Today B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree G.J. Reilly is talking with us about his self-publishing experience.
G.J., when did you decide you were going to self-publish?
When I sent out my first manuscript and it took close on a year to receive a reply. Okay, that’s not really fair. A major publishing house had an open submission window for a very exciting new project. ‘Inquisitor’ was barely finished, unpolished and pushed through editing using the bare bones of MS Word. By the time I’d received my first inevitable rejection, ‘Inquisitor’ had changed and evolved and I was so close to it that I really couldn’t tell if I was deluding myself, or whether it was actually worth reading.
I’d had a few beta readers, but nobody who’d ever really written for themselves and, although trusted their opinions and they were very honest, I felt like I needed completely impartial feedback. However, just about every article on the internet was telling me that getting feedback is like winning the lottery on Friday the 13th. So, instead of wasting professional time, I decided to read as much as I could about self-publishing in the hope that readers might leave reviews. It took a long while to decide to push the button on my submission, but, as it turns out, it was the best thing I could ever have done.
What has your experience been like along the way?
It’s been a steep learning curve and very daunting, but incredibly rewarding. As soon as I’d made the decision to self-publish, I ventured into a few of the better known online fora hoping to learn from other people’s experiences. Anybody who’s done the same can tell you, some fora can be downright competitive and some just mildly unfriendly. However, I managed to find a digital home with one in particular and haven’t looked back since.
I can honestly say that I’ve learned more about writing in the year since I joined the Goodreads Kindle User Forum than I could ever have hoped for. And it wasn’t only about tweaking and enhancing my prose, but cover design and promotion, and even the social etiquette of writing. I know that last part sounds crazy, but it really is a valuable lesson to learn if you’re thinking of associating with other writers, even online. I’ve had ups and downs, as with anything in life, but the experience has been invaluable and it’s something that will stay with me forever.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
I’ve mentioned the fora and finding a place in the writing community before, but I think the most difficult challenges have been personal – physical and mental. Juggling writing with an average work day and a home life can take its toll sometimes. Not that I would change it for the world, but I’m not often able to start a session at the keyboard much before 9pm, which doesn’t leave a great deal of time if I want to be fit for work the next morning. For me, those extra hours build up over the course of a few weeks and I need to take a break. I think the key to overcoming that was setting a routine that I could follow. These days, even if I don’t hit my word count for the day, I know I’ve put in the hours. It really takes the pressure off.
Mentally speaking, I think the worst challenge so far has been getting past the self-doubt and insecurity. Even before I’d published ‘Inquisitor’ I was comparing it to other books in my genre and wondering how on earth it could hold its own. I’m sure it’s the same for most writers, especially with their first manuscript. Eventually, I learned that I didn’t need to compare my work to others, mostly because readers will do that for themselves. All I can hope for is that the reviews speak for themselves.
What have you learned in this industry?
Patience. It’s the must have virtue if you’re going to survive as a writer and every aspect of the industry requires it.
What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing?
- Dream big. You are the only person who believes in your work 100%.
- Join a group or forum of like-minded
- Ask for advice and decide for yourself which advice to take and which to leave.
- Learn everything anyone is willing to teach, no matter what aspect it relates to, craft or publishing.
- Ask as many people as possible to read your work and give you their feedback.
- Get a website and social media page. Free sites can look just as professional as paid these days. Find the company that suits your needs best.
- Pursue readers for reviews – it’s their prerogative to offer their opinion, not their duty.
- Badger other writers to read your work, most are busy with their own. Ask by all means, but no means no.
- Respond to bad reviews. A reader won’t change their opinion just because you ask them to.
- Pay someone else to do anything you can do it for yourself – cover art, promotion etc.
- Release anything that you wouldn’t pay for yourself.
What advice would you give to a writer who is considering the self-publishing route?
Learn everything you can before you start. Be absolutely sure that the company you’re publishing with is right for your book and never give up your publishing rights.
What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work?
I use Facebook and Twitter to promote my work, although I have a Pinterest account for posting book covers as well. I think it’s important not to bombard followers with updates or sales pushes too often, so I try to keep updates to important events such as free giveaway periods or new releases. That’s not to say that I don’t spend time retweeting other people’s messages or talking about other people’s work. Sometimes a little promotion for someone else can encourage them to reciprocate. But with everything else to juggle in a working week, I try to spend around 10 minutes a day on social media – more if I’m responding to a direct message or a post.
So far, I’ve only dabbled with paid advertising through Amazon as I have a limited budget, but I would definitely consider a paid call to action through Facebook next time, just to have a comparison. As for free promotion, giveaways advertised on Goodreads and search-engine optimization have really helped boost my exposure … and that was before IndieBrag!
Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?
I’m hoping to see self-publishing settle into a more manageable industry. At present, there are a huge number of works being self-published every year, as well as an increase in the availability of mainstream books for digital download. Unfortunately, not everything available is of a standard that paying customers expect..
If I had to make a prediction, in five years self-publishing will have seen a decline in sales for quality reasons. However, an increase in groups and companies such as IndieBRAG, who are able to provide readers with some assurances, will help to reform the digital market.
In ten years, I think self-publishing will have reached a point where the majority of paid sales will be of a high enough standard to compete with the traditional market. It’s going to be a long and bumpy road, but I honestly believe that authors who are producing good quality self-publications now will be in a stronger position then.
If something can be improved upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?
Quality. Please don’t misunderstand me, there are huge numbers of great self-published works already available and those figures keep on growing. Then there are the others. Some have wonderful stories and bad covers. Some have amazing covers and terrible editing, and others still try to pass off ten pages of web addresses as guides to self-publishing a best seller. Part of the joy of this industry is that its only restrictions come from hosting companies like Amazon, who aren’t looking for a particular genre or age range, or depend on current reading trends. But with that freedom, we’ve sacrificed the quality of what’s available, meaning that every self-published book ends up tarred with the same brush.
I’m well aware that the digital world is very different from the material one as far as shopping is concerned, but if you bought a bottle of milk, got it home and discovered it was rancid, you’d take it back. There are standards of quality in place for goods we buy over the counter, so why shouldn’t we expect the same digitally, where readers often can’t return a book once they’ve read past a certain point? Better quality controls could help change many readers’ perceptions of the self-publishing industry and help weed out the poorest quality works until they’re truly ready for publication.
How long have you been an indie author?
Long enough to be cynical, but not so long that I wouldn’t at least try the traditional route – if someone were to offer me a contract.