by N. D. Iverson
I am one of many (read: more than the entire population of Canada) self-published authors out there. We are legion, for we are many…or however that goes. In today’s eMarkets, anyone with Microsoft Word can type out a manuscript and upload it for sale via eBook retailers like Amazon and Kobo. But this is no guarantee for success, no matter how amazing and wonderful your book is (according to your mother, anyways). The big publishers have the moolah and resources that we little ol’ wannabe authors don’t, so very, very few indie authors find independent success. I am here today to share my tale of woe (and a few triumphs) on the matter.
Self-publishing isn’t, and shouldn’t be, as simple as typing into a Word document and uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing. This is where self-published authors get a bad rep. Too many people are submitting unedited manuscripts and expecting readers to just ignore the grammar and formatting issues. News flash: reviewers are REVIEWERS. They have paid (or at the very least hit the ‘get free Kindle book’ button) and will want to tell about their experience.
Well, it shames me to admit, but I was among the misguided self-publishers who just couldn’t wait for their masterpiece to be for sale. Over a year ago I tried to self-publish my debut novel This Would Be Paradise and I did – for a month. Why only a month? It was not ready for paying consumers. I had hired a random editor that I met through Kijiji (Canadian equivalent of Craigslist) and paid her a whopping $300 to edit my book. I did not ask for references as I should have, so I am to blame for wasting my money. She edited some basic issues, but missed more than she fixed (the takeaway here: ask for references or do some research. Consider it a job interview where you’re the one doing the hiring and they’re a candidate).
I put it up anyways (this is the part where you cringe), and while there were a couple good reviews, I managed to get one scathing review that basically claimed I didn’t use proper English. It was like being a kid again, and some other child on the playground had just called you lame in front of all the other children. It was humiliating. The worst part is that, while his review was a gross exaggeration, it had drawn light to the fact that the book wasn’t ready to be up yet. I took a look at his Amazon profile and based on the other products he reviewed; it became clear that he was not my target audience.
He wasn’t the reason I took the book down, the issue of the lack of editing that he brought up was. Fast forward one whole year of dragging the fleshy thing I sit on, and the book is finally up for sale. It was a tough pill to swallow and I did let it get me down for quite some time.
But I got my act together and did more rounds of personal editing, had a friend majoring in English take a look at part of it, and then finally hired a professional editor. At that point, if I had to review the manuscript one more time, I would have taken to the streets screaming like a loon. This is the point you should be at when you publish. You shouldn’t hate your book per se, but you should be extremely tired of it, like that bum second cousin who has been crashing on your couch for too long.
The one thing I did do right the first time was having a professional cover made. I spent a pretty dime (sadly, pennies no longer exist in Canada) on this graphic marvel and it shows. If you want to compete with the big boys, you have to dress the part. I’ve had so many compliments on the cover and have even had people tell me they clicked on the book purely because of the great graphics; so it works. You can always spot the cheap covers a mile away, like knock-off handbags. Eck.
To get started on your indie journey, some of the other things you will need are:
- A gripping, but not too revealing description.
- Author website (I recommend Weebly. It’s free and user friendly) and social media platforms for your writing (don’t use your personal Facebook; make a new, professional page).
- People willing to review the book (the majority of my reviewers came from Wattpad).
- Book promotion (like email blasts, Tweeting services, blog posts, etc.).
- A dash of luck.
- Oh, and have a good story and all that jazz.
Good luck to you on your journey!
N. D. Iverson is a young author trying to find her niche in the world. Her debut novel This Would Be Paradise has garnered over 1.9 Million reads online and is now finally available for purchase. You can learn more about her at her website and her Author Central page.
21 thoughts on “My Not-So-Spiritual Journey of Self-Publishing”
As an avid reader, and a writer, I find that most self-pubbed books fall short. Most of the time the writing keeps you from getting to the plot itself. Glad to here you decided you needed to do the right thing before it was too late. I spent more on editing my book that anything else. Thanks for the insight.
Thank you for commenting.
I’ve found self-pubbed books that I loved – and one’s I hated, just like I do with traditionally published books. I find people are a lot harder on indie books; where as when there are typos and grammatical errors in traditionally published books, they can easily gloss over them and not nitpick. I’ve found errors in traditionally published books, but yes, I tend to find more in self-pubbed books.
I enjoyed your honest reflection. Kudos for not taking that review too personally and getting on with the practicalities of making your book better. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that at least you got someone to look at your MS before you published the first time. There’s still too many people who upload unedited books that are far from ready for publishing. Are they giving Indies a bad name? Sometimes I wonder.
Thank you. And I did take the review personal – at first. But once I polished my manuscript to where it should of been the first time, I realized that his comment was no longer relevant and that helped me rationalize it.
Indies are going to have to pull up their socks with Amazon’s new quality control warning system, so less people will be able to just write and upload with no steps in between.
“But this is no guarantee for success, no matter how amazing and wonderful your book is (according to your mother, anyways). The big publishers have the moolah and resources that we little ol’ wannabe authors don’t, so very, very few indie authors find independent success.”
IMO, the above is the key to the point your post makes, but possibly not for the reason it appears. The reality is, there is no guarantee of success for anyone, no matter how they’re published. Actually, this depends on what success means to you. If it is to publish your book. Full stop. Maybe there is. But for most measures of success, those who are traditionally published have no more guarantee than an independent and not that many advantages. It could even be argued that the advantages of that route are outweighed by the disadvantages.
