Listen to this story
It can be sitting and fermenting for years, or it can start with the spark of an idea. Maybe it was a sunrise, or your child’s giggle, or when you closed the fancy $20 kid’s book with a sigh and said, “I could write better than that.”
Whatever the catalyst, you’ve decided to write a book. Hey, it’s easy! Everybody’s doing it! Three million books are published yearly, and why can’t yours be one of them? You think about it, and your insides bubble with excitement.
After all, you have a great story — people will love it! It will break hearts or ignite the imagination. The unpronounceable names you pick with lots of Xes in the middle will become cultural bywords, like “Katniss” or “Orcs.”
Your dystopian society where elves read each other’s minds while they fly on broomsticks and fight vampires has never been done. You are going to rock this world.
Could your creation be the next new thing that has everybody talking? This is going to be a walk in the park, you think.
Think again, partner. It’s a bit more complicated than you realize. You are going to have to enter the world of self-publishing—a new dimension, a place where rules will be tested—and you will find yourself defining every boundary you ever set.
Before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, take a minute and be honest with yourself: Why do you want to do this? Why dive into this strange place? This alternate universe?
For some, it’s a desperate need to make money while sitting at home in their pajamas. They are sick of the grind and want to sleep all day and drink high-test at night while they pound away on their epic adventure. After all, it’s sexy to say you are a writer.
Others have a story that’s been waiting to come out, ever since they read TwilightLordoftheRingsGamesofThronesDebbieDoesDestiny. You get the picture?
Characters and plots have been dancing in your skull for years. Are they original? Are you just continuing the saga of a book you read and never wanted to end?
Why do you want to write your book? Who is your audience?
My first book was a pirate story for children. Listen, everybody loves pirates! I calculated the male population of the United States. I hadn’t yet even considered the untapped markets of Amazon UK! If every boy in America bought my book, I’d be on easy street.
Wait! I’ll double my audience by including a strong female character. Good Morning America, here I come! Grandmother writes the great American novel for six-year-olds. Move over pigeons, piggies, and mice that want cookies; there’s a new kid in town!
They often say: If you write it, they will come. Well, that’s the first fairy tale of the self-publishing world. It doesn’t work like that. It’s complicated, and it’s hard work. Nothing comes easy. It is frustrating and can be expensive and disappointing.
If you are going to do this, put the same amount of thought you put into making any big decision in your life. Be realistic. In other words, don’t quit your day job. You have miles to go to see if this will work.
Start by looking at your genre. Really research it. Buy a bunch of books. Read what’s hot and what people love. Explore what sells. Look at the books with the lowest rankings on Amazon. That’s right, you heard me—this is a place where the lower the rank, the more the book is selling. Check out the genre you’re interested in; look at the top 100 books in that categories. Examine the covers; check out the authors with multiple books throughout that list and think about where your book might fit. I didn’t look at any of those things when I worked on my first book, but let me assure you, I looked at them very closely by my second and third. Looking at those bestsellers gave me an idea about what was selling, which covers attracted people, and which stories were popular.
You may adore your story. It’s personal. It’s a part of you. I understand. If your reason to write a book is to leave a lasting reminder that you were here or to record your thoughts for posterity, that’s fine. Write, edit, publish, market. Done.
If you are seeking fame and fortune, then be smart. Do your homework and research to see what is trending, what is selling.
Writing books is a business, and the biggest mistake an author can make is to forget that.
Be prepared to invest in yourself and your project. There is a cost involved—things you must do, from editing to cover art, if you want to compete with the big guys. If you decide you want to be an Uber driver and build an account base, do you think you’d be successful driving an old Chevy when everyone has brand-new vehicles?
Get ready to do things you didn’t expect to do—or even want to do. Don’t fool yourself that you can do it all by yourself. Join a good author’s thread on Goodreads and open your eyes and your mouth. Ask questions.
Walking is easier in the snow when you step in the footsteps of the fellow before you. Goodreads is filled with authors experimenting with writing and marketing their books. Don’t be shy. For the most part, they are warm and helpful. If they aren’t, find another thread. There are thousands of them. They are out there.
The first step in your journey is to explore the universe of self-publishing. Get familiar with other author’s problems; they may help you head off one of your own.
Be honest about why you want to publish, and then take a hard look at your work in progress and think: Will this sell? Is there an audience?
Start your adventure, and remember to have fun along the way.