For book writers, the publishing process is often a fearful mystery. Self-publishing a book can intensify this mystery, because it can seem like you’re all on your own, with no clear place to start.
Although I’ve managed Writers.com since 2019, it wasn’t until this past year that I learned the self-publishing process myself, while helping my father (whose name is also Fred Meyer) self-publish his most recent book.
Looking back on the self-publishing process, I don’t believe I could have learned enough simply through my own research to do a good job. Fortunately, I did have help throughout the process, and I’d like to share five self-publishing tips I learned that I hope will help you. Let’s dive in!
Self-Publishing Tip 1: Self-publishing a book is too complex to “wing it.”
I used to build websites for a living, and self-publishing feels similar in one respect: it looks easy enough to do yourself, but it isn’t. The reality is that you can do a bad job by yourself, but doing it well is its own large and complex world.
Where it’s most likely to fall apart is in the marketing. Just like “I have a website!”, “I have a book out!” is a great feeling initially. However, reality quickly sets in: putting something up on the internet does not guarantee that anyone will see it.
Where self-publishing gets most difficult is not in hitting “publish,” but in the marketing.
In other words, where it gets most difficult is not the steps needed to hit “publish,” but in the marketing. That’s where the challenge of self-publishing comes in.
But if you’re doing self-publishing properly, that challenge of marketing should inform every detail of how you self-publish, even the seemingly mundane or technical ones. It’s all those details—easy-to-miss but important steps that support the marketing of your book—that you’re likely to miss with a do-it-yourself, Google-and-YouTube approach to self-publishing.
Self-Publishing Tip 2: Start marketing your book now.
The biggest piece of marketing advice that I wish I’d known to follow is that you should be constantly marketing your book throughout the time you’re planning, writing, and editing it.
You should be constantly marketing your book throughout the time you’re planning, writing, and editing it.
This doesn’t mean “try to get people to buy a book that doesn’t yet exist.” Marketing and sales aren’t precisely the same thing. A good way to talk about it is that you should be constantly building your marketing platform as an author, with a forthcoming book (the one you’re working on) that your community of readers is eagerly anticipating. In other words: how can you maximize the number of people who know of and are excited about your writing, and who are eager to learn more about, and eventually buy, the book you’re now working on?
Thinking this way isn’t an ego trip, and it also isn’t capitalism for capitalism’s sake. It’s what you need to give your book a good journey through life once you publish it.
To lapse into metaphor: Your book is your baby. Preparing to care for a baby starts long before the baby is born into the world, and should ideally start before the baby is even conceived.
Caring for your book is marketing it. Who is this book for? Do I understand who will want to read this book, and why? What will the ideal reader get out of the book? How can I make sure that I’m able to reach a growing population of these ideal readers and get them excited about my book, before it’s available for purchase? Those questions, and the ongoing process of answering them, are what marketing is.
If you look into marketing your book only after it’s self-published, you’ll struggle greatly to make sales.
If you start looking into marketing your book only after it’s written and self-published, you’ll experience the same jittery, last-minute feeling as you would looking for bottles, swaddles, car seats, and your employer’s maternity leave policy from the newborn wing of the hospital.
Concretely, this means that you’ll have trouble connecting with enthusiastic readers and making sales. This is, unfortunately, the most common outcome for all books, both self-published and conventionally published.
So while your book is still in the idea stage, or while you’re still finishing a draft, or while you’re still editing and revising—whatever stage “now” is—you should do everything you can to get the word out. That should mean creating active social media profiles that are about you as an author, building a website and cultivating a mailing list of excited potential readers, and connecting with and developing a presence in the communities where your target readers are to be found.
This stuff is all quite difficult, especially if you feel uncomfortable putting yourself out there or feeling like you’re “selling” to other people. But the reality is that this activity, in the months and years preceding your book going live, is what generates real sales once you launch.
If you’re not sure where to start, that brings us to the next tip.
Self-Publishing Tip 3: Self-publishing consultants are a thing.
