The Best Place to Self-Publish Your Book (a Fresh Look)

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Where Should You Self-Publish Your Book?

Maybe you’ve written a book. (That’s amazing, by the way.) Maybe you’re thinking about writing a book.

Or maybe you’ve self-published before, and you’re wondering if the option you used is still the best option for you. After all, book publishing is dynamic.

The best place for you to publish depends on which type of book you’ve written and which marketing ideas (if any) you have in mind (or you’re willing to try with earnest).

99.9% of self-published authors should be thinking one main word: AMAZON.

However, there are different ways to go about making your self-published book available on Amazon.

Even if you get most of your sales from Amazon, there are other ways to help supplement the sales that you draw from Amazon. And there are a few self-published authors who are highly successful with other sales channels.

Which Self-Publishing Options are Best for You?

That depends. First of all, there are different types of books that you can publish.

  • E-books. This is the most affordable option for customers. Most self-published novels sell better in digital format, but there are many other types of books that also sell very well as e-books.
  • Paperbacks. There are many nonfiction books, such as guides or educational books, where customers like to highlight and annotate. Paperbacks also make for better gifts. They also provide a few marketing opportunities, like sales to local bookstores or libraries and book signings.
  • Hardcovers. Many parents prefer this for children’s picture books, for example.
  • Both print and digital. Congratulations! You picked the ‘correct’ answer. Maximize your market by publishing your book both in print and as an e-book.

Where should you self-publish your e-book?

  • Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This is a must. This makes your book available in the Amazon Kindle store, where most customers shop for e-books.
  • The other guys. You could visit Nook Press, Kobo Writing Life, and a host of other places, but it’s much more convenient to choose an e-book aggregator like Smashwords or Draft2Digital.
  • Option (C): Just KDP _or_ KDP + Smashwords (or Draft2Digital). That is the question. You see, Amazon dangles this choice before your eyes, which is called KDP Select. If you enroll your e-book in KDP Select, you’re not allowed to publish your e-book with Nook, Kobo, Smaswhords, Draft2Digital, or anywhere else (unless and until you successfully opt out of KDP Select, and also wait for your current 90-day enrollment period to end). So you must choose: Will you publish your e-book with Amazon KDP only (to reap the benefits of KDP Select), or will you publish your e-book everywhere you can (staying out of KDP Select)? That’s a tough question. We’ll come back to that later.

Where should you self-publish your paperback?

  • CreateSpace. Since this is Amazon’s original print-on-demand self-publishing company, it’s the logical way to make your paperback book available in Amazon. I recommend CreateSpace: There are no setup fees, you can order inexpensive author copies, they offer Expanded Distribution (to sell your book through other channels in addition to Amazon), you can choose to use a free ISBN (if you don’t mind CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform showing up in the publishing field on your Amazon product page), and being an Amazon company—yeah, this is worth repeating—it seems like the logical way to make your paperback book available for sale at Amazon.
  • Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s not just for e-books: You can publish your paperback through KDP, too. That’s convenient, especially for new authors who follow the steps outlined in KDP Jumpstart, Amazon’s new self-publishing guide. However, I still recommend CreateSpace over KDP for the paperback version: CreateSpace lets you order a printed proof (which every author should do), purchase inexpensive author copies, and offers better distribution to channels beyond Amazon.
  • Ingram Spark. This is the main competition for CreateSpace. Ingram Spark is Lightning Source’s self-publishing platform, and Lightning Source has been a major book distributor for several years. One reason that I recommend CreateSpace is that CreateSpace has zero setup fees, whereas it costs more to publish with Ingram Spark. If you have reason to expect significant sales through the international market (perhaps because you’re based in another country and have solid marketing plans there), or if you’ve done ample research and have effective plans for potential sales through local bookstores or libraries, in those cases it may be worth comparing the pros and cons of Ingram Spark and CreateSpace more closely to see whether the possible benefits may outweigh the higher setup fees. If you’re an illustrated children’s author or have other reasons to expect significant hardcover sales, you might like Ingram Spark’s hardcover option.
  • Option (D). There are authors who use CreateSpace for Amazon distribution and who use Ingram Spark for other sales channels (even though CreateSpace offers Expanded Distribution). I generally don’t recommend this, unless you have compelling reasons to expect significant sales through other channels besides Amazon—since, again, Ingram Spark has higher setup fees, whereas CreateSpace lets you publish for free. Before you try this option, search the CreateSpace community forum (or the great wide internet) for discussions about how to pull this off (and the potential pitfalls).
  • There are a few other options. CreateSpace and Ingram Spark are the two major players. Next on the list is Lulu. There are authors who use Lulu. One nice thing about Lulu is that you can sell your book through Lulu’s store: This option may be handy for those authors who can drive significant traffic through their own marketing (though, in general, if you drive traffic to Amazon, customers are more likely to follow through with a purchase, since more customers know and trust Amazon). For the rare author who can move books in person (for example, by selling dozens of copies after a presentation), you can find relatively cheap printing options if you plan to purchase 1000+ books up front: In that case, it’s worth doing some research for inexpensive book printers. If you want to order a few hardcover copies, but don’t need distribution, instead of paying setup fees at Ingram Spark, one possible alternative is to use Nook Press (their hardcover option lets you order author copies, but doesn’t offer print-on-demand distribution).

There is yet another way that you can publish a book: You can make an audio book. For this, I recommend using the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to make your book available at Audible.com, Amazon, and iTunes.

KDP Select

Now let’s come back to that critical e-book question: Should you enroll your Kindle e-book in KDP Select?

If you enroll your e-book in KDP Select, you can’t publish your e-book anywhere else. (But you may still publish a print book anywhere you want.) The benefits of enrolling in KDP Select include:

  • Kindle Unlimited. This is the main benefit. Customers who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited (which costs $9.99 per month in the US) can borrow KDP Select books for free. Amazon pays you about $0.004 per page read (although a “page” usually turns out to be significantly more than a typical printed “page”) by Kindle Unlimited customers. Obviously, $0.004 doesn’t seem like much, since it’s just one page (although it’s usually higher, and has occasionally exceeded $0.005), but if your book gets tens of thousands of pages read through Kindle Unlimited, it can really add up. Amazon currently pays over $19,000,000 per month in royalties for KDP Select books borrowed through Kindle Unlimited, so this is a very significant market. But there are also over a million books in Kindle Unlimited competing for pages read.
  • Kindle Countdown Deals. If your book is priced from $2.99 to $24.99 (for $2.99 only, your converted .mobi file size must be below 3 MB), you can run a Kindle Countdown Deal. This lets you put your book on sale for up to 7 days every 90-day enrollment period. The sale price by itself doesn’t always attract the attention you’re hoping for. However, if you find effective ways to promote your sale price, this improves your chances for improved sales. There are several websites that help to promote sale prices, like BookBub and E-reader News Today (note that BookBub is much more expensive, and very difficult to get accepted into).
  • Free book promos. Instead of a Countdown Deal, you could choose to give your book away for free for up to 5 days every 90-day enrollment period. I’m not recommending that you earn zero royalties, just including it as a possible benefit. There are a few authors who use this effectively, especially when they have a compelling first volume for a series of books. Again, to get the most out of this, you usually need to promote the temporary sale price effectively. In this case, you’re hoping that any free copies pay dividends down the road, but there are no guarantees.

