Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Getting Personal

It's hard to move from the elevated world of strategy to the up-close and personal worry of betting my own time and money on a marketplace.  It's also hard to publicly admit failures so I'm kind of nervous about this next series of posts. But, as I said last week, it's all very well to analyse the market, but the test of success only comes by playing in it.

So this next series of posts will be about the process I have taken to enter the self-pub marketplace, and what I have found in doing so.

I've found two books to be really useful:

Both of these writers are established self-published authors of commercial fiction, and put their experiences and learnings into these books ('In a gold rush, sell shovels,' said my MBA lecturer). 

There's also an interesting article in the Economist which is worth looking at (plus, it has a pretty cool interactive graph).

And before even starting on the self-pub route, there's a few skill sets that you need to have. Here's a list of questions to ask yourself.

Do I have these 10 Attributes ?

1.  Can I write? 

I had just won a major prize - Best First Novel at the New Zealand Post Book Awards for my first novel, A Necklace of Souls, so I thought yes, I probably could. 

But if this is your first manuscript the chances are that, no, you probably can't. Sorry. Most writers have a few failed scripts in boxes somewhere. If this is your first manuscript, and its your first draft and you are planning on self-publishing I really suggest that you DO NOT ask people to pay for it - i.e. don't put it onto Amazon or ibooks. If you really think the idea is good (in between the normal 'it's crap' feeling that every writer has) I would try and get a Critique Partner, or put it onto WattPad or Fan Fiction - anything to get feedback. And do a course of study. Believe me, study really helps.

My last series of blog posts deals with the writing process, and includes tips on how to find a Critique Partner.


2. Do I understand the publishing process?

Commercial publishers are very unlikely to publish even your final draft. Before it is set to print your book will have at least three edits - usually by three different people:
  • a structural edit - where the structure of the plot, the characters and so forth are analysed and recommendations made on how to strengthen them 
  • a copy edit - where the spelling, grammar and so on is checked
  • a proofing edit - check for final errors

If self-publishing, you would be wise to follow this process. Otherwise your book won't be as good as it could be. Which is bad for reviews, bad for your reputation, and just bad for the reader. But be warned, professional editorial input is not free. It's worth it, in terms of product, but you may not get your money back in sales.

3. Are you comfortable with the internet?

If you're reading this on a blog site, chances are you are quite comfortable on a browser. Just be warned: self-publishing is a global industry and unless you want to pay someone a lot of money to do everything for you, you'll probably need to do it yourself. This means that invariably, you'll be on the internet a lot.

4. Are you comfortable with e-books?

Self publishing is really about e. The future is p, too, I think, but we're not there just yet. So if you're planning on self-publishing, make sure you enjoy and are familiar with reading on an e-platform. This means you'll have a greater understanding for the importance of layout, and you'll be more careful when it comes to formatting. Also, you'll be making purchasing decisions similar to your readers.

5. Do you have a kindle account?

Currently, Amazon is the dominator of the self-pub industry. According to Gaughran, this is because their algorithms don't favour established publishing houses - they only favour reader choice. Which means that self-pubs have an opportunity to compete. iTunes is coming on strong, too, but more people still read on Amazon apps or kindles. Nook isn't really a favourite of self-publishers. Gaughran says this is because its algorithims favour publishers, as they pay more for the opportunity to use the platform. So if you're really wanting to self-publish, I do suggest you become familiar with the Amazon store. Understand how books are presented to purchasers and download a few yourself. Get a feeling for what you like, and what features you don't. It is different to navigating your way through a bricks and mortars store.

6. Do you have a basic understanding of finances?

Here's a lesson for you. I have an MBA and I buy products professionally for a living, so I thought, well, no problem. I'll be fine here. And yet - I forgot about the exchange rate! I can't believe it, but I did. The problem is, Amazon presents all its prices in USD. For some arcane reason. Like, yes, everyone in the world uses USD. So when I calculated the costs of CreateSpace, I forgot to convert. This meant a price inflation of around 20%.  

7. Do you have time?

Self publishing your first book will take you ages. Well, it's taken me ages. Everything is new. I don't know how to use the technology. This is what I have had to learn so far:

  • how to download a mobi file
  • how to read a mobi file
  • how to format to a print-ready proof
  • how to format a word document to smashwords requirements (don't believe them when they say their Style Guide is easy to use. It isn't)
  • how to organise a press release
  • how to create, and edit, an .html document. 
  • What is bleed?
  • How long are delivery times?
  • What does a book distributor do? What does a book marketer do? How much do they cost?
  • What is an ASIN and what is an ISBN?
  • What paper thickness do I need? Do I need matt or gloss cover? What is a laminate?
  • How do I get an EIN?
  • How to organise a blog tour
  • What is a marketing plan and what should it look like?
  • How much should I price my book?
  • How many copies should I order?

8. Do you have a healthy dose of scepticism?

In this industry - in most industries, really - there is no 'get rich quick' scheme. Yet, when you read the websites of Smashwords or Amazon, they say just upload your manuscript and click the 'publish' button and voila, your words in your way, ready to be read by the world. Don't believe them. Don't believe anyone when they tell you that it's simple. By the time I get to book number 5, it will be simple. Unless, of course, the industry changes, which is very possible. But right now, I'm on a steep, slow-climb up the learning curve.

9. Do you have a background that includes any or all of the following?

The following skill sets are really, really helpful. If you have some or all of these, you'll find the route to self-publishing so much easier.
  • Scientific/Analytical
  • Commerce/finance/marketing
  • Legal
  • Project Management
  • IT
10.  Do you have enough money?

Self-publishing is not free. Well, I don't think it's free. Costs include time, of course, but there's also editorial, book covers, printers (if you get printing done), marketing and anything else you care to spend. You can do it on a really tight, tight budget of perhaps $500 USD, but some people pay a lot more. I have allowed for about $5000 for my first self-pub. The following novels will be less, because I won't do everything I've done on the first one. But the good thing is, these costs are all tax-deductible. One bonus of writing - you might not make much money, but pretty much everything you do can be claimed as a deduction.  

And on a Positive Note

The ten qualities above are mostly personal qualities. They do not involve spending enormous amounts of money, or hiring employees, or building plant or buying expensive equipment. They do, however, involve spending large amounts of time. 

Next post I'll go through the first steps to self-publishing - actually putting these skills into use.

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