It has been a couple days since the launch of my first self-published novel, THE SHADOW WATCH, a YA epic fantasy.
Some quick background: I enrolled in KDP Select, so my Ebook is only available through Amazon. I published my paperback through Createspace, and though I may branch out later, right now, it is only available through Amazon, or at a local bookstore. I ran one small Facebook ad, but otherwise I am waiting until a few more reviews land before I settle into a marketing scheme.
It has been a couple days since my book released. Overall, it was an amazing experience, though still filled with some anxiety and stress, inevitable feelings when you are putting a piece of writing out there for the world to see. And I learned a lot quickly from the process.
Here are some reflections and observations about my experience on Day One of my self publication process:
- No amount of prep or editing ever feels like enough to be ready for Launch Day – I hired an editor, went through dozens of rounds of edits, worked with critique partners and betas, and quadruple checked my final formatted manuscript before hitting publish. But I was still nervous that something would go wrong. I’ve heard Chris Martin of Coldplay once said that no song was ever finished. It merely stopped being written. I feel that way about books as well. I am beyond thrilled with my end product, but I could have nitpicked it to death if I let myself. But having a hard publication date made me stop and move on to Book 2, which was a good thing for me because I can tend to over-edit. It was a nerve-racking feeling to officially be done with this book, but very much worth it to put it out there.
- Something will probably go wrong on Launch Day, just roll with it – My fantasy world has a world map. A beautiful one commissioned by the amazing Sebastian Breit. I formatted it to print on two pages, and with a couple trials, got it right in my Printed Proof copy. But I ran into a last minute snafu with Createspace’s proofing system when I re-uploaded the final version of the text. It skewed my image, and I had to have their technical team fix it (which due to the fact they don’t work weekends, ran me all the way to the wire in getting the print copy ready on time). It was stressful, but the print version launched in sync with the Kindle version. Though sadly I couldn’t order copies for the local indie store. Those will arrive a little late. So it goes.
- Forgetting something will not ruin the Launch, just breathe – There are so many things to prepare and anticipate before launching a book. Inevitably you will probably forget something. I forgot to set up my Author Central page on Amazon, something I’d intended to do weeks ago. Another writer kindly pointed it out, and I fixed it quickly.
- Reviews probably won’t come as fast as you want (which is instantaneous) – Even with an ARC team of awesome readers, reviews did not shoot up out of the gate on Amazon. I had many ARC readers leave Goodreads reviews. Amazon reviews have proven trickier. Firstly, you have to be an Amazon customer who has purchased $50 previously. No problem for some. But some people don’t drink the Amazon kool-aid. Also, international reviews don’t show up on Amazon.com. My launch team is international. I had several reviewers who left lovely reviews in the UK, India, and Germany, which only readers shopping on those respective Amazon sites can see. So it goes. I stressed about it a bit, because I really wanted more reviews on Amazon.com right away, but I got over it.
- Don’t check your rankings every FIVE MINUTES – I am sure this is the case for most people launching their first book, but I was addicted to seeing sales appear and rank change on Amazon. It made for a stressful day. And in the days since, I have quickly realized that it is not worth it to check so often.
- Ebook and Paperback don’t sync right away on Amazon – I did not realize this until Launch Day, but apparently it can take up to 72 hours for this sync up. I was not crazy about this, but it is what it is.
- Enjoy it, I wrote a freaking book – I learned to try to enjoy the moment, and let all the things go that I cannot control. I wrote a book I am proud of! And that is truly enough for now.
Overall, I was happy with the results of DAY ONE. Though, of course, many were family and friends. But hey, people want to read something I wrote.
KU: 0 (this did not kick in until DAY TWO; not sure if it was delayed, but now on Day 3 I’ve had well over 1000 page reads, so I am not too worried about it)
THE SHADOW WATCH is available on Amazon.
It is officially my book’s birthday!
After two years of hard work, my epic fantasy novel THE SHADOW WATCH is now out in the world!
