Six (Not So Secret) Self-Publishing Secrets

BY HANNAH GUY • December 11, 2020

Six (Not So Secret) Self-Publishing Secrets

“If someone posts a ‘secret’ to success anywhere on the internet, it isn’t a secret, and they are probably just trying to sell you something,” writes Benjamin Davis in “5 Simple Secrets to Successfully Publishing a Book.”

He might be onto something. 

The truth is that a lot of tips and tricks and insider secrets are always ours for the taking, especially online. Sometimes people hope that luring others with “guaranteed secrets” is the key to earning a few extra bucks. Usually, that information is already out there, but how often are we willing to comb through miles of search results to find it? And when we do, how often do we take that advice? 

We here at the Kirkus Writers’ Center have spent the last couple of years coming up with every single tip and trick we can think of in the hope of helping authors and writers. Certain bits of advice are repeated here ad nauseum (Pay for a good book cover! Find a great editor! Start your social media early!) so that authors will understand the importance of a professional-looking book before they start marketing it. Other posts offer guidance on different aspects of writing, selling, and marketing your book. 

Here are a few of our favorite—and lesser known—self-publishing "secrets." Maybe you’ve missed them or didn’t know about them, but they can help you in your journey to publishing your book.

1) Let your readers see your work…before you publish

“It might sound simple, but one of the best ways you can get readers hooked on your writing is to write,” writes Sarah Juckes in “7 Insider Tips You Need to Learn from Self-Pub Pros.” “It can take a lot for a reader to part with their hard-earned cash for a book by an unknown author. If they are familiar with your writing already, perhaps from a blog or via social media, then you’ve just made it a whole lot easier for them.”

OUR TIP: Increase your visibility by posting on popular writing platforms (like Wattpad) or even start blogging (see next tip!) on a regular basis. Hard up for cash? Try publishing short stories and creative fiction/nonfiction in other publications for added income and credibility. 

2) Blogging can boost your profile

So we’re in 2020, the year of Satan’s Toilet, and blogging is so…whatever. But blogging still has the potential to increase your readership and following, get your writing noticed, and even give you the opportunity to test new book ideas and get some feedback from your readers. 

“You’re getting the chance to market test your book ideas before you actually spend the countless hours it’s going to take to write that book!” writes Paul Angone in “3 Unspoken Secrets to Getting Published.” “Then, when you have different articles and ideas that really work well with your target audience, you can pick out the best stuff and literally put it in your book. I think the industry standard is that half of your book could possibly be re-purposed content that you’ve pulled from your blog and is now in your book.”

OUR TIP: If you already use a blogging platform, be sure to add it to your author website. Looking for more readers? Think about doing a guest blog for other authors and publishers, and make sure you link back to your blog.

3) You can do it on the cheap—but you probably shouldn’t

It doesn’t need to be a fortune, but you will have to spend some money to self-publish your book.

“Whether time is money or money is money, you’ll need to spend it; on editors, on bribes for your kids to leave you alone, on something, anything, nearly everything,” writes Davis. And yes, he’s kidding. But also not. A lot of self-published authors have done—and do—everything themselves. Design, editing, marketing, advertising, and selling...all while spending almost nothing. But it’s a lot of work, and most authors lack the expertise necessary to produce a professional-looking book. Think of it this way: when you feel cruddy, you go to the doctor. Your family doctor can get a good idea of what’s wrong with you, but for specific issues, you’ll be referred to a specialist. Do you want your family doctor removing your gallbladder or performing a nose job? Probably not. If you can, give yourself the gift of an expert.

OUR TIP: Budget for a good cover designer first. Unless you’re an experienced graphic arts professional with experience in marketing books, you probably don’t know as much about a great cover as you might think. Also save a little extra coin for a great book editor, some advertising, and maybe even hiring an experienced book copywriter (like me!) to write your book description/back cover. 

4) You can self-publish…and get a traditional book deal

There was a time when self-publishing was considered to be the avenue for authors who couldn’t get a book deal. Over the last decade, that preconception has drastically changed. It’s a whole new world, filled with opportunities and choices—none of which seem entirely clear. But what is for certain is that many authors (oh hi, New York Times bestselling author Katee Robert) are dividing and conquering, publishing their books themselves and through traditional publishing channels. 

“There’s a whole new species of author now: the ‘hybrid,’” suggests “5 Self-Publishing Secrets Nobody Tells You.” “A hybrid author is a writer who has a traditional publishing contract and is also self-publishing other works. The New York Times bestsellers Marie Force and Steena Holmes are just two examples of authors who have a foot in both worlds. They use the flexibility of self-publishing to support upcoming traditional releases, or to keep their audience engaged between publication dates. They accomplish this with the unabashed approval of their agents and publishing houses.” 

OUR TIP: Keep your options open. It is true that traditional publishers may look at your self-publishing history, but they won’t turn down an incredible book just because you didn’t sell many copies of your first self-published book. That said, it’s sometimes best to come out of the gate with your strongest book, so maybe you’ll want to save self-publishing for your next project. Whatever you decide, the choice is yours

5) You can publish in different formats and different countries

Think it’s just about an e-book or a physical book? Not anymore. A lot of authors have noticed increased sales with different formats, the most popular being audiobooks. Many readers enjoy audiobooks at work or while commuting (or even during long road trips). It’s also worth expanding your market into other countries. Aside from the UK and Canada, both of which are strong English-language markets, you can sell books across the world. Australia, Europe, and Asia are also good markets for books in English. But don’t just stop there. Maybe it’s time to translate your book if you think there’s an audience for it.

According to “5 Self-Publishing Secrets Nobody Tells You,” “Foreign language translations are more expensive, but some authors want to have access to emerging e-book markets such as Germany and Brazil. In the ever-evolving publishing business, highly successful self-published authors such as Barbara Freethy have made groundbreaking arrangements with Ingram to make their self-published books available in bookstores nationwide.”

OUR TIP: If you’re looking outside of the ultracompetitive domestic market, especially if your book isn’t selling well, just make sure you’ve sorted your book rights in order to sell internationally. 

6) Fiction is for your emotions; nonfiction is for your brain

This neat little piece of advice, by way of graphic designer Derek Murphy, is something to keep in mind not just for your book cover but while you’re branding and marketing your book. He claims that a good “rule of thumb” is to remember that when you’re designing a book cover, you must make fiction appeal to the reader’s emotions, and nonfiction appeal to the reader’s brains.

“You want an instantly clever image to catch their mental attention,” Murphy writes in “8 Cover Design Secrets Publishers Use to Manipulate Readers into Buying Books.” “Non-fiction covers should have a central ‘gimmick’…You catch the brain’s attention by showing a juxtaposition—things that shouldn’t really go together and are unexpected. Then the subtitle tells them what the book is about. On the other hand, fiction appeals to the heart. So fiction covers should be bursting with color, vibrancy, action. They should be beautiful. The art alone should make you feelsomething like longing or loss or passion, immediately.”

OUR TIP: Try to incorporate elements of your book cover—and its visual message—into your website, social media, and even marketing materials.

Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.

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