Writing Wednesday: Adventures in Self-Publishing

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

In today’s edition of Writing Wednesday, I’m going to talk about the things I learned from my first ever self-publishing venture. The Orchid and the Lion has been out for a full week now, and already I’ve got some knowledge to drop. So here are some things I’ve learned that I hope help you on your own journey.

1) Quadruple check your work

By the time I published, I had read my book about a million times. I’d had half a dozen betas look at it. It had gone through Scrivener, Google Docs, Word, and ProWritingAid. I had lost my job about a month before, so I couldn’t afford an editor, but I teach grammar and shit like that for a living. Surely, I was good enough to catch everything. Nope! When I got the author proof of the paperback, I found quite a few typos. Nothing too terrible–the book was still readable. But there was even a messed up paragraph and the infamous missing paragraph in chapter 14. I really thought I’d caught everything, but I ended up having to do a second edition of the paperback. But the e-book was good, right? Wrong.

2) Check that you used the right file

I published through KDP, and it was a breeze. I downloaded Kindle Create, fixed some things that needed to be fixed (didn’t realize the KC file wasn’t the one I was using for the paperback, hence part of the problem in #1), filled out some information, uploaded everything, and voila! A book. Of course, it wasn’t until after the e-book came out–it was on pre-order (more on that later)–that I realized the same problems in the paperback showed up in the e-book version. Including that infamous missing paragraph. So what happened?

Kindle Create files get saved in a particular format. Somehow, I missed that and uploaded a different file. I still don’t know where that file came from or why it was what I chose to use for the paperback and e-book versions. All I know is that now I will look for the file that looks like a box. If I’d known that in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to do a content update, and people would have had the “official” version the moment the e-book dropped. Now, I have to make sure all of the changes are in place and contact KDP to get the updated version sent to people who have already bought it.

3) Who cares if it’s Tuesday?

New books normally drop on Tuesdays, so I figured I’d do the same. When I made the decision to publish, though, it was a Wednesday. What was a boy to do? Well, I decided to make it available for pre-order for the next Tuesday. What I wasn’t aware of at first was that I couldn’t control when the paperback came out. So, after the 72-hour review period was up, the paperback dropped. And there were still four days until the e-book would be out. There were people who bought the paperback who got it way before those who pre-ordered the e-book.

By the time the next book in the trilogy is ready to publish, I’m hoping that I’ll have a rabid fanbase salivating for Dorian and Laith’s next adventure. I will once again do my e-book as a pre-order, but I’ll put together the paperback so that it comes out around the same time. For newly publishing authors, I would suggest not even worrying about a pre-order. If you’ve built up enough excitement about your book during the writing and editing process, people will buy it. And it will make your life a whole lot easier if you don’t have to wait a whole week to see that you’ve fucked up.

4) Amazon won’t promote your smut

This one I sort of already knew, but I wasn’t aware of the extent of it. You cannot promote books you’ve published though KDP (or anywhere else) on Amazon if they have an 18+ rating. While I think this is absolute BS, there’s no way to get around it. People CAN find your book if you’re in the Top 100 for erotica or if they search for it, but you can’t take advantage of KDP’s promotion option. It just won’t let you.

5) Self-promotion is hard

I’ve never been good at selling things. I tried a few different phone sales jobs and had literal mental breakdowns doing them. But as a self-published author, it’s up to me to sell this book. I love it. I believe in it. I want everyone to read it. It takes a lot of time and energy to promote yourself, even when, like me, you’ve got a decent group of friends and mutuals on Twitter who are willing to help. I’m so grateful to everyone who’s been retweeting my tweets about this novel, but even that only goes so far. Facebook and Instagram have been other ways in which I’ve gotten the word out, but I know that I need to start expanding my range–and soon.

I’m going to be doing TikTok videos soon and will be looking for other ways to promote (SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS: PLEASE LEAVE SUGGESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS!) because I know that those methods only go so far. I’m currently unemployed (except for a few hours a week), so I have the time available to work at this. But for those of you who have full-time jobs or kids or lives, it can be a real struggle.

6) Goodreads is easy

I hadn’t realized how simple it was to become a Goodreads author. All I needed was to have a book published and create an author profile. Actually, Amazon author pages are the same way. Out of everything that I did to get this book out into the world, this was inarguably the easiest step. Where Goodreads differs from Amazon, though, is that you can really interact with readers, which I love. I highly recommend setting that up as soon as you can after you’ve self-published.

