“I think the book is still a great thing in culture, and will continue to be. And even though there is blogs and Facebook and all these things – there is something in our humanity that wants us to establish something permanent.” – Keith Ogorek (10)
Self publishing is growing. 5 years ago it was not seen as real viable solution for serious authors, but recently all that has all changed. Self publishing is now 30% of the total book market for e-book sales, with the number of titles that are self published having grown 300% in just the last couple of years. A host of new companies and new advice websites to help authors self publish have popped up, and even well known established authors are self publishing more of their material, such as Jackie Collins and David Mamet. Some people are willing to say that the change going on in the publishing industry right now due to the impact of the internet, is equal in size to what happened to books and publishing in1444 when the Gutenberg’s printing press first came out.
All of this is just to say that self publishing is a very new industry, but it is definitely an option worth considering for discerning writers. It is its own vehicle to publishing, but it has kept strong ties to the traditional publishing industry at the same time.
Some people are also willing to say that the self publishing industry will replace traditional publishing. However, there is a lot of evidence to show that the excitement of self publishing is at a high, and will “peter out” in the next couple of years; its massive growth rate being attributed only to the fact that it is new and online. It will lose popularity, like all of the internet tools when they first come out, like My Space and Facebook.
Still others say that the two will form a hybrid industry, with self publishing becoming part of a seamless machine with traditional publishing. In fact, with self publishing doing most of the difficult and risky work for traditional publishing companies, by testing out ideas with the consumers, the self publishing industry will only eventually boost the strength of traditional publishing companies. At least those who are willing to accept the data from self published authors. In my opinion this third option will win out – based on what I have seen in my own experiences and from reading (citations provided at the end).
Here is my story of how I entered into the self publishing and traditional publishing industry with some success.
Secure your idea or story so you can test them!
I filed for a copyright from the US copyright agency. For $30, if you email them your manuscript you can have a case number that you can post on the top of your work, in about 2 weeks.
When I had the copyright, I felt secure and confident enough to start talking to people. I would talk to family members, but only extended family members who didn’t spend that much time with me, because they were more inclined to be open to long conversations. And I didn’t want to hear backlash or even casual jokes about my ideas from people who I would see regularly, namely my immediate family and friends. Next, I reached out to friends I didn’t see that often, or people who I only knew casually. I would look for thinkers, or fans of fiction, or reading in general. People who liked to think about new ideas and were already attracted to reading stories. But again, people who I didn’t come into contact with regularly.
This made me feel more free to express my story ideas than I would have been if it was to close friends or family. I really respect their opinion of me, and I would not want to seem dumb thinking a storyline was good, or an idea was fascinating when it seemed only silly. I looked for people who knew me, so they would care enough to talk to me about a long idea or story, but people who were not that close to me, so if they felt that my story ideas were strange or dumb, I wouldn’t be that hurt by it.
I bring all of this up, because “testing your content” it is key to self publishing, as I understand it.
Key to self publishing is being interesting!
Self publishing is gaining respectability as a vehicle for new authors to achieve some fame and recognition, but only for authors with new interesting storylines and new ideas. In short self publishing authors who are doing well have good interesting books to sell and they just decided not to reach out to traditional publishers, and instead go directly to the marketplace of ideas, through the internet.
So having a compelling story line and having a new idea before you self publish is key. Successful self published authors knew they had good material before they self published. The best way that I know of, for new authors with no resources, to test your material and refine it before going to self publishing is to talk to people. People who you think would buy the book. Tell them your story, your big idea. Be totally open to rejection and pay special attention to their faces.
The human face lights up, and eyes widen when people are interested, just as you can tell when someone is bored. Watch this person’s reaction as you go through your story or idea, pay attention to when it seems they are paying more attention, what part of the story or the big idea was that you were talking about at that point. Keep that part. Seriously rework the other parts of your story. Tell another person that story, or just the reworked parts and pay attention to their reaction. When you think you might have something even remotely interesting, talk to more people, at least five people. If you have five people, that found the same story line or big idea interesting – you know you have something.
