Self-Publishing: What Not To Do

Last month, I was at WorldCon -- a weekend that changed how I view myself as an author and a publisher. While I was there, I took a number of pictures which I have posted on my Flickr account. You can view them by clicking here.

I am about 75% complete with my re-edit of Translight. I've also recently finished reading two books by a successful self-published author that I recommend to anyone who is thinking of or who has self-published. These are:

The author has a whole series of books on self-publishing that are easy to read and filled with useful information. His advice sometimes conflicts with what Amazon puts out, but that's because he has done the research and he knows what does and does not work.

Self-Publishing: What Not to Do
This is the third post in my new series on self-publishing. If you missed the first two, you can find them by clicking on the following links:

By now, many of you are probably wondering when I'm going to get around to telling you how to actually publish your book. I'm not, and here's why: Every book is different. Internal formatting is important and the look of the book is a personal choice. The actual mechanics of publishing your book are quite simple -- you upload it to Amazon. There, my part is done, you know how to publish. The part that's difficult is making your book look professional. For that information, I will ask that you read the above books and then read some more.

When you publish your book, you're making it available for the world to see. The reading public will judge you by the quality of your work. If you want to be viewed as a professional, then you need to produce a professional product. Some authors will tell you this means spending hundreds of dollars on having your work professionally edited and formatted. I call bull on that. Yes, it's an important part of publishing, but if you don't have the money, then you shouldn't go into debt just to pay an editor. That's not good business practice. But you should do the absolute best you can. Become knowledgeable on how to format your book, have others look at it with a critical eye, and then publish. You can always go back and fix things as your readers point them out to you and if you make money on your book, by all means have it professionally edited when you can afford it.

So, the first thing you should not do is release a poorly formatted, poorly edited book. The second is to put yourself in debt to have your book professionally edited and formatted.

At this point, you might be thinking, "But I don't have the time to read all those books on self-publishing!" You might be tempted to go with one of the publishing companies listed in the back of a magazine or one that pops up on a Google search. Most will charge you for the privilege of publishing your book. Some will do it for free. Most will tell you they will have your book edited and proofed by their staff of professionals. Please -- do not do this!

I know people who have handed over thousands of their hard-earned money to a publishing company that has promised them the world. They've signed a contract giving the publisher the rights to their work. Their book was published, but it was never professionally edited or formatted. They took what the author gave them and stuck it into a book. For an extra fee, they will promise to promote your book. Don't believe them! Item number three on the never to do list is: Pay money to have your book published.

There are some exceptions to this rule. There are some very good publishers who will ask for a small fee to print your book. Ingram-Sparks is one such company. Their rates are reasonable and you retain full rights to your book. There is one member of my writers group who is planning to go this route. Do your research. If a publisher wants you to hand over thousands of dollars and promises you all sorts of great returns, shy away from them. I've never met anyone who's actually made any money on a deal like this. A small fee to have a well-known printer produce your book is not unwarranted. But, if this is your first novel and you're short on cash, go with Createspace -- it's free and you can always change your mind when you learn more.

Okay, your book is live on Amazon, a stack of printed copies is on the way. Now what? Promote! You hop on Twitter and blast out your news, next stop is Facebook, then Google+. Oh my, it's been 15 minutes, someone might not have seen your first posts so you repeat them. Then you hunt down all the discussion boards you can find and... STOP! You're going about it all wrong. People, especially other authors, are going to see you as a pest, a loud advertisement, or worse. You'll be tuned out, blocked, unfriended, and ignored. Don't be a pest!

It's okay to be proud of your accomplishment. Let people know. Put out a short tweet, or a message on Facebook and other social networking sites. That's fine. Just don't repeat yourself. Over-promoting will get you a bad reputation. People do not respond well to this. You can be banned from most forums if you engage in this type of activity. If you've been a presence on a forum for some time, it's probably okay to let people know you've released your first book, but do it in a subtle manner. Hitting people over the head with a billboard is not subtle. By all means tell your friends. Post a sign-up sheet at your work for anyone wanting to buy a copy of your book. Politely ask people to share the news with their friends. Be proud, yet humble.

Finally, you're going to get feedback, treat it as such. There are some authors who will tell you to never read your reviews. I disagree. Do not ignore your readers. You will most likely get a few very negative reviews from people who get a kick out of trying to humiliate others. Ignore them. What you're interested in are the meaningful reviews from people who have a specific comment to make. If you get more negative reviews than positive ones, then perhaps it's best to pull the book until you can fix the problems the readers are pointing out. Listen to what your readers have to say. I do, and I've benefitted from their comments. I know it's hard, but don't take these comments personally. If a reader is honest, they will be reviewing the book, not you as a person.

Do not engage in a war of words on the comments you receive. Remember, the entire world can read what is said. Flaming someone because they wrote a negative review is a sure way to end your writing career. I have replied to a review asking for additional information if it seems as if the reader could provide it. If you simply can't resist the urge to reply, do so in a professional manner. I recently had a 4-star review on Chroniech and the reviewer mentioned that the editing was poor. I replied, telling them that the first 3 books of the series (my first published novels) were being re-edited. I thanked them for the review.

There are more items that can be added to the list, but I will refrain from turning this post into a small novel. The bottom line is you want to present yourself as a professional author. Someone another person would love to meet. You should also have good business sense. I know you're anxious to publish, but take a step back and think about what it is you are about to do. You're making something you spent a lot of time creating available to the entire planet to read and comment on. Is it ready? Are you ready? Is your publisher betting they can take your money because you're too anxious? Slow down, take a deep breath, think about the future, and then, when you are absolutely confident in your decision, publish.

In summary here is what you should not do:
  • Release a poorly formatted, poorly edited book.
  • Put yourself in debt to have your book professionally edited and formatted.
  • Pay money to have your book published.
  • Be a pest when it comes to promoting your book.
  • Ignore your readers.
  • Reply to a bad review meant to illicit such a response.
  • Be unprofessional.
Next week's post will be on Protecting Your Hard Work (copyrights, electronic storage, etc). This is different than what I originally planned 3 weeks ago because protecting your work is important.