Okay, so maybe that’s not strictly true, because writing a book takes a ton of work and usually part of one’s soul too!
What I’m alluding to, though, is all the work surrounding turning your book into a published product: getting it out there, finding fans and readers (and keeping them), advertising and marketing, reviewing sales figures, organising book launches or events, attending conventions, maintaining your author website and social media presences. All this, while still managing to keep writing more books!
Of course, if you go the traditional publishing route, there are some elements to this journey that you won’t need to worry about. But for me, it looks like self-publishing is the way to go (though I haven’t fully written off the idea of courting a publisher).
I put the finishing touches on my first novel, Somniloquy, late last year. This week, I’ve sent it off to an editor after incorporating feedback from my beta readers. I expect to get it back from the editor in a few weeks, and then there will be some work to finesse I’m sure.
What follows is – as I see it – the list of things I need/want to do to give this novel the very best chance to get some readers and earn me some money (at the very least, it would be nice to break even). Bear in mind, that I’m slotting this in to my day to day life – much like many other writers. That means fitting in what equates to almost a second full time job in between my current day job. Not to mention the usual time obligations we all have: friends and family, exercise, sleep! I work 80% of a full time load, but there is a period of adjustment before I will be able to pour that extra time into writing ventures.
This post is a list of things to do to publish novels, but it’s also a kind of marketing plan for myself. You are welcome to use it too! If you have more experience at any of this than me, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a comment below or pop over to Twitter to tweet me your wisdom!
Once you’ve finished your novel to the best of your ability, and having read and edited it a bunch of times (let’s say about three times, but it could be more or less depending on your preference), you need to give it to someone else to put their eyes on it. This can be either a beta/trusted reader (someone you know or otherwise) or by jumping straight into giving it to an editor. I started with a couple of beta/trusted readers.
Beta reading is usually done when you have a complete, fairly well polished manuscript – but before you send it off for editing. It’s a chance for you to have someone, preferably a reader that fits your target audience (but not necessarily!), to read through your work, and give feedback on useful areas like ‘does the story make sense?’, ‘are the characters believable?’, ‘does this read/flow well?’ etc. Beta readers can also be good first editors and pick up typos and grammar mistakes along the way, though their main focus should be on the story.
There are some schools of thought that are for beta reading, whereas others, including the acclaimed Dean Wesley Smith, who are strongly against. Whichever way you go, is up to your personal preference. If you choose not to engage a beta reader (or several), at the very least have a trusted reader (such as your partner or best friend) do a full read through and give you some basic feedback and impressions.
Types of beta readers
- Pros: free, you know your story well, you can edit as you go
- Cons: you know your story too well and may miss stuff. Sure, you should do your own read through, but I strongly recommend getting someone else to read your work before publishing.
- Pros: free, enthusiastic, trust worthy, probably great for the ego
- Cons: will likely spare your feelings (you need someone objective!), have lives beyond your story and may not be able to dedicate the time to giving fast and useful feedback
Strangers on the internet
- Pros: free, probably more objective, can convert to readers/fans
- Cons: might steal your work (unlikely but possible), may not really know what they are doing, plus have the same issues with life getting in the way as friends/family
Professional beta readers
- Pros: experienced, objective, will lay out exactly what kind of feedback they will give, may give a free sample, will stick to a schedule
- Cons: will charge for the service, quality may vary (which makes a difference if you are laying down cold, hard cash), may be booked well in advance of when you need them.
Whichever approach you choose, be sure to give clear expectations to your beta readers. Tell them how long the manuscript is, when you need them to finish the task, and broad parameters around what you are looking for (see the questions in the opening statement of this topic).
A trusted or beta reader will be able to identify flaws in your story before you spend money on the next stage, editing.
As I’ve just finished incorporating beta reading feedback, I have further thoughts about this process, which I’ll write about in a future post.
There are a few different types of editing, and to be honest, I’m still trying to get my head around what they all mean. Developmental, structural, line, copy, proof, etc etc. It’s a little overwhelming! The gist of it comes down to the degree of detail the editor looks at, and when in your writing journey you engage them. For example, you may get a developmental edit done after your first draft. If you are on a budget, however, you may not want to spend a lot of money on different types of editing. If you have a good understanding of grammar and punctuation and can get your hands on tools like Grammarly or ProWritingAid, you can give your manuscript a decent edit or three. Then you can engage an editor to just do a general proofread, where they look for glaring errors; some will also point out formatting issues.
