Saturday, November 19, 2016
At first, I thought it would be simple. Edit my book, get a cover design, publish it on Amazon.
Then I started researching it.
After reading more self-publishing websites than I can count, I felt that I had learned five things:
1. The more professionally-published your book is, the most likely it is to be read and reviewed. Most people won't read a book that appears to be self-published, because they don't trust self-published books to be written at the same level of quality as books published through major publishers. Which is completely understandable, really. The more self-published stink your book has on it, the less likely anyone is to read it.
2. Professionally-published books have early editions,called galleys or ARCs (advance review copies), which are mailed to reviewers for editorial reviews. That's how newly published books already have quotes on them from the New York Times, or Booklist, or Foreword saying things like "stunning!" or "another tour-de-force from whatshisname!"
3. In fact, most of these major reviewers who have a lot of clout, like Library Journal, won't even review a book after it has been published.
4. Without a review from a big editorial reviewer, libraries, book stores, and other really important potential purchasers will likely never hear about your book. Even if they do, they won't think your book is a real, professionally published book and won't be likely to take a chance on it. If they don't take a chance on it, they won't sell or recommend your book to others.
5. If no one hears about your book, or recommends your book, then no one will read your book.
So it became very clear that if I wanted my book to have a chance of being read, recommended, and then sold to more people, I needed to do a professional job in publishing my book.
The first, and most obvious step, was making sure that I actually had a professional quality book. I spent YEARS editing my book, and getting people to read it, and then re-editing it. I fretted about plot holes. I made sure each character had their own style of speech and was easily distinguished from the others when speaking. I deleted dialogue tags by the dozen, and adverbs by the gross. I looked for places where I could show instead of tell. I read lines aloud making sure that they didn't sound awkward. I made sure that my characters had depth. I got rid of anything that seemed hokey. I picked up books on writing and made sure that I wasn't committing any famous errors, or using stylistic devices which are commonly considered synonymous with the word "hack". I rewrote the ending three times, until I felt that my main character went through a true journey, and wasn't just being carried along for the ride. I asked myself if each and every word really belonged there.
Then I made sure that it was formatted appropriately, which was an odyssey all by itself.
Then I found a cover designer who would make changes to the cover free of charge, so I could have an ARC edition put out, and then (hopefully) put blurbs from reviewers on the back before my book was published for real-reals.
In order to make my ARC cover I needed to get my ISBN (it turns out that Amazon ISBNs are anathema in the industry, since they scream self publishing, and also because brick and mortar stores are understandably resentful of Amazon and have no interest in supporting it by giving it money). Happily, ISBNs are free for Canadians so this involved some annoying paperwork but it didn't cost me any money. I also submitted my book to Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian version of Library of Congress in the USA, so I can get library cataloguing information for my book.
Then I needed to set a publication date 3-4 months in advance, because as formerly stated, most big reviewers won't even consider reviewing your book if they don't get it several months before publication.
I had ARC copies made up on Amazon by uploading my ARC cover and having proofs mailed to me, which you can do 5 at a time. I have a US postal address to avoid customs costs, which my American husband maintains and uses.
I went down to Sears with my proof copies and had an author photo taken, and within 24 hours I had my photo on my website, on my cover letter, my press release, and my media press kit, all of which I made with the awesome advice available on the Midwest Book Review's site.
Finally, I mailed off my ARC's.
...And after all of that work, I know the chance of my being reviewed is still very, very slim. The big review houses receive hundreds to thousands of books per day. They toss away anything that doesn't meet their submission requirements, and then they pick and choose the best of the best from the rest. My chances are near to nil. I know this. But if I hadn't done everything I listed above, my chances would definitely be nil. As it is, I have a lottery ticket's worth of a chance that maybe one of them will read and review my book. If I'm really lucky, I'll hit the jackpot and get a great review, or at least a good by-line that I can use on the back of my book which tells people, "Yes, this is a real book, a good book - one worthy of reading."
Assuming that I don't get reviewed by a major editorial reviewer, my next best hope is to build buzz among other readers. So my next step was to get my book submitted to Netgalley.
