Some basic advice to self-published authors. Agree? Disagree?

As a publicist, I sometimes receive requests for advice or assistance from self-published authors. I have a great deal of admiration for anyone with the resolve to complete a novel, and to take on the enormous burden of publishing and promoting it themselves. I know that it’s hard to promote any book, nonetheless a self-published one, and that in many ways the cards are stacked against these authors from the start, so I always try to share a little bit of advice in the hope that I can make their job just a little bit easier.

I’ve reprinted this advice below, but please don’t treat it like words received from on high. Feel free to disagree, or add to the discussion via the comments button. I look forward to hearing from you.
Promoting a self-published title is a challenge. Here are the two major reasons why this is so:

(1) Although self-publishing and POD publishing don’t carry as much of a stigma as it used to, a certain amount of prejudice still exists among otherwise reasonable reviewers–especially among the traditional press. Many of them feel that anything self-published only became that way because it wasn’t good enough to get published by a regular publishing house, and for that reason, won’t review anything self-published.

(2) Self-published titles normally don’t come with any means of mass distribution. In essence, should a reader be influenced by a review in a newspaper or other periodical, she or he won’t be able to normally find a copy of the book on the shelf at their local Borders or Barnes & Noble.

Naturally, just because critics feel this way, that doesn’t mean that it’s true. As the internet continues to grow and the means of production shifts to creators, most of these old-guard prejudices will probably start to fade. That being the case, you’ve still got to deal with the situation as it is right now.

Here’s what I’d advise: Spend an afternoon on Google researching likely friendly venues for your book and the names of reviewers associated with them. From there, develop a list of maybe twenty potential contacts and email them directly. Offer them a copy of the book for review, an opportunity for an interview and maybe even offer to write a guest post on the book or a related topic later if they’re interested.

Now, who is going to review the book? I’d start with small to medium sized book bloggers. Slowly build up word of mouth, and keep a sheet of choice excerpts from the best reviews. Once you have these, use them to approach the larger websites. They’re far more likely to read your book if others have read it and enjoyed it. Yeah, I know, weird, huh? From there, you might be able to move up to magazine and newspaper guys and gals, but most of them want to have the book about 4 months in advance of publication.

You’re going to have to do this as a “grass roots” style campaign, and build up word of mouth slowly and deliberately. You’ll need to get yourself out there, talk to the fans and genre gatekeepers themselves. You’ve going to need to start a website to increase your aura of legitimacy. Finally, get on Twitter and Facebook and really talk to people in your core audience. Indirectly promote your personal “brand” that way. Don’t make the mistake of spamming people with impersonal, sales-oriented messages.

Ultimately, you’re going to have to bring your message directly to the people, and build your audience person-by-person. This can be your best hope of beating the odds and having a successful book.

n653213921_1671825_1056996Matt Staggs is a literary publicist and the proprietor of Deep Eight LLC, a boutique publicity agency utilizing the best publicity practices from the worlds of traditional media and evolving social technologies. He has worked in the fields of public relations and journalism for almost a decade. In addition to his work as a publicist, Matt is a book reviewer and writer whose work appears in both print and web publications.

29 thoughts on “Some basic advice to self-published authors. Agree? Disagree?

  1. Having fielded a number of self-published review requests in the last few years, there's another thing you should do prior to self-publishing, which is be sure you've written well. If I look at the first page of your book (or your query email, or your author website) and find typos, bad grammar or railing against the Evil Publishing Conspiracy that's kept your books from the shelves (or a combination of all three), I'll not even reply to your query, and probably killfile your email address as well.

    Speaking for myself (but I expect chiming with many other reviewers), I'm very hesitant to offer to review self-published work, because to do so sets a precedent, and makes it harder to turn down reviews of other self-published books in the future ("But you reviewed [x]</em!"). So a self-published author needs to convince me immediately that they're a serious proposition who finds themselves in the margins due to stylistic or genre considerations, rather than someone who just can't be bothered honing their chops enough to be taken seriously. Things that will help in such a situation include short fiction publishing credits with reputable mags or webzines, verifiable non-fic publishing credits that will stand up to the same quality tests as mentioned above, or verifiable blurbs from other gatekeeper types.

    It may not be entirely fair to tar every self-published author with the same brush, but the sad fact is that far too many self-published authors have done themselves and their peers no favours at all by sending out (at worst) shoddy or (at best) derivative fiction. Your challenge is to demonstrate from the get-go that you're coming forward with a professional attitude and awesome writing… which isn't impossible by any means, but rarer than even the most cynical might expect.

  2. "Self-published novels are poorly written" is a stereotype. Like many stereotypes, there is some truth to it. Some poorly written books get rejected because they're filled with grammar errors, typoes, and bland stories. The authors sometimes get pissed off and self-publish their novels anyway.

    But there are valid reasons to self-publish. If you want to write more than three-hundred pages. If you want to tell an unconventional story, in an unconventional style. Those are essentially my reasons. I know what I write is well-written, but I also know it's too much of a risk for publishers.

