It’s been a few weeks since the launch of Second Chance and what a few weeks they have been. From the highs of publishing and selling my first copies through to the lows of those sales sinking fast, back to the highs of great reviews and feedback and the lows of less positive feedback (which, thankfully, have been rare so far). What it has been overall is a learning experience, so before I forget anything I thought I’d share my top tips with you so that you will benefit from learning from both the good and the bad decisions I made.
Exclaimer – I wrote my novel in Scrivener and published via KDP. Any advice I give is based on my experience of using these processes only. I will update post once I start using other platforms (e.g. Smashwords)
1 Don’t rush the process
My first mistake. As I have written previously here, my first attempt at getting published was through the traditional agent / publisher route. However, once I’d made my mind up that I self-publishing was a better fit for me, I wanted to publish my book as soon as possible. This was both a good thing (I was motivated) and a mistake (I didn’t think through each step of the process as thoroughly as I should have).
2 Write in Scrivener
There are many reasons that I would recommend Scrivener from a writer’s point of view (its ease of use, the ability to write in scenes and then easily swap scenes around without cutting and pasting, it’s ability to save constantly so you lose nothing etc. etc.) but one of its biggest features is that it can create your ebook file for you very easily, with all the menus and links built in. I am aware that Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) can create an ebook file from Microsoft Word but I have heard it takes a bit of playing around with before you get it right. With Scrivener I had no problems at all.
3 Hire an editor
There are three reasons people want to go down the traditional publishing route. The first is to get an advance, the second is to gain access to lots of distribution but as important is the third – access to good editing. Editors come in all shapes and forms but there are three basic types: a creative editor – who helps shape your novel’s structure, a copy editor – who helps correct grammar and shape your prose, and a line editor – who goes through each line looking for typos. If this is your first book it is very unlikely you will be able to afford to hire a creative editor, but if you do have a bit of money I would recommend you hire either a copy or line editor. One of the biggest complaints about self-published ebooks is the number of errors in each book. Yes, you can find errors in traditionally published books but they are so much fewer than in a self-published book.
The best books are ones you don’t even realise you are reading, instead you see everything in your imagination as you read the prose. Each error takes the reader out of this state, lessening the enjoyment of your work no matter how brilliant the story. This is why being error free is so important and why hiring an editor is good use of your money.
4 Proof read thoroughly
Now, if this is your first book there is every chance that you can’t afford to hire an editor to help polish your work. Even if you do hire an editor the responsibility of providing an error free ebook is down to you. I am lucky enough to know a copy editor who agreed to edit my manuscript. He did a fantastic job, finding many errors and helping correct some dodgy prose. My mistake was believing that a quick read through after editing was enough. Thankfully I gave my ebook to my wife to read and she found a number of additional typos (either missed by my editor or added as I made my corrections) which I was able to correct before publishing.
5 Buy a decent cover
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but readers do, especially when browsing the Amazon website. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your writing is, if your cover is lousy then it is unlikely anybody will buy your book. If you don’t believe me, look what top-selling author Ed James has to say here. The good news is that you don’t have to pay £1000s to get a good quality cover. I bought mine from James at Humble Nations, who offers lots of pre-made covers at very reasonable prices. He also converts provides a service to convert his ebook covers to be used for createspace printed books if you plan to go the paper route later on (and no, I’m not getting paid to promote his service or receiving a discount). Other good quality covers can be found here, here and here (though I can’t comment on service or satisfaction).
6 Proof read thoroughly
You remember the story I told you earlier? Well it gets worse. After I published my ebook a couple of good friends who had bought my book mentioned there were a number of typos. I was mortified. I had tried my best to catch them all but some had slipped through. I kindly asked them to let me know where they were and they both sent through a list of errors. A long list. There were 88 in all. I’d proofread, my editor had proofread, my wife (who is particularly good at spotting typos had proofread and there were still 88 errors. My advice is that before you publish, send your manuscript to any friends you know who are good at spotting errors – other writers are also usually a good bet – and ask them to see if they can find any errors. The more readers you use, the more likely the errors will be spotted, because as you will see later correcting the errors is not that easy.
7 Think about which platforms you wish to use
There are lots of different routes to publishing an ebook. By far the biggest single outlet is Amazon. When you publish an ebook through KDP it automatically becomes available through all of Amazon’s stores globally. However, there are other routes to market and they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Smashwords though am yet to use them. Smashwords allows you to publish your ebook through some of the other major ebook retailers (Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo to name but a few) but not Amazon. I decided to go solely with Amazon because in my home market, the UK, it almost has a monopoly, but I will aim to publish via Smashwords in the near future.
