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The Business of Writing Self-Published Novels

I've written four self-published novels, and I am working on several more. I promote my novels, review others, and share what I know.

My muse and me

My muse and me

Why Do You Write?

When I go to public discussions, this is one of the questions I'm often asked. "Why do you write?" After Peter Benchley wrote Jaws, his response was simply, "to make money." Well, that's not an exact quote, but that was the gist of his response. I'm here to tell you that there is nothing dishonorable about writing novels for an income. Difficult, perhaps, but not dishonorable.

I know a lot of people will exalt the high principles of creating a masterpiece. That's great, and we who write novels do have a sense of pride in completing a novel and getting it published. But if we are going to continue writing and getting published we are either independently wealthy, have a lucrative second source of income, or we sell books. It's what getting published is all about. It is also the major difference between the independently published novelist and the novelist published by a traditional house.

As an independently published novelist, I chose a path that would get me into print faster, but not in front of readers. That is the business end of being a writer. There has always been a path around a traditional publishing house, but with the advent of the Internet. getting published has never been easier. The Internet also gives you greater access to readers, but it also puts a writer into a quagmire with other independently published writers all competing for the same readers.

I write because I love telling stories. If I had been born a lot of years ago, I would have been a minstrel or traveling storyteller. Additionally, it would be nice to make some money

It's not just about the art of writing

It's not just about the art of writing

The Business of Writing

Since a traditional publishing house has the resources, they can get your book in front of the right people and like a pyramid, that expands into reviews, hopefully, good ones, and others that will get you in front of readers (buyers)...

As an independently published novelist, I have to handle the business end myself. I don't have the answers, but I can share where I have been and what must be done, I'm still working on what works. As a writer/novelist, I would like to think what I have written was enough to get me in front of readers, but it isn't.

After I wrote my first novel, I was pretty proud. Getting over 40,000 words on paper was an accomplishment. It was in 2014 and I was focused on paperback books. I started making the tour of local bookstores and I had managed to join a local writing group. I set up a book signing and spent a fair amount of time putting out PR releases. While none of anything I had done was wrong, one thing was. I ignored the e-book market. My position was that it would thrive on its own. Wrong!

The one thing I did do that was right was Write my second novel. The second thing I did that was right was start a library of future novels. I have twelve in the pipeline. I wish I could say I got smarter about e-books in 2015, but I didn't. So my first move into e-book promotion was a disaster. I treated e-books as if they were paperbacks. That was also wrong. No exclamation this time, because I woke up very quick.

There is an irony here. I spent the last twenty years of my career in computers in internet marketing of education and as a Webmaster. By the way, I was good at it. It is embarrassing in how stupid I was. I decided to find a number of people whose business it was to promote, advertise and market e-books. The smartest thing I ever did.

They used to work in carnival tents

They used to work in carnival tents

Research on Research

Everybody online knows more about e-book promotion than I do. Or do they? For now, they probably do. I joined a bunch of writer's groups, that is a good thing. I took an online class that used training videos from James Patterson about writing. I'm glad I did, it helped to get me back on task. In addition, I did a lot of research on various marketing and promotion sites and looked for ones that made some sense to me. I found several. I also looked at internet marketing and promoting for possible solutions to my dilemma, getting my novels in front of people.

One of the first marketing promotion sites that looked good to me was "Your First 10,000 Readers". I even liked the name. Nick Stephenson has built himself an industry by using the very product he sells. He was and is an author who has written both fiction and non-fiction and he offers training and support for someone to get their first ten thousand readers. No simple goal. While it is true that he promotes his training and classes more than novels, the point is that he uses the process he advocates.

What I learned from him was that the substructure of internet promoting need to be in place before you start selling your books. If it isn't, then you are already behind. In fact, a lot of people preach it, so if you are not doing it, then get it done. Here is the list.

  • Get a website. No, it doesn't have to cost money. There are a lot of free website providers. I use wix.com. I have gone from free to pay because I wanted a specific domain name . Before I used the absurd name of "gposchman.wix.com/authorsite". what was absurd was I should have called it "gposchman.wix.com/jonaswatcher", that would have been far more searchable for the series name.
  • Get a FaceBook page. Not just a personal FaceBook page, but one as an author or your book or series. Yes even if you are not ready yet. Build a following as you develop your novel.
  • Get a Twitter account, LinkedIn page, a presence on Google and a free mailchimp or other email service. The good news is so far you haven't had to spend a dime.
  • Get an email that isn't gmail, yahoo, or other free email because you want to be able to send emails to a growing "fan base". This may not be free but it should be cheap. Check with your website host; they may be able to get you some emails for a reasonable cost. Mine cost $5 a month.
  • Create a blog that you can get for free, too. Try to be creative, no one cares how often you eat, or what you eat unless you are writing a cookbook.
  • You can get published for free on CreateSpace, Amazon, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords, They will tell you how (this article is not about that).

