Are you an aspiring author? Are your queries getting rejected? Are you considering self-publishing?
How to Become An Author By Self-Publishing: Tips For Your First Book
I wrote my first children’s book manuscript in college, around 2010. It was a cooky rhyme scheme book that didn’t rhyme very well. After some time, I dropped my efforts with the book. I returned to my writing in 2016, digging up my old manuscript and re-writing it from every different angle, point-of-view, and voice possible. I ditched the rhyme scheme. I queried agents. I attended conferences and workshops. I leveraged my network and made connections. I learned to handle rejection had a book and I wanted others to read it. I was ready to buck the system and go with self-publishing. I started researching other children’s books that were self-published. Some research questions I had included:
- What other children’s books were self-published, and how successful were they?
- How are self-published books marketed?
- What was the best platform to self-publish?
- What were the costs and how could I finance them?
All this research led me to launch my book with a Kickstarter campaign that successfully served as a marketing and branding tool, as well as a means to finance the first print run of my book.
In this post, I am sharing with you my best practices and lessons learned for self-publishing your first book, launching your book with Kickstarter, and marketing for self-published authors.
These are all my experiences, insights, failures and successes and I truly hope they are of help to you, aspiring author! Let’s dive in and get to the nitty-gritty.
Self-Publishing for the First Time? How not to regret it.
You have a manuscript you have written. You have mildly revised it, some friend or relative has looked over it, maybe it has made its rounds in your critique group. You now feel ready to share it with the world! You start querying literary agents and are confuzzled when you are continually rejected. So instead, you are just going to make it happen and self-publish that masterpiece.
Pump the breaks and hold the phone! Before you self-publish your first book, I want you to consider all of the following. Here is my best advice for first-time authors considering self-publishing.
- Have a great manuscript. This is where I first went wrong. I look back at my early writing in college and recognize it was just not good. Sure, it had “potential”, but there is a gap between potential and profit, and that gap is called hard work. A lot of writers want to spill the whole story without developing it, the movement, characters, plot, voice, etc. Especially with picture books (which I happen to write). Because picture books are only 32 pages, writers think they can write their best draft the first time around. Just not true! Even Matt de la Peña revised his award-winning children’s book 70 times. As I’ve seen in other author interviews with Jonathan Roth and Deborah Schaumberg, the revision process can span several years. Make sure your priority is first an excellent manuscript. That may mean hiring an editor, which you can find through various resources such as Writer’s Digest, SCBWI, or even freelancers on Upwork or Fiverr.
- Know your reader and identify your audience. So you had your friend or relative read the book and they loved it? Well, the likelihood is they are not your ideal reader. I took this into consideration with my picture book. Sure, kids read picture books. But really, parents make the purchasing decisions and parent’s (or educators) read to children and talk with them about the book. Ultimately, parent’s are my audience, too. What do they care about? What do they want to teach their children? How can I meet those needs with my book? Know your audience, and give them what they want.
- Know how best to reach them. Now that I knew my audience, what was the best way to reach them? And could I reach them by self-publishing? This is really important to know because it allows you to consider whether you can make your book available solely as an eBook (which may be a good option for nonfiction or resource books), as a paperback, a hardcover, or a board book. It also allows you to consider whether you can reach your reader online through platforms like Amazon or Goodreads, or will you need a different marketing strategy. For example, since my book is a self-published picture book, I knew I needed to connect directly with parents and educators to best reach my reader, kids ages 2-6. This meant I didn’t have to promote an eBook so heavily (which has a fairly low cost of production), but rather the physical copies of the book.
- Know what platforms you will use. The next step is to research what is the best platform to self-publish your book. There are so many ways to self-publish today! You can go with Amazon, IngramSpark, Blurb, Lulu, and various hybrid publishers out there. What works best for you? Ultimately, I always recommend setting up on Amazon, in addition to any other platforms you want to publish on. Nowadays, a presence on Amazon is simply necessary. It is the largest marketplace for books. Think of it this way, a bookstore is limited to the foot-traffic it gets on any given day. It’s also limited to the 100,000 or so titles it can hold on its bookshelves at a time. Amazon has neither of these limitations and also has a higher profit margin potential. I also chose to publish with IngramSpark, which I believe is the most bookstore-friendly self-publishing platform available.
In sum, I want to make sure that you are publishing a work that you are proud of! It’s not just some quick sloppy story you put together in one night. There is so much to consider when publishing a book, at some point you just have to do it! So keep it simple and be sure these four things: it’s a great manuscript, you know your reader, you know how to reach them, and you know how you will self-publish.