I cannot believe that the day has finally come, and I can’t tell you how many butterflies came as I hit “Publish.”
DAY ONE has been a fun day! I will post more soon about my reflections, good and bad for my Launch, but for right now, I am just sitting back and watching it play out.
It is pretty surreal to think that something I wrote is now out there for people to read!
THE SHADOW WATCH
For centuries, the Oshan Empire has ruled the New World with terror and blood. The Watchers have been eradicated, and their sorcery is but a whispered myth. But the heart of magic beats on, and as it surges back to life, three young people will determine the fate of the world…
Tori Burodai, a strong-willed slave girl. Her magic could ignite a revolution, but only if she resists the ruler who wants to use her powers to restore the empire to its former glory.
Darien Redvar, the idealistic soldier she loves. His rage leads him down a dark path to power that could turn him against the one person he cares for.
Kale Andovier, a lordling rebel with a torturous past. His quest for a weapon of dark sorcery will thrust him into a twisted game of power that could change the world forever.
Will the return of magic transform the New World, or bring it to ruin?
Perfect for fans of Mistborn and Throne of Glass.
The cover is one of the biggest selling points for any book. It is the trailer, the advertisement. It is what draws in the reader. It tells them what genre the book is at a glance and, whether we like it or not, it indicates the caliber of book that lies within. That is why traditional publishers often shell out thousands of dollars for the cover artwork and design.
Which is daunting when you are heading down the Indie path.
Yes, there are rare exceptions. Hugh Howey’s original Wool cover was low-quality. Andy Weir’s The Martian cover was just a stock image of Mars. But those are anomalies that overcame their cover’s deficiencies because the books inside were incredible. Don’t bank on that. They got lucky, and they will tell you that.
If you are looking at the people who are making a decent living at this indie publishing thing, you will immediately notice that they are willing to shell out some cash for a solid cover.
If you have any money at all to put upfront towards your book, I would recommend throwing it at your cover before anything else.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to blow $1000+ on a book designer. Don’t just Google “book cover designers” and pick the first one that pops up. It is probably over-priced. If you have that kind of money and want to throw it at your book upfront, go for it. But it is not necessary to spend that much.
What I have found, after spending hours upon hours looking for my own artist, is that there are amazing covers available for about $200-300 or so, if you look in the right places, and are willing to take your time.
How to Find a Good Artist
Like I said, I would avoid simply Googling. Go somewhere where people are talking about cover art specifically for Indies, and even more specifically, your genre.
- Kboards is a great place to start. Cover designers advertise there, and you can get information from people in the forums who have already worked with these artists. Ask those authors about the experience, how much they paid, etc. Look at the covers that various artists created for those prices. Look at how well that book is selling on Amazon.
- DeviantArt is a great place to find great artists, some established, some who are trying to get their foot in the door of the business. Search for covers in your genre, and contact the artists to find out their pricing. You will likely find some amazing artists for a good price.
- Find top-selling Indie books on Amazon, and glance through their copywrite page at the front of the “Look-Inside” section. Most authors give credit to their artist there. Look up that artist and find out their pricing. That is how I found my artist. A guy I followed on Twitter released his book, and I absolutely loved the cover. I went to look for the artist, went to her website, looked her up on DeviantArt, emailed her, and ended up booking an original illustration for a low price for an entirely original cover (no stock photos).
Working with an Artist
Once you’ve found an artist for the price you are willing to pay, and their schedule is open for your timeframe, the real work begins. I put together a very thorough artist’s brief about what I wanted, and my illustrator was grateful that I was specific about what I wanted. This is your cover. Communicate what you want it to look like.
- Do yourself and the artist a favor, and do your research. Find comparable covers that match the tone or layout that you want for your own cover.
- Have a character you want depicted? Be sure to include a physical description of that character. Find models or photographs that match how you imagine they look. Consider things like stance, facial expression, clothing, skin tone, etc.
- Find images or illustrations that capture the setting in a comparable way, whether specific features or a general mood.