The main question is this:

  • Would you earn more royalties through Kindle Unlimited pages read?
  • Or would you earn more royalties from sales through Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.?

That’s basically what it boils down to. There really is no way to know without trying. One option is to enroll in KDP Select for 90 days and see how it goes. (This gives you an extra 3 months to learn how to format your book for Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, or wherever else. Formatting is a little different for other platforms than it is for Kindle.)

Good Luck!

And I mean it. I wish every author success with their publishing endeavors.

My advice is to think long-term. However many sales you make this year, strive to make more sales next year. Keep writing, keep publishing. Enjoy your writing and you’re sure to enjoy the experience.

Learn how to do a little marketing, and try out new marketing ideas periodically. Think long-term with your marketing. The best place to start is with a free blog. I recommend WordPress’s free dot com site. Since you love writing, you’ll surely enjoy blogging. I do. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

Click here to view my Amazon author page.

Click here to view my Goodreads author page.

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Indie Publishing Is Dynamic

Updated

Introduction

Traditional publishing has its benefits, but so does indie publishing.

However, those benefits are meaningless if you don’t take advantage of them.

One of the great advantages of indie publishing is the opportunity to swiftly respond to the many changes that arise throughout a book’s life, and to give a book an extended lifetime that far exceeds typical shelf life.

How’s the Weather?

Even in the publishing industry, the weather is unpredictable.

Many factors come up, including those that are beyond your control.

  • Kindle changes the way that series books are displayed in search results.
  • Just as you begin your big promotion, one of your first reviews stings like a bumblebee.
  • The subject of your nonfiction book experiences a major change just months after it’s published. Now it’s outdated.
  • Amazon discontinues the 4-for-3 program, starts discounting paperbacks, or stops putting them on sale.
  • One of the main subcategories that you selected is suddenly eliminated.
  • Someone raises a valid complaint about an issue that you failed to anticipate.
  • Readers convince you that you needed more editing help than you realized.

As an indie author, there is much you can’t control, but there is much you can respond to swiftly.

Product Page

Many features on your product page are dynamic:

  • The cover. Just upload a new one!
  • The blurb. Easy to revise. You can even format it through Author Central.
  • The keywords. Wise choices improve discoverability. Hardly selling? Change them up.
  • The categories. Be careful, though. If you’ve built up good visibility, a change could cost you.
  • The reviews. You can rarely change them, but it’s dynamic in that there is always the potential for a customer to leave a new review. (It works both ways. If things are good now, a bad one can spoil it. If the last review stings, in time a new one may be favorable.)
  • The editorial reviews. Get a great review quote from a relevant source and it can spice up your product page.
  • The biography. In addition to trying to find what works, if you leave this unchanged, it can become outdated.
  • The author photo. Strive to look the part.
  • The page count. You could add content. For a Kindle, adding a paperback makes this more accurate.
  • The customers-also-bought lists. The more effective your marketing, the more sales will help with this.
  • The list price. Having doubts? There’s one way to find out.
  • The sale price. Amazon often changes the sale price of print books. You can’t count on the selling price (but for CreateSpace print books, you’re paid based on the list price).
  • The recent blog posts on your Author Central page. Amazon displays the three most recent posts.
  • The book itself. Republishing is so simple, we could interrupt this blog with an auto insurance commercial.
  • And much more. Expanded distribution adds third-party sellers. More print sales leads to a few used books for sale. Author Central and Shelfari offer book extras. There are customer discussions, which are (and should be) quite rare except for popular authors.

But Not Everything

A few things are static:

  • The title. Choose wisely. Changing the title requires republishing a new book.
  • The author name and ISBN are fixed, too, unless you republish.
  • Customer reviews. A bad review is a permanent public record, so do your best to perfect your book from the beginning.
  • The publication date. (Though there was a period recently where republishing a Kindle changed this date.)
  • If you comment on a review, as soon as the reviewer or anyone else replies to your comment, if you change your mind and delete your comment, it will say, “Deleted by the author.” Amazon means the author of the comment, but everyone will assume it’s the author of the book.
  • Print books remain on your Author Central page forever. (A Kindle book, along with reviews of the Kindle edition, can be removed by unpublishing. But if you republish later, those reviews may reappear, although you may appeal to Author Central.)

What Does It Mean?

It means two things:

  1. You’re not stuck with things the way they are now.
  2. Don’t get too comfortable with things the way they are.

Here are some examples of how you can benefit from a dynamic publishing environment:

  • Monitor your three most recent blog posts. At any time, a customer can look at your Author Central page. What will this combination of posts look like to a customer?
  • Advance review copies can help to get a few early, honest reviews. If you’re planning a big early promotion, this can help to offset the possible misfortune of an unexpected critical review from one of your first customers.
  • On the other hand, if you get several glowing reviews, nothing critical is balancing them, and your book hasn’t yet established a healthy sales rank, this may seem suspicious to customers.
  • Making the blurb more clear or revising your book may render a review less relevant. This offers a little protection against the foolish person out to sabotage a book: The comment motivates you to improve the book or even the blurb, and now you suddenly have a better product (or packaging) on the market. Turn a negative into a positive.
  • Sales super slow? Try changing things up with a new blurb, cover, keyword, category, author photo, biography, or list price.
  • That strong urge you feel to respond to a review may have consequences that affect your book for it’s entire life. Some mistakes aren’t easy to fix. If instead you revise the blurb to address an issue raised in the review, if you later realize that doing so was a mistake, you can revise your blurb.
  • Adding quality books to the market similar to those you’ve already published helps your customers-also-bought lists help you.
  • When Kindle adds new features, like the recent Countdown Deal, you can take advantage of them immediately.
  • Updating the content of your book is easy. Just republish.
  • Keep writing and marketing. Even if things are going well now, you never know. The best way to prepare for the unknown future of your book is to write similar books and spend some time marketing effectively.
  • Got a couple of bad reviews? (1) If there are valid points, update your book. (2) Drive traffic to your product page through effective marketing. This helps you get some sales even when the product page isn’t appealing much through discovery on Amazon.

Beyond the Product Page

Marketing is also dynamic. For example, social media used to be the craze. It’s still effective for some kinds of marketing, but not nearly as effective in general. A current trend is a content-rich website. It’s also good to try new things because doing what everyone else is doing isn’t always most effective for you.

Don’t rely on Amazon to sell your book. Even if you get 95% of your sales from Amazon, you should look beyond Amazon for help.

  • Amazon tends to help books that help themselves through effective marketing. The work you do to drive traffic to your product page helps.
  • Traffic that you direct to your product page can help you jumpstart sales when you first publish and can help keep sales going if your visibility in search results plummets or if you receive a couple of bad reviews (if you’re personally interacting, those customers may trust what they learned from you more than what a stranger posts in a review).
  • Getting your books stocked in small, local bookstores, selling from your own website, etc.—every added sales outlet helps you with branding, discovery, and improves the chances of selling books through some outlet if your Amazon sales suddenly drop.

