I've been getting a lot of emails from writers wanting to know more about how Faking It and Ordinary World became a self-publishing success on Kindle. More specifically, they really want to know how they can achieve the same success. I wish I could tell them that there was some formula to it, that if they follow each step precisely, they too will sell thousands of copies. I wish I could've bottled it-- or, at the very least, paid more attention at the time.
But unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way.
The x-factor to any publishing success or failure, traditional or independent, is the content. No one can really predict what's going to be a hit or a flop. Who knew that a series about a boy wizard was going to take the world by storm? Who knew that The Bridges of Madison County would sell as many copies as it did? Who knew that Water for Elephants or The Art of Racing in the Rain would be such literary sensations, especially without Oprah's help?
I had no idea if anyone other than my professor friends would like Faking It (and even then I questioned whether they would read it). I had simply written a book that I had wanted to read at the time, a story that kept me turning the pages, an idea that just wouldn't leave me alone. And when it was finished, I decided that I didn't want it sitting in a drawer with other unpublished pieces. Perhaps no one would like it, but I wanted to give them that chance to read it.
Fortunately for me, people liked it. But some don't. I'm ok with that (although stay tuned for my next post about why I don't like to read reviews).
For those who have been inspired by my success to write and publish their own novels/stories/ideas, I'm touched and grateful. And I do have advice. You may have heard the same advice from others, or you made have even heard it from me, either on this blog or in interviews or elsewhere. At any rate, here it is:
Write the best book you can. Don't rush to publish just because the iron is hot right now. Your book will only get lumped with all the others who have poorly written, revised, edited books. When one of my brothers was a mechanic and owned a service station, he used to have this sign posted in the garage: "Do you want it done fast, or do you want it done right?"
Ask others to read your work. This may happen in the form of a writers' critique group, or what are known as beta readers, individuals you recruit to read your manuscript. I like to show my work to a mix of authors, those well-versed in literature or the genre my work typically falls into, someone who has a particular expertise with an aspect of the character's profession (like art or computers, for example), or everyday readers with no particular expertise other than that they enjoy reading. These readers should be willing to offer you constructive feedback--constructive, by the way, doesn't mean disrespecting the writing (or the writer) if it's not working. But it also doesn't mean trying to preserve the writer's self-esteem. I've received criticism that was very hard to swallow. But when I cooled off and got my ego out of the way, I listened to it; as a result, my writing (and the novel) got better.
Do you always have to make the changes your readers tell you to make? No. But neither should you dismiss them altogether.
Edit and proofread as if your life depended on it. Or, at the very least, your livelihood. Because it does. If you want to be respected as an independently published author, go back to my first point about writing the best book you can. Editing and proofreading are part of that. An editor and a beta reader are not one in the same. Although readers may point out some editing and proofreading errors along the way, it's wise to have someone whose sole job to just edit.
When I published Faking It and Ordinary World, I couldn't afford to hire a professional editor. I trusted that my grammar and editing skills were strong enough to get by. And, in comparison to other books I've read, they were. However, it wasn't until AmazonEncore stepped in and brought in professional copyeditors that I realized how many mistakes I'd made. (Readers noticed, too.) I suppose the question you need to ask is, "Do you just want to 'get by'?" I realized that I didn't. Had Sarah and I not contracted with AmazonEncore, we would've hired a professional editor for Why I Love Singlehood. Heck, if I were to go back in time with what I know now, I either would've gone into debt or saved my pennies or worked an extra job to pay for an editor. Ditto for a professional cover designer. Which leads me to...
Hire a professional cover designer. The argument I just made for editing applies here. I always hated the cover I made for Ordinary World. It was worse than amateur, and I would even guess it's one of the reasons why the book didn't sell as many copies as Faking It (that cover wasn't much better, but it was more eye-catching and a higher quality photo, at the very least).
What this really boils down to is that
Self-publishing is more than a time investment. I had absolutely no money to invest when I self-published. I got lucky. I don't recommend others follow that path, however.
Make sure your files are formatted for Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, etc. Whether you do it yourself or hire someone else, get it right. Otherwise your readers are going to let you know in no uncertain terms that they're not going to waste their time or money on your book. There are plenty of forums on Digital Text Platform and elsewhere to assist you if you want to do it yourself (Smashwords has a style guide that you can download for free, although I had trouble with its directions).
Set your price accordingly. There's nothing wrong with selling your ebook at 99 cents, especially if you're an unknown author. Readers will be willing to take a chance on you, and if they like it, they'll tell others about it. I am increasingly convinced that the best price for an ebook for a known author is no more than $5.00, and I'm happy to keep Faking It and Ordinary World at $2.99.
Buy this book. Rob Kroese's Self-Publish Your Novel: Lessons from an Indie Publishing Success Story says much of what I said here, and doesn't provide so much of a step by step guide as point aspiring authors in the right direction. I would've loved to have read this when I was starting out, and even now I learned some useful tips.
I wish all aspiring authors could experience the same taste of success that I have. None of these things will guarantee you'll make it, but they might improve your chances. Good luck.