How to Succeed at Self-Publishing
This is Part 2 in my Self-Publishing Plan to Succeed series on my blog. CLICK HERE to read Part 1.
For the record, my definition of “success” in self-publishing is generating enough income to pay my bills. Other authors may measure success in other ways, but my blog post series is about how to create a steady income from self-publishing your books. Also, this series is NOT going to tell you how to do the actual task of publishing a book through the various self-publishing platforms. To learn how to do that, please visit my article Arial's Author Toolbox for links to David Gaughran's books, which detail the process. And read all those other books on that page, too. They'll help you succeed.
Part 2 – Packaging Your Book
Whether we like it or not, people DO judge a book by it's cover. If you have a crappy cover, no one will go to the next step to explore your book. It's that simple. If you're tight on budget, put your money into your cover. I cannot stress this enough. Yes, editing is important, but not as important as the cover. Readers are a lot more forgiving than you think once they've purchased the book, but you still need to make your book tight, so be sure to at least put your novel before beta readers who are grammar Nazis.
But readers won't read your book unless they're interested enough to cough up the cash. Here's the order in which a reader evaluates your book…
- The cover – if they like it, they'll move on to…
- The blurb – the summary of your book. If they find that intriguing, they'll explore…
- The inside of your book – Whether it's in the bookstore or online, if they can crack open the book and read the first few pages, they'll do so. THIS is where editing is important, so if you still don't have the budget to pay an editor, edit that first chapter within an inch of your life. Make it the best you can. You should be doing this for your entire book, but especially those first few pages. See comment above about Beta Readers.
- The reviews – Yes…reviews are very important, but we'll get into how to get those later in this series. For now, know that reviews allow readers to judge whether or not people are enjoying the book you've published. If you have no reviews, it looks as if no one is reading your book. If you have crappy reviews, then the appearance is no one is enjoying it. Therefore, lots of good reviews illustrate that many people are enjoying your writing. This encourages people to click that buy button.
Tips for a Good Book Cover
Most books today are purchased online, especially self-published books. Worry less about a print cover and more about the eBook cover for now. Readers only spend money on hard copies of books when they are familiar with the author. Who wants to spend $10-$25 on an unknown author? Not me. And not most readers. That's the beauty of eBooks! Authors have a much better chance of getting their books into the hands of readers through digital media! Yay for technology! So here are my tips for having a book cover that will help sell your books:
- Find a good cover artist! A cover is more than just a picture with a title and author name slapped onto it. There is a method to the madness of what sells and what doesn't. If you are not a graphic designer AND you do not know the methods behind designing a cover, pay someone else to do it. Save up for the cover art if you have to. Cover artists are worth their weight in gold. Here are a few I recommend that are affordable and are great at what they do:
- Ravven – excellent digital artist, especially for fantasy, paranormal and sci-fi, but she does any genre. (The cover pictured here is by Ravven for my author pal J.W. Webb.)
- Designs by D – Wild Rose Press cover artist and editor also does freelance cover designs for self-published authors, great to work with.
- Fiona Jayde Media – Another fabulous cover artist I know personally who does great work and is a gem to work with.
- Thumbnail view is important! Make sure your book cover looks good in the thumbnail (smaller) view. Is it eye-catching? Can you read the title of your book in the thumbnail view? Your cover artist should know these things, but look at their portfolio to see if they have this concept down.
- Genre must be clear! Can you tell what genre your book is at a glance? Even “mainstream” fiction has a look and feel to it. If you don't know what's trending, visit Amazon and do a search for your genre and see what the top-selling book covers look like. This is also a good idea to find examples you like, which you can link for your cover artist. Let them know what you like about those covers. She won't recreate those covers for you, but she can get an idea of your tastes and preferences.
- Less is more! This is so true for book covers. When I used to design covers freelance and for a couple of small press publishers, the authors would request to have so many elements on the cover – scenes, items, actions, etc. Keep it simple. Your book cover is NOT meant to tell the story inside. It's only supposed to entice the reader to want to dive into the pages. What does your book cover promise?
