Playing the Long Game – Self Publishing Options

Continuing in a series on the adventure of self-publishing, it’s time to discuss a bit of strategy. If you are going to follow the “indie” path of publishing (though lately I find the word “indie” to be somewhat overused, and subsequently watered-down), the most important step will be to embrace it. It will be a very different journey than traditional publishing, and quite frankly, that’s good. You chose to publish yourself because you wanted those differences, right? Good.

Before getting into the choices to be made, there’s some background to explore that will put things in context. In doing my proper diligence (as all independent writers must be willing to do), I came across a well-written post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch about some of the key differences between traditional and independent publishing. I won’t try to restate her points in detail, however there are a few key points that stand out to me. I fully agree, as discussed previously, that neither traditional nor independent publishing is downright superior. Each presents its own benefits, and for this particular piece that I’m preparing self-publishing makes the most sense. For me, in particular. That’s the most important part, that I as the writer am happy with the choice. But once that choice is made, it implies a very different strategy. If you try to follow advice for the other side of the camp, you may find yourself with poorer results than you deserve.

According to Rusch (and a host of others in violent agreement with her), self-publishing is a long-term game. This overarching strategy will apply itself in several different ways, of course. As a writer, it’s easy to get lost inside yourself, waiting for readers, for sales, checking and double-checking several times per day. Don’t misunderstand, there’s plenty of that in the traditional route also, waiting for responses from agents, editors, publishers, and magazines. But if you come into self-publishing with the same mindset, that getting the book available to readers is the hard part, you’ll end up with fistfuls of your own hair first. Self-publishing, especially for me, is about re-focusing on the most important part – the writing. That’s perfectly aligned with Rusch’s advice that the best thing an independent author can do after publishing a book is work on the next one. The first way that this helps is with your mental state. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten is to keep writing while you’re waiting to hear about a piece that you’ve already completed. It allows you to mentally move on, get excited about something new, and detach yourself from the success or failure of your other work. If it’s about the writing for you, then great! You get to move on, to keep writing. If not, it still behooves you because you need to build a library for self-publishing success.

The most successful self-published authors work on the snowball effect. Adoption of your work will be slow, barring any of a few freak scenarios that nobody should stake their mental health on. The snowball effect comes in after several works are out and ready for readers to consume. If you only get a handful of new readers each month, your best chance at overall success is to have more stuff out there for them to get their hands on while they are thinking about you. Each quality book that you produce is one more way to drive readers to the rest of them. So while it may be tempting to spend the first few weeks hitting refresh on your sales page, you shouldn’t. After all, one of the best things about self-publishing is that it allows you to get back to the good stuff sooner. Not only does it allow that, but it rewards you for it. Awesome.

With all that in mind, there are some real decisions to be made. Right now I’m looking at Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing as my main target. It’s a flexible platform with a huge reader base, and no upfront fees. From a technical standpoint, I also very much appreciate how much Amazon has done to get ebooks available to as many people as possible, providing apps for iOS, Android, Blackberry, PC, Mac, and more. As long as you have a computer or smartphone, you can probably read Kindle ebooks.

Now, I’ll write a post going through all the options as that time draws closer for this project I have. At the moment, the main thing I want to point out is the choice of being exclusive to Kindle or not, what Amazon calls Kindle Direct Publishing Select. They will provide you some benefits for making KDP your sole provider of your ebook. That means no hosting it yourself on your website, no publishing it through other services like Barnes and Noble’s Nook Press (previously PubIt!). I won’t go into extreme detail, but most of the high-level details can be found on the KDP Select FAQ. The primary benefits to this program seem to be in getting your stuff in front of new readers, by getting your book into the Lending Library and making it eligible for promotions and discounts in certain programs. Sounds great, right? I’m a new author that needs to get a fan base, so why will I be choosing not to do this? It boils down to the snowball plan from above. I won’t have anything new for people to find yet. This is the first and only thing readers will find by my name, and even if I put out something new in a few months anyone I reached this way would have forgotten about me. Granted, the discounts and free sales at least keep me in their personal library, but the Lending Library would be utterly useless for that.

My assessment, for this particular book, is that giving readers more avenues to read my work is preferable to giving Amazon exclusive rights. Now, another book or two in my catalog and this option might look a little more attractive, because those new readers will have more options immediately available once they find that they like my work. But it doesn’t benefit the strategy to do it yet, at least not at the cost of losing some control over what I do with the work. Which, after all, is one of the best things about self-publishing.

More to come, it’s almost time to publish…