I met Bob when I did an r2r for him through Story Cartel. I have to say, he is one of the nicest fellas I have EVER met. And he is very talented. 32 novels in the Jim Richards Murder Series alone ... and a newer one that's "something different" called Doyle's Law (I'll be reviewing this one soon).
After several conversations with him and finding out just how much he knows about the writing and self-publishing thing, I couldn't pass up the chance to ask him to be on here. And I'm glad I did - he has shared some very good advice with us today. :)
I was asked if I would write something about my adventures in writing and self-publishing. What more could I add that already hasn't been written by hundreds of other writers who have been there and done that? Well, even a tiny bit of information is important to someone. If one person takes my advice, then it was worth it. So let's begin.
I started writing for enjoyment long ago, I'm 64, so it was a long time ago. I didn't start writing seriously until 2009, when I suddenly became unemployed. That's a long boring story, but I finally was able to sit down and plunk out on the keys my first novel, "Classmate Murders." I have always been an admirer of authors like Robert B. Parker and Michael Connelly. Crime and detective stories were my favorite.
I had a thought of how I wanted my first chapter to begin, so I put that first sentence on my computer and the words just flowed. I can't explain, but I wrote the book in my head as I typed. I heard it referred to as "pantser" writing, going by the seat of your pants as the old expression goes. Either way, I don't set up an outline or plot things in advance, I just write it as it comes out of my head. I have a very active imagination. I do set up a title first, then a brief summary for the back of the book. It does help to keep me focused.
I'm not going to go into how to write a book. You can get that from any number of experts on the subject. I'm going to impart my experiences with the next most important part of being an author. Publishing.
For the first couple months I went out and looked for an agent to represent me. I did find one, a woman who expressed interest, but after a while she just ignored me. So I gave up on that. I got the usual rejection emails from a couple publishers and agents. I was reading about how difficult or impossible it is to get a publisher to consider you. Then I read about the painful process you go through if you do get a publisher. The only people who weren't complaining were the writers who were already published.
I joined Twitter on the advice of my brother, a professional photographer, and started to find followers. Twitter helped to get people interested in my writing and best of all, I found those who are self-published writers. I started to learn about companies that would sell my books online and pay me royalties that no traditional publisher could offer. Long story short, I put my first book on Amazon and waited to see if it would sell. The first person to buy the book was John Locke, the million selling author who I met through Twitter. A couple more sold and I realized that people wouldn't know about the book if I didn't promote more. I finally joined Facebook and annoyed all my school friends and relatives into "friending" me. I started to friend other writers and was mentioning my books. Now at four of them, I write fast.
My sales on Amazon were small but decent. I knew I wasn't going to live off the money that was coming in. I finally decided to spread my books out to other retailers so I set up an account at Smashwords.com. They are an aggregator who distributes your books to Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo and others. I won't go into details on how to do this. It's not hard, just follow their directions.
A few important things to consider before you venture into self-publishing. First you have to write a good book. That should be a no-brainer. Then you must have it edited. Something I didn't do properly with my first few books. I depended on a friend to check them over, and I got all kinds of reviews about how bad the book was for grammar, punctuation and spelling. I was also starting to improve with each book I wrote. I was going through blogs about writing and learned a few things to help me write better. I had a couple people checking my books now and they were getting less comments about poor grammar. Just take my word for it, I now have had professional editors that I do pay to check my books and it is worth it, if you can afford it. Even with the editor, get a couple trusted people to read for the final check. You'd be surprised at the few small things that can be missed.
The other important thing you need to know to sell your book is the cover. The one thing that grabs the attention on a book shelf or an online book page, is what future readers will see first. I have a background in graphics and design, which helped me to create my covers. Over the years, I've changed a few that I felt were primitive and not so eye-catching. If you don't have talent to do this, find a cover designer who can. Google book cover designers and then check them out carefully. Most of all see what they have done and the price they ask. A good cover will help sell your book.
You now have a good book and a good cover. You're not ready yet to publish. You need a good blurb, or synopsis, of your story to post on the retailers to make people want to read your book. It's a short synopsis about your plot without giving away any spoilers. Just enough to suck in the reader. Take the highlights about your book, what the main character is going to do or how they do it, just enough to make them wonder how he, or she, is going to save the planet. Most retailers allow you to put up a summary of about 1-2000 characters, some less, just be ready to edit your summary.
Good book, good editing, good cover, good blurb. Now to enter the world of retailers. Amazon lets you submit your book to them directly and they have nice royalties of 70% return on your book price. They pay by the month and will direct deposit into your bank. The process is not hard, just follow their step by step instructions and you should have your book up in a short time. Have your book in .DOC form from Word. They do accept other formats, but Word is what they prefer. With your book file, cover and blurb, go to it. They will ask a lot of other simple questions and be sure to use tags, or keywords. They help to get your book mentioned through the search engines.
For all the other retailers, there is Smashwords.com. I started with them and they helped submit me to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony and Apple. They basically ask for the same information about submitting your book as with Amazon, so just follow the directions. In the last year, Barnes & Noble and Kobo went to direct submissions so I changed to that route. You should too. At the end of this post I will mention addresses where to put up your books.
One other thing I should mention is how much to price your book. When I first put up "Classmate Murders," I set the price at $7.99 because that was what paperbacks in the stores generally sold for. I didn't sell many. After a while I had more books written and decided to offer the first book for free and charge $2.99 each for the rest. I did the free things to get people to read the series. Now my books are priced at $3.99 for new releases, $2.99 for books out four months or more and the first is still free. There are a number of writers who are offering their books for .99 cents, which is their choice. If they are trying to build a following, fine, but put your books at an affordable price, yet what you think they are worth in the work you took to write them. $2.99 to $3.99 is pretty much standard. It's up to you.
I have been having problems with Smashwords in the last couple years. I have endured, but recently found a new company that will put your book out. It's called Draft2digital.com and I am now using them to take care of my publishing needs. They pay monthly, Smashwords pays every three months, and they can get your book up in days not weeks, like Smashwords. I explain more about my problems with Smashwords and about Draft2Ditigal on my blog Bob Moats' Blog so you can read more there.
Don't expect to sell tons of books without promotions. I've used a number of blogs and newsletters that charge to promote and some did well, some did lousy. But I tried a bunch of them to get the word out. Only one did very well for me, Bookbub. I offered my first book, "Classmate Murders," for free through them and there were over 35,000 downloads of the book. I didn't make any money off the promotion because the book was free, but I picked up a lot of future readers for my other books of the series. I now have 32 books written of one series, five of another series, and even though individually they aren't huge sellers, the sheer number of book sales adds up to where I'm making my living as a writer. Bookbub is difficult to get into, they have rules that they follow and will reject your book if it isn't within their guidelines, and they are the most expensive to use.
Every writer is going to find different directions to publish. Some will find a traditional publisher, most will go with self-publishing. Whichever way you go, don't expect to make a fortune. I get tired of hearing "Everyone has a book in them." Most books should just stay in there. There are a whole lot of bad books out there that will bury your possibly good book, so work at getting people to notice you. And be realistic about your chances.
Author disclaimer: What I mentioned above worked for me. It took work and a lot of luck to get the sales I have today. I'm sure Amazon and Barnes & Noble helped to promote my books in the beginning. If it doesn't work for you, my sympathies. Just keep at it; persistence pays.
To reach me:
My new blog: bobmoats.com
Facebook: Bob Moats on Facebook
To publish your books:
Thank you so much for being on today, Bob, and for all of that GREAT information. All of this was very appreciated :)
Until next time y'all.... :)