Tackling the Self-Publishing Learning Curve

By Monday, October 8, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

Okay, you wrote a book.  That much was hard enough.  You spent a year, maybe a couple years–in my case, I spent TEN YEARS writing, editing, re-writing, shelving, revisiting and finally finishing The Lizard Stays in the Cage, a creative non-fiction memoir or sorts, which focuses on the twenty-plus years I’ve spent in the trenches of the music business mostly, but also the arts in general.

Now, you’ve got two choices:  One, you can send out a bunch of query letters, pray to whatever god you worship, and hope that somehow, against astronomical, incredible odds, an amazing thing happens:  someone actually responds to your query.  Yes, you can send out two hundred query letters, and perhaps you will receive one or two curt replies which say, in so many words, “(sigh) Okay, go ahead and send a sample chapter… we’ll get back to you in a few decades.”  Is this cause for celebration?  Sure, you threw a bunch of stuff at the wall and something actually stuck… sort of.  Treat yourself to an iced mocha with whip cream.  Is it cause for quitting your day gig, sequestering yourself in the corner of your office and churning out prose like John Grisham?  Uh, maybe not.

Option two, you can say “to hell with the snooty, established publishing world!  I don’t need to be a part of their little club!  I’m gonna do it all myself!”  Yes, it’s liberating to take this leap.  You can in fact do it all yourself, and it is not entirely outside the realm of possibility that you will ultimately get a return on your investment of time and resources.

But let’s keep it real.  When you take this leap, you are signing on for a huge learning curve, which is going to entail literally hundreds of hours of your time.  First, you will have to figure out how to format your book (in both hard copy and e-book formats), you will have to either do the layout yourself or farm that out to someone (for a fee), create artwork for the front and back cover, which, as tempting as it might be to do it yourself in Photoshop, is probably a task best left to an expert, such as a proven graphic artist with experience and credits.

Then, if all that goes smoothly (haha), you now have to figure out where you can get the best price per book, and decide how you’re actually going to try and sell the thing.  Will you sell it exclusively via your website (yeah, you need one of those too), or in conjunction with Amazon or another major online distributor?  Or are you going to partner with a self-pubishing company and have them assist you in marketing and distributing your book?  This last option, of course, is going to cost you more money.

Okay, let’s say you figured all that out.  You’ve got your book, it looks good, it reads good, friends and family who have picked up advance copies are digging it and giving you positive feedback.  Great.  You’ve come to the juncture where this humble author currently is positioned.

I’ve got my book, I more or less am happy with its internal and external elements, and I believe I’ve got a product I can now market on more of a mass level.  But how?  If I don’t have a major publishing company backing me (I don’t, at this point), is it even possible to create national or international interest in my little book, given the deluge of product constantly saturating the market?  The answer is yes, it is possible, and there are people who have done it quite successfully, but in order to achieve it you need  to do one very important thing:  create a platform for yourself as an author.  This entails creating a presence within various social media outlets, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.  There are numerous others, but these seem to be the big three most people talk about.

In addition to this step, you will need to figure out how to get your material reviewed by credible sources.  This doesn’t have to be the New York Times (although that would be nice!).  You can turn to smaller magazines, even local ones in your area, as well as a plethora of online sources, be they magazines, newsletters or blogs.  There are also a number of Amazon top reviewers who seem to yield power and influence in the self-publishing world.

I am telling you this not as an authority, which I am not at this point, but as a fellow writer who is just starting to wrap his mind around all of this, and slowly make some moves to build an author platform and create demand for not only my current book, but hopefully many more to come.

As I said, the self-published author faces a serious learning curve, and many will fall by the wayside because, well, the challenge is a daunting one.  I plan to stick it out–I’m in it for the long haul.  I’m stubborn and I believe in my work.  I believe I have something worthwhile to say to the world.  I can only hope that this resolve–which nobody can teach you, by the way… you either have it or you don’t–coupled with a continuing self-education in all things related to self-publishing, marketing, and social media presence–will get me to the place I want to be:  a self-contained, media and marketing-savvy writer who understands his audience, and has figured out how to reach people all over the world.  Of course, once I get there (if I do), that will be the point at which a major publishing company will materialize, offering to catapult my career to the next level.  Those opportunities come along when you no longer need them… but that’s the way the game seems to work!  Good luck, fellow writers.  I will be blogging many more of my thoughts, as well as ideas and strategies as I figure them out and hopefully master them!


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