When I wrote my first book back in 2001 – Life or Debt – I did it the traditional way. I hired an agent, and she convinced Random House to buy and publish it. That was really the only way you could do it, at least if you wanted to get your work into bookstores where people could buy it. Back then, distribution was entirely in the hands of the big publishing houses. Bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders weren’t dealing with self-published authors.
But as with so many businesses, the Internet changed everything. Barnes and Noble is struggling, and Borders no longer exists. Amazon is the major retailer of books, and e-books allow publishing without killing a single tree. You can do it all yourself, and you don’t have to share the money with middlemen.
In the video below, I interview an enterprising new author named Rochelle Weinstein, who’s sold more than 1,000 copies of her first novel, What We Leave Behind. Check it out, then hear more from Rochelle on the other side…
Now here’s more information from author Rochelle Weinstein on how to go from idea to execution…
After writing my women’s commercial fiction novel more than 10 years ago, I received multiple rejection letters from agents who didn’t have the time to read the entire manuscript – or the desire to invest in a first-time author.
Over time, self-publishing was igniting fires in the publishing industry, while e-books were slowly chipping away at the sales of “real” books. Much like the shift in the music industry in the ’90s, the publishing world was changing, and writers everywhere finally had an opportunity to call themselves authors. I chose to self-publish, but I had no delusions of grandeur. I just wanted a tangible piece of lasting evidence to share with my friends and family.
When a book club of women I didn’t know asked to read my novel and invited me to meet them, I was astounded. They talked passionately about my novel, and several openly cried. I achieved my goal for this story: to touch someone’s life with my words.
If you decide you’ve got a story to tell, here are the big lessons I learned along the way that might make your path easier…
Having an extra set of expert eyes is critical: Good editing makes for better books. Go over your work as many times as you can, then get a professional to do it. If you don’t know anyone, find them. Any good publishing company can perform this service or help you find someone. You can also do a search for “book editors.” But don’t leave out this crucial step: Edit. Edit. Edit.
2. Find a publisher
There are a number of excellent self-publishing companies out there. Choose the one that best fits your needs and budget. I went with CreateSpace (Amazon’s publishing arm) because it had good customer reviews, and I wanted to be aligned with this online giant. Their services are a la carte, with separate prices for editing, design, marketing, and distribution. Discounted package prices range from $700 to upwards of $5,000. To save money, I’d recommend doing as much as you can yourself, or outsourcing to cheaper providers, especially the time-intensive process of editing.
If your goal is to get into a Barnes and Noble or other store, you’ll need your own ISBN number – the 10-digit number that uniquely identifies books. You can buy it direct, or publish through a company that provides it, like Lightning Source. They’re owned by Ingram, a distributor to Barnes and Noble, so although that won’t guarantee your book will get in their stores, you’ll have a better shot.
Since e-books are so important these days (my e-book sales are exponentially higher than my softcover sales) I had to make the book available on as many digital platforms and to as many e-book retailers as possible. Because a division of Amazon did my publishing, the book was ready for Kindle, but it still needed to be formatted for Sony Reader, Kobo, and iBooks. To get that done, I went to a company called eB Format.
Then, to maximize my digital reach, I signed on with Barnes and Noble PubIt! to have the e-book available on their website. I made similar arrangements with Smashwords, another popular e-book retailer.
3. Create a marketing plan
Your book is out in the world and your closest friends and family have picked it up. You’re obsessively checking your daily sales online. How can you get more people to see and buy it?
If you believe what you read online, the average number of books a self-published author sells is 150. My novel was released Feb. 15, and as of May 15, I had sold more than 1,000 books. Many of my early sales were word of mouth and networking.
Facebook is a fantastic tool to advertise and market if you don’t have a website. Use Goodreads to connect with readers and offer giveaways for your book. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus offer paid reviews for self-published authors. I also hired a publicist, which ranges between $1,500 and $2,500 a month – that’s how Stacy found me for this story.
Use your imagination and do everything possible to get the word out. My temple organized a book event in May, and proceeds from book sales went back to the temple. I made myself available for every book club that asked me to come and speak. Same with local bookstores – one is hosting a book reading for me in June, and said they’ll stock my books for 90 days afterwards. I even made some inexpensive business cards, and my husband and friends have been known to leave them, with my books, on airplanes and in public restrooms.
4. If you want it, go for it
If you want to be a famous author traveling the world, you’ve got two choices: Have a good product and try to get in with a traditional publisher. Or have a good product, self-publish, and market the hell out of it. Either way, start by clearly defining your goal. And remember: Writing a good book is hard, but marketing it is harder. If you want to make money as an author, the real work begins when the book is finished.
But if you’ve got a story to tell, tell it. It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile in life is. Just do it. The world needs to hear more good stories.
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