Every now and then, I do these posts, updated to account for the changes in the publication world. Since I’m hot off Plaidypus hitting USA Today, I thought I’d go through the entire step-by-step process of books come to the market.
Complete with mistakes I made, hopefully so you don’t make them, too.
1: Write a book.
That could be a novel-long education detour right there, but we’re going to start with you having a manuscript in hand. It has a beginning, middle, and end. It hasn’t been edited. By you. By anyone. But you have a book. (If you are at this stage, you’re way ahead of the crowd.)
Now, we’ll go into mistake number one I made.
I lacked money, so I went with the editing I could afford. I used crowdfunding to help, but I underestimated the cost of EVERYTHING. I wasn’t able to afford a super experienced editor or staff. I was able to get a decent little cover from a wonderful illustrator. (At a good rate.) It wasn’t the best cover when put together, especially on the typography front, but the base artwork was amazeballs. And it still is. It’s one of my favorite pieces of art, and I have a big print of it in my home.
I needed a developmental, copy, and proofing editor. I couldn’t afford them. Honestly… I didn’t do too badly on the plot front. I’ve always had a natural knack for it, and I work on my skills constantly. But I had so much to learn about grammar and writing.
The takeaway: don’t go cheap. You get what you pay for. You pay someone dirt for editorial? You’re going to get dirt for editorial. To give you an idea of going rates, I pay $1,000 for 100,000 words of manuscript right now. This gives me a comprehensive copy/line edit.
Because I work so damned hard at improving my self-editing skills, that comprehensive copy/line edit usually becomes an over glorified proofing edit. And honestly, for proofing, where ALL the person does is check for spelling mistakes (their instead of there for example), punctuation, and so on… that’s expensive. (My general going rate per 100,000 words for proofing is closer to the $750 mark, and I generally move to beta proofreaders and more general polishing when my regular editor is subjected to doing an over glorified proofing edit instead of the copy/line edit I actually hired her for.)
This works for me. Chances are, it won’t work for you.
2: Edit the book. Read everything above, believe in it, and edit the book.
Seriously. Edit the book. Don’t be one of those authors who goes “But I can’t afford an editor…”
It’s okay to write as a hobby, go on wattpad or one of the other free-style sites, and share your works with people without the expectation of being paid.
But if you are expecting people to pay you for your writing… you should edit the book.
Cheap is not good. Cheap is not good… and readers don’t like mistakes in their books. Trust me. I’m unfortunately aware of how badly readers don’t like mistakes in their books. And they absolutely WILL tell you about it.
The fans mean well.
The people who are pissed they bought your book and discovered you didn’t bother to edit it… do not mean well. They’re angry they wasted their money.
Food for thought.
Oh, and you would want to be paid fairly for your work, right? Think about that for a while. Editors and designers also want to be paid fairly for their work.
And yes, people do read the samples before buying a book, especially in an era where more and more authors decide it doesn’t actually matter if they edit their book.
People don’t want to read bad books.
3: The Sales Triad: Cover, Description, and Sample/Writing.
That leads me to the most important foundation for authors looking to actually sell books. The triad. The triad is your book cover, your description, and your writing sample. You can sell books with just these things. Reviews are important… in that they only matter when someone is on the fence. If your cover looks unprofessional, doesn’t appeal to the market it’s supposed to be targeting, or otherwise lacks appeal, your book won’t sell. Most people won’t click or look at books with bad covers on them.
And bad isn’t an indicator of quality. It’s a matter of “appealing to the audience that book is for.”
For example: I want to sell books that appeal to people who want to read about angels. I have put a dog on the cover with some random dude. No wings in sight. Nothing about this book says “angel” anywhere on it.
People who are looking for angels will skip by the book. I gave them a dog, not an angel.
The cover is critically important, because it is their first sign of what kind of book you’ve written. If you screw that up, you’ve lost the majority of your sales.
Plaidypus’s cover worked because I was selling something ridiculous. I was promising something unusual and fun.
What does this cover promise?
Unusual and fun.
People seeking a fun time will stop and go “Wait, WHAT?” and look at the title, see a platypus, and see a chick in plaid. They will probably, at this point, assume shapeshifter. And puns. They’ll definitely assume puns. The moon in the background and the “magical” portion of the subtitle helps support this.
Anyone seeking unusual and fun with a chance of shapeshifters might want to read this book.
Here’s the cold reality of the situation: if your cover, description, AND writing don’t match what they’re looking for, they won’t buy your book. Period. You have approximately twenty seconds to convince them, using your cover and description, that they should be bothered with reading the sample. If they don’t want to be bothered with the cover or description, they certainly aren’t going to be bothered with checking the reviews.
