Lessons Learned In The Self Publishing Trenches

I’ve been at this indie publishing thing for 2 solid years now.  Longer if you count the platform building I did before I released my first title in March of 2010.  Each year I do analysis of productivity, sales, ROI for time and promotion method, etc.  And every year I learn stuff and adapt what I’m doing to try to raise all of those things. Beyond all that, of course, I learn as the market and publishing climate changes.  It’s totally adapt or perish out here.  I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned that I kind of wish I knew or had thought about at the beginning:

  1. Unless you are one of those writers who never abandons a project, don’t buy cover art until a book is finished or nearly so.  While having lovely cover art is often a good motivator and certainly makes for pretty desktop wallpaper that makes you grin from ear to ear, if you buy it for a project that isn’t finished, you risk the possibility of becoming disenchanted and falling out of love with a story.  Or worse, figuring out that the story just flat won’t work with the metaplot you’re creating (if you’re writing a series).  This happened to me with Riven.  It’s gorgeous cover art and yet the story’s been abandoned.  I’ve been kicking around ideas and may have come up with another story that could use the cover finally (incidentally recycling a heroine from ANOTHER abandoned story in the archives), though who knows when it’ll get written.
  2. By the same token, don’t list one of your books on Goodreads for people to add until you’re finished or nearly so.  This was another lesson learned with Riven, which I ultimately had to email Goodreads to remove since the book was never going to come out.  Plus, in general, it’s good to not have it there and reviewable until the book is actually out.  One of the massive irritations of Goodreads is that if the listing is there, even if it’s months before even ARCs are available there will be trolls who review it based on nothing or who misuse the rating system instead of using a TBR shelf as intended.  Of course they’ll still do this once the book is out, but at least they should be balanced out and tempered by ACTUAL READERS.
  3. Never, ever make proclamations or announcements on your website, blog, twitter, in the back matter of your published works, etc. about the release date or expected next project unless you have said project finished or in the final stages (by which I mean the draft is done and you’re doing the formatting).  This is because no matter your good intentions, you never know what will happen to change that release date or order.  Um, hello, Revelation?  The book that I expected to be the first full length Mirus novel following Blindsight?  Yeah…it’s gonna get written at some point, but I have no idea when.  There are other stories that must be told before that one.  And yet fans are reading Blindsight and they want to know what happens!  Which is totally fair.  It sucks to have to tell them I don’t know when I had announced it as the next release.  So just save yourself some headaches and don’t do it.
  4. Accept the fact that even though one of the cool things about self publishing is that you can jump around and publish unrelated projects in different genres, doing so will probably slow down the momentum of building your fanbase.  I don’t regret pausing work on my Mirus stuff to write Red.  I love that book and I think it’s the best thing I’ve written.  But the people who read one are not necessarily the same people who read the other, so I have split my resources on that front and really slowed down the build I’d started with the releases of Forsaken By Shadow, Devil’s Eye, and Blindsight.  When you have limited production time and lots of wide and varied interests, this is just kind of a fact of life.  And it’s one of the reasons that in traditional publishing, they tend to prefer you stick to one genre unless you’re freakishly prolific.
  5. There will be indie darlings who are hugely successful.  Studying their every move will not make you equally successful.  They are outliers.  There is no substitute for BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) finishing your freaking book and making it the best possible book you can make it before turning around and doing it all over again with a new book.  Self publishing (or any publishing, frankly) is a long haul game and you cannot go into it expecting any kind of instant success.  You’re more likely to be hit by lightning or attacked by a grizzly bear in Central Park.  Focus on your own work and getting it finished and polished to the best of your ability, then go learn more.

20 thoughts on “Lessons Learned In The Self Publishing Trenches

  1. Kait, thanks for the great advice! (I read many of your posts, just rarely comment.)

  2. I appreciate you sharing lessons you’ve learned. It helps all us self-published authors. What a journey, huh? (Totally worth it, though!)

