I want to go over some of the things that self-publishing authors need to learn to be successful. I am a long way from being successful in my own writing career (I have yet to finish a single book), but I have learned a great deal that will help my books become successful when I do actually finish them. Also, some of this (like free ISBN numbers) might only apply to Canadian authors, but I am sure most countries will have similar programs or nominal fees.
Do Your Own Copyright Registration
This one is optional, as the author you are protected, but if you do decide to register a copyright then you need to do it yourself. In Canada I can perform a free search and register a copyright for $50, but a quick google search will show dozens of services that handle that for prices as low as $100. I am sure this is similar in most countries. Do not be afraid to register your own copyright, the forms are not that difficult and you will need to supply all the same information to a service anyway.
Do Not Overspend On ISBNs
You might not even need an ISBN if you are only publishing a digital version of your book, but you will need one for print. CreateSpace will give you a free ISBN if your are willing to accept their restrictions, otherwise they charge around $100 for each one. Other services will sell ISBN's for as low as $25 each, but there may be a better option if you are not in the U.S.
In Canada (and perhaps your country has a similar government service), ISBNs can be acquired for free at ISBN Canada, so do some research before buying ISBNs through a third party service.
Setup A Book Or Author Website
Getting a website setup for a book might seem like overkill, but it is a powerful way to boost the visibility for your book. Domains and web hosting can be very inexpensive (particularly compared to professional editing or running ad campaigns). If nothing else, the website may drive traffic to the sales page for your book on sites like Amazon.
You are on my author website, and I have a separate site for my The Tom and Piper Books.
Put Your Book on Preorder
Your book is not going to sell a lot of copies during the preorder months, unless you are established and have fans waiting for it. When your book is listed, even if it is not for sale, you have time to work on the sales copy and setup links to the sales page. Most promotional services need to be booked in advance, and none (?) of them will accept a book that does not have a sales page. I would not recommend driving a lot of traffic to a preorder page
Free (Advanced Reader Copies) Books
The biggest hurdle a new author has to face is to get readers to take a chance on their books. How you give it away is up to you, but if you hand out 500 or 1000 Advanced Reader Copies you might get ten or twenty reviews. If you want a lot. of paid sales from strangers, you need reviews. Do not think of free copies as lost sales or under-valuing your hard work, this is a marketing technique.
Giveaways and free copies will continue to be an important aspect of marketing after the book launches, bit it is extremely important as you head toward release day.
Use Beta Readers
Beta readers are basically just people who are willing to read your book before it is ready to publish, with the hope that they give you valuable advice about the book. I plan on using a few immediate family members for the first draft, then strangers for later drafts.
Hire (Hopefully Professional) Editors
If you cannot afford professional editing, try having a trusted family member or a teacher critique your book for plot problems, grammar issues, and typos. No book is perfect, but you do not want to launch your book to a dozen 2-star reviews that complain about "cringy" plot-lines or terrible spelling. Your story deserves to be read, so please make sure people actually can!
In my case, I am not getting a full suite of editing (I cannot afford 4 or 5 passes at $500 each), but I will get the following two services:
- A "Developmental Edit", to find the high-level issues in the novel. This should find problems like subplots that go nowhere or characters randomly changing birth dates.
- A "Line Edit", to fix spelling and grammar issues.
Avoid Vanity Press
This is a given, with the success of platforms like amazon new authors should not be turning to glorified print-shops to order boxes of books that they will never be able to sell. A real publisher will handle things like ISBN numbers and barcodes, print your book, store it in a warehouse, and fulfill orders for it. A vanity press will try to up-sell you on a lot of services before charging to print and ship a box of copies to you.
This is pretty obvious, if you are writing it is probably because of digital, but it is worth mentioning here. Whether you stick with amazon or go wider, you want go go digital for your work. Print (though something like IngramSpark) and audio book versions can be important too, but they are optional at the very beginning... the digital version is not. Once you are established, or have an audience, this may change, but as a first-time author the digital version is going to be how you reach the most readers.