Tips for Writing an Enticing Blurb
This is probably one of the hardest things for authors to do. I've not only heard many authors complain about this part of the process, but I've read MANY of them that fall short of achieving the goal of exciting readers to want to dive into a book. However, I've created some useful tips that can help get to the heart of writing an effective blurb.
Ask yourself the following questions to prepare yourself for writing your blurb…
- Who's your main character? Not just their name(s) but what they are as it pertains to the story. Examples: a vampire hiding amongst gypsies; a disgruntled tow-truck driver; a frustrated journalist; a dagger-toting hellion. For the sample blurb below, I'll be using The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien: Frodo Baggins, hobbit, simple life, longs for adventure like his Uncle Bilbo, country dweller, never been outside of the Shire.
- What do they want? What is their main goal or intention? Even in romance novels, the hero and/or heroine have a goal to achieve, which should be the force that puts your two lovers together, not just the romance. Frodo unexpectedly inherits a magical ring, but learns it is the mythical ring of the Dark Lord, Sauron. Keeping the ring in the Shire – even hidden – will put everyone he knows in danger, so he must take the ring to Rivendell where the elves will know what to do.
- What is at stake? This should be the driving force of what your character wants and what will tease your readers into wanting to read your story. What would happen if your main character did NOT achieve their goal? Who would perish, if anyone? How would the life of your character turn out if they abandoned what they wanted? If Frodo does not take the ring away from the Shire, his family and friends may all die or be enslaved. Sauron will come to get the ring and then he will have the ability to become a physical body in the world again and more powerful than anyone can imagine. Sauron will cover the world in darkness and everyone will perish.
- What's in their way? These are the main obstacles preventing them from achieving their goal. Example: Frodo must go through unknown lands to deliver the ring of power and everything in his path wants to get their hands on it. Even the ring tries to betray him because its main goal is to be found by its master. And destroying the ring is not easy. It can only be destroyed at Mt. Doom where it was forged. Eventually, Frodo will have to battle his own will to destroy the ring, which will taint him along the way.
- How will this story change your character? Your character must grow or at least be altered by their journey. Think about some of the consequences of this change. Love can have risks, so what are those risks? Accomplishing a goal might put your character through some very hard times or make them face the reality of some of their faults. It might even change them in ways they never wanted, but that is sometimes the sacrifice for the greater good. Frodo will be exposed to great evil through the creatures he encounters, the dark desires of men and those around him – even those he loves. The ring will not only test those closest to him, but it will test his own willpower to resist evil. There are some things that cannot be unseen and Frodo will eventually have to live with losing that innocence.
- Where does your story take place? This is something that is often overlooked, so I'll just mention it here. Be sure the blurb covers the setting of your story, whether it's a simple sub-title (e.g., Scotland – 1513) or a mention of the world in which they live (e.g., A frustrated journalist in New York City). Middle-Earth, Bag End, Shire, Rivendell, Mordor, Mt. Doom.
Once you've answered the above questions, start to arrange your blurb in a way that teases your readers into wanting to find out what happens next. The blurb doesn't have to include everything you've written down in your notes. Just use your notes as a starting point, a kind of bucket filled with options from which to choose. Here's my own stab at creating a blurb for The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien using the notes I made above…
A hobbit named Frodo Baggins inherits a magical ring. But not just any ring. This simple gold band is infused with the spirit of the Dark Lord himself – the one who wishes to cover the world in darkness and enslave its people. Keeping the ring in the Shire puts all those Frodo loves in danger, so he boldly volunteers to journey across Middle-Earth to deliver the ring to those who can help him destroy it.
Accompanied by his best friend Samwise Gamgee, Frodo is not only on an adventure of a lifetime, he's about to learn that being the keeper of a ring has dire consequences. The ring wants to be found by its master and Frodo is pursued by true evil in its many forms – even in those closest to him. If he survives, he might never be able to return to the simple life he once knew…for one cannot face darkness without seeing some of that darkness within.
