Self-publishing: 4 things I wish I knew before I started writing

I started writing my first book during my final year in graduate school. I finished it while working abroad in the Republic of Georgia. As my debut into the wild, wide world of self-publishing, taking control over every aspect of my project, from cover design to book content, made me ecstatic. I just couldn’t believe how I, a little writer from Virginia, could fulfill my writing dreams with the click of a mouse.

The day came when I was ready to upload my book to Amazon. I did everything right: I researched my topic and created drafts. I hired beta readers and proofread until my eyes bled.

After hitting the “Submit and Publish” button on Amazon, I thought that was it. I’d be rolling in cash and sitting on movie deals. Move over, J.K. Rowling, I thought. There’s a new kid in town.

My high didn’t last long and my ego is easily deflated; days passed and my book wasn’t selling. When it refused to budge, I asked myself what I did wrong. I asked myself what was wrong with people; how dare they not recognize my artistic genius! I was ready to climb the nearest mountain and scream “love me” when I realized that the problem was neither me, my book, nor other people. The issue was simple; I had made some classic indie author mistakes. If only I knew then what I know now:


Don’t be dissuaded by negativity.

It pains me to say it, but the culture I live in comes mired in pre-established notions of what makes a person successful. For the average American, this means growing up and holding a full-time job. Traditional salaried employment is a coveted achievement that can open many socioeconomic and social doors. But for those of us who choose to answer the unstoppable urge to create, a writer’s career path of may be subject to inevitable disdain from those outside the creative community.

We often attach our identities to our jobs. Writing is no different. To be a writer means working an odd schedule. It means growing organically. And most of all, to be a writer means dedicating one’s life to seriously practicing one of the world’s oldest crafts.

I started writing from a naive standpoint; I figured I’d be well received by colleagues. After all, who doesn’t love the romanticized image of a passionate writer who slaves away over their work? In reality, I have experienced everything from jealousy from friends, a dismissive comments from my mother, and outright lack of support from past romantic partners (I dumped their asses for a reason). Things came to a head after I attended a job fair, where a journalist for a major publication insulted me, stating that “anyone can write a book”.

I stopped writing for months after that.

Making it in the self-publishing world is a game I’m now learning to play; you’ve got to hustle and keep your eyes on the prize. In the wake of so much adversity, it’s easy to see why many writers prematurely abandon their craft. I counteracted the negativity by surrounding myself with positive influences, including starting a blog and collaborating with local writers in my hometown. And although I probably won’t strike it rich with Amazon, surrounding myself with other creative types gives me the motivation to keep doing what makes me happy.


Friends and family are not your readership.

I have one of those personalities that doesn’t fit into a mold. Though I’ll probably never be the most popular kid, I’m thankful that I managed to find a diverse social group that is full of open-minded people. When I released my book on Amazon, convincing them to buy it seemed like a logical choice; they’d buy it and spread the word to others. Sales would spread from there. The rest would be history.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. As loyal as my friends are, I found that my book release was met with relative indifference from most of my social network. Furthermore, among those who did purchase my book (thank you!), only three left reviews.

Before you go and suggest that I commit a mass purge of my Facebook friends list, there may be a few reasons why they didn’t buy it. With friends, there’s always a chance that they won’t like your book if they read it. No one wants to lose face by disliking a product a friend made, so it’s better not to read it at all.

There’s also the issue of how people, even those you’ve known for years, don’t like being sold things. And if your book is a sexy book, you can forget about selling it to Mama (your Mama, on the other hand…).  It sucks, but it’s part of life; you mustn’t take it personally. When push comes to shove, there are hundreds of thousands of potential readers out there, all waiting to discover your book.

You just have to find them.


Your book won’t sell itself.

Write. Upload. Publish. Sell. Simple as that, right?


With over 30 million books available on Amazon, it’s easy for your book to get lost in the ether if you set it and forget it.

I completed my book and uploaded it to Amazon last February, where the resulting high from seeing my work listed on the shelves kept me in high spirits. When I looked at the sales records and saw how I had sold a few copies at the end of the first week, I may have blacked out from elation. But once the publisher’s high dissolved and I checked my sales chart a month later, it had flat-lined and I .

Since returning to the United States, I have actually had the time and internet accessibility required to research marketing techniques for indie authors. The task seemed daunting at first, but I’ve found that I’m becoming more comfortable with time. So far, I’ve started by establishing a blog presence, creating a Goodreads author page, and contributing to the blogosphere by writing guest posts on other indie author blogs.

The litany of available resources for the indie author to use are almost dizzying, as is the time required to build and find a readership. As I work to carve a niche for myself in the self-publishing world, I find that my progress has gone very well so far. I’ve discovered that although resources for book promotion are available, it is up to the author to figure out what marketing approach works best for their book. After all, we’re called indie authors for a reason.


It’s okay to make mistakes.

When I look back on my first year as an indie author, I realize that I made quite a few rookie mistakes. I’ve probably even missed out on potential sales. I’ve probably alienated potential readers. And you know what? That’s okay.

Part of developing as a writer means accepting the fact that mistakes happen. Part of succeeding as an indie author means being able to take mistakes and build something great out of them. It’s part of the learning process, for better or for worse.

There’s nowhere to go but up.