Alternate title: how I went about self publishing my first novel… and you can too!
When people find out I wrote a novel, the obvious next question (aside from “what is it about?”) is “how did you publish it?” The short answer is I self-published the novel and printed it through Amazon’s printing house CreateSpace.
The extended answer is much more interesting and involves each of the following:
- family and friends
- a little shameless self-promotion
- lessons in intentionality and patience
Your friends and family are your most important asset in life, and especially as a writer. They are your sounding board for ideas, your best critics, and your first readers. People like to think of the writer as holed up in a room with nothing but a typewriter and their imagination. The reality is that behind every book you’ve ever read is a community of editors, supporters, friends, publishers, and everyone else who’s somehow inspired or influenced the story as you see it in the final version. I have a great many people to thank for making The Grey Mansion a possibility. And I won’t ever stop thanking them for helping my dream come true.
These next three points are the hardest. Resources, money, and self-promotion. I know! It makes me cringe just to think about those words and what they mean. But without these things, books don’t happen.
Pooling your resources is the best place to start. This is the time when you go through your contact list and make a note of everyone who might be helpful. Caterers. Party-planners. Website designers. Artists. Bloggers. Youtubers. People who are just generally good with business and numbers. Anyone who might be familiar with Amazon or CreateSpace, or the printing industry in general. Don’t forget to ask your contacts if they know anyone in their contacts. You might be surprised who’s able and willing to help you.
P.S. Twitter is your friend!
At this point, it’s tempting to feel like you’re taking advantage of your people. This can be tricky, but what it really comes down to is one simple word: Respect. Respect the talent. Respect the time. So much conflict could be avoided by planning ahead, and that leads directly into our discussion about money.
Set your budget early. Estimate how much you think you can fundraise. Be realistic. Then make a list of the things that are the most important to you. Is it the illustrations? The cover art? The reviewers? Decide who you can afford to pay and roughly how much you’re willing to spend. Do some research. Stay local if you can.
Making these decisions before you’ve communicated with anyone will keep you from making promises you later have a hard time keeping. Some people may not even ask for direct payment, but instead a free copy of your work or just that you mention their name when you’re promoting. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions in any meetings you have. Clearly spell out your expectations, and then shut up and listen to what they have to say! Better communication will always lead to a more respectful relationship.
They say it’s easier to publish a book today than any other time in history. And the truth is that you have an insane amount of resources at your fingertips! Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.
- NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month takes place every year in the month of Novembers. The goal: to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Yes, it is possible. The wonderful thing about this organization, though, is that after the month is over their help doesn’t end. They have specific deals, connections, and forums catered to authors publishing their first books. Whether you go the traditional publishing route, or do it yourself, their resources and on-hand experts are invaluable.
- CreateSpace – Especially if you are self-publishing, this Amazon company is a huge help throughout the printing process, and fairly easy to use. It’s not a publishing company. It’s a printing house. And they don’t just do books. Independent musicians and filmmakers, this is also for you!
- GoFundMe – It’s different from Kickstarter because you keep the money even if you don’t reach your goal within the allotted time. It’s also easy to set up perks that people can earn by donating at certain levels! The can be as elaborate as a box of merch, or as simple as a shoutout in the Acknowledgements.
- Your Local Library – They’re probably not doubling as a publishing company, but no doubt that have someone with a couple connections. Not only that, but they might also act as hosts for local writers’ groups and as we said before, writing is not a one-woman sport.
Now, this next part is where people can get twitching if they weren’t already. But hear me out. A little shameless self-promotion is not a bad thing. We live in a busy world. And yeah, publishing a book is easier than ever. Making a film is easier than ever. Etc. There are thousands of options for entertainment at any given moment. How are people supposed to know your art exists if you don’t put it out there into the world?
Because of some weird Amazon rules in regards to seller levels, I was not able to put my book up for pre-order. Once someone ordered the book, it would be printed and sent. This meant that someone might actually purchase the book and order it almost a month early! Not the worst thing in the world, but we decided to keep it hush-hush for the sake of the release date celebration. And so it sat there. On Amazon. And no one noticed until I told them, because Amazon is a brain-busting-ly massive platform! If you don’t start talking about your project, no one will find it and that is the hard truth of living in a crowded world.
I’ve found, to my delight, that college is actually a wonderful place for this self-promotion. Why? We’re all doing the same thing. We’re all going to our friends’ concerts, art shows, book launches. We’re taking surveys for classes without batting an eye. We’re all here for the same reason and we hope that this pay-it-forward mentality will be returned to us in kind when the time comes, because none of us is established yet. We’re all in the same boat.
Don’t be afraid to take initiative and ask for reviews. Ask for people to share your posts about your upcoming project. Be intentional.
Oh, look! It’s my next point. Seamless transition right there.
The self-publishing process will teach your patience and intentionality like nothing else. You are the driving force behind your art, and if you’re not passionate and intentional in making a plan and executing it, no one else will pick up that mast for you. Be intentional. Make a plan that’s precise and realistic. Unless you have all the free time in the world, you’re not going to be able to make 5 blog posts, 6 Instagrams, 7 emails, and a video all in one week. It’s just not going to happen. So take time to study your audience. When you figure out where they hang out on the Internet, then you can spend the majority of your effort in that area and achieve much better results than spreading yourself too thin over too many platforms. Be intentional about that community and you’ll find they’re much more willing to support you than if they sense you’re just trying to shove your work into as many faces as possible. Remember the respect thing? Yeah, that plays in here too. Respect the intelligence of your audience because they are way smarter than you think.
Self publishing is a long process, and it can be tedious. When I was sitting at my laptop and trying to get the formatting of the book right, I wished I had someone whose job it was to handle these things. I wished I could just write the words and leave the publishing to someone else. But, in the end, I’m so incredibly proud of everyone who’s had a hand in this on-going process. And here’s the final lesson:
It’s not over yet. The fun is just beginning. My little book is out there in the world. It even has it’s first rating on Goodreads. (They grow up so fast! *sniff*) But I’m not done. I’m researching local bookstores and libraries who would be willing to find a place on their shelves for Marie and Luc and the whole gang. Soon the book will be out in ebook form, and so much more coming down the pipeline! I’m not done yet and neither are you.
Oh! And don’t forget! Never Stop Writing. 🙂
I’ll talk to you all again soon!