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The ONE Crucial Self-Publishing Tip You’d Rather Not Hear—By Heather Day Gilbert

Posted by on January 3, 2014


*See below, how you can enter to win a Smashword’s or Kindle coupon for Heather’s novel, God’s Daughter. *

. . .

When I thought about self-publishing tips I wanted to share, they all hinge around this:

Don’t release your book too soon. You only get one chance to make your debut author impression.

I know this advice isn’t going to make me popular. mecloseauthorBut if you observe the different routes self-published authors have taken, you’ll find the ones who succeed have taken the time to prepare.

When you enter the vast sea of self-published novels, you want to burst upon the scene with a bang, not a fizzle. This means nailing some things down first and giving yourself time to get them right:

Your writing. First and foremost, have beta readers and/or crit partners who make your writing stronger read your entire book and make suggestions. If you can afford it (very worthwhile!), hire an editor you trust. And make sure you know someone who can format your book, if you can’t. It’s a turn-off when people download those first page samples, only to see improperly formatted work with spelling/grammatical errors. I guarantee they won’t buy it.

Your cover art/blurb. Make sure you have someone with an artistic eye checking over your cover before you get it out. Hiring a cover designer is even better. Always use a cover design/blurb that would make you stop in your tracks and drop everything to buy it. I had my Facebook author page followers chime in on possible Amazon/back cover blurbs for my book–your followers tend to have an innate sense of what will sell. Keep your blurb short, dramatic, and to the point.

Your platform. This should already be in place. If not, give yourself at least five months (preferably more!) to work on it. Otherwise, who’s going to buy your book, besides your family and personal friends? If you don’t have time/energy for a blog, at least have a Facebook author page where people can connect with you. Twitter is easy to get going with and you can add friends quickly. Pinterest is another viable option to connect with readers of your genre. Of all these, I would say Facebook is a must, so you have some sort of “home base” where you can regularly update readers. Once you have cover art locked in, you can set up an Author page on Goodreads, which is crucial for buzz. I recommend doing this at least two months ahead of release.

Your marketing. I recommend spending an hour a day looking into this, if not more. Hunt down every available outlet for advertising your book. I strongly recommend a larger pool of early readers (people in your target demographic who might influence for or endorse your book), but make sure you a) send them an advanced reader copy, which means it’s thoroughly edited and almost ready for print, otherwise they will form a bad impression of your writing, and b) make sure they have three months to read your novel–if they’re authors, they may want to endorse it (give them a cutoff read-by date!).

Figure out how much you want to spend on advertising. I went cheap with mine, but you can spend more and get into major review sites, like Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly. Line up possible blog-hop sites for interviews/guest posts.

I’ll also give you a little list of things I do not recommend wasting time/money on:

Striving for an agent. Yes, you can have an agent and be self-published. I do! But one of the draws of self-publishing is that you don’t have to have an agent to get in the door. Unless you can find an agent who brings editorial or marketing skills specifically geared toward self-publishing to the table, I believe you can be the best salesman of your own work. Make no mistake–writing, editing, formatting, and marketing your work is a massive task. But it can be done, and with favorable results.

Contests. I’ve read this before, but once you have readers, they don’t care if you have awards in your bio. All they want is your next book.

Re-contacting early readers who never get back to you. Most of the time, betas and early readers will contact you if they can’t get around to reading your book by your cut-off date. The ones who don’t probably don’t like it. I know this is hard to stomach, but remember, if you chose a larger early reader audience (say, twenty or more readers), you’re bound to hit some people who aren’t going to love your genre/style. It’s healthiest to just let it go.

Spamming Goodreads groups, FB groups, or twitter. This is a fine line, and one I have surely crossed a time or two. Live and learn–but be aware you might get kicked out the first time you infringe on the rules. Some groups welcome announcements for book deals, book releases, etc. Some do not. Be sure to double-check guidelines before posting anything.

Comparing yourself to traditionally published authors. Hard NOT to do this, especially if you have lots of traditionally published friends. But as a self-published author, you make your own rules and strive for your own excellence. I strongly urge you to follow blogs like The Creative Penn, which keeps indie authors up-to-date on ways to keep moving forward. If you liked this post, you can find me blogging on Novel Rocket every third Thursday of the month on self-publishing topics.