Finally, don’t forget that authors are dynamic, too. You’re gaining experience as a writer and marketer. All writers continue to grow, no matter how seasoned they may be now.

About Me

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Even Indie Authors Get Rejected

Rejection

One great benefit of self-publishing is that it’s a sure thing.

You don’t need to send out query letters or book proposals.

You won’t be rejected by agents or editors.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t feel rejected.

Formatting Rejection

Once your manuscript is complete, you spend several days hammering that square peg of a book into a round hole, trying to reshape it into acceptable formatting.

You might be rejected by Microsoft Word, refusing to number pages, format headers, or keep the layout the way you would like it.

The publishing service might reject your file because it didn’t meet the technical guidelines.

Kindle might show you a preview that doesn’t look anything like your Word file.

Smashwords might not accept your e-book into the premium catalog.

Editing Rejection

People may point out spelling and grammar mistakes in your writing.

They might suggest that you really need an editor.

You might receive some constructive criticism on your writing, which, even when it has merit, can be hard to swallow.

Even worse, when you seek to hire an editor, the editor can choose to turn down the job.

Technical Rejection

When you order printed books, there is a chance of receiving defective copies.

A customer can receive a defective copy. No manufacturing service is perfect.

Even an e-book customer can experience technical hiccups while downloading or reading a book.

When one of your few customers encounters a problem that’s beyond your control, it can be frustrating.

Content Rejection

You can’t publish anything.

Amazon has content guidelines.

CreateSpace has content guidelines.

Kindle, Nook, and Kobo have content guidelines.

If you probe the limits of your writing freedom, your work could get rejected.

Sometimes there isn’t a clear line between what is or isn’t acceptable, but a murky gray area.

Legal Rejection

If you quote a line from a song, you could receive legal notice to take your book down.

If your writing infringes upon the rights of others, your book could lead to a lawsuit against you.

Legal action could cause a retailer to stop selling your book, or the publishing service to stop distributing your book.

Article Rejection

With the hope of gaining more exposure among your target audience, you may submit an article for publication.

Just like submitting a book proposal, your article may be rejected.

Contest Rejection

If you enter your book into a contest, you might not win.

You might not even make the first cut.

Review Rejection

Critics can leave bad reviews.

They can post one-star reviews right on the product page, where every shopper can see it.

Where your family and friends can see it.

Where you can see it.

Those comments can cut deep.

Sales Rejection

There is no guarantee that you will sell a single copy of your book.

Many books never sell 100 copies.

Not 100 per month. Not 100 per year. Not ever.

There are books that have been on the market for over a year that have no sales rank.

To not sell any books must hurt worse than receiving thirty rejection letters.

Public Rejection

People you know can complain about your book.

Or about how you’re wasting your time pretending to be an author.

While you strive to build positive publicity for yourself, once you enter the public eye’s scrutiny, one false step can lead to negative publicity.

Bully Rejection

Cyberbullies can target you.

Family Rejection

Your own family might not appreciate your writing.

They might wish you did something more “meaningful” with your time.

Self Rejection

You could be your own worst critic.

You might regret your prior writing.

You might delete your work and start over before you ever finish.

You might not even find the courage to publish in the first place.

Approved!

You write, therefore you are an author: See “Intimidation is nine-tenths of the writer’s law,” by Ionia Martin.

You don’t need permission to share your passion. You are approved!

Don’t focus on the worst that can happen. Focus on readers who can benefit from your writing. Those are the people worth writing for.

Writing and publishing a book is a huge accomplishment, no matter how you do it. Give yourself a round of applause. Congratulations!

Grow a thick skin. Find a support system. Don’t let ’em bring you down.

When you feel rejected, turn it around. Use it as a motivator. Let it boost you up.

Support

Offer support to other authors.

Read. When the writing is good, leave positive reviews. Spread the word about good books.

Share your wisdom and experience with authors who seek help from you.

Provide emotional support where it’s needed. Oh, yes, it’s needed.

Applaud authors everywhere for working hard to create wonderful reading experiences.

Listen.

It’s faint, but listen.

Do you hear it?

Sounds like a clap.

More clapping.

It’s growing louder.

Applause.

Take a bow. That applause is for you.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Why You Want Fellow Authors to Succeed

Compliments

You want your fellow authors to be successful.

You even want books similar to yours to do well.

And it’s not just about creating good karma.

It makes good business sense, too.

Some would have you believe that the way to thrive in the competitive publishing business is to play the cutthroat game and slam the competition. Unfortunately, you can find stories of a few big authors and publishers slamming one another, not just recently, but even going way back. You can also find gossip about more underhanded activities.

But that’s just foolish.

And again, it’s not just because it’s not nice. Economically, it doesn’t make sense if you take a moment to look a few moves ahead.

Highly similar books usually sell together. Some customers buy them all at once. Some buy one today, another in a month, and another a few months from now.

Similar books help one another out through customers-also-bought associations. They also help one another out through word-of-mouth referrals because they share a common target audience and people within that audience do discuss books they enjoy.

When you buy a book online, Amazon recommends similar books. When you visit your homepage, again Amazon recommends similar books.

Foolish authors look at similar books and think, “Oh no! That book looks good. It might take all my sales.” The immature reaction is to slam the competition.

And shoot yourself in the foot in the process.

Most likely, that book won’t take your sales. Most likely, that book will either (A) help your sales or (B) not affect your sales.

When customers really like a book, they want to find more books similar to that.

But there is one way that similar books can take your sales. That’s when you succeed in hurting that book’s sales.

Then, instead of that book’s sales helping your book out through customers-also-bought associations, it’s hurting your sales by not sending traffic your way.

When authors slam one another and a lot of the competition, it creates a bad vibe for the whole set of similar books. It hurts sales for everybody.

Similar books are free marketing for you. Other authors’ great content and effective marketing helps you through customers-also-bought marketing. You don’t need to do anything to benefit from this except continue writing your own books, developing your own author platform, and marketing your own books.

Applaud your fellow authors and watch them help you without even trying.

Act on your jealousy and watch you hurt yourself.

First of all, your efforts to hurt the competition may actually help the competition because you’re giving those other books more publicity, even if it’s negative. And you have to credit people, who can often smell a rat.

Second of all, you don’t want to hurt the sales of similar books that can only help you out.

And what about those amazing authors who break through and make it big time?

Does that make you feel all jealous inside? Do you look at those books critically and think how childish the storyline is, how poorly edited the book is, and completely miss the big picture?

Applaud those authors. If you self-publish, applaud the indie authors who succeed. They’re helping to make a great name for indie authors. They’re reaching hundreds of thousands of readers and showing them that indie books can be amazing.

If you self-publish, you want other indie authors to be successful. Their success builds a large audience of readers who are willing to take a chance on indie books. That helps you.

