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Hindsight is 20/20: My First Year in Self-Publishing

Homer Simpson on Publishing

You said it, Homer.

“What’s it like to be a self-published author?”

Boy, that’s a loaded question if I ever saw one. Someone on KBoards asked a similar question, “What was your first year of publication like?” and I answered with the following .gif:

Whiny Kuzco

I’d say that’s probably the most accurate account for most self-published authors who went into the publishing and writing industry as blindly as I did. They say that life is a rat race. Self-publishing is a rat race where every wrong turn means you get electrocuted and when you do find a scrap of cheese, you have to fight all the other rats in a switch blade match to the death. Okay, maybe not that bad, but close enough.

I suppose most of these types of posts always begin with the author bragging about the number of books they’ve sold. I can’t really do that. There’s not much to brag about. I’m not making it rain on hookers and blow. I’ve only actually been making a profit off my work since April, and even then, it’s only been enough to buy me dinner every once in a while. But for the sake of advice, let me give you some estimated numbers via BookTrackr for all three of my books, which includes two novels and a short story collection.

Copies Sold: 653

Free Copies Sold: 4,978

Reviews: 58

Books Borrowed/Lent: 25

Money Earned Since 1st Publication Date: $383

See? Nothing to brag about here. I hate seeing blog posts where the author goes on and on about the thousands of readers they have and all the money they’ve made like it’s the most boring, regular thing in the world. Millionaire bestselling Richard Castle-esque authors are NOT the norm. Most of us struggle and struggle hard with getting anywhere within a year of publication. But that’s not what the mass media wants to tell you. That’s not what Writer’s Digest wants to tell you. That’s not what millions of authors on Twitter want to tell you. They want you to believe we’re all J.K. Rowling and it’s easy as pie to poop out a bestselling series and walk on water with your fancy hair blowing in the wind because you are an author in the modern world.



I’ve had to claw and scratch for literally every single copy I’ve sold of any of my three books. I’ve invested what a very unimpressed H&R Block accountant estimated to be nearly $800 in creating, writing, marketing, and advertising my novels, all for a paltry $383, some of which has yet to be paid to me since Amazon only pays you at the end of every month.  I’ve asked every available source I could get for help, and I’m still failing to make sales and gain readers. This is the ugly, seedy part of the business that no one wants to talk about because it sucks. Being a self-published author sucks. Don’t let anyone convince you of otherwise. You are a lone wolf, zipping through the forest trying to find your next meal because them rabbit suckers are fast and you have more than enough competition. Actually, now that I think about it, self-publishing is basically the equivalent of being Wile E. Coyote.

That being said, it’s also pretty great sometimes.

For example, one of the things they don’t tell you is that it actually doesn’t take a hell of a lot to be able to use the title “Amazon Bestselling Author.” If you choose your category carefully, market to just the right people, and get a little support on your various social media, you can actually make it to the Top 100 Amazon in only a couple hundred free sales. It’s a permanent status bump. You can advertise it on anything you wish. Make a coffee mug. Rent a giant billboard and plaster it on there. Run out into the streets and spin your arms like Maria and shout it to random strangers until the cops come. I fully admit that I have a couple dozen screenshots of my books in the Top 10 Amazon Bestselling Novel categories because it is one of those rewards that has nothing to do with money and is just for me. Because, for me, it’s not about that. It’s about something that I care deeply about being put into the hands of readers. That’s my only goal. I want to connect with people.

If you’ve read this far into the blog post, you can gather that I’m pretty awkward. I don’t know how to talk to people or explain things without using nerdy references or weird comparisons. But the one thing I can do—the one thing I was put on this earth to do correctly—is write stories. Even though this career path sucks, I am still doing what I love every day: telling stories. Sure, not everyone cares, and not everyone will like my stories, but I am still moving inch by crawling inch towards that end goal of being discovered by the many readers of the world. I squealed like a little girl when I saw that a handful of people in the UK have bought my books.  I still bounce up and down on my bed when I get the very rare kind, detailed review. I take a shameful selfie with the paperback copies of my novel when they finally arrive, fresh off the printing press. I dollop copious amounts of affection on anyone kind enough to talk to me on Twitter about anything even vaguely related to writing.

Overall, I’d have to say self-publishing is the best worst thing I’ve ever done.

And so, with that in mind, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

-Don’t bother with Facebook ads. They are a money pit and a waste of time.

-KBoards is the kingdom of heaven in terms of advice on self-published marketing.

-Social media is a time-suck and should be used sparingly.

-Goodreads is a great place to meet readers and help build, organize, and grow your own library as well as helping you slip into other people’s libraries.

-Bookbub is just as much a gatekeeper as literary agents in the traditional publishing world.

-There is no answer to the “self-publishing vs. traditional publishing” debate. We’re in this together. Don’t fight. Just discuss your differences and try not to step on each other’s toes.

-Amazon is awesome, but it’s like a giant Great Dane in a field of puppies. Snuggle up against it for warmth, but make sure you have an evacuation plan in case it goes rogue.

-Go with your instincts, but also realize that you’re going to be wrong a lot. Listen to other people who know more than you, and obey whenever possible if you think they’re right. Chances are, it’ll help you more than you will ever know.

-Always be gracious to anyone who takes the time out to speak to you, offer perspective, or shows interest in your work. Word may spread and benefit you in the future.

-Blog tours are useful for SEO links to your book, and not much else.

-Mailing lists apparently only work if you are Jesus.

-Book covers are hard to find and expensive to get, but the right ones are worth their weight in gold.

-Editing is the Britta of the writing process, but you have to deal with it anyway.

-Readers are fickle and unpredictable and there is nothing you can do about it. You can write shit or a masterpiece and they will never agree as to which one your book actually is.

-Your extended family is never going to care about your work like you do. They can’t, unless they are writers themselves. Don’t be offended. Just accept it and move on.

-Chuck Wendig was right. It takes as long as it takes to make it. Don’t compare your lack of success to other authors’ success, even though it’s tempting.

-Write your butt off. And then keep writing.

I leave you with the ever-inspiring words of Yoko Kanno. Here’s to another year of self-publishing. I’m going to make it if it kills me. Just gotta knock a little harder next time.

-Kyoko M.