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  • Catherine Downen

Self-Publishing: My Truth

The Markings is my debut novel that I self-published in April 2020. I can hardly believe it's already been out for over a month. For a while there, a lot of my life was consumed with the publishing process, and now I'm finally getting back into my normal writing schedule. Since things have returned to *somewhat* normal, I've really been reflecting on the entire self-publishing journey. I wanted to share my experience self-publishing, what decisions I made, and how it's been going. I also turned to the #WritingCommunity on Twitter and my followers on Instagram to see if they had any questions for me!


Why did I self-publish:

I chose to self-publish for a lot of reasons. The main one being I wanted to be in complete control of my debut novel. I've always wanted to be an author and I wanted to make sure my very first book published was one I created all on my own. I didn't want it to be a story that was changed by an editor or redesigned by a publishing house. Though those are extremely valuable tools in selling books, The Markings wasn't about sales. The Markings is a book I've been writing since I was in high school. It was the first novel I ever truly finished, and it's been a part of me for a long time. I am so invested in this story and these characters that I knew it needed to be 100% my vision.


I also self-published because I knew I needed to build a platform as an author. You have to start somewhere, right? You can't land a book deal with one of the top 5 publishing houses by just writing a good story. For that to happen you have to have a following, already have proven yourself as a published author, and have people who want to read books you wrote (Or you know someone in the industry). While I could have tried repeatedly to get The Markings into one of those publishing houses I knew 1. They would make the story not 100% true to my vision, and 2. be a 1 in a million shot. The Markings is a story I was ready to tell now, not years from now when I became that 1 in a million. I chose to self-publish because it put me in charge of my dreams. The only thing holding me back would be myself.


How did I self-publish:

Self-publishing a book isn't as easy as uploading a manuscript and clicking "done". I started the actual "publishing" part of the process in February 2020, two months before the book came out. The first thing I did was research (like reading blogs like this one), then I asked the #WritingCommunity on Twitter just about every question I could think of and they helped get me started, and finally, I watched videos of other self-published authors giving advice.


After all that, I decided to self-publish The Markings through KDP (Amazon), Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Kobo for the initial release. I knew that I would eventually want to go exclusive with Amazon for the ebook, but I wanted my initial release to be as wide as I could go. I think the only supplier I'd add to this list would be Apple books. Now, would I go wide again for an initial release? I'm not sure. The majority, if not all, of my sales have been through Amazon anyways. The Markings will be going exclusive to Amazon on May 22nd and I'm excited to see how that may affect the book (i.e Kindle Unlimited users etc.).


Next, I had to get the supporting files for the book ready to go. This meant getting a cover made and interior formatting. I had a vision for what I wanted the cover of The Markings to look like. I sketched it out and liked the way it looked. It holds a ton of references to the story, which I loved. So as you're reading you will come across details you can find in the cover! Initially, I just sent my sketch and concept to someone on Fiverr to make me a trial cover so see if I'd actually like it. Originally, I planned on sending that cover out to a professional artist to have it created, but my Fiverr version was beyond what could have asked for and I ended up just using that. As for interior design, such as the fantasy map, gifted document, and page formatting, I did all of that on my own. I used a free software called GIMP for photo editing and word for formatting, and I watched numerous videos on youtube explaining how to do it.


When all of that was locked away the book was officially ready to publish. I uploaded all the files to the different websites listed above and got my account ready. I set a release date and announced it about a month in advance to build some buzz around the book. I did a pre-sale through Amazon for the ebook and launched everything on the day of publication. However, it's tricker than it sounds. For most listings (Amazon included) I had to launch a couple of days in advance because their websites took 24-72 hours for the listing to go live. Just something to keep in mind!


QUESTIONS FROM FOLLOWERS


Did you find it helpful to build excitement for your book by releasing “sneak peeks” of the content?


Absolutely! First off, posting anything writing/book related to Twitter is an extremely helpful way to just gain a following. If they like what you post (book blurb, quotes, etc.) you not only help to turn a potential sale, but you've also gained a follower and supporter! For me, the best "sneak peek" I did was posting my first chapter on my website. This allowed people to try out my book early on and decide if they wanted to pre-order.


What challenges did you face? And if you could go back last year May what advice would you give your past self?


The biggest challenge I've faced is the budget. It's not that it's too expensive to self-publish, it's about WHERE do you make the investment? There are so many awesome services for authors (editing, marketing, publicity, reviewing, etc.) that it's hard to know which ones will give you the best return. A lot of facing this challenge is going to be trial and error so I can figure out what will work best for the next book.