  3. Thank you for the insight, Kait! These are really good thought-provoking points.

  4. Hear you on the not setting a release date!! I’ve been caught up by that one, and I’ve seen friends do it as well. When trad publishers announce a release date 6 months in advance, they’ve probably had the finished manuscript in hand for months before that. Another thing I wish I’d realized was that my platform was catering to writers, most of whom were not my audience and were not interested in reading my fiction. Not only a lot of time and creative energy spent there, but a sense of obligation to maintain that presence. Lastly, I also wish I hadn’t watched the careers of others and put stress on myself about putting out more titles faster than what I was really capable of at this point in things. Nice post!

  5. Definitely some good advice there. A lot of it seems like common sense, but honestly, I may not have even thought about the issues and some no-nonsense solutions unless someone else brought it up first, so it all definitely is worth talking about. Very much appreciated!

  6. Really good list of advice, will certainly have to forward this to my sister whom is currently in the process of self publishing her work.

  7. All good advice, but I especially hear you on #3. That promised book will come out – three months after it was promised. :facepalm:

    • That one’s been the hardest for me to deal with…because people keep emailing wanting to know when it is coming out and I’ve actually garnered reviews on the short story itself that gripe that it isn’t available.

  8. Michelle Muto

    Sing it, indie sister! I agree. I should never have decided to work with two series at a time. Never.

  9. Great information. After all this experience — 2 years is a ton of self publishing experience — are you still committed to self-publishing, or will you move into traditional publishing?

    • I firmly believe that diversification is the key to success. I don’t believe it’s an either/or proposition. Some of my work will remain self published and some will ultimately be traditionally published. There are problems with both systems, so doing some of both ensures that your fanny is covered the best it can be.

  10. Agree, agree, agree! As someone else who’s been doing this awhile, I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to learn these lessons the hard way. I did announce that my last Libby Fox book would be released in December, and I was sweating it just a little bit, worried that I wouldn’t make it. It’s better not to announce a date at all!

    My cover artist always reads a book (or at least most of it) before she does the cover art so that she can get a feel for it. She even reads out of her normal genre sometimes, which I know can be…interesting. LOL. So at least there’s no danger that I’ll pay for cover art before the book is finished. While she’s working on cover art, the book is in the hands of betas, so the timing works out well.

    Thanks so much for posting this. When people who have done this awhile talk about things that will help those who haven’t, it can really prevent a lot of heartache and frustration. Number 5 is so important, because new authors with stars in their eyes may expect to do what some of these others have done. Slow and steady is key. Instant success is rare. We appreciate your words of wisdom!

  11. Great reminders, Kait.

    I know my writer-self gets overly excited. I don’t know how I’ll cope when it comes time to publish, but patience and *rationality* will be the foremost important qualities.

  12. These are perfect, Thanks

  13. Thanks for posting this, Kait. Rather than attempt to copy one writer, I simply try and pick up tidbits that might help me along the way. I am also in a constant state of re-evaluation, attempting to figure what works for me and what does not, and continually looking ahead.

    -Jimmy

  14. Excellent points, Kait! Thanks for sharing.

  15. Yeah, these are pretty much spot on. I take your point about mixing up your story genres, but I JUST CAN’T HELP MYSELF. I’m an eclectic reader and that tends to make me an eclectic writer. This also leads to some pretty weird stories, like my fantasy western romance short story series. But in the end, this is why I’m an indie, so I can write all my weird stories that don’t necessarily fit into the BIG BAD publishing world.

    • Which is totally cool and one of the greatest things about being indie. That blending in particular that NY just typically won’t accept for marketing purposes. In my case it wasn’t so much that as writing in wholly different genres. YA vs. adult. All are paranormal romance, but there is less crossover than I expected between readers.

  16. Thanks for all the great advice. I’ve just put my first book up on Smashwords and I used a lot of your advice to navigate the whole epublishing thing. You make it sound so do-able that I decided to go for it.

    • I love hearing that! Too many people assume it’s too complicated and don’t even try.

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