Surviving the Self-Publishing Ocean

Navigating the shark-infested, treacherous waters of the self-publishing world can be daunting to even the most experienced of writers. When setting your sights on this endeavor, I suggest you sit back and take a full accounting of where you want to go, and why you want to do this. Having a plan is necessary, but cannot involve the number of sales you hit every quarter; venturing to guess where the book market will go can be ulcer worthy. Your strategy needs to be about you; your hopes versus the reality of the rocky road you are about to travel.
You have a great book and are determined to forge ahead. Good. But when writing in a specific genre, do your homework. Who are the big sellers in your genre, what are they writing about? Trends are important in the book market; they can help you get attention when some reviewers may not look at you because you are a new author. But if you write about something they are interested in, they will be willing to read your work. And getting your foot in the door is paramount. I’m not saying you always have to write for the popular market, but if you want to get your name out there quickly, consider it. Think of your initial publication as a drug—yes, a drug—if you wet a reader’s appetite with the first book, they will be back to read whatever you write later on down the road because they will be addicted to the way you tell a story. Turning a reader on to you is not going to happen if they are not interested in your thousand-page saga about a peasant family getting through the devastating Russian winter of 1918. Getting into a market that is popular with readers is essential. So update your plot, add or delete characters, through in a little sex (yes, it sells) but do what it takes with that first book to make it marketable.
I know what you are thinking. Isn’t that selling out? No, it’s preparing the way for your future work. No writer sets out to write only one book, and you have to plan a career in writing just like you would map out a career in any other profession. Where do you want to be in five years or ten will depend a lot on your first novel? Think of your books as building blocks, because with everyone you are directing a career, reputation, and, most importantly, readers. That planning will also include working within the limits of a genre. It’s not to say you can’t write outside of your element eventually, and a lot of writers do, but only after they have established their marketability. You can go from romance to sci-fi but plan it carefully. But if you do, be prepared. It is never easy and the uphill climb you had starting out, you will encounter again, with a little skepticism thrown in. You are a romance writer switching to sci-fi. Eyebrows will raise.
After you have honed that novel to perfection, I would suggest tackling probably the biggest dilemma many writers face, finding a good editor. That is the key to any good book, and though the self-publishing market seems plagued with badly edited books, if you want to stand out and get ahead invest in good editing. I find some of the best places to look for an editor is Facebook. Find other writers in your genre that are breaking ground and research their editors. I know it can be pricey, but it is worth the investment. It is also an opportunity to improve your writing. Find an editor you can work with and learn from; someone experienced in your genre especially. Trust me, every book you edit and re-edit makes you a better writer. You may spend your time pulling out your hair and drowning your sorrows in vodka, but you will be a better writer in the end.
Now, by this point, I can hear what you’re thinking. “That’s all fine, but how do I get my book out there?”
Welcome to the biggest hurdle you will face as a writer. PR! It’s daunting, and if you thought editing your books was tantamount to torture, wait it gets worse. This is the most frustrating part of being a writer. After all, we want to write our books and be left alone, right? Well, in today’s social media frenzied world, you can’t live in a cave. You have to be out there meeting everyone you can and telling them about your book. If you are an introvert, which most writers are, this is like going over Niagara Falls in a pair of flippers and a snorkel. You know you aren’t going to make it out alive. But you will. You can’t look at PR as a sprint: it’s a marathon, a big, long, slow race that on some days is fantastic and on others…well, you are ready to throw yourself back over the falls. When planning a strategy to sell your book, you have to embrace it with all the enthusiasm you had when writing your book. This is the other part of being a writer, so get ready.
If you’re not on social media, get on it. Unless Random House is publishing your book, you have to be on every social media site there is. It is essential to get your name out, introduce your book, and find reviewers and bloggers who are willing to read your work. Start by finding bloggers who share an interest in the genre you write and send out feelers, a lot of them. And be prepared to give away a lot of books. Yes, give away. I know it sounds silly, but this goes back to that drug theory of mine. They can’t get addicted unless they get to sample your writing, so be prepared to hand out books at every opportunity. It helps. Everything you do is to promote you and your book.
Finally, the last advice I can give, is never, ever, under any circumstance, give up on your dream of being a writer. That dream seeded in you for a reason, and somewhere in the universe, someone believes in you. Above all, you have to have faith in yourself. You will have bad reviews (yes, you will), a lot of rejection, disappointments, slow sales, frustrations, anxieties, and probably a heart attack or two. I have had several. But in the end, when someone asks what you do, you can hold your head up and say, I am a published author. And boy, that is the best feeling in the world.
Good luck, and never give up on the story inside you.