What It Really Takes To Self-Publish
So you want to self-publish
I’m going to assume you can write a story. Maybe you had an experience where you read a story, was so disappointed with the execution and thought, ha! I could so do that better. Then you sat your ass down, and you did. It’s awesome, it’s better than anything else out there, and you deserve millions. Now what? Just what does it take to self-publish a book and make a living from it?
Here’s a rundown of all the things I do to self-publish. When looking at this list, remember this is all on me. Being self-published means you’re doing all the work—wearing all the different hats. Sometimes you’re going to purchase one of these services from another person in a hat that does it better. But if you’re low on funds, or want the challenge, you’re doing it yourself.
So what old school reference are we talking about when I bring up hats? Too old for me to know. Totally. >_> But here are the jobs you can expect to do if you want to self-publish successfully.
Researcher: This is something you’re going to be constantly doing. Even when you know it all, you’ll return to this hat because things change and you need to stay with the trends. It involves reading and asking questions from people that know more than you. Taking classes, courses, and observing what works so you can replicate it. Reading this article is researching.
Writer: Author of books. Rinse, repeat indefinitely.
Editor: Fixer of books. Eyes may bleed.
Formatter: From text to ebook. Html might be involved. From text to print book, again html, templates, etc.
Marketer: Packages books into a polished product that’s prime for sales. Coming up with catchy blurbs and quick one-liners that draw a reader in. Having an eye for what works and brutally cutting what doesn’t. Creating a brand, not just a bunch of books.
Manager: Makes sure you’re organized and all the things that need to get done get done on time without fuckups. The writer of schedules, guider of energy and snapper of whips. Rewarder of lollipops. <3
Artist: Book cover artist, website designer, banner and advertising designer. This is practical art and mostly involves graphic design than anything else. It involves an eye for trends and an understanding of how book marketing requires certain visual cues depending on the genre.
Promoter: Selling your product and you. Putting your books out there in front of people. Creating newsletters and sending them out. Seeking out other authors in your genre to cross-promote. Coming up with deals, looking for the next big thing and jumping a ride on the train (trains are these things that used to exist… Nevermind.) Advertising. Going to local book stores. Getting ARCs and reviews. Utilizing social media, giveaways, and any new shit you can to get your name heard. Blogger and tweeter of interesting things.
Networker: Communicating with other people in hats, usually of the creative and promoting kind. There is information to be had, support to give and gain, and it’s nice to know you’re not the only one working your ass off trying to whore your creative babies out in the big world.
Accountant: Money in, money out, taxes, financial goals, advertising bills, minor freakouts, etc.
Public Figure: Yeah, this too. Answerer of emails, talker of your books, blogger of realness but not too real, because hearing about the ear infection you had full of puss doesn’t really draw the people in. Being personable and thick skinned and not having anyone to hide behind because this is part of your job. Being seen.
Website Manager: Running that website you need to have for your readers to find your books. Html, coding, bandwith, SEO, ping and trackbacks, etc.
Mailing List Manager: Pretty self-explanatory but should be listed as its own thing. Why? Because a mailing list is the most important tool you’re ever going to have as an author. It’s more important than all those books you haven’t written yet.
That must seem like a lot of work. I do it every day. I started self-publishing November, 2015 and I’ve written and self-published 38 books already. Did you know I’m disabled? Did you know I was bed bound through most of that time? I only recently moved out of a moldy apartment that was crippling not only my body but limiting my brain capacity. So yes, that might look like a lot of work but a disabled chick without a college degree did it while suffering from mold toxicity and Lyme disease. I think you can handle it.
Every job of a self-publisher can be outsourced
Okay, so the nice thing about these many hats is if you have the money, you could hire a team of people to do this shit. Look at them all. It’s like a damn publishing house all in one exhausted little self-publisher. Every job you do could be hired out to people that are more experienced and more confident than you are. But the reality is, if you had the money you probably wouldn’t be that driven to self-publish in the first place. You could just hang around with heart in throat every time you submit to a publisher while picking away at your next masterpiece novel. Getting published could be easier than all the work that goes into this, but it might not have the same results—be that good or bad depending on your abilities.
When you’re published, the end results are not in your control. You’re completely dependent on the ability and experience of the people you’re working with. For someone inexperienced that doesn’t want to go into all the work above, that might sound like a great deal. But if your book doesn’t sell, or you don’t understand what your book could make in the first place because you’re ignorant, you don’t really know if you’re in a good deal or what to do to change things. If you self-publish for long enough and then choose to be published, you’ll be going into a situation with a lot more understanding than someone who’s on the outside looking in.
If you’re already a self-published writer, congratulations on making it this far because this is a shit ton of work and there is no one but you to keep you on course. There is no A+B = Guaranteed Success Forever. No advanced payout, not promise of anything. No one is rushing to take your kids to daycare and do your laundry and clean your house so you can run a business. Every book is a new launch, every moment in between launches is writing, promoting, and list building, and every experience is working towards the next experience. And my god, I love it all.
Do you know what an adrenaline junkie is? O_o Let’s go with masochist; I might seek the pain a bit. XD There are certain things, particular hats that I loathe but I’m of this horrible mindset that when I recognize I’m not good at something, I have to study and work until I can kick its ass. It’s this messed up thing in my head and I am not happy sitting still. Ever. No matter how tired I get. No matter how much I’d rather live happily under a rock. I want to grow, I want to live, and I want to mess it up along the way. Curiosity is my BFF, and if someone says I can’t do something, I immediately go ‘like fuck I can’t.’
