Friend Friday: Lessons From Self Publishing

Good morning everyone. It’s been a couple of weeks but today we return to our Friend Friday content, where I give other authors a voice on this wonderful platform. His new book is a science horror, and looks really intriguing. A.K. Preston is a good Christian man who from all I’ve seen has a wonderful work ethic and drive. Someone to watch for in the future. Here’s what he learned from self-publishing, and maybe it can help you: 

Lessons from a Self-Publishing Newbie: The Case of The Gevaudan Project

You’ve probably all heard the story of the naive author who just wants to write and thinks publishing will take care of itself. When I first began work on my sci-fi thriller novel The Gevaudan Project four years ago, that was me. The experience that followed has made me a much more sober – and hopefully wiser – man.

My original manuscript was approximately 150,000 words and took about a year and a half to write. After finishing the final draft around 2015, I finally began looking at the different options for publishing. Being blindly prejudiced at the time, I dismissed self-publishing right off the bat (it wasn’t “real” publishing in my mind) and began sending out queries for a literary agent.

Most new authors are simply not prepared for the long-drawn out wait and frequent rejections involved in the query process, and I was one of them. I sent around 30 before giving up. In retrospect, I should have done 80 or more.

At this point, I gave self-publishing a second look and discovered CreateSpace. It’s a truly wonderful and cost-effective tool if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to use it properly. In my case… not so much. The idea of print-on-demand had me hypnotized – I was looking for a quick, easy way to monetize my book. With no marketing or promotion. At all (you can all stop laughing now).

I ultimately self-published the book on Amazon under the title Harvest of Prey. My thought was that I could leave it there for the time being, move on to my next project and have it re-published at some time in the future. The model I had in mind was Daniel Suarez’s novel Daemon, which had been self-published in 2006 and then reprinted in 2009 by Dutton Press.

As it turned out, however, there was one big difference between Daniel Suarez and myself – he had sold a truly significant number of books while self-published. With no marketing except to family and friends, I barely managed 30 sales over the course of nine months. The significance of this only became apparent in 2017, when I sent one final query to the Steve Laube Agency.

Steve read my first three chapters, recommended some revisions, and ultimately requested the full manuscript. Several months later, he contacted me again and said he really liked my story. This was farther than I had gotten than on any of my previous queries, and I thought I had finally made it. I had an agent! I was going to be published!

Then the follow-up questions came. When seeking a traditional publisher, it is required that all previous sales histories be reported to them. Many of them only take on one first-time author per year and the competition for that slot is extremely fierce. Every publisher is essentially a venture capitalist looking for a return on their investment. They go through hundreds of thousands of candidates annually and they have to make snap decisions as to who they’ll accept. It’s a big enough risk for them to take on an unknown author with no prior record of book sales. But if they see someone who has sold books before but with limpid sales figures…

I had shot myself in the foot. Steve had to tell me “not yet” – given my decision to self-publish beforehand, he’d be better able to bring me on board if I could point to sales in the thousands.

You can all probably imagine what I was thinking and feeling after that kind of a setback – so close, yet so far! But I picked myself up and decided on a new approach. My contact with Steve had still proved extremely helpful – his recommended revisions resulted in a more taut, readable narrative of 137,000 words as opposed to the original 150,000. If I took the time to do things properly, I could still go somewhere with this.

So I sat down, did some final revisions, retired Harvest of Prey from Amazon, and starting truly
developing my Author Platform for the first time as I prepared to launch The Gevaudan Project. In the end, this experience finally opened my eyes to the true opportunities for an Indie author. Ironically for a sci-fi writer, my view of publishing was decades out of date. Why was I a seeking a publishing contract that would likely involve sacrificing at least 90 percent of the profits from my book sales while I would still be responsible for virtually all of my own marketing?

My advice to other new writers: don’t be a snob. Embrace your identity as a self-publisher from the very beginning. Start a blog, build a website when you have the means, and grow a mailing list with free content for subscribers – short stories don’t take all that long to write and an awesome way to introduce your full-length books. Build connections whenever possible – reach out to fellow authors and podcasters. Promote their content – it costs you nothing to participate in a blog tour every now and then, and many authors will gladly send you free copies of their work in exchange for reviews. In fact, make a habit of reviewing every book you read – it makes great blog content and can be easily shared.

And most important of all, remember this: every experience is valuable – even the setbacks. It all depends on how you use them.

Don’t forget to check out his new book, the Gevaudan Project, available now on Amazon. 

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