I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what I have learnt from my year of self-publishing, and the best way to do this is to summarise it in point form:
- Writing the book is the easy part. With so many people self-publishing, the hard work is making your book discoverable. And this . . .
- Costs money. Amazon, for example, is a 'pay to play' model. So, if you go with Amazon, you need to take out ads because their algorithm favours those who pay. It makes sponsored ads more visible. I know an author who spends 5,000 a week on advertising - sure, she reaps the benefits by earning millions. Some of us don't even like buying from Amazon, though, let alone paying them to promote our content.
- It's true that you need reviews, but they are hard to get. Your family may buy your books. Some of your friends might say they will buy but never do. Some will say, 'sure, I'll leave a review' and they don't. You are then left with the choice of hounding and begging for reviews or sucking it up. It is best to pay no attention to reviews (even as a book buyer) because there are many reasons behind positive reviews (friends and family, if they leave reviews) and negative ones (plain nasty people, loyal fans of another author you're in the same genre as, etc).
- You must also understand that reviews are for readers, not the author. Readers have all sorts of different tastes, so your book (even though it's your baby and you think it's good), may not get a 5-star rating. Again, suck it up.
- You may be scammed or pirated. On Goodreads, authors were being asked to cough up money so they wouldn't get a 1-star review. Book piracy is common. Illegal downloading sites exist, but does an author actually lose money? People who use these sites are after the free stuff and would probably never have bought your book anyway. Who knows, maybe if they read your 'pirated' book and love it, they might buy one of your titles.
- You can spend a staggering amount of time promoting your book, using sites like Book Funnel, making clever TikTok videos (hoping one will go viral), building up an email list, and so on. To a certain extent, these are good strategies, but they take you away from writing. I decided to spend minimum time on promoting and get on with writing as much as possible to have a back catalogue of books.
- Back to Amazon. You can get good page reads if your book is available on Kindle Unlimited, but then you're locked in for 90 days with Amazon. I noticed after three months, my page reads went down - there are only so many subscribers on KU and only so many interested in your genre, so, eventually, you run out of readers or newer books have come along.
- Amazon does not support authors. I had a negative review for one book because the reviewer said the first page of every chapter of the e-book was missing. I asked Amazon what was going on (because it was not missing). Turns out it was an error in downloading to the reader's device, but the review remained because (as Amazon told me) the reviewer has the right to leave a review. Sure, but when the review is unfair to the author (whose e-book did not have the first page missing), it is not supportive of the very people who create the content Amazon leverages off.
- Which is why for On Jacaranda Street, I decided to try wide distribution and not be exclusively on Amazon. Early days yet, so I'll let you know how that goes.
- Teen influencers are driving the publishing industry. Yep, on TikTok, Gen Z influencers are making bite-sized videos set to snappy music, talking about books they love and they are generating sales. Colleen Hoover's Verity is a good example of this (go off and google - I'll wait). In some cases, books published years ago (like Song of Achilles and A Little Life) were discovered and embraced by BookTok (the community of readers and creators on TikTok focusing on books), resulting in a renaissance of interest in titles. Teen influencers love fantasy novels, YA and new adult fiction, vampires, and dark academia.
- So, you can write to market and appeal to the teen influencers or you stay in your lane and write what you want (which is what I do). The likelihood of my books ever being discovered by a TikToker is remote, but hey, you never know.
- Which leads me to my final point. Allowing Amazon to publish your book or going with another publishing and distribution platform is a good way to start out. The cost of offering you these platforms, though, means authors don't end up with a whole lot for their creative efforts. Amazon, for example, charges authors a fee for when their e-book is bought and transmitted to the reader's device, and you get a certain percentage in royalties based on how you're engaging with Amazon (35% or 70%).
- Using Amazon and other publishing platforms means that the author's number one goal is generating book sales above all else (and I am not saying that is wrong. If it's what the author wishes to do, then all power to that author). For me, books sales are secondary because I want to grow my author platform, get a conversation going, give readers a peek into my research or what books I'm thinking of writing, connect with readers and allow readers to get to know me. This means the author's in it for the long haul because fans and readers don't flock to the website overnight. I've been blogging since 2007 (the blog I retired before having this website is still up and I blogged there for 10 years - so blogging is my way of having a conversation. Go have a snoop if you'd like to get to know me even more).
- When the time is right, this website can become transactional and I can sell my books or offer a free novella in exchange for email sign up. I'll be thinking this through in 2022 because, long-term, I don't want my writing career to be in the hands of Amazon and other platforms.
So, this is what I've learnt after a year of self-publishing. I've thoroughly enjoyed the process, and even had some readers emailing me to say they enjoyed Ashgrove Park (and believe me when I say that is THE BEST thing!).