Yesterday was my self-publishing anniversary. April 11th 2017 was the day that I published my baby, my debut novel, 27 Revelations. I saw this anniversary looming a few weeks ago and while wondering what I would do to celebrate I began reflecting on the experience. This past year has brought so many triumphs, failures, and lessons that I had to commemorate this grand ocassion with a blog post. Although there were many lessons learned I tried to address the ones I found most pertinent, so without further ado here are some of the revelations from my journey.
Revelation #1: Book Covers Matter
Self-publishing costs money. Let me repeat, self-publishing costs money. With professional editing being such an expense I could not afford to hire a cover designer. Now, I know that this can sometimes be frowned upon, but it when it came down to it, editing was the priority because what was the point in having a nice cover if the writing sucked. So, in the spirit of trying to save money I decided that I would design my own cover. Like I stated earlier, many people will say that this is a no, no, but I disagree. It just takes some practice to actually get it right. The reality is that many indie authors just starting out don’t have money to spurge on publishing a book and it can easily become a big expense if cuts aren’t made somewhere, so practice makes perfect.
Above is the initial book cover I designed. In my mind I had a vision of a hard back book with the metallic frosted letters reading 27 Revelations revealing themselves onto the page. It was a simplistic cover. I was adamant that it wasn’t to look like one of those genre book covers with people making out on the front because that wasn’t the story and personally I hate book covers with people on the front. I seriously don’t own any unless it is nonfiction, and still I frown. I can’t explain the reason for this aversion now, but it annoys me a lot. I know, I’m strange. My hope was that the book cover would intrigue readers, but then I realized that I didn’t know how to get the book in a hardback and I didn’t know how to frost my letters either. A little discouraged, I sent the cover design off to Create Space, asked for a matte cover, and this is what I got back.
It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I felt that it would work. So I launched the book and sadly I didn’t get the response that I wanted. This could have been for a lot of reasons, but the first obvious reason was the cover. It wasn’t intrigue anyone. I was never really happy with it to begin with so I started seriously researching cover design. When I realized my mistakes, the only thing I could do was laugh at myself, pick up the pieces and try again. I found a design website called Canva and was able to produce this.
My main character has a thing for converse so I found a pair and placed them on the cover. I played around with the font a little and added some extra text. A much better book cover. When running ads on Facebook, this cover definitely has produced more clicks and now it’s a cover that I can actually say I am proud of.
Revelation #2: Promotion Needs a Plan
What is promotion? Promotion is me fumbling around in the dark. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing before I started and honestly I probably still don’t. I set up Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook accounts, but two of them sat dormant for months while I’ve tried to figure this promotion thing out.
For some, there is a debate on whether or not social media is good for sales. With some experienced authors it can be if you know how to run targeted ads, but that isn’t my focus. My goal as an author is to build brand awareness and connect with readers and influencers.
In the beginning I figured I would just write a blog post here and there and people would just start trickling in. Wrong, wrong, wrong idea. I read a couple of short books and blog posts on how to promote a book using social media, but the only idea that was being consistently pushed was making connections. I understood what was being said, but I didn’t understand how to actually do it. Something was still missing. The content was very surface so it wasn’t too helpful and I had no idea where to look next. Then it dawned on me that I needed to address the problem that I had with social media and that was that I didn’t understand it fundamentally. Then I realized that as a self-published author, an entrepreneur, I needed to understand how these social media platforms worked, and what kind of content is valuable and acceptable on each one. That for me has been a bigger challenge than writing the book. Below are some of the books that I used to step up my game.
In addition to trying to step up my social media game I also set up a blog tour with RABT Book Tours before the book was published. They were super awesome and the bloggers that signed up to read my book and give a review or do a promotional pin were also awesome, but where I failed was in not using that opportunity to connect with them. I was just riding the wave, waiting to see what happened, but I needed to be building relationships with these amazing influencers. This is what any author needs to do way in advance of a book being published. To gain a following time must be dedicated to developing relationships with people and creating and sharing valuable content. Being human in virtual space his hard but social media is the primary influencer in today’s society. For example, I don’t watch the news anymore because I don’t have to. It’s already on Twitter and Facebook. That’s where my focus should have been. I needed to find influencers, then connect with them, but then I was left asking where do I find influencers for my particular type of book? How do I initiate a connection with them that is genuine? How do I even find my readers? Which lead me to my next revelation.
