12 Things You Need to Know for Self-Publishing Success

12 Things You Need to Know for Self-Publishing Success | Carolyn Arnold @Carolyn_Arnold self-publishing
Navigate the world of self-publishing successfully by applying just 12 tips of the trade.

Self-publishing is both rewarding and challenging—and has no guarantees of success. There are so many books flooding the market these days, and authors need to have a strong game plan more than ever before. The following tips, though not a comprehensive list, are some things to focus on to give yourself a better chance of self-publishing success.

1. Effective immediately: Eliminate the word hobby from your vocabulary. Successful authors view writing as a career. Before I made a single cent with my writing, I would take offense when anyone called my writing a hobby. It’s important you take your writing seriously and view publishing as a business because that’s what it truly is. Not only does this require the right mindset, it demands dedication and consistency.  

2. Schedule your time. We all have twenty-four hours in a day, and we have many roles we play, along with numerous responsibilities. That’s why it’s vital to schedule time for writing. Block it out on your calendar and respect that “appointment” you made with yourself. Protect this time by staying off social media and not checking your e-mail. There are even helpful apps out there that will lock the Internet for any time period you set if you have trouble staying focused and keeping that appointment.

If you’re really going to dig deep into a writing project and you’ve allotted a few days or so in a row, you can always set up an out-of-office on your e-mail also. This works well for people like me who are easily distracted by their inbox and feel like they need to respond lightning-fast or the world will come to an end.

And don’t forget to put your phone on silent. In fact, it really doesn’t need to be in the room with you. But if these options bother you, then set your phone so it will only sound a notification for calls from contacts you select. You could also let your family and closest friends know when you’ll be writing and ask them to avoid contacting you during that time.

3. Write an amazing book and repeat. Being an author means…you write! And that you’re committed to writing as often as your schedule allows. It’s your passion, it’s your calling, it’s…a lot of hard work! Writing for fun is a whole different ball game than writing for publication. Anyone who tells you otherwise must have the Midas touch, be lying, or be doing something wrong. Professional authors write even when they don’t feel like it. Yep, writing is not always unicorns and rainbows.

But regardless, authors push through, and they do so repeatedly. They’re not satisfied with writing just one book. When they finish one, they get started on the next. And every time they work on a book, their goal is to make it the best book it can be. Not the best book ever, not even the best book they’ve written—the best book that book can be.

Another point to be aware of is that self-published authors who can produce a series often meet with more success than those who write various standalone books.

4. Edit and rewrite your “baby” without showing mercy. Making your book the best it can be means revising and editing—and not only with your own eye. And when I’m talking about editing, I don’t mean having your friends read it over or check it for grammar. You need outside, objective perspectives.

Some authors use strong beta readers to read their manuscript and give them feedback. If you’re going to this, do so before you take the next step of hiring a professional editor who knows what they are doing. That way, the book is in the greatest shape it can be in when it gets to him or her. (It might even save you money to do it this way as most editors charge based on how much work they feel is needed.) You can also use beta readers after you complete content revisions with an editor, to make sure you’ve nailed them from a fresh reader perspective.

The editorial process does take time, too, and that’s something you’ll need to learn to accept, even though as writers, we are anxious to turn our manuscripts into real books. A full-length manuscript shouldn’t return from a copy edit within a few days with a couple hundred revisions. Just as you took time to craft your draft and self-edit, a skilled professional editor requires time to work through the manuscript.

There are a number different types of editing that you should consider: developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and a cold reading (what most people call proofreading, but as my editor has shared with me, is actually a different thing!). Between each of these stages, you’ll need to work through your editor’s notes and revise, revise, revise. You should be sick of reading your book by the time you upload it to distributors!

You also want to make sure your editor has legitimate experience. There are a lot of editors out there who have no training and are writers who figure they can make money editing because they write. But writing and editing are entirely different skills, and you need someone who knows what they are doing.

So how do you know if the editor you’re considering is qualified? Check out his/her website. Is it professional? Look at their background and education. Are there testimonials from other authors? Ask for references, and look at the editor’s reviews. Also look at their clients’ reviews on Amazon. Are there a slew of reviews mentioning how there were loads of grammar errors in the final product? If so, run, run, far away. (Remember, though, that there is no such thing as an absolutely perfect book. Editors are humans, too. That’s why you’ll find errors that have slipped into the book you’re reading, even if it’s published by the Big Five.)

5. Watch the competition from a distance. Don’t look at how other authors’ books are doing and compare your books to theirs. It will only lead to discouragement because there will always be someone doing much better than you. But you should look at the books on the bestseller lists on Amazon and even on lists like the New York Times and USA Today, and look them up online. Take stock of their covers, their book descriptions, the quality of the products, and their price points. I recommend signing up for newsletters from your favorite authors, too, just to see what they’re doing. You might even be able to tell from the outside what is or isn’t working for them.

