This is a guest blog post by Mark A. Sargent, author of the newly self-published novel Clockwork & Old Gods, which originated as a story here on Protagonize. Mark is promoting his book and was kind enough to share his experiences with self-publishing for the first time. You can check out his website for more information, or buy his book on Amazon.
Mark is also giving away free copies of his ebook to 10 randomly-selected Protaggers who take the time to post their thoughts on the following in the comments below:
“Are you working on a book or other project you hope to publish someday? Are you already in the trenches, either self published or traditionally published? Or are you just writing for fun? Tell us all about it in the comments! The best thing we can do for one another as writers is share information, tips, and tricks of the trade.”
Do you have something to say that might be of interest to our members? Feel free to contact us with blog ideas, and share your passion for writing with our readers.
Hi there. My name is Mark Sargent, and I’m a self-published author. My first book, Clockwork & Old Gods: Incursion, is a fantasy/steampunk epic. It went on sale in early February. I’ve been a member of Protagonize since 2009, and I want to thank Nick for giving the opportunity to write a guest post here.
In the beginning…
Four years ago I started writing a story on Protagonize. Clockwork and Old Gods wasn’t the first thing I’d ever started writing, but it would be the first I ever finished. It would eventually become the first book I ever published. I’m pretty sure I have Protagonize to thank for that. The ratings, comments, favorites and recommendations it got provided much needed motivation. People were actually reading my work. Not only were they reading it, they liked it! Over the course of the next two years I plugged away at it bit by bit until it was finally finished. That was step one.
Step one is always the hardest when you set out to be an author, but it’s the most important. If there’s any secret to being a successful writer, that’s it – just keep writing. The more you write the better you get and the more likely you are to finish a project.
So what comes next?
Once I had my book completed I had a choice. I could shop it around to agents and publishers, or I could self-publish. After doing a lot of research, I chose to self-publish for several reasons:
First, royalty rates. According to Wikipedia, a traditional publisher royalty rate is roughly 7% – 10% for paperback and 10% – 12% for hardcover. Rates vary by publisher, but from what I’ve read new authors almost always get the lowest end of the scale. Compare this to Amazon, which gives you 70% on every ebook sold no matter who you are, and to me the advantage was clear.
Second, marketing responsibility. Many traditional publishers tend to put most or all of the marketing responsibility on their authors (unless you get lucky and they decide to “go big” with your launch). If I was going to be doing it anyway, I might as well self-publish.
Third, rights. I’m going to go into a little more depth on this point because I think it’s important.
Negotiating a contract with a traditional publisher is notorious for being a labyrinthine nightmare. Often it can require a copyright lawyer in order to get a fair deal. Having successfully negotiated the labyrinth, you’ve essentially sold the rights to your book to the publisher for a certain amount of time. If you got a good deal, this time will have a decent cutoff date at which point you can renegotiate your contract or the rights simply revert back to you.
If you didn’t manage to get a good deal, the publisher holds on to the rights to your book for however long they wanted. This point bears special consideration, because it has some important ramifications. If your book did not sell, the publisher may stop printing it and even pull the book from bookshelves to make way for new books. With your book not actively selling, you still can’t do anything with it yourself. It’s in limbo, making you absolutely no money, until the rights revert back to you as stated in your contract.
When you self-publish all of the rights are yours, and will remain so. If your book isn’t selling you can change the cover art, change the blurb, fiddle with pricing, try new marketing tactics, even change text within the book and upload new additions. All the while it’s out there for people to see and buy at that 70% royalty rate.
OK, I’m self-publishing. Now what?
So I did the cost benefit analysis and decided self-publishing was the way to go. There was a lot of work yet to be done. When self-publishing the first thing you need to do is edit the ever loving hell out of your book. Write, rewrite, re-rewrite, add stuff, delete stuff, move stuff around. Hunt down spelling and grammar mistakes with extreme prejudice. I spent the better part of a year reworking Clockwork and Old Gods. The finished product is still the same story, but it’s a very different book, and better for it.
To make this process easier you can hire an editor. Contrary to what I thought when I started my foray into self-publishing, you don’t need a traditional publisher in order to get an editor. There are plenty of freelance editing services available out on the web. Trust me, they’re worth it. The biggest complaint you hear about self-published ebooks isn’t that the stories are bad; it’s that they’re poorly formatted and edited. If you want to stand out, make your work professional-quality.
