The internet has changed the publishing industry immeasurably over the last few years. Self-publishing used to be a costly process. Now, an author can self-publish their books and distribute them using platforms like CreateSpace, Lulu, Amazon, iTunes, Kobo etc., with little or no upfront costs.
While self-publishing has become a lot easier, generating sales has not – it requires a lot of work. In this post, I’ll talk about my experiences with self-publishing books and selling them.
What You Will Learn
In this post you will learn about:
- The advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing
- The best self-publishing platforms
- How to sell your books once you’ve published them
The Advantages of Self-Publishing
Self-publishing gives you complete control of your books. It allows you to publish books and make them available in print and eBook format all over the world.
While this requires a lot of work, it can be very rewarding. When you sell your books, you get to keep all the royalties, rather than having to share them with your agent and/or publisher. This means that if you manage to sell a decent amount of books, you can make a living as a writer.
Self-publishing also allows people who write for a hobby to see their stories in print. Producing books for family and friends to enjoy can be very satisfying.
The Disadvantages of Self-Publishing
I’m not going to coat this in sugar. Self-publishing is a lot of work. You have to edit your book, employ an artist to design a cover for you (a good cover is really important if you want to make sales), format the book, proofread it and, once it’s published, market it.
Books don’t sell themselves. If you want people to buy your novels, just making them available on Amazon is not enough. You will have to put as much time into marketing your books as you do into writing them.
I guess that’s the advantage of going down the more traditional publishing route of finding an agent and a publisher. If you’re lucky and manage to get yourself a book deal, you will get a lot of help with producing, marketing and selling your books – essentially, that’s what you’re paying them for, by giving them a cut of your royalties.
Even if you’ve written a masterpiece, the likelihood of getting a deal from a reputable publisher is very low. Self-publishing offers a great alternative.
The Best Self-Publishing Platforms
I’ve used 2 platforms for publishing my books. They are:
I used Lulu to self-publish my first novel, Wicked Game. I’ve used CreateSpace to publish all of my subsequent books.
Both platforms are free to use. Lulu and CreateSpace offer a print on demand service. This means that, if you want, you can order a single a copy of your book. They’ll print it and send it to you.
Of the two platforms, Lulu has the better backend system. It’s easy to use and intuitive. The quality of the printed books produced by Lulu is very good. The covers and interiors look great. Once published, it’s relatively easy to distribute your books via other platforms.
However, Lulu isn’t as well-known as Amazon. You’re unlikely to sell many books through their website.
CreateSpace is quite easy to use, but the site is a bit dated. For example, it’s not mobile friendly, meaning it doesn’t always display well on mobile devices. It took me a while to learn how to use it. I don’t find it as intuitive as Lulu.
That said, the marketing opportunities offered by CreateSpace and Amazon are excellent. Whether you love or hate Amazon, they’re a trusted brand that the vast majority of online shoppers are comfortable buying from. They have global reach. As an author, you have to consider the opportunities offered by Amazon to help you generate sales. I’ll go into that in more detail in the next section.
I’ve written an extensive step-by-step guide about using CreateSpace and Amazon for Matthew Woodward’s blog. It shows you how easy it is to publish a printed book using CreateSpace, format a Kindle eBook version and then sell it on Amazon. You can read it here.
I now use CreateSpace to publish all of my books. Lulu’s website is a bit easier to use, but I sell far more books through Amazon.
Another alternative is vanity publishing. I wouldn’t recommend going down this route unless you have money to invest in your project and a solid plan to distribute your books and generate sales once they’re printed.
Vanity publishers ask you to pay a fee to publish your books. Some of these firms are reputable and will produce very high quality books – better than those from print on demand services. Some are dishonest and misrepresent themselves.
If you pay a fee to a publisher to publish your book, they are a vanity publisher. The likelihood of making your money back is very slim. However, if you use a reputable vanity publisher, you will end up with a very high quality, professionally presented book.
You can find lots of honest advice regarding this topic on the Vanity Publishing website, run by industry expert, Johnathon Clifford.
How To Sell Your Books
Once you’ve published your books, you have to market them. There are a variety of different ways to do this.
Use Your Website
Using your website is the most powerful and effective way to sell books, in my experience. However, it’s a long-term game and requires a lot of work.