However, all that money the big publishers have isn’t going to be of much help to the first-time author anyway. Your chances of making it big are slim either route. I’d argue they’re actually better as an independent. But, you have to remember that you’re competing against those traditionally published books and that means the one area where any traditionally published book is going to get some investment, the costs of editing and a decent cover, are the area where you have to be ready to compete. Not making sure those final pieces of applying polish and quality control are done is a surefire recipe for failure, IMO.
A very good point, thank you for replying!
I don’t necessarily agree that you’re better off as an independent. A lot of authors are going “hybrid” – as in some self-published titles and some traditionally published (the traditionally published titles gaining them some publicity and momentum); and they seem to be doing better than authors that are purely self-published. But like anything, there are exceptions to every rule.
We don’t necessarily disagree. 🙂
I think there can be some positives to being hybrid. You get the benefit of any marketing a publisher does do at a price for that one book, but all your books potentially benefit from it.
However, I think the articles out there, many including numbers to back them up, regarding hybrids doing better are *maybe* missing a piece of the puzzle. A large percentage of the hybrids are authors who have been around since trad pub was the only option. They published that way then and are publishing either only indie now or in some cases a combination of indie for some projects and trad for others. I’m not sure going from indie to hybrid (which is really going from indie to also signing a trad contract) gives the same results. But the superior hybrid numbers without exploring how those authors got to that better place doesn’t take into account how the publishing world has changed and continues to do so. It doesn’t account for their greater experience (both writing and the business aspects of being an author).
Again, another good point!
I know of people who are self-publishing and still submitting to traditional publishers with the hope that their individual sale numbers get their query through the slush pile. But the question is, if they’re already doing well on their own, why still try the traditional route?
Clearly they feel something is to be gained from becoming a hybrid when their foot wasn’t originally in that door.
I’d be curious to hear what people who take that route think. Whether it works out better for them or not. I’m trying to think of who I know that has gone the indie route, found some success, and then signed a trad contract. There have been a few high profile instances of that. Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking are the two everyone talks about. I’m not sure how Amanda H feels about it, but Hugh’s actions (and I think words) would indicate it wasn’t best for him. Or at least he wouldn’t do it again. What’s happening in this area is changing so fast it is hard to know what would or wouldn’t make sense, and at least each author’s situation and goals are different. Lately it seems the most common story I hear is that authors who are successful enough as an indie to attract attention have been saying the offers they receive are easy to turn down.
I’m a hybrid author and I have definitely sold more books through self-pubbing than I have through “trad” publishing methods (I have 8 published through presses). The publishers aren’t Big 5 (although one of them was a subsidiary for a while), but in my circles, Big 5 or not, that’s pretty much the norm. Many folks argue that being with a Big 5 or trad house helps you build your readership and then you can launch out on your own and that’s what makes those authors successful, but that’s not always the case. I really enjoyed Becky Wicks’ article on why she decided to go indie, in which she states: “I’m selling way more than I sold of my other books through HarperCollins.” The entire article is here: https://indiesunlimited.com/2014/08/20/why-i-went-from-harpercollins-to-indie-publishing/
The prevailing advice to indies was to publish as many books as we could as quickly as we could. And therein lies the crux of the problem!
My first novel received many good reviews, but it was not-yet-ready for “prime time.” I’m spending 2016 revising my backlist. Maybe making improvements will help; maybe not–but I have to please myself first.
Thanks for the honest post. Pinned and shared. 🙂
Thank you for reading. And yes, indies have to fight against the tidal wave of new books that come out every day, so they pump out as many as they can – perhaps at the detriment of their book’s quality.
Good luck with revising your backlist. That’s a huge endeavor!
As both an author of 30 plus tradish published books, as well as a veteran editor, I’ve worked with literally hundreds of authors to make their books “ready for prime time.” It’s a tough line to walk; both to offer necessary encouragement, AND necessary realism, about the odds. The blessed internet, unfortunately, has reduced the lessons of craft, and rewrite and endless revision to a few youtube videos, marketing seminars, and lucky breaks. But a good book STILL Takes WORK and encouragement and yes, someone who is able to gauge the market. Many indies, much as I love ’em, and as much as they love the idea of being a writer, come in without a clear idea of what it really involves.I do this work because I love seeing a good book become a better one, even a great one–but if you’re looking to succeed, you have to be willing to work at it.Not just run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.
You’re right. When I first published I had no idea of how much work was really involved. Since then I’ve continued writing, editing and then researched editors, joined indie threads like KBoards, asked for advice, etc. and how I wished I had known what I know now, back then. But that’s always the case when you learn a lesson the hard way, isn’t it?
I enjoyed your post, thank you. It’s a tough road no matter which fork you take, and some lessons are tougher than others. Congratulations on having the courage and drive to make that book better.
Thank you for the kind words! I agree it’s a tough road and it’s even tougher when you tend to learn lesson’s the hard way.
I agree with Laurie. The real success here is that (1) you learned from it and (2) you got up and came back after being kicked down. None of us got it all right the first time; we’ve all had some sort of learning curve. The good news is that we just keep getting better. I’m working on book # 15 now, and I just love it. Each book gets better. My advice to all indies? Keep writing. Keep working. Keep improving. And good luck!
That’s encouraging to hear!
Congratulations! And I agree about being sick of the book. Until then, keep polishing. 🙂
Nice post. I think it’s important to try do it right. Even in the context of publishing a lot, you want to get it edited and make it the best you can. I’m glad you got back in after your early missteps to get your book in better shape.
Hola N. D. Iverson, thank you for sharing, almost word for word of my own experiences in getting my books published. My eager rush to publish was my egoistic failure. Fortunately, finally found a super gammarian/editor. Now in the process of rewriting and re-editing three previously published books. I wish I’d read your article seven years ago, Gracias, for posting your timely article now on Indies. John
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