- Is there a scene you want depicted? Or a description that captures your character or setting well? Include that excerpt from your book. It may add some helpful context and even provide inspiration.
A Few Things the Artist Definitely Should Do for You
- They should give several stages for revisions once the design process has begun. Find someone who wants the end-product to be what you want.
- All payment should not occur until you are happy with the finished product. Generally, a good artist will ask you to pay about half upfront, and the other half once the cover is finished.
- The artist should have experience with your genre. Don’t hire an artist who specializes in Romance covers, if you are publishing a Space Opera, etc.
Best of luck as you search out your own cover artist. If you are willing to put in the work, and a little money, you can have a high-quality cover that will help you sell many copies of your book.
Thanks for joining me as I chronicle My Self-Publishing Journey for my epic fantasy, THE SHADOW WATCH. In Part One, I outlined my reasons for pursuing this avenue of publishing over the traditional publishing model.
Many things are quickly falling into place, as I lay the groundwork for the self-publication process. My editor and cover artist have been booked, and most recently, I commissioned a beautiful world map for THE SHADOW WATCH.
All this fell together much more quickly than I expected. I had originally planned to work with another artist, who ran over $500, whom I discovered on a thread on Kboards. I did not like the idea of spending quite that much, but I had a hard time finding an artist I liked for much cheaper. I also want this book to be as professional as possible, and let’s be honest, for epic fantasy, a detailed world map is an expectation.
Then, I stumbled upon an online thread that mentioned that there are several quality Map Artists on DeviantArt for very reasonable prices. I checked it out and stumbled upon the very impressive work of Sebastian Breit (check out his work here). And he was able to begin immediately.
[A Self-Pub Lesson Learned: You can find high quality work for a good price, if you are willing to look. Spend a little more time researching before booking a commissioned artist. Find a price that fits your budget and quality standards. Had I not been browsing some threads on Kboards, I would have ended up spending several hundred dollars more than I wanted to. This goes for cover artists, as well. I highly recommend Deviant Art, by the way.]
I am incredibly pleased with this map, and the turn-around time was only about a week. I was blown away as this world I’ve written about and poorly sketched on printer paper quickly turned into a detailed world.
Considering I will be writing at least 3 books in this world, the upfront cost of one map is totally worth every penny, in my opinion.
Let me know what you think of the map!
And stay tuned for more about my Self-Publishing Journey.
This post is the first of many that will chronicle my journey in self-publishing…
Feel free to weigh in, if you have insight, or ask any questions about the process as I set out. I plan to layout the various steps I am taking, as I take them, from finding designers and editors, to marketing and mailing lists and ARCs and so on and so forth…
First of all, to start, I guess: why did I choose self-publishing?
Self-publishing is an idea I have toyed around with for the past few years, particularly since running across Hugh Howey’s blog posts a couple years ago about the benefits of it, particularly concerning royalties. When I first began posting my story to Wattpad, I did it with the idea of self-pubbing in mind. But once I finished my latest story, I felt the compulsion to test out the query waters again. My novel, The Shadow Watch, had seen relatively impressive success on Wattpad, and I still longed for the validation of the traditional community, so I sent out some queries.
For the past 8-ish months (I sent a couple test rounds, and then hit it hardest around July), I was in the query trenches. Around July, I got my query and first chapter to a point where I was getting full requests. Around the same time, I also entered in the Ink and Insights writing contest and was selected as one of the Top Master Winners, and received great feedback from the editors in the contest. Several said it was of publishable-quality. But nothing came of that, or the agent requests. But I began hearing a trend: “Your writing is great. I connect with the characters, but the project is not quite right for me.”
Now, I know some will say that I barely dipped my feet into the subbing process. And I know that is true. I was in the trenches with my last novel too. And honestly, I think I wasted too much time on the whole process, before finally shelving that project. It held me back from moving on. Ultimately, with this book, I grew tired of the process, and did not have the patience to spend a year, or more, in the trenches again, in hopes that my novel would land in the right hands (a good chunk of agents never even responded). I, by no means, say that to knock trad or the query process, but it just didn’t do it for me…
Meanwhile, I have watched the fantasy market a lot this year, and there are a couple things I’ve realized.
