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3 Things About Self-Publishing You May Not Have Known

Jan 6 / Grace Vanness
When you finally finish your novel and are ready to show it to the world, you have a big decision to make: should you find a traditional publisher or should you publish your book yourself? Many writers prefer to go the traditional route, as big publishers have more resources and connections to promote books. However, writers submitting to traditional markets must compete with thousands of other hopefuls for the same opportunity. Because of this, many writers opt for self-publishing. Not only is self-publishing a way to avoid that barrier to entry altogether, self-publishing allows an author to retain total creative control of the product. If you are interested in learning more about self-publishing, you can start with these three things that you may not have known.

1. To succeed in self-publishing, you need to build your audience.

Self-publishing is not as simple as printing copies of your book and then making them available for sale. In order to make sure anyone reads your self-published book, you need to make sure that you have an audience already waiting for it. This means that you’ll need to start building your audience long before your book is ready to publish. A number of different sources cite average sales for self-published titles, but the SFWA cites a figure we’ve seen over and over: in most cases, self-published books sell fewer than 250 copies over their lifetimes. If you want to achieve higher sales, you’ll need to attract readers and build your following before you can expect readers to buy your book.

2. Self-published writers need to be entrepreneurs, too.

Once you’ve built your audience, you need to learn how to market your work. Building a career as a self-published author is just as much about entrepreneurship as it is about writing. When promoting your work, one of the best things you can do is to test out your ideas before you commit to them—and this can even include things like the title of your book. For example, when nonfiction writer James Altucher realized that his original book title The Choose Yourself Era wasn’t landing with his audience, he came up with nine additional possibilities. He then created ten copies of the book’s cover art, each bearing a different title option, and ran a Facebook ad with each one in turn to see which ones his audience would click on. The clear standout was Choose Yourself, which conveyed the same idea as his initial idea but sounded catchier. He then repeated the same process with ten subtitle ideas, and ultimately arrived at Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream. Whether or not you repeat Altucher’s trick, paying attention to your audience’s reactions will give you valuable information about where to steer your authorial/entrepreneurial brand in order to reap the greatest rewards

3.Successful self-publishing is a team effort.

Another thing you may not have known about self-publishing is that it is rarely a solo effort. You may have the necessary skills to write your book, but can you edit it? Can you design an eye-catching cover, or make the interior look crisp? In order to succeed in self-publishing, you’ll need to acknowledge any places where your skills fall short, and seek out people who can help make every part of your book shine. Hire an editor to make sure that your prose is as clear as possible, and that there are no errors in the finished product to potentially distract your readers. Work with a cover artist to create something that looks appealing and professional. Have a professional designer set the text so that it looks clean and readable. A common piece of advice given to visual artists is not to display their pieces in cheap frames, as this can drive down the price or discourage sales altogether. In self-publishing, editing, cover art, and interior design are your frame. You should always work with professionals to help you get these details exactly right, because doing so shows your audience that you value your work, and that they should too.

In some respects, self-publishing has lowered the barrier to enter the world of authorship, and made the field of publishing more democratic and accessible than ever. While just about any writer can self-publish their work, it takes a combination of hard work and dedication, as well as a willingness to learn and adjust on the fly in order to achieve real success. Many writers new to self-publishing find themselves unprepared for the realities they face and quickly start to flounder, but with some research, planning, and preparation, you’ll be able to start strong, avoid common pitfalls, and build your literary brand into a true powerhouse. Self-publishing presents its own set of challenges, but they are nothing that can’t be overcome.