Reviews don’t sell books. Your cover and description offer the OPPORTUNITY to sell the book to someone. Your writing is ultimately what sells the book.
Reviews just convince outliers who aren’t sure to give you a chance.
I write my descriptions myself and run them by my editor and a few friends. There are people who will write descriptions for you. There is no right or wrong answer to this, but I will say this much: you know your book better than anyone else. You SHOULD know, better than anyone else, what the selling points of your book are.
If you don’t, you have a problem.
Once you have your book fully edited, a great cover that will attract the RIGHT people to your book, and a description that matches the promise of the cover, it’s time to start selling your book.
You have two choices here: preorder or no preorder.
For newbies, I don’t think a preorder is necessary. If anything, it will discourage you because nobody is going to trust some unknown author except friends, and seeing low preorder numbers is SO hugely discouraging. If you’re with a traditional publisher… they might be bothered with advertising your book, but probably not.
But a traditional publisher has something a new self-publishing author lacks: street cred.
Street cred is why people will buy their favorite author’s books without reading the description. They trust the author to write a book they’ll enjoy.
New authors simply do not have this going for them.
Traditional publishers, particularly the popular houses, give the new author some street cred because they publish so many good books.
It takes a few books to establish street cred, so really… unless you have more than a few books out, I wouldn’t bother. It’s a lot of stress and heartache for almost no benefit.
You want to start doing preorders once you have some street cred. Then you can look at your preorders and start doing some of the nitty gritty, like figuring out how healthy one series is compared to another, etc, etc, etc.
We’ll assume you’re not preordering. (Pro-tip: you can do preorders out of all of these book vendors, so you don’t have to change anything other than the date if you decide you want to try preordering.)
Top vendors for volume: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books.
Top vendors for pay: Barnes & Noble and Kobo. (Apple books is decent, but it’s SO hard to work with if you go direct that most publish to Apple books via Draft2Digital and so on.)
Top Vendors for Being So Damned Cool: Kobo.
How do you publish through these sites? Go to these links and set up accounts:
Barnes & Noble: https://press.barnesandnoble.com
Apple Books: https://authors.apple.com/
Re: Apple… they have started doing webform based publishing, but I haven’t been able to get it to work. I’ve transitioned all my Apple stuff to Draft2Digital because I don’t have the time to fuss with it.
Google Play: https://play.google.com/books/publish/u/0/
Note: I have a bad relationship with Google Play. It’s trauma level. I’ve had some bad experiences. It’s gotten better, but I still develop hives every time I need to log in to deal with this vendor.
Second Note: You will need to have tax information for ALL of these sites. You’re operating a business, not a lemonade stand on the street. Taxes are a thing you’ll have to learn. (It sucks.)
Advertising the book… sigh.
Here is where the bad news kicks in. Unless you have a golden horseshoe crammed right on up your ass, you’re not going to get mystically lucky and have a book run away on you. If a book suddenly gets sales, it is because somebody talked about it or promoted it. End of story.
Currently, Bookbub is my current favorite advertiser. It’s hard to learn and expensive. Well, somewhat.
If you get a Bookbub Featured Deal, selling your book for a discount, IF AND ONLY IF you have a strong triad, you can sell potentially thousands of copies of your book for anywhere between $300-$1,500+ dollars.
The book is sent to a huge mailing list. If people are attracted by the cover and the synopsis Bookbub will write for you, they will buy. In droves. And because they’re buying readers, if you have more than one book, they may buy those, too.
I recommend new authors try to get Bookbub featured deals. If you’re not good enough to land a featured deal, you’re probably lacking something for widespread appeal. Figure out what. Fix it.
Get featured deals and sell books.
That’s the most cost-effective marketing currently available.
You can access the Bookbub partner system here: partners.bookbub.com
I do not recommend facebook as an advertiser right now. Their platform has undergone a lot of changes, the readers are cold / it’s harder to reach the warm readers, and the CPC has gone up substantially. You can’t target any market reliably right now.
I do not find it is currently worth the investment.
I’m a little warmer on Amazon’s advertising platform, but ONLY the small scale stuff and ONLY if you have done solid marketing research onto good targets for you. It’s a fast way to lose a lot of money with little sales.
If you really want to try it, though… you can access the marketing platforms on Amazon KDP through your backend. There are links to it there.
Warning: you need a lot of know-how to navigate the Amazon system, and I strongly recommend taking a course for Amazon’s platform. Bryan Cohen is doing a free advertising course in July 2022 for those who want to learn about the ad system and try their hand at adversing. I have done one of his challenges, and they’re worth doing. You WILL learn something if you sit down, shut up, and watch the videos, read the discussions, and ask questions.
And, if you join the free course, well… it’s free.
At current, Bryan’s Amazon ad course is the only course I support.