It’s not just indie author success. It’s any author success. Any author who makes readers love the reading experience creates future sales for many other authors.

There is no indie versus traditional battle. What’s most ridiculous about that is the increasing number of authors who publish both ways. Should they punch themselves in the face?

There is just one battle. That’s you wrestling against yourself, your emotions, and your irrational instincts.

What’s good for readers is good for all authors.

And if there are readers who enjoy a book, that book is pleasing readers and therefore good for all authors, including you, whether or not you approve of that book.

Way to go, Amanda Hocking! You made a huge name for yourself. You made a huge name for indie authors.

Way to go, Hugh Howey! Way to go, E.L. James!

Way to go, Stephen King! Your great works have hooked millions of readers not just on your books, but on the love of reading.

Way to go, J.K. Rowling! Way to go, Anne Rice!

Way to go, all authors, big and small, whose books have pleased readers.

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Newbie Author Book Marketing Mistakes

Marketing Mistakes

Introduction

When you first publish, it’s natural to make marketing mistakes. It’s also natural for toddlers to prefer to poop where they are instead of wasting valuable play time by going to the potty. Either way, as you get older, it pays to overcome these natural tendencies:

  • You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and the first impression is often a lasting one. Try not to make yours with your tongue sticking out.
  • Some of your online activity leaves a permanent record; not all of your mistakes can be undone. If only life came with an Undo button… “I’m so sorry!” doesn’t always work.
  • An important part of marketing is branding a professional image of yourself. Mistakes aren’t easy to overcome. Think before you act. And do a little research.

(1) Me Me Me Me Me Me Me

Try this. (Not really.) Walk around the block. Stop at every neighbor’s house. If they’re home, spend a few minutes telling them about your book. A few hours later, walk around the block and do this again. Repeat every few hours for a week.

You wouldn’t really do this, would you? (I hope not.)

Some newbie authors repeatedly tell the same audience over and over repeating over and over repeating over and over (in case you don’t get the idea, I could go on…) about their books.

You do need to help people discover your book. But you don’t need to transform into a human-size mosquito to do it:

  • Chances are that people will be more interested in you than in your book. Let people get to know you and get interested in you, then when they learn that you’ve written a book, that interest may translate into your book.
  • Most people don’t like advertisements. Let people discover your book. You can mention it briefly at the bottom of posts on your website, for example. When talking to people, wait for them to ask you what you’ve done lately. Then they discover that you’re an author. That’s better than shoving your book down their throats.
  • Focus on what is likely to interest your target audience, then let your book become visible once they are drawn in. For example, a content-rich website helps to get your target audience to come to you (instead of you hunting them down like a hound dog). If your book is on sale, that’s worth announcing up front occasionally, but otherwise you want valuable content to draw your readers in, then mention your book at the end or off to the side.

(2) Another Place to Mention ME

Have you ever seen a list of hundreds or thousands of books at a discussion forum with a title like, “Self-Promote Your Book Here”?

Who is reading these lists? Other authors who are hoping to promote their books! Why would readers go there? The books aren’t even sorted by genre.

Strive to find ways to reach your specific target audience. And see point (1).

You know what these “Promote Your Book Here” threads are really for? They are detour signs designed to keep mosquitoes out of the park. 🙂

But some mosquitoes venture into the park anyway and blatantly self-promote where it’s strictly forbidden (or strongly discouraged). Get ready to dodge those flyswatters!

(3) Money Go Bye Bye

Don’t understand the marketing beast? That’s okay. Just throw money at it. Money will solve all your problems, right? Not! If it were that easy, everybody would be making big $$$ selling books. (It is possible to become a successful author, but it takes quality content, perseverance, hard work, and a long-term perspective.)

Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and many other websites will be happy to take your money to advertise your book. Even Amazon will take your money to advertise (but there is a $10,000 minimum, which is a lot more money than most newbie authors want to watch burn in a bonfire).

I’m not saying that advertising can’t be effective. Just that advertising isn’t going to solve your problem of why your book isn’t selling. If your book’s not selling, figure out how to get it to sell on its own before you start playing the advertising game. When you do advertise, start small and work your way up, and have the sense to quit when it doesn’t seem to be working. Advertising a special promotion may be more effective than advertising one book. And waiting until you have a dozen similar books before you spend good $$$ to advertise makes more sense than advertising just a few books.

There are a lot of people and businesses who will be happy to take your money, and some will promise things you really want to hear.

Much of the most effective marketing is FREE (yeah, baby!) and it’s work that you have to do yourself. Even if a publicist arranges engagements for you, you’re still the one who has to show up, do the work, make a fantastic impression, and not manage to stick three feet in your mouth while doing it. Personal interactions with your target audience can be highly effective because it’s easier to draw interest in a person than an inanimate book, and this is something you can do for free all by your lonesome self.

Paid advertising for books doesn’t work the same way as it does for most other products, and it’s even worse for newbie authors:

  • People need toilet paper. People can live without books. (Honestly, I don’t understand how it’s possible, but evidently it is.)
  • There are a dozen brands of toilet paper to choose from. Amazon has 30,000,000 different books to choose from.

Last time you drove down the freeway and saw a Victoria’s Secret billboard, did you weave over to the exit from the fast lane and head straight to the mall? That’s not how advertising works. It doesn’t hypnotize the audience to buy the product immediately. Advertising strives to achieve branding. You see or hear a brand today, next month, a few times this year, and hopefully many consumers will recognize the brand several months from now when they’re in the market for that product or service. When you’re buying a new product, if you prefer a brand name you’ve heard of before, advertising has worked its magic on you.

(4) Hop on the Band Wagon

I’ve got a busload full of newbie authors here. We’re driving off a cliff because that worked for one other lucky author who managed to survive the fall and the publicity did wonders for his books. Hop in!

If it worked well for others, shouldn’t it work well for you, too?

  • One size doesn’t fit all. Each book has a unique audience. Each author has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Tailor your marketing plan to your specific book, audience, and to your strengths.
  • Marketing is dynamic. What was hot last year might be a dud this year.

Focus on how to reach your specific target audience, especially people who don’t already know about your book.

Consider what fraction of your marketing may actually reach your specific target audience. For example, much of a social media following may be inactive, whereas visitors who discover a content-rich website through a search engine are more apt to be in your specific target audience. This doesn’t mean that social media can’t be effective, just that you need to find a way to use it effectively to reach your audience in order to make it worthwhile.

(5) Please, please, please review my book. P L E A S E.

Oh, no, your book isn’t selling? Maybe some reviews will do the trick. (More likely, they won’t solve your problem.)

