Lessons in self-publishing – Week 1

About a week ago, give or take a day or two, I self-published my first book, Mantrap, to Amazon. (Hurray for me, high fives all around – which, when you’re alone, is really just clapping.) Here’s a breakdown of what my plan was for that first week and what I learned along the way.

Step 1: Publish when I am ready

Lessons in Self Publishing
It’s been one week since my first book was published.

I waited quite a while to publish my book. I nearly published in February, but my wife and I had our belated honeymoon planned for early March, so I held off. I wanted to be around and active when the book went live to the public. The last thing I wanted was to publish and then disappear for two weeks. Part of it was being there to respond to friends and family, and the other part was my own curiosity to see if people would like it.

Lesson learned

I’m glad that I waited. I published when I would be around and active with my little community. How did I let them know that I had published, you ask?

Step 2: Figure out pricing and royalties

70% royalties vs. 35% royalties. Seems like a no-brainer, right? I went with 70%, because I’m good at math.

Lesson learned

Well, I thought this was a simple decision until I got into the nitty-gritty. KDP Select will give you 70% royalties (minus download fees, which are minimal), but you have to be exclusively with Amazon for 90 days. For me, that wasn’t a big deal. Amazon was my go-to for publishing the digital version of the book, and I was using CreateSpace for the paperback version. It also gave me the ability to do a free download promotion down the line and enabled people with Amazon Prime to borrow the book for free (and I’d still get paid a royalty of 35% of the list price.) But, as Michael J. Sullivan pointed out, most people probably won’t use their monthly borrow on my book. I can’t say I disagree with him.

UPDATE: I misspoke above. The 70% royalty option doesn’t require KDP Select or exclusivity with Amazon. Thanks to Robert who pointed that out in the comments. 

The main problem with KDP Select is that you can’t go below $2.99 for your book. Now, I priced mine at $3.99 for the Kindle version because I feel that it’s worth at least the price of a latté. Plus, it’s a full-length novel. It also gave me some wiggle room to drop it to $2.99 in the future if I wanted to try to bump up sales.

For the paperback, I went with $12.99 mostly because it gave me some flexibility in offering discounts and it also aligns itself with other paperbacks of a similar length.

Step 3: Post to Facebook

This was the moment I had hoped for and feared. Part of me worried that no one would see the post, as I hadn’t been very active on Facebook the month prior. That meant that my posts weren’t going to carry much weight. But, I posted it anyway. Luckily, I have amazing friends and the response was amazing.

Publishing to Facebook
Got some good traction on Facebook

My initial post garnered 38 Likes and 19 comments, which wasn’t too bad. 4 people also shared it.

Lesson learned

Facebook was essential in getting off the ground for the week. This first push netted quite a few downloads and paperback orders. I’m truly amazed at the support I have in this venture, and I hope that others out there have a similar experience. The reach of this post could have easily been amplified with a promoted post, but that sounds a lot like selling out. And I’m not going to sell out unless the price is right.

Step 4: Link to the book on my blog

This blog is my hub for content that I want to share about writing, publishing and whatever else is on my mind, so of course I couldn’t contain my excitement after I pushed the book out to my friends on Facebook. I also made the fancy banner ad on the right for the book. I have six more ads similar to it that I will cycle on the blog to see which ones work the best.

Lesson learned

I felt pretty safe posting to the blog because I don’t get a ton of traffic, but in hindsight, I wish I had waited to get a few reviews up on Amazon before I went this public with it. Oh well, next time.

Step 5: Get a couple of reviews on Amazon 

I sought out reviews from my friends who had read advanced copies of the book. I reached out to them on Facebook and via email. In a couple of days, I had 3 reviews. So far, so good.

Lesson learned

Ask people for honest reviews and they’ll give them to you. Just ask nicely.