    "So a self-published author needs to convince me immediately that they're a serious proposition who finds themselves in the margins due to stylistic or genre considerations, rather than someone who just can't be bothered honing their chops enough to be taken seriously."

    I understand this outlook, and I think it's fair to take. Nobody wants their time wasted. All authors have to prove themselves to the reader, even the big names. Just don't let "this book is self-published" automatically become a reason to dismiss them.

    As for the post's advice: useful information. Thanks for writing. Looks like I have another blog to add to my RSS reader.

  3. Paul – You do realize there's a hole in your logic, right?

    "“So a self-published author needs to convince me immediately that they’re a serious proposition who finds themselves in the margins due to stylistic or genre considerations, rather than someone who just can’t be bothered honing their chops enough to be taken seriously.”

    That statement presumes that all authors who DO hone their chops sufficiently will be taken seriously and published which isn't true of course. There are always stories of authors who've been rejected time after time… then gotten published and done incredibly well. I agree with your overall point, but let's not pretend that the submission > publishing process is perfect at uncovering the best books – it's just the way things have been done and has seemed to work tolerably well.

  4. I was considering self-publishing my book, mostly because I figure editors are so over-whelmed by people who waste their time, why bother? Does this sound like a valid reason?

    Sure, giving the standard publishing venue a chance is wise, but… seriously? I could totally stand my own in the business world. I'm just that determined to get this book out there. But I want it to be the best I can get it, and editors outside of publishing companies are hard to come by – and expensive, from what I've seen.

    So what about those situations? Because this advice isn't helping me sway either direction.

    BTW, word of mouth on Twitter is already fun. I don't see why some people don't understand the importance of word of mouth. It's what feeds the publishing industry! Whether printed by a huge company, a small company, or controlled by the very hands that wrote it, word of mouth is still the only real way a book is gonna sell.

    Broadway became big on word of mouth alone. Now look at it. It's impossible to ignore.

  5. I'm basically in agreement with the post, as far as it goes. Others have made good points too. Let me add a few things.

    First, "authors" covers authors of both fiction and nonfiction. There are many nonfiction categories where self-publishing makes good sense and the low probability of getting a review is irrelevant. Let's set that aside, as this discussion seems to be about fiction.

    Reviewers, publicists, and authors need to always keep in mind the distinction between self-publishing and vanity publishing. I have no problem with reviewers ignoring any book that comes to them from iUniverse, Xlibris, or any of the other vanity presses (self-styled "self-publishing companies," although that's obviously an oxymoron if you think about it). But there are also a lot of authors who do their homework and take on the role of publisher. These are the true self-published authors, and they should be afforded the same courtesy and respect as any other small publishing house. Yes, they may have trouble getting distribution, because wholesalers and distributors prefer to work with publishers who produce at least ten new titles a year. But that shouldn't be a desideratum for reviewers. Readers interested in purchasing such a book can always buy it online if their bookstore won't order it.

    Real self-published books have generally been edited professionally. That doesn't mean there aren't a lot of clunkers—just as with the output of larger houses. There will still be plenty of books that don't warrant a review. But if reviewers will keep this distinction in mind—between vanity publishing and true self-publishing—at least there's a chance some of these new voices will be heard.

    Now, why should a novelist self-publish? Generally, as almost everyone advises, novelists should subject themselves to the gauntlet of querying agents and suffering rejection. It builds character, and sometimes it improves the book. But the odds are really stacked against the author, and being rejected does not necessarily mean the book is no good. For writers in genres that have strong Web-based fan communities, maybe self-publishing is worth a shot. Requirements? Get a sanity check from a professional book editor. Have the ms. professionally copyedited. Pay a book designer to typeset the book and produce a cover. Does that sound like it's too expensive? It's what a publisher would have to do if you went the agent route. Either the book is good enough to repay the investment or it isn't. If it isn't, don't publish it. (An alternative that trims the design cost but not the editing cost is to publish it only as an e-book.)

    And remember, if your goal is only to connect with readers and you don't expect to profit from publishing the book, you can always publish it on a blog at no cost whatsoever.

  6. I love this topic…it’s a favorite of mine because I did self-publish my book. I signed a contract with Author House and "Confessions of a Corporate Slut" debuted in January 2008.

    Of course, my decision came after a series of rejections. Yet a few were so positive I felt compelled to continue my quest. One agent, in particular, kept the ms a full month, insisted that everyone in his agency read and loved it and said even his wife had become invested. Yet, he felt he would have trouble selling the product to a publisher. First fiction, you know.

    The Editorial Department edited the ms and my assigned editor Catherine Knepper, expertly guided me through the minefield of story structure, content, and character development. It’s was, by far, my best investment. The publisher designed the cover, formatted the interior, and for a few dollars more sent press releases.

    The Midwest Book Review requested a copy and I was able to garner a 5 star review and even a few libraries across the country placed my treasure on their shelves. Blog Critic Alex Hutchinsin was effusive with each of his 5 stars. I was humbled and galvanized, equally.

