Friday, June 3, 2011

All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Self-publishing, that is. Or at least, it can seem so. There are the breakthrough success stories at one end of the spectrum, bitter tales of sales disappointment at the other, and between the two, a generous smattering of testimonials from indie authors who aren't earning enough to quit their day jobs yet but are covering the rent or groceries each month with proceeds from their book sales. Suddenly, if you're not releasing a Kindle or Nook edition at the minimum, you feel like you're missing out on a huge opportunity. The pressure to rush to market is great, but you must resist it until both you and your book are truly ready for prime time.

Is Your Platform In Place, Focused and Growing?
Releasing your book before you've made it easy for readers to connect with you online, whether via a blog, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), or an author website, is a big mistake. Readers have come to expect authors to have an online presence of some sort, and not having one paints you and your book as a bit more fly by night.

I'm not saying prospective buyers will check for platform before making a purchase decision, but platform is what spreads the message about you and your work, pulling more and more readers into your fold and making those readers feel you care about their reaction to your work. Building a community around your work makes each subsequent book easier to promote, and creates a cheerleading section that will do a fair amount of promotion for you.

Is Your Book Still In Beta Test, Or Should It Be?
If you just completed your draft a week ago, I don't care who you are or how fantastic a writer you are, it's not ready to be published. Don't scrimp on the workshopping and rounds of critique, and don't let your sense of urgency about publication color your rewrite decisions.

Let's say the majority of your workshop/critique readers agree the second act needs a major overhaul, and a certain character needs to either be significantly expanded or cut entirely. Your heart sinks as you realize you're staring down the barrel of six weeks or more of rewrites, followed by another round of review, which pushes your publication date back by three months or more. It can be very easy to become so focused on your target publication date that you give short shrift to any feedback that could possibly interfere with that date.

Just keep reminding yourself: releasing a book that's not ready will lose sales and fans. And if it's your first book, readers aren't likely to give you a second chance. There's just too much else out there for them to choose from, and at bargain prices.

Have You Succumbed To The "Good Enoughs"?
Your manuscript is all formatted for print or ebook publication, and for the most part, it looks great. There are some inconsistencies in your formatting, like maybe most passages written in the voice of your protagonist's deceased son are italicized as you've intended, but a few have been left in standard type. Maybe most of your paragraphs begin with a .25" indent but non-indented paragraphs are scattered here and there. Maybe most of your line spacing is 1.15, but here and there you've lapsed into 1.5, and it's barely noticeable. Readers don't care about these things, right? Most of the book's formatting is correct and consistent, and that's good enough, right? Wrong.

You know a quality cover will elevate your book above the crowd, but you have no art or typography skills to speak of, don't have the money to pay top dollar for a professional design and don't have the time to search out a freelance artist you can afford. So you get your artsy sister to create a cover image for you, and it may not look like a slick mainstream cover but it's not bad. It doesn't scream "my sister designed this for me," and that's good enough, right? Wrong.

Again, don't let your sense of urgency about publication set an unprofessional tone.

Are You Prepared To Promote?
The book's been workshopped, polished to a high gloss, has a fantastic cover and attractive, consistent formatting, and you've got an author blog, Twitter account and Facebook page set up. Time to publish? Maybe, maybe not.

Are you prepared to invest the necessary time and effort to post to your blog regularly and acknowledge comments left there, to tweet quality messages and links, and respond to Facebook messages and wall posts? A neglected platform can actually be worse than no platform at all if it makes your readers feel snubbed.

Will you be able to do some guest blogging or write some articles to help get the word out about your book? Can you find the time to reach out to book bloggers and other reviewers, and are you prepared to send out free review copies of your book?

Platform maintenance doesn't have to be a fulltime job, and you can calibrate your platform activities to match your available levels of time and energy (e.g., maybe you can do Twitter or Facebook, but not both; maybe a static author web page is best for you because you don't have the time to blog, etc.).

What's important is that you're not going into publication with an expectation that once the book is out there, your job is done and all you need do is wait for the glowing reviews and royalties to start rolling in. Raising and building awareness doesn't happen by accident.

Are You Going To Make The Rest Of Us Look Bad?
Whether for any of the above reasons or something else, if you're not prepared to do a professional job of preparing your book for release and promoting it afterward, don't publish. While indie books and authors are gaining widespread acceptance, every amateurish indie book has the power to create or reinforce an anti-indie bias, and that hurts all of us.

1 comment:

gdedrick1 said...

Sound advice that we all should heed. A writer must also avoid the opposite of the "good enoughs," continual revision until it's perfect, because none of us can ever achieve perfection. Get caught up in that and nothing will ever be ready to publish.