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December 23, 2013

Guest Post – Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book by A.P. Fuchs

How-To-Self-Pub

In an age of self-publishing hype and scattered sources of reliable information, it’s difficult for the would-be self-publisher to learn how to properly launch their career and avoid the inevitable pitfalls the world of independent publishing is known for. Not anymore. Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book is by self-publishing veteran A.P. Fuchs, who has been self-publishing fiction for nearly a decade. From getting suckered in by a vanity press to learning the hard truth behind successful self-publishing, A.P. Fuchs has been through the school of hard knocks and beyond, coming out on the other side with a publishing platform that has enabled him to support his family while independently publishing fiction. In Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book you will learn: the most critical lesson about self-publishing you will ever discover; a no-nonsense, non-hyped approach to desktop publishing; proper paperback and eBook formatting; book marketing strategies for on-line and off-line sales; all explained in an easy-to-understand, step-by-step format, helping you to take your finished manuscript to market with ease; paperback and eBook publishing checklists and notes section. No hype. No bologna. Just pure, honest self-publishing. If you’re tired of the confusion, tired of the hype and just want a simple and concise way to properly self-publish your book and be successful at it, then Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book is required reading for any serious self-publisher, whether just starting out or having self-published already.

 

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Guest-Post

Top Ten List of Truths for Self-publishers 
by A.P. Fuchs

 

Self-publishing has been around for a long, long time. In fact, that’s how writers used to publish their work before the whole big trade system came along. Self-publishing has also always—always—been a viable way to make a living as a writer, but the problem was most writers who tried it didn’t execute it properly and ended up losing a ton of money, were taken advantage of by dishonest companies, or simply sat on a pile of books because they didn’t know how to move them.

Or was that just me?

Nowadays, self-publishing is easier than ever before, but like those days long ago, many writers don’t know what to do or where to start, or if they do find information on-line, it’s not always complete. As a ten-year self-publishing veteran and one who has been doing it full time since the spring of 2009 before the indie revolution, there are several truths about long-term self-publishing that I’ve discovered over the years and want to share here.

My Top Ten List of Truths for Self-publishers in no particular order:

1. Self-publishing is completely feasible to make a living at with the proper knowledge.

When I started, I had no idea about the book business, how it worked, who to talk to or what to do other than knew I needed a publisher. After a string of rejection letters, I ended up putting out my first book through a subsidy press. They call themselves “self-publishing houses,” but they’re not. The moment any “publisher” charges a service for a fee, they fall into the category of a subsidy press with you, the writer, subsidizing them. With that press, it cost me $2500 and all I had to show for it was a badly-written book—with a good story, but terrible writing—and no audience. Despite spamming the news lists in those days—didn’t know any better—nothing really came out of it. Had I done my research into what real self-publishing was, I would’ve found out that it’s not paying someone else to publish your book, but rather covering all the costs yourself, learning how to produce a professional product, and doing all the tasks of a publisher for your own work.

What I should’ve done was spent several evenings combing the Internet and reading books about self-publishing, learning the requirements, what legalities might be involved, learning software, and researching success stories and learning from those who made a go of it, did well, and then applied those lessons to my own career.

But I didn’t take the time to learn and paid a high price for it, not just financially, but mentally and emotionally as well.

There’s a cost to self-publishing, but the good news is this cost becomes less and less the more one learns about it. Though I am a firm believer in hands-on learning, even going through trials for some lessons, research and taking one’s time before jumping into the pool is always strongly encouraged.

I wish someone would’ve told me to do the same way back then, so I’m here to tell you—if no one else is—to research, research, research. You’ll save yourself a boatload of headaches and heartaches later if you do. Be ready to listen to others who’ve “been there and done that.” Be willing to hear the stuff you want to hear and the stuff you don’t want to hear. In short, be willing to learn regardless of the lesson. No one is a master right out of the gate, and even those who seem to have perfected a system of publishing are always learning themselves.

2. You need to work hard.

Aside from catching a break and getting caught in Amazon’s “customers who bought this book also bought this other one” loop or finding yourself a regular on the bestsellers thus maintaining your visibility, self-publishing is hard work. Not only do you need to put in the hours to write the actual book, you need to put in the time to perfect the book during the rewrite stages, the willingness to listen to and work with an editor and, eventually, putting in the time formatting the book for paperback, eBook and possibly hardcover. Then, later, to stand out amongst the hundreds of thousands of books published each year, you need to make a solid effort marketing their title so people know about it while you also write and produce the next book. For many writers, if this isn’t their fulltime gig, they find it difficult to maintain a day job, family and putting in the time for their writing career. Many quit along the way because the workload-without-always-an-immediate-payoff gets to them and they get discouraged. Understandable, for sure, but sad when they walk away.