  • Don’t beg for reviews. Don’t ask for reviews. Don’t pay for reviews (this violates review guidelines). Do you want to brand a professional author image? Or would you rather look needy? (Maybe you are needy. You need sales. That’s fine. Be needy. But don’t look needy.)
  • If you “recruit” reviews, your reviews will probably look like they were recruited. Recruited reviews are likely to arouse buyer suspicion. Just glowing remarks, a lot of praise without explanation, a lot of reviews for a newly published book with a high sales rank… these kinds of things are like putting a neon sign on your product page: What’s funny about this picture?
  • The unpredictable assortment of balanced reviews that comes about naturally through sales may be the best reviews you can get. (Now getting a blog review posted on a blog is different. That helps to promote your book without affecting your product page.) It’s tough. Buyers want to see reviews, but they really want to see natural comments from strangers. But you don’t have to stimulate reviews to stimulate sales; you can stimulate sales to get natural reviews. (Psst. It’s called marketing and it’s a big secret. If you have memorable fiction content or helpful nonfiction content and you market effectively, sales and reviews will come naturally.)
  • Another no-no: Don’t thank all your reviewers, and don’t defend your book against bad reviews through comments. At first, thanking reviewers seems to provide a personal touch, but many customers feel strongly that authors should try to avoid this customer space. It’s a risk to leave a comment as that may deter sales. Do thank people on your blog—that’s your turf. Your customer review section is the customers’ turf. Don’t get into a turf war. The reviewer will win the battle every time. How? You leave a comment on the review. You know what will happen next? The reviewer will respond to your comment, asking you a question. Now, you have to answer that question, right? Pretty soon what you intended to be one comment turns into a lengthy discussion. You lose; game over.

Of course, you could also do the logical thing and find beta readers from your target audience, join a writing forum, and get your book edited before publishing. You do need feedback. Get as much as you can before your book goes live.

The newbie authors is praying for reviews. Then a bad review criticizes the book and the newbie author is cursing the whole review system.

Newbie authors really don’t know what they want…

Me Me Me Me Me Me Me (Again, but this time it’s really ME)

Chris McMullen, an author who didn’t mention his books at all until the very end of this post (but if you wanted me to shove a book down your throat earlier, all you had to do was ask—it was highly inconsiderate of me not to offer a snack—well, I did sneak one of my covers into the image for this post…). 🙂

A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Omnibus … or … Omni-Bust?

OmnibusI’ve seen an increasing number of omnibus editions on the e-book market in recent years.

It’s an attractive idea:

  • Customers save money when the omnibus is discounted compared to buying individually.
  • It’s convenient: Customers don’t have to hunt down the separate volumes or remember to buy later.
  • The omnibus allows continuity in reading: When you finish one volume, the next is sitting right there, ready to read.
  • Seeing the omnibus available, you don’t feel worried that the series might not be completed (provided that the omnibus is a complete set).
  • Authors benefit by encouraging customers to buy the entire series up front.

The benefits sound pretty good. So I was about to hop on the bandwagon myself. Until I started having second thoughts.

Are there any disadvantages?

  • Will the presence of your omnibus edition deter the sales of your other books? If so, this may offset the benefits of a stronger sales rank and your reviews may get spread thinner.
  • If you already have some volumes out with good sales ranks and a healthy number of reviews, you’re kind of starting over with the omnibus edition. Maybe the potential savings will help to stimulate many early sales to quickly build up the sales rank and reviews, but then returns the issue of what happens to your other books?
  • If you’ve already promoted your individual volumes, have many links online pointing to your other books, and have already been branding and marketing your books, you need to consider your omnibus with your marketing plans. The omnibus does give you new time in the new release category and provides new opportunities to create buzz, but you must also consider your other books.
  • If you sell both e-books and print books, will you make a print omnibus, too? Paperback customers may appreciate having separate volumes over one mammoth book. Also, for lengthy novels, a single book may exceed the maximum number of pages possible.
  • For Kindle e-books, if you’re planning to set the omnibus price above $9.99, you need to consider that the royalty rate is 35% for Kindle e-books priced $10 and up, so you may actually make much more money selling the e-books separately or limiting the price of the omnibus to $9.99. If your books include many pictures, you must also factor in the delivery costs.

How do you feel about omnibuses, as an author or reader? If you have experience publishing an omnibus, please share it so that others may learn from your experience.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

My original self-publishing guide, How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon.com, has recently been updated and expanded.

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

The Vulnerable Author

Shattered

Introduction

Once you press that publish button, your book will be publicly visible. This allows the general public to discover and purchase your book, but it also makes you vulnerable.

What could happen?

  • You could spend years researching and producing a book, and in just a few seconds someone can write a few words in a review that sends you seething.
  • You could spend months doing even more work to market your book, only to find that some of your former social media friends no longer wish to speak with you.
  • You could be unfortunate enough to attract the attention of cyberbullies.
  • You could stick your foot in your mouth publicly in a few seconds, shattering months of hard work to brand your author image.
  • You could have a steady flow of sales going, and then suddenly the algorithm that was helping your book get discovered can freeze your sales like an Arctic chill.
  • You could have virtually no sales at all.

Authors need firewall protection—not so much for their computers as for themselves!

What Can You Do?

Think positively:

  • Don’t dwell on the worst that could happen.
  • Visualize a positive future for you and your book.
  • Don’t waste anxiety over what hasn’t actually happened.
  • At the first sign of a problem, don’t react out of fear. Things might be much better than they seem.
  • Be patient. Try to stay positive. Feel confident (but not arrogant).
  • Don’t be a stat or review junkie.
  • Eat healthy and exercise.

Be the best you that you can be:

  • You can’t control other people, but you can control your own actions.
  • Refrain from remarks and activities that may attract negative attention.
  • Strive to maintain a professional author image.
  • Don’t behave reactively or defensively.
  • Show patience, think things through, talk things out privately.
  • Ask yourself, “Does this look professional?”
  • Show good character.

Diversify your assets:

  • If you only have one book and it’s only available on Amazon, you’re ultra vulnerable.
  • Strive to sell effectively through multiple sales channels. That way, if something is adversely affecting sales at Amazon.com, chances are that it’s not also affecting Amazon UK, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, Sony, Apple, BN.com, The Book Depository, local bookstore sales, direct sales from your website, in-person sales, etc. While Amazon.com may be your main sales channel, other additional sales help to give you continued activity when Amazon.com sales are slow.
  • Write multiple books. If you write different kinds of books, consider using a pen name as this offers protection from being targeted (on the other hand, it’s easier to market books that are all published in a single name).
  • If you have a talent for cover design or basic editing, for example, you can combine this with your writing hobby so that you’re not entirely dependent on book sales.

Market, market, market:

  • Pre-marketing helps to generate early sales. The more sales you generate, the more likely you are to get valuable reviews from customers (which looks more natural than recruiting reviews in a time when customers are learning to be suspicious of reviews).
  • Learn ways to market your book effectively and do the work. Personal interactions can help to generate sales, even if there is a sales deterrent on your product page. Customers you interact with personally through marketing are also more likely to post reviews.
  • Run book promotions or contests to help generate interest in your book. This can help to inspire sales and reviews when you’re going through a lull.

