A revealing article penned by indie author Alastair Crombie describes how he attempted self-marketing as an unknown writer.
“Unfortunately, I’ve not found any other methods that work reliably for newbies. I’m not sure there are any. The cold truth of the matter is that instant success belongs in the fiction we write and not in the facts we live.“
“And the final lesson I learnt: living with disappointment. I know most authors recognize the feeling.”
This year, I’ve been navigating the self-promotion trail, which is something I wish I’d began six years ago, before writing my first Cornish Detective novel. If you’re new to writing, I earnestly recommend beginning a blog (with a newsletter) and posting regularly on social media. The trick is to get your name known and also to collect email addresses of subscribers who may, one day, buy your book.
Remember, whether you self-publish online or you publish traditionally through a book company, you’ll be expected to have an author platform, so best start now!
When I returned to creative writing in 2013, I knew it would take at least five years to get anywhere and so it has proved. It helps that I’m stoical (and bloody-minded!). I had some experience of publishing and being a writer from selling short stories and magazine articles in the 1970s and 1980s, realising that you were only as good as your last published piece—and that it needed lots of luck to get that into print.
I’m glad that one of the first writing guides I read was How Not To Write A Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author by David Armstrong. Originally published in 2002, what he says about surviving as a non-bestselling author is even truer today. The hardships and ignominy are worse. There are affordable copies available on Amazon and eBay and Kindle:
Armstrong confirms that it’s a long, hard slog to get anywhere as a writer. Wannabee authors might well be put off starting.
At present, I’m wrestling with the hydra of converting my books to other formats, those most commonly used by e-reading devices, which are PDF, MOBI and EPUB. This is to make my manuscript flowable, able to automatically fit different-sized screens. Previously, I’ve self-published on Amazon and via Smashwords, which rather spoilt me, for they have meatgrinder software which does the conversion for you.
I should have used Smashwords again, even though I’ve unpublished my 45 titles on their site, to promote them via Draft2Digital. Instead, out of some daft sense of behaving honourably, I attempted to do the job by using Calibre, checking what the converted story looked like with Adobe Digital Editions
The main problem has been that the formatting I’ve used sometimes gets removed by Calibre, resulting in unwanted spacing between sentences and paragraphs. Trying to establish my own house style, I’d used Celtic symbols as section breaks, like this:
Calibre didn’t like that at all, substituting a capital ‘O’ for the key I’d pressed to insert the Celtic Knot. Smashwords meatgrinder did the same thing. This meant I had to remove them all, which took several hours…as did adding them last week. Note to self: stop being a clever dick!
After cleaning the manuscript of extraneous design flourishes, I put it through Smashwords meatgrinder again, which gave me a clean-looking story, complete with an attached book cover. There are still problems with the MOBI conversion done by Smashwords, which is the format used by Amazon for their Kindles.
Smashwords and Amazon don’t play well together, each insisting that any manuscript submitted doesn’t mention their rival. I’d listed my 45 previously published titles at the end of the book, linking them to Amazon, which gave Smashwords an epileptic fit! Removing them improved the MOBI reformatting results, but Amazon’s own meatgrinder will probably do a better job.
Of course, if I had the money, I could pay someone to run a campaign promoting me and my books and to convert my books to other formats, placing advertising strategically, but I don’t, so I’m doing everything myself. Paying for services is no guarantee of success. I’ve read some horror stories of people investing their life savings to promote themselves as writers, selling very few books and facing penury.
I’m 80% towards completing what I planned with blogging, having an author website, designing book covers, reformatting my five crime novels and posting on social media. I’m going to put in a couple of weeks of 12-hour days, to ready things for launching the first two stories in mid-July.
Although it’s taken thousands of hours of work to get to this point, I’m truly not expecting anything much to happen. I’m not a celebrity who’s chosen to write a book (or have it written for them), so I’ve no free promotion that way.
I’m just a nobody trying to be a somebody.
What might help raise my profile, is to do interviews with the local press and radio stations, which I’m loath to do, but needs must when the devil drives. EMOJI Cornwall Libraries have a policy of buying books by Cornish authors and those set in the county, so I’ll make some sales that way (including eBooks) as well as introduce local readers to my name.
What problems have you faced in self-promoting and self-publishing?
What worked for you?
And, what was a waste of time and money?
If anyone needs advice on what I’ve written about in this post, please contact me (before my brain melts).
I might have made the mistakes, so you don’t have to.