I often heard about great writers hanging out in cafes. It was said that it was because they wanted to study people and then put what they observed in the characters of their books. But I think it was for another reason, you can have casual conversations with people about ideas, small stories, anything in general, at a cafe. I think these great writers were talking to other people as much as they were just watching them. They were processing what they saw, and then would run ideas past random people in the café, as they worked out their next great novel. In short these great writers were running focus groups.
That is what you must do to make it in self publishing. You will have very little support in self publishing versus traditional publishing, so your ideas have to be extra special and interesting. If you can grab a couple random people in a row and compel them with even parts of your story or idea, you know that you have something worth spending the time to flesh out into a complete book.
“With self-publishing, you learn your craft while producing material. You win over your fans directly.” - Hugh Howey (3)
Run your story through the meat grinder of society. If it can’t hold up entertaining random people, who like the particular genre that you write in, then it probably won’t go anywhere as a self published book.
“You go straight to the real gatekeepers, which are the readers. If they respond favorably and you have sales, you can leverage that into a writing career. If they don’t, you write the next thing. “ – Hugh Howey (2)
“E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey erotic romance, and each of its follow-ups, wound up setting a bar every writer and publisher is chasing. The book was first published on a fan website under the title Master of the Universe, then was reworked and re-released in the form that went viral.” - Carlos Harrison (2)
“…a vast majority of self-published books will never find much of an audience,…” - Leslie Kaufman (8)
Grind your idea or story down to a sharp edge!
Once you have your idea intact, even as a rough outline, your first major obstacle to self publishing has been cleared.
At this point you need to flesh out the manuscript and turn your story or idea into a book. I reached out to experts who I could hire. I looked for people who worked part time in editing or reading. They did not have to work in publishing, it could be someone who read manuals at her job, or someone who just read a lot of news articles for their boss. Someone who reads, and is used to reading a lot. You can also find editors online. I do not recommend using editors from the self publishing company you choose to publish your book. These people are part of a larger business which is designed to publish your book however you want it. They do not want to upset you and so wont give you the harsh critique of your work that you need, in my personal experience. It is better to find editors through contacts or online.
I suggest sending chapters or cleaned up rough drafts without all of the ideas loaded into the book yet, directly to these editors. You don’t want to send them a finished product, you want expert feedback on your story idea. You are doing an advanced focus group from the talking to family and friends and people at the café before. That was a rough chiseling of this sculpture.
Now you need people who work in the field.
You can hire someone who is decent to edit a manuscript that is around 50-100 pages long for a few hundred dollars. It is worth it. They will send you back comments. Make sure to tell them to “be brutal”, emphasize you do not want nice, be blunt, because they, like all humans, will assume that if they criticize you, you will be upset, so subconsciously there is some effort to not be too harsh. Also, editors love to be critical and if you tell them to be harsh they will think “oh yeah” and then will put even more of themselves into the project, which is what you want.
This is not your book, it is your advanced cluster ball of ideas. So be totally open to criticism if you want to be successful. The editor, I suggest hiring different editors, will give you back written comments. They will say “this did not make sense”, “you are trying to say this here, which is good, but you don’t say it well”, and they will add general comments about things missing and things that don’t make sense.
Pay attention to what they do not criticize. That means they felt it was okay or even good. Sometimes editors will say “the character maintains my interest” or “I see what you are trying to convey”, these are actually compliments. Professional editors cannot compliment you, but they can subconsciously say, you are doing a good job on certain points. Pay attention to what is criticized, and confusing and what is not criticized and was well understood by the editor. This is in effect the editor saying that this part works, if it is the part that lines up with what your survey of strangers found most interesting, when you talked to them – then you are on a great track. Keep those elements, junk the entire rest of this manuscript.
“Once you’ve written your book, a developmental editor is important.” - Miral Sattar (4) “Self-publishing services also offer varying levels of editing services, though many writers hire their own editors if they self-publish.”- Leslie Kaufman (8)
Yes, I know it is your child and every idea is precious. Don’t worry, you won’t forget the key concepts that you are throwing away now. Physically ripping out parts of your story or manuscript or pressing the delete key on certain sections or ideas, and then pressing save, forces your brain to recognize that you are starting over again. Your brain will feel a sense of loss, but will also now be open to thinking of new ideas.
