I’ve self-published two books in the last year.
The first one, “My Japanese Husband Thinks I’m Crazy” was a train wreck, to put it in the nicest terms. Literally, it was one headache after another. I could list them all out, but that’s a whole other post in itself.
This second book was… better. Or at least not as bad. Hopefully by book 4 or 5, I will get it down to a science and skip the whole “lets freak out over every little problem for the next three weeks” thing.
Self-publishing has a rather steep learning curve. And I’m finally starting to get the hang of it… so I wanted to share my knowledge.
These are the 13 things no one tells you about self-publishing (or at least no one bothered to tell me).
1. Anyone can do it.
In theory, at least. It’s not like you have to take a test, pass some sort of gatekeeper, or win the luck of the draw. Self-publishing is one of those things that if you want it, you can do it.
Yes, of course it’s really hard. And you do have to have some amount of skill, or you won’t be able to make a worthy book… but every step of the way is up to you. No one is going to swoop in and be like “Sorry, a comic book about penguins plays jazz is stupid. You’re not allowed to make a book like that.”
2. It’s complicated.
Remember all the warm and fuzzy feelings from point number 1? Keep those in mind for the rest of this post. Because self-publishing is unbelievably complicated.
I’m sure I spent about 1600% the work on my first comic book because I had no idea what I was doing. I read hundreds of articles and like six Kindle book about self-publishing… and still ended up being clueless. And overwhelmed.
I sent out more than one hundred press releases (not proud of that), wrote twenty-something guest posts on other people’s blogs (am proud of that – but those didn’t drum up any sales), and tried every marketing tactic/”make your book pop!” trick on the internet.
My husband can verify that I nearly went crazy.
Why did I go so crazy? Well, quite a few reasons, especially…
3. You have to make lots of different accounts.
To sell my books on Amazon, I made an Amazon account (of course), an Amazon Advantage account (for preorders), an Amazon Author account (so I could be a verified author), an Amazon Affiliate account (so I could advertise the book on my blog), an Amazon Kindle account (so I could upload a Kindle version of my book), an Amazon FBA account in Japan (so I could sell the books in Japan)… and probably something else. And that’s just for selling on Amazon.
I had a document with all my various accounts and logins on it… but I probably burned it. Or lost it. Or something.
I’m not going to lie, I totally understand why people go with traditional publishers. I’d be tempted to sign on – just to avoid this heartache and stress. And, you know, to bask in the glory of being a “real” author (but more on that later).
4. But it’s also really easy.
Everything you need to know about self-publishing a book can be found online. It’s confusing, of course, but very manageable.
There are countless (free) resources on the internet that can teach you everything you need to know.
5. You can spend as much (or as little) money as you want.
Personally, I chose to go down the “let’s try to bootstrap the heck out of this book” route. I paid for the ISBN, barcode, proof copy, family/friends editing (for cheap), and a couple Facebook ads (for the first book). In total, everything was less than $800 – which I totally made up in the first five month of sales.
For the second book, I only paid for a barcode and proof copy. I was able to use a leftover ISBN from the first book. I outsourced editing to blog readers and got lucky when a couple friends offered to do it for free. In total, everything was less than $100.
You can spend as much (or as little) money as you want.
6. If you’re completely broke, crowdfunding can help
I ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund my first comic book. It was funded 220% (about $14,000 – a lot of which went towards taxes/printing/shipping). Crowd funding was a lifesaver.
But… it is a lot of work. Six months later, I’m still fulfilling rewards. So. Just be warned.
7. Editors are necessary.
Even for comic books.
Editors are incredibly important. They’re also incredibly expensive. So… just pick your poison.
8. You might actually make more money going with a traditional publisher.
I’m not joking.
Back in July, I was approached by a company that wanted me to write a book. I would get a $5000 advance… and 5% royalties (from the list price) after. They were very specific about what they wanted, though. No comics, just text, and lots of research.
In the end, I said no. And decided to self-publish a comic book instead.
While writing this post, I did a bit more research into the world of traditional publishing. Most new authors get an advance of $1,000 – $10,000 (depending on the company, genre, and following). After, they get royalties of 5% – 10%.
Let’s assume I have a $5000 advance and 8% royalties. If my book sells for $15 a copy, I make $1.20 per sale. Which means I would need to sell over FOUR THOUSAND books to break even and start making (more) money. The publisher takes a huge cut.
I eventually figured out the “break even” point for me was around 900 books. If I sold more than 900 books, I would make more self-publishing. If I sold less than 900 books, I would make more from a hefty advance from a publishing company.
I haven’t sold 900 (print) copies of my book yet. Sadly. But at this rate, I should hit that mark by mid-summer.
My case is rare… because I have a blog and fricken awesome people who (regularly) read it. Most of my sales come from blog readers (I can tell through the affiliate links how many people found either book through my blog). If I didn’t have this blog, there is no way I would ever pass that 900 book mark.
9. But self-publishing has a MUCH quicker turnaround (than traditional publishers do)
In December of last year, my second book had its’ own Amazon page, for preorders. It had a cover, title, ISBN, and looked very official.
On the other hand, I was still only about 3/4 of the way through writing the book – and hadn’t even hit the “editing” phase yet. But still, people pre-ordered. It was magical.
On February 16th, I hit “publish” and the book went live.
All in all, it took about 4 months (from start to finish). Granted, I had been laid off from my previous job, so I had more time to work on the book… but seriously. That’s quick.
10. There is a stigma against self-publishing.
“What do you do?” seems to be one of the most common questions these days.
I typically reply “I’m a blogger and author.”
“Really? That’s so cool! What kind of books?”
“Comic books about my life in Japan. It’s really fun!”
“Wow. Are you signed with an American publisher? Or a Japanese company?”
“Actually, I self-publish.”
“Oh… Ohhhhhh” (followed by a disappointed head shake and sigh).
There is a very real stigma against self-publishing. Probably because (as I mentioned in point 1, anyone can do it). The trick is to just not let it bother you.
11. But just by looking at your Amazon page, no one can tell your book is self-published
Can you tell? Because I certainly can’t.
12. Unless you tell them. Because you’re proud of all your work!
I’m proud of my self-published comic books. I think they’re great fun – and I honestly don’t care if people look down on me for it.
I enjoy it and make money from it – that’s all that matters.
13. Amazon.com reviews are the gold of the industry.
Amazon reviews are worth far more than you could ever imagine. Authors will check their Amazon and Goodreads pages every week, bracing themselves for the worst (and secretly praying for a sudden influx in great reviews).
If you’re a self-publisher, you don’t have a giant, experienced publishing company behind you. The only thing you have going for you is reviews. And hopefully those reviews will motivate an impulse shopping to add your book to their cart.
And that’s what I learned from self-publishing! I have a whole “everything you need to know (and more) about self-publishing” post in the works… but that one requires an obscene amount of research. And I really just don’t feel like doing that right now.
If you were on the fence about self-publishing, I really hope this article helped push you in the right direction (whatever that is). Or at least that you found it interesting.