Reader Mail: A Self-Publishing Primer

A new reader sends this request for help navigating the radically transformed publishing landscape:
First off, I'd like to congratulate you on the success of the book bomb a couple of weeks ago, and I hope you continue to be successful in your writing career. I have a huge amount of respect for people who can make self publishing work. I'm glad I was able to take part in the book bomb, and I'm happy to say I'm enjoying Nethereal so far.
Let me just chime in to say thanks and to remind readers that they too can start enjoying my breakout SFF novel Nethereal via the following link.

My cherished reader continues:
I currently find myself in the position in my writing career (having decided this is what I wanted to do several years back) where I've been querying my first book for a while, just started querying a second, and am reaching the point where I'm starting to lean more toward self or indie publishing as opposed to traditional publishing, both because I just completed my Master's degree & am currently unemployed and because it's become quite clear that I'd be found guilty of political wrongthink by the mainstream SF/F writing world even if I continue shying away from discussing political issues online (though, to be honest, I'm growing really tired of censoring myself for worry of online dogpiling and character assassination which could negatively impact my ability to make a living.)
However, probably unsurprisingly, the prospect of going self-pub is a bit intimidating, and I'm not completely sure what the best way to go about it is. To that end, I was wondering if you had any advice and/or know any good resources to help start the process.

Lots of food for thought, there--so much that I wrote a quick self-publishing primer in response.
My opinions on self-publishing have changed quite a lot. A few short years ago, I'd have said "never". That changed to "it makes sense in a few rare cases". When I took the leap and self-published Nethereal last year, developments in the industry led me to conclude that going indie was the right answer for most authors, but some would still be better served by traditional publishers.
Now? It's difficult to think of a situation in which trad pub is a better--or even a smart--move. I suppose if you're already famous, like a politician or a celebrity chef, and Hachette has someone all set to ghost write your biography and a seven figure advance. Then you take the money and run.
In your circumstances--and in practically everyone's at this point--the answer is to self-publish. Go for it. There's no reason not to anymore and plenty of reasons why indie is the better deal all around. Odds are you'll earn more, for one.
Here's how to get started:
  • Write a manuscript. I give it 2 drafts before step 2.
  • Have beta readers critique the manuscript. Choose people who will give you honest feedback. That usually rules out friends and family (I'm lucky to have both who reliably tell it like it is). Ask them to identify places in the story where they were a) bored and/or b) confused.
  • You can safely ignore complaints given by 1 or 2 beta readers. If 3 or more criticize the same thing, revise it.
  • Redraft based on beta reader feedback. A good rule of thumb is to take 25% of their advice.
  • Hire a professional editor to review draft 3. Unlike beta readers, take all editorial direction unless you really, really disagree with it and have a compelling reason not to make the edit.
  • Make sure your eBook is formatted to professional standards. Some authors who are more tech savvy than I am do it themselves. I use Polgarus Studio and couldn't be happier. 
  • Get a professionally designed cover. An effective cover conveys the genre, mood, theme, and hints at the plot of a book at a glance. IMPORTANT: your cover must be intelligible and the title and byline legible at thumbnail size and in greyscale. Most big name cover artists drastically overcharge. DeviantArt has a whole section devoted to book cover artists who don't.
  • Upload the finished book to KDP for the eBook and CreateSpace for the paperback. Price the paperback so as to earn at least a $2.00 royalty on every sale in every market. Price the eBook much lower than the paperback. Experiment with the eBook price regularly to find your book's sweet spot.

Follow those steps and you'll avoid the worst self-pub rookie mistakes.

And as a bonus...
There are various ways to market your books. The most vital element of any author's marketing strategy is visibility. Potential readers need to know your name, that you are an author, and that you have books for sale.
Having a high traffic blog sells books. Releasing new books frequently sells books. Blog often and be prolific.
That's your self-publishing primer. Now get out there and make your own luck.

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