If you’re a writer thinking about taking that leap into the publishing world, what do you need? (according to my very limited experience!) Warning, this is a long blog post. Only read it if you really want to know what is required to publish your writing…
1. A well-written book. (duh) How do you know it’s well-written? Because you’ve spent a lifetime reading lots of books and you know what you like, what’s good and what’s crap. Because you’ve slaved over it. And you’ve had others slave over it. As in…editors. Beta test readers. Proof readers. People who like to read the kind of stuff you’ve written. Find what works for you and get your book finished. Rewrite and refine it until its the very best book that you can make it.
2. Belief. In yourself. In your book. I sent Telesa query letters to 15 different agents and publishers. Most said no thank you. ‘US readers won’t connect with it…NZ readers won’t connect with it…blah blah.’ One asked for the whole manuscript. I waited for 6 months before they replied ‘No.’ A book about a teenage couple in Samoa? Spirit mutant type women in Samoa? Who’s going to want to read that? You’re kidding right?! It’s gut-wrenching when your book gets rejected. So tempting to shelve it and agree, ‘yeah, you’re right. This sucks.’ I could have been patient. Kept trying to submit everywhere. Rewriting to get that perfect query letter. But I couldn’t afford to. I had a limited window to write full-time before I had to go get a ‘real job’. I already had one published book and several short stories win international awards so I decided to take that leap of faith and publish Telesa myself. Two months later and I am so grateful that I did, because otherwise I would still be searching for an agent to believe in my book. Instead I’ve just returned from an exhausting successful book tour in Samoa, I’m looking forward to the Auck Launch which is being hosted by the Auck Univ of Tech and Auck Univ. I’ve been invited to speak and launch in other cities in NZ and Australia. Telesa will be featured in SPASIFIK magazine’s Jan issue. Every day, somewhere in the world, another person is discovering Telesa and loving it. Today the book that agents said would have no audience – is number three on Amazon’s Top Rated Fantasy Romance List and number 9 on Amazon’s overall Romance List. Thank you to all the readers for taking it there.
3. A willingness to learn. A year ago, I had never heard of e-books, visited Amazon.com, seen a Kindle, or contemplated publishing my own stuff. My first book was published in Samoa October 2010 and my sister asked me about things like…’e-rights…websites…e-book version…etc’ I turned to Google ( the source of all wisdom) and a whole new world opened up to me. I have spent hundreds of hours researching this phenomenon called ‘Self Publishing’. I continue to spend countless hours learning from publishing masters – indie and otherwise. People like Kristen Lamb Bob Mayer. Amanda Hocking. Joe Konrath All who are great examples of publishing success and also so generous with sharing their experience. However, I have had to figure some things out thru trial and error because unlike these giants, I am a Samoan woman writing for both a local and global audience. Some stuff that the pro’s recommend doesn’t work for me and my potential readers. (And thats a whole other blogpost.)
4. A Blog. Not one that you only update when your DVD player breaks down and you’ve got nothing better to do. A blog that you maintain consistently, that engages your readers, shares your writing ‘voice’, and slowly but surely builds a following. I’ve been Sleepless writing for two years now, posting – on average – 3 to 5 times a week. Did I blog because I knew I was going to publish a fiction novel? No. I blogged because I love it. Because I wanted to develop the discipline required to write EVERYDAY. Because I enjoy getting feedback from people, engaging with readers on a daily basis. I also follow many amazing bloggers (and their writing is a huge daily distraction to me, LOL) Through my blog I have made friends who uplift and inspire me, make me laugh and keep me company in the blogoverse. The first people to take a chance on my Telesa book, were my blog readers and my fellow blogging sisters. And they were the first ones to spread the book news.
5. Business Brains. I’m sorry to tell you that a writer who chooses to self-publish must recognize that she is running a business. One where she is the only employee and the employer. One where she creates the product, packages it, markets it, sells it, promotes it, and then makes some more of the product. All at the same time. She must be an accountant, an advertising guru, a speechwriter, a designer, a PR specialist and so much more. If you are not prepared to do this, then forget self-publishing. It is not for you. This is my weakest point and the one where I bet most writers struggle the most. Because in a perfect world, we would just sit in our caves and write wonderful things. And little elves would take our books away and the world would magically read them and shower us with the money we need to keep hanging out in our caves. (Santa, are you reading this?!) I won’t tell you how many times I have called up to make an appointment with a book retailer to discuss Telesa with them…and then chickened out and hung up. And I’m embarassed to tell you what a shocking mess my accounts and publishing files are. It’s not easy to market your own book. Get help if you need to, get business savvy – or get out of the publishing game.
6. Money. It is a mistake to assume that self-publishing is ‘cheap and easy.’ Yes – if you want to release a crappy book with a crappy cover, filled with sloppy errors. A book that only you and your 5 friends will ever buy. But if your goal is to release a book that can stand proudly on a bookstore shelf looking and reading ‘just like a real book’, then you will need to invest money to make it so. My mother is a powerhouse businesswoman who has run her own successful design store for over 20 years. Her fave saying is, ‘You have to spend money to make money.’ This is true for books too. I was fortunate to have many amazing people give freely of their time and talents on behalf of the Telesa project – from the cover models to photographers, designers and the book trailer producer, book launch organizers, dancers and performers. Editing and proofing were professionally done at a heavily discounted price. Yes, uploading an e-book on Amazon is free. But we chose to also have books printed and took out a loan on our home to do so. Posters and other promotional materials all cost money. It was important for Telesa to be launched in Samoa, its ‘birthplace’ – more money was required. Was it worth it? 500 books sold in three days, yes. Have we paid back our initial loan? Yes. Are we making a profit yet? No. But I’m hopeful that I will by the next printing. (Or at least before I die as a penniless author…)
7. Endurance and Hard Work. Just ask my children how many hours a day I spend not looking after them. Because I’m writing, proofing, editing, blogging, updating three different social media sites. Emailing printers, designers, shipping agents, and booksellers. Co-ordinating the book sales/posting/packaging stuff. JKonrath said “publishing is a marathon, not a sprint”. I’ve been the watergirl to the Hot Man’s marathons enough times to know it takes guts and determination to keep going forward – even when there’s another hill to stagger up. And other runners passing you. There are days I question why I’m doing this. When I doubt my book. When I wonder if everyone will suddenly ‘wake up’ and realize that actually Telesa sucks…and they can’t wait to throw rotten eggs at the second book. I think about the money I’m not earning at a full-time job. The teaching career I’m not furthering. The non-fiction projects (aka job offers) I have turned down so that I can write this fantasy romance about a girl who bursts into flames when the boy she loves kisses her. And I fight the temptation to quit this rather crazy author dream. If you want to publish your book – be prepared to endure for the long hard slog.
Self-publishing – it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. But after only two months into it, I can say with complete surety, it’s worth it and I am thankful for the opportunity to be living my writing dream. Even if it is kickbutt, exhausting hard work.