Launch Your Book with a Kickstarter Campaign
As part of my research, I looked into other books that were self-published. I wanted to know how they did it, how did they market it, and what were some of the best practices out there for books in my genre, which is children’s picture books for ages 2-6. This led me to a few publishing projects that were successfully launched with Kickstarter: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, which is the most funded publishing project on Kickstarter, and Bravery Magazine. In looking at these projects, it gave me a sense of how I could self-publish my book in a why that cash-flowed it upfront, and also served as a marketing tool. I found Kickstarter to be a great solution for my first published book, and here is why.
Self-publishing a book comes at a cost. Some expenses include an editor, graphic designer for a book cover, ISBN, copyright, fees that platforms charge for self-publishing, not mention the cost of an illustrator if it’s a picture book. The costs could range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Can all of these costs come out of your own wallet? If so, that is great! I know many self-published authors that have self-funded their books and received a full return on their investment from the book sales. It’s very possible! Veronica Goodman is one such author who successfully self-published her first picture book, E is for Economics, and made a return on investment within a matter of months.
But if you are like me and don’t have the money to spare, then Kickstarter is an option to consider for crowdfunding your book. In essence, people are pre-ordering your book and committing the funds upfront (called “Pledges” or “Rewards”). You receive the money when the campaign ends, and with that, you can cash flow your book costs and printing orders. In terms of costs, Kickstarter is a wonderful tool!
In addition, it serves as a marketing tool and an online footprint for your book. Think of it this way, most of us are not social influencers and do not have a large online platform. So, even if I were to google your name, you may not be the first result in my browser. Why does this matter? If people search your title or your name, they want to find YOU and not the doppelganger living in Seattle or Topeka. At least, that was my case. Now, when I google my name Ariel Mendez (which there are many out there, believe it or not), my Kickstarter is on the first page of Google searches. That is great for any press, media, schools, or others searching for me or my book! Also, a successful Kickstarter campaign can be used to pitch to local media outlets to get coverage on your book. You can use it as a selling point for blog tours, or any other form of press you can get for your book. In all forms, Kickstarter helps with the promotion of your self-published book!
Kickstarting a book is not the only way to do it, obviously, but I see it more as a way to finance your project and pre-market your book to build a sense of urgency with pre-sales. With that being said, set your Kickstarter funding goal low, but only low enough that you can fulfill the orders that are placed.
Marketing Lessons for Self-Published Authors
How on earth can you write a book, publish a book, and market a book all at the same time? It seems impossible!
Many writers self-publish their book and expect bells and whistles but are disappointed when the book is not flying off the shelf or selling out. I was speaking with a friend of mine, a fellow writer and bibliophile. She was working on her manuscript but was disappointed that there was no “buy-in”, or in other words, that people seemed disinterested. My heart sank when she told me this, but I think many writers have that same feeling and expectation. Writers anticipate “buy-in” even before the manuscript is complete or revised. I will admit I am guilty of this! But in truth, unless you already have an audience such as social media influencers and bloggers, if you are one of the plebians and common folk of social media like me, then you have some work to do before you can expect any “buy-in”.
Marketing self-published books fall on your shoulders as a self-published author. Here are my top tips to promote your self-published book for first-time authors:
- Leverage your relationships. You already have people who want to read your book, even if they are just friends and family. Sell to your first audience, your lifelong supporters, and advocates! Your friends, family, colleagues, and other relationships.
- Build hype. Encourage your friends and family to share your book. Build a “Book Launch Team” on Facebook, which is essentially a Facebook group where you are facilitating and incentivizing the sharing of your book. Invite as many people as you can, share tweetable or images that can circulate easily, link everything back to your book, hold contests, and get the word buzzing about your book. It is beneficial for you, and exciting for everyone who is participating.
- Share often. People want to buy our book. Believe it! Though, some people may not have the money right away, or they are on vacation, or simply forgot to buy it right then and there. Don’t be afraid to share often your book and remind people! You can share directly, as in simply asking or telling upfront to buy the book, or you can share indirectly by simply posting images of you typing, reading or doing some other activity on your book.
- Host a Book Launch Party. This is a great opportunity to work with other small businesses in your area. You can ask a local bookstore to host for you, or a local retailer if it is in the same industry as your book.
- Leverage your local businesses. For instance, a cookbook release may be able to host a Cooking Class Book Launch Party at a local retailer like William Sonoma, Sur La Table, or local culinary schools. A book about pets or animals can co-host an animal adoption event at the county adoption center or retailers such as Petsmart or veterinary clinic. This is an opportunity to be a champion of local business! That is a huge advantage you have over larger authors who don’t have access to your local community.
I don’t pretend to be a best-seller or a big name in the publishing industry. At the same time, I want you to publish a book you are proud of and give your best marketing effort. May these tips be helpful to you! May your first self-published book be successful!