Experiment. When sales slow, that’s a good time to try and shake things up:

  • Try revising your blurb. If there is a recent bad review, sometimes a blurb change can render the review less effective. For example, if the blurb points out the same thing that the review says, new customers may think, “It wasn’t useful to say that in a review. It says it right there in the product description.” For example, if the customer was surprised that it was just a novella, or if the customer complains that there is too much violence, making such things clear in the blurb can help to offset the review. Your blurb is a dynamic marketing tool.
  • If a review complains about editing, consider getting your book edited. If you receive helpful feedback about features of your book that you might improve, consider doing this. Don’t blindly revise your book every time you receive a review; but when you do receive feedback, do give it your consideration. If you do update your book, consider mentioning this in your blurb.
  • Reexamine your Look Inside and cover. A slow period is the best time to try something new.

Support:

  • Develop a fan base. Create a fan page or email newsletter with content or activity that will attract fans. Provide instructions for signing up at the end of your book.
  • Make connections with fellow authors. Share stories and advice with one another. Help one another out (scrupulously, of course).
  • Research to find others who have shared a similar experience. See how they handled it, both what they may have done wrong and what worked well.
  • You’re not alone. There are thousands of other supportive authors out here. Reach out.

Look for the silver lining:

  • Don’t just see and focus on the bad. Look for the good that comes with it.
  • Sales have ups and downs like roller coasters. Remember to see and enjoy the ups, and when falling down, remember that it may go back up later.
  • When a customer says something like, “I enjoyed the characters, but…” don’t focus solely on the BUT! See the good remarks, too, not just the bad ones.
  • If you did the best you could at the time, remind yourself how hard you’ve worked. Believe that your hard work will pay off in the long run.

Things may be better than they seem:

  • A bad review can actually improve sales. You never know. Wait and see. One thing’s for sure: It will increase your total number of reviews, which makes your book seem more popular.
  • Customers are growing suspicious not only of good reviews, but also of bad reviews. Give your customers credit. They might be able to see through smoke and mirrors (if there is any).
  • A review that points out a problem may help you in the long run. You might wind up making a revision that puts a much better book on the market.
  • There are seasonal effects, economic factors, Amazon’s algorithm periodically changes things up, and a number of reasons that sales might slow down temporarily. You really need to wait a few weeks to see if things are really slower than normal. Be patient.
  • Don’t fret over the actions of a jealous rival. Customers may see through this. If a rival does succeed in bringing your book down, at least you can be sure that he or she has shot him- or herself in the foot foolishly. Similar books help each other sell better through customers-also-bought lists, for example. More likely than not, a jealous review will actually help your sales and hurt the sales of the author who left it. Try not to sweat it.

Avoid making mistakes:

  • Avoid commenting defensively on a review. Avoid commenting at all. Be patient, think things through, talk things out, learn how other authors have handled this (both good and bad), ask yourself if the worst that can happen offsets the best possible outcome.
  • It’s tempting to send your “posse” to your blog and downvote a review you don’t like, but how will that look? In the worst-case scenario, you and your friends vote and the reviewer and the reviewer’s friends vote on all your reviews. How will that look? Put yourself in a customer’s shoes. There may be a special situation, but at least think things through and talk things out, be patient, let emotions calm down and wisdom kick in.
  • Avoid ranting about a customer in public, such as on your blog. What you post on your blog doesn’t stay on your blog; it’s not like Vegas. You want people to read your book. You don’t want people thinking, “Is that how you treat your customers?” I don’t know about you, but I absolutely LOVE my customers. They aren’t easy to find.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

My original self-publishing guide, How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon.com, recently updated and expanded, is temporarily on sale for 99 cents at Amazon.com.

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Meeting the Challenges of Self-Publishing

Half Full

Half Empty

When the cup is half full, it’s a challenge to view it as half full instead of half empty.

So what about a cup that seems like it’s 90% empty? Can you stay positive and view it as 10% full?

Because that’s the way it seems sometimes to the indie author.

There are so many challenges to face. Charles Yallowitz recently listed dozens in his recent post, “Paranoia in Self-Publishing?”

Indie authors ride a roller coaster of hills and valleys. When several bad cards fall in place in a valley, it can really challenge you.

Writing should be the hard part, right? After all, that’s the main job. You’re a writer.

But writing comes easily. You’ve been bitten by the writing bug. Muse, rather. She’s sitting on your shoulder. You have no choice but to write. Sure, you might have to deal with writer’s block, but that’s the least of your problems.

And there are serious writing challenges, like choosing the right tense and person, balancing the show and tell act, finding the best way to present dialog, figuring out what effect your book really has on your target audience and how to pull it off as best you can, and any number of intricacies of the craft. You love writing, though, so these are the kinds of problems you live for.

It’s the publishing industry that makes you feel like you need to be connected or sell out, the editing and formatting that never seems to end, the holy-cow-how-could-I-do-that typo that shows up after you order a dozen review copies, the sales that don’t come, the false need you feel to stimulate reviews, the sales that don’t come after you get reviews, the bad review with just the right words to sting you where it counts, the in-laws and exes who point out the exaggerated disadvantages of self-publishing, and especially when a few of these issues slap you in the face while sales fall off a cliff all in the same never-ending week. So you decided to self-publish, eh?

Half Full

There are positives and there are negatives. There are times when many things are going your way. You don’t realize how much it’s going your way because you see how much better it could be. No matter how good it gets, it could always be better. But when the negatives come by, you don’t miss them.

It’s like Chutes and Ladders. When you’re going along, you think how you could be going up a staircase. When you’re going up a staircase, you think how you could be going up the super long staircase. And there are so many players in this game, some are going up that staircase. When you slide down a chute, you feel like you’re losing the game. But you could be glad that you’re making progress, on average. You could be grateful you didn’t fall down the really long chute and have to start over from the beginning. You could be happy just to be playing the game.

The negatives will test you. When several come together, they will really test you. They beckon you to react emotionally, instinctively. They challenge you to do what you know you should refrain from. They tempt you to put your reputation on the line. They may even make you question your scruples.

But it’s just a long, deep valley on this roller coaster. Statistically, there will be periods where many negatives come together.

It’s also an opportunity. To show what you’re made of. To demonstrate your patience. To be professional. To show your character. To draw motivation. To meet this challenge. To survive. So that the next time you come to a valley, you will have a positive experience to draw from, remembering how you’ve been through this before. So the next time you reach a peak it will taste that much sweeter.

You can do this.

