Questions people ask. #PoweredByIndie

This month, Amazon are celebrating independently published authors , so I thought I’d interview myself to answer some of the most frequent questions I get asked.12314448_10153686960716380_7381684065390461169_o
If you have your own questions, don’t hesitate to let me know, and I’ll add them (and the answers) to the bottom of the list.

How do I find a publisher for my novel. Do you have any tips?

I’m sorry, but I don’t really have any great tips for finding a publisher.
But what I can tell you is what my own experience with publishers was.

I spent years, and I mean, YEARS, trying to find a publisher for my first novel, and then when that failed, YEARS trying to get an agent who would help me find a publisher.
I sent my MS to almost every publisher in the Writers and Artists Yearbook.
Most didn’t even reply, but I have a large box full of printed rejection slips from those who did.
Eventually I did get an agent, though sadly I didn’t check to see if he was registered with the Writer’s Guild (he wasn’t). He spun me along for years with promises of a publishing contract – a tissue of lies – and when I finally did get one (which wasn’t due to him, but to my own self-published success) he ran off with my first ever royalty cheque.

What did work for me was self-publishing, first via (this was before KDP and Createspace came along) and then via my saviour, KDP.
The turning point was when I published my first novel on the then brand new KDP platform. The Case of The Missing Boyfriend, which I ran free, initially, went to #1 in the free chart, and then #1 in the pay chart once the free period ended.
It was a big enough success to solve all of my immediate financial problems. And believe me, by that point (I’d been trying for 6 years), they were considerable.

If I am offered a publishing contract, is that a better option than self-publishing?

The surprising answer to this is “not necessarily.”
Once The Case of The Missing Boyfriend hit the #1 spot, I did get a “proper” publishing contract with a mainstream UK publishing house, and I assumed at this point that all of my problems were solved.
And for a while, that process was quite fun. The editor who had bought my book was great, and they put a lovely cover on it and republished it. It again went to #1 in the UK chart.
Soon, sadly, she left the publishing house in question and was replaced by someone different who I didn’t know (and I have heard this story from lots of authors). The new editor didn’t seem very interested in me or my work, and she had her “own authors” to defend, showcase, and prove successful. From that point on working with them became a battle, and I had to fight them over covers, titles, the prose in the books themselves, and to even get them to consider publishing my new titles.
I realised that I was earning far less per copy than I was earning for the titles I had self published on KDP, and that above all, I was having less fun. Ultimately, I preferred keeping control over what I wrote, and how it was marketed. So I actually went back to self-publishing.

I have self published my book. How do I make it a hit?

I always find it surprising that authors think that earning a living from writing is a one-book affair.
Of course some first-books, both classically published and self-published do manage to break out and hit the #1 spot. (Think of Emma Kline’s “Girls” for example). But for most authors, learning the art of writing a bestseller, getting noticed, and moving to a point where you can support yourself by writing novels is a long multi-book marathon.
Personally, I wrote two unpublished novels as I learned to plan and write, and then six self-published novels in all, over a six year period, before I had that breakthrough.
Learning to write takes time. Learning to get your books noticed takes time. Building a following takes time. And for most of us, success is only for the tenacious.

What kind of marketing do you do?

The ebook market is relatively recent and constantly changes, and I have tried many things. I use social media (Facebook and to a lesser extent, Twitter), paid advertising (over the years I have used Google, Facebook, and Twitter ads.)
But what probably works the best is making the most of everything the KDP program has to offer. Free days, countdown deals, and, if you get well known enough, any custom promotion that Amazon might offer you.

What do I need to do to successfully promote my book on social media?

It’s important to be present and open with readers – to engage in a genuine way with them. You need to see them as friends with their own stories, their own up days and down days, not just potential buyers. Nothing turns people off more than being banged over the head with messages like “Buy my book. Please buy my book. WHY aren’t you buying my book?” Actually, there is one thing that turns them off even more than that. It’s people who complain about the fact that no one is buying their book. People who tell people they “should” buy their book. And people who constantly complain that their failure to thrive is all someone else’s fault (readers, reviewers, publishers, amazon… insert at will).
In the end, it all comes down to Karma. If you want people to give you the time of day to tell them about what’s important to you (your book), then you need to give them the time of day to tell you what’s important to them. And if you’re hoping to interact with a large audience, that can take a hefty chunk of time.

ltls-bWhat do I need to do to make my book a self-published success?

Authors used to send me snippets of their work to ask what I thought, but most of them were so awful, and telling them this truth was so badly received, that I’ve stopped offering my opinion at all these days.
Suffice to say, you need to have a proper grasp of the language you’re writing in. You need to understand the rules of grammar. You need to know the difference between “your” and “you’re” (you’d be amazed). You need to be able to plan a novel and sit down for hundreds and hundreds of hours to write it.
Once you’ve got that covered, you’ll need to find an honest, literate test reader (or more than one) who will tell you the absolute truth. Friends and family who don’t want to hurt your feelings will not cut it. And that’s most of them. The friend who will say, “I’m sorry Deirdre, but that MS you sent me was unreadable,” is a rare and valuable thing.
And when you have managed to write your masterpiece and your test reader(s) truly enjoyed it, you’ll need a professional editor to suggest changes and a professional copy editor to fix everything that needs fixing. Because believe me, there are always hundreds of things that need fixing. If I download a self-published novel and find a spelling or grammar mistake in the sample, I simply don’t read any further. And nor do most of your potential readers.

Finally, you’ll need a decent cover for your novel. If you’re not graphically inclined then there are plenty of experts, and even some “cover-farms” out there these days who can help you. But again, you need to be honest about your own weaknesses. If you’re graphically incompetent (and there’s no reason why a good writer would be a good designer) and you haven’t the foggiest what a good cover looks like then you’ll need to find someone who does to help you choose. Because a blurred photo of the cat with some pink Comic Serif text across her nose will kill even the best of books dead in the water.

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Learn more about Let the Light Shine here (UK) or here (USA).

Questions received:

Dougie McHale In your opinion how important is it for New authors to build a mailing list? And do you use it as part of your marketing. Love that you are taking time to answer questions.
Nick Alexander Hi Dougie. As not everyone is on facebook and twitter, a blog and a mailing list is definitely part of the puzzle.
But with overloaded mailboxes, people are increasingly unwilling to sign up for newsletters, and receiving a static mail shot is a little web 1.0, I think. People are far more interested in interacting than passively receiving/watching these days. So I really don’t think you can rely on it. Also, mailing lists are incredibly difficult to grow in my experience. People unsubscribe the second they feel overwhelmed by all the spam in their inboxes, or they change their email addresses… So yes, definitely part of the puzzle, but far from the whole story. And as for paid-for mailing addresses, don’t even go there. You’ll only make people hate you. xxx

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