The fact is that if you thought of any interesting idea at all or collection of story lines and ideas, to get you this far, then you can come up with more ideas. In my opinion, if you have gotten this far you are a writer. One of the few, as rare as all of the famous writers – because regular people will never come up with 30 pages of their own story or ideas, will never take the time to write it out, and certainly not shop it around looking for harsh criticism – normal people will not do this. You are not normal if you have done this. Therefore – you are a writer.
“None of this is meant to say that everyone who self-publishes — even those who study the craft, take their work seriously,…”- Hugh Howey (3) Rewrite your story, rework your ideas, then resubmit the story to different editors. Do not use the same editors, send this improved story based on the last editors comments to a new group of editors, at least two. See what their reaction is. Did they make comments like the last editor? If not then you are progressing. Did they not criticize parts of your book that the last editor did not criticize? This is a great sign.
You will have no support out there but it is okay!
With little to no support, your book will survive or not, based on how interesting it is on its own. It won’t have a great cover, or quotes from well known experts, the newspapers will not be called by someone they are used to hearing about new books from, so your idea has to stand on its own. There is purity to this though that deserves respect from all people who love to think and write about their thoughts.
“As with traditional publishing, self-publishing has far more misses than hits. The number of authors actually selling anything is very low despite the stories you see about this or that self-published book selling a million copies.” - Rick Townley (1)
“Here’s the reality: How you publish will not significantly affect the quality of your story. If it needs a ton of work, it’s not going to make it out of the slush pile anyway.” - Hugh Howey (3)
“If indie authors are going to make their mark, they’ll need to … put out reputable works, and stop looking for get-sales-quick gimmicks.” - Melissa Foster (9)
You can edit the book from this point on your own, or hire another editor for one last edit, who could be any of the editors you have already hired in the past. Send your manuscript to a self publishing company that has been around at least more than two years. This is so that you can check out books they have published, and comments from those authors or anyone. If people do not like someone they did business with online, there will be comments about their experience.
Submit your manuscript to this company. They will charge you a fee to format it and post it, but that is normal. I suggest going with Create Space at Amazon, because they are directly tied into the Amazon website, and your book will automatically be available at Amazon, without you having to make additional contacts or waiting for your self publishing company to contact Amazon for you.
“You can sign up with Amazon KDP or Barnes & Noble Pubit or Lulu or SmashWords or CreateSpace or a host of other helpful sites. Google it.”” - Jackie Collins (2)
After writing, focus on publicity!
Your book is a good idea, or story and it is available to the public. But they don’t know it. You can email all of the news stations and book stores and tell them about your book, but they may not be interested. They don’t know if it is interesting, and only have your word on it. The first thing you can do to change that reality is to hire book reviews.
There are companies that you can pay to review your book and write a review; San Francisco, and Mid-West book review, are just a few names to check out. They will not write a nice review if they don’t feel they liked the book. They write a review and give it to you, and you can use the review or not. You can ask Amazon to post their review, in its entirety, on the Amazon site, or not to post it, you can tell people this review company said X about your book or not mention them at all. You gamble that they will write a review that is at least workable.
“Sites like Kirkus, Blue Ink, and Publishers Weekly all sell review packages for indie or self-published authors.”- Miral Sattar (4) Send your book to as many review companies as possible. This gives you a better chance of getting positive reviews or ones you will comfortable posting on Amazon “Novice fiction, with the characters designed to seem too wooden, but in general a fun summer read for 5$”, that is not that bad and worth using. Ask Amazon to post your reviews on the page for your book, and now email the newspaper and bloggers, and everyone about your book and put quotes from the reviews you had, in your email or letters. People who do not know you, will believe whatever the review company says, not what you say, so putting the review companies words in your outreach brings you believability.