Step 6: Reach out to a specific group who knows me and will like the book

I wanted to get at least a couple of reviews on Amazon before I reached out to my next audience – a group of terrible, no-good people known as the Alumni of the fraternity Alpha Pi Epsilon. This group is tight-knit, amazing, and the book was literally written for a group of them. I knew that going out to that group without at least a couple of reviews would look amateurish, and might not help instill faith in them that this was a legitimate work. Having even a couple of reviews should help, right?

Lesson learned

I don’t know if the reviews helped or not. In the end, the response was again a great one. I got 17 comments on my post and saw another spike in sales. For a little while, I broke into the top 5,000 of all Kindle books on Amazon. That was short lived though. 🙂

Step 7: Get at least 5 reviews on Amazon

This time I didn’t have to pimp for more reviews. I logged onto Amazon three days after I published and saw 5 reviews sitting next to the book. That was a great feeling.

Lesson learned

There was a chance that I wouldn’t have gotten these reviews without a lot of trying. I think I got lucky and have great friends who support me. But if they were jerks, I would have reached out to them again. Don’t get me wrong, some of my friends are jerks.

Step 8: Set up Author/book pages

I set up my author pages on Goodreads, Amazon, and AddictedToEbooks. Goodreads and Amazon were the two most important. AddictedToEbooks wouldn’t allow me to set up a profile until I had 5 reviews on Amazon, hence the step 4 goal.

This makes me feel more important than it should.
This makes me feel more important than it should.

Lesson learned

Seeing my Amazon Author page was pretty amazing. Almost as amazing as seeing my book on Amazon for the first time. This step feels like it lends quite a bit of credibility to the book. Plus, the extra exposure for my blog didn’t hurt either. I really like what Amazon and Goodreads have done for authors in helping them organize their online personas in places where people search out good books.

Goodreads was strange. I manually added the book, including ISBNs and all information they asked for. However, it didn’t show up in the search for 4 nerve-racking days. When it finally did, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Step 9: Order my 5 free books from CreateSpace via NaNoWriMo

I was a NaNoWriMo winner this year, and one of the prizes was 5 free paperbacks from CreateSpace. Who am I to turn down free stuff?

Lesson learned

Shipping was $5.95.

Oh well…still worth it.

Step 10: Thank EVERYBODY

Self-publishing is all about word-of-mouth marketing. Every reviewer of my book who I knew personally, I thanked. Everyone who liked my Facebook post or shared it, I thanked. To those of you who already bought my book, THANK YOU! To those of you who are reading this, THANK YOU! You’re supporting me just by being on this page and making it this far in this post. I hope that you’ve found these steps and lessons helpful, and can use them in your own self-publishing endeavors.

Lesson learned

As much as we’re loners when we write, we need others when we’re ready to unleash that story to the world. And the world deserves to hear that story.


5 thoughts on “Lessons in self-publishing – Week 1”

  1. You don't have to join KDP Select to get the 70% royalty. KDP Select is only necessary if you want to a) do a giveaway; and b) want to make your book available in the Prime library, where you get compensated each time the book is borrowed. For those privileges you must join Select.

    For the 70%, however, you need only publish as you normally would on KDP, choose that royalty option and price your book from $2.99 to $9.99. No exclusivity required.

    1. brandon_chicago

      Robert, you're absolutely right. The 70% royalty doesn't require exclusivity. I'll update the post now. Thanks for pointing that out.

  2. shelton k dunning

    Found you through a friend. (Oh this started off like bad-spam, let me rephrase)

    Hi, (No wait, still bad-spam) Grr.

    Congratulations on your first week!

    I'm in the process of self-pubbing my first full length novel. I haven't got as far as you have yet, but I'm oh so close. I'm at the "searching for affordable option for cover art" stage and the "how the bleep do I format the inside" stage which for me, equals hairpulling by the handfuls.

    So I guess with all this rambling, I'm trying to wish you the best of luck and thank you for a snippet of what I can come to expect when I get there. Cheers!

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