Well, last May I was graduating college. So, if I could go back and tell myself something it would be that graduating college is just the first step, so many more doors are about to open up and your dreams will come true.


Did your inspiration come from one source or many?


The inspiration behind The Markings actually came to me in a dream nine years ago! I had seen the beginning parts of my story, and I saw the end of the entire trilogy in that dream. The hard part was filling the rest in! Three authors have really inspired my writing though, and they are Suzanne Collins, Victoria Aveyard, and John Green. If you look hard enough, I'm sure you can find pieces of them in my books.


How many drafts did you complete before feeling comfortable in self-publishing?


This is unique to my scenario, but for The Markings it's too many to count. If I had to guess I would say I probably had near 10. The reason there were so many for The Markings is that it's a story I've been building for nearly nine years. It's the first book, so it sets the stage for the next two stories, and it's my first book which means it took me a couple of drafts to get something good on paper. For the next book in the series it will be much different. I'm planning on only having 4 drafts so I can hit my publication date!


How daunting was the Amazon contract to read and feel comfortable signing?


Honestly, I approached it like ripping off a band-aid. I knew I wanted The Markings published, I knew I didn't want to wait any longer at becoming an author, and I knew Amazon was going to work best for me. Yes it was daunting. I've taken many passes through it, even now I'm still reviewing it and trying to figure out what changes when I make my ebook exclusive to Amazon. At some point you just have to take the chance and I'm so glad I did! I will say though, Amazon does have a really great breakdown on their website that breaks their contract up into sections to help sift through everything and that really helped me.


Marketing/Promoting


I received SO many questions about these things so I'm lumping them together here. First off, this is necessary and definitely one of the most challenging parts of self-publishing because it's 100% on you to figure it out. I have zero background in this area and had no platform when starting out. So what did I do?


My biggest source of marketing comes from social media interactions. I have the most success (if not all my sales) from what I post on social media. It's not as simple as running one account and hoping your friends spread the word. This is the social media foundation I run: Author twitter, personal Facebook, The Markings Facebook, Author Instagram, The Markings Instagram, Author Goodreads, The Markings Goodreads, Author Amazon page, Author website, and an Author blog. In total, I run 10 different accounts across social media (not including some of my smaller platforms on BookBub and similar sites). It's a massive amount of work, but it is crucial to me getting the word out about my book. This is so important, but even more important than having the accounts is growing the following. I find my biggest following is my author twitter with over 6,000 followers and counting. This is where I have my biggest reach.


I have done other things for marketing, but none have been as successful as just posting to my followers. Some other things I have tried are: submitting The Markings to mailing lists/promotion websites, sharing the book with Book Bloggers, and running Facebook and Instagram ads. Right now, out of those three things, the only thing I would recommend is Book Bloggers! I LOVE sharing The Markings and hearing their thoughts. It's always fun to see their followers want to read the story and get excited about the book. Also, reviews are THE MOST important part of selling a book. So, having them review The Markings helps turn sales in the long run.


How do I know what marketing works for me? Since the majority of my sales are through Amazon it's really easy to see when things are working. They have an ongoing count of how many ebooks or paperback books have been ordered. So, when different marketing happens (blogs go live or I make a post to twitter) it's easy to see the reaction in my sales immediately.


The last marketing question I got was if I had made back what I spent and the answer is yes! I pretty much ONLY use free services or swaps with authors if possible. The few marketing expenses I've done weren't expensive (Facebook ads etc.). You have to look at it as a long-term investment. At least for my case it is since The Markings is a trilogy. I'm not only investing in getting this one book sale, but I'm investing in growing a following that will want to read future books as well.


What would I do again?


This is a question I got, but also ask myself a lot because I am currently working on the next book in the series! Am I going to continue self-publishing? Absolutely. I know for a fact I will be self-publishing all three books in The Markings series. However, I'm really excited to try the traditional route with my next project, though I've had so much fun self-publishing we'll see what actually happens.


As far as platforms go I think I will go straight into the exclusive program with Amazon for the ebook on release day next time. For marketing, I'll definitely continue to use social media platforms and book bloggers. I'm going to try and include more ARC readers for book two because I know I have a lot of readers who would really appreciate being apart of that.


Thank you SO much for reading my blog post on my self-publishing thoughts! I know there is A TON of information here, so I'll probably make some posts that go more into detail on each one. If there's something specific you'd like to see me post about let me know! Subscribe to my mailing list to know when future blog posts come out.


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