“As Ted Bohaczuk, orders librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP), describes it, “We have a soft response that says, ‘We base our purchasing decisions to a large extent on reviews that are available, please attempt to get your product reviewed’ …” - Ted Bohaczuk (5)
“Many big publishers dismiss self-published titles, noting that most disappear, in part because they may be poorly edited and are almost never reviewed.” - Geoffrey A Fowler, and Jeffery A Trachtenberg (7)
Don’t stop there. Anyone who works in news, has a blog, writes occasionally for a paper, appears on radio programs, or has some position of respect, such as a professor or high school principal, you ask them also for a review, and for them to post it on Amazon. Send them a copy of the book for free, even if they seem marginally interested in reading it. If they said okay, to “could I send you a free copy of the book”, then send them a copy. Call or email them about two weeks later and ask what they thought. If they haven’t read it, okay, they will read your book now. Follow up with them in another two weeks.
What you want is for these people, (and only some of the people that you sent books to will actually read the free book) to post their comment on your Amazon book page. Tell people you are only looking for a brief comment, “interesting read”, “I got through it in one night”. They don’t have to write “best thing I have ever laid eyes on” or a long paragraph. People looking at your Amazon page, won’t believe outrageous comments about your book, but they will believe someone who says “worth 5 bucks”, that’s a reasonable compliment. If you get great comments, keep them, but you don’t have to rely on them.
It’s worth sending out tons of emails and letters and then free books to the few people who respond and then repeatedly checking up on the even fewer people who will read your book and the even fewer people who feel comfortable giving a public comment about your book on the internet (some people are still uncomfortable about posting anything on the internet). However, if you can get even five “user comments” on your book’s Amazon page, you look good. These comments plus the official book reviews, makes it appear as if your book is being noticed by the public all on its own. That is not the case, but to a person surfing through Amazon or looking for something new to read, that is how it will appear to them.
Re-email all of the bloggers, newspapers, anyone and send them a link of your Amazon’s book page. When they see the comments, they will be impressed and actually believe that your book is good. This will encourage, some, of them to give your book more attention and you are much much closer to receiving a book review on a blog, or newspaper, or magazine, or local church monthly newsletter. Your attitude is to take a book review with graciousness from any publication out there, (yes, except of course for anti-government groups, neo-nazis, fringe cults, etc). You will receive interest from people who see a good looking Amazon page, with official and unofficial comments.
When you email these people with your Amazon page, you can spruce up the email also by adding a few quotes from the Amazon page. Even though people are going to see the quotes again, quotes in your initial contact with a person always intrigue that person to check out your book. It’s a cheap trick and it works.
Meet the people of your industry – they’re undercover!
The last and final step is to go to book shows. My personal opinion based on my personal experience is that the self publishing world is coming up and growing fast and is attracting attention from traditional companies. However, there are a lot of books out there, and traditional publishing companies still have their own set of contacts and ways that they look for new books, other than seeing what is popular on Amazon or the internet. Their traditional channels of finding authors and books are still what a lot of traditional publishers use primarily.
The traditional publishing industry is in my opinion reviewing the online self publishing industry, it is looking it over, but it is not sold that self publishing will last or continue to grow. This makes sense because publishers are thoughtful people, they read a lot and think about ideas and stories a lot. People who like books take time to make up their mind. So it makes complete sense for the traditional publishing industry to take time evaluating a new phenomena that is literally only 3 -5 years old. Especially when considering that internet based social movements have grown from nothing to massive heights and then completely exploded on themselves all within a 5 year window in the recent past.
This is to point out that you should know that once you have a market tested, and publicly commented on book, seek out the traditional publishers in the places that they traditionally like to look for books. One of the best places where traditional publishers still mingle openly with any author who shows up, is book shows. You have to have been checked out somewhat by the company putting on the book show, so traditional publishers feel comfortable going to all of the small book shows, along with the big ones, because they know there will be a better chance of finding a quality book. Book shows are where amateur, first time authors can meet established, experienced publishers and other industry people.
Get into a book show, as many as you can and take the time to prepare, make flyers, a banner, etc. Its not hard, but many people don’t prepare, they show up with their book only. Pretend you are running a store, with only one product, but you want to make your store inviting and exciting about your one thing to sell. Decorate your book stand. Honestly. You will be more excited about selling your book to total strangers, and your excitement is what is most going to sell your book to anyone you meet at the book show. Also bring a dish of hard candy. Yes, it is a cheap trick, and it works really well.
