25 Things I learned as a Self-Published Author

This is a repost from my old site in 2017.

So, the past year, my journey as an independent author has had its fair share of ups and downs. There’s no manual to show you how to successfully become an author, and I’ve found the ones that claimed to be a manual, was just common sense bound in a pretty package with a pretty fee. I won’t lie, I had no idea what to expect going indie (self-publication), but I suspected that it felt a lot like my wedding photography business.

Touche for moi, because I was right. Anywho, I’ll get to that shortly. I get questions from friends and folks about what I do, so I wanted to shed some light on what it takes to go indie, what you need to look out for, and understand next time you read a book, whether you loved it or hated it, you better freakin leave a review!

Indie Authors have their own reasons for going independent. The smart thing is to just ask one if you’re curious and not assume they chose that route because their work wasn’t “good enough.” Nothing annoys me more than that assumption. Or worse, the awkward pause and "Oh," as if somehow we're embarrassed for not going traditional. Everyone's got their reasons. For me, I chose it because self-actualization (especially at my age) is key and I’m an emphatic control freak. I don’t like the idea of someone telling me when my book needed to be complete, or tell me what my cover should look like. I couldn’t deal with someone speaking on my behalf and getting a cut of my money for it. I can speak for myself and I already have a vision for my work, so why did I want other people in the mix? Now, that’s just my story, but mine isn’t an anomaly by the least. As a self-published author, you control EVERYTHING! You alone are responsible for the success (and failure) of your books. There are no excuses or blaming the graphic designer or the publishing house used for your cover. You can’t blame your publisher for not pushing enough marketing your way. Nope, you are the master of your endeavor.

With that said, choosing to be indie is not an easy route.

It’s a LOT of work.

Luckily, for me, I was used to that being a small business owner. In fact, as an indie publisher, that is exactly what you are. You’re a business owner, and this is what throws a lot of writers into a tailspin. Creative minds generally have a hard time merging with the business details and I’m saying as someone from experience, that you have to make this adjustment IMMEDIATELY. You won’t be able to succeed without changing that mindset. Your creative work is a product. Just like the monitor you’re reading this blog off of. It’s a product that you are selling, plain and simple. Yes, your manuscript took you months, maybe years to perfect and you long to share it with the world. That’s great. You know what, it took Apple 5 years to build the 1st gen iPhone and though it was a beautiful, innovative piece of world-changing electronics, at the end of the day, it’s just a product. People love it, people hate it. People wish it looked different. Same shit, different product. Once you’ve mastered this, you will stop taking everything so personally, which as an indie author can be essential to your dream.

Though you are responsible for the overall success of your book, you cannot do everything yourself. I repeat:

You CANNOT do everything yourself. Okay, let me rephrase for the over-confident people in the back: You SHOULDN'T do everything yourself.

Why? Because you will need experts to help you build your book and launch it.

If you take everything to heart about your book and not let the experts help you out, you’re just wasting your time. You are not an expert at everything. So be prepared for people to think your book cover sucks, your writing style sucks, your teasers are crap, your characters are flat and anything else you can think of. Just take the feedback, learn and move on from it. Your job is to put the best book out there—so if your editor wants you to revise something, or the designer warns you about the strange idea you have for a cover, set your ego down for a sec and listen.

Golden piece of advice? Grow a thick skin. You’re gonna need it. I'll never forget my professor taking one of my stories in creative writing class, bawling it up and throwing it in the trash as I watched. He then said, "That's where that one belongs, now go try again." So I did. Did I feel my ego was stabbed in the heart? Oh my, yes. I cried in the bathroom for 15 mins after that. But you know what, I rewrote and tried again. It was far better and I got tougher. People will like what they like. Many will give you a chance and find your work is not their cup of tea. Their feedback and reviews will feel like they tossed your story in the wastebasket as my professor did. Don't fret. This is a journey and if you let criticism (whether constructive or not) stagnate you, then, you'll never arrive.

On that note, here are some things I’ve learned that hopefully would help you on your own journey:

  1. Be resourceful. You need skill and money, and you may have more than the other. Use it.

  2. If anyone claims to be an expert in indie book publishing, RUN. They don’t know $#@!

  3. Write more, market less. Building a backlist of books should be your goal. The more good books you have, the likely you can keep your sales circulating. Don't write drivel--make it count.

  4. Not everyone is going to like your book. Don’t sweat it. That’s a fact for EVERY book. Yes, even the Harry Potter series. Check out those negative reviews, it's real out there.

  5. Reviews are for the readers, not for you. Whether it’s one star or 5 stars, getting reviews is super important.

  6. If you don’t have a website, you’re already behind. Get a website.

  7. The Indie community is a lot smaller than you think. Reputation gets around. Be kind to other authors. When you say you're gonna do something, do it.

  8. Invest in quality editing. Get a Developmental editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader. Your book deserves the best.

  9. People do judge a book by its cover. Invest in good cover design.

  10. Build an email list. Don't rely on Facebook or Twitter followers. You will need a “lead magnet” for this.

  11. Automate as much of your marketing as possible. Trust me on this.

  12. Everything in book sales is a numbers game. If you invested $50 into a promotion that only got you 3 book sales @ 99¢, then seriously rethink using that method again.

  13. People will try to scam you. Everyone's got the secret formula to a million book sales. Keep your wits about you and get recommendations on services.

  14. Getting your “letters” (hitting the bestseller lists) isn’t everything. A bestseller doesn’t mean a good or well-written book. Good marketing strategies and/or hype is what makes a bestseller.

  15. Plan your book launches. Remember, you should promote at least 3 months BEFORE your book releases.

  16. Build an ARC team. Reviews are super important.

  17. On that note, be prepared to send 50 of free ARC copies only to get 5 or 6 reviews. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.

  18. Send your subscribers/fans emails on their birthday. I get a reply smiley face or Thank you every. single. time. Build a connection and engage your readers.

  19. If you get a VA (aka Personal/Virtual Assistant), be sure to leave some engagements for you. Your fans want to interact with you, not your PA. See #18.

  20. Keep your drama-filled life away from your readers. They have their own problems. And they actually came to you to escape theirs!

  21. People may not approve of your writing. That’s okay. Good thing other people's opinions don’t determine your life’s path, right?

  22. Be resourceful. Can’t stress this enough.

  23. You are a business. Determine a fair price for your book and don’t think twice about it. You pay for quality in this world. Value your work.

  24. Don’t leave your readers hanging. If you make a book ending on a cliffhanger, you better have the second book drafted already.

  25. Write. Don’t make excuses. I wrote chapters during my lunch break, while I waited in the doctor's office. Dictated in my car sitting in traffic. While I waited for dinner to finish...Work with what time you have.

Not scared yet? Good. It wasn't meant to be. I just wanted to be real. In fact, I have a lot of respect for self-publishers. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but the rewards can be so great. Most of us aren’t trying to get rich, we just want to share our work with the world on our own terms. If this is the path you decide to take, just know you’re among some great people. Stephen King, Mark Twain, Amanda Hocking, and Andy Weir were all indies too. You're in good company.

©2018 by Kharma Kelley.