  • Count the good things. You’re a published author, you get to enjoy writing, you’ve sold X books, you’ve had Y good reviews. Make a list of 20 positives. Get your book out, look at the cover, see your name on the cover, browse through the book. You’re a published author. Enjoy the feeling. Remember when you first saw your book?
  • Exercise. Get some of that frustration out while also doing something that feels healthy. You spend too much time sitting at a desk. In stressful situations, you need to exercise and eat healthy foods.
  • Work on a writing project. Outline your next book, write a poem or short story, write a blog post (but don’t publicize problems that may cast you in a negative light), start a new book, edit a book, do something that will make you feel productive and help get your mind off the negativity. Or get away from it all and spend time with family.
  • Do a search online and read about other authors who’ve gone through tough times. Don’t let yourself get talked into making mistakes. Find mistakes that authors have made and learn from them. See that others have gone through worse. Discover what others have done that was unprofessional, and force yourself to go the professional, patient route.
  • Seek support and advice from your connections, but don’t do it publicly in a way that may make you seem unprofessional. Find someone who will give you comfort when you need it. Find someone who will tell it like it is and offer valuable advice when you can handle it.
  • Ask yourself if there is anything helpful that you can draw from the experience. Sometimes the bad provides an opportunity for improvement. Sometimes the bad is just bad and doesn’t offer anything positive. If there is something that may be useful, try to use it to improve. If there is nothing useful, try to put it in the past and move on.
  • Try something new that you’ve been considering that’s free or low-cost and doesn’t involve a large time commitment, like maybe a new marketing strategy that just requires a couple of hours to learn something new. This is not a good time to spend much money or devote considerable time; think low-cost and not much time long-term. It will help get your mind on something else, and it will give you a new source of hope.
  • Make a dartboard with your bad reviews, bad comments, lousy sales rank, or whatever other problems are on your mind. Throw darts at your problems, shred your problems, stomp on your problems. Get it out of your system.
  • Don’t make any quick decisions during these times. Think them through carefully. Get a good night’s sleep before deciding. Patience can be your best ally against stupidity and embarrassment during times like these.
  • Feel creative. Find your passion. Refuel your motivation. If you’ve been working hard, take a break and come back rejuvenated.
  • Do some small good deeds. Help others in some way. Especially, help others anonymously. The gift of giving not only helps others, it might make you feel a little better, too. It takes a special kind of someone to spread goodness during tough times. You could be that someone. You could be a super hero. A disguised super hero. It may give you the inner strength of a super hero.
  • Read a book. Go to another world, live the life of a hero, find a better reality, overcome tougher hardships. Rediscover that writing is about the reading.
  • When you get knocked down, when you get kicked while you’re down, don’t give in to the circumstances. Rise above them. Laugh hysterically. Ask, “Is that all you’ve got?” Tell ’em, “’cause I’m a writer and I could do a whole lot worse than this.”

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Authorpreneur vs. Writing Artist

Authorpreneur

Authorpreneur

All authors—indie and traditionally published—are being labeled with this new term, authorpreneur.

This is easier to see for the indie author, who must not only write the book, but must also arrange the editing, formatting, cover design, publishing, and marketing. However, the term also applies to traditionally published authors, who write query letters and book proposals, still need to market their books, and have a better chance of getting published if they tailor the book to the needs of an audience.

There is a growing perception that an author must write and function like a businessperson in order to succeed as a writer. Publishers are in the business of writing: They want ideas that will sell. Even the indie author may perceive writing as a business, feeling that’s what it takes to sell books.

Writing Artist

Let’s look at the other extreme—the author who writes passionately without regard for sales. In the utter extreme, the author doesn’t write for an audience, but for his or her own reasons. This author is driven by passion, not business. Getting the book right, carrying out the author’s vision… this author cares for this more than sales. Yes, this author would like to share his or her passion. This author won’t give the book away for free because he or she wants the work to be valued, yet this author is driven by the art of writing, not the royalties.

Which Are You?

Most authors probably aren’t extreme authorpreneurs—focused solely on business—or extreme writing artists—completely disregarding the business aspect. You might feel like you fall somewhere in between, and presently you’re trying to gauge which way you lean and how far.

Would you like to write as a businessperson or as a writing artist?

Most authors feel that they must do one of the following:

  • Sell out, so to speak, writing for business rather than pleasure.
  • Write as an artist and then publish and market as a businessperson, sort of combining the two aspects.
  • Write purely for pleasure; don’t worry about the business side at all.

However, there is another important option that most authors don’t consider.

The Art of Success

You don’t have to turn your art into a business. Instead, you can turn the business into an art.

Here’s what I mean: View marketing not as a business strategy, but as a means of sharing your passion with others. Put your imagination into it and carry out your marketing as an artist. Just like you write with passion as an artist, find a way to feel like an artist when you market your work and become passionate about marketing as a way to share your writing with readers.

It’s a matter of perspective. Consider the following definitions.

Perspective

book

  • business: a product designed to create profit.
  • art: ideas fueled by passion and crafted by a wordsmith.

cover design

  • business: a tool that helps direct traffic to your book’s product page.
  • art: a reflection of your work that helps readers find what you so passionately wrote.

editing

  • business: reshaping an idea to sell better.
  • art: perfecting the art and craftsmanship to get it right.

formatting

  • business: improving the design of a book to attract more customers.
  • art: visually complementing the beauty of the writing.

marketing

  • business: strategies for delivering the product to the target audience.
  • art: motivating yourself to share your passionate creation with others.

Readers, too

As a reader, would you rather read a book that was written for an audience and designed to sell or would you rather read a book that was fueled by passion and shared passionately?

Of course, the question is never put like this. However, as a reader you do buy books. When you buy books that were written and published under a business model, you support the perception that writing should be a business. When you buy books that were written by artists and craftsmen, you support the perception that writing should be an art or craft.

The choice is yours. Each purchase counts as a vote.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Authors, Do You Know Jack?

Jack

Jack-of-all-Trades

Is this a problem for indie authors?

I’ve seen this term used with regard to authors in a variety of contexts over the past couple of months. There are two common cases:

  1. The self-published author who does all the writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing independently.
  2. When the books involve a variety of subjects, categories, genres, writing styles, etc.

But Master of None

The common implication is that the jack-of-all-trades knows something about many subjects, but is the master of none.

I would like to challenge this assumption:

  • Every year I encounter several students who not only ace one of my classes, but tend to earn top scores in all their classes. I interact with many people who have expertise on several subjects. I’m not just talking about double and triple majors, or necessarily students. Do you have any know-it-all acquaintances who you would rely on for information on any number of topics?
  • Authors need to be well-versed on several matters. For example, in addition to storytelling and writing, fantasy authors also need to understand weaponry, fighting, mythical creatures, and a host of topics seemingly unrelated to writing. Nonfiction experts need to know more than their subjects: They must also be able to explain things in a way that the audience can understand, which is a much unrelated skill.
  • Many famous authors would be described as a jack-of-all-trades. For example, consider Robert A. Heinlein, who primarily wrote science fiction and fantasy. He spent ample time doing research on biology, chemistry, medicine, rocket science, astrobiology, geology, mathematics, and many other topics. The level of detail that show up in his stories is amazing when you consider the variety of expertise that is entailed in his many novels. Other famous authors weren’t just self-published, but ran printing presses and were involved in a variety of hobbies and business ventures. Almost all of my favorite authors would be considered jacks(or jills)-of-all-trades.
  • Life experience, both range and depth, can provide valuable insight to authors. Writers who know much outside of their domains have more resources at their disposal for writing their books.

Which Trade?

Suppose you discover that you have a medical condition. The first thing you might do is buy a few books to learn more about it. When you shop for the book, you must often make a decision:

  • Although some books are written by medical experts, the layman sometimes finds the language unclear, the content intimidating, and the reading impersonal.
  • Some books are written by non-experts, but although the author may lack expertise, the author may make up for this through ample research, speaking from personal experience, or having a knack for clear explanations that the layman can understand.