Whew. This was a lot of info, and I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. But if there’s one thing I could tell authors who are pondering self-publishing, I’d reiterate what I said at the start: don’tFinalKindlecoverGD rush into it. This is a long-term race, not a sprint. You are building your writing career, and you want to get the largest reader base possible.

For more self-publishing tips, please come find me at Novel Rocket! Thank you for letting me visit again, Connie!

. . .

Thank you, Heather, for coming back.

Please comment below if you’d like to enter to win a free Smashword’s or Kindle coupon of God’s Daughter. I will choose a winner after midnight Thursday January 9, 2014.


Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling her three children. Heather regularly posts on Novel Rocket about self-publishing.

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert–Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Her Viking novel, God’s Daughter, is an Amazon bestseller. You can find it on Amazon and Smashwords.

27 Responses to The ONE Crucial Self-Publishing Tip You’d Rather Not Hear—By Heather Day Gilbert

  1. Tandy

    Thank you for this timely information. My first book comes out next month and this is a good reminder to have everything in place before I start promoting it. Thanks also for the opportunity to win a copy of your book.

    • Heather Day Gilbert

      All the best on your release, Tandy! Yes, I think the more effort we make up-front, pre-publication, the more it will pay off post-production–especially on that debut novel! Have a great 2014!

  2. Tracy Krauss

    This is an excellent article. thank you for these timely tips

  3. Heather Day Gilbert

    And Karen K–just saw your comment! Thank you for your interest in God’s Daughter, and glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. Mary Hosmar

    Thank you for the advice. It is so tempting to get the book ‘out there’ but patience and diligence can win the day. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of your book.

    • Heather Day Gilbert

      Thank you, Mary! And yes. It is tempting to just get it out the door. And yet, as self-pubbers, we can STILL get it out the door faster than via traditional publishing–so maybe half a year instead of a year. I believe getting all those ducks in a row is worth it in the end!

  5. karenk

    a wonderful posting…thanks for sharing…and thanks for the opportunity to read this fabulous novel 😉

  6. jude urbanski

    Heather, very nicely done article with much good information. I am pubbed with two small presses (in print and ebook) and everything you said can apply to traditional publishing also. The platform does take a lot of work.

    • Heather Day Gilbert

      Thank you, Jude–so glad the tips were helpful across the board. Platform…yes, I remember lamenting all the stuff I’d need to implement back when I started. I put Twitter, Pinterest, and my FB Author page off as long as possible, hoping my blog would be enough. But once I got going in the other venues, I was amazed how my platform kind of started building itself (still a lot of time, though–adding people, pinning things, updating FB, etc). Time consuming, and you can keep building indefinitely, but at some point, you figure it’s enough for what you’re trying to do. I will add that getting a book out is a huge platform-builder in and of itself. It’s a built-in reason to guest post, etc. All the best to you with your books, Jude!

  7. Heather Day Gilbert

    So glad you’ve been checking out God’s Daughter, Nancy–hope you can read it! And Janice, I’m sure you do see some entries that aren’t ready. I think back to my first novel, and though I still love it, I can see now how many edits it needs. Really, the more rejections/critiques/edits you receive, the stronger your writing becomes.

  8. Janice Dick

    As a contest judge, I’ve seen a lot of books that were released before they were ready. Thanks for your post and at the opportunity to win a copy of your book. Love the cover.

  9. Heather Day Gilbert

    What great comments! I’ll try to reply to each one–thank you, Carole. Your cover blew ME away, too. I love that Christian authors are striving to make our books eye-catching…might be superficial, because YES, the story is most important. But without a great cover, people will often overlook our books (sad to say).

    And Jennifer, congrats on the contract! I do think trad. pubbed authors also have to work hard to get the word out–more than they did in the past. And it is so nerve-wracking releasing that first book-baby into the world, but yet it’s such a relief on some level!

