Twenty years ago, if you were an author trying to get your book published, you had to shop your manuscript around to the big publishers in hopes of landing a publishing deal. However, with the advent of new technological developments such as the internet (Have you heard of it?), you have the unprecedented opportunity to self-publish your work anytime. Here’s how.
During the last two decades, the changing digital landscape has made it possible for anyone with an internet connection and a story to quickly and cheaply self-publish a book. Previously branded as a niche activity, self-publishing has since grown to include hobbyists and professionals alike.
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But what does this new way of publishing mean for traditional publishing houses and readers? Critics close their doors to self-published books because they fear they’ll flood the market with poor-quality content. Others celebrate the democratization of authorship.
Regardless of what the publishers say, there’s a HUGE opportunity for writers to self-publish their work online. For instance, EL James sold 250,000+ copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” via Createspace/Amazon before publishers even noticed her. Also, Amanda Hocking, an American writer of paranormal romance young adult fiction, made millions by self-publishing online.
Here's a quote from an interview Amanda gave to NPR:
"It’s not enough to have a passion—you have to have a work ethic.’ That’s been the most life-changing advice that I got, because I had a passion for writing—and I know a lot of other people do, too—but it’s not enough to just want something. You have to be able to work for it, too, and put in the hours and the time."
If there’s only one thing to remember about e-publishing services, it’s this: E-publishing retailers and distributors are not publishers. This means they don’t take responsibility for the quality of your work or ask you to hand over any rights to your work. In other words, if an agent or traditional publisher wants to work with you after you release your ebook, you’re still eligible to sell your rights.
So what are e-publishing services? They’re services designed to help writers self-publish or distribute their e-books.
Most e-publishing services fall into one of the following categories:
- Single-channel distribution. These services are retailers that sell your work via only one channel and generally make money off a royalty structure. Examples include Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble’s Press, and iBooks.
- Multiple-channel distribution. These services enable you to sell your work on multiple channels but usually require an upfront fee or a percentage of your sales. Examples include BookBaby, Pronoun, and Smashwords.
Just a few years ago, self-publishing your own book was seen as a failure. However, today’s self-published authors can indeed make a living—and even a fortune. For instance, UK-based author Mark Dawson, who primarily writes thrillers and crime novels, earns $450,000 a year self-publishing on Amazon. His secret sauce? Facebook ads (which we’ll go over in the next section).
Here’s another self-publishing success story: Having been rejected by dozens of literary agents when trying to get The Martian published, sci-fi author Andy Weir eventually decided to put the story on his website, one chapter at a time. In 2012, Weir self-published the book on Amazon for 99 cents. Just one year later, 20th Century Fox Studios optioned the film rights of his novel, and the rest is history: The Martian (starring Matt Damon) ended up grossing 630.2 million USD.
Whether you’re a first-time author or a seasoned veteran, here are a few ways to maximize your book sales:
If you’re serious about getting your book in front of as many readers as possible, consider hiring someone to get it copy edited via Reedsy or Upwork, or purchase an editing package from BookBaby. Another option is asking one of your writer friends to take a look — just make sure to return the favor (or at least offer) later down the road.
Amazon’s Cover Creator, Canva, and Damonza are great resources. However, before spending the time (and sometimes money) to create your book cover, take some inspiration from your favorite ebooks and make a list of the features you like.
Know how to price your work fairly and competitively. If you’re a less established author, choosing a lower price might help drawn in readers. On the other hand, if you already have a loyal fan base, you can probably charge more for your work (within reason). Still, there’s an incentive for authors to price their work a certain way, as retailers will often pay higher royalties for ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. For instance, Amazon pays authors 70% for books in this range, but only 35% for those above or below it.
Two notable ways of doing so are creating Facebook ads and giving copies away for free.
Back to how self-publishing author Mark Dawson made the big bucks.
In an interview with Forbes, Dawson had this to say about Facebook Adverstising:
“The really cool thing about Facebook advertising is the targeting you can do. If you’re writing a romance book and you’re frequently compared to Nora Roberts – who’s a big romance writer – you can target your ads so they land in the news feeds of someone who like Roberts’ Facebook page.”
Publishers Weekly does a really fantastic job of explaining how indie authors can leverage facebook ads in the following article: Facebook Ads: A Guide for Indie Authors.
However, Seth Godin, American author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker, offers an alternative marketing approach: sending your book to your friends — for free.
“You should give your book away for free and send it to your twenty closest friends,” explains Godin. “And, if that’s the end of it, then you’re not a good writer. On the other hand, if those twenty people send it to twenty more people, then you have four hundred readers, and then eight thousand readers, and so on. If you can get up to twenty thousand readers of your first book for free, there will be a line out the door of people wanting to help you with your next book.”
As long as you’re being intentional about it, don’t be afraid to spend some money on your publishing and marketing efforts.
In an interview with The Write Life, author Joanna Penn had this to say about self-publishing:
“Remember to think of the cost of self-publishing as an investment, not a cost. A book is an asset that earns you money long-term.”
So how much does it cost to self-publish a book? According to a study by Reedsy, expect to pay anywhere between $2,500 and $4,000 to self-publish an 80,000-word book.
In summary, the changing digital landscape has helped remove the red tape from publishing, making it possible for anyone with a story, an internet connection, and killer writing chops to publish a book.
But every author knows that getting published is only half the battle. Skyrocketing to the top of the New York Times bestseller list is an entirely different beast. That’s when strategically choosing the appropriate e-publishing service, price point, book cover, editor, and marketing tactics come into play.
So keep pouring your heart and soul into your craft. Keep moving your readers. As Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Here at Patreon, we welcome you and your story with open arms.