If I self-published for the money alone, I wouldn’t. The money starting out wasn’t enough; the money now is enough and moving towards more than I know what to do with, and even though my eye keeps drifting that way to see cause and effects of actions in dollar signs, it is not why I self-publish. It goes back to that adrenaline junkie of a masochist that needs to feel like I’m doing something valuable in my life. I created a job that makes me feel good about myself, and I feel like my books offer the world something that we need more of—shameless, sexy fun that accepts our darkest fantasies. I also enjoy using my brain and solving problems and the biggest problem in my life at the time was how do I make money while not having to leave my sick bed when I had no college degree or cash to spare and was living off of disability.
Problem solved in the form of self-publishing.
If you’re doing this for the money alone, there is going to come the point where you’ll need to reconsider everything. You’re either not going to be able to break the threshold and you’ll need a new strategy for profit, or you’re going to surpass all your expectations and be left wondering what the hell is next. See all the work above? You should probably figure out just why you’re ready to put yourself through all that. It’s not just work, it’s boundaries you push every day with yourself. Creative boundaries, social boundaries, questioning and push back to every fear and doubt you have about your skills and your self-worth and if you should be allowed to make a living doing what you love. This is not just a job, this is a growth of you in every step. Are you ready for it?
The Cage of Can’t
I always think it’s such bullshit when someone tries to sell you a system. Just do 1, 2, and 3 and have perseverance, and you’ll be a millionaire! They absolutely disregard the reality that it doesn’t matter how much someone wants something, or how capable they are to follow guidelines or adapt. Most people aren’t held back by a lack of ability or knowledge—google is everywhere. One web search can tell you everything you ever needed to know about self-publishing. No, we’re held back by ourselves.
For me, it was the challenge of being a battered child that grew up with PTSD. Inescapable trauma that twisted my thoughts, my actions, my perspective of self, hopes and dreams. An invisible cage that kept me from doing the things I wanted to do by ‘deciding’ I can’t. Lyme disease and mold toxicity, the things killing me for the last four years? Wake up call. They allowed me to stop running and face my shit with therapy. Near death was my rock bottom of I’m done living like this. My cage was able to be identified and stepped out of but don’t think for a moment that I’m still not fighting old ideas of self and world. Every day is a reimagining as I prove that I can write a fantasy and sell a book. And most days, it’s that battle of self that is more emotionally exhausting than the jobs above.
You don’t have to have lived my past to have your own cage of can’t. Maybe your mother told you that you were book smart, not street smart and you don’t think you’ll ever be able to promote yourself. Maybe your fifth-grade teacher said your story telling was unimaginative and every time you go to write, you wonder why you even bother. Maybe you keep hearing people insist that work is for making money, not doing things you like and you think you’re an asshole for wanting different.
I mean, really, who the hell do you think you are wanting to do something you love every day when other people you know and love settle, compromise, work themselves sick doing things they hate just to feed their family? What a selfish ass you are for wanting a different path when it’s good enough for them. That has to hurt someone, right? There is no way you can be happy without destroying someone somewhere. If you make more money, someone else will obviously have to have less. That’s just the law of the universe, so you better stop dreaming because getting ahead is the most hurtful thing you can do to everyone around you.
Yeah, so that might seem like the most unlogical thing ever to a rational person but people have these emotional hidden ‘truths’ ingrained inside from past experiences that keep them from moving forward, and they are rarely rational. Nope, they just might appear rational because the human in charge of these twisted ideas puts a lot of work into convincing themselves that these emotional truths are literally true. They get covered in bullshit to keep the owner of these thoughts safe in a familiar, unhappy world. It might as well be some ordained voice on high telling them that they better not try because the possibility of change is terrifying.
My answer to that? So be terrified and do it anyways. You are the only one holding yourself back. Not your job, not your family, not your friends and neighbors, not your financial situation or the world around you. You are choosing to not go for it and you can make a different choice. Add the hat.
Grower of self: It’s the number one job you have and taking it on is something only the rare person does. This is what defines if you will make it as a self-publisher. It requires bravery, a no bullshit attitude, a willingness to feel like shit, cripplingly vulnerable, and then get over it and be ready to feel like shit again. It’s a goal of eventual self-worth enough to realize you deserve the things you want and more. It requires you to trust yourself, be able to listen to advice that matters from experts, be criticized and not take it as a personal attack. This is the bridge past holding yourself back—and we all do it. Even a little, we stop ourselves from being more.
Do you want to feel unstoppable? This is the hat. Do you want to start a task and grow a career, help people, come up with new ideas and never hit a wall you can’t surpass? Right here. This is what allows you to fail, repeatedly, because this gives you the power to get back up each time and try. It’s the difference of a pause where you reassess the path compared to a dead stop where you tell yourself you’re not good enough and never will be. This is the hardest, most rewarding job you’re ever going to have no matter what you decide to do out in the world.
This is what it takes to do all the stuff above, and no amount of lying to yourself will change it. And no, I won’t lie to you either. I can tell you how to do everything and you can understand it perfectly, but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever even try. No matter how much you want it. People that hold themselves back won’t make it until they allow themselves to succeed. Get a therapist if you are in an invisible cage you can’t get out of. It’s your tool to being free to live life on your terms.
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