Right. To continue from the 1st part of this post, on the first 5 circles of Hell of self-publishing, and to borrow from Dante's Inferno analogy once more, here come the second 4 circles of Hell, and I have switched them around a little. Why? Because while prepping the post, I have stumbled across this huge issue that needed its own circle, namely, pricing. How to price your book? This is a whole can of worms, so I will bundle distributing into one circle, and pricing into another. Ready? Here we go.
WARNING: As I already warned you in the first part of this post, before you read any further, know that I only published 4 books so far. There are bigger more experienced people out there who know better. Okay, now you know, continue reading at your own risk.
Circle 6. Printing. Ah, this is the beast everyone was waiting for, and it caused me much anguish and even some very real tears. I'm thinking about writing a whole separate post on self-publishing via CreateSpace, because it simply won't all fit in here. I have written a blog post before on how to print your book draft cheaply, but this is something else. This is printing your actual published novel, and it has to be perfect. I have printed through Lulu in the past, but only for the purpose of printing a proof, and you can read about my experience in the aforementioned post. Now, CreateSpace. If you have formatted your novel correctly, you now have a PDF file that is ready to be printed. Beware. There is no magic button that will suddenly send the printed books into your lap the next day. Be ready to spend a lot of time tweaking and waiting. Here are major things you will have to deal with:
- Interior files. You can only submit a PDF interior file for publishing, according to their specifications. Once you do this, however, you will have to wait 24 hours for approval, even if you want to change only 1 word. Worse, when their approval comes back, it will usually have found a few errors that you will have to correct and resubmit, only to wait another 24 hours. However, typically, they turn it around faster. Beware, when you receive a printed copy, it might want to tweak a few minor things, to make it perfect! Add another week of waiting.
- Cover files. You can only submit a PDF file for your book cover, if you are using your own. Or, you can use their Cover Creator, and then upload a JPEG of the cover if you choose a template that has an image spread across the entire cover. I had no luck with it, and I recommend to do a PDF yourself according to their template (make sure your number of pages is correct for correct spine width!). The trick here is, even though you can look at their digital proofing software thingy and see how your book looks, I recommend to order a printed proof to make sure your book looks right. Be ready to fork out money and wait. It cost me $5 for the proof, and $15 for expedited shipping, and still it took 4 days. Yeah. And it will take me 2 weeks to get the first batch of 20 books I ordered to sell on my site as signed copies.
- Kindle files. CreateSpace, if you choose to publish through KDP, will automatically convert your files to ebooks, but they recommend to upload your own. I uploaded my own, and after several passes by 3 people, they still found 3 typos that needed to be fixed. And, of course, every time you make a little change, you have to wait... *drumroll* ...24 hours for approval. Even if you decide to change a category for your book, still, it takes 24 hours, so be very careful doing everything right the first time. And, on top of it, your fonts might look funny due to what their automated system picks out for display. Read this post on picking out fonts for your book.
Takeaway: printing your books takes time, so be aware of it before you make big announcement plans. I had to shift mine 3 times.
Circle 7. Pricing. Now this is an amazingly interesting topic that I have found so much conflicting information everywhere and so many articles, that if I read them all, it would've taken me forever to publish my book. I decided to go the cheapest route. I'm giving my books away for free on my site and am only selling them on Amazon because Amazon won't let me give them away for free. Selling books is, after all, how they make money on them. So, in a sense, when you download my books on my site and donate, the money goes directly to me, like a 100% royalty. When you buy on Amazon, I get a 35% royalty, as it was my choice (as opposed to 70% royalty), to make my books as cheap as possible, because my name is an unknown entity and I have to earn enough credibility to be able to ask for more. Needless to say, it was a trial in itself, and here is what I ended up with:
- First book of Siren Suicides, I Chose to Die, is 266 pages. Amazon prices books according to their length, so for whatever reason it told me that the cheapest I can price it at would be $6.74. Okay, I clicked on that price.
- People asked me to make my books available in many other countries, UK in particular, so I selected that option. Guess what, suddenly I couldn't price it at $6.74, it was too low for UK pricing, so I priced it at $7.99 because $7.30 looked weird. So far so good.
- Yet more people asked me if my books would be available in bookstores and libraries. Okay, I bought extended distribution at $25 per book. Suddenly, I couldn't price my book lower than $10.20 or something in that region. Okay, I thought, and made it a nice round number of $10.99.
- Now I got to pricing the third book of Siren Suicides, The Afterlife. Guess what, because it's 314 pages, I couldn't price it lower than $11.30! Or something like that. So, in the end, because it would look weird if one book in the series was cheaper than another, I priced all Siren Suicides books at $11.99 each. As of this morning Amazon Prime price is different for all three, and the cheapest of them is the largest, The Afterlife, at $9.66. Go figure, have no idea why.
- Ebooks are priced all over the place, as I have researched, and I couldn't price them lower than $2.10 or around that, and I like the look of $1.99 better than $2.00, so I priced each book at $2.99, which seems to be a low enough amount to be easily approachable. I have seen more established indie writers sell ebooks for $5.99. Well, maybe one day I will get there. I only know that the psychology still works, people will think that $2.99 is much cheaper than $3.00, thought the difference is next to nothing.
