Ricardo Fayet, cofounder at Reedsy, a platform that connects authors to industry professionals as well as offering learning opportunities and editing tools, shares his advice for new writers who are ready to take the plunge.
1. Know who you’re writing for before you start
This tip might seem backwards at first. Surely every bestselling novel started with a story idea so great that readers were naturally drawn to it? Despite what you might think, generally, this isn’t so.
If you plan to publish and sell a book, then step one must absolutely be understanding who will read it, as that will advise all other aspects of the writing and self-publishing process. As ex-Simon & Schuster editor Katrina Diaz says: “Understanding your market is essential if you want to reach the right readers — and everything from the genre categorization, cover copy, book description, cover and interior design, works together to identify that.”
2. Build a solid writing routine – and stick to it
Becoming a successful self-published author is not a casual pastime; it’s an endeavor that requires commitment and discipline. It’s not enough simply to have a brilliant story idea, you need to be dedicated to committing that idea to the page. Therefore, in order to avoid procrastination, it is crucial that authors develop a solid writing routine.
If you want to finish writing a book, don’t wait for the time to do it, make the time, and honor that commitment to yourself. Or in the words of bestselling indie author Shannon Myers (who’s sold over 1.5 million): “Because writing is such a creative job, there’s this feeling that ‘I can’t write unless my muse is speaking to me’. And the reality is: the muse is your bitch, not the other way around.”
3. Send your manuscript to beta readers
Imagine the luxury of publishing your book and then being able to rewrite and alter issues that readers point out after buying it. Essentially, this is the role of a beta reader. These are people that read your revised manuscript with the express goal of providing feedback on what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t.
Heed the wise words of freelance editor Rebecca Heyman and take advantage of any readers you have at your disposal prior to publishing: “The reason traditionally published books are so wonderful is because authors have the luxury of many qualified readers prior to publication. Do whatever you can to replicate this process by swapping critiques with other authors, hiring great editors and seeking out sensitivity readers.”
4. Know your budget and do your research
The question indie authors will inevitably ask themselves at the beginning of their self-publishing journey is, “How much is this going to cost me?”
The answer to this will ultimately vary depending on your writing experience, personal objectives, genre, and the length of the book. That said, to give you an idea of what authors should budget on average for producing a book, there is a handy infographic analyzing over 2,000 quotes from professional editors, proofreaders and designers on the Reedsy marketplace.
5. Always hire a developmental editor
Most authors who are taking their initial steps to self-publishing think they just need an editor for grammar, punctuation and typos (i.e. a copy editor). That’s important, but if you’re writing your first book, chances are you’ve made as many plot, characterization, viewpoint, dialogue and stylistic mistakes as you have grammatical ones. This is what developmental editors focus on: the big picture. They will cut, move, shape, and criticize your novel — but they will do so with the aim of leaving you with a piece of marketable work that adheres to professional industry standards and expectations.
Too many authors rush into copy editing and proofreading, then the first Amazon reviews hit and they realize the book has a glaring plot hole. Don’t make that mistake.
6. Never, ever design your own book cover
Just don’t do it. Unless you are already an experienced book cover designer, hire a professional. “Don’t skimp on your cover, it’s the window to your book,” states freelance designer Jake Clark.
If the cover is a glimpse into what your book is about, you want to ensure that potential readers receive an enticing view, one that accurately reflects the contents of your novel and ultimately results in a sale. The point: a good cover is a powerful marketing tool. Invest in it. On how to find the right designer, Jake says, “Look around, do some research. Don’t be afraid to send inquiry emails, we can’t respond to emails we haven’t gotten. And remember an inquiry email is not a signed contract, if you don’t like the cut of their jib, move on.”
7. Don’t think of distribution as digital vs. print
There are a number of online retailers through which you can distribute an e-book. The most popular ones include Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. For a self-published author, selling your novel as an e-book is a no-brainer. E-books make up 30% of all book sales on Amazon — and readers are often much more likely to take a chance on an indie e-book than a print copy because of the cheaper price and immediate possession.
That said, print novels continue to hold more value than just a great smell when you crack them open and flip through the pages. There is still a market for print; and Amazon’s new bookstores will probably create more and more opportunities for indie authors to reach that market.
8. Build your mailing list before you publish your book
Last but not least, mailing lists are incredibly important for indie authors, in order to maintain reader-author relationships at scale. And that’s exactly what a mailing list is: a relationship. Someone has given you their permission to contact them in the expectation that you will be providing them with information of value. If you can continue to provide your list with engaging content, you will earn their trust and develop a list of ready-made readers for any further books you publish.