Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Adventures in Self-Publishing - Pt.1

Should I Self-Publish?

Consider this a very informal chat about my foray into self-publishing. I'm not an expert, and I don't play one on television. However, over the past few months I've been asked a ton of questions about what it's like to self-publish my own work. For what it's worth, I'm very willing to share the details of my journey, which has been cobbled together through trial and error.

One of the most striking questions I receive on a regular basis is whether I think the person asking the question should dip their toes into the self-publishing waters.

Of course, I can't answer that question for them. Do I think self-publishing is worth it? Sure. But it all depends on what you hope to get out of it. What is your self-publishing goal? That is a very important question to ask yourself if you haven't already. After all, how are you going to hit your target if you haven't figured out what you're aiming for?

If you were already self-published, what would you hope to see as a return for your efforts?  There is no wrong answer. I highly encourage you to write down your highest goal - or goals. Save them. There are many reasons people may delve into self publishing. Some may simply be interested in seeing their story in print. Others may want full creative control over a specific project. Maybe you just want to publish Aunt Gertrude's memoir so members of the family can have a copy in print or e-book format.

People's publishing goals are as varied as snowflakes, so please keep in mind that what I say here is not the be-all-end all of anything. I don't have all the answers. And I definitely can't tell you the "right way" to self-publish, as if such a thing actually exists. However, I can tell you about my experiences with self-publishing, so for starters, that's what I'll do.

My Self-Publishing Journey

Before I start making any kind of recommendations for books or websites, let me tell you a little bit about my self-publishing background. I feel it's only fair to put this out there for disclosure reasons. I was already e-published through a few digital first companies when I decided to self-publish a short story, and it has never been my intention to give up e-publishing/traditional publishing completely. My goal (there's that word again) at the time I first self-published wasn't to get rich, or even to make money from the work. I wanted to publish a free story to generate interest in my existing books. However, I had limited tools and a very limited budget.

My writer friends and I were strapped for cash, so we swapped stories, revised, and proofread each other's work for free. A lady in our group created our book covers, then a friend uploaded that first freebie short story, Under a Midnight Moon, to a paranormal book blog / website that we shared with another author.

Did the ebooks come out perfect? Well, no. But we did the best we could with what we had available to us, and at the time Under A Midnight Moon (the first edition) was released, it was considered a good quality product for a self-published ebook.

The first edition ebook was made available in both .pdf and .lit formats. I knew very little about file formats then. so a friend compiled the .lit file for me. This was before e-readers were in high demand. Personally, I knew of only one person with an e-reader, and they had a Sony Pocket. Needless to say, I had no way to test what an ebook would look like when viewed across multiple devices. At this point in the game, I was still reading all my ebooks in .pdf format on my desktop computer.

That first version of Under A Midnight Moon appeared on the original MMC website (hosted through Bravenet) around Halloween of 2007, and it racked up tens of thousands of downloads over a very short period of time. Keep in mind this was still during the relatively early days of the boutique digital publishing boom. The overall response from readers was mostly positive, so I decided to write another freebie read and test the waters again. I published Heart Spell around Valentine's Day in 2008. To date, that is my most popular self-published title.

That same year (2008), I took all my short stories off the Bravenet website and moved them to a newer, improved website for the Midnight Moon Cafe (MMC, for short, a popular paranormal book blog at the time). It wasn't a decision we made lightly. Moving our content wiped out all our previous download counts. Major ouch. But it needed to be done. To this day, I consider that move to be the "second generation" or "second print run" of those free reads, since the MMC-2 was the second home for them on the internet.

About six months after arranging my free reads on the MMC-2 website, I discovered Smashwords. Initially, I was hesitant to move my books again. Around December of 2008, I finally gave in. 

The first short story I put on Smashwords was HeartSpell. I consider Smashwords to be the third generation, or third print run, of my earliest free reads. My books have been there ever since, and from time to time I consider reworking them because they still get hits, and I don't feel like those earliest freebies represent my current level of writing.

While Smashwords isn't the most beautiful website, in my opinion, I like the functionality and convenience of the platform and the interface. I also like that there doesn't seem to be a risky returns policy/returns abuse problem some authors complain about these days with Amazon. (More on that in a later post.)

Smashwords is my favorite place for self-publishing. To date, I've published five ebooks there. Most of the ebooks are freebies. The one self-published ebook I have available for purchase is a collection of five short stories (released in May of 2012).

Altogether, my self-published titles have generated over 44,000 downloads through Smashwords, and most of that comes from my free reads. I am certainly no high-sales Wonderkin. HeartSpell accounts for roughly half my overall downloads. Hardly earth-shattering figures, but when you look at the flip side of the coin, the numbers aren't exactly terrible either. Especially when you consider that Smashwords is the third home for my earlier free books, and my starting goal was simply to get my freebies into the hands of readers to promote my other books.

In that context, I feel like I've accomplished what I set out to do.

Now that I've given a bit of background about my foray into self-publishing, back to the question at hand. Should you self-publish?  Again, I can't answer that for you. However, I can suggest that you look at your goals. Take the time to ask yourself a few questions before diving in. What's the dream?  What is your end goal? How much time and money are you willing to spend on your self-publishing project?

Write down your answers, and be honest with yourself. Whether your goal is big or small, create a target you can hit. By creating a target, you're basically giving yourself a picture of success to focus on. It's a good thing to do, and I highly recommend it.


In future posts, I'll be sharing my favorite books, links, and tips for anyone interested in total DIY (do-it-yourself) self-publishing. I'll also be sharing resources/links/etc for the folks who may wish to hire other people to help them build their book. Other topics I'm going to try to cover...self editing vs. hiring an editor, manuscript formatting woes, stock art and cover design, and whatever else I can think to toss in there. If you have any questions, leave a comment.

That's all for now. I'll try to have Adventures in Self-Publishing Pt. 2 on my blog before the weekend. Next up, I'll be talking about making adjustments When Self-Publishing Goals Change. 

For more information about me, my publishing history, and all that jazz, feel free to visit my website at www.corazane.com

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