One: my story is not quite what the trad market seems to be after right now.
Two: my story seems to fit along well with indie titles that are performing well on Amazon.
So, after much deliberation, I decided to read the writing on the walls and accept that trad appears to be looking for other things right now, but that there is still a market for my type of story in the self-pub world. I could wait around and hope, or I could go for it with self-pub, and that’s what I decided to do…
Everyone decides to self-publish for slightly different reasons, but here are a few factors I weighed:
- Success (Trad): Trad publishing does not generate a lot of bestsellers for new authors. Advances are low and print runs are short for the typical author. In other words, I could wait a long time, revising and querying, and even if I landed an agent and a deal, the chances of it panning out are low. I heard recently the average advance is hovering around $6000…
- Success (Indie): While self-pub bears similarly low odds of success, there are some major differences. Most notably, print runs… if my book does not become a quick bestseller in the trad world, or at least enough to earn out the advance, plus some, after six months or so, it comes off shelves and that is the end. With self-pub, I don’t need to earn out an advance with book one. If I earn enough to pay for book 2, I will consider it a success. And it never leaves the shelf. And I maintain the rights.
- Control: With self-pub, I get lots of control. The more I have delved into the ins and outs of putting a book together, the more I like this. I choose my cover artist. I choose my editor. I choose the text layout. Etc. But even more importantly, I choose price. I choose when I want to run a discount promotion, or I want to buy an ad, or seek out a book review blogger. This is daunting to many, and it was for me too, but I have found that there are so many resources out there for indie authors, once you start looking for them.
- Royalties: Perhaps the biggest factor is royalties. I can price my books at a reasonable rate, sell fewer books through self-pub, and make more money. There are plenty of bloggers who have written far better explanations for this. But ultimately, this sold me. I believe there is a market for my type of story, and if I can tap into that market, I think I can sell a few books.
- The Fantasy Market: The more I’ve looked at the Amazon fantasy lists, the more I’ve realized how many of those top spots are staked out by indies. I’ve read some posts about how trad is doing a rather poor job at giving fantasy readers what they want, as they publish everything in fads (I think this is true for all genres, honestly), which don’t appeal to all readers. For example: trad is over dystopian, but there are dystopians doing just fine in the indie world. Take a look at the Fantasy ebook lists on Amazon (which even for heavyhitters composes about 50% of sales or more, I believe), and that certainly appears to be true. Yes, Sanderson and Martin and Rothfuss are atop those lists. But other than that, the scale seems to tilt far more towards indies. Not to say mine will join them, only that this seems to indicate that the industry is not the sole avenue to success, nor does a trad rejection (due to it not being “right for their list”) mean that the book won’t sell elsewhere.
- Small Publishers Don’t Cut It For Me: I considered subbing to several small publishers who accept subs from non-agented authors, but I decided against it, and here’s why: They don’t do anything I can’t do myself through putting a little money into it up front. There are plenty of publishers who offer a decent cover, basic editing, and if you’re lucky some decent marketing. Most these days don’t pay out an advance, though. Brandon Sanderson has cautioned against taking any deal that doesn’t include an advance, because essentially it shows that the publisher won’t be giving you all the things they should: strong editing, an impressive cover, and a solid marketing campaign. So I decided against any of these options. I can get a comparable cover artist and editor (if not better) for less than $1000 investment. But in exchange, I keep all the rights, and I get waaay better royalties.
- My Personal Preference: Ultimately, everyone has to weigh their own factors and determine what is best for them. But the more I thought about it, the more excited I felt about self-publishing, and the less excited I felt about continuing to query and wait.
So here goes nothing. I’m self-publishing…
Check out Part 2 of my journey here, where I discuss finding high quality freelance artists for a good price.