The brutality of the publishing world

The publishing industry is rough. Many authors out there will tell you that. Having a great story and a solid manuscript doesn’t guarantee that your path will be easy, or that you’ll have a path at all. At the end of the day, it comes down to how much you want it, and luck. That second part is the one aspect completely out of your control. I’m sure this is the case in many other areas of the entertainment industry, but it’s particularly true in the book publishing realm.

When I started the process of trying to get my first novel published a few years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing. I reached out to my favorite author to ask for help, and he provided some. But even with that, I was unprepared for the harsh realities of query letters and cold hard rejection. This alone is enough to demotivate the most idealistic unpublished author. The first is the hardest, the next few after that are enough to make you quit. The 20th is when you start taking it in stride. I sought an agent, even going as far as to query publishers directly, and had no luck. So, like many things in my life, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I began the process of self-publishing my first novel. I hired my own team of awesome people and started preparing my manuscript for mass market production. I learned a lot during that process. I began to learn the tricks of the trade and started to see the other side of an industry that can be tight lipped and ominous. A good editor is a godsend. Most of the time, you don’t get exposure to a good editor until after you’ve convinced an agent or publisher to take you on. In my case, I paid for one.

My advice to anyone who can’t figure out why you’re getting rejected over and over? Hire an editor, have them work on your manuscript. A good editor will give you honest feedback and help you take your story to the next level. One big caveat here. An editor cannot make a terrible novel good or great. The best they can do, is turn a good novel into a great one. That’s a key differentiator that I want to highlight, as many fledglings who hire editors think they can take a terrible story, with terribly written prose and make it into a bestseller. They aren’t magical creatures capable of such feats, and the best editors will tell you this up front. Honest ones will even turn down such novels, indicating that it isn’t worth going through the editing process and needs more work first.

After you get through the editing process, now begins the hard part. Marketing your novel. Why not the actual self-publishing process? Because that part is actually pretty easy, ridiculously easy actually. Amazon has an amazing system that is insanely easy to use. There are also a boatload of formatting services that can help you get your novel finalized (Amazon makes it really easy to do this part yourself if you want). So that part isn’t hard, not in the least. The hard part is marking your novel, both in pre-release and through initial launch. This stage is so critical that I can’t stress it enough.

I didn’t realize this until sometime after I had launched my first novel. My thoughts running up to that point and time were to just get my novel out and onto the market. I was naive in thinking that once it was up on Amazon, magic was going to happen and all I had to do was sit back and start counting my millions.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

You have to be aggressive in getting the word out. In the traditional publishing world, there are teams of people who can help you do this. Whole departments focused on marketing your book and lining up reviews from all the most widely known venues. You can attempt to do all of this stuff yourself, but it really is a full time job and can be difficult to do the first time. My advice in this regard is to hire a PR firm that specializes in book promotion. And hire a good one. You want one that has a multifaceted approach to promoting your book, not one that promises a one trick pony. You want the full package: book tours, interviews, advertisements and ARC (advanced reader copy) reviews. All of these things are important. Especially at the launch of your book. These things are critical components to skyrocketing your book into the top selling lists on Amazon. The top selling lists make or break your book, period. And when you see the momentum happening there, don’t stop. Pump more resources and time into going further.

In many cases, when authors see their book in the Amazon Best Sellers list, they get happy and stop, assuming that their book will remain up their forever. It won’t, that chart isn’t static. Within a few days, you could drop off of that chart completely and disappear into obscurity. You have to aggressively work to keep your book up there with a focus on getting people to review your novel. At this stage, reviews become critical to your novel’s success. And not just a few reviews, but a ton of reviews. What you can do to feed this aspect of your book campaign is to ask your friends, family and complete strangers to write reviews. Send out free copies of your book to known reviewers with blogs, etc. Follow up with these people. Express how important their review is. Tell them your success depends on them writing a few sentences that share their experience with your story. You want these people to write reviews for you and get them up on Goodreads and Amazon ASAP. Don’t nag, just gently remind them. People are busy.

Social media is also a core component of this process, as it allows you to establish yourself as a public figure. With an established social media presence, you get more credibility with your potential audience, and once you begin to build a following, that morphs into a platform and platforms are powerful. One key thing to note here. Sites that promise to give you thousands of followers are trash and not worth it. You want quality followers. Whenever possible, tell people to follow you on twitter or to like your Facebook page. Seriously. Also, if you have the money to spare, advertise with Twitter and Facebook to have them bring you followers. These followers are different from the ones you would get through nefarious means, as they are actually interested in authors like you.

At this stage, you may be looking at everything you need to do to self-publish a novel and decide to keep sending out those query letters. After all, it’s so much easier when an agent and publisher can do all that work for you right? Well, even in those instances much of the above still falls onto your shoulders. Not exactly fair, right? Well, that’s life my friend ;) On the flip side, as a self-published author, you have creative control of everything. With that said, listen to the people you hire. There is a reason you hired them.

If you want to self-publish your novel, do it right. It’s a lot of work, but it really is a system that works well when you know what to do. In many cases, if you don’t do it right initially, you can attempt to salvage your novel later on down the road. But in many instances, it’s more work as you lose some of the benefits of a new release (i.e. some sites give prime space to new releases in advertising, blog posts, etc.). However, if you don’t want to do the work, that’s fine. I suggest you keep sending out those lottery tickets—I mean… query letters. You’ll hit gold sooner or later!