Nothing about writing and publishing is easy, if your aim is to be professional. The key here is professional. There are no shortcuts if you want to be taken seriously. Traditional publishing isn’t the easy way out. There’s the vetting process, the editing, and the marketing. There might not be a vetting process for self-publishing, and God willing, there never will be. The beauty of self-publishing has been the freedom to write the story as it’s meant to be written. It’s why I went into this business. There’s also freedom to write only for yourself. This notion that we only have to write with the idea of selling books is ridiculous. If you write for a very small niche, a group of family or friends, or even yourself, what’s the harm in it? Okay. I can hear someone thinking, “Oh my gosh, they won’t worry about the quality of their product, and that will tarnish the reputation of every single self-published author out there.” Keep in mind, the people writing for a small group are not going to worry about marketing to find the wider audience, so very few people will even know those books exist. So don’t fret over those type of books.
What I’m focusing on is self-published authors who want to be professionals. They are treating their writing like a business. And in a business setting, there is never an easy way out if you’re hoping to make a profit. Businesses need a profit to continue. This is the mindset of an entrepreneur who happens to be in the business of writing and self-publishing their books. If you’re going into self-publishing because you think it’s easy money, then you’re in the wrong business.
You have things that will work against you. Amazon changes its algorithms, some people hate your book and are vocal about it, sales fluctuate (sometimes with no rhyme or reason), you’ll find some authors are your enemies, editors miss stuff so you can still find errors post-publication, and there is no magical way to market your book.
There is some speculation on some forums that the golden age of self-publishing is gone. From here, it’s all downhill. Is that true? I don’t know. It’s speculation at this point. But one thing that is certain is that self-publishing isn’t easy. There is no one-size fits all method in writing and marketing that will work for everyone. The only thing you can do is your best. You don’t have to be someone else’s idea of “best” because their “best” might actually suck. I’ve gotten some horrible advice from well-meaning authors over the years, and if I would have followed their advice, I would’ve failed in my business. (One example: a critique group that wiped out my author voice to the point where my writing was stale–something one of my readers noticed early on and warned me about. Lesson learned: aim to please your target audience, not others. If you look for a critique group, it must be one where the authors appreciate and nurture your voice.)
So do your best. Write the best story you can and find the right people (a good editor, good beta readers, good proofers) to help you polish it up. Then pick two or three networking strategies you like most. The key is that you enjoy them enough to want to stick with them because building a fanbase takes time. You do it one reader at a time. Some of us will go slower than others in reaching new people. I understand how it is to watch other authors zoom by me, so I totally get the feeling of “I’m not as good as so-and-so.” The only thing you can do is focus on your own progress. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s crucial if you’re going to have the creative energy to keep writing more books. This is when going off-line for a couple of weeks or staying off some forums can help a lot. Sometimes you have to get away from it all in order to get back to that spark of excitement that we all felt when we started writing our books.
It’s true that marketing isn’t easy. Traditionally published authors face the same problem. They might have a slight boost from a publisher, but when they’re starting out, they have to prove themselves to their publishers to get the additional support the publishers are likely to use to push their name. So for the unknown author (regardless of publishing method), there is always that obstacle of “no one knows who I am” to overcome.
Which is why I suggest picking two or three marketing methods to focus on. This can be blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google +, LinkedIn, forums, etc. I think you can sign up for a multitude of these just to be out there (and to prevent some jerk from pretending to be you on one of those sites–this happened to a Harlequin author on Facebook who had to get her own Facebook page to get Facebook to remove the imposter). When I say focus, I mean dedicate your marketing efforts on those venues. You don’t have to pitch your book all the time. Just be personable. Engage with others. Have fun with it. Don’t think in terms of X number of sales. Think of it as mingling with others and having a good time. If you’re having fun, it won’t be a chore. Then you will slowly build your fanbase, little by little, one reader at a time. And, what’s also awesome, is that you’ll end up with a few author friends along the way. :D
As for expenses, you do want to try to keep them low. That’s why we have posts giving you a step-by-step process on formatting your books and making covers. The aim is to have a professional looking book at minimal cost. There’s no sense in putting more money into something you won’t get back. With editors, if you find a good one, that would be worth the investment if you can’t barter. You also don’t need to fork over a lot on marketing. One free book could work more in your favor than a lot of ads or other marketing efforts, but I wouldn’t put anything at free until I had a few other books already. It is still my opinion that the best proof you have that your books are worth reading is by letting people read one of them. But if you hate the idea of giving away a book for free, then by all means, don’t do it. You need to do what works for you.
If you don’t feel like doing all the work that self-publishing requires, then you probably should pick another business to go into because it’s harder to do this than a lot of authors will tell you. And if you don’t mind doing all the work, then I think it’s one of the most worthwhile professions a person can have. If you love it, it’ll be worth it. But then, one could say that about any job. :D