The Bits About Self-Publishing That Don’t Involve Writing
So, you have this great work of fiction. It reads well, everyone you know loves it and not just your Mom. What do you do now?
Well, here’s what I did:
1. Get cover art.
2. Self-publish the book, and don’t charge a lot.
3. Write more.
4. Publish more books.
5. Promote the heck out of them.
6. Stumble upon an audiobook deal.
7. Do even more promotion.
Not, mind you, that I’ve made it to the big time (yet!) but I’m starting to get pretty regular sales. However, some of the things I did are pretty easy to replicate. Not the writing part, that’s hard, but the self-publishing bits and the self-promotion aren’t too bad.
So I’ll share some of my Secret Methods of Self-Publishing Success, particularly #1, #2 and #6.
Get Cover Art
The short version: I wrote to an artist I liked, and he agreed to do the cover art.
I know, right? Still, as you might expect, there’s more to it than that.
I’d been visiting Michael Broderick’s site http://hottlead.com/ a lot over the years. He does really spectacularly good erotic art, specifically male/male pairings. He’s the Norman Rockwell of gay erotica. His stuff has clean lines, each picture has a theme (often humorous), and every piece is always, always hot. Always.
As I was writing my first book, and got towards the end, I started to think I needed a really great cover to call attention to it. I wanted something a little specific, something that spoke to the marriage theme I was spinning out in my yarn, and I wanted it to be something very Americana.
So I wrote to Michael. He didn’t actually even advertise that he did custom work (many artists promote that heavily), but I wrote to him anyway. I think he was tickled by the idea of doing a book cover — I think I might have been his first. (Michael, if not, let me know!)
Anyway, the way he works is you pay half up-front, and then he sends you three concept sketches. You decide which one you want to pursue, and he refines that into a larger piece with color. Once he has that mostly done, he sends you a thumbnail and then you begin a back-and-forth about details (colors, names on sports jerseys, tie pins, etc.). I don’t think I was too bad on that first one, but I’m also not going to look back through the 124 emails I sent to him to be sure.
Once you’re happy with the final look, you send him the other half of the money and he sends you a final jpeg. What? You were expecting oil on canvas? Pshaw! How old-fashioned. This is the modern world. He does send you a CD with the final versions in much greater resolution than you can email easily, and those are the files I used for the cover art on my book (both e-pub and hardcover).
Now, a quick word about copyrights. The deal we worked out is: he owns the copyright to the art. I get to use it for book covers, and for promotion of the book. That’s it. I think it’s a good deal.
I’ve left a little detail in this story unspoken, and it’s kind of the elephant in the room. How much did I pay for the stupendously great cover art? Well…it was not cheap. I can use all sorts of aphorisms in here to justify that, but when it comes right down to it, I have no regrets.
Although I haven’t made back all the money I spent on the cover art — yet, since I’m actually seeing a steady increase in sales — I got my first big review entirely because of Michael’s renown. That review got my first spurt of sales, and then led to more reviews. All of which helped propel me to write the second book.
It was totally worth it.
Not only would I do it again, I already did! I commissioned the art for my second book:
And for my third book:
And I’m in the process of commissioning the art for fourth book. (Even I don’t have art for that yet!)
Handy tip: once you get the review copy of the art, before you email your artist about this or that detail, use the preview piece as the lock screen on your phone. That way you’ll see it every day, frequently throughout the day, and you’ll see overtime striking details you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.
I know I did.
And I’m still using the cover of book 3 (Glen & Tyler’s Paris Double-cross) as my lock screen. It’s so great!
Self-Publish the Book…
There are a slew of self-publishing sites out there, and it becomes easier every day to publish a book yourself.
That said, do find someone, or even better several someones, to read your work. Good editing pays for itself.
So, where to publish?
Here are a few places I used and what I thought.
Lulu.com: great for making actual paper copies. I like real books, even if the majority of my reading lately, and almost 100% of my publishing, has been entirely digital. My dream, which might someday come true, is to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelves. If so, Lulu.com can help with that, because one of their expanded publishing options is to list your book on the “in print” list, which also makes it available in catalogs for bookstores to buy for their shelves. It’s happened once for me — not the walk into a bookstore thing, but some store did buy two copies of my books (no idea who, unfortunately). The only downsides to Lulu.com is that their cover wizard is a little temperamental, and there’s a very flat minimum price for their hardcover books. My hardcover books sell for $35, which is about $10 more than you’d expect a hardcover to cost these days. Unfortunately, if I charged less (you do sort of set the price), I wouldn’t get any money when the book sells to “outside entities” — or retail stores. At this point, I see the hardcover copies as fun gifts for my editors, family, and as a promotional tool. Goodreads.com does book give-aways, but only for physical copies of books, so I use them there too.
Smashwords.com: a great indie site for selling e-books, and they have a very wide variety of formats you can sell in. I like that idea, and their general vibe, but frankly their upload utility is daunting. That might be a technology issue related directly to my particular writing setup, though.
