Things I Wish I Knew Before I Self-Published My First Book
Don’t make the same mistakes as I did
Don’t make the same mistakes as I did
I had always been writing poems for as long as I can remember. My poems have been published in several online platforms and have won some major international writing competitions. But, the urge to have my work out there in a book was overwhelming. I wanted that coveted laurel of being called a ‘writer’ and not just a ‘blogger’. So, when the manuscript of my first book (that happened to be a collection of poetry called Stolen Reflections) was completed in early 2018, I was impatient to get it out in the world as soon as I could.
Within a few days, I self-published the book, and it went on to become an Amazon bestseller in poetry.
It was a wild ride, and every bit worth the time and effort involved. However, as the days passed and the feedback started pouring in, I realised I had probably been a tad too impatient in publishing the book. If I had waited a few more months and done proper research, I might have gotten better results in terms of more sales and a more complete, polished book.
This is not a guide on how to self-publish a book. If you are looking for an article like that, I had written one some time back.
In this article, I have compiled the lessons I have learned since then and the mistakes I am not going to commit again. These are the things I wish I had known before I self-published my first book.
Part One: Putting the Book Together
When it comes to compiling the manuscript, here are the major lessons-
The importance of editing
I think this is a universal truth: writers are blind to their own mistakes. No matter how many times they read their own writing, they are never able to spot all the tiny errors in spelling and grammar they might have left behind. That is where an editor comes in. For the first rounds, you can use an editing app (I used Pro Writing Aid, but Grammarly is just as impressive).
- How else would you know that “realise” is British English and “realize” is American, and consistency is essential?
- Or that “Dad” and “dad” have different meanings and usage?
- An editing app will suggest tons of changes in your writing, but, you don’t necessarily have to abide by its suggestions blindly. The best part of using an editing app is that you will get a different perspective.
But, there are times even an editing app fails. In my case, there were places in the manuscript where I had written “fell” in place of “felt”, and the apps were fooled. No matter how perfect an app is, the role of a human editor cannot be underestimated. I had assumed that the editing app made me invincible, but, when a reader pointed out a typographical error in my book two months after its release, I realised my mistake. And here is the lesson you learn: always hire an editor.
The cover design
Gone are the days when “Don’t judge a book by its cover” was solid advice. In times when books become props for Instagram photographs, the importance of a beautiful cover cannot be denied. It is advisable to hire a professional editor and get your cover designed by them. This is one regard I struck gold because the cover of my first book was designed by the very talented tikklil who did a great job of bringing my dream come alive.
However, if “independent publishing” spells out DIY for you, there are several apps that help in creating beautiful covers. For my second book, I designed the cover myself using Canva. Some other apps that you can use to create attractive covers for free are Adobe Spark, Placeit, and Edit.org.
The biggest regret I have about my publishing journey is that I spent all my savings on a vanity publishing service for my first book — thousands of rupees I have no way of recovering solely through book sales.
My first choice was to self-publish the book online for free using Amazon KDP, but sadly, they don’t have the option of printing paperbacks in India. I ultimately ended up publishing with NotionPress, a vanity publishing service. Naive that I was, I found myself swayed by the list of services they offered.
- They had options for distribution in 150+ countries
- Delivery to remotest corners of the world
- Listing across Amazon, eBay, Kobo, and Book Depository.
While they did indeed fulfil all these claims, they invested no time or effort in spreading the word about my book. Naive that I was, the harsh truth I had been blind to back then is this: what is the point of my book being available in 150+ countries if no one in those countries has heard about me?
If you are a writer looking to self-publish your first book, please don’t commit the same mistake I did. Several companies have the option of Print On Demand paperbacks (your book gets printed only when a new order is placed, and no inventory is kept to cut costs), the most famous of them being Pothi.
Part Two: Post Publishing
Once you have completed the writing, the several rounds of editing, and the book cover design, it’s time to hit the publish button and reap the rewards of your hard work. You publish your book, post about it on all social media platforms, sit back, and wait for the bestseller ranks to start pouring in. Here are some hard truths you need to digest before you start counting your profits.
The number of likes is not the same as the number of sales
Your book delivers value. It is the best you have written in ages. But wait, why is nobody buying your book?
Welcome to the world of book publishing, my dear friend.
Your friends and family will “support” you and be “proud of your dreams”. They will like and comment generously. A few might even share your posts on their social media feed, but, sadly, this is where all the support they extend will stop. Do not estimate the number of sales on day one to be equal to the number of likes on your book announcement post.
The number of orders is not the same as the number of reviews
Let’s face it: no one writes a review for every product they purchase online. Readers are the same. There might be many who ordered your book, but then never got around to reading it. Here’s an estimate that I learned from my numbers: approximately 10% of the people who order your book are going to review it.
Part Three: The Marketing
Lesson one of being a self-published writer: you have to abandon all shame. I don’t mean shame in general, but, if you have any doubts about talking about your book in public, you have to let them go. You don’t have a publisher. You haven’t hired a marketing expert. If you don’t talk about your book, who will?
Here are some marketing lessons I learned from self-publishing my first book-
The importance of book reviews
No matter how much you talk about your book or how many excerpts you post online, nothing influences the mind of a potential buyer like book reviews. The reviews don’t necessarily have to be good. In fact, a well-thought-out negative review can make a reader want to read a book more than a five-star review that simply says “Great book”.
Now, let’s come to the big question: How to get book reviews?
- Before you release it, send out at least 100 copies of your book to readers all across the globe. Some will accept your request, some will deny it. Most of those who accept will probably never read your book, let alone review it. But, going by the 10% rule, if you can get 10 genuine reviews on Goodreads on the day of release, half the battle is already won.
- Ask your friends and family members to write reviews. Don’t hesitate to send out free copies.
- Engage with people. Make personal connections. To every person who comments on your post saying they have purchased your book, drop a response and ask them for a review.
- Here is a trick I have seen several authors try. Make your book available for free online. Then, host a contest on your social media where the winner will get some valuable goodies (book merch, signed paperbacks, a service that you provide — the choice is yours). The requirement for participating is that the people have to download your book and write reviews for it on Amazon and Goodreads. The one with the best review is the winner. This is a win-win situation for everyone, no matter what the outcome of the contest is.
Sales fuel more sales
Here’s a cool thing Amazon does: if a brand new book is doing great in terms of sales, it is shown to every online book shopper in the “You might also be interested in” section. As an author, if you can ensure a good number of sales in the first few days, Amazon will take care of the rest. They will send mailers to customers, they will put your book at the top of search lists, and they will sponsor advertisements. The bottom line is this: if you can ensure some sales, these will keep multiplying, and you will see a pyramid effect, all thanks to the great marketing tactics applied by Amazon.
Here are some ways to ensure a good number of sales in the first week-
- Repost all the book reviews from readers on your social media. The more people talk about it, the more interest in the book you will generate.
- Have price-slash days where you make the book available online at a highly discounted price.
- This might be considered unethical, but, I have seen many authors adopt it: host giveaway contests where the readers are sent Amazon gift cards to purchase your books.
Since this article is not explicitly about marketing, I will soon put together a detailed piece on the paths I undertook to market my book without spending a single penny (and ended up selling enough copies to land a traditional publishing deal).
Part Four: Closing Notes
Writing a book can be a life-changing journey. It will teach you a lot not only about yourself, but will also make facts about the world around you clearer. However, it can be a little overwhelming — because more than 50% of the work that you will have to do includes everything else except writing. It is natural to feel a little lost, and each time you feel exhausted, remember why you started on this journey in the first place.
Here are a few closing notes-
Expect to lose money
Yes, your book might become a bestseller, and yes, you might have a gaggle of fans clamouring for you to write your next. But, if you venture down the self-publishing avenue, it is difficult for a first-timer to make money from your book. Remember that there are things more valuable than money. Sometimes, you do it to establish yourself in the book marketing sphere. You do it to build a community. You do it to lay the seeds of a fabulous future ten years down the line where you are a full-time author.
Trust the process. Your time is coming. Just do the work and the results will handle themselves.
~ Tony Gaskins
Remember why you write
At the end of the day, you are a writer, not a marketing expert. You write because you love literature. You write because there is no other outlet for the turmoil raging inside your soul. You write because you know of no other way you can deal with the vagaries of everyday life.
Speaking from experience, there is no feeling in the world more precious and more fulfilling than holding your book, the fruit of your hard labour, in your own hands. It is a powerful moment — one that can make you realise that everything you did along the way, all the times you gave up on your hobbies to work — all of it added up to this beautiful bundle of pages huddled in your hands.
This is your moment. This is why you write. Don’t ever forget that.
Tools Mentioned in This Article
- Editing: Pro Writing Aid, Grammarly
- Free book cover designing apps: Canva, Adobe Spark, Placeit, and Edit.org
- Professional cover designing services: tikklil
- Self-publishing services: Amazon KDP, NotionPress (offers both self and vanity publishing services), Pothi
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