You see, the challenges aren’t always a book not selling well. Sometimes these challenges are the people in our lives, those telling us to get a real job or “it’s fine to dream but make sure you have something stable,” or those who just don’t get why we spend hours upon hours writing stories [hopefully] first for our own amusement and then for the amusement of others. Their words cut. Their words hurt. Their words sometimes put a stop to things before they even begin.

Their words—even actions—become the challenge and sometimes make the inherent challenges of writing and publishing easy by comparison.

Going into self-publishing knowing you’ll have to make a sincere effort will help make that effort easier. I know many who jump into self-publishing thinking it’ll be a breeze only to quickly get discouraged and overwhelmed when the workload kicks in. Prepping your mental state ahead of time will help see you through those 3 AM rewrite sessions when the coffee brewer runs out.

The good news is as your career grows, this becomes easier because practice makes anything simpler and less time-consuming (our first go-round is always the longest). At the same time, working hard at the writing and production of a book is usually lifelong for any self-publisher and until one’s name can sell books all by themselves, the marketing work needs to be there, too.

3. Diversify, diversify, diversify.

I’ve been self-publishing for ten years and I’ve seen trends come and go, markets come and go, and formats come and go. For the longest time, hardcopy books were all that were available so that’s what people bought. Later, as the Internet grew, PDF eBooks were a big deal and folks were making a mint off them while paperback sales were so-so. After that, things returned to paperbacks and that was the main market on-line and off-. Now eReaders have come along and eBooks have taken over. Truth is, this stuff is cyclical and things will either balance out and paperbacks will gain ground again, or might even become the norm once more. We really don’t know, and that’s the truth. This business changes like crazy and has been changing more rapidly since Joe Author has been able to keep up with the big boys with greater and greater ease. What happens next, only time will tell.

And as a self-publisher, you need to be ready for it.

In the realm of independent publishing, the self-publisher needs to diversify their distribution and take advantage of all the outlets and not just focus on one or two. I know many guys who put all their eggs into the Kindle basket and now their sales have dried up because the market’s flooded. They didn’t diversify and are paying for it. On the other hand, those I know who have their books available via more than a couple channels are just fine because they can afford it when one channel lags behind for one reason or another. It’s like your book(s) is riding a series of rollercoasters simultaneously: some go up while others go down, but at the end of the day, you’re still moving books because readers buy their books from more than one source in more than one format. The more sources and formats you’re in, the more consistent your paycheck at the end of the month thus making it easier for you to put in the time to keep the self-publishing machine going.

Case in point, I do the e-market, sure, but recently just did a comic convention and was netting $8-10 a book and I sold a lot of books. I can’t hand readers eBooks, but I can hand them paperbacks, and since I use an affordable printer, my per-unit cost is very low and thus make out well come time for direct sales. And I print on demand, too, by the way.

I also had a couple eBook channels go out of business recently, but that was okay because my eBooks were available elsewhere and not just at those two places so the hit wasn’t all that bad.

Bottom line: your paperback venues, eBook venues and even hardcover ones, if you go that route, need to be available in as many places as possible so that when the market fluctuates for good or ill, you’ll still be able to pull through. I’m not suggesting to stretch yourself too thin either and sign up with every distributor on the planet. If you’re a one-person-band, your time and attention only go so far so keep things reasonable, of course, but certainly keep them varied.

4. Write a good book.

The biggest book marketer of all time is word-of-mouth. That’s why when a certain book or series gets popular, it suddenly sees a giant spike in sales: everyone’s talking about it. Sometimes a book is popular because it’s popular since people generally ride bandwagons for their entertainment, but other times it’s because a book is genuinely a good book that word spreads. Writing a good book helps increase the chances of that and helps encourage those who’ve read it to tell others. It also serves as a resume of sorts for your other titles. If a reader likes Title A, he/she is more apt to try Title B because Title A was written so well. If you turn them off the first time because of bad writing, then you’re only shooting your backlist in the foot. There is so much to choose from in this competitive market that the reader will move onto someone else in the hopes of a better written book. And let’s be honest, writers—or any artist—are a dime a dozen. You need to do well to rise above the crowd.

Simply put: write a good book, and if you’re thinking of self-publishing your first book, make sure it’s objectively good and isn’t just good because you and your mom think so. See what other seasoned writers think. See what a beta reader group thinks. Most people’s first novels aren’t that great as the writer is still learning their craft. I know mine was a stinker. Great story, but terrible writing.

