I published The Tourist Trail a little more than six months ago.
It’s been quite a journey and I’ve just gotten started.
We writers like to think that the hard work ends once you send that final draft off to the publisher. In retrospect, that’s the easy part.
So I thought I’d take a few minutes to share what I’ve learned so far:
- Don’t give up the day job. The book has sold very well for a self-published book, but I’ve also been pouring the money from sales back into sending out additional review copies. I’ve more or less broken even so far, which I consider a success. If you’re a self-published writer and you expect to make millions in the first year, I applaud your optimism. I certainly share the dream. But I have kept my expectations modest and I have not been disappointed.
- Get your book on the Kindle. About half my sales so far have been on the Kindle. There are a growing number of readers who only buy books via Kindle, and you don’t want to miss out on this audience. More important, because there is no print overhead with the Kindle, I can price the book more affordably. And the more affordable the book is the more likely people are to take a chance on a new writer.
- When promoting your book, think outside the book. The book trailer that my wife and I created has had more than 5,000 views so far. It was mentioned in Poets & Writers and the Seattle Times. And, yes, it has even sold a few books. But the key to its success was the fact that we tried to create something that we would enjoy watching. We didn’t want to create your typical book trailer, and that has made all the difference.
- Mainstream book reviews are difficult to come by. I expected professional book reviewers, like the folks at the New York Times Book Review, to ignore my book (for now at least). But I was more hopeful about the hundred or so book bloggers out there. Book bloggers are people who are not paid to review books but receive free copies from publishers. Collectively they wield a great deal of power. I contacted every book blogger I could find who expressed an interest in reviewing mainstream fiction (some bloggers focus on specific genres/categories). In the end, I found one book blogger to review my book (and she loved it). And, yes, I consider this a success. The thing to keep in mind is that your book competes with every other book for a reviewer’s attention. And the more mainstream the reviewer, the more mainstream books this person must select from.
- Find “alternative” book reviews. Just because mainstream book reviewers may be reluctant to take on your book, doesn’t mean you can’t find qualified reviewers. The Tourist Trail is about animal rights activists and naturalists. So I contacted real-world naturalists and activists and people who love animals and I offered review copies. So far I’ve received excellent reviews from Our Hen House and Penguin News Today (among others); more important, I’ve met some amazing people along the way. These reviews have by far been the most rewarding.
- Buy mailing supplies in bulk. A padded mailing envelope will run you more than a dollar each at Staples, which is insanity. So I now buy envelopes in bulk from Uline. I also recommend getting a label maker; I have a model from Dymo and it has saved me many hours.
- Sign books even if people don’t ask. I didn’t think about this at first but when I sell a book through my web site I now sign it automatically. People love it. I certainly love to have books signed by the author.
- Don’t give up. There have been more than a few days when I wanted to just forget about the book and get on with my life. This is a lonely process and boy is it humbling. Particularly when you’re self-published. In the world of publishing there is “traditional publishing” and everything else. When you fall into that everything else category, it’s not easy to break through the clutter. But if you give up, you will never break through. That’s the only thing I know for sure. If you believe in your book, don’t give up on it. It’s okay to take breaks now and then, but always keep your eyes open for opportunities to promote the book.
- Enjoy the journey. The first few months after publication were the most challenging. I spent hours every day emailing reviewers, sending out review copies, and waiting for reviews to come in. The reviews often did not come in. I have a few people who promised reviews more than five months ago; I’m still waiting. So I recently told myself (or perhaps it was my wife who told me) to stop waiting (and whining) and to start enjoying the journey. And now I am.