7) Reviews are wonderful and scary

I’ve only had five reviews of my book so far–and they’ve all scared the hell out of me. I’ve had one 4-star review and four 5-star reviews. And I’m grateful for all of them. Especially given that they’ve all been reader-focused and NOT about stroking my ego. As someone who used to run a book review blog, I always wrote my reviews with the reader in mind. To this day, I still firmly believe that, while writers can learn from reviews, they should be directed at the people who might want to buy the book. And they should be honest.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t check religiously. Or that I don’t get a sinking feeling in my gut whenever there’s a new one. Other writers I’ve talked to–self-, indie-, or trad-pubbed–have told me much the same. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to knowing that people have read my work and felt strongly enough about it to write a review. But every time I read one, I also get a warm, fuzzy feeling. Do I expect I’ll get bad reviews? Of course. And some of them will be valid criticisms and not just “there’s too much sex” or “why are there so many LGBTQ+ people?” But I’ll take those in stride and learn from them so that future books are better.

8) Royalties don’t come in for a while

I never expected self-publishing to be a get-rich-quick scheme. But I had hoped that it would help supplement my income while I’m unemployed. But, alas, it was not to be. My first royalty payment won’t get to me until late December, which I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know how it works with other self-pub outlets, but that’s what KDP does.

9) Some idiots will look down on you

I knew this going into self-publishing, so it’s not something I learned; it’s just something I think you need to know. For the longest time, I looked down on self-publishing. I thought the only way to be a legitimate writer was to trad publish. But the more I’ve learned about the publishing industry and the more I’ve read indie- and self-pubbed books, the more I’ve come to see just how valuable these books can be. One of my favorite trilogies (not just that I’ve read in the last year but of all time) isn’t trad published. Actually, two of them. The Lesser Known Monsters trilogy by Rory Michaelson and the Rescue series by Mx. Alex were never even queried, and both of them are incredible.

The publishing industry isn’t great for marginalized authors, and it can be especially hard for erotic fiction authors. By now, we all know how awful 50 Shades of Grey is, but it got published! How hard can it be? Extremely. Especially since those of us who write about queer people, people of color, or disabled people are often brushed aside or told that are stories are too similar to others that are already out–even if they have practically NOTHING in common. Want to write a book about a queer assassin? You’ll probably be told it’s too close to Mask of Shadows. Want to publish a book about a trans Latinx character? “Oh, we already have one of those. It’s Cemetery Boys.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I love both of those books. But I’ve seen far too many marginalized authors get told their books were too much like others that were out there while white cishet authors can keep churning out the same storylines over and over again.

So, where do the idiots come in? Well, they’re snobs. And most of them are either currently trad pubbed or are hoping to be. Let’s even forget about the extremes (like the asshole that Alexa Sommers called out in her hilarious short story “Cucked by an Indie”)–the people who spend their lives being trolls. There are readers out there who won’t even touch your book if it’s not queried and agented and published though a traditional route. But you know what? Fuck ’em! I took the Mx. Alex route: I decided not to even attempt to query. I sent The Orchid and the Lion into Pitch Wars and decided to pull out. That was as far as I got. Because I realized how hard it would be to pitch a 122,000 word erotic romance novel about gay sex workers in the current publishing climate. And I won’t let anyone shit on me for not trying.

10) It’s so worth it

I don’t regret for an instant putting this book out the way that I did. I wish I’d known the things I’ve talked about before I did, but this was a learning experience. When I publish the next book in the trilogy (and the short stories I have planned for these characters), I’ll know better. I learn by doing just as much as I do from reading about the process. But for those of you need things laid out for you, I hope this post helps. And I hope that you realize how rewarding self-publishing can be.

My book is out there in people’s hands. They’re reading and reviewing it. They’re live-tweeting it and DMing me about it. The characters in this book–not just Dorian and Laith–mean the world to me, as does their story. And I get to share it with the world without having to wait for someone to tell me it’s okay. I had full creative control (even if I did change the watersports scenes after some beta feedback). And while I didn’t get a six-figure advance for it, I feel so accomplished. I did this. I wrote, edited, published, and marketed an amazing book (if I do say so myself).

So there you have it. The 10 things I’ve learned from self-publishing. Leave your questions and comments in the comment box below!

-Gabriel

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