As ideal as it would be to have funds to promote your book, covers, and printing things like bookmarks, business cards and posters, not everyone, me included, has masses of money to spend on such essentials when you are setting out to become a successful author.
Drawing closer to my first year of being an author, here are a few things I have learned, including things to avoid at all costs… I wish someone had told me, so I am sharing my epic fails, as well as my discovered gems.
I personally feel the book cover is as important as the writing inside. Why? Because people are visual. When we go into a shop to buy groceries, our eyes are automatically drawn to best packaging, bold lettering, and fancy detail. We may not fork out to get them because of financial reasons (four hungry kids to feed) but it is where our eye wanders to first. Nine times out of ten, we only buy the generic brands because we have too, no one has to buy your book…purchases such as these are a want and not a need, especially when you have a tight budget to stick to.
The book covers are what get people to take a peep inside and read the blurb. If the cover looks bad, even if the story is great, rarely will anyone look beyond it, especially when you are a new author and people have not heard of you.
The trouble is, covers done professionally can be expensive, anywhere from £160 to thousands of pounds. Some might not think £160 is a lot of money, but when you have bills to pay, children to feed, the cost of living, that could be two weeks worth of shopping. In my case, £160 is a sizeable chunk of income, especially when that cost is per book.
When I released A Legacy of Blood, I honestly felt like my only option was to create my own book cover. I downloaded free graphic design software, some people use Canva, and then searched through hundreds of public domain images from Pixabay. With zero knowledge in book cover design I managed to create one that didn’t look to bad: See below.
The image on the left is the original cover.
Its passable, but when stood against over book covers in the book store, I felt it wasn’t great. You could tell not a lot of money was spent (zero money in fact) and it took me days to get it right, even longer to get the sizing correct to use as a paperback cover… I could have written another 30,000 plus word on my next novel in the time it took. It drove me a little mad, a few choice words passing my lips late into the night.
Several tantrums later… I knew I had to find the money to invest in professional covers going forward, so I started saving, released a second novel, again with my own designed cover (Still didn’t have the capital to splash out for book covers.) Until I came across Fiverr… and I honestly wish I had come across it sooner. https://www.fiverr.com/ It is a market place, filled with everything your need to brand yourself, book cover design, editing services, art work, marketing services etc. They will design book markers, business cards, posters, websites… It worth looking at everything they have to offer, I will soon be adding book marks and business cards to my list of purchases.
Of course, when using anything online, it is essential to use your common sense… Check reviews, look at previous work they have done, ask them questions before committing, and make sure they offer unlimited revisions, that way if you are not happy with anything it can be sorted without additional costs.
I came across a brilliant book cover designer, who only charged me £19.95 (at the time) for ebook and paperback design, she also provided the source files, 3d picture of the finished book, and is happy to talk to you about anything, with prompt reply’s. Her work is excellent, and the service was a lot quicker than I had anticipated. See her cover below: Way better than mine.
It is also worth noting that when paying, you pay Fiverr, not the seller, and only when you approve the order, and the sample cover they created, does the order complete. I wish to say again, that its important you go with someone who will do unlimited revisions/changes to the cover.
Some will add charges to the order if you ask them to change something more than a couple of times, Font size, image location etc. When the order is complete they send you the files via Dropbox, which you then download onto your own computer. For me the experience was brilliant, and I was over the moon with the finished product and the cost was within my budget.
I recommend chatting with the person first, some people on the site work from abroad, speaking to them prior will give you an idea of how well they understand English, the last thing you want is someone who doesn’t understand what you are asking for. Discuss your ideas with them in full before you even click the order button, and again, take the time to look at their reviews from previous customers.
Editing is essential, but try as I might, I cannot find affordable professional editing anywhere, the cheapest I found costing just under £1000. I have read my books so many times before releasing them I practically know them by heart… I sigh… Like driving, everyone has bad habits, it’s no different when writing, and the danger of being over familiarized with your story, is that you miss things…
It is so important to have your book edited. I do get upset that I can’t afford to pay someone to do it… It would certainly be easier and save a lot of time. What I have done instead, knowing that no matter how many times I read it, there will always be something that slips by me, I have called upon family and friends who I know have a good eye, and excellent English ability, grammar etc. Like sifting for gold, with no money to invest in an editor, I layer it… sift through the errors, again, and again, until the gold appears:
This is my process.
I edit my finished draft, grammar, and spell check (basic must do) before forwarding my revised manuscript to my editor (Who is my husband).When he is done I edit it again. I then send it to my first Beta reader, who although they aren’t reading it for the point of editing, will point out anything they do notice. (Thank your to my wonderful beta readers) I will then edit it again, make any relevant changes to plot structure etc.
