Robert Sullivan is a self-published author, blogger, social media manager, and more.
So you paid your dues, learned how to get past writer's block, and finished your manuscript and it’s time to get that bad boy out there and making some money… But, it can be a little hard to persuade an agent to sign on a newbie. So you go online and turn to self-publishing. Which although it carried a bit of a stigma in the past, it really has become a popular method for aspiring authors to get their work out there, and truth be told, it works! But before you go getting yourself in over your head, there are some things you ‘ought to know about taking this road.
1. Paper or Digital?
The first thing you should consider is whether or not you want your book to be on paper, or if digital is fine. I am going to recommend if you are just getting started that you go digital. It’s not that paper books are bad, in fact there are plenty of readers out there who prefer them, it’s just that paper books often require an investment to self-publish. Now there are print on demand services, which have made things a lot easier, although if you are going for the least hassle, then digital is going to be right up your alley. You won’t have to worry about inventory, shipping, proof copies, or any of the headache that comes with physical products. Now you may want to upgrade to paper books later, but it’s a good idea to see if you can get some sales before you go down that road.
2. Which Platform?
Alright, so if you are getting into digital distribution, then what is the best platform? Your head might be spinning with all the options out there. There’s Google, Amazon, Smashwords, Lightpress… there’s actually so many options I am not even going to try and name them all! But I think a story will answer this question pretty nicely. Me and a friend both published books, they went with Smashwords. It’s a good platform because it actually pushes you book to multiple other platforms, which is great. Chances are it’s probably what you would consider too, but let me tell you a little secret, I went with Amazon… That’s it, just Amazon. It sounds kind of dumb because I am only limiting myself to one platform, but let’s look at the facts. I continue to get royalties month after month, and even got over 400 downloads in a single day! While my friend has gotten… none. That’s right not a single sale.
What is going on there? It’s actually quite simple. If you sign up for Amazon’s kindle unlimited program, and I highly recommend you do, you are allowed to free marketing tools that Amazon provides, this is in exchange for them being the sole digital distributor. They let you do free giveaways for limited periods of time, which drastically increases sales afterwards. You also get paid for people reading you book for free if they have a Kindle Unlimited subscription. I make about half of my income off of the KDP pages read system, trust me it works.
Now you can put your book for free on Smashwords too, but there is one more caveat. If you combined all of the other distributors of digital books together, I don’t think they would be equal to the size of Amazon. It’s the most trusted market place for books, and it's no coincidence that most people only buy from Amazon. I did my homework and knew this coming in, which is why I’ve had some success.
That being said, you should intend to use Smashwords in the future, because Amazon doesn’t allow you to give a book away for free permanently. Do I sound crazy yet? Why would you want to give away a book for free permanently? The answer is simple, to increase sales. This only works if you have more than one book in a series, but thousands of people will download a book for free. If you give away the first book for free, then about one out of every nine people will go on to download the next book, even if they have to pay.
So Smashwords is good for giving away the first book in a series for free, but Amazon is where you want to make the money off the sequels, got that? Good!
Here’s a video explaining how to get set up on Amazon.
I’m not going to give you the cliché advice that most other people would at this point. You already know that your book has to be proofread, and have a good cover. So instead I want to give you these warnings, because people tend to think they can outsmart the computers.
3. Don’t Try to Cheat the System!
- Do not pay for good reviews
- Do not have family members leave reviews (friends are ok)
- Do not spam email people you don’t know about your book
- Don’t pick a genre that doesn’t match your book to try and get more traffic
I know these sound like they would work, and maybe some of them will for a little while, but you have to remember, digital publishers update their system mechanics constantly. If you start to get an unfair advantage in the market place because of a loophole, they will find it, plug it, and punish your account for it. They may even ban you from using their system again. In short, you will get caught, and it will not be worth it.
4. Book Series Sell Significantly Better Than Stand Alone Books.
This is made even more true by the first book is free tactic.
5.Paid Marketing Works—but Only to an Extent.
You aren’t going to go from nothing to top of the charts by paying for advertising, but you can get consistent sales at a profit if you learn the system, and test what works. (I’d go into more detail here, but the effective prices per campaign change from book to book, so you’re just going to have to try)
6. Reviews Can Take a Long Time to Come In.
I want you to take a look at how many reviews I’ve gotten for this book I wrote, The Red X.
At the time of writing this article, as you can see, it has two reviews. Only two, but this books has been downloaded thousands of times! Do you see what I mean? A book can actually do quite well even if no one reviews it, and sometimes it takes a while to get them. So be patient, and don’t worry if you aren’t getting a crazy number of reviews.
7. It Takes Five Books to Earn Money for the Average Author
The last thing I want to share with you is this, if you are really in this for the long run, then it takes five books on average for an author to start to make significant money. Don’t get me wrong. I still would have been writing books, but I would have planned the first five out very differently if I had known that in the first place. I would have written a 5 book series as my first run, and stuck to it, rather than a couple stand alone books, then getting into series’ later.
With all that in mind I hope you the best success you can possibly have while publishing your new book. It's tricky to get it right, but definitely worth it in the end. Publishing your own book can make such a difference, and it's even better when it actually gets some sales right?
If you have any questions, or advice, then please feel free to leave them in the comments. I would be happy to get back to you.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
mik Per on May 23, 2020:
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Allie Hopkins on August 12, 2019:
Great piece of advice. I am a writer on https://exclusive-paper.net/ and I mostly specialize in academic writing. In my spare time I write novels for myself. I have a few of them and plan to self-publish. Thanks for recommendations of self-publishing.
Kate on October 24, 2018:
Very good advice. But as for me, you forgot about one more thing. I don't say that it is necessary, but I do that. This is a professional review. Before any self-publishing, it is necessary that some of the professionals look at your book (or other work) and give their assessments. For example, I use the services of these https://wowgrade.com/write-my-literature-review guys. They write exclusive literary reviews on any topic.
Gina Hammons on June 18, 2018:
I already have 5 book series but sense this is My passion should I try something else first like a journal or short series?
Also is there a instruction guide on how to correctly write & get passed the manuscript I've did 10yrz of notes the 5 series book could write itself if it want for the manuscript obstacle!Ugh!
Robert P Sullivan (author) on July 19, 2017:
Hmm, I think I just might do that, and thanks for the review!
bruce on July 19, 2017:
nice article, thanks. perhaps you could write another one about marketing strategies and your results...i mean i'm sure you are busy and everything but that is something a lot of people probably need help with...
to anyone that reads this: he warnings about cheating the system (Amazon at least) are spot on. i made a fake amazon account and they nabbed me and threatened to ban me completely. not sure how, but must have been some based on IP addresses, even though I thought I was being careful, might have slipped up like once or twice. just...don't do it. also my parents reviewed all three of my books and they didn't go for that either, which just isn't fair...lol.
it is very hard to get reviews...
Robert P Sullivan (author) on July 17, 2017:
No problem! I've just seen too many people who self-publish their books, and don't get a single sale. Either that or they get so few they are discouraged and think it's their fault, when in reality there are tons of books out there which just need a little more effort to start making some profit. Glad I could help!
Annabelle Johnson from Charente, France on July 17, 2017:
Very useful advice which makes total sense. Thank you for sharing your experience.