All of the learning about self-publishing that I’ve done through this process was the result of my interaction with an agency called PRESStinely that does self-publishing consulting.
What is self-publishing consulting? I think it may be fairly unusual, as we basically came up with that name on the spot when I asked the PRESStinely founders what they call the service they provide.
What a self-publishing consultant is not is a “hybrid publisher” or “vanity press.” These are organizations that will publish your book for a fee, and sometimes for a cut of book sales. Two disadvantages of these organizations are that they often own the rights to your work—despite charging you to publish it—and that they don’t help with marketing. In this respect, these organizations combine many of the disadvantages of both self-publishing and conventional publishing.
A self-publishing consultant helps you self-publish and market your work. You keep all rights to the work, and all sales proceeds.
A self-publishing consultant, by contrast, helps you self-publish your work. You retain the rights to the work, and to the proceeds of any sales you make. Furthermore, a self-publishing consultant does help you with marketing, including with highly technical elements such as paid Amazon advertising, or designing your book’s title, subtitle, and description around core Amazon keywords.
My personal experience with PRESStinely has been that they’ve made the impossible possible. If you’ve ever hired an excellent wedding planner, website developer, midwife, or doula, the experience has been like that, for the process of self-publishing my father’s book.
The only painful point is that it was expensive, a few thousand dollars. However, the quality of the final product—in terms of its paperback cover and typesetting, e-book design, as well as in all the kinds of details that make it a properly published and marketable book—has been worth far more than the money we’ve spent.
If you’re able to afford one, I strongly recommend that you find a self-publishing consultant. This article is in no way affiliated with PRESStinely, but I would be happy to recommend their services if you’re wondering where to start.
Self-Publishing Tip 4: So much depends on Amazon’s algorithms.
Lastly, I’ll share my general impression of what causes books to be sold: much of it boils down to how Amazon thinks about you.
This is true in the same way that getting traffic to a website often boils down to whether Google is paying attention. Getting Google to pay attention is called “SEO,” and I’ve found that much of book marketing is an attempt to influence what could be called “Amazon SEO.”
What does that mean? It means convincing Amazon that sending traffic to your book’s page will likely result in sales—more so than for the other similar books that Amazon could recommend instead.
And who are we convincing at Amazon? Well, no human, but an algorithm: lots of sophisticated guesses made by a computer, based on math that nobody really understands.
Does that sound like a difficult and alien world to try to influence? Yes, that’s been my experience, and it underscores the difficulty of trying to “wing it” in this environment.
Find someone who understands Amazon SEO: it should influence every element of how you self-publish your book.
I strongly recommend that you find someone who understands the basics of Amazon SEO, as it really is at the heart of the Brave New World of self-publishing. If you’re doing self-publishing properly, Amazon SEO will influence everything from how you price and categorize your book to the book’s very title, subtitle, description—and even its content.
Self-Publishing Tip 5: Amazon’s algorithms are strongly influenced by reviews.
If I can give you one specific piece of advice, it’s that Amazon really, really likes reviews. That tells Amazon that real people are reading and liking the book.
But Amazon pays more attention to reviews from people that its algorithms conclude really bought the book (these are called “verified purchases”); and its algorithms are even smart enough to know when a review has been written by a family member.
Start thinking now about who in your non-family network you can ask to write favorable Amazon reviews on release.
It’s all very confusing. That notwithstanding, start thinking now about who in your non-family network you can ask to favorably review your book on Amazon when it releases, and you’ll be doing yourself a big favor.
Self-Publishing Your Book is Tricky but Doable
I hope these tips give you a sense of the self-publishing space as I’ve encountered it. As with doing a proper job on website design or car repair, I’ve found that there’s far too much to learn just by Googling; so making good progress comes down to having a clear general outlook, and making the right kinds of general steps—especially knowing what kind of help to look for and where to find it.
If you’ve got any self-publishing tips of your own, or questions or responses to the material above, we’d love to hear them in the comments below. Thank you for reading!