I then bang my head on a wall, silently complain, and edit it again… After that edit I send to my next Beta reader. After their feedback, I will edit it again, spelling and grammar check again… Dramatic sigh. Its painstakingly slow, but for now it is my only option… It’s worth the time and effort, it could put people off buying your books for years if the first one they read is filled with errors…
I am certain, despite my lengthy and tedious attempts to correct everything, there will still be some mistakes, but at least I know I have done everything I could to make it the best it could be with the means available to me.
I should note though, that even if your are able to source a professional editor, make sure your read it again before publishing. We are all human, and even the best of us make mistakes, more eyes are better than one eye when it comes to ferreting out errors.
Note that I said errors, try not to fall into the trap of constantly changing your story. If you start down that road you will always be changing it. We are our own worst critics, if I was to open my book today, I know I would start fiddling with the story… When you decide its done, let it be done, polish it up, but don’t strip it apart or add more, not unless your really think it needs it…
With my first book, A Legacy of Blood, I made the epic mistake of getting over excited and publishing it without polishing it as much as I should have, the errors were small, but trust me, when your get your book through the post, and are buzzing about the fact you have just wrote and published a book, and find a mistake, like a random question that had no reason for being there, it’s heart breaking… It is because of those little errors, I formed my sifting process.
Know your own business:
Your novels are not the only part of being a self-published author, writing, for me at least, is the easiest part. You also have to market your books, market yourself as an author and make sure you network. I’m a quiet individual, always have been, networking for me is my biggest weakness. You need to be prepared to push your own boundaries even if it is uncomfortable for you.
The first thing I did when I moved here was join the library, the second was to find a local writing group. I found a gem of a writing group, their writing all varied. Some write articles, poetry, some novels, as well as those who teach writing classes. I have only been attending a few months since my move here, but I have already learned so much… I am now a regular attendee and a member of the Scottish association of writers, and honestly, they are now stuck with me, I won’t be going anywhere…
I’m sure everyone has their own systems, and I would love to hear them…
Membership to clubs varies depending on the club, but my club is surprisingly well priced, a one off annual fee, and a small on the night fee your would hardly remember parting with. My membership also included the membership to the Scottish association of writers, which means I can attend the book convention at a lower cost, there are a lot of perks.
Having support really helps, as well as sourcing as much information as your can on the self-publishing trade. I recently read a book called; The nuts and blots of self-publishing by Chris Longmuir: that taught me a lot. I had no idea that at any point I might get a letter through the post demanding five copies of my book, which if I receive one is a legal requirement… No idea.
I recommend studying the business, if your can’t afford to download a book, check your local library. It isn’t just a case of writing your book and then putting it up for sale, if only that were the case. Even people on a low budget can afford to join a club, (mine at least is well priced) and the support and knowledge within, is more than worth it.
Marketing and reviews:
Of course, social media is one of the best ways to market yourself for free or low cost. I have a Twitter account, Facebook, and I’ve heard Instagram is also good, but I am still figuring out the Facebook… lol, I’m not very tech savvy.
Find Facebook groups that love your own genre, eg: Paranormal romance, in the search bar. Some are just for chatting, but others let your post your work. You can also pay for marketing via Facebook if that is something you can afford. Twitter will also market for a fee, but there are a lot of people on Twitter who will advertise your book for free, AKA, digital book girl, to name one.
I have yet to try paid marketing, so I couldn’t comment on whether it is worth it, but I have heard some say they did notice a different in sales. The choice is personal, look around there are a lot of options out there.
I found this website useful: https://kindlepreneur.com/list-sites-promote-free-amazon-books/ It has a list of sites who promote books for free, as well as a list of sites who will review your books for free.
I also think signing up to the Amazon author central and becoming a Goodreads author, is helpful. When people come across your books, they will have the opportunity to learn more about you, as well as being directed to your website, Twitter, and any other social media sites you might belong too via the links you provided when signing up. Goodreads also lets you blog and connect with the readers, plan giveaways, and question and answer features. It is a great is to build up fan base, and it costs you nothing.
If you a have paperback book, ask family and friend across the country to request it at the library. It normally doesn’t cost them anything, but some libraries that do charge a small fee. Once your book is in the library, you gain exposure, and it didn’t cost you anything. I now have my book in a couple, my family are on the case… You just never know where it will lead, word of mouth is a powerful tool. If only ten people took your book out in a year, that’s ten more people who will potentially seek your next book and recognize your name when browsing for books.
Nearly a year into my new career, I am still learning, my name slowly but surely making its way across the internet. With lots of money you could certainly get your book up and out there faster, make book trailers, pay for mass marketing, but with no money, it is often a case of perseverance, not giving up, and continuing to push and write.
Don’t focus on the sales, it takes time to establish yourself as an author, and I am still in the baby stages myself… I am not there yet, and am far from an expert in self-publishing.
The purpose of this article is to share what I have learned, one year in, so anyone who doesn’t have the capital to buy services, would have a starting point, or at least take away a few ideas they maybe hadn’t thought of yet.
I would love to hear any ideas you have, the one thing I love about the self-publishing community is the support they all give each other.