Which leads me to the mistakes I’ve made. The most notable was being scammed by someone who runs a lot of courses aiming to teach and help grow an author’s audience. I paid for a custom newsletter campaign. I was lied to, and the contacts were not legitimate.
Scammy service providers are all over the place in the writing community, but I will give you this piece of advice:
If a bunch of people say they have had a bad experience with a specific service provider, and if you hear that same name come up over and over in a context of having scammy behavior… believe the victims.
They’re probably telling the truth, because why invite a lawsuit?
Also, check into the service provider and their legal history. If a service provider has lost a court case involving their business, they are to be avoided. If in doubt, check to see if the person has been taken to court over their business.
If so, and they lost, definitely believe the victims.
Beyond that, go in with eyes wide open. We want to trust other writers because we all write. Other writers HAVE to be good people, right?
The publishing world is not a friendly place. Not a month goes by where one jealous writer doesn’t try to launch attacks at other writers using fanbases and so on. Cheating is rampant. So is theft.
Publication is a dream of many, but it’s easy for the dream to become a nightmare.
Here is a quick and dirty list of unpleasant truths about the industry for you to think about:
1: USA Today is the reward for selling your books well. If someone is selling you USA Today ranking in an anthology… you’re buying something with no actual value. Been there, done that, regretted everything.
USA Today has no value unless you earned it yourself… and the value is in that you earned it yourself.
It won’t sell books. (Promise. I did not have a mystical surge of sales ANY time I earned USA Today.)
It won’t pay your rent.
That’s part of what makes Plaidypus so damned magical for me.
I was paying the bills and got a reward for writing a book others believed in.
(No lies… I had given up on it, especially with opening patreon and distributing the book through there.)
2: Endorsements (the quote blurbs on the front of books) won’t sell books for you. Neither will editorial reviews. What does sell books is if one of those big authors loved your book and shared a link… but generally? We don’t go asking authors to do that, especially if they ain’t close buddies of yours. I mean, if you have their phone number and talk to them daily, ask for a pitch to their fans. (With the expectation you’re pitching to YOUR fans for them as well.)
Side-note: I only promo books I’ve found and loved on my own, although I sometimes open my site for a share swap. Those are the book fairs I sometimes do, and I’m very open about when I do them and why I’m doing them.)
3: If you network to authors hoping they’ll sell your books for you, you are there for the wrong reason. Please stop it. It’s SO annoying when someone comes up to you and hopes you’ll sell their book to your fanbase. It is SO obvious when someone is doing it. Please. Don’t.
We know. Every damned time. And then we tell our closer friends so they know who you are so they can avoid the wasted time. (Seriously. It is exhausting, and I’m already exhausted. I don’t need to be even more exhausted.)
Network to learn and ask questions. Better yet, ask if they have any educational posts, and if so, where to find them. (I am FAR more likely to help you if it’s obvious you’re trying to help yourself.)
4: This phenomena isn’t new to the writing industry, but I’d like to remind the raw newbies that the seasoned (and exhausted) professionals don’t owe you anything. We aren’t all working in the same office where the newb needs to learn the ropes and the experienced staff are expected to teach the ropes.
Each one of us is running a business, and we’re often too damned tired to teach others how to run their business. I do my best, through posts like this, but without fail, at least once a month, someone slides into my messages expecting I teach them. And then they get pissy when I tell them I don’t have time or sorry, can’t. (This applies to ANY hobby/craft/skill/job, frankly… unless the person is literally expected to teach you due to job responsibilities.)
5: It takes money to make money in this industry. How you pay the money only changes how you play the game. Time IS money, and if you spend 2 hours selling copies to the local church after sermons… that IS money you’re spending. It’s just issued in time.
Nothing in life comes free… and it’s okay to just decide to write for the love of it. Don’t want to invest?
Well, if you’re good enough, go land that traditional publishing contract and let them pay most of the bills. (But you WILL be paying in time, and a lot of it.)
6: I’m where I’m at due to stubborn pride, obstinance, and spite. Also, thank you to that asshole who said I couldn’t.
I could, so I did.
My best piece of advice is to go find that asshole who says you can’t and go prove them wrong. If you run out of stubborn pride and obstinance, maybe that little bit of spite will see you through.
7: Finally… don’t ask me about your covers, descriptions, and writing unless you want to tell the truth. I will tell you exactly why I wouldn’t buy your book as a reader. But in other news, if I would buy it… I generally do. And if I love it, I’ll tell others about it. (But please don’t flood me with messages asking about your covers, descriptions, and writing. There is a 50/50 chance you will block me by the time I am done. I’m honest… and that’s all I gotta say on that.)
I don’t have time to protect fragile self-esteems. If you weren’t ready for the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question.