Our discussion on self-publishing took place on May 3rd at the Kitchener Public Library. We would like to thank those of you who joined us, and we would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what was a successful evening.
The panel comprised of a range of speakers including a first-time publisher, Lori Straus; a publisher with dozens of titles under his belt, Matthew Bin; a publisher who publishes in her native language and sells to non-English audiences, Daniela Wolff; and an editor/publisher who works with independent writers and has a few other ideas up his sleeve, Greg Ioannou. These panelists provided an abundance of helpful insights, but here are just some points the panelists raised you might find of interest.
- Relative freedom. Greg pointed out that with self-publishing done right, you don’t have to “jump through hoops,” and you have more control over the publishing process. According to Greg, while the average self-published book achieves a meagre 2.3 sales, authors who know their audiences tend to do well. Daniela noted that in her native country, Germany, traditional publishers wanted her to be “present” in that country for marketing purposes, a requirement that the self-publishing option allowed her to sidestep. According to Daniela, the self-publishing market is growing, the “stigma” of self-publishing has been diminishing in recent years, and with self-publishing, you can be as autonomous as you like; you may use your own word processing software and design your own cover if cover design is among your talents.
- Getting started. Greg emphasized that to self-publish, you need to know who your audience is, what kind of book they want, how to get your book to them, and how to market to them. Matthew mentioned the importance of setting specific goals: do you want to author a text for friends and family, or for a more lucrative audience, and what are you hoping to get out of self-publishing? Similarly, Daniela pointed out that in her experience, unless your objective is to produce a book for family and friends, audience research is fundamental to making money with self-publishing. According to Lori, self-publishing is not necessarily a “quick fix,” but you can establish modest financial goals in the beginning; for larger projects, you may wish to consider hiring an editor or a graphic designer, or both. Lori noted that she likes the flexibility of self-publishing; you get out of it what you put into it.
- Getting noticed and making money. Matthew had much to contribute to this category. According to Matthew, he made a considerable sum of money e-publishing, because e-publishing platforms were designed to market books. With Amazon, for instance, the larger your “footprint,” the more likely you will be noticed. In other words, if you cast a “wide net,” you may attract a wider audience, and publishing twenty books rather than publishing one book increases your probability of being found. According to Matthew, with a view to making money, it is possible to publish a manuscript on Amazon without editing or proofreading it for the sake of generating content, but to get noticed, the cover is crucial, as are the key words you select for your publication so that it might be found. Daniela advised against the use of generic keywords, such as “cozy mystery”; you might achieve better results if you select a specific image from your text, such as “poisonous plant.” Daniela and Matthew also drew attention to the importance of genre-appropriate covers and suggested studying the cover designs of other self-published books within your chosen genre. With print, Greg pointed out that you will want your book to have the same trim as its competitors, and according to Greg, producing a paperback or hardcover book costs only slightly more to produce than an e-book; if you want to do a reading at a library or have your book appear on a library shelf, you will need your book in print.
- Social media. According to Daniela, with self-publishing, marketing is crucial, and no one will do it for you. As a result, although you might rather spend time writing a new book, it might be prudent to invest a degree of time on social media so that you can generate and maintain a following to whom to announce new books. Matthew’s take on this was that time spent on social media is time spent not writing, and for him, he knows that putting stories on Amazon will generate a return.
- The business side of things. Greg discussed the dark side of self-publishing in the form of working with potentially predatory marketing services. He suggested Googling the name of a marketing service along with the key words ‘fraud’ and ‘scam,’ and mentioned that there are resources like Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors; he advised against buying expensive marketing services. Greg noted he is starting a company the purpose of which is to assist self-publishers and have them pay a fraction of what they otherwise would, and his expertise is such that he can tell you within 5% what your book might cost in order to “get it up to shape.”