I have to admit I did my own editing on Clockwork & Old Gods. I think it came out well despite this, but I put a lot of effort into it. This is not a mistake I will make twice. My next book will be dutifully handed off to an editor for scrutiny.
After the inside of the book is looking good, it’s time to see to the outside. Cover art is important, as it’s the reader’s first impression of a book. Don’t just throw one together in MS Paint and call it a day. Find somebody who knows what they’re doing. Some places, like Smashwords, have an index of cover artists with varying rates. Me, I got lucky. My wife Audrey has an art degree and agreed to do the cover.
About that marketing thing I mentioned…
Figuring out how to market my book has been the hardest part of the whole self-publishing adventure. I created a Facebook page, a Goodreads account, a Twitter account, and a website. I also had an existing Google Plus account, and I’ve started using it to get involved in various writing communities.
Of those I think I’ve been using Twitter and Google Plus the most. They’re great networking resources, and the more people I network with the more people there are to see my book and share it with their friends. Facebook is just a billboard for me so far, a place where I cross post things that show up on my other social media or that I put on my website.
I even experimented with purchasing ad space. I targeted a webcomic that was steampunk with magic – just the sort of thing my book had. The price was pretty reasonable. I think I only spent ten or twelve dollars for a one week ad run. According to the data, that ad got roughly thirty hits, but resulted in few sales. I’m still trying to figure out why that is. After I’ve tweaked a few things, I’ll try another ad run, but only because the price is so cheap. A lot of analysis I’ve read suggests that ad purchases aren’t worth the money – you pay more for the ad than you get back in sales, but I figure it’s worth a couple of shots.
Another aspect of my marketing efforts is garnering reviews. I’ve submitted Clockwork & Old Gods to several review websites. When those reviews go up, anyone who reads those blogs will see and hopefully purchase the book. Many review blogs will also rate the book on Amazon and other bookseller websites. The more positive reviews a book has, the more people are likely to give it a chance and purchase a copy.
Giving it away for free. Wait, what?
There’s also the free marketing method. As in, you give stuff away for free. This may seem counter intuitive if you want to make a living as a writer, but hear me out. The purpose of giving your book away for free is to get more attention. The more people that know about your book the more people there are to tell their friends, or come back and purchase a copy later. Either the book can be priced as free for a limited amount of time, or you can do book giveaways (such as the one associated with this blog post!). Some authors I know who have written series give the first book away for free to entice people to buy the rest of the set.
There’s one additional aspect to this free method of marketing, and that’s DRM. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and it ostensibly protects a creator’s work from the dreaded scourge of internet piracy. Needless to say, I disagree with DRM on ebooks.
The reason I disagree with it is this: piracy basically boils down to people getting your work for free. As we’ve already discussed, more attention on your work is better. Your work can be so secure that nobody can get a copy without paying for it, but if nobody knows it’s there who’s going to be doing the paying? If you let as many people as possible see your work you’ve got that many more people who might actually pay you for it.
Actually, there’s two reasons I disagree with DRM. In this age of digital content, we often times find ourselves renting content when we thought we were purchasing it. Case in point was last year, when Amazon locked a Norwegian woman, Linn Nygaard, out of her Kindle ebooks for no apparent reason. If she’d had DRM free versions of those books it wouldn’t have been an issue.
For those two reasons I made sure my ebook was available DRM free. Share it around. Tell your friends. Ask them to make my day and buy a copy if they liked it.
Wrapping it up
My adventures in self-publishing have only just begun, and I’m still learning and experimenting. Having the freedom to do that experimenting is one of the great things about being self-published. I’ve started writing my second book, a sequel to Clockwork & Old Gods, right here on Protagonize. Currently it’s unimaginatively titled Clockwork Book Two, and making the rough draft in progress visible to everyone is part of my marketing experiments. So is keeping the original Clockwork and Old Gods available. If you like the rough draft you’ll like the finished product, right? Enough to buy it, maybe? Well, that’s the theory anyway.
If I had any advice for someone hoping to self-publish, it would be this: remember step one. Once you have your book written the rest is downhill from there. So keep writing, and keep getting better at it.