After my last conversation with an aspiring author, I’ve summarized some ideas in this short FAQ, based on the re-occurring questions that I get asked. Naturally, this doesn’t cover all the details of the path I have chosen, so if you would like more advice, contact me, I will gladly answer any questions, also by phone.
Frequently Asked Questions about self-publishing
Should I self-publish or find a publisher?
These two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive, you could do both. Working together with a publisher has the benefit that your reach may be bigger, as you can rely on a professional marketing machine, the book may reach a better quality (as you will get a professional editor to help you) and your prestige may be enhanced. Self-publishing has the advantage that you are in control, you decide on the cover, the text, the price, and the marketing – you will however need to have a certain affinity for all these aspects. The biggest disadvantage of going through a publisher is that getting a manuscript accepted takes ages (if it happens at all), whereas publishing a book by yourself can be a reality within hours after submitting the manuscript. For these reasons, I selected self-publishing for my works of fiction. And, as I plan to write five books in the next five years, I will probably also choose this path for those upcoming novels.
OK, I get that. But how did you self-publish?
Back in 2010, self-publishing and eBooks were relatively new in the book market. I selected the following options for my initial novel TWO JOURNEYS: Smashwords.com and Amazon’s Kindle and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (there are many more providers in this space, like LULU, I haven’t checked those out for some time). Smashwords is a very easy, efficient channel: once you have finished your manuscript, you can set up a Smashwords account, upload your book, and be done within a few hours (I am NOT kidding). Smashwords then kicks into action: they automatically transform your eBook into half a dozen formats, which they distribute to all the major ebook stores globally, e.g. Apple, Barnes & Noble, Thalia, and many others. If somebody on the globe is using an electronic device for reading, I am sure they will be able to find and buy your Smashwords’ book too. Since Smashwords and Kindle are competitors that do not work in concert (to put it mildly), I was forced to also open a KDP account with Amazon to make my ebooks available for Kindle.
You have been talking about ebooks. How about publishing a paperback?
Here I selected KDP. Amazon offers a service that allows the creation of a paperback, which is then printed on demand (PoD). I delivered the texts and asked Amazon for an editor and a cover designer. You pay a fee for all kinds of services that you would like to add. By the way, you can get the ISBN numbers for your work for free from both Amazon and Smashwords, this is very straightforward. Intriguingly, I sell 95% of my work as eBook and not as paperback, and almost all eBooks as Apple Books. Apparently, readers that like my genre of stories are, by coincidence, also owners of Apple devices. But this does not need to apply to your work, which may find an audience that prefers paperbacks, or Kindle.
How complex is the formatting?
Prior to uploading your manuscript, you will need to make sure that the word document is formatted correctly. I write novels, without a table of contents, photos or pictures, and no chapter titles. This means that I am lucky, as I have very little formatting work. More complex features in your text mean more formatting effort. This can be a tremendous hassle, but all these publishers provide manuals that help you do this correctly. The key thing is, that the publisher take care of fonts, margins, page breaks, start and end pages, and all that stuff; don’t worry about those.
Do I need an editor then? What for?
Your manuscript will need a good spelling and grammar check. Nowadays, readers are very critical of the slightest error (readers are spoiled, as good editing is much easier to achieve today than a hundred years ago. In those days, with each edition, reported mistakes were corrected. interestingly, a book by Dickens with many spelling errors has a higher market value today, as it obviously is an earlier edition!). In addition, you may need an editor that can help you finetune your story or to detect plot or story mistakes that you missed. These people are usually paid per word – from 0.01$ to 0.08$, depending on the level of service. By the way, a nice cover costs about 400$. If you publish a paperback with amazon, you are practically forced to use their cover designers and service – but you can use that cover also for any eBook, it is your property.
How about setting the price?
Books that are cheaply priced may be perceived as badly written. On the other hand, you must decide whether you want to sell many (low priced) books versus a few (expensive ones). The best is to regularly compare your book price to similar books in your category and to adjust your pricing once a year. Always consider that only very few authors can live from writing alone, so again you will need to decide on your personal publishing purpose.
How about taxes?
I am in Europe, and Smashwords and Amazon are in the USA. These companies automatically withhold the USA tax according to the USA tax laws. You should investigate how this is handled in your case; it may mean that no further tax needs to be paid in your country (due to a tax treaty with the USA). If you sell copies yourself (e.g. through a website or at events) you will need to have that revenue taxed; after all it is additional income. In many countries, you may be able to deduct some of the publishing or marketing costs from your taxes as an expense, which can be a nice benefit.
I am sure Smashwords and Amazon will help me market my book?
Short answer: they do exactly zilch, zero, nothing. Many books are published every minute with these companies, that they only focus on a few winners. Companies mostly live from scale: from each eBook sale, they take anywhere between 15% (Smashwords) and 35% to 65% (Amazon) from your profits. For paperbacks, amazon also takes a considerable share for production. Independent of format, you will make about $1 profit from each book, prior to tax. Smashwords offers some promotional activities over the year that you can register to (which never worked well for me), and Amazon has an exclusivity program where they may support you a bit – but then your books should be either mainstream or about a hot topic (my adventure novels obviously do NOT fall in any such category 😉).
So how do you boost your sales then?
It took me about ten years to build up the marketing machine for my work. First, I use the website clemenssuter.com to create attention. In addition, I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Xing, Youtube, and other channels (click on the links to see my personal pages). It pays off to invest time into Goodreads, as many readers find new books on this social reading site. This all needs hard work and constant care. Naturally, you will need good reviews on those sites, I am privileged with some excellent reviews and ratings (e.g. at Goodreads) that I received for my work. In the end, that is the true magic: write good books, and you will find an audience. Write many good books, and you will get many readers.