You should definitely do some form of editing through your drafting process. If you want to give your manuscript the best chance possible, I strongly recommend paying for an editor before you publish.
Types of editors
- Pros: free, can be done effectively with either your own skills/experience and/or use of tools like Grammarly or ProWritingAid
- Cons: being close to the work can make you miss things, you may not be as skilled as you think you are!
- Pros: free, may be highly skilled/experience if you know people who do this for a living
- Cons: may not know what they are doing, may be time limited
Strangers on the internet
- Pros: free, may be highly/skilled
- Cons: might steal your work (unlikely but possible), may not really know what they are doing, plus have the same issues with life getting in the way as friends/family
- Pros: experienced, highly skilled, do this for a living, have a range of editing services, often give a free sample, will stick to a schedule, will be up front about costs
- Cons: will charge for the service, quality may vary, may be booked well in advance of when you need them (popular ones may be booked up as far as months in advance).
I do feel that editing is one of the things you shouldn’t skimp on here. You can engage a professional quality editor for anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks to several thousand. Before deciding on the editor I chose, I got samples from a range of different marketplaces. To be honest, given my research, the output of the cheaper ones isn’t much different from the output of the more expensive ones. However, the more expensive editors may offer additional services or important connections to industry that cheaper, freelancers can not. Just something to consider. Do your research and get samples. Provide the exact same material to a range of editors for samples, and then compare the results. You can even scatter a few deliberate mistakes in your sample material to test the quality of your potential editors.
I’ll be outlining my process of selecting an editor in a future post.
People do judge a book by its cover, so whoever came up with the saying clearly never wrote or read a book! If you’ve scanned the covers of a list of books online, you’ll find that some can be terribly generic. Stock standard book covers are fine, but with a little effort you can get something that doesn’t blend into the mass of churned out, trope-laden covers.
Engage a cover artist
There are plenty of artists out there who would love a chance to work for you. Reddit is a good source (see r/HungryArtists as an example), as is somewhere like Fiverr. You might even know an artist who will happily make you a cover for the sheer joy of art, or you can engage a local artist that you can work with near your hometown.
Use a cover art builder
Amazon KDP has its own but the choices are pretty simple (and the font choices are gross!). Canva, however, is a great alternative and it’s free. You can use existing templates, and a library of background images and various other elements, plus an excellent range of fonts. There is a paid version which gives you premium content and features. There are plenty of tools like Canva out there, so have a look around for what suits you. Tell me your favourite suggestions in the comments!
Buy a pre-made cover
There are several marketplaces that offer pre-made covers that you can just enter your title, author name etc in. From what I’ve seen, these can be fairly generic looking, but if you are on a budget or just want to get your work out there, this is definitely a method to consider.
Make it from scratch
Perhaps you’ve dabbled in graphic design or photo manipulation, or have some basic Photoshop skills. If so, you can definitely try your hand at designing your own cover. It doesn’t have to be too wild – sometimes simple is best! Remember, there are lots of free stock image sites you can use to build your cover. But don’t just copy and paste, take the time to use blending and lighting techniques so that the elements complement each other.
Building your platform
Before you publish, you’ll want to start building an audience, so that once you press launch, you’ll have people you can immediately go to to tell about your book and hopefully start buying it! Like any product, you need to have a few things in place in advance of selling. You don’t need all of these, and it will depend on your personal situation, skills and finances, but here’s what I’m planning to do (or have done already).
Secure social media presences
Once you’ve decided on the pen name you’ll be using (which is a whole article in itself!), you should definitely consider securing a username for the various social media platforms you want to use. Even if you don’t plan on using, say, Twitter, it’s a good idea to secure your username there – just in case!
I already have a good following on my personal Twitter, so I’m considering just keeping that, but even so, I’ve grabbed neabsolom just in case. Twitter is a great place to connect with other writers. I recommend the #WritingCommunity hashtag. Users are on the whole very friendly and helpful, and will help new people start building a following. It’s a really positive and uplifting community.
