible. You can choose what to take from it, and you can leave the rest untouched. Trust your own writing instincts.

Go over your notes and decide which critique points you want to follow up on. Skip the ones you objected to for a solid reason. The only thing to watch out for is your ego. If you object to a critique point just because it’s a critique (e.g., “My writing is perfectly fine and he’s wrong about everything”), think twice about it. Also, go back to step 2 and cool off some more.

Identify and Improve

Once you know which points you want to act on, start working on them methodically, one by one. Highlight in your work all the text that refers to a certain point. Then think how you can alter that text, add to it, or remove some of it in order to best achieve the result you want.

Be judicial in your editing. For small comments on your text, don’t go rewriting half your novel. For deeper issues, don’t go proof-editing. Match the nature of the required change to the nature of the critique comment.

And in all the changes that you make, make sure you’re true to yourself and your voice.

Embrace the critiquing process. Repeat to yourself: “I love critiques. I eat critiques for breakfast. Critiques help me make my writing great.”

And above all, stay calm and keep writing!

About the author:

Tal ValanteTal Valante is a writer, an editor, and the founder of Re:Fiction, the center for fiction writers of all types. If you need a professional, free critique of your work, apply to Re:Fiction’s editing scholarships, and take your writing to the next level.

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About Her Website: 

Tal Valante, ReFictionRe:Fiction is all about helping fiction writers shine at their craft by providing inspiration, articles about writing skills and the author’s lifestyle, and free editing scholarships. Do you write fiction? Explore our resources to get better, get published, and get read!

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What Is the Favored POV Among Best Sellers?

2015-02-20 Old Books (4)A guest post by Allison Maruska

– – –

Over the past couple of years, I’ve read an increasing number of self-published books. They’re often cheaper, and many of them are quite good.

BUT

There’s one thing I see in a lot of self-published books, and more often than not, it makes me stop reading: head hopping.

2016-02-01 Favored POV among Best Sellers

Head hopping is when the point of view suddenly jumps from one character to another. One minute, we’re in Bob’s head thinking about donuts. The next minute, we’re in Dana’s head thinking Bob should consider a juice diet. There’s no scene or chapter break. This happens from one paragraph to another, or sometimes within the same paragraph.

Now, there is one type of POV where head hopping is theoretically okay: subjective omniscient. Or broken down:

Subjective = we know what’s going on in a character’s head.

Omniscient = we can know all the things in the story, including what’s going on in other chatacters’ heads.

BUT

I said theoretically for a reason.

I see head hopping so often in self-pubs that I started doubting my own advice to my CPs – namely, don’t effing head hop. It’s harder to relate to the MC and it can be confusing.

2016-01-20 books ebooks ereader ipad kindle reading readerI’ve been reading nothing but self-pubs for a while, so I decided to do a little research with this question in mind: what is the favored POV among traditionally published best sellers? If they use subjective omniscient, maybe my preference for limited third or first – where you’re inside one character’s head and only know what he knows – is just my own preference and I need to give my CPs a break.

But maybe – maybe – my decades of reading have taught me something. Maybe there’s a reason head hopping bothers me.

I know there are some self-pub authors who couldn’t give half a crap about traditional publishing standards, and that’s fine. You can write your book in Sanskrit if you want. Just don’t expect to sell as many books if you do that.

The point is this: if you wanna play with the big dogs, it’s a good idea to know what they’re doing.

So I read chunks of every well-known, best-selling book in my kindle. Then I went to Amazon and read the sample pages of some top selling novels I don’t own. I’ve arranged the list this way: author – title – POV

But first, a couple of disclaimers:

1. This is a minuscule sample size compared to the total number of traditionally published books. There may be some out there that use subjective omniscient. Feel free to look around and comment if you find one.

2. My inclusion of these books should not be viewed as my endorsement of them. Yes, I loved most of them. But two were so poorly written that I stopped well before the 50% mark in spite of the tight POV. I won’t tell you which ones those were. That’s not the point.

To the list!

Stephen King – The Stand – limited 3rd

Steven Becker – Wood’s Relic – limited 3rd

Marissa Meyer – Cinder – limited 3rd

Dan Brown – Da Vinci Code – limited 3rd

Stephen Chbosky – Perks of Being a Wallflower – 1st

Ted Dekker – The Circle Series – limited 3rd

Dean Kuntz – Lightning – limited 3rd

Douglas Adams – The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – omniscient

Suzanne Collins – Underland Chronicles – limited 3rd

Stephen King – The Shining – limited 3rd

Kathryn Stockett – The Help – 1st

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games Trilogy – 1st

Sandra Brannan – In the Belly of Jonah – alternating 1st/limited 3rd

Jerry B. Jenkins – Riven – limited 3rd

Stieg Larsson – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – limited 3rd

Naomi Novik – His Majesty’s Dragon – limited 3rd

Matthew FitzSimmons – The Short Drop – limited 3rd

David Baldacci – The Guilty – limited 3rd

Janet Evanovich – Tricky Twenty-two – 1st

Philip K. Dick – The Man in the High Castle (1962) – limited 3rd

Vince Flynn – The Survivor – limited 3rd

Kristin Hannah – The Nightingale – 1st

And for fun, let’s include some self-pubs:

Hugh Howey – Wool – limited 3rd

Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant – Invasion – limited 3rd

I was originally going to include fifty books on this list, but I think you get the point with half that number.

Side note – many of those limited third titles did include the POV of more than one character, but not within the same scene. A break of some kind occurred before jumping to a new head.

One book was written in omniscient POV – Hitchhiker’s Guide. It’s told from the view of an omniscient narrator, like someone telling a story around a campfire. We occasionally know what a character thinks or feels, but there isn’t the inclusion of what I would call head hopping. If you’re considering writing a book in omniscient POV, please read this classic as a guide.

So what conclusion can we draw from this exercise? For me, I’m more confident in my stance that limited third and first work better for storytelling (perhaps to the chagrin of my CPs). For you? Well, that’s for you to decide.

What is your favored POV for storytelling? Does this list sway your opinion?

About the Author 

Allison Maruska headshotAllison is a YA and mystery/suspense author, writing/humor blogger, teacher, mom, wife, coffee and wine consumer, and an owl enthusiast. She published her debut novel, The Fourth Descendant, in February, 2015, and it has been on Amazon’s historical mystery best seller list since April. Her newest book is a YA dystopian/urban fantasy called Drake and the Fliers, which she released on November 20th, 2015.

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About Her Book

Allison Maruska - The Fourth DescendantWhen Michelle receives a call from a Richmond historian, she sees the chance for a much-needed adventure. All she has to do is find a century-old key.

Three others – a guitarist, an engineer, and a retiree – receive similar calls. Each family possesses a key to a four-lock safe found buried in a Virginia courthouse, though their connection is as mysterious as the safe itself. Their ancestors should not have interacted, had no apparent reason to bury the safe, and should not have disappeared thereafter.

Bearing their keys, Michelle and the other descendants converge in the courthouse basement and open the safe, revealing the truth about their ancestors – a truth stranger, more deadly, and potentially more world-changing than any of them could have imagined. Now it’s up to them to keep their discovery out of the wrong hands.

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