5 Key Steps To Building Your Self-Publishing Career

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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23 Responses to 5 Key Steps To Building Your Self-Publishing Career

  1. Larry Crane November 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    I like your metaphor, Molly. I’ve done a ton of remodeling myself over the years and I agree with everything you say here. As well as the self publishing steps align with remodeling decisions and plans, etc., I think the ‘can do’ spirit of the remodeler vis-a-vis the self publisher is the most apt comparison. There’s a adventurous spirit and a willingness to forge ahead that identifies them both.

    • Molly Greene November 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      I hadn’t thought of that Larry but completely agree. It’s our can do attitude that makes us do these crazy things! Thanks so much for your support and thougthtful comment.

  2. Tammy Salyer November 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Great post, Molly. Having someone who’s been in the trenches of being an independently published author outline goals and expectations in such a pragmatic way goes a long way towards helping to alleviate that sense of being in over your head and/or not knowing where to start! Also, i think I just learned a ton about what to expect from a good boyfriend. 😉

    • Molly Greene November 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

      Hah! Tammy, you made me laugh and you know I love that. You’re right there in the trenches with me my friend, and I’m honored to count you as a valued member of my IAT – Indie Author Team. Mwah!

  3. Deborah Jay November 19, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    Nice take on it Molly.
    I’m still in the throes of taking the plunge, so still doing the groundwork.
    For me, the revelation has been about how much I need to learn before going off the deep end!
    I have the product (a novel that got agented but failed to sell) and I assumed it would all be pretty quick and easy.
    Oh boy, was I wrong!
    I’m now planning on next spring for a release date, once I’ve got everything ready in advance – cover, proof read, marketing plan, making contacts etc. etc. etc.

    • Molly Greene November 19, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      Agreed Deborah, there is a lot to learn. I’ve met some wonderful writers on Twitter who are ahead of me in the process and oh so generous with their experience. The best to you with your book, don’t be a stranger – I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

  4. Jeri November 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    Silly me thought I could establish an author-platform and churn-out my first book in one year. That has been my biggest revelation, but the revelation list is quite long. I guess it really must be true that it takes a person five years to truly become an expert at anything. The rise of self-publishing motivated me to want to try writing again, but like all else, to do it well requires patience. I’m with you in knowing that there’s no going back.

    • Molly Greene November 20, 2012 at 7:06 am #

      Five years! *faints* Okay, clearly 5x longer than my projections. Looks like we’re in this for the long haul, Jeri!

  5. Laura Zera November 19, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

    I’ve spent the last 18 months learning about all aspects of the publishing industry — self-pubbing and traditional publishing — and for a while, I wasn’t counting it as useful time spent. Instead, I would bemoan that I was behind on my word count. The truth, as you’ve put it so well, Molly, is that one can’t be fruitful without the other. As a writer, if you’re going to invest the time it takes to finish a book, to shortcut on the other parts would diminish all of that writing effort. Like building a house and then not bothering to put electricity in!

    • Molly Greene November 20, 2012 at 7:08 am #

      SO true, Laura! I’ve wasted much time backtracking – especially on my blog – because I didn’t put my “due diligence” time in first. Nothing is wasted, sometimes we just don’t know upfront how it will all dovetail in the end.

  6. Susan Salluce November 19, 2012 at 10:42 pm #

    Great article, and also you are so humble! You probably mentioned networking, but I can’t stress it enough. Before putting “your baby” out into the world, make sure that your book is amongst friendly faces who will recommend it to others. Also, reach out to other writers in your genre, read their novels, and if you like their work, let them know, and then introduce yourself along w your new project. It’s all about networking and creating community. There are lots of great folks out there- you are a prime example

    • Molly Greene November 20, 2012 at 7:15 am #

      Great point, Susan (and thank you for the compliment!). My 3 second-round beta readers were all long-time Twitter friends I trusted explicitly, and the BEST part of my indie author experience has been the lovely writer friends I’ve met along the way. Like you!

  7. Belinda Pollard (@Belinda_Pollard) November 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    LOVE the metaphor, Molly. The “buy quality” line is my favourite. A proofreader whose fifth language is English (sort of) may be cheap, but what is the cost to our reputation?!

    And I’d like to see you think about adding an extra point at the end merging the metaphors, and giving me tips for how to remodel (demolish?) my house after the neglect it’s suffered while I was spending all my time on my publishing exploits. 😀 (or do I just need to vacuum and do the dishes…)

    • Molly Greene November 20, 2012 at 7:16 am #

      Oh, gosh, now I’m ready to get on a plane with my hammer and ruler and come visit you in Australia …

  8. MJ Porteous (@mjporteous) November 20, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Thanks Molly. As a newbie to all of the above, this kind of information is just what I need to hear! Wondering whether I will actually have time to write in between blogging,tweeting, self promotion etc. Onwards and upwards 🙂

    • Molly Greene November 20, 2012 at 11:43 am #

      That’s the challenge, MJ – finding time to write. So happy you found my blog, hope it helps!

  9. Jodi @ Heal Now and Forever November 21, 2012 at 3:55 am #

    Great advice! All of them!

  10. cindy December 6, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Ten years ago, when I started my blog, I felt immediate gratification. I felt published. And I was surprised at how good & true it felt. I knew I was a speck in the cosmos of the internet, I knew nobody was paying attention, but it didn’t reduce my gratitude and sense of awe one bit:)

    Stay in a house ten years and you will need to do some remodeling. And I’ve changed the wallpaper a few times:) OTOH I have not kept up with trends that might help me market my books and build my brand. Some day…

  11. Jemma Taylor December 13, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    Although at the present time I’m not considering going the self-published route, this is an amazing summary of what you need to do/consider if you’re looking at doing this. I’m impressed with the work you put into it, and will be linking the post on my blog tomorrow for those interested in the info. 😀

    • Molly Greene December 13, 2012 at 8:04 am #

      WOW Jemma, thank you so much!