Get a dedicated email address
Nothing looks more unprofessional, in my opinion, than not having a dedicated email address for your business. It used to be that if you didn’t have one based on your domain, you looked like a huge amateur. Nowadays, though, Gmail dominates the email landscape. Their email addresses are free, have good spam filtering, a decent interface, and good storage, so it stands to reason to use one. Ideally, use the same username you’ve used for your other social media platforms and your website (see next point). This builds credibility and gives confidence to your audience.
Build a website
You absolutely must have a website. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, but do make sure you have one. Best case scenario, you’ll register a web domain with the same title as your social media and email address. This ties everything together into a professional package.
Web domains can cost as little as $10 a year. You then need a place to put your site. There are lots of services that you can use, such as Wix, SquareSpace, WordPress etc, and you can usually set them up with your web domain. Or, if you can afford it, fork out for web hosting and set up your website on a dedicated server (or a shared one, which is more cost effective). If you are particularly web savvy, you could do something like get a Linode server and run the whole shebang yourself. Only do this if you have a love for tinkering in the command line though. I found it tiresome after a while, and shifted back to shared web hosting, where someone else manages all the security updates and I can just focus on blogs and pages.
Create a mailing list
While you are doing all this webby stuff, set yourself up an account with a mailing list service such as MailChimp or Campaign Monitor (or both). First things first, you’ll want to make a sign up form that you can share as a link or embed on your website. This will be invaluable in building your audience. Share this link widely, and gather many subscribers. Then start making a template for your first newsletter.
You’ll need to keep an eye on spam bots too. Check your sign-ups regularly and delete any that look dodgy.
Growing your audience
There are many methods you can take advantage of to build your audience and gather subscribers for your upcoming newsletter. Essentially, you want to provide engaging, interesting content of some form or another that keep people invested in you as a writer, or your story world and characters.
In my research, I’ve discovered a few approaches – hit me up in the comments with your own suggestions.
Reader magnets are usually a prequel or related content that you give away for free in return for reader subscriptions. It hooks them in to your writing style or the world of your novel, and makes them more likely to be interested in spending money on your book when you publish it. Most writers give away a short story based in the world their book is about, but that is by no means the only approach. Think of other innovative content that could hook potential readers to your thrall!
You can build a following using Patreon. Here you can provide exclusive content to your patrons at different subscription tiers. This is a popular approach for podcasters, artists, vloggers and other content creators. I’ve been thinking of going down this path, and see it as a cool way to push out exclusive, behind-the-scenes material such as songs from my novel (I’m a singer also), or a branching narrative Twine game I’m working on. These could also work as reader magnets too with the right platform.
Competitions or giveaways
You can also do other giveaways to generate subscribers, such as running a competition on Facebook to win a signed copy of your book, in return for readers signing up to your mailing list. This can be a cost effective way to gather a lot of subscribers (potential customers!) in a short amount of time.
There are writing groups that swap newsletter info so that writers can cross-promote others writers’ newsletters. Seek these out on Facebook or Twitter. I haven’t tried this myself yet as I’m still working on my first newsletter, but once established, this looks like a great way to hook in a new audience.
Oof, this is such a big topic! I really won’t do it justice here, but I’ll endeavour to provide more on the subject later on. There are so many advertising methods and platforms you can use to gain interest in your work. Some people swear by Facebook ads (which are quite simple to setup and manage, and can be tailored to very specific demographics), whereas others use Amazon advertising (which makes sense if you intend to self-publish with Amazon!) You could also try Google Ads, but these are very competitive.
There are many services that will do bulk advertising for you. As I review these, I’ll share more information here. This is still new to me!
Set your marketing strategy
If you plan to self publish on Amazon, like I do, you can follow my strategy. There are other approaches and you should definitely look into them and see if they suit you. You can publish on a range of platforms – you aren’t just limited to Amazon. Do your research and work out what’s best for you.
The points above (in Building your platform and Growing your audience) will be a big part of your marketing strategy. They will form the foundation for the launch of your novel, and its ongoing promotion. As I’ve indicated, much of the work for that promotion begins before you publish the book.