This is the big secret about book shows. While it is difficult to get anyone connected to any major publishing company to look at your emails or letters about your book, they are very inclined to sit and listen to you for five minutes talk about the same book at a book show.
At book shows you either meet someone who publishes directly, or reviews books officially, or someone who is friends with someone who does that. These people are connected into the system, and if you can interest them in your book in a casual conversation then they will vouch for you to someone who is seriously connected into the traditional publishing industry. You then get a traditional publishing company to respond to your emails, “I met X, she said to email you about my new book on cooking with heirloom tomatoes”. It is all about personal connections to get any attention in the publishing world, especially traditional publishing but also self publishing industry people. I had to meet a person who works at Good Reads first, before the organization would ever respond to my emails, which I had sent many of, before ever going to a book show.
Be social, treat everyone like they could personally own Random House, or Good Reads. You are talking about your book, and you have already had tons of conversations with strangers and distant family members about these ideas, so you are well rehearsed for the book show already, if you have made it this far.
Publishers, book reviewers, do not like to go around saying who they are and who they are connected to, or wearing a badge that says so. People who like books are not flashy people. They like to look around the book show, come up on your site, and ask questions like they are a average reader, just looking for a book to buy. People connected into the self publishing and traditional publishing industry like to stay incognito for the most part.
You know you have meet an industry person, and “hit the jackpot” when someone says, ‘Oh I know so and so” or “I work for X reviews”, after you have talked about your story or big idea, for a few minutes. If they bring it up, it is a way of saying, I am interested, you can now talk to me like I am somebody with connections who you would want to do serious business with. When you hear someone mention they are connected in any sort of manner, immediately change your tone and act business-like. You are not really talking about your story any more at this point.
Read the book or books on the subject “how to think like an editor”, you can find a bunch of them at Amazon. Why will your book sell? What sort of market is out there? How large is your customer base? What other books that are selling well are like or in a similar genre to your book? Switch over to talking about your book in this manner, the moment someone mentions they are connected. They are opening themselves up to you to see how serious you are about being in this industry, but they are not going to say “I am interested in passing along your contact or publishing your book directly”. No one talks like that.
They need to be sold on why they should be interested in your product. If they are going to publish it for you, as a republished book like “50 Shades of Grey”, then they need to be assured they are making a good business investment. If they are going to pass your book along to someone that they know, they need to be assured that they will be passing along a business gem to their friend. You will meet many people with connections, tell them why they would look smart letting their friends in on this gem they found.
Follow these steps and I do not guarantee success, however, I can point out that the way that I achieved publishing is what more and more experts are now describing as the new way that authors publish successfully.
“Well, traditional publishers are in the business of not publishing books but of selling books. And there's a big difference there. So they seek to acquire books and authors who they think have the greatest commercial potential. But the challenge here is they really don't know which books are going to go on to become bestsellers. Only readers know that.” - Mark Coker (6)
“… a lot of authors saying should I go to self-publishing and test the market and be a proven market? And the answer is Yes, you can do that.”- Angela James (10)
“James talked earlier about using self-publishing as a “testing ground” - that is going to work to a certain extent and publishers are certainly, obviously watching that very closely” – Angela James (10)
Remember you can only enter into this type of relationship, if you can bring to the table that you have a tested product. You talked to the people, you worked out the idea by seeing what people responded to, and now you have a book’s worth of treatment of that material. The publisher does not have that, and frankly its not their job to, they are good at connecting you to everyone else out there it takes to sell an idea, a book. Doing the “ground work” is up to you the writer – it is your sacred duty as a good writer to test out your material as you work on it or put more popularly in the publishing industry “to get to know your reader”.
A word on converting from Self Published to Traditionally Published!
A lot of writers do not like doing this because they feel that they are giving up freedom. I disagree. When you move from a book you published on your own, to working with a company, you will be bound by more contractual obligations, limits on what you can say and do, and you will have more of the profit taken away. This is completely true. However, I think what authors are really upset about is the freedom of expression that is being taken away moving into a contractual agreement with a company, not the money or the other boundaries. And it is this feeling of having freedom to express yourself taken away that I feel is incorrect.