Obviously, I cannot compete with J.R.R. Tolkien himself, but the example above shows that the fate of the world is in the hands of this little hobbit. If you're a fantasy reader, the words “magical ring” probably enticed you to read on. The next sentence is short enough and, hopefully, interesting enough to make the reader want to find out why it is no ordinary magical ring – assuming magical rings can be ordinary! And by sentence three, the stakes are very high. This magical ring is dangerous and if Frodo doesn't do something about it, he will put those he loves in grave danger. Provided I still have the interest of the reader to continue, the concluding sentence shows that this adventure ahead for Frodo will leave its mark and perhaps leave the reader wondering exactly what that means. Hopefully, this short blurb makes a reader want to dive into the first few pages to discover if the writing style of the author is something that appeals to them.
Here are a few additional things to keep in mind when writing your blurb…
- Grab them right away! That first sentence is very important. Statistics show that most people don't get past the first two sentences if they aren't interested enough to keep reading. Don't waste your chance to entice them from the first sentence and appeal to a lover of the genre or story you've written.
- Stakes must be high! What is at stake for your characters? Entice readers to want to know how your characters are going to get out of the mess you've created for them and how it might change their lives.
- Don't give away the farm! If you at least watched the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, then you know I left out a WHOLE LOTTA info. The readers don't need to know the whole tale. Keep it short, but enthralling. But I do hint that Frodo will change after his journey, which is expected…but how is the question the readers might ask. And who closest to him will reveal the evil inside them?
- Avoid questions. Especially questions to which the readers will already know the answer. Romance blurbs are notorious for doing this. “Will they find true love in each other's arms?” Of course they will! Or they'd better! It's a romance novel and you'll piss off a lot of romance readers if the couple doesn't have a happily-ever-after ending…or at least the promise of one (aka happily for now). I could have ended the example blurb with this question: “If he survives, he might never be able to return to the simple life he once knew…for how can one face darkness and not learn of the darkness within?” If you don't do questions correctly, they can sound trite, corny or water down the impact of your words, as I feel they did in my example. And NEVER phrase a question where the reader has the chance to answer “no”…because they will. It's just the way the subconscious works. You want the answers to the questions to lead to more questions which can only be answered by reading the book.
Inside Your Book
As we just illustrated above, the blurb should invite readers to want to see if your style of writing is something that appeals to them. This is why the first few pages of your book are so important. If you have typos and grammar issues so bad they take the reader out of the story, OR your book starts out dull, you're going to lose your readers. They'll close your book and move on. Those first few sentences of your novel are just as important as the blurb. You WANT your readers to be so enthralled with that opening chapter that they not only finish the sample they're allowed to see, but NEED to read the rest to find out what happens. If your story opens with your character in a usual day, then preface it with a tease as to why this day turns out different.
Let's say The Fellowship of the Ring started with a normal day for Frodo. Inheriting the ring is the catalyst for the story. Though I am NOT suggesting Tolkien should have started his book any other way, for the purpose of this example, one could start the story like this… “Today started like any other day for Frodo Baggins…at least until he inherited the mythical Ring of the Dark Lord himself.” New paragraph. And then you can proceed to talk about why the day seemed so ordinary. That impending doom of this mythical ring will be hanging there and leaving a lot of unanswered questions. Inherited? Does Frodo lose a loved one? How did such a mythical ring end up in his family? Who is the Dark Lord himself? And this is the mythical ring…why is it so famous or well-known? Etcetera.
Part 2 Conclusion
Yes, people will judge a book by its cover…and blurb…and what's inside the cover. Be sure you've represented your book in the most professional and enticing way possible. And if you do not have the skills to create your own cover, PLEASE leave it to the professionals. The money you put into your covers will be worth it. Remember that you're selling a product, not just creating art in your writing. Readers won't even get to the contents of your book unless you've lured them into buying the book.
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