Best to put a strong foot forward and take your time learning your craft before getting all excited and jumping into the pool. That’s one of the reasons the market is so painfully flooded right now. Everyone’s publishing everything. The idea of publishing whatever and finding your audience doesn’t hold any water and the current climate proves that. Publish “whatever,” sure, but make sure it’s a good whatever, you know? If you’re serious about this business, you’ll want to be in it for the long haul and being known as the writer who consistently writes good books—regardless of sales volume—can only help you in the long run. This business is a marathon, not a sprint.

5. You need to be attractive on the inside and on the outside.

And, no, I’m not talking about your looks. (Have you seen some author photos lately? Sheesh. Kidding.)

Anyway . . .

An exciting and attractive book cover will make your book stand out amongst the rest. Don’t know how to make an attractive book cover? Either learn how or hire someone who does. There are certain elements that need to be in play to hook the reader’s attention, everything from color choice to graphics, to eye flow, to font size and other items. If you don’t understand these items and how they apply to your genre(s), you need to learn how. This is why you see so many books out on Kindle and elsewhere that have terrible covers. The author cheaped out and didn’t put as much effort into the cover as they did into writing the book. A book’s cover is part of the creative process of a novel. It’s its “clothes,” so to speak. You can have the greatest book in the world, but if the cover stinks, then odds are you’ll be the only one who’ll read your book.

Assuming your cover has interested the reader, they’ll pick your book off the shelf or “search inside” it via an on-line retailer, so having an equally nice interior is also important. It’s about creating the whole package for them and a properly formatted interior makes a better reading experience for the reader and, later, will make them more likely to check out your other books because they had such a pleasant experience with that first one. It also demonstrates you take your fiction/non-fiction seriously since evident care was put into the book’s presentation. People pick up on it whether consciously or otherwise.

6. Long gone are the days of just writing and nothing else.

Like I said before, unless you catch a break or find yourself in Amazon’s “also bought” loop and bestseller lists, you’ll have to market your work. This goes beyond just having a website and telling your friends on Facebook and Twitter about it (though those items are a good start). Even if you scored a traditional deal, you’ll need to put in the time to market your work until you have such a large fan base you know they’ll pick up everything you write regardless of what it is and all that’s needed is an announcement.

A suggestion is to dedicate at least one day a week to marketing or, if you can spare it, do a minimum of two things a day to tell others about your book, two things that involve both the on-line and off-line worlds. Marketing on-line is harder, actually, because you’re competing with so many more voices. Local off-line marketing is much easier—unless there are two hundred thousand authors all shouting about their books in your local bookstore.

Take the time to set up things like newspaper/radio/magazine/blog/website interviews, book signings, convention appearances, social media efforts, trunk-of-car sales, magazine ads and others.

It takes time. It takes work. But that’s what it takes. Simply uploading your book to one or two platforms doesn’t cut it anymore.

7. Utilize both the on- and off-line worlds.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing solely on on-line sales. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, and I’ve had good times and bad times with it.

Like I said about diversifying, you need to be both on-line and off-line with your book.

My book, Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book, walks you through both processes step-by-step with your average self-publisher’s budget (a few hundred bucks). It gives a well-rounded approach to publishing and emphasizes using both the virtual and real worlds.

I will admit, however, there is an on-line bias and that’s because of the off-line world’s system of book returns. You can be in every bookstore in every country, but unless your book sells and stays sold—bookstores allow customers to return books after all—you face the potential nightmare of having a ton of books returned to you at your expense. Google some book return horror stories. Some of them are downright scary.

At the same time, off-line sales pose the chance to make a good buck per book. Like I mentioned about my convention experience—and I’ve been doing conventions steadily for seven years—I netted $8-10 a book. Can’t do that on-line because even books sold through on-line retailers require the retailers get a cut.

Book signings, convention signings, book events, public readings, direct sales to family, friends, co-workers, strangers should all be part of the self-publisher’s arsenal on top of on-line sales through the usual suspects, whether those on-line sales are for eBooks or paperbacks.

8. Publishing costs money.

A lot of writers struggle with cash. I totally get that. I was once homeless because of me chasing this dream and have lived close to the breadline a few times as I pursued it. It’s hard when you look in your cupboard and only see a can of soup and you have a family to feed. It’s hard when part of your income is walking back alleys looking for beer cans to cash in. I fully sympathize with any writer struggling right now and those who have struggled. However, the one thing that has always been consistent is it costs money to publish whether one is struggling or not. You need to either save up, work a few extra hours at the day job, get a second job, sell some stuff, do pre-orders or something else to raise capital.

Some people you’ll need to pay: an editor; book cover artist and/or book cover designer; printer set up; office supplies; paper and ink to print out your manuscripts; marketing expenses; other.

