This is the second in a series of two articles that I've put together for fellow North Carolina writer, Mike Manley, to share among his audience. Mike can be found here at www.michaelmanleywriter.com. This is my take on how to get started with writing. I hope readers will find it helpful.
This is the second article on the topic of getting started with writing. In the previous article, we covered how to get your writing process started, how to outline, storyboard, and start building your manuscript. We also covered the basic components of a story, how to begin your draft copy, and worked through some editing options. In this article, we will discuss finalizing your book, publishing it, and promoting it. So let’s continue where we left off.
Now that we’ve worked through editing and your book has been given your editor’s seal of approval, it’s time to think about what you want to do with it. Is this a work you have written just for yourself? For your family and friends? Or are you thinking about putting it in the public domain? For some, these aren’t easy questions. You may want to keep the work just for yourself while family or friends wish you to publish it, or vice versa. Whatever you decide, know there is no wrong answer. I have published works and I have also kept some of my writing private, away from prying eyes. There are no right or wrong answers here and whatever you decide needs to be right for you, not anyone else.
Let’s go ahead and say you decide you want to publish this work. What are the steps involved? Is traditional publishing or indie publishing the way to go? What about doing both? There are pluses and minuses on both sides.
First, I will say a few words about traditional publishing. That’s the publishing that gets you into the bookstores. To break into that market, you’ll need an agent. In addition to having a good agent, you’ll need a great story. Only a very few number of new authors break into this market of the many that attempt it. It’s a very competitive market and you’ll need a story that will stand out from the rest. You will work with your agent to gain visibility but be prepared for rejection for any number of reasons, some of which may not even make any sense. Getting a work picked up by a traditional publisher is a difficult sell, and even if it does get picked up, you may lose your creative control. It’s not uncommon for a work to be changed to suit more of what the publisher has in mind for your story to make it more marketable. Also be prepared to wait for it to hit the bookshelves. It’s not uncommon for a work to take two years or more from acceptance to actually arriving on the shelves.
With that being said, there is a measure of prestige that comes along with being traditionally published. If that is a goal of yours then the first step is to procure an agent. You’ll be able to use a number of the online resources I mentioned earlier, particularly writers blogs and groups to find one that is suitable for your needs. Procuring an agent is outside the scope of this article so let’s now move to an alternative to traditional publishing—going the indie route.
Independent publishing has become a popular route that many authors have taken in recent years. Even a few traditionally published authors are now publishing some of their works independently. Initially, publishing independently was considered a weak substitute for going the traditionally published route and was looked upon as the place where those “not so serious” authors could go to get their works published. But the indie publishing has come a long way in recent years. It’s no longer considered the red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry. And for new authors, it’s a wonderful alternative.
The main benefit I see in taking the indie route is that, as the author, you maintain all creative control of your works. You decided when to publish, where to publish, and what to publish. The entire process is controlled by you and with that control comes a measure of satisfaction. If you’ve always wanted to put a work in the public domain, you can do so, in just a few short steps. Voila! You are now a published author! But this is also a duel-edged sword. The main drawback to independently publishing is that you will need to do all the work yourself. Or, at the very least, retain the services of trained professionals to handle some of the tasks for you.
If you decide to go the indie route, then there are few things that you’ll need to know before publishing your book. The first exposure you’ve had with this process was getting your work edited. You (hopefully) hired someone to edit you manuscript and worked through the process of getting it ready for publication. But right now, all you have is a Word document, PDF, or Pages file that is the representation of your book. How do you make it look like a real book? You use the online publishing platform tools to upload it and convert it onto the eBook platform of choice.
Each publishing platform such as Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and others give you the ability to upload the book to their platform, at which time it is converted into the format the platform uses for their eBooks. This is the version of the book that will be sold and will be downloaded by readers (keep in mind that right now, we are only talking about electronic books, not actual paperback books. Those will be covered next). You will decide which platform(s) to use when publishing. You are not strictly stuck with the platforms you choose. You can make your book available on, let’s say Amazon, and then decide to take it down from their store with a few clicks of the mouse. You can publish to all eBook platforms or a subset of platforms in a few easy steps. Each platform has it’s own rules for publishing and some may include non-competitive clauses, meaning, you may learn that by publishing on one specific platform, you are excluded from publishing on another.
In short, there are many ePublishing platforms available to you to choose from in 2015. Some of the more popular ones are Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Smashwords, and Lulu. I recommend you research the ones you are interested in, learn about any special restrictions they place on their authors, any special non-compete terms they employ, and ensure that you will always own the rights to your work. My advice is to start small. Pick one, maybe two platforms and start with those. From there, you can branch out. Independently publishing your work can be overwhelming so that why I recommend starting small and going step by step.
