Since its early days with now-classic authors like Jane Austen and Walt Whitman to its later rise in the early part of the 21st century, self-publishing has proven to be a viable option for authors who want to have control over how and when they get their books into the hands of readers. Self-publishing a book can be as easy as uploading your completed manuscript (edited or not) and creating a cover using a free template through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) on Amazon. But that isn’t the best way to become a successful self-published author.
When you decide to self-publish, you become the publisher and, ultimately, a small business owner. You are now responsible for all aspects of the book, including editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, etc. Like any small business owner, this doesn’t mean you have to do every single task yourself, but it is up to you to oversee it all from start to finish. If you want to reach as many readers as possible and make money via your books, here are 18 strategies to make your new venture a successful one.
1. Research the self-publishing industry
Before you jump into the indie-publishing pool, educate yourself so you understand both the process and the jargon. Understand there is a lot to learn; be patient and work through it in small manageable increments. This early research will provide you a solid foundation from which to build your career. Furthermore, self-publishing continues to grow and change, making some strategies that worked five years ago obsolete today. Stay current by reading books and articles and signing up for newsletters from leaders in the industry like Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn), Mark Dawson (Self-Publishing Formula), and organizations like Alliance of Independent Authors.
2. Content! Content! Content!
It goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyway: The main component for a successful book, regardless of genre, is great content. Slapping something together and making it available on Amazon without taking the time to ensure its quality is not going to be good for your readers, your writing career, or your reputation. As a self-published author, you have a responsibility to be diligent in creating the best book possible before releasing it to the world.
Read books in your genre published in the past few years. Although classics are great, readers’ and writers’ tastes have obviously changed a great deal over the years, so these books are not the best examples of what is currently happening in your genre. Readers have conventions and norms they expect to see in books within the genres they love and read often, and writers need to understand those norms. This doesn’t mean you have to follow a set formula when you write, but you need to know what expectations readers might have when it comes to their favorite genres. For instance, in romance, readers trust authors to provide a “happily ever after” ending, or at least a “happily for now” ending. If you label your book as romance and kill off your love interest in the final chapter, readers will be (understandably) upset. Upset readers leave bad reviews, and bad reviews certainly don’t sell books. These readers also will be hesitant to pick up a book from you in the future because you’ve broken their trust in the past.
It’s almost impossible to measure your content’s quality in a vacuum, so seek feedback on your work from a trusted writing colleague or critique group. These other sets of eyes will see things from a different perspective, catching mistakes or rough patches involving plot, characters, storyline, pacing, etc. Once you’ve sought feedback from other writers, enlist the help of a couple beta readers who can do one final readthrough to catch any mistakes that may have been missed.
3. Form an effective team
Self-publishing does not mean you have to do everything on your own. Forming a team of professionals is imperative if your publishing goal includes financial success. Think about the parts of the process you can and are willing to do on your own and hire out the rest. The foundation of an effective team should include a minimum of a copy editor, cover designer, and beta readers. Additional team members could be a developmental editor, marketing support, self-publishing support, and formatting.
4. Yes, you really need an editor
Regardless of genre, readers expect the books they buy to be free of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors. Occasionally one or two may get past your editor and beta readers (which happens with big publishers as well), and readers can forgive those rare missteps. But too many mistakes will cause them to stop reading. To avoid this, hire an editor.
There are two main types of editors: developmental and copy. A developmental editor looks at “big-picture” problems in plot, characters, and story flow for fiction and the overall presentation of information for nonfiction. A copy editor’s job is to pay attention to line-by-line errors in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and word tenses. They may catch holes in the story, but their primary focus is the details. I believe hiring a developmental editor is optional, but a copy editor is imperative. Don’t rely on yourself to edit your own work. You are too close to it and will miss things. And don’t rely on your best friend. Hire a professional.
5. Invest in a good cover
Yes, people do judge books by the covers. And now, with so many books being purchased online, those covers must be appealing in thumbnail size. Based on the colors, images, font choices, and the overall design, a cover creates a mood that causes readers to make an instant assessment and decide if the book is worthy of more of their attention. A high-quality cover signals to readers that the content within will be equally professional, while a poorly done cover signals the writing inside may be of lesser quality. The importance of a great cover is vital to a book’s success and well worth the time and money to create the best one possible.
If you are not a graphic designer by trade or don’t have experience in this area, hire a professional. They understand elements of design and the components that make an effective cover. There are many great designers out there who have the experience needed to create an amazing, eye-catching cover. Find one who suits your needs and your budget. Here are some places to start: