When I began my adventure as a self-published author, I never realized how much work I was getting into. I figured that others had done it, so it could not be all that difficult. What I did not know was that it would soon turn into a labor of love and a very large part of my life. This article is about the challenges I faced and the things I had to learn. It may be a long winded blow, so I suggest a flagon of your favorite beverage and a snack.
Creating a 300 page manuscript via word processing document is no small feat. Yet, I have found that to the self-published author, it is by far the easiest of all tasks. Putting our story into electronic format is one of the most fun and exhilarating aspects of being a writer. But what happens once you have your manuscript saved and backed up on floppy? Work. That is what happens next!
Electronic or paper
When I made the decision to become a self-published author by releasing my motivational ebooks and horror (vampire slayer) in ebook format, I had no idea what to expect. The first thing I realized is that converting a word document into PDF format is not easy or cheap. I had to research what a PDF was, and how to make them. Then, I had to purchase the software needed to convert my manuscripts into PDFs. While there is shareware and freeware available to covert your manuscript into the PDF format, the one thing I learned long ago is, you get exactly what you pay for. If you want a top quality ebook, free software is not going to offer you the ability to create top-notch ebooks. And yes, if you download one of my free sample ebooks and compare them to some of the big name publishers you will see a striking difference immediately. I learned to make the best ebooks on the market because I wanted readers to take me seriously as an author and as a self-publisher.
The learning curve on the software was about ten months for me. I spent a lot of time reading about ebooks and PDFs. I downloaded more than a few ebooks in an attempt to ascertain the industry standard. Very quickly, I realized that there was no industry standard and even major publishers were turning out mediocre, at best, ebooks. I spent time working on the word document because what many people do not fully understand is that the PDF software takes only what the word document provides and “distills” it. Pictures, links, etc. must be in order for the PDF to “work” properly. I spent hours re-learning word and paying attention to the finest detail of the document. Approximately one year after I set out to publish my collection of motivational essays, I sat, staring at one finished PDF document that made all other ebooks on the market pale in comparison.
I had done exactly what I had set out to do, create one of the best ebooks on the market. Then a single thought struck me; “how am I going to sell this thing?” This single question led to a journey that has lasted years. My first effort was to have someone else sell my ebooks for me. This offered very little work on my part and a check every few months in the mail. I then soon realized that I had no way of “auditing” the company I was allowing to sell my ebook! I had no way to track what they were doing with my work. Or who was buying my work, and how many ebooks were actually being sold. It was not a warm fuzzy feeling. How much revenue could I be losing?
I then looked into creating my own website to sell my ebooks. I had no idea what HTML was or how to build a webpage. I had met a few people who had but they never sat down and taught me. One day, I decided to create my own website so that I would have full control of my works at all times. Once again, I spent hour after hour educating myself about HTML and the creation of websites. Again, I faced the same type of questions; do I use freeware or do I send money on an established program? After talking to a few professional web developers my mind was made up and again, I paid for more software. Along with all this new software came things I had not foreseen such as having to upgrade my CPU. After the initial outlay of cash I reasoned, I would be good to go for a few years.
My websites have continued to change and grow over the years as I have learned more and more about web development. While my websites are not fancy and utilize the latest scripts, there is a very good reason for that. Early on I learned that Search Engines do not like garbage. Search Engines like text and links. They don’t care about anything else. I reasoned that if that was all that is important to Search Engines that was all that was important to me. My strategy has paid off. All of my websites rank well and I have received numerous positive comments from users.
Hobby or business
Soon I was self-publishing more of my works. As the ebooks grew in number, so did my web page count and time spent on my hobby. In 2004, I spent so many hours on my hobby that it officially became a business. While I was not making a profit on the venture, I was amassing intellectual capital and building a very solid online presence. Authors were coming to me asking questions on how to self-publish their ebooks and if I would lend them a hand. A few authors even approached me and asked if I would build them a website. In learning for myself, I had gained knowledge that was obviously valuable to others. I declined a few jobs and took a few. I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of time for my writing.
In late 2005 everything came to a boiling point. I had one manuscript of my own in production and one in the queue. I had people asking me to convert their manuscripts into PDF format by the handfuls (yet their checks never seemed to make it to my PO Box.) and I had people who I had created websites for asking for changes, updates, and additions, all of course, free of charge. I would sit down in front of my PC and stare in horror at the “to-do” list and go blank. I was overwhelmed with others work. Somewhere in the mix, I lost track of my own projects. One evening I took a deep breath and started to write emails to my customers. Not a single one every replied to my email because they knew what they had gotten at a bargain basement price was far more than they expected. I raised all of my prices and sent out a lot of invoices for billable hours. Like the sun chases away the shadows of the night, the emails and bills chased away the dead weight.
Just before the New Year I was able to get myself and my projects back on track. I took a look at my websites and realized they were in need of updating and general maintenance. While not all that difficult, my four primary websites and other websites, like this one, posed a formidable challenge. For the first time, I enlisted the help of a few teammates to help me find errors and broken links on my websites. With their help, I was able to update all of my websites in short order.