One aspect of self-publishing that is sometimes overlooked, or more aptly, not given the appropriate amount of attention, is the book’s cover. Cover art makes a huge difference in the indie world. There are millions of independently published books produced each year and having an eye-catching cover makes your book stand out.
Hire a cover artist to build a cover for you. You can usually get an exceptional cover for less than $150, sometimes, for much less than that. The cover artist will work with you to help realize your vision for your cover, and will provide everything you need related to your cover. He or she will know the proper formatting, color depth, size, and resolution for your completed cover and will deliver that ready to go image to you when completed. Building a cover image yourself or having a graphic artist friend or relative do it for you is OK, but all of these other factors will need to be accounted for, otherwise your cover will not scale correctly on an e-reader. Again, the publishing platform you choose will provide all the necessary information online to ensure you have a cover that meets their guidelines.
I have built a few covers myself when I first started publishing my eBooks but can tell you from experience, professional cover artists are the way to go. Since that time, I’ve had my cover artist redo all the covers I created and they look so much better than I could have ever done myself. Cover artists are worth their weight in gold.
All of what has been discussed thus far in relation to ePublishing has centered on eBooks. However, you can also publish your work as a paperback. Certain platforms, such as CreateSpace (an Amazon partner site), give the author the ability to sell paperback versions of his or her books on-demand. This means they are printed and shipped as they are sold. You don’t have to worry about paying up front costs to get your books printed and bound, and you won’t be stuck with boxes of books that you will have to peddle to readers. These sites cover printing costs and those are factored into your royalty payments. You will make a small percentage of your sale price with the rest of the sale going to the publishing platform. You won’t get rich off paperback sales (typically earning 10-15% from each sale) but you will be able to see your work in print, and that is a pretty awesome feeling. There are a number of paperback platforms to choose from but I would start with CreateSpace. They are an Amazon partner and make building an initial paperback version fairly easy. They provide plenty of online resources and support that will guide you through the steps of creating your book in paperback form.
The last thing I wish to discuss with respect to getting started is on the subject of promoting your work. Once you’ve built your book, edited it, selected a cover, uploaded it to one or more publishing platforms, and have made it available for sale, how do you get people to notice it?
Promoting your work is a lot harder than you’d think. When I first started promoting my work, I thought that setting up an author page on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, and launching a website would be all I needed to do to get people to flock to me and my book. But the reality is that there are millions of books for sale on the independent market. And those indie authors are already competing with traditionally published authors, who already have a marketing network in place and who do the marketing for them. In short, it’s very tough to get noticed. And after three years in my career as an indie author, I still find that I am not getting much exposure at all.
There are plenty of things you can do to start gaining exposure, but as an indie author, the process is going to be a slow one, and results may not be forthcoming as quickly as you would like. It will take time so being patient will be key. Like anything else, building your author brand will take effort so don’t get discouraged as you move through the process of getting your name out into the public domain.
It goes without saying that an online presence is required. Once people find you, they will want to learn more about you. Create an author page on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest. Also make sure you have an author website including the ability for people to sign up for a mailing list. Create an author profile on Goodreads and add all the books you are reading to your page, in addition to adding your own book. Join online writing groups and forums that reflect the topics on which you write. For example, if you write young adult fiction, join as many young adult fiction groups as you can. Also make online connections with other authors in your genre. Authors are great at helping each other out and promoting each other’s works. Essentially what I’m talking about here is building your author brand using the tools that the online world provides to you.
In addition to online, look for opportunities to connect with other authors in your local community. Go to book readings, join writing groups and book clubs, and attend author promotions and social events. Make yourself visible in your community. It’s about forming connections. When you do, you’ll gain a presence locally and will become more recognizable and familiar. And make sure you procure some business cards that represent who you are and what you write. Hand these out to anyone and everyone you meet at these functions. You’ll be certain to gain a new follower or two.
There are a myriad of way to promote yourself and I’ve only touched on a few. One area I haven’t discussed has been with respect to retaining a marketing or ad agency to help promote you. This is another good strategy to employ but it will cost you some money up front. The marketing and advertising world is very competitive so there will be tons of options to choose from. The same holds true for buying online advertising. There are a number of pitfalls to watch out for when employing these strategies and I could dedicate an entire article to this topic, but for now, just know that these options are also available. Using the online search tools and your contacts online can get you started in this arena, if that’s the route you decide to take.
To summarize, anyone can be a writer. All it takes is a little time, effort, and the willingness to share a story. You’ll make lots of mistakes along the way but you will learn from each. And over time, you will improve. Writing is hard work but the satisfaction that comes with completing your writing task is well worth the effort and the time you’ve invested in it. What you write can be for yourself, your family, friends, or for public consumption. It’s completely up to you. No matter what you choose to do with your writing; there will always be plenty of resources available to you that will help you accomplish your goal. And finally, be proud of your accomplishment!