    Roger, great idea. I imagine you could even rework that first book and re-release it, if you wanted to? I shared the first 13 chapters of one of my books with my early blog readers, and I had to go back in and change all the dialogue tags. I’ll have to do some major edits on that one before I self-publish it (I hope to do that someday, though!).

    Diane, glad you enjoyed the post. I really want self-publishers (esp. debut authors!) to succeed. Often we have slightly different genres/topics/writing styles than mainstream books, but that doesn’t mean we’re lesser writers. In fact, there’s usually a reading niche just WAITING for a book like ours. I want us to get the best product to those future readers so they want to read more from us!

    And thank you, Nike. I don’t want people to feel I’m prescribing a bunch of self-pub rules, but I do think the authors who can make sure their product is ready to get out have an easier time in the LONG run. They don’t look back with regrets. And I want to encourage authors that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get your book noticed, either. There are plenty of free routes out there!

    Thank you all for the comments! What a fun way to start our weekend!

  10. Nancy Kimball

    So much great info here, Heather, and I love it’s coming with someone from personal experience. Please enter me for a copy of God’s Daughter. I’ve wanted to get it since I saw the cover.

  11. NikeChillemi

    Great article. Solid advice.

  12. Carole Brown

    Why do I bother reading what Heather writes about self-publishing? When I first became friends with her and a little later saw her book cover, I was stunned. I’m a picky cover lover. Her’s is wonderful. Haven’t read the book yet, but plan to. AND, second, you can tell she’s researched and done a lot of work learning the necessary facts of self-publishing. It’s a hard row to hoe, but with the right equipment in place before publication, it’s a lot easier. Again, Heather (as I’ve said before) thanks for a well-written, interesting article. Lots of good stuff here!

  13. Diane Dean White

    This is excellent, Heather. I can relate to a lot of it, and you’ve made some excellent
    suggestions I didn’t think of. Happy New Year!

  14. Heather Day Gilbert

    Thank you, Ian–I’ve learned so much through trial and error (plenty of errors!)! And Deana–so many need that message of hope. Sounds like yours is a book that NEEDS to be written, and the fact that you already have people lining up asking for it is a great thing! I really recommend The Creative Penn site for all kinds of updated thoughts on self-publishing. Will be praying for you as you think about writing that book!

  15. Roger Ellis Bruner

    Excellent points. I speak as one who self-published his first novel before starting to read numerous writing books and going to writing conferences. Once I got a much better book traditionally published–before that, actually–I removed the first book from availability. I didn’t want anyone to judge what I could do by what I had done.

  16. Jennifer Slattery

    What an interesting interview, and I think much of this applies to a trad published author, too. 🙂 I got signed my first book-length contract with my dream publisher this past October, and I was working through substantive edits, my stomach rolled and flipped and contorted itself into the most painful knots. Because I realized, this was it. This book would be the one I would use to introduce myself to the book-loving world. And if this book flops, well…

    This truth made me greatful for what felt like an insanely long wait of writing, rewriting, pitching, blogging, pitching some more. 🙂 It also motivated me to write, edit, blog more!

    Blessings on your book and career!

  17. Deana

    Thanks. Many I have asked me to write about the women who I come in contact with in our ministry. It is scary to think about what goes into it, yet I know many would be touched. Will just keep praying for what God has and His timing.
    Would love a copy of your book:)

  18. Ian

    Great counsel, Heather.

  19. Heather Day Gilbert

    Andrew, I hope you mean let your book go into the world and not let writing go or anything like that! Timelines are totally adjustable. I’m just saying don’t rush yourself…hope that wasn’t discouraging! And Ron, yes. But even then, you can probably salvage your career by making a renewed effort to take the time you need to put out a superior book. And thanks, Adam. Thank you all for your comments today!

  20. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Hmmm. Might be time to let it go.

  21. Ron Estrada

    Very well said, Heather. I’ve read quite a few self-pubbed books that probably ended an author’s career before it even got started. Don’t be that guy! And, of course, I’d love a copy of your book.

  22. Adam Blumer

    Great article, Heather! I’d love to win a copy. Thanks.