You had the opportunity to write your story just as your wanted it, and to show that story to the entire world. And by this point, many people have seen or heard of your story or idea the way that you wanted to tell it. So your original vision in its pure form is out there. Moving to working with a company to achieve reaching many more readers, and having to give up some freedom to do that, is okay, because these new readers of the revised version of your work, will know what your original vision was. Someone who likes your traditionally published book, will ask what was different about this book from the self published one. New readers will come to know about your self-published book.
You are not giving anything up, you are providing a tunnel to your original vision, and all tunnels have to have structure, which is called boundaries of expression and contractual obligations in the world of publishing.
Why give up all of this freedom, because the traditional publishers have connections. Self publishing is a great way to get into the market, but I personally believe it is a misguided concept to believe that just anyone can social network their book to wide fame. Learning to navigate the internet to the point that you can master the social networking sites like a Perez Hilton is a unique skill. As unique as the skills of publicity, market analysis, and media sophistication.
You either hire the new tech highly skilled person to help sell your book or you work with the traditional marketing skilled person and share part of the profits. But the concept that you can learn all of the traditional marketing and new social networking skills is a foolish dream in my personal opinion. Yes, some people who have no experience are great at it, but some people are also “naturals’ at throwing a football and throwing a baseball really fast. People have innate skill sets, and I think the skillset of most writers is to be introverts who can sit and think for long periods of time. Other people have other skill sets, buy or persuade those people with skill sets to work with you. That is my best advice from my personal experience. Entering into a structure with Traditional Publishers is a great way to do this. Of course do your homework before you sign anything.
“While Bankhead is a staunch advocate of self-publishing potential and prominent supporter of the Smashwords digital self-publishing platform … he also acknowledges the well-oiled machine that spans libraries, publishing, and popular culture (review sources, television interviews, best sellers lists, etc.) that is designed to promote efficiently a relatively narrow swath of published materials.” - Josh Hadro (5)
“If an author self-publishes, what, then, is the role of a literary agency? …the agency brought experience in marketing and jacket design. It also has relationships with the digital publishers that give their clients access to plum placement on sites that self-published authors can’t obtain on their own.” - Leslie Kaufman (8)
Marcus Ruiz Evans, is the author of “California’s Next Century 2.0” published by Mikazuki Publishing House, which talks about how to make California the richest nation in the world, and is in negotiation with a publishing company in Northern California, for a follow-up to the book, due out this year called “California’s Next Generation”.
YouTube video explaining book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUYRS3IE3Xc&feature=youtu.be
Amazon page for book:
One - “Self-publishing gains bigger share of book market” by Rick Townley, The Washington Times, June 12, 2013
Two - “Self-publishing industry explodes, brings rewards, challenges” by Carlos Harrison, Miami Herald, 11 11 2012 http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/11/3092294/self-publishing-industry-explodes.html#storylink=cpy
Three – “Self-publishing is the future — and great for writers” by Hugh Howey, Salon.com, Apr 4, 2013
Four - “The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book” By Miral Sattar, PBS.org, May 15, 2013
Five - “What’s the Problem with Self-Publishing?” By Josh Hadro, Library Journal, April 11, 2013
Six - “Self-Publishing Now The First Choice For Some Writers” NPR, All Things Considered,
February 04, 2013
Seven - “‘Vanity' Press Goes Digital” By Geoffrey A Fowler, and Jeffery A Trachtenberg, Wall Street Journal, June 2 2010
Eight - “New Publisher Authors Trust: Themselves” By Leslie Kaufman, New York Times, April 16, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/17/business/media/david-mamet-and-other-big-authors-choose-to-self-publish.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Nine - Are Self-Publishing Authors Killing the Publishing Industry?” by Melissa Foster, for Indie.com, posted on Huffington Post, 10/24/2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/self-publishing-authors-killing-publishing-ebook_n_2008374.html
Ten - “Panel on Self-Publishing” CSPAN, BookTV, May 31, 2013, filmed at Book Expo America, held May 29- June 1, 2013, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/313012-3
Note: Marcus Evans is a native of Fresno, where he has done most of his writing. He is available for public speaking on this work and on how to get published. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org