- I'm selling all 3 Siren Suicides books on my site for $19.99, but I should raise the price because I'm only making $3 per set, counting in shipping costs and such. From my entrepreneurial days I remember the lesson that for any business to be profitable and grow you have to have at least 50% margins. That means I would have to price my 3 book set at $34.99. It seems too high. When I was setting the price for it I borrowed it from 3 book sets that I saw on Amazon (without knowing how much the actual paperbacks will cost), so we shall see. For now I will keep it, because people keep buying it, and it's more important for me to spread the word than to worry about money. I have 2 more weeks of unemployment and enough savings after that to last me another 8 months or so, if I'm careful.
Takeaway: if you are an unknown entity like me, go for the cheap. You will be able to command higher prices later. Right now it's more important to spread the word about your work.
Circle 8. Distributing. I have touched upon this a little bit above. My method is offering my books for free everywhere I can. And I can do it everywhere except Amazon, plus, I couldn't choose their KDP Select option, because then I wouldn't be able to post copies of my books on any other sites except Amazon. What follows is a list of sites where I posted Blue Sparrow, the little book of my tweets as a test, and where I will be posting Siren Suicides now that they are published:
- CreateSpace via Amazon. Duh. I know, I had to mention them for continuity sake.
- Lulu. They will get your book into iBooks, which is primarily why I use them.
- Goodreads. Of course! Love them for the updates people can post while reading your work and share them, and post reviews. Plus, you can upload your books (make sure you upload an EPUB file and not PDF - their system cuts it off) and make them available for people to read on the web in their reader, which I did. For free.
- Scribd. This is a must. J.K. Rowling's books are here, Chuck Palahniuk's books are here, so I am posting mine here too.
- Kobo Books. This is a new beast I stumbled upon and am giving them a try. They seems to be a fast growing eReading service. We shall see.
- ReadMill. A bunch of my Beta Readers were reading my drafts and commenting on them via this app, so I added it to my list of distribution. Value unknown.
- Widbook. This is a collaborative writing site, so I am testing it out for fun.
- Smashwords. I'm only posting here because I've seen many people do it. Not sure of the benefit, and I'm not a fan of their interface.
- ReadWave. Great platform for short stories or flash fiction, and I got excellent response here, very active site. I will be posting excerpts here.
- Authorgraph. People asked me if I could sign their ebooks, that's why I will be uploading my books here. Haven't tried it yet.
- Bookstores. Okay, this is new for me. I bought extended distribution on Amazon, and my boyfriend's mom happens to own The Book Rack, a book store on Whidbey Island, which might be the first physical store that sells my books. Beyond that, it looks like any bookstore will be able to buy my book in about 6-8 weeks for sale. If any does, remains to be seen. People must want it enough for them to be interested.
One more aspect to think about here. Timing. Once you have everything approved everywhere, it's not over. It takes more wait time for your actual books to appear everywhere. They are immediately available on CreateSpace site, but take 24 hours to appear on Amazon as ebooks, 5 to 7 days for paperbacks (so they say, only took 1 day for me), and 6 to 8 weeks on expanded distribution channels. Oh, and it takes 3 t 5 days for them to link your ebook to your paperback. You can see that my books are still not linked after I published them yesterday.
Takeaway: distribute your books everywhere you can! The more, the better. The bigger chance of discovery you will get.
Circle 9. Marketing. Oh, this is one of my favorite topics, since I used to do this for work. If you want, you can read a bunch of my blogs on marketing here. Now, let's take a look at this happy ending. You wrote your book, it's edited, formatted, properly designed, its cover is awesome, you have priced it correctly and published it on every possible site. Now what? How do you keep the fire going? Because, guess what, after the initial surge of interest, it will subside. People will forget about you and move on. Now, stop for a second. Go back and reread that sentence. Let's do this together. People will forget about you and move on. Aha! Do you see what I'm getting at? Yes? No? Here is what I'm getting at. Please, forget about blasting a link to your book day in and day out on Twitter, on Facebook, and other sites. I have even written a blog post for writers on what NOT to do on Twitter. The deal is, just like the characters in your book, you have to be human. Your first readers will buy your books not because your books are amazing, but because they know you and want to support you. So why on earth would they want to support someone who hides behind automated messages? You got it. It won't happen. In this light your marketing goals are vey simple. Let people know who you are a writer and forget about marketing your book. Let them do it for you. (If you follow me on Twitter, you will see that I mostly retweet people talking about my books). You heard me. Instead of marketing, write a new book, and another one, and another one. Only don't forget to show up every day and share with people your writerly successes and failures, and people will buy your books and follow you into the darkest forests and across snowy mountains. In one word, GIVE, and people will give back, tenfold.
Takeaway: be human. That's all there is to it.
Wow, did we end up going through 9 circles of Hell and come out in human shape on the other side? I'm impressed. I think I might write a separate blog post on self-publishing via CreateSpace, if there is enough demand. Until then, feel free to pepper me with questions!