“It’s a contact sport.”
That’s how one author summed up his experience in a refreshingly frank and illuminating first-person account of what it’s really like to publish your own novel.
A minefield with roads forked in every direction
David Carnoy started out with a literary agent and high hopes for placing his novel Knife Music with a traditional publisher. But after failing to land a deal, the executive editor of CNET Reviews began to investigate the options available in self-publishing, and found “a veritable minefield with roads that forked in every direction and very few clear answers.”
In the end, Carnoy published Knife Music with Book-Surge, the Print On Demand (POD) arm of Amazon, where the novel is now #26 in the category “Medical Thrillers,” with an overall sales rank hovering around #33,000.
Carnoy learned a great deal along the way, which he’s distilled into “Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know” and posted in his regular column at CNET.
Hire your own book doctor
I agree with many of his opinions and observations. For example #14: Buy as little as possible from your publishing company, where Carnoy writes, “Self-publishing outfits are in the game to make money. And since they’re probably not going to sell a lot of your books, they make money by selling you services with nice margins.”
Examples include Book-Surge, iUniverse, Xlibris and others, which all offer menus of pricy frills like book doctoring, copy-editing, and higher quality jacket designs. Other companies offer big packages of publishing services that including publicity, marketing and sales for which they charge $25,000 or more.
Instead, Carnoy recommends hiring your own book doctor, and designing your own book cover with professionals you can retain and work with directly. Good advice. In the interest of full disclosure, in Carnoy’s post, he links to this blog as well as to others, and I concur that writers have many good independent developmental editors from which to choose.
Carnoy gives sober advice about many details, decisions and challenges that self-publishing authors face, from setting the retail price of the book to getting it reviewed (Carnoy mentions Kirkus Discoveries, a reviewing service that charges up to $550 for a critique.) Other issues include optimizing Amazon product pages and purchasing an ISBN number so it doesn’t remain with the self-publishing company.
The self-publishing author, Carnoy advises, must understand the difference between books that are meant for friends and family and other more ambitious work that has a larger potential audience (you hope.) And have no illusions about quick or easy success.
A major commitment to self-promotion is necessary for success
In #18: Self-publishing is a contact sport, Carnoy acknowledges that the biggest mistake authors make is not realizing that to sell books, they have to be “relentless” self-promoters.
As I’ve said elsewhere in various of my own blog posts, self-promotion for any author requires a major commitment of time and energy to building a platform before the book is even completed. You might be interested specifically in taking a look at “Build your author platform: 10 tips from a pro” with excellent concrete advice for writers.
I expect the authors I publish to create a website, learn to blog, build a community and social network, reach out to comment on other websites and blogs, and perhaps even seek feedback to work-in-progress by posting chapters online.
Self-published authors must do all this and more, since they don’t have the advantage of a traditional publisher’s marketing staff support.
They also need to cultivate relationships with local bookstores that will be interested in having readings if they can draw a crowd, and help them sell a significant number of books.
And don’t forget the all-important media. Self-publishing authors can contact regional radio talk and cable TV shows that are interested in a local angle. This kind of aggressive publicity, perhaps guided by a hired publicist, is responsible for the few extraordinary successes we hear about in self-publishing.
What do traditional publishers think?
I’m a great fan of self-publishing but always encourage writers to have realistic expectations, particularly when there’s no chance whatsoever that the book should be any more than a keepsake memoir for your grandchildren.
On the other hand, Lulu insiders say that around 5 percent of self-published books convert to commercial publication. That means that after a book has reached a noticeable level of success — like 5,000-10,000 copies in retail sales, with more sales likely in the future — through the strenuous efforts of the self-promoting author, then a traditional publisher may pick up the book and republish it.
In my own experience, I recently lost an auction to McGraw-Hill for a self-published book on women’s anger that I really wanted to acquire. I’m now in the middle of signing another self-published book on the therapeutic value of memoir writing.
So this traditional publisher thinks self-publishing can be a way to do an end-run around lengthy and frustrating rejection, and create a business career-building calling card, or even, if you’re passionate and devoted and believe in your work, a successful publishing launch that reaches a level where you can get serious attention.