Now it is time to promote and market.

1930s San Francisco

1930s San Francisco

It's Free, Honest!

I have written three books in the Jonas Watcher Detective Mystery Adventure series, and I am working on the fourth book. I have spent way too much time on promotion and marketing, and I am behind where I want to be with my fourth book, but I should have been doing this two years ago. Better late than never.

Since I had three books I decided to set the first book as a permanent free offering as an e-book. I have heard a lot about whether having a free e-book is worth the effort, and I decided to take a chance. Since I wasn't really selling a lot of books, it couldn't hurt to have the first in the series for free. The problem is that Amazon has a hundred thousand free books. Free is good, but now what?

Within Amazon, you can select two major categories. I chose:

  • Fiction > Mystery & Detective > Private Investigators
  • Juvenile Fiction > Mysteries & Detective Stories

I also picked seven keywords ...

  • Detective, series pulp, book, thriller, suspense, mystery

I spent quite a bit of time coming with the categories and keywords. I have not quite figured out the Kindle categories. Categories provided in the e-book setup does not quite match the categories in the search groups. I have spent hours seeing if I can come across my novel by categories and keywords, though not very successfully. It is clear that I will need some outside access to get eyes on my book.

There isn't a shortage of those who say they will get eyes on my book, for free and of course for a fee. Most of the fees are reasonable if sites produced results as implied. The wording didn't guarantee an increase in purchases just impressions, which Amazon doesn't measure. The problem is finding one that works. Five, ten, twenty dollars can all be reasonable if they work. Most of these sites have a free option and I gave a bunch of them a try, I haven't really seen a jump in people picking up the book while using the free option.

Advertising Options

Press Releases

There are a number of sites that do this and most have a free option. There is a template for writing a good press release.

  • https://www.prlog.org/
  • https://www.onlineprnews.com/
  • https://www.onlineprnews.com/

I'm just listing this next group of advertisers because while I know they exist, I haven't used any yet. I'll be adding additional information as I get it. I will put out what little I know. Think of Amazon as a search engine, not a bookstore. Think of LinkedIn as a business social group. Facebook is a mini google with PPC. In order for it to work, you must understand how to get the most from PPC and what a good ROI is. The good and bad for twitter is you pay for an action, so make sure the action is the right one.

Amazon, Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter

Then there are the myriad of websites that have an audience and they promise to get you in front of their audience. You can use Alexa to check site ranking to see if they have the activity to justify using them.

Blog Tours

This is one that is tempting because there is actually some participation on your part. As I move forward, there will be more to tell.

TheFirst Three Novels of the Series

TheFirst Three Novels of the Series

Editors and Illustrators and Promoters, Oh My!

Somewhere you will have to come up with some money. Don't do your own book covers, I speak from experience. Get a great editor, I did. Also, I have my primary care physician, as an editor. Mac, he just appeared. Going the traditional route? Get an agent. As for book promotion, I am still working on that one. This article will work best if you as a reader have something to add. The one thing I discovered, "No Man is a publishing company." You will need help.

Good luck!

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.


Gene Poschman (author) from San Francisco Bay Area on January 13, 2017:

Jodah, I know a number of poets, some of my best friends are poets :) You have taken on the added burden of making every word count. And then there is the need for an intelligent audience to get it. Good luck. I will stick to the genre of detective adventures circa the 1930s.

What is clear to me is that getting eyes from outside sources is the answer, now I just have to find where I can make that happen.

Gene Poschman

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 13, 2017:

This was great "no holds barred" advice, Gene. Being an author is a hard road isn't it. Writing the book seems to be the easy part. Promoting and getting readers a real slog. I have never written a novel and don't know if I will but have written poetry books both hard copy and eBook (and write short fiction) so I know where you are coming from. Poetry is even harder to get people to read. It seems that now with self publishing so simple that there are just so many books and new authors out there and your book is just a tiny drop in a huge ocean. It sounds like it has been a learning process for you but you are beginning to conquer it. A blog tour sounds like a good idea.

Gene Poschman (author) from San Francisco Bay Area on January 13, 2017:

Hi Luke, Thank you for your comment. I hope that others will contribute. I alluded to doing a blog tour. I hope to gather enough information about blog tours to determine if it is worth the expense and time. This will require others who have done them to step forth and share their experiences.

JourneyHolm on January 13, 2017:

Gene, thank you for the words of wisdom! It's so frustrating getting your foot in any door as a writer. I too have found that it just takes a lot of reading about online marketing and many attempts to connect with other writers, editors, or publishers. I wish you the best of luck! Again, thank you for your article. It was informative and helpful :)

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