Revelation #3: Making Connections is Easy, but Not Easy
There are people every. I mean literally everywhere. There are a million writers, bloggers, editors, and industry leaders all over social media. Some function in writing groups, some writing associations, and some in places less known to me. Goodreads has a million groups for the reader and the writer, and Facebook also has many communities as well. Although many authors enjoy these groups I found them to be overwhelming.
There are thousands of writers in some of these groups. Seriously, thousands of upon thousands of comments, on every genre and I honestly didn’t know where to start. And if I speak truthfully, I haven’t even found my own audience for this book. The market seems to be so saturated with genre specific work that it seems almost impossible to connect with readers that want to read something other than a suspense, romance, fantasy etc. I write women’s fiction and there is definitely a market, but it is a very crowded market, much of it dominated by big name New York Times bestselling authors. Any attempt to find an independent woman’s fiction writer that writes similar to me has left my brain fried. Women’s fiction is broad and because it is defined differently by so many people I’ve only found myself facing more genre like books that still look more like traditional romance, suspense, and fantasy, and not stories that really chronicle the emotional journey of the woman protagonist. The woman exists, but is it her story? My writing is contemporary, it speaks to a generation of young women, exposes their deepest tragedies and highlights their triumphs. The stories are raw, humorous, emotional, and inspiring all at the same time. Where do these writers and readers dwell? If you know, please share.
Revelation #4: Current Social Problems and Being Delicate
27 Revelations is about a young women rebuilding her life after a traumatic sexual assault. It discusses a serious problem, but it is not a story that leaves you sad, it is one that leaves you hopeful. I began writing this story long before the “Me Too” movement began and it was published a few months before it actually took off. I tried to make sure that I handled this topic delicately but also honestly and from the feedback I received I believe I did. Overcoming sexual trauma is a sad reality for so many women and I wanted the truth on the page. I wanted to show how it destroys lives, but more than that, I wanted to show how women are powerful enough to rebuild themselves. Because of the content I placed a content warning at the beginning of my book and I wasn’t sure if this was the best move either.
WARNING: This book contains graphic language and adult content that may cause emotional triggers with regards to rape and suicide.
A friend of mine read the book and loved it and she told me that she almost didn’t want to read it because of the content warning, she was expecting the worse. I also had a reviewer say the same thing, but she loved the book. After much consideration I removed the content warning from the Ebook. The paper back remains the same because this would require me to reformat the book and provide another ISBN and those aren’t cheap either. I thought it was a good idea because most people don’t mind them when it comes to movies, but content warnings on books is somewhat of a controversial topic and from my experience I think it’s best to not have them.
Revelation #5: Learn From Errors, Look to the Future and Move Forward
In the summation, the greatest revelation is knowing that my mistakes and failures will be of more benefit to me than my successes. As I move forward, I wish to make more connections and cultivate more patience. Successful books are well edited, they have a nice covers, they are promoted well, and touch people where it matters most. Their hearts. This requires a lot of time from an author and I’m definitely willing to give it. I’m currently finishing up my novella series entitled Sugar Lane and the free downloads from my short nonfiction work, You got to believe: A guide for managing negative influences and expectations as you prepare to self-publish your book, is doing well on the amazon charts with absolutely no promotion. I haven’t impacted thousands yet, but I hope that this series gives me an opportunity to do so. Baby steps over here. And when that is finished I have several other projects lined up that I am excited to write and share with the world.
If you are an indie author or considering self-publishing I hope this helps you. And if you are frustrated or overwhelmed, try not to be, it usually hinders progress. So breathe, buckle down and enjoy the journey. The future is looking bright.