Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 13 October 2011

How to Self Publish Books - Part Five

So you've done it, you've published your first novel.  You've got facilities provided by Amazon and Smashwords for letting you know how many books have been sold and its only a matter of time before you hit the top ten.

However you may remember from one of the earlier posts on this subject that I listed a load of jobs that you would expect a publisher to sub out that you have to sort out for yourself - editor, graphic designer, blurb writer etc.  There's at least one more job title that you are missing, and that's possibly the hardest job you can take on - marketing.

The problem is that you've published a book that has joined literally hundreds of thousands of other books, some by well known and respected Authors, most by ordinary people like you and me.  I mentioned in one post that Smashwords is uploading 6000+ novels every month - that's a lot of new books to wade through without considering all the books already uploaded.

Just to show how difficult it is, try this experiment.  All through these postings I've been leaving links to my books and book pages on Amazon and Smashwords, some of which you may have looked at.  What I'd like you to do is try and find any of my books on either site, but without using any of the titles or my name.  They should be listed under Science Fiction, Thriller, Adventure among other tags.  I'm fairly certain that you won't trip over any of them - I tried one night to find my own books in this way and gave up after half an hour.  That is how difficult it can be to just 'come across' a book out there.  I believe there is a need for a better way of searching for books than currently provided, but I'm not sure how.

Yet people do find my books, some even buy them.  And I haven't tried that hard so far, so what needs to be done?

Well, basically, you've got to find ways to get the word out that you have books for sale.  Obviously you can notify friends and family and you will get some sales there, but the true measure is selling books to people who don't know you as a person.  All the main pundits recommend you establish an on-line presence, use Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and run a blog.  Many Authors create a web page that they use to provide information about themselves.  The most effective method is good old word of mouth - if someone reads your book and likes it, they are likely to recommend it to their friends.

Techniques I've used include getting promotional postcards made up using the digital photo printing service from Asda (Walmart) - make up a JPEG and use the bulk print facilty to keep the cost down.

Shortly afterwards I took advantage of a promotional offer from Vistaprint, getting 500 business cards for £5

Which has proven to be a useful way of promoting locally.  But the cards are really only that - local advertising.  And you get pestered forever and a day by Vistaprint to buy more merchandise, but at least emails are easily sorted.

One way of promoting, once you have a few books under your belt, is to give one of your books away through a time limited promotion.  Smashwords lets you generate codes that allow people to download a copy of your book within a timescale set by yourself.  If you've created a way of communicating with a number of people, through a web page, blog, facebook page etc, then posting the code is a way to let potential readers try one of your books at no risk.  If they don't like it, then they haven't lost anything; if they do enjoy it, they may buy your other books. 

As I said above, the best promotion is the one you don't do at all, where readers recommend your books to their friends, who then recommend on again.  As the ebook reading population grows, then the opportunity to recommend books in this way will grow too, but at the moment many ebook readers won't know a whole load of other ebook readers with the same taste in literature.

If you do find a magic way of marketing books, please share it!

Once you've sold a few books the royalties will trickle in.  Amazon will transfer relatively small amounts electronically to your bank with some caveats.  If you have a US bank account, they will transfer amounts over $10 directly into it for sales from  The same is true if you have a UK bank account, but only for sales from (£10 worth).  After that it's down to personal cheques and the trigger amount for them is $100/£100.  It's a similar story for Smashwords, although they will transfer to a PayPal account amounts over $10.  These payments are quarterly in arrears and don't forget that for Smashwords they have to wait for the likes of Apple, Barnes & Noble etc to pay them first.  So it can take six months for royalties to start flowing, even if you are successful straight away.

One thing all Authors need to think about is the dreaded taxman.  For UK authors selling in the US there are forms that have to be lodged with the IRS.  If you fail to lodge the forms you will see 30% of your royalties supporting the US deficit before the remaining 70% is scrutinised by the Inland Revenue with a view to helping wipe the UK deficit.  I expect it's pretty much the same wherever you are based - taxes are taxes and my guess is that most of us end up paying them regardless of preference - my advice is to accept those you are obliged to pay, but try not to pay taxes you're not obligated to pay.

Hopefully this series of articles has helped inform potential Authors of some of the tasks ahead of them, has made them realise that self publishing is do-able and isn't actually that difficult.  It should have tempered some expectations, too.  I sincerely hope that anyone who self publishes gets an even break and if any of you make it big, then fantastic.  And if anything in this series helped you, drop me a line and let me know.

I also hope that those who have been reading this series from the perspective of ebook readers will have a better understanding of how much work has gone into making that book available and realistically, how little compensation the ebook Author actually receives for his or her efforts.  I see a lot of bad press about indie authors in the various boards, and while I don't condone bad writing or poor editing I hope you now realise that many indie authors have only themselves as a support team.  If you spot a problem in an ebook (mine included) then please try to contact the Author if possible.  I'm sure most would appreciate faults in their book being pointed out, as long as it's done tactfully (we can be a prickly bunch, writers).  I look forward to hearing from you!

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Now on WH Smith!

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