Amazon.com: the 800 pound gorilla of the new publishing world. You can publish e-books through Lulu.comand Smashwords.com, and they’ll get to other venues like Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iBook Store and others. They’ll even get it to Amazon’s Kindle store, eventually, but for the direct route you can just upload your book to Amazon yourself. It’s startlingly easy. Even more enticing is the Kindle Direct Program — which makes your book Amazon exclusive for 90 days (self-renewing but you can cancel it), and enrolls you in their lending program. The way the lending thing works is that there’s a fund every month, and for every book of yours that someone borrows, you get a percentage of that money. It’s an interesting way to do things, though until my book gets more eyes, I probably won’t see a lot from it.
… and Don’t Charge a Lot
I read a great article, which I can’t recall the particulars of now, that made a strong case for charging $0.99 for your book. The idea was that you’d sell tons and tons at that point, because really — what’s a buck? That idea was strong enough to carry me right up until I met Amazon’s royalty structure. You can set your book for any price — but sell for less than $2.99, and you only get 30% of the sale of each book. Sell for $2.99 or more, and you get 70%. So I set the price of my first book at $2.99. I think that’s still a pretty low price for the e-book, and a good way to get someone into my series of books. If they like the first one, they’ll probably go on to buy the others.
I sell the second (Glen & Tyler’s Scottish Troubles) and third (Glen & Tyler’s Paris Double-cross) books for $4.99. That’s still below the standard price that places like Dreamspinner Press (a pretty highly respected m/m romance publisher) sets, and way, way below the standard price I see from traditional publishers on more “mainstream” titles, which typically go for $10.99 or even $12.99 for popular titles.
I might be able to make more money by charging a higher price, but I recognize that people are taking a risk on my books. They don’t know me from Adam, and I might be delivering a real crapfest to their favorite e-reader. Don’t get me wrong, I’m getting pretty good reviews, but my books are a little odd, even in the LGBTQ genre of romance novels. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to describe their genre without hitting quite a few signposts on the publishing highway: romantic, humorous spy thrillers. With some adventure. And some mystery.
So I charge a little less, on the theory that a slightly lower price will entice folks to take a risk. It’s working pretty good so far.
Which Brings Me to the Audiobook
One of the great pieces of advice I got when first starting out was to get to know the genre I’m working in. So after my first book, I started reading other books, finding authors I liked and reading their online presence (blogs, Facebook posts, etc).
One of them, one of the very best (in any genre), is Josh Lanyon.
He’s written extensively, in a variety of genres, though almost always with a great m/m romance in the mix somewhere. Catching up on his back catalog was a real delight (and/or fairly intense, with some books). I can’t recommend his stuff enough.
I don’t know what initials stand for, but what they do is facilitate the making of audiobooks. They’re also an Amazon-related site, so take that how you will.
Here’s how it works.
If you’re an author with a book you want made into an audio work, you post an excerpt of your book (in PDF), and some expectations you have of your narrator. Do you want a man or woman reading it? Do you want any particular accent or accents? You give a brief description of your book.
Then you set your royalty terms. There are two options. You either list a set amount that you’re willing to pay for every finished hour of the work (my first book weighed in at 10.5 hours!), or you state that you’d prefer a royalty split with the narrator. The first option is cool because once the work is done, you own it. The second option is cool because if you don’t have a lot of money (e.g. because you spent it on cover art), you don’t pay anything up front.
I chose the second option, put up one of the chapter of my book and opened it up for auditions.
I got one almost right away, but unfortunately the guy just wasn’t the right voice. I’m slightly picky.
The second audition, which appeared much, much later, was spot-on. The guy has this frat-boy sound, but can do other voices (male and female) and other accents (e.g. north east, Texas, British) very well. It was a match!
What happens after that is the narrator uploads a chapter at a time. I then went through and listened to it all, sending along notes, he made changes and then re-uploaded. Eventually, we were done! Well, to be accurate, he was done and I was happy. At this stage, all my work is just audio commentary (editing? directing?).
So that’s how you make an audiobook without hiring a big name actor, using a big studio and shelling out more money than your average house costs.
It’s working pretty well so far. My audiobook is now available on iTunes, Amazon and Audible.
Now, a word of caution. ACX makes things very easy, but there is a downside. First, I had no say in the price they charge. It’s right in line with other audiobooks, but: no say.
Second, they do a variety of site promotions — credits, membership bonuses, etc.— and that sometimes means that the audiobook “sells” for free or at a significant price reduction. Neither Brian (my awesome narrator) nor I have any say in that part.
What we get is a percentage of every sale. That’s not too bad, and for a newbie it’s great. If I were a more established author, I might prefer different terms, however.
Altogether, I’m pretty pleased with how things are going. Ask me again in another year, after I’ve gotten another audiobook out and have seen a few royalty checks.
By JB Sanders
My books on Amazon:
My book at Lulu.com:
My book at Smashwords:
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