It costs money, too, if you want to get in books for events, signings and other things. However, you can quickly make it back if you get in small quantities like, say, 20-25 books a pop. (i.e. print books at $4 a book, sell them at $15. I’ve made back my $100 printer bill after the tenth copy sells. Copies eleven through twenty-five are all gravy.)

9. Stick to your own thing.

Like I mentioned earlier, trends come and go. Recently, there was a huge zombie boom in literature and doing zombie books was like printing money. Now that bubble’s burst and the sales aren’t there like before. I know this from personal experience and from talking to those in my publishing circles.

Vampires were huge for a while and those books were moving like crazy. Now, not as much on the whole. Urban fantasy is the new thing. Those are moving like hotcakes at the moment. But you know what? That’ll change, too, so unless you’re willing to write whatever is hot at the moment, you’re better off just writing what you enjoy. While it’s true some genres sell better than others (i.e. romance has always been a solid seller), you’re better off just doing your thing. Your joy in writing whatever your genre is will come through on the page and make a better book. You’ll build your brand as “that guy/girl who writes thriller/mystery/superhero/weird” fiction and will develop your following of readers who love that stuff as a result. That’s the trick: finding that niche market of readers who’ll support you for each release. The goal after finding them is to grow that group and sticking to one or two genres goes a long way in making that happen.

If your genre isn’t hot right now, odds are it will be at some point. I never thought I’d see the day where superheroes are all over popular culture. Thanks to Marvel’s efforts at the box office—and if DC gets their act together, them too, and Man of Steel was a sign their new shared universe is off to a good start—they’re everywhere, more than at any other point in history, and it’s put a spotlight into my main genre: superhero fiction (The Axiom-man Saga) and the (Metahumans vs series of anthologies). Good deal for me. I stuck to my thing and now it’s poised to pay off.

10. Have fun.

Nothing kills creativity like discouragement. When we first start out writing, we’re all gung ho and looking to make a career. We’re hungry for it and sacrifice anything to get it—I was homeless trying to make this happen, remember? Sometimes success comes right away, other times you got to toil away for years and years. Look at J.A. Konrath. He put in around twenty years before things really came together. I’m sure there were times the fun stopped and, dare I say, he even considered quitting. But he didn’t. He made it work, made it fun and kept on going. Now it’s paid off.

Writing is an art form above all else and there are many writers who never catch a break and just toil away at it their whole lives. They’ll say it’s because “they can’t help themselves but write,” but what does that mean? It means they’re having fun regardless of payoff. Writing is a source of joy for them and completes them in some way. Whether you publish or not, there needs to be a fun element. Very, very few writers write solely for money and hate every minute they actually write.

Publishing should be fun, too, even if success doesn’t happen right away. Transforming a book from a manuscript into an actual book with two covers is an art form, a fun art form, and should be part of the joy of creating something from nothing just like writing the story. In fact, it’s becomes highly addictive after a while.

Writing should be about honesty and good times. If it’s not, why bother?

Anyway, thanks for reading my Top Ten List of Truths for Self-publishers. There are more, but these are the big ones. Others can be found in my book, Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book, which walks you step-by-step through the publishing process for print and eBooks, formatting, cover design, marketing and more. It’s an entire self-publisher’s education between two covers, one that covers multiple eBook and paperback markets, and is meant to be the ultimate go-to guide for the career indie author.

Thanks.

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

A.P. Fuchs writes and publishes fulltime from Winnipeg, MB, and is most well known for his superhero series, The Axiom-man Saga. He spends most of his time writing about zombies and publishing books about them. His shoot em zombie novel, Blood of the Dead, is about just that and, obviously, goes without saying but hes saying it anyway.

He is also an avid movie buff and his reviews are posted at www.canisterx.com,Amazon.com/.ca.co.uk, Barnesandnoble.com, and his Myspace page at www.myspace.com/apfuchs. Likewise, movies are discussed and reviewed on Canister Xs Youtube channel atwww.youtube.com/canisterx

Fuchs also writes non-fiction, Twitters a lot and writes in his blog thats here 5 to 6 days out of the week, sometimes more than once a day.

Hes also the owner and sole-proprietor of Coscom Entertainment, a publishing firm specializing in superhero and monster fiction.

Oh . . . as a few side things, he digs cooking, watching TV, making compost and following the exploits of Batgirl, Red Robin and Batman and Robin on a monthly basis.

He also has a few secrets of earth-shattering proportions, but hes not telling them now nor ever, and plans on taking them to his grave.

Connect with the Author:  Website | Twitter | Facebook

 

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