In honor of Sisters in Crime Self Publishing Day, we asked successful self-published author Elaine Orr to guest for us today. Please welcome her back to WWK and read my interview with her here.
E. B. Davis
Like many authors, I took writing courses and wrote for decades – plays, stories, bad novels. Eventually I worked in tandem on the first two books of the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series.
Sometimes age has advantages. At fifty-nine, I figured by the time I found an agent, s/he found a publisher, and the book was issued – I could be dead. Much more fun to be alive when a book came out.
I got to the publishing point as the price of Kindles went below $300, which meant ebooks were affordable. Amazon changed my financial future. But it took a lot of work on my part.
Since I still had a busy day job, it took a couple of months to figure out ebook formatting and how to load books to the various retailers. Had Mark Coker not written the Smashwords Guide, it would have taken a lot longer. Sometimes other authors comment that they don’t want to spend time formatting. I get that. I spend less than two hours per book and like controlling the process.
Take time to consider whether you want to self-publish or work with an agent to find a publisher. Talk to authors who have done it both ways, read blogs. Self-publishing is a lot of work, and if you go the traditional publisher route (I’ve done both) you want to be sure yours works as hard as you do to reach readers.
I’m certainly not wise, but I’ve learned a few things.
- Join or create a critique group that meets often. Mine (the Write Stuff in Decatur, Illinois) is tough but friendly. You can’t slack off when you are committed to a chapter per week.
- Read books and articles about writing. Ideas may come readily, but structure is important in genre fiction. No need to obey every rule, but if you are going to deviate from reader expectations, do it consciously.
- You only get one chance to make a first impression. If you can’t afford at least a proofreader and cover designer, hold a rummage sale.
- Think of income as a bunch of baskets, sometimes small. I keep a couple of books in Amazon’s KDP Select, but most are with all retailers (including in large print and audio). I’ve heard authors say things like, “Kobo is not worth my time.” Really? You want to sell a bunch of books in the UK and Canada, use Kobo. Sometime in the next year or two, I expect the combined income of the other retailers to equal my Amazon income.
- If you do put books on many platforms, use an aggregator (such as Smashwords, Draft2Digital). They load to all sites except Amazon and Google Play. You make a little less per book, but it saves time and frustration. You also get your ebooks placed with Overdrive, which sells to libraries.
- Set yourself up as a publisher – at least in terms of purchasing ISBNs from Bowker. (You’ll need another rummage sale.)
- If you use on-demand printers, use your own ISBN. You can (as a publisher) apply for a Library of Congress number for your paperback. Libraries beyond your local one may not order your book without one. I’m preparing second editions of my early books solely to include LOC numbers.
- Beyond thinking about your audience, don’t plan marketing until your book is done and revised. At that point, pay for some marketing if you can, and pick two or three avenues to work on regularly. I strongly advise a blog – time-consuming, but you can publicize blog posts. You will put yourself in front of readers without constantly saying “buy my book.” (I could write ten pages on marketing. Don’t get me started.)
Finally, I write for me, I publish to make money. Don’t expect to make a lot quickly, and don’t give up. You’ll meet a lot of fabulous authors along the way.
Elaine L. Orr writes three mystery series, other genres, and plays. She belonged to writers’ groups for decades before she began publishing, and is still sustained by them, especially Sisters in Crime. She also lectures on writing and publishing and has online classes on the Teachable platform. One (Thinking Through Self-Publishing) is free, via a link on her web page.