This weekend will mark the six month anniversary of the publication of my debut novel, The Exercise Of Vital Powers. A lot has happened in that time (mostly positive I’m pleased to say), but looking back at my first six months as a published author I have no trouble admitting that I embarked upon this independent publishing journey without the faintest idea what I was doing. I self-published my novel pretty much on a whim, with no forethought, content to just learn the ropes as I go. It has definitely been a valuable learning experience, and in hindsight if I knew six months ago what I know now, I would have handled the publication of my first book very differently. But I have no regrets. Sometimes the best way to learn lessons is through experience, and I’ve learned three things that will help me with the launch of every subsequent book I publish in future.
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First Lesson: Put Your Hand In Your Pocket
Anyone who has seen the front cover of The Exercise Of Vital Powers knows that I didn’t spend a penny getting it published. I didn’t pay to get the manuscript into a fit state to be published, nor did I pay to market the book to potential readers. At the time, I had good reasons to be frugal; self-publishing a novel can be a very expensive endeavour when done right, and as someone who has experience of drowning in crippling debt for two years, I couldn’t justify to myself incurring the costs of hiring a professional, experienced developmental editor, line editor, copy editor, illustrator or graphic designer to get my book out there. Being a then first time author I had no expectation that my debut novel would recoup that kind of investment given that I had no established readership to sell to, so it made sense to ask for free favours where I could, while taking care of the rest myself.
When the time finally comes for me to publish my second novel, I can’t and won’t cheap out because I will no longer have the luxury of starting from scratch as a completely unknown author. As surreal as it for me to think about, there are actually a small number of readers out there who are excited about the prospect of what I will write next. With that being the case, I have a reason to make sure that I deliver the most polished and professional quality product I can for them. And if that means taking out a loan for editors and artists etc. that’s what I’ll do.
Second Lesson: Build A Team Around You
Writing a novel is generally a solitary undertaking; one person at a keyboard telling a story. When I published The Exercise Of Vital Powers I did so believing that the book selling stage should also be a solo operation; after all, when you make the decision to be an indie author you are basically taking full responsibility for every step of the publication and distribution process. But the extent of my effort was to simply upload the finished ebook to the Kindle Store because I was content to just let my novel sink or swim on its own merits. Unsurprisingly, it sank without trace, initially. What I have subsequently learned since then is that the successful launch of a self-published book requires a group effort; it’s not something that can be pulled off without the support of a team of people around you to do some of the heavy lifting.
It’s clear to me now that when I get around to publishing my second novel I will need assistance both before and after publication day. The first two people I need to add to my team is the editor and the artist. The next group of people to welcome to the team once I’ve established a working relationship with editor and artist are the beta readers. I’m not sure yet how many beta readers I will be seeking when the time comes, but I do know that I want two thirds of them to be women. As my two main characters are both female it’s important to me that I get female perspectives on how they are depicted; being a male writer means I’m less likely to notice anything problematic I might have written. It will be a while before I need beta readers but I’ve already identified two people who I want on my beta reading team.
The next people to add to the team are reviewers to receive advance copies of the next book so they can provide honest reviews to help inform prospective readers. When I released The Exercise Of Vital Powers there were no reviews, obviously. I didn’t mind this at the time (even though I’m well aware that readers are less likely to take a chance on a book without reviews) because I was okay about waiting for word of mouth to spread over a twelve month period. When book two sees the light of day I definitely want several reviews to be available ahead of time. I already have a small number of reviewers who I know I can send advance copies to, but I hope to significantly increase that number between now and then.
In addition to the early reviewers, I will want to add a few other book bloggers to the team to undertake non-reviewing duties. Bloggers do so much to increase the visibility of new book releases and authors, freely giving their time to help with promotional activities, whether it be through interviews, spotlights, excerpts, guest posts and giveaways etc. Once again it’s a bit too soon to think about getting any specific people on board, but in the new year I will be on the lookout.
Third Lesson: Plan Ahead
Perhaps the most crucial lesson I have learned about successfully releasing a self-published book is to plan ahead. As I already mentioned, The Exercise Of Vital Powers was released with no planning and this is something I won’t repeat in future. I’ve seen a number of successful launches of self-published fantasy novels this year, and it’s apparent that a lot of forethought went into them, and the authors are reaping the rewards for it. This is something I will endeavour to emulate in future because it’s obvious that getting all your jigsaw pieces into place before publication day is the key to a successful launch.
Thanks for reading,