6. Provide a quality product. Emulate the Big-Five publishers when it comes to cover design and interior formatting. Hire the professional graphic artists and designers necessary to make this happen.

Now, maybe you’re starting to think “writing is going to hit my wallet” or “I’ll chose editing or a nice cover.” If you are, STOP! Right there! It’s best you hold off until you can afford to put out the highest quality product possible. Sure, you can always go back and update your book, but bad Amazon reviews can haunt you.

7. Establish your platform and grow your readership. Have a presence on social media. Set up a website and maybe even a blog. There are free options out there to make this happen. Set up a MailChimp or other newsletter account, and start collecting e-mail addresses. The readers who sign up will become your most loyal fans—if you treat them right. Provide them with interesting content and don’t just be saying, “buy my book, buy my book.” That holds true for your social media accounts, too. Give actual content and interact with others about things that aren’t even about your book. You are not only trying to get people to buy your book. You are trying to hook people on your brand, and that means letting potential readers get to know you as a person and writer, not just a champion of your own book. This can be a hard thing to accomplish as you’re busy writing your book and it takes time to think up and execute a social media strategy.

8. Engage with readers. Once you’ve gotten your book out there, your readers are your friends. Without them, you’d just be writing for yourself, and that would be a shame, as you were given the gift of writing for a reason. So make it easy for your readers to engage with you. Reply promptly to messages and comments on social media, and have a contact page on your website for them to reach out to you.

9. Pay for advertising. Any successful business pays for advertising, and if you want your book(s) to stand out, you will likely have to open that wallet (yes, again). Many authors have a lot of success marketing with Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bookbub (ads and features), and many other paid advertising sites. Some will blast your book out in an e-mail, while others put you on their website and promote your book on social media; some offer a combination of those things and more. And while blog tours and guest posts can get a bad rap sometimes, I find they are excellent for building up reviews and creating a larger digital footprint for you and your brand.

Also, if you have more than one book in a series already published, you might want to consider making the first book free. This is essentially a loss-leader and is a common tactic used in the world of marketing. It pays off, though, because readers are more likely take a chance on a new author if they don’t have anything to lose. Once you hook them with the first book, the hope is they’ll come back for more and be willing to pay for it.

10. Build up good book reviews. This is a tricky tip because it’s mostly out of your control. All you can do is provide a high-quality product. Still, not everyone is going to love your book (even though it’s freakin’ awesome!), and that’s true for everyone, even NYT bestsellers. The process of finding book reviewers can be daunting, I know, but it’s important to get your book out there.

Bloggers are an excellent source from which to obtain book reviews. You can do so through a paid blog tour or by contacting individual bloggers yourself. To find bloggers who read and review your genre, do a Google search. When you find a blogger who seems perfect for your book, read their review policy and respect it!

If you really feel overwhelmed and need help, there are freelance PR and marketing professionals you can hire to do these things for you. Many of them will have various packages you can choose from or be able to customize one for you. And hey, you could even ask that professional editor you hired for recommendations! (You will find that the publishing industry is a small, small world.)

11. Go global and diversify! Make your book available on as many retailers as possible, and never lock yourself into just one. After all, you worked hard on your book, and these days your publishing reach can extend around the globe! Keep in mind, too, that readers use different retailer platforms and have different reading preferences. Some like e-books, some print, some audiobook. Make one, two, or all three of these formats available for your readers so you don’t miss out!

12. Reward yourself when you reach targets. Through the writing and publishing process, you’ll have a lot of ups and downs. Let’s face it: we writers are sensitive souls. While that can be seen as a weakness or as dramatic at times, being sensitive is what makes good authors. (Empathy and compassion are needed for creating strong characters, specifically!) But our sensitivity does come with a downside: we can get in funks, and we can feel overwhelmed, overworked, and sometimes unappreciated. Set realistic goals and targets, and reward yourself when you reach goals. Use them as morale boosters. If you feed your soul first, then you’ll have more to give in your books—and to the world!

As I mentioned earlier, these tips are just some things you can do to move toward self-publishing success. I hope they will be helpful for you on your writing journey. Heck, if just one really struck you, then I’m very happy that I set aside the time to write this post. I blocked it out in my schedule and everything.


Happy writing! 😊

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CAROLYN ARNOLD is an international bestselling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series--Detective Madison Knight, Brandon Fisher FBI, McKinley Mysteries, and Matthew Connor Adventures--and has written nearly thirty books. For more information visit CarolynArnold.net.

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