Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Advice to the New Self-Publisher

A lot of writers new to the self-publishing world come to me for advice on Twitter. This blows me away a little because I don't really think of myself as someone who knows what they're talking about. I have, however, been at this self-publishing thing for over two years now. I'm not making a living at it, but I'm getting there.

So today a tweep asked me for advice and she had a long list of questions. It was easier for me to write a blog post than reply on Twitter, and now you all can benefit. I've never considered writing a how-to book because there's a ton already out there, but if I flesh this out and publish it I can count it in my Nano wordcount...so...that's an idea. :) So, in vague order, here's a bunch of stuff I was asked. It's not a complete guide, at least not yet. Anything else anyone wants to know/have a question about/want to add to, message me on Twitter @leighwilder42. (Don't DM--I never read them.)

Copyright in the United States pertaining to your book: 
 As soon as you’ve put a thought to paper it automatically belongs to you. You do not need to purchase a copyright for your work. In the old days the best way to prove you owned a work was to mail a copy of it to yourself and keep the envelope sealed, the postmark essentially giving you a governmental date stamp. These days our computer files are all encoded with the times they were created and edited, making life much easier for all.

 When you upload a book onto a publisher’s site, the publisher knows which book came first. Amazon also screens incoming books for plagiarism, so if someone tries to rip-off your book they will get caught and have their account deleted. All you have to do to copyright your work is type “Copyright 2014 by Author McAuthorson” on the front page of your work. If you’re writing under a pseudonym you can still use that name if you’d like, or your own.

 Editing your book: 
 There are many many ways to go about this. There are independent editors by the thousands available online. They’re all over Twitter. Prices vary, but its usually at least a couple bucks per page. This can get expensive fast but have no fear! There are other ways. I use http://prowritingaid.com, which has free editing software. You can also try Grammarly, but I can’t vouch for that one. A literate friend with a red pen is also a helpful and free editor.

 Unless you’re clueless and have a graphic-heavy book, there is no need to hire someone else to format your book. I follow the Smashwords Style Guide for all of my books, regardless of where I publish them.

 To sum it up succinctly:
--You need a Microsoft Word document.
 --Center your title, byline, and front matter. If you want to re-size it bigger you can, but no more than 16 pts.
--Insert a page break after your front matter.
--For the body of your work, do not use a space between paragraphs. To indent go to “Paragraph” and set it to indent the first line automatically. DO NOT use the Tab key.
 --Insert page breaks after each chapter.
--You can insert hyperlinks into your front and back matter to link to your other books, social media accounts, and web site.

 And that’s really all there is to it. Piece of cake.

 Stock photos can be had for $20 or less through hundreds of sites. If you’re going to be needing more than one image buying them in bulk is a good idea. I usually spend between $2 and $5 on cover art. If you have a good eye for design you can make your covers yourself for free. I use an online editor called PicMonkey, and an offline editor called Paint.net. Both are free editors. If you have a good stock image and a good font, you can make a good cover for very little money. Fiverr is also a great place to go for cheap covers, usually in the $5 to $30 range.
 DONT use the Amazon Cover creator.
DONT use a photo you took yourself unless you are a professional photographer with professional equipment.
DONT use a font that comes standard on your machine--there are tons of free fonts available for download online. This goes doubly for Comic Sans and Papyrus. Make sure your title is readable on a thumbnail image.

 Where to Sell your Book:
The two big places are Amazon and Smashwords. Smashwords distributes your book to about a dozen online retailers, including Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Sony. You can list your book in both places.

 The accounts are easy to sign up for--you Amazon publishing account links straight to your normal Amazon account. You will need to give both sites your SSN# for tax purposes. They will send you tax forms at the end of the year. It’s a simple process. As for payments both sites will send you checks when you get to a certain threshold. Amazon does direct deposit into your bank account. Smashwords pays via Paypal.

Amazon pays 35% royalties on all ebooks listed for less than $2.99. They pay 70% royalties on books at $2.99 and over. This is why $2.99 is usually a sweet spot for indie writers. You should price your work based on length--shorter stories should cost less.