    I personally called on local book stores and had several successful book signings (meaning 25 books or more were sold at these events.)

    At a cocktail party, I engaged a producer for local morning radio show in witty banter about my tome, and was rewarded with a guest spot on the show. I was scheduled for 15 minutes, but they kept me for an hour to answer the call-ins.

    I ferreted out local book clubs and managed to address several. All of them, without exception were lively. All of the attendees had my book in hand and several purchased extra copies (I always took extra books) for friends or relatives.

    I packed all these positives into my pitch to local newspapers and all kinds of magazines and was still not able to score a review. Self-published, you know. They saw through my subsidy-publisher moniker. I read everywhere that self-publishing has less of a stigma: I haven’t seen that from where I sit.

    Oh, I know the title is an issue; praised by some and censured as kitschy by others. No one is ambivalent about that title. It’s tongue in cheek – the life of a corporate wife. They give it away, don’t they? All their intellectual property…substance they were paid for as career women, now given no charge to their husbands. Lots of people actually get it without explanation. The smart people, I’d like to think.

    Publishers are in trouble. Your chances at main stream publishing are dependent on what you write. I am seeking representation for my second ms. Again; I invested heavily with TED, and snared the Tiger Woods of editing, Renni Browne. The finished product catapulted me into their agent match making program, where few are invited.

    One of my first rejections verbatim, “Jacquie, I love your writing. However, my 2010 resolution is to represent non-fiction only. First fiction has become nearly impossible to sell.”

    It’s isn’t always so defined- do the right things and it will sell or it won’t. The average self-published book sells 100 copies. At a number of writer’s conferences I’ve been told that 5,000 copies sold will warrant a look from an agent.

    What about those of us in-between? I’ve sold 2,000 copies, earning just over $1.00 per book. I’ve lost on my financial investment, yet gained a world of knowledge thanks to TED’s guidance, and had great fun along the way with eclectic groups of people that generously shared their time and opinions.

    If a series of rejections are chased by an array of affirmations, then what?

    It’s a bit like golf. The first eight holes are horrendous; even after a decent drive, you still end up five putting. You’ve decided to put your clubs on eBay and give up the game forever. Ninth hole, it’s almost martini time; you swing and feel that sweet connection instantly. The ball rolls in…hole in one! Game on baby! I can do this!

    Will I self-publish again? Should I? I don’t know…

  7. I haven't any word to appreciate this post…..Definitely i am impressed from this publish….the person who create this post it was a good human..thanks for shared this with us.i found this informative and intriguing blog so i consider so its really useful and knowledge able.I would like to thank you for the efforts you've made in writing this article. I'm hoping the same best work from you within the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me.Definitely the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is fine example of it

  8. Damn, cool website. I actually came across this on Bing, and I am really happy I did. I will definately be revisiting here more often. Wish I could add to the post and bring a bit more to the table, but am just absorbing as much info as I can at the moment.

    Thank You

    Houses for Sale in Drogheda

  9. Hey, very nice website. I actually came across this on Ask Jeeves, and I am stoked I did. I will definately be returning here more often. Wish I could add to the post and bring a bit more to the table, but am just absorbing as much info as I can at the moment.

    Thank You

    Property For Sale Ireland

  10. It's about time someone exposed the big banks and Wall Street for the manipulating fraudsters that they are. An insider's club report showed last week how the big banks made a huge power grab that allowed them to grow unchecked.

    GC report – Now I could understand why we never have the freedom to do what we want to do.We can't beat the big banks, but we can join them.

  11. Today, I went fishing with my father. We saw a sting ray and me, being deathly terrified of them, started screaming and jumping around. It started to go away until my father decided it would be funny to push me in, right next to it.

  12. Skip Hop Studio Diaper Tote Tote is awesome.So numerous pockets – as well as not those little, worthless pockets, either. Almost all of the pockets tend to be a excellent dimension and truly assist keep everything organized. The handles are a good length and fit nicely over the actual shoulder; the handle straps also stay place on my own shoulder, which is actually important as soon as you're having a newborn. The handbag seems good, too. Not too fancy, but not too casual. (I have it in black) The material is soft (can't believe of a superior word) so it is uncomplicated to squeeze in to tight spaces – but yet it is sturdy. I have a Fleurville Lexi carrier and I love it, as well, but that handbag is actually kind of inflexible. I assume that Skip*Hop can turn out to be my daily tote. It is a little bit large – so if you are not in to huge hand bags this might be far better as an over-night diaper tote.

  13. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite sure I’ll learn lots of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

  14. hey there and thank you for your information – I have certainly picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise several technical points using this website, as I experienced to reload the site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load properly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will often affect your placement in google and can damage your quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out for much more of your respective exciting content. Make sure you update this again very soon..

  15. Highly rated post. I study one thing totally new on totally different blogs everyday. Deciding on one . stimulating to learn the paper content from other writers and be taught a little one thing from their website. I'd like to apply sure of this content material on my blog you're mind. Natually I'll give a hyperlink right here we are at your web-site. Admire your sharing.

Comments are closed.