So here’s what I’m doing (bearing in mind I’m quite a ways along with my novel being at an editor as we speak, and I already have social media and web presences):
- Create a content schedule of posts/articles for my website and social media – new material weekly
- A good approach is to set up a spreadsheet or table where you can note down ideas, tags/categories, specific audiences (for boosting posts or targeting advertising), as well as a calendar of key dates for when to post your content. You can also do some research into when your target audience prefer to read your sort of content, and schedule your posts to coincide with this.
- Create newsletter template and develop newsletter strategy (similar to content schedule) – new material monthly
- Draft the newsletter in advance, then do giveaway or promotion on social media to gather subscribers so you have a decent audience to send your first newsletter to
- Research keywords and categories for novel on Amazon
- There are a few services you can use to do this – PublisherRocket is a popular one. I’m still getting my head around this, so part of my strategy will be to get access to that service and work out how to use it!
- Finalise cover art – approve the artwork, decide on text, work out how to lay it out correctly
- Decide on ISBNs – do I buy my own or just use Amazon’s? Research and decide.
- Decide on paperback delivery service – Amazon or IngramSpark? Research both options for best approach.
- Keep writing the next book in the series so I can do this all again, but quicker.
- Record all money in/out for tax purposes.
- Take a chance and write a query letter – I won a competition last year to get assistance with this, so I may as well take advantage!
- Format the manuscript for eBook and paperbook layout – might decide to pay someone to do this!
- Decide on advertising approach
- Amazon will give you a push in the first 30 days, so be prepared to take advantage of that
- There are also promotional sites that will help gain exposure and sales (a big one is Book Bub, and I need to research this HARD)
Publish your book
Well I haven’t done this yet so I’m not sure how much help I can be here, but from my research, if you are using Amazon, it’s mostly a matter of setting up your book on your author account, uploading it, completing the required fields and pressing a button.
I’m going to do a separate post about this when I go through the process, so stay tuned. It’ll be a big post, I’m sure.
This is the mystifying bit for me, and I’m sure I’ll work it out as I go along, but from what I can tell, there are a few things you should be doing.
Secure your author pages
Once your book is published, you can create your author page on places like Amazon or Goodreads (but not before you are published, which is annoying but understandable). You may also end up with a Google knowledge panel for when readers search for your name. You can claim this.
Work out a budget for how much you can spend on promoting your book. Don’t overcapitalise!
Keep writing books! Your first novel may not do that well, sales-wise, but if you keep up the momentum, and have a back catalogue for readers, your sales will hopefully build. Some authors also suggest you hold off on publishing until you have a few books, so you can stagger their release and drive up interest in your readers. It’s really up to you though!
Other things to consider
Now, if (like me) you are finding all this information a little overwhelming, there are a few other things to cover.
I’m in Australia, so I can’t speak for any other country’s tax related stuff (and can’t speak for Australia either, except for my own circumstances), but here are a few things I’ve garnered.
You should register an ABN or your country’s equivalent. This is a number allocated to you for your business tax requirements. In Australia, it allows you to charge GST (Goods and Services Tax). You’ll also find it useful for your annual tax return, if you want to claim expenses, and of course, to note any income you’ve received.
With regard to claiming expenses, make sure you have a legitimate business reason for your claim and keep your receipts for any purchases. You may prefer to use a tax accountant to manage your tax affairs as they are more knowledgeable about the finer details. You can claim business expenses on equipment and services you use for non-business things, but there needs to be a clear breakdown of the percentage to claim against your business. For example, if you bought a new computer and use it half the time for work and half the time for watching YouTube, you can only claim 50% of the cost (or depreciation). Speak to a financial accountant for actual advice, rather than something some numpty (ie, me) has posted on their blog.
If you use MailChimp for your newsletters or other mailouts, you’ll need to provide a legitimate mailing address. This is published in your mailouts and it’s against the terms and conditions of MailChimp to remove it. Yes, you could use a dummy address, but that’s technically fraud.
Your best bet is to get a post office box or other kind of private mailing solution. A small box at my local post office costs about $130AU a year. Provided you only use this for author-related mail, this would be one of those business expenses you might be able to claim at tax time. More importantly, it protects your home address.
A final word
Well that was a lot, and to be honest, it’s taken me weeks to write! Thanks for reading, and I hope you find something useful if you are just starting out on your writing journey.