Liz Schulte has made a successful career in self-publishing: 27 books and counting. At the 2016 All Write Now! Conference, she will be speaking about how you can take control of your writing career through self-publishing.
Bill Hopkins - I've got a manuscript finished. Now what's the FIRST thing I need to do?
Liz Schulte - Well, that depends on what you mean by finished. If you mean you have a finished first draft, my suggestion would be to take a couple of days off, jotting down any additional thoughts that come to you about the book. After you have had some time to decompress and celebrate the fact that you finished (!!), jump back into the book from the beginning and starting working on the second draft. I personally find keeping a notebook with problem areas or threads that need more explanation with me through the second draft. It helps to keep my focus so the story doesn’t sweep me away.
However, if you mean that you have done everything you can do with your manuscript (self-edits, revisions, critiques, etc.) and you can’t stand the sight of it, then it is time to hire a professional editor.
BH - Do I really need an editor since my mom and my Aunt Jane who went to college for a semester have read and said it was great?
LS - Yes, you always need an editor. In fact, the more eyes you can get on your manuscript the better. I recommend hiring a copyeditor then a proofreader and finally recruit at least a few beta readers to look for typos that the other two missed (this would be a great time to use your mom and Aunt Jane and anyone who is willing to read your book and give you extra feedback).
BH - How much marketing will Amazon do for me?
LS - You can pretty safely count on none. That doesn’t mean that Amazon won’t pop up with an email to people who have bought your previous books letting them know about your new release or things like that. But you have no control over what Amazon does or does not do—and they don’t owe you anything. Much like Barnes and Noble does not market every book they stock on their shelves, Amazon doesn’t either.
Marketing falls squarely into the lap author. Many times effective, smart marketing is what separates the books that sell verses the ones that fall into the oblivion. This doesn’t mean that an author has to pollute every social media outlet with links to your books (please don’t do that) and spend hours a day worrying about marketing. Instead, it is always better to build a marketing strategy with each book. Once that is in place, start work on the next book.
BH - Should I buy one of those ready-made covers for $4.95?
LS - I wouldn’t. Covers are the readers’ first impression of you as an author. If your cover looks generic or homemade, that’s the impression they will have of your book as they scroll on by.
In that case, you might have other questions. Like how much money will I have to spend? What makes a good cover? What if I have no idea what my cover should look like?
As far as the money goes, you can spend anywhere from $30-$3000 on a book cover. What I suggest doing is looking at a lot of different cover artists. Browse their portfolios and look at the covers they have made as a reader. Are these covers that would catch your eye? Do they look professional? Are they easy to read?
Once you find a reasonably priced cover artist who has work you admire, you need to figure out what you want your cover to say about your book. A good cover will tell the reader a couple things about the novel. First, it should give the reader a pretty good idea what the genre of the book is by just a glance. For example, a mystery should look like a mystery. You wouldn’t want a YA paranormal romance cover on a gritty novel about an aging detective on his last case. Second, the cover should give the reader a hint at the subject matter. If you have written a book about vampires, the cover needs to be clear that it’s a vampire book because that is a selling point for readers. So you will pick the aspect of your novel that will be the biggest selling point for your reading market and make sure it is clear.
For example, one of my books is a light paranormal romance about a coven of witches. It is called Easy Bake Coven. My cover is a cartoon cover (very popular in the light paranormal genre) that clearly indicates my story is about witches by having a broomstick and magic. When readers see it they know it will be light-hearted, probably funny, and have witches and magic. This is what attracts people who like that kind of book to stop on mine and read the description.
Now, if you are still completely stumped as to what your book should look like, then I would suggest figuring out what genre your book is. Once you know that, go to Amazon and check out the top 100 list for your genre and see what the covers in your genre look like. Note the ones that catch your eye. What do you like most about them? Combine that with your story and what you want the readers to think of when they see your cover and you are ready to talk to a cover artist.
BH - I don't need a website, do I?
LS - Most authors have their own website. You don’t have to if you absolutely hate having a website, but it is always nice to have somewhere readers who really love your work can go to find out more about you.
Personally, I feel a newsletter is much more important than a website.
BH - Social media? What's that?
LS - Social media is where your readers will hopefully find you. The problem is social media can be overwhelming not only in the scale of interaction, but also in the variety of sites. Most I recommend not trying to do all social media platforms. Instead, pick one or two and be really good at those. If readers want to talk to you, they will come to wherever you are.
BH - What do you mean, "Search the Internet, especially Amazon, to see if anyone has ever used the title you picked"? I don't really think anyone has ever called her book MOBY DICK!
LS - Here’s the thing, you want your book (hopefully) to be accessible to readers. If you choose a name like Moby Dick, that not only has been used before, but is also well known for what it is, only you will suffer.
Finding a title that has never been used is difficult and inevitably, once you do find one and publish, someone else will then use it too. The most important thing is that you can win the SEO (search engine optimization). When someone Googles or searches Amazon for your title, you want to be on the first page of results—the higher up the better.