So, it's been more than a year since I self-published for the first time back in March of 2012. That first effort was Jessamine and, since then, I've published a few other books and novellas. My last book, Jamaica Dreaming, was published in August. I'm still very new at this but I thought I'd share some of the lessons I've learned. (They may or may not apply to you and your work. Everyone's experiences will be different and what hasn't worked for me may very well work for you.)
1.) Reviews. Some time last year I wrote a NS blog about the difficulties of getting reviews. I posted that for every one hundred or so requests I might send out to bloggers, Vine reviewers, book clubs, etc., around fifteen might ask for the manuscript and then three might actually write a review. That was my experience, anyway. I'd literally spend days scouring the Internet and Amazon for bloggers and reviewers and then many more days sending out the emails. With Jamaica Dreaming I didn't bother. The return on my investment of time just didn't seem worth it so I didn't contact a single blogger or reviewer. Imagine my surprise then when a day after I'd published JD, it had a review. And a lovely one, too. (JD is on the short side but, even so, the reviewer must be a fast reader.) Since then, the reviews by readers have continued to come in. Lesson learned - if I write in a genre with a lot of dedicated readers, they will find the book and they will review it. (Putting a review request at the backs of all your books is also a good idea.)
2.) Covers. For my earlier books - Jessamine (first cover) and The Water of Sunlight I had custom covers made. They were wonderful covers but those two books have yet to earn me back what I paid on the covers alone, never mind the editing. For me, premades are the way to go until I start making the kind of money that would justify a higher outlay. Lesson learned - quality premades look good and won't hurt your pocket.
3.) Another word about Covers. As a corollary to the above - I'd planned JD as a series of Caribbean-set romances from last year and had the covers custom made back then. The series name I came up with was Caribbean Heat. Then, this year when I finally finished JD, it was sexy but perhaps not as sexy as the sub-title implied. Changing the covers would have cost around $25 each so I didn't bother. The result has been that a few of the reviews have lamented the lack of heat. Sigh. Lesson learned - write the book and then purchase the cover. (This has been a hard one for me - I have quite a few covers - a mix of premade and custom waiting on manuscripts. Premade cover sites are particularly addictive and dangerous!)
4.) I read in all genres and thought all right then, I'll write what I want. My books cover crime, romance, literary and gritty literary (and I've also bought at least one speculative fiction cover). What that means, though, is that building an audience will take longer. Someone might have signed up for my newsletter on the strength of my crime book but then they get a notice that I've written a romance. One or two might be curious and buy it, but the rest will either ignore the new publication or unsubscribe. Lesson learned - stick to one genre. This way when people who've signed up because they like my romances see that I've got another one out they'll jump on it right away and give me a boost right out of the block.
5.) Amazon Exclusivity. KDP Select didn't do a thing for me and may actually have done me a disfavour. I went into Select for my two crime stories - a novella and a collection of short stories. They both did very well on their free days, climbing the charts to reach into the top twenty Free in African American Crime. After each free time block they both plummeted in the ranking to about where they were before. There was no post-free bump. While I did pick up a couple of nice reviews, I also got a couple of bad ones from reviewers who may have gotten them simply because they were free and not because they cared for the genre or were interested in the subject matter. Lesson learned - skip Select unless maybe I have a series and I want to get people hooked on the series (and, even so it might be best to go perma-free).
6.) Giveaways. I did a Goodreads giveaway earlier this year for Dido's Prize, an older book which I hadn't self-published. Hundreds of people entered. Three winners were chosen and I also sent out a copy to somebody who'd put it on their must-read shelf a few months before. (I alerted that person about the giveaway and, when she didn't win, I sent her a copy anyway.) She's the only one, who at the time of writing this blog, had done a review. Two or three people who entered the giveaway also put a couple of my other books on their To Read list and there was a slight rise in the rankings for the book at Amazon, representing maybe two or three sales. The results were, thus, not spectacular. I've also done Facebook group and blog giveaways. None of those has so far resulted in any reviews. Would I bother doing other giveaways? Maybe, maybe not. I'd prefer to do giveaways of ebook versions but, even so, I don't know if the result justifies the time spent. I've heard that putting books on permafree at Amazon is one of the best things for sales of a series and that might be the way I'll go when I have a series. Lesson learned - the costs of mailing copies of books out isn't worth it since the reviews aren't guaranteed. If a giveaway can be done at no cost and for very little investment, it might be worth looking into but other than that, I'll pass.
My goal is to, one day, be able to live off my writing or, at least, have it contribute mightily to my quality of life, so I keep writing and learning. I'm not there yet. While writing is an act of creativity, publishing is a business, and I now know much more about that side of things than I did last year. Here's to the future!