8 Use Categories and keywords wisely
The hardest part of self-publishing is not getting published but getting read. There are millions of ebooks with hundreds of thousands of new books getting added each year. Getting noticed in this avalanche of titles is incredibly difficult. This is where categories and keywords come in. A category is the type of book you have written. Fiction / Non-Fiction being the first big category, followed by subcategories (Thriller, Romance, Science Fiction etc.) Keywords are what Amazon use to help connect your book with a reader’s search. More importantly, categories and keywords are what Amazon use to create their Top100 charts and careful use of categories enables you to appear in these charts.
To appear in the Top100 Fiction charts you have to sell a lot of books, almost impossible for a novice write. The same for Fiction/Science Fiction sub-category. But there are fuser subcategories available. On the first day of sale, Second Chance went into the Top 30 Fiction/Science Fiction/Dystopian charts and Top 10 Fiction/Science Fiction/Genetic Engineering, and stayed in the charts until relatively recently – all on relatively modest sales.
I priced my book at £3 for UK customers, the upper-middle of the price range of my competitors as I believed my book to be a quality product. Most of the feedback I received from people who bought the book was: is that all? Yet I’m sure I have lost sales because some people think £3 is too high a price to pay for an unknown book. There is no right or wrong answer on pricing. My view is that if you have pride in your product you should price it accordingly. One extra tip to note, UK & EU prices are subject to tax, so the price you put in the system will end up higher on the Amazon site (my KDP price is set at £2.91 to get the £3.00 retail price).
10 Send to reviewers prior to launch
Another way to get noticed is to have somebody review your book. There is a risk involved – you have no control over what they write – but if you have confidence in your book this is a great way to pick up new readers. There are many review sites out there that are happy to review self-published books, usually targeted at specific genres. However, I learnt to my cost that they often want to review books prior to launch to enable them to be the first with the buzz about the latest books, so if you want to go down this route, plan ahead.
11 Push hard on launch day
As mentioned before, your best chance of getting noticed is through the Top 100 charts system, so on launch day make sure everybody you know is aware that they can buy your book. Blog about it, Facebook, email, Twitter – get as many people you know to buy your book because then it becomes visible to others, and with visibility comes sales. This initial promotional push, allied with good choices of categories and keywords, can send you high into these specialist charts with relatively modest sales.
12 Reviews are your friend
It is a rare reader that will buy an ebook off Amazon from an unknown writer based on a nice cover and your promotional blurb. The one thing that will change this prospective customer into a customer is a raft of positive reviews. This is where your friends come in. Ask/beg/plead for your friends to give a review. Never ask for a good review, just an honest one, because if word gets out that you are gaming the system, it can be disastrous. If you are clever, give your friends preview copies and then ask them to review on the day of launch (something I didn’t do.) That way you can marry a high chart place with positive reviews to attract new purchasers.
13 Update if you find you’ve missed typos
It is always better to catch typos before you publish (see points 3, 4 & 6). However there is a good chance that you will miss something, especially if you are on a tight budget. The good news is that you can always upload a new, improved version of the ebook. Amazon will make new versions available on request and if the changes are big enough email those customers who have already purchased the ebook (and automatically update those who have chosen the auto-update setting on their Kindle). In my case it only took a week from updating the book to Amazon sending the update out, which is great, but bear in mind that you may have already lost a potential long-term reader by this point.
14 Never miss a chance to promote your book
Did I mention Second Chance, the 5-star rated thriller set in the near future is available to buy from your local Amazon store? You can buy it as an ebook or as a paperback from Amazon.com (paperback / ebook) and Amazon.co.uk (paperback / ebook).
15 Don’t give up your day job
As mentioned here, at launch Second Chance debuted as high no.21 in the Amazon.co.uk Science Fiction/Dystopian charts and no.9 in the Science Fiction/Genetic Engineering chart. I was ecstatic. To generate these fantastic results I had sold 35 copies in two days. After those heady first few days my sales gradually slowed. Now they come like drips from a slightly leaky tap. One. At. A. Time. Yet each time I sell one extra copy I break back into the Science Fiction/Genetic Engineering charts, giving me visibility once more.
I’m hoping that once people have finished my book, those that enjoyed the story will start telling their friends about it. Word of mouth buzz is essential if you want to turn that drip into a torrent. I will also be attempting to get more reviews to bolster prospective readers. What is clear is that selling books through self-publishing is a long game. If you are lucky, and if your product is good enough, your sales will eventually pick up. For most people this is not the case. I’ve not put a payment down on that Aston Martin quite yet.