Is your dream to author a thriller, romance novel, memoir or self-help book? If so, now could be both the easiest and hardest time to self-publish an eBook you could hawk off your website or through Amazon.com.
The good news is that currently it’s inexpensive and quick to get your manuscript published and distributed in a format anyone can read on a digital device. This is a straightforward process if you go through a service such as Amazon’s CreateSpace (www.createspace.com) or Smashwords (www.smashwords.com). For relatively little you can also hire a copy editor and a cover designer.
But the bad news is that tens of thousands of other wannabe authors are pursuing the same dream at the same time — flooding the market with all manner of eBooks. So the competition for audiences is feverish.
“We live in an era when anyone can become an author. Publishing has become democratized. You can shake a tree and thousands of writers fall out,” says David Henry Sterry, the bestselling author of more than a dozen books.
Sterry and his partner, Arielle Eckstut, known as “The Book Doctors,” help writers publish and promote both eBooks and traditional print books. They offer pointers on their website: www.thebookdoctors.com.
Tawra Kellam, who along with her family have published 35 self-help books in digital formats, including “Dining on a Dime,” says the problem for authors isn’t breaking into eBook publishing but promoting and selling their books once they’re written.
“Everybody’s writing an eBook. The hardest thing is to get people to buy your books,” Kellam says.
She and her husband, a videographer, use a variety of tools — including their website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to capture and maintain interest in their eBooks.
The couple lucked out when one of their YouTube videos went viral. The video features Joy Cooper, Kellam’s mother and co-author, instructing viewers in the art of folding a fitted sheet. Tagged onto this very popular video are ads directing viewers to their website (www.livingonadime.com), where eBooks are offered at low prices.
A few originally self-published eBooks, such as “50 Shades of Grey” by E.L. James, have become wildly popular bestsellers that eventually became movies. But Kellam and her husband say it’s extremely rare for self-published books to do so well. Indeed, many authors struggle to sell any books at all.
“It takes lots of dogged determination to get an audience for your books. Still, for people who are self-publishing, it’s a lot easier to deal with eBooks than print books. That’s because it’s a pain in the rear to store, package and distribute print books,” she says.
Kellam cautions against overconfidence about making a profit on the sale of any self-published book. Even so, she and her family, including four children, now generate half of their middle-class income through the sale of their books. The rest comes from outside advertisers they allow on their website and YouTube videos.
“The key, obviously, is to produce an excellent book that people want to read and to not be so cheap that you don’t spend the money needed to create a product that looks and reads fabulously,” she says.
Here are a few pointers for authors:
• Test market your title with other writers.
No author can copyright a title. So technically you could give your book a famous name such as “The Grapes of Wrath,” though Sterry says that would be unadvisable. Still, in some cases it could be a good idea to pick the same name as a little known book published many years ago that has since gone out of print.
If your book is in a crowded category, such as the self-help genre, you may wish to consider a catchy, offbeat title. But also be sure to add a subtitle that explains the book’s contents. That’s the formula that co-authors Harriet Schechter and Vicki T. Gibbs used for their book on household organization titled “More Time for Sex: The Organizing Guide for Busy Couples.”
To make sure you have a solid, saleable title for your eBook, bounce alternatives off other authors also attending a writing class or conference.
• Engage an editor to polish your prose and catch errors.
Even seasoned authors with successful books to their name need a good editor to produce a high-quality product. They need an experienced eye to help them structure their work and catch mistakes. This is all the more so for novice authors.
“When you get into a new field, you enter with a certain amount of ignorance,” Sterry says.
Fortunately, there are many independent editors available to help authors on a project-by-project basis. One who’s worked with many accomplished authors is Alan Rinzler, (www.alanrinzler.com), who’s based in New York City. But as Sterry notes, all over the U.S. there are many other skilled editors available to assist authors. He recommends asking a local librarian for leads on editors with a background in publishing.
“The best people once worked in publishing houses, which have shrunk a lot in recent years,” he says.
• Give your cover a huge amount of attention.
“Don’t get your cousin, who’s kind of good at Photoshop, to do your cover. Covers are terribly important because, contrary to conventional thinking, people do judge a book by its cover,” Sterry says.
Given that your cover could make or break your book, he contends it’s well worth the money to pay for a professional design. He advises authors to seek a designer through an online service such as 99Designs (www.99designs.com) or by finding a talented student through a design school.
“The best cover depends on the content of the book. For a science fiction book, you might want a fantastic, stylized planet. But for a romance novel, maybe you’ll want a hot dude with great abs on the cover,” Sterry says.