Self Publishing Best Practices: And, How Hard is it to Publish on Your Own?
Self Publishing Best Practices:
And, How Hard is it to Publish on Your Own?
By Timothy C. Ward, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author
Bear with me for a moment while I laugh at the enormity of work you likely don’t anticipate going along with this question. I believe you can do it, and getting the book onto Amazon’s KDP website is free and pretty easy, but doing it right, not only in the pre-published stage, as well as after, is where I am inclined to quote Samuel L. Jackson. “Hold onto your butts.”
And then keep holding onto your butts, because this is a long process.
The pre-published stage
If you have a desire to self-publish, then you probably grew up reading, and maybe delved into some hobby type writing while in your formal education years. I mainly started in high school, with my first book starting as an assignment in Creative Writing—a laid-back class where the teacher let us play games on the computer if we weren’t feeling “inspired” that day. I got a C in that class for turning in some joke poetry and two or three chapters of a novel that was part The Secret of Nymph with stoner skateboarding mice in a mansion ruled by cats.
The direction in that class was essentially to watch people and write when you feel like it. It’s no surprise that I never finished that book—which isn’t to blame the teacher, but to say that being a successful writer is so much more than going to school for it and being non-committal on how much of that time afterwards you actually spend writing.
Lesson 1 – Without a commitment to consistent production, it is highly unlikely you’ll ever achieve your writing dreams.
If you want to self-publish, take a hard look at what you’re willing to do long term to make writing a part of your life. Ben Bova’s The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells is one of my favorite books on writing. I’ve had it for years, and love how he describes character arcs, but one section stood out to me about this time last year. He said to pick a time that works best for you and how you write, then carve it into your schedule and don’t let anything interfere.
I read this during a time where my almost three-year-old boy was staying up later and fussing about going to sleep. My habit of writing in my office after he went to bed had devolved from a good hour of uninterrupted writing to constant interruptions. Add to this being tired at that time, and you won’t be surprised to hear I let days go by when I didn’t write, and then I counted on my wife to empty the house on Saturdays so that I could catch up on my word count goals—which were pathetic. You could say that anything is better than nothing, but in the game of self-publishing, you really need to learn how to write quickly and in large amounts.
Bova’s advice was to pick a time of day that works for your mind, and night was quickly fading as a productive option. My confidence lagged because writing two or three times a week let the story get stale, and the parts I struggled on became harder to break through. I decided to wake up at 4am, exercise to get my mind going, and then write for like forty minutes before work. This boosted my story production immensely and I haven’t gone back since. I hit my deadline for Ultras to be submitted to the Dominion Rising box set on June 30th, about nine months from when I started. As a result, I can now say that I’m a USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling author. This doesn’t happen to everyone who wakes up at 4am to write, but it wouldn’t have happened to me if I hadn’t.
Tool 1 – is therefore simply time management and consistency
This topic of what tools you’ll need to self-publish is really more of a book-length idea, but I think it comes down to a few that I can summarize for you. The first tool and lesson came to mind as paramount because what you’re embarking on is something that will take years of progress and learning, and will require a long tail mindset of investment.
Yes, there are stories of authors who start writing and within a year are making enough to quit their day jobs. Each case is unique, and talent is surely a factor—probably as much as the genre published—but what all cases share in common is an ability to write quickly and produce books frequently enough to take advantage of Amazon algorithms and readers who fall in love with the work.
Lesson 2 – If you can write quickly, I recommend waiting to publish a book one until you can ensure publishing books two and three 30-60 days apart.
Amazon’s algorithm is a gold mine that is in parts mysterious, but in other parts reliably predictable. Take the recent military science fiction hit, Galaxy’s Edge by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole. They offer a course on their marketing strategy, but the basic premise was they took six or so months prior to publishing and cranked out both book content and reader interest so that they could publish what I think is now four books in a row at 30 or less days apart. Their ranking has started at and stayed around #200 in the Amazon store, which is a huge feat.
Amazon’s algorithm is built to make Amazon money. It takes into account things like page visits to your book versus how many purchase; the books that people bought prior to buying your book (and then markets your book to people who bought those books—see “Also Boughts”); and the frequency of newly published books into your series. All of these aspects to the algorithm are based on the idea that Amazon wants to sell what is going to sell. If you’re sending people to your page who aren’t going to buy your book, Amazon keeps record of that and downgrades your ranking within their algorithm. If you send a wide range of reader types to your book to buy it, your book is going to be marketed to a wide range, and thus will likely not sell as well. If you can publish your next book within 30-60 days, it will keep the momentum rolling so that Amazon will market your book more than if you wait a year between books.
Tool 2 – Study those who have published frequently
Chris Fox has some great books and podcasts that supplement his advice with visual examples. I recently bought 5,000 Words Per Hour, Write to Market, and Launch to Market. The seminar I bought from Anspach and Cole mentioned him as their main mentor for how they wrote and launched their books. You’ll want to do your own research, and Fox does a great job of creating exercises within his books. I’m still trying to figure out if the series I’m writing with Ultras is one that will hit on an underserved market of space opera fans who also love role playing fantasy, but in my back pocket I have the new skill of writing quickly, so even if I’m dead wrong, I’ll still have written my first trilogy before I release Ultras by itself next year. (Yes, Ultras is released in the Dominion Rising box set, but Amazon doesn’t know this since the ISBN is for DR not Ultras. So, when I get my ebook rights back for Ultras and release it by itself early 2018, it will be trigger as a new release on Amazon’s algorithm, and I’ll have 30 days to publish the sequel. My goal is to have up through book three done before I do that.)
I could keep going, but for now I’ll highly recommend learning to write quickly and consistently and studying those who have published quickly and consistently. The innumerable lessons in between will take you to podcasts, books, Facebook groups, video courses, etc which will no doubt teach you craft and how to study the market. The idea of developing craft is consistent. Read and write what you love. The idea of marketing is also consistent, but only in that you study those who have succeeded, and then decide for yourself what advice will work for you.
If you’re on Facebook, come visit Anspach and Cole’s group: Launch Hard at:
Search Amazon and Youtube for Chris Fox.