The world of traditional publishing is a tough nut to crack. Having your book appear on the shelf of a Barnes & Noble is next to impossible. But, in theory, if you work hard and stick with it and write a killer story and get a little luck on your side, and then really polish your manuscript, you can make it happen. It might take a long time, years and years, but you can do it. Now whether or not you make any money, that’s another story. But take it one step at a time.
I lived that mantra for years and still do. But recently I decided to take a course of action I never thought I would do. I self-published my YA dystopian, Night of the Purple Moon. It is now available as a Kindle ebook and paperback through Amazon. I decided to go the self-publishing route after a year of working on the novel, rewriting and rewriting; my agent submitted the manuscript to six New York publishing houses and all passed on it.
Since I self published my novel, my experience as an indie author has been a fascinating journey, one with a few bumps in the road, filled with a lot of learning, and some of the most powerful, enlightening moments I have ever enjoyed as a writer.
I decided to start by going exclusively with Amazon through their Kindle Select Program. This means that I can only sell the ebook through Amazon and Amazon has the authority to dictate the price, if they wish. The paperback, though, has more distribution channels. I can sell it to libraries through the distributor Ingram and Baker, through Barnes & Noble, and other channels.
Why the exclusivity on the ebook? There are many pros and cons to going with Kindle Select. Some of the cons: you cannot sell through Barnes & Noble to Nook owners, or through the iTunes store, or to several other ebook readers. The biggest advantage is that Kindle Select members are entitled to “give their ebook away for free” for up to five days over a three month period. It seems counterintuitive that this is a good thing, giving away your book for free. But the upside is a potentially higher ranking on the Amazon popularity listings. When you give away a lot of books over three days, say 10,000 plus, the mysterious Amazon algorithm lists you on various popularity lists and raises your ranking. The higher your ranking, the more visibility you have to the browsing public. Amazon, I imagine, has millions of customers, and to make your book visible to these readers almost invariably results in sales. And the more your sales accelerate, the higher you go up the ranking.
[Note: Simply making your book “free” does not guarantee thousands of downloads. You have to promote the offering through a number of ways.]
The Kindle Select promo days address perhaps the most challenging aspect of being an indie author: getting visibility for your book. There are millions of ebooks available. How do you make yours stand out? Kindle Select is but one way. As an indie author, I opt-in to the program every 90 days. If I choose to leave the program at the end of 90 days, I can do that and pursue sales through other channels, including Amazon. I am currently in my second 90-day period and I am always assessing my next step.
The book blogging community is another avenue to garner attention and spread the word. In the ideal work, your book goes viral; the buzz spreads through facebook and twitter, pinterest, and google plus. Blogs are a great foundation on which to build legitimate visibility. I pity authors with self-help books and books on spirituality. The blogging market for those types of books seems very small. YA, on the other hand, is huge. There are thousands of blogs. The youngest blogger I have encountered was 12 years old, the oldest? Who knows. There are a lot of stay at home moms who blog. In general, it is a passionate group of people who invest the time in reading books and then reviewing them honestly.
Goodreads and Librarything are other established book communities, set up to promote book discussions and ratings among passionate readers. With Night of the Purple Moon, I have found the reviews from regular readers on Amazon to be a tad higher than the ratings on Goodreads. The Goodreads crowd, in one sense, are professional hobbyists, in my opinion. They take reviewing very seriously and try to be as quantitative and honest as possible.
Readers and bloggers have provided me with some of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had as a writer. I receive reviews, emails, and tweets from around the world. Generally, someone who takes the time to tweet your book or write to you, has been moved by the novel, and they have really nice things to say. They have reported crying, reading the novel in one sitting, and other things that a writer dreams of hearing. Of course, there is the occasional low review. But not everybody is going to like your book.
Perhaps the control I have over my destiny and the speed to which I can effect change are some of the biggest benefits of being an indie author. I can change the cover within days. I can change the price within hours. I can market the book as much or as little as I like, and I can always rely on the purest form of feedback arriving almost daily: from readers, my audience, people of many ages who the novel has touched.
It’s not to say I would turn down a traditional publishing contract, but self-publishing offers a satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that I never expected.