With Booktrope closing its doors and so many authors scrambling to figure out what to do now, I thought I’d share some resources for those interested in self-publishing. Before I signed with Booktrope, I was a self-published author. I published a previously published award-winning short story on the Kindle in 2011. When I first started out, I had no idea what I was doing. Since then, I’ve learned a few things that I hope my fellow orphaned authors will find useful.
I’ll be updating this post as I think of more resources. If I’ve missed anything, feel free to post a comment and ask a question or suggest something!
To self-publish your book, all you really need is a properly formatted .doc or ePub file and a high quality book cover image. There are many guides online for ebook formatting (Amazon, Smashwords, and Lulu all have them available on their websites), so I’m not going to get into the technical details here. But if you can write a novel in a Word document, you’re definitely capable of formatting your ebook.
You can upload your ebook directly to Kindle (via Kindle Direct Publishing, also known as KDP), iBooks (via the iTunes Producer app, available only for Mac users), Nook (via NookPress), and Kobo (via Kobo Writing Life). All you need is to sign up for a free account and you’re on your way.
There are also several ebook distributors: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Lulu, to name a few. These allow you to publish to all of the major ebook retailers I mentioned above, plus a few more, all with one push of a button. If you’re new to self-publishing and feeling completely overwhelmed, using a distributor may be a good option for you. More experienced self-published authors may prefer to go direct when possible.
Each of the distributors has their own advantages and disadvantages. Lulu, for example, allows you to split royalties with others, so may be an option for authors and creative team members who want to continue sharing royalties. Personally, my favorite is Draft2Digital (D2D). Their user interface is gorgeous, and it’s really easy to upload an ebook with them. They also allow you to create a beautiful table of contents. Smashwords, on the other hand, can be kind of a pain when you’re trying to upload files—although they do offer some perks when it comes to the iBooks store.
Speaking of ebook files, there are a few ways you can create your own.
Like I mentioned above, you can format an ebook in a Word doc using a guide from one of the retailers or distributors. (You can also do a Google search for ebook formatting guides.) You can use a tool such as Instascribe (online tool) or Vellum (Mac app) to make gorgeous ebooks without much technical knowledge. Or you can hire someone to do the formatting for you.
If possible, I recommend learning how to format, because it’s a very handy skill to have.
Once you have a formatted .doc or ePub file, you’re ready to roll. Each retailer has its own wizard for setting up your book, so I won’t get too into detail here. But to sell at any retailer, you will need to submit:
- ebook file (.doc or ePub)
- ebook cover (.jpg or .jpeg)
- book blurb
Some retailers also require you to submit your author bio, while others allow you to set up a dedicated author profile.
Book blurb writing is an art, but you’ve probably already got one from your publishing process with Booktrope. Your book manager may have included you in the keyword and category brainstorming process when she put together your PFS, but if not, no worries. This KDP help topic on categories and keywords should get you going. I find it’s helpful to keep all of my books’ categories and keywords in a spreadsheet so that I’m submitting the same ones across the board. If you find that the ones you’re using aren’t successful, you can always tweak them later.
Finally, you’ll need to set the pricing. This is another one of those things that will be an ongoing experiment. You may want to go with the same price that Booktrope put on your book, or you may want to try another price. Personally, I use a formula to help me decide each book’s price point.
- Short story: $0.00 or $0.99
- Novelette: $0.99
- Novella: $2.99
- Novel: $3.99, $4.99, $5.99
- Series box set: $7.99, $8.99, $9.99
Many indies find that pricing a single book over $5.99 actually hurts their sales. Depending on the genre, though, you can price higher or lower than the industry average. For example, erotica short stories often sell best at $2.99. For best results, take some time searching Amazon for other books in your genre and noting the most common price point. Chances are, that’s your book’s sweet spot.
A note on sales and promotions: If you think you might run sales in the future, it’s best to price your book accordingly. For example, if you want to run a $0.99 promo, it wouldn’t make sense to make your book’s regular price $1.99. That’s not much of a deal for your readers.
Speaking of $1.99, research conducted by self-published authors tends to show that $1.99 is a dead zone for most books. Books just don’t seem to sell at $1.99. Also, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in sales between books priced at $3.99 or $4.99. Your mileage may vary, though. You’ll have to run your own experiments to see what works best for your books, genre, and readers.
Here are a few resources that are invaluable for indie authors:
- Kboards Writers’ Cafe: This is a little forum where self-published, trad-published, and hybrid authors come to talk shop, share tips, and cheer each other on. Chances are, if you have a question about something, someone here will know the answer.
- Lindsay Buroker’s blog: Indie author Lindsay has been immensely successful with her books and frequently shares marketing tips.
- Self-Publishing Podcast: Johnny, Sean, and Dave are three more veterans in the indie author community. In their podcast, they talk shop, writing, and marketing, as well as interview other successful indie authors.
- Rocking Self-Publishing: Simon interviews indie authors every week and they share their successes, failures, and strategies.
- The Creative Penn: Superstar indie author Joanna shares self-publishing resources and also has a podcast where she shares her latest projects and interviews other indie authors.
- Wayne Stinnett: Wayne shares a wealth of knowledge on his blog from his own experiments.
A note on marketing: Once your books are live, your work is far from done. You’re going to have to put constant effort into marketing in order to gain visibility in ebook stores. Booktrope was heavy on social media, but that’s far from the beginning. Personally I found that investing most of my time into writing my next book was much more productive than spending hours on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I strongly recommend setting up an email list. You can start one for free using MailChimp, and both AWeber and Constant Contact offer 30-day trials. I don’t suggest using any other email list service, as these three are CAN-SPAM friendly and won’t get you blacklisted.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to work closely with another author or group of authors in your genre. You can cross-promote each other, cheer each other on, and lean on each other when you need a shoulder to cry on. Shout out to my work wife J.C. Hannigan, critique partner Molli Moran, and the lovely Rebecca Paula. These three ladies are my home team, not to mention the countless other authors I keep in touch with. Even if you “only” have one writer friend, that relationship is invaluable as you both navigate the ever changing waters of the publishing industry. Stick together, bounce book and marketing ideas off each other, and you’ve got a fighting chance.
A note on print books: You may notice that I didn’t cover self-publishing your book as a paperback in this post. This is because it’s not really something I like doing myself. I have a lot of trouble with formatting, so usually hire this service out. There are many guides and templates for self-publishing a paperback, though. Just give it a whirl on Google and see what you can come up with.
Finally, don’t give up. Stubbornness is the main quality of every successful author. Remember that you’re in this for the long haul. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Keep at it and you’ll already be more successful than most. I see a lot of Booktrope orphans throwing in the towel and that makes me really sad. You can do this!
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to get back to you. Keep in mind that I’m working around the clock to get my own books squared away, so I might not be able to answer very quickly.
Thanks for reading! Please share this with a friend if you found it helpful.
Update, May 30th, 2016: Thank you all so much for the lovely feedback! For more tutorials and help, please visit my story studio at MaiettaInk.com.