How Not to Release a Self-Published Novel
Technically, this is more of an article on what I failed to do, as opposed to what I did wrong, upon self-publishing my first e-book, but that's splitting hairs. Basically, this is a list of the main initiatives I would have, could have, should have undertaken before self-publishing Crimson & Cream back in 2012, and the things I'm doing now in preparation for the second edition release of Crimson & Cream and its follow-up, Mirrors & Mist. Mind you, there are a lot more things I failed to do than what I've listed below, although these are the ones I feel are most important.
- Ask for feedback on your work in progress. I'm quite independent by nature, and it was very hard for me to clear this hurdle. Even now, it's one of my most procrastinated activities. But it's been a difference maker thus far. Reach out to communities on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and any other social network you're involved in. Ask for beta readers. Beg for beta readers. Participate in groups and forums. Offer to swap critiques (although I don't recommend swapping reviews, as that can be a slippery slope). Find people to read your work who are willing to provide feedback and engage them early. Although I'm a thorough self-editor, it amazes me all the little things that slip through, even after multiple re-reads. Beta readers are invaluable.
- Scrape up some cash for a professional editor. I realize for many indie authors, extra cash is a luxury. However, if you can afford an editor, it's money well spent. If you have any budget for your self-publishing effort, hiring an editor should be your top priority. Use your social networks to shop for an editor that can work within your budget. Ask around for recommendations. Search for someone who works with your genre and check their references. Then cut them loose on your baby. I can't stress how important this is.
- Investigate Amazon's KDP Select program. Although KDP Select is an exclusive program that prevents you from selling your book anywhere else for a 90-day period, it offers benefits many authors swear by. I dismissed KDP Select because of the exclusivity, but after doing my homework, I think this was a mistake. Amazon is notorious for its ever-changing policies, and the KDP Select of today may not be the KDP Select of tomorrow, but for now, I intend to use it for at least one 90-day period when I release Mirrors & Mist. And instead of rehashing what I've read elsewhere online, I'll point you to a couple excellent posts about KDP Select that explain the pros and cons in detail.
- Make a plan (then try to follow it). There is no shortage of free advice available to the indie author, which is both a blessing and a curse. You're not going to be able to execute every marketing and self-promotion strategy out there. Pick your battles and select the strategies you're comfortable with. Write them down. Make a checklist, draw a flow chart, populate your calendar, whatever works for you, document it somehow and form it into an action plan. Update, tweak, and re-arrange your plan, but have a plan. Don't bank on remembering all the moving pieces of the self-promotion machine. Click here to see an example one of my plans.
- Solicit ARC reviewers. An Advance Reading Copy (ARC) is a polished, finished-product, pre-release version of your book that you want select reviewers to read and review prior to publishing. It's important to have reviews (hopefully positive) already posted on Amazon when you 'officially' release your book. Again, instead of reinventing the wheel, I'm going to refer you to my go-to blog, Indies Unlimited, for an excellent post on the ins and outs of ARCs:
- Consider a blog tour/hop. I've heard authors report both good and bad results on blog tours, but it's not something I tried the first time, so I'm giving it a shot this time around. You can solicit and schedule your own blog appearances, or hire someone to do it for you. Currently, I'm pursuing both options. Often, a blogger who cannot review your book will be willing to host a feature on their blog if you provide them the promotional materials (excerpt, cover, author bio, book links, giveaways, etc.). So if you're soliciting book reviews, remember to mention that you're also interested in other promotional options the blog may feature. It's a way to salvage a promotional opportunity from a declined review request.
Author Update: If you're interested in reviewing or featuring Crimson & Cream on your blog, or becoming a beta reader for Mirrors & Mist, please let me know--I'm always looking for more help. Below, I'd like to share a new map from the upcoming second edition of Crimson & Cream, available July 1, 2014, on Smashwords and Amazon.com.