To put this into context, I’ve been running my website for 5 years. I’ve spent a lot of time generating good content and attracting an audience. I started this by listing short story competitions on my website. Because other writers found the lists useful, my website started to get shared on social media, get talked about by writing groups and attract more users. So I constantly develop new resources and my website continues to grow in popularity. It now receives between 20,000 and 30,000 visits a month.
I mention this to illustrate that building a successful website is achievable, and is a great part of any business plan relating to selling books. I’m one man. I did this on my own. If I can do it, you can too.
So, once I’d developed an audience, I wrote a book called, How to Write a Short Story, Get Published & Make Money. This was aimed at my website users as I thought they’d find it useful. I offer the first 12,000 words of the book as a free sample in PDF format (it contains details of how to buy the whole book, should the reader want to). In return for the free sample, I ask for the customer’s email address. They are added to my email list, but can unsubscribe whenever they want.
Use Your Email List
I now have 2,000 people on my email list. That number is constantly growing. I have a signup form on my website and receive requests on a daily basis for the free book sample.
I send out emails every week or two about new content I’ve developed on my website. I include details of special offers and discount codes for my books in the emails.
This works very effectively. I don’t employ hard sales tactics. I simply give people the opportunity to buy my books, should they want to. Because my email subscribers are interested in what I do, they respond well to special offers and buy my books.
Special Offers On Amazon
Using Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) to publish and distribute your eBooks means you can make use of their promotion tools. These allow you to offer your books at reduced prices/free for a limited time period.
Using this feature alongside an email list works very well. It allowed me to become an Amazon best seller. Here’s how I did it.
I reduced the price of the Kindle version of my ‘How to Write a Short Story’ book to 99p for 5 days. I sent an email out to my list, letting them know that I was running a special offer for a limited time. This resulted in a spike in sales. I got to the top of 2 amazon categories – ‘Writing Reference’ and ‘Publishing & Books’.
To put this into context, these are niche categories. I sold about 25 copies of my book a day while the offer was running, which was enough to push me to the top of each category for a few days. Other categories, like ‘Thrillers’ or ‘Romance’ for example, would be more difficult as there is more competition. Still, this example shows that it can be done, using the marketing strategy I’ve outlined above.
Use Paid Advertising On Social Media Platforms
Facebook’s targeting is excellent. It allows you to display your adverts to very specific audiences. I’m still playing with Amazon, learning how to use it. Facebooks advertising platform is more advanced, whereas Amazon’s is in its infancy. That said, I’m sure Amazon’s will develop rapidly in the future.
I learnt how to use Facebook by undertaking Mark Dawson’s Facebook ads course. You can learn about that on the Self-Publishing Formula website. Mark has sold millions of books using paid advertising, so is highly qualified to teach others using his sales strategies as examples. He offers a free taster course, so you can see if the course is for you.
I did the free taster course and then went on to purchase the full course. It’s packed with information. It doesn’t just teach you how to use paid advertising; it outlines an entire business plan. It’s an excellent investment if you’re serious about selling your books.
I’ve kept the information in this post as concise as possible. Reading about marketing and selling books can seem daunting as there is a lot of work involved. It puts a lot of writers out of their comfort zone.
To succeed in today’s market, you have to invest time into promoting your work if you self-publish. If you don’t, you won’t sell many books. If you do, it can be a lot of fun. When you start selling books and receiving positive reviews and feedback from your readers, it makes all the work worthwhile. And if you make a bit of money from it too, well… that’s even better J
If you have any questions about this post or self-publishing, please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly through my website. I do my best to respond to every query in a timely manner.
Christopher Fielden’s Biography
Christopher Fielden is an award-winning and Amazon bestselling author. His short stories have been published in print and online by many fine publications, including Boundless, Darker Times, Dark Lane Anthology, InkTears, Scribble, Writers’ Forum and many more.
Chris runs a popular blog about writing. On the website, he lists 100’s of writing competitions and provides free information to help other writers become published authors.
In 2015, Chris published a book called How to Write a Short Story, Get Published & Make Money. In the book, he uses his own published short stories as case studies, clearly showing the reader how his advice was used in practice to achieve publishing success. You can order a free 12,000 word sample of the book on his website.
Chris has also written a book called How To Self-Publish A Book On CreateSpace & Amazon. This book talks you through the entire self-publishing process in an easy to follow, step by step guide.