After I realized that I had lost focus of my original goal; publishing my own work, I was able to get myself back into the proper mindset. Soon after, I was releasing another horror novel. I was also not only maintaining and keeping my websites polished but I was expanding them. Recently, I have had time to create free ebooks for my visitors from public domain works such as Treasure Island and Dracula. I think it’s the little things that make a website fun. Attention to detail makes the reader at home and comfortable. My websites have once again become fun places to visit, because they are easy to use and packed with freebees.
Being a self published author is not easy. You will have to stand on your own two feet and make decisions on the fly. It will take time and perseverance. You will find yourself learning more and more by the hour. No matter if you chose the ebook or paper route, each path will present its own unique set of challenges. The one thing that sidetracked me was trying to help other authors get on track instead of focusing on my own efforts. While this sounds selfish, you must understand that being a self-published author will take up every moment of your free time and some of your not-so-free time! Taking time out of an already jam-packed schedule to help another author may well spell “DOOM” for your work! No, that is not an overstatement.
Time and resources
As a self-published author you will find two things become precious very quickly, resources and time. I would venture to say these two things will be the fuel that will make or break your venture. If I chose to have someone else convert my manuscripts into PDF format several things would have happened. First and foremost, they would be substandard to my expectations and I would have been disappointed/upset that the money I spent was wasted. I would then have purchased my own software and spent more money on the venture than if I had just learned on my own from the beginning. If I would have shelled out a bucket of cash for someone to build my website, would I be any better off than having a third-party vender sell my ebooks? Not really. I have met more than a few people who have been burned by unscrupulous web developers who charge exorbitant rates for sub-standard work. I met one lady who was spending $150.00 every time the webmaster fixed a link! Your resources and time must be focused on your craft. You do not have time to worry about if your final product is going to look sub-standard or your webmaster is over billing you.
The one major thorn in my side has been, and continues to be, web graphics artists. While I am not completely inept at web graphics, I realize that to create royalty free graphics you have to have a considerable amount of time, resources and talent. Time is one thing that is always in short supply. I have chosen to hire graphics artists to create my ebook covers, ebook inserts, website graphics, etc. While some of these highly motivated artists have offered to work for free, others have had set fees. In every instance I have run into almost the exact same problem. Deadlines mean nothing to them! If they don’t understand what kind of graphic you are looking for, they offer you something 150% different than what you are seeking on purpose! If there is one thing that I have learned is that I can not rely on graphics artists. Or to state this in a positive, I am sure that my graphics artist will muck up the deadline!
Case in point is my last ebook. The image I received, two days late, was not complete. Due to illness, an evil lap-top, and general slacking, the image was only 80% complete. I had to bite the bullet, open a graphics program and work pixel by pixel to complete the cover in four hours. (I am sure any skilled web graphics artist could have done it in far, far less time!) Yet the one thing I did learn is that, in a pinch, I can once again rise to the challenge and get the job done to release the work on time.
All of the aforementioned is all about production and sales of your book if you opt to go electronic (and in some cases print). The one major concern that almost every author I know initially overlooks is marketing. Marketing your own books falls into a complete and unique different location on your day planner. If you think that writing takes time and patience, just try your hand at marketing! If you don’t like the word, “NO!” hire someone else to do your marketing for you. I can not tell you how many thousands of rejections I receive from my marketing efforts. From website Search Engine optimization to business cards, it all takes more time and resources. Book signings, public speaking, appearances, meeting your readership, business meetings to get your book in a local book stores front window are all part of marketing your book. Now take a moment and ponder, “How do I market an ebook?” I can’t bring it with me! I can’t sign it! I can’t put it in a storefront window! Very astute, now you have to shift gears and think electronic marketing (e-marketing is only now being taught on a collegiate level!) More time and more resources. And you thought being a self-published author was going to be a breeze!
You may have the absolute best ebook on the planet. You may also have the greatest website with all the bells and whistles along with a secure shopping cart, but if no one knows anything about it, how many books will you sell? Marketing is everything! I have yet to find a book or website that explains how to inexpensively and effectively market either paper books or ebooks. Many of the authors allude to ideas and strategy but none that I have found give you a step by step guide to marketing your work. If they do offer “steps” they are no-brainer things that any third-grade lemonade stand salesperson knows instinctively.
Marketing is something that you will have to study, learn, and live if you are a self-published author. “Build it and they will come” works only in the movies. You have to think of many different (think diversified marketing portfolio!) ways to reach your target audience. You may have an authorsden.com website and a blog or three but you must always ask the same question; am I reaching the people who will purchase my books? Marketing is a lot more than hocus-pocus and luck. It is time, energy and understanding your customers. You will find yourself spending what little down-time you have thinking about new and unique ways to approach your readers.
Being a self-published author is not easy or cheap. Many people think all they have to do is write the manuscript and everything else will fall into place. Writing the story is only a very small part of the endgame! You must become your own printer, graphics artist, producer, sales person, marketing department, and so much more. If you do not have 20 or more hours a week to invest toward the effort, you will find your efforts slow moving at best. Building a portfolio of intellectual material is just like building a stock portfolio. Over time it will increase in size and value. If you are looking for instant gratification, I highly suggest you sell your manuscript to the highest bidder, take the money and run. If you are looking to build a portfolio of works that you can be proud of, the more time and the more money you invest in yourself and your books, the more impressive your portfolio will be and the better will be received by your readers.