8 Things I Have Learned Self-Publishing
1. Have Reasonable Expectations
Too many people make the mistake of thinking that if you put a book on Amazon it will sell itself. The reality is that your book is one book in a vast library of over 8,000,000 books. If you do not advertise your book, you will not sell a single copy and no one will know it exists. Just because you sneaked your book into the largest public library in the world, does not mean that anyone will find it. If you are not worried about sales, go to point two. If you would like to make some actual cash, then you will need to make an advertising plan and consider how much money you want to spend. Most newbies do not sell more than a few hundred books. If you would like to make more than that, you will need to do a lot of work researching the best ways to market your book to your niche
2. Don't Rush It
Most authors spend months to years perfecting a book before they bring it to press. If you have only spent a couple of weeks, your book is nowhere near finished. Join a critique group, have other authors read your work, or pay for an editor to help you out. Even bestselling authors send their texts to editors to be improved and this process often takes longer than writing itself. My tip. Edit. Edit. Edit.
3. Reflect on Your Illustrations
How do your illustrations compare to other books on the market? When your washing machine breaks down, you hire a repair person who is an expert to fix it. Your illustrator should be an expert, too. Illustrators work hard at their craft and should be paid for their expertise. If you think minimum wage is reasonable, your book will look minimum, too. This is why traditional publishers have their own in house illustrators who they know are experts in their field. If you want to sell lots of books and you are not an artist, do not do your own illustrations. Also, finish all of your editing before you find an illustrator.
3. Show Your Book to Strangers
Your family and friends will always say your book is great. They love you and don't want to hurt your feelings. You need to find people who do not know you who are willing to read your book. Join a local writers group. Go to your local library and ask your librarian if she knows of any people who would be willing to anonymously critique your book or mentor you. Ask if you can read your book for story-time and see how children react to your book.
4. Spend Time Coming Up with a Superb Title
First and foremost, your book needs a good title. This should not just sound good, but should also explain to those who do not know you or your book what they are going to expect when they read it. Also, make sure that your title does not sound scary, does not have any negative connotations, and is free from anything that could be considered controversial. A good title stands alone. In addition, look up your title on Google and Amazon and see what other books and products have similar names. This is an important step that shouldn't be forgotten as once your title is uploaded, it is almost impossible to change.
5. Your Cover is More Important Than Your Book
When people see a link or advertisement to your book, the first thing they will do is look at the cover and read the title. Often this is only a tiny thumbnail image on a mobile phone. If the title is illegible or does not catch their attention, they will not even read your blurb and they will definitely not buy your book. Your cover should tell us about what we will expect in the book. If you are doing your own cover, take time to look at other popular books in your genre to see how a good cover looks. A cover is not just an image and a title, its layout, typeface, and understanding industry standards. Zoom out until your image is very small and see if it still works. My advice is to only do your own cover if you have experience in book or graphic design. Unfortunately, you can usually always spot a first time author by the cover of their book. A good cover sells a book because you only get one chance to make a first impression.
6. Write a Great Blurb
Amazon, for example, only shows the first 2-3 sentences of your blurb and then writes 'more...' You need to catch people's attention in those first few sentences so that they click on either the 'more' button or buy your book. Hook your reader. Tell them why your book is so great and give them a taste as to what your book is about. While putting together my Best Coronavirus Children's Books blog post, I looked at hundreds of product pages and the majority of pages I saw were from first time authors. Many, were teachers, parents, and medical workers who decided to try to break into the children's book market for the first time. Although some of the newcomers surprised me with their concepts, ingenuity, and talent, others had absolutely no idea what they were doing. Nowhere in your blurb, for example, should you put yourself down and say that you are not a professional writer or illustrator. This may be true, but keep that information to yourself. If you are a teacher, than promote yourself with your experience working with children. If you are a parent, use that. And, don't forget to write in the third person.
6. Research Your Categories
When you upload to KDP you are allowed to pick two categories for your book. Normally, these are general categories. If you want your book to be a bestseller, you will need to do some research. Most of the 'bestselling new releases' are in categories you probably didn't even know exist. Find other books in your market, see what categories they are in, and add your book to the categories with the least amount of competition (that of course still represent your book).
7. Use the Look Inside Function
When I went researching coronavirus children's books, I was amazed at how little information authors give about their books. I rarely buy a book just based on the cover. Although I will buy a fiction book based on the blurb, for a children's book I need to be able to look inside. If I don't know what your book is about, why should I buy it? Write to Amazon and have them set the 'Look Inside' feature to at least 50%. You want people to read your book and get hooked. Tell people in the blurb what your book is about and why you wrote it. The more info, the better. My bestselling book The Day the Lines Changed can actually be read in its entirety on my website. So far this transparency has actually improved my sales.
8. Don't Stop Now
In order to be successful as a self-publisher, you do need to research what you are doing and treat it like a business. Begin researching how to advertise your book to your niche. This is different for every author. Think of why your book is newsworthy and hit up local media. Call your local paper and television station. If you really want to make it in self-publishing, you will need to have more than just one book. Like many, I didn't begin really earning money until my fourth or fifth book. It takes time to get to know the industry. If you are serious about publishing children's books as more than just a hobby, join the Society of Children's Book Writer and Illustrators. They offer invaluable courses on how to write and illustrate, critique groups, and have chapters all over the world. I would never have gotten to where I am if I hadn't joined this wonderful group of people.
I hope these tips help to get you started. Good luck! If you have any questions, add them to the comments and I'll try to answer them as soon as I can. You'll find more information about A Little Donnerwetter Books and my current projects on my author website at KelleyDonner.com.