I caught the remodeling bug at an early age. My mother’s dad made his living as a barber after the Depression, back when a trim cost a buck and customers paid for their haircut with a silver dollar. Grandpa invested whatever he could save in real estate, and I remember hearing him say that the land would always be there, regardless of economic ups and downs. He passed that philosophy on to my parents, who bought property with every spare dime.
I learned to paint a room as soon as I was old enough to hold the brush, and as an adult, buying a fixer is an investment I’m comfortable with. I may be leery of the stock market, but it doesn’t scare me a bit to buy a house. Lucky for me, the core rules I learned about running a renovation project apply equally as well to self-publishing. The same basic principles that have helped me succeed as a serial remodeler prepared me for indie authorhood. Here they are:
Key #1: Choose great working partners
In the remodeling world, you must choose contractors and subcontractors wisely. When you take on a home renovation (no matter how extensive), every partner and helper must be selected with care. You may be dealing with them under stress and deadline pressure, through the heavy decisions and financials. If you take the time to find crafts(wo)men who understand and respect your position, do what they say they’re going to do, speak to you with respect and pull their weight, you’ve struck gold.
A contractor is sort of like a boyfriend. Not the sleeping-with part, the communication part. If they’re condescending, ignore your requests, think they always know what’s best, over-promote their skills, act as if your ideas and opinions are secondary to their own, refuse to be accountable for their errors, are irresponsible about your money, and/or fail to keep agreements, you may find yourself in a tense relationship that you can’t get out of without a confrontation.
How does this equate to the realm of self-publishing? The novel writing process is very much like a building project, and your self-publishing partners are your construction team. Search until you find a troupe that supports you, offers constructive suggestions, cheers you on, fits your temperament and your budget. These team members range from a writer’s group, content editors, beta readers, proofreaders, cover designers, publicist or promotion partners, and peers and colleagues. They’re there to help you create your vision, and when you build the right support group you’re way more than halfway home.
Key #2: Make a plan
In the world of remodeling flexibility is key, as things often don’t go according to plan. My most eye-opening discovery is that sometimes mistakes turn out better than your original plans. Just like life, it’s best to be resilient, solution-oriented and creative. Before you begin, make a plan that includes budget, building, and timeframe, then allow it to guide you. My advice here is don’t be afraid to step off the path if an unexpected opportunity presents itself, just don’t follow every shiny new thing that comes along.
Let’s apply this rule to self-publishing. I’m an over-thinker and over-planner when it comes to a remodel, but I’m sad to say I didn’t begin with a plan for publishing my book. Or for promoting it once it was out, or for building my blog (my #1 goal to help sell Mark of the Loon). I had no idea what I was doing when I jumped into blogging and I wouldn’t recommend anyone follow in my footsteps. Eventually, I decided what my website was about, figured out my readership, created an editorial calendar and established my weekly post day, content, topics, and article categories. Now I have a tentative quarterly schedule.
Bottom line: Creating a plan and a schedule will keep you sane. This rule applies to blogging, social media, and book promotion. Read everything you can about the process before you begin. DON’T DO WHAT I DID! Oh, good, perfect segue to my next point.
Key #3: Do your research
Google, Google, Google, read books and blogs, do as much research as you can to get educated about the elements of the self-publishing process. It’s more intense and complicated than simply writing a story and uploading to Amazon. Well, it could be that simple, but the truth is if you want to be successful at it you’d best learn what works and pack for a long trip. Book covers, proofreaders, promotional help, websites, social media and countless blog tours, tweetchats, Facebook shares, and guest posts lie ahead.
The same is true for a successful remodel. What you know pays off big time. The more educated you are about the building process the less likely you are to get taken to the cleaners, the more options are available to you, the more knowledgeable your decisions and your communication with your contractor. I have a basic understanding of the construction process from framing to finish. It was a hard-won education. I only wish I knew that much about selling books!
Key #4: Shop for deals and best pricing, but buy quality
I know, right? Seems obvious, but it’s a common pitfall. When I remodel, I avoid custom whenever possible and buy off the rack at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Keep it simple. Fancy bay windows and crown molding have their place, but it’s best to build a solid, attractive, interesting, bright room and use decorating to sell it. You still have to make clever choices, but it’s possible to utilize your personal sense of style without spending a bundle. If you skimp on the noticeable elements and try to cover poor quality with a great sales pitch, a savvy potential buyer will see right through it and buy the place down the street.
Just like a well-built home, an independent author must also invest in quality basics. The first task is to write the best possible book you can. If you don’t, your snappy synopsis might entice people to visit your Amazon page, but a shoddy cover and typos and poor editing in your sample chapter download will keep them from purchasing the book.
You can also apply this concept to seeking out free or inexpensive book publicity before investing in a pricey ad. Once you know the ropes, you can always branch out, try different things, figure out ways to stand apart from the crowd. There are lots of options to promo your book and blog that are free or relatively inexpensive.
Key #5: Prepare to go over budget and timeline
That’s right, the remodeling rule of thumb is that any project will take twice as long and cost twice as much as your original projection. This can also be true for self-publishing, especially when you tally up the time YOU have to spend promoting a book and the funds you could possibly throw at book promotion, not to mention hiring a publicist.
But there’s something I know about a remodel, and that is that once you tear out the wall you’re committed. You have to finish. There’s no giving up, no going back. If you don’t complete, you can’t sell the house.
We can all apply this lesson to our writing careers, as well.
Leave a comment and describe your biggest self-publishing revelations!
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