Netgalley is a website that posts digital versions of ARCs for librarians, book bloggers, and fanatic readers to see. They can request your book if they like the look of it, read it, and maybe they will even choose to review it. A librarian or independent book store owner who reads and likes my book might order it into their library, where patrons can read it, and may even put it on the "staff picks" shelf. A book reviewer for a newspaper might spot it and enjoy it and decide to write about it. And every day readers can take a chance on it for free, and if they love it, maybe they'll review it.
Of course, there's always the chance that they'll hate it, too, and Netgalley readers often post reviews on goodreads and Amazon, where everyone can learn how awful your book is. Netgalley seems to be a big risk, because while my ARCs only cost me less than $10 to order and mail, and my book will likely just be ignored if it's bad, and even if it's good... Netgalley is REALLY pricey. They want hundreds of dollars for 6 months listed on the site, and chances are you will get at least couple of reviews out of it - and not necessarily good ones. When your books are rubbing shoulders with the newest John Green novel or Jodi Picoult, the reviewers are going to expect that level of quality to your writing. Woe betide ye lest ye disappoint them!
I got around the money aspect by discovering Broad Universe, an organization which promotes female writers of genre fiction, which defines me quite nicely. They rent their Netgalley space to any indie author who wants it, not just women, for quite a reasonable monthly fee. If you become a member, which I chose to do, you get a discount and three months on Netgalley pays for the membership in savings. So my book is now also on Netgalley, where it could be read and either beloved or reviled, or both. Since I don't have an account directly with Netgalley, I can't see any reviews posted there. Broad Universe will let me know how many people read it and whether they reviewed it at the end of the three month trial.
So far, only one person has turned up on my book's Goodreads page claiming to have read my book on Netgalley, and to my relief, it was a rave review. But I'm sure there will probably be at least one stinker. I just cross fingers that more people will like my book than hate it. And, let's face it, if my book really and truly sucks, it's better that I find it out now, rather than after months of promoting it. If everyone hates it, I'm probably better off to drop the whole thing and go back to the drawing board.
In the meantime, I'm in limbo land, waiting to find out whether my book stinks or not.
And so, while I wait, I continue to hunt up reviewers. The next step down from Netgalley is a website like Story Cartel or Xpresso Book Tours, which has a base of reviewers who are known for being gentle, but honest. I paid Xpresso book tours some money for a "review alert" which is basically an email blast to her reviewer base and posting on her website, to fish for people who might be interested in my book. I got a lot of responses back, but we'll see how many people read it, and how many people like it.
Even if I get lots of reviews, that won't matter unless someone READS those reviews, so my next step was to arrange advertising. There's a popular body positivity blogger whom I follow. She uses a lot of swear words, and she actually reminds me a bit of my main character. I think that's one of the reasons I started following her, actually, because I realized that she was like a real life version of Stella Blunt. She does advertising on her site, but it's usually clothes and such. I contacted her about my book and she was very enthusiastic. I have arranged a giveaway and advertising. Her readers like her, so they should like my character. It seems like a good bet.
I've also arranged advertising on YA book central, which is like Goodreads for YA and kids books. My book is YA. Seems like a good place to advertise. If people click on my link, they may read my reviews, and if they like the reviews, they may buy my book.
Ultimately, I can push for reviews all I like, and advertise all over the place, but people will either like my book, or they won't. If it stinks, or it doesn't strike a chord with people, I can promote my book until I hemorrhage money and it will be for naught. I know this. So these next couple of months are my litmus test. There are self-published authors who have made it big - Andy Weir of The Martian, for example, and E.L. James with Fifty Shades of Grey. Some of it is about quality - The Martian is excellently written, truly entertaining. Some of it is just about striking a chord - Fifty Shades of Grey commits basically every "hack" error that I ruthless eradicated from my writing, but people still loved it. Reviewers care about writing quality. Readers just want a story they will love.
I don't know if I can produce either, and I won't know how any of this will turn out until I get a few more reviews. Nor do I know how well my reviews will turn into sales. I don't just need people to leave me good reviews. That's nice, and it helps. What I want, what I need, what people like Andy Weir and E.L. James had, are FANS - people who don't just click a five stars and write a few sentences, but people who crush on my characters make fan art and push my book into the hands of their friends.
Either my book has that capacity to inspire fandom, or it doesn't.
Time will tell. But in the meantime, I feel like I have done what I can to give it a good start, and the best possible chance of finding those fans.
If no one likes it... well... I'll just have to write a better one.