The ideal case is that the author excels at both—expertise in content combined with clear, personal language. Hey, that’s a jack-of-all-trades who excels at both.

An alternative is a book with two coauthors, one who has the medical knowledge and one who can explain well to a general audience. This sounds great as an ideal, though in practice it doesn’t always work out as well as it sounds. While teamwork has much potential, it also entails cooperation and coordination. Finding the best expert and best expository writer to collaborate on the book is a challenge, too. For one, those with the best-looking resumes don’t always deliver results to match.

Either way, I appreciate the time and effort authors invest to provide helpful information. In my experience, sometimes the single author’s technical book helps me more than a similar book that was coauthored, and sometimes it’s the other way around. As a reader, I haven’t observed any reason to automatically disregard an author who tries to fill too many roles. The best criteria I see is the Look-Inside-the-Book; that seems to be a much more reliable indicator than whether the author has coauthors, has a relevant degree, hired an editor, etc.

Indie vs. Self-Publishing

Just because you don’t see a coauthor, editor, cover designer, or publishing label mentioned on the product page or copyright page, this doesn’t mean that the author didn’t seek and obtain valuable help.

It’s really indie publishing, not self-publishing. The indie author acts independently, coordinating the publishing of the book. The indie author doesn’t have to do it all by him- or herself. Although the author writes the book, he or she may recruit help in many ways:

  • Several pairs of eyes may be used to provide feedback on the writing and to edit the manuscript.
  • The author may hire an editor who doesn’t want his or her name publicized on the product page or copyright page.
  • There are numerous resources for all facets of self-publishing online and in books. Most indie authors research several publishing topics.
  • Authors can get much help from the supportive indie author community, such as formatting instructions, advice, feedback, tips, and even “I’ll be happy to help you with that.”
  • After publishing several books, each indie author has gained much experience with all aspects of publishing, often becoming not just a jack-of-all-trades, but also excelling in many areas.

What Does Your Author Page Say?

Do you have different kinds of books on your author page? Will readers wonder if you are a jack-of-all-trades?

If so, you might wonder if you may be losing sales from readers who assume that you must not have mastered either trade. Will including different books on your author page deter sales?

Maybe, maybe not, but there is another point that may be more important: There will also be readers who check out your other books and buy multiple books, whether they are similar or different. You’re more likely to get multi-book sales from similar books, but you will get multi-book sales from different books, too, provided that the first book pleased the reader.

It’s easiest to market books in your own name. You could adopt a pen name for different kinds of books, but then it’s really hard to market multiple names. Many people know you or know of you; every day, you meet new people and have the chance to mention that you’re a writer. You lose your name recognition when you adopt a pen name.

Unless you write children’s books and also write books with mature content, it may be better to put all your books in your own name than to separate them using a pen name. You might lose a few sales due to the jack-of-all-trades perception, but you might gain even more sales from people who know or meet you and from multi-book sales (perhaps not all at once, but readers who enjoy one book now and check out a much different one months from now).

Do I Know Jack?

I have a Ph.D. in particle physics; that’s my area of expertise as far as degrees go. However, I’ve published a variety of books:

  • I started self-publishing to share my passion for a fourth-dimension of space. You have to excel at mathematics to get a degree in physics, so the geometry aspect fits right in. I also coauthored a half-dozen papers on the collider physics of extra dimensions, which are published in professional physics journals, such as Physical Review. This fits right in with my expertise; plus, as a teacher, I have experience explaining abstract concepts clearly (though not all teachers excel at explanations).
  • My Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks is also closely related to my expertise. I observed that many university and high school students lacked fluency in fundamental arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry skills. This series is my effort to help improve math fluency.
  • My science books also relate to my background in physics. I have a basic conceptual introduction to chemistry, a basic introduction to astronomy, and an advanced physics textbook.
  • But my blog isn’t about physics, it’s about self-publishing, and I have written books on the matter. Does this make me a jack-of-all-trades? I don’t think of myself as just a teacher, but a writer and a teacher. I’ve self-published dozens of books, which gives me some experience. I prepared my first book over 20 years ago, although I first published in 2008. I have also drawn thousands of technical illustrations on the computer, written and edited numerous articles (the half-dozen I wrote for physics journals are quite technical, and came with a set of formatting guidelines that paralleled self-publishing in many ways), and used several software packages to write, format, and illustrate, including extensive use of most editions of Microsoft Word since 1997. I’ve become just as passionate about self-publishing as I am about physics and math (perhaps more so): I love to share and discuss ideas here at my blog.
  • At first glance, the word scramble books that I’ve published may seem out of place. How does this relate to physics? This actually started when I was staring at a periodic table while giving a final exam: I realized that I could make thousands of words, like ScAtTeRbRaIn (scatterbrain), using only symbols from the periodic table. I shared this idea with my mom, and we decided to make some word scramble books. My mom loves word puzzles, especially word jumbles, and she is very meticulous (she used to be a technical writer), so she was a good fit to write these books. I’m a coauthor of these books, but my mom deserves most of the credit. As an added benefit, it was a family project.
  • My most unrelated books are on golf stats and chess. I thought about using pen names for these, as they don’t relate to physics, but I’m glad that I didn’t. Thousands of people know my name, and while most people who know my name who buy my books pick a math workbook, science book, or self-publishing book, I still sell a significant number of golf and chess books to people who’ve heard of me (plus many who haven’t, who apparently weren’t deterred by the variety shown on my author page). I actually wrote these books for my own personal use, but published them thinking that others may find them useful, too. Also, these were among the first books that I self-published, and they gave me some valuable experience before formatting my more technical books.

Do You Know Jack?

If yes, good for you!

If you feel like a jack-of-all-trades in various ways, my advice is not to sweat it too much. You have more important things that you can worry about. But jacks-of-all-trades tend to work hard, so you should be keeping yourself too busy to worry anyway. Go get more work done, as that will be more significant than this issue.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Ensure that your blurb and Look-Inside-the-Book show your strengths. Work on your weaknesses. Get help shoring up your weaknesses. Not just in the Look Inside, but throughout the book (because a sudden change after the Look Inside will impact reviews).
  • Where plausible, using your own name carries a marketing advantage and can help you with multi-book sales.
  • Every once in a while, help spread the word about the benefits of being a jack-of-all-trades or mention a story about a famous author who was a jack-of-all-trades. Help paint the perception that it’s not necessarily a bad thing; it may even carry some benefits.
  • If you hire an editor or cover designer, mention of their names on the product page (through the editor or illustrator fields) or on your copyright page (traditional publishers often only list them on the copyright page) might help to show that you’re willing to seek help when you need it. The inclusion of a references section for nonfiction can show willingness to do research. But if you don’t have any help to show, instead of worrying about it, start working on your next book or do some marketing; those things are more important.

Learn More about Jack

(No, my name isn’t Jack.)

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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