Smashwords pays at least 50%, but up to 80% depending on a bunch of factors.

Amazon’s Kindle Programs: 
There are a lot of plusses and minuses to the KDP Select program. The biggest minus is that you are not allowed to sell your book anywhere else if it’s enrolled in KDP Select. Amazon wants as much of your profit as it can get its hands on, and forbidding you from using other retailers is one way to do it. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use KDP Select. Here are the plus sides:

Five free giveaway days a quarter. This is useful if you have more than one book out. If you give away a book and the reader likes it, they’ll come back for more. If you give a book away but there’s nothing else for them to buy, they will forget you LONG before you get your next book out.

Kindle Unlimited. Basically, Amazon puts a couple million dollars in a pot at the beginning of the month. Readers download your book and if they read at least 10% of your book, you get paid for the download. How much you get paid depends on how much money is in the pot (it goes up every so often) and how many books amazon sold as a whole for the month. Right now authors are getting about $1.50 per download, but we all expect this number to shrink, likely to the point where it’s not lucrative to sign up your book. But right now it is, and you have the option of pulling your book every 3 months. I see Kindle Unlimited ultimately only being useful for any book that would normally be listed for less than $2.99 because of the 35% royalty rule.

About the Author: 
They don’t need your life’s story. Keep it short and sweet. You don’t have to put a picture in the back if you don’t want to, but it cant hurt. Just remember that studio photographs are technically copyrighted by the photographer, even if they are picture’s of you. Ask permission--likely they'll be fine with it as long as you credit them.

A general rule of thumb is DONT PAY FOR REVIEWS. Offer free copies on Goodreads and visit review sites--they’ll have a submission page. You can find hundreds of review sites on Twitter/Facebook.

You should only pay attention to bad reviews if you get a lot of them and they all say the same thing. If every review you get complains about the same plot hole, or the same editing errors, you might need to re-evaluate your book. People give bad reviews over the stupidest things, but it usually boils down to taste. I have gotten several bad reviews because the reader didn’t actually *read* the description and were horrified to discover my books had gay sex in them. People don’t give bad reviews over one or two honest editing mistakes. They give bad reviews to bad books with zero editing. Relax and don’t worry about your reviews. In fact, its probably best to just not read them at all.

Don’t give your book to family and friends to review. They will likely not give an honest one, and that’s not fair to other readers.

Internet Presence and Marketing:
The best way to get your book out there is to be out there. You should be on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. You should have a blog and you should have a mailing list. You should not use these things to publish ads about your books non-stop. Yes, plug your book. Once or twice a day. Don’t flood your followers feeds with advertisements. CONTENT is key. Post about normal everyday things on Twitter and Facebook. INTERACT with your followers. Make friends.

As for Blog content, you need a theme based on the genre you write in, and blog about those things. Comment on news stories related to your books, review books of the same genre (but don’t give bad reviews--authors who badmouth other authors get into all kinds of trouble). If you write sex stories talk about sex. If you write murder mysteries talk about murder. You can post microfiction. You can simply talk about your life. Talk about writing, about publishing, about reading.

As for paying for advertising, I'm not a fan, personally. I'm sure it works for some people. Participating in blog tours are a good idea, though I've never done it. I think the review sites are gonna be your best bet for getting out there.

Avoiding Scams:
Really the biggest scam is that there are hundreds of companies out there charging for things you can do yourself. If you have money to spend on your book spend it on an editor and cover design. Make sure you do your research. If their website looks tacky, don’t trust them. If they promise big success, it will probably be a let-down.


So...that's nowhere near everything there is to know about self-publishing.  I think I will write that how-to.  It'll be called, "How to Publish your Book for Nothing."  Sure to be a best-seller.


  1. I just wrote you the longest comment but it disappeared when when I signed into Google. I've had too much coffee to write it again. I'll come back later when it's worn off.

  2. Google is broken and won't let me escape.