February 17, 2011

Self-Publishing: Not for the Faint of Heart

So many people have asked us about self-publishing versus "traditional" publishing and our experiences. First some background... our novel was initially picked up by a small press, Blue Moon Press out of New Bern, NC. Through them, we received excellent editing and advice on how the publishing journey would begin and our part in it. Unfortunately when we were about six months away from publication, the Owner and President passed away and with him our opportunity.

Mom and I were so pumped up at that point we decided to self-publish. Mom, having self-published her book of poetry titled Promises Seeded Inside, knew something of this pathway. Add to that the wonderful advice on publishing we had received from Stephan Horvath of Blue Moon Press and we felt confident in our decision to move forward.

Of course, Xlibris showed us spreadsheets and talked all kinds of pretty Marketing speak to lure us in. I say lure for a reason. Another important facet to this conversation is the idea of "traditional" publishing. I think there's very little traditional left in publishing. So much has changed. Most publishing houses won't receive unsolicited manuscripts, only manuscripts represented by agents. And several agents will not receive unsolicited queries about manuscripts. It's a tough, tough world.

So with our decision to self-publish firmly in place, I offer up this advice for future self-publishers.

1. Consider Professional Editing

Not only did we have a professional editor, we also asked three of our friends in the publishing industry to read our book as well as family members, and we still published with errors (some of which were mistakes BY our publishers). We are now paying in post-publication to have them fixed because we aren't error-sort-of-peope.

The "editing job" done by our self-publisher was weak at best, basically a simple Word spellcheck. I truly don't believe a person there has read our novel.

2. Seek Help for your Design Cover

The cover templates with Xlibris were limited and cheap-looking. You get one shot with your book sitting on a shelf to grab your reader, and the cover is that shot. Take time with it. Look at covers that have pulled you in and figure out what you liked about them. Conversely, look at covers that turned you off and avoid the elements you found off-putting.

My sister, Dana Newbrough (who thankfully also runs our website, see #4), designed our cover after Xlibris suggested nothing but the picture WE provided and wanted on our cover blurred in the background. We were fortunate to have a very creative family member, and we've received very positive input about our cover design.

3. Include Advanced Praise & Reviews

Xlibris has a method and a format... give them your manuscript, they input and output their standard book. End of story. Our original editor and mentor told us to tap our writing community and have some authors/people in the publishing world read our manuscript and offer an advanced praise quote.

Most books published by the big publishing houses have so many quotes of advanced praise, I often have a hard time finding a summary of the book. Although I think this is a bit much, there must be a lot of readers who will NOT purchase a book without reviews and praise.

There are several sites that will review your manuscript and offer tear sheets and reviews to be used when you publish. Do your homework. A lot of review sites will not do self-published works or manuscripts. Check out http://www.featheredquill.com/ (our favorite), http://www.rebeccasreads.com/ and http://www.readerviews.com/ to start.

4. Use Social Media to Promote your Book

Like it or not, and my mother doesn't particularly like it, the world has gone viral. You will need a Facebook fan page, website and blog for your book at minimum. In addition, you will need to join writing forums and organizations to learn and spread the word.

Did our self-publisher give us this advice? NO! Although our premium package included a managed website, the original http://www.depressioncookies.com/ was pitiful and not user-friendly. To make matters worse, any changes to what they produced required additional fees.

I had some forethought here and purchased a website with our book title's name (thankfully we didn't change it) almost two years before we published. When we saw the website produced by Xlibris, we immediately enlisted my sister (who was already in the blog world and quite computer-savvy) to help us. With http://www.godaddy.com/ and their Website Tonight, we were able to develop the type of website we wanted that was aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly and interactive.

I did my part by opening up a FB fan page and learning about the blog world by trying it out pre-publication (see http://etjrmbach.blogspot.com/). It's a learning curve... embrace a lot of learning and internet searches.

5. Search for a Literary Agent

Just because we decided to self-publish, we have not given up on the idea that this novel deserves to be in many more readers' hands. Buy the latest Guide to Literary Agents and work on a killer query letter. Use the internet and the Guide to find examples and hints. It's very important to determine which agents fit your genre and not just mass-query.

6. Learn to be a Marketing Guru or Hire One

I am not a sales-person. Never have been. An ill-fated and short-lived foray into Pampered Chef taught me that. This is our novel and NOBODY is going to sell it with that same passion we are. Remember that. Use what you know about your own reading habits and go from there. Be wary of any marketing agency making big promises. Getting a book off the ground is a slow process and not for the faint of heart.

Xlibris promised us a press release and email campaign. They were poorly done and quite frankly produced nothing, and we don't believe the PR campaign was done at all. A friend of mine, thank you Dean Smith at Newstage Media (http://www.newstagemedia.com/), gave us wonderful advice on press releases and media advisories as well as free sites to distribute these (example is http://www.prlog.com/). Thanks, too, to Stacey Hartmann who applied her PR skills to helping us craft a well-written press release out of the pitifully-executed one by our self-publisher. Again, I truly believe they never read our book cover-to-cover and really have no vested interest in it doing well. Thank God we do have sole rights for our work!

The more I learn about marketing, the more I'll pass on. It's a mine field of real results and car salesman.

Remember, nobody has the passion for your novel more than you do. Throw yourself into the publishing world by joining writing forums and organizations and do so before you publish. Get out there! Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk.

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