“I’m going to write myself to freedom.”
Overworked and stressed, with two babies and a child wobbling badly in school, teaching music by day and doing microscopy for leukaemia cases in the nights between 8h p.m. and 12h a.m., that decision came from the murky depths. It was made on a week’s break, staring at the sea in the romantic light of a full moon. And it was the beginning of a journey that would boldly take me staggering on a road many have walked and more have failed on.
Did I reach my goal? Not by a long mile yet. But the landscape is beginning to look greener, and there are unexpected orchids along the way.
Writing has always been a part of my nature. A word of caution to would-be authors: If it comes easily, you’re on the right road. At least one part of this journey needs to be easy. If you begin with a roll of the eye and a great big sigh, perhaps try your hand at something more lucrative, such as nuclear engineering.
Here are the steps, point-wise, that I have followed. I’ll also outline the results of each step.
- Submitting to hundreds of agents and publishing houses in a climate of world financial crisis – not clever. Only now, since 2011, do I have a literary agent… unofficially.
- Self-publishing as ebook. Alright, that was seduction. The website was well-worded. It got me a couple of hundred views and some nice readers’ comments; hardly any downloads but as I could see the other authors’ stats too, I saw that I didn’t fare too badly in comparison.
- Self-publishing as paper-book on Lulu.com. Good quality (though the binding could be improved); the books look good. Too pricey to offer to shops or sell directly, after shipping; even in “bulk”. But handy for sending single copies overseas.
- Blogging. Careful: Blogging is addictive. The most important reason is the friends one makes online. One can easily spend days and weeks blogging, ultimately losing the way and forgetting that blogging is really a tool, not a hobby.
- Online networking. Once again: Careful, addictive. I use Facebook mainly for games now, though I’m thankful that I’ve found so many of my old friends again. Neither of these have anything to do with internet marketing though.
- After the necessary distractions of blogging and online networking, back to reality: Reviews. I got both readers’ comments and professional reviews over time. Reviews are important; you paste them as advertisements wherever you need them.
- Professional editing and finishing: I met my editor on the blogs. This is why online networking and blogging is necessary despite the time factor: You meet important people who help you along your path. I also had the book covers professionally designed. You need that kind of finishing. A cover sells a book.
- Paper publishing. A friend helped me get started (she is a graphic designer, where would publishing be without them?) and I printed a run of the first book in the series. This small local print run brought the cost per copy into the sellable range.
- Launches: We launch each new book; the launch itself brings some much-needed capital as well as a bit of publicity. Book signings and promotions are on a similar level.
- Sales through shops: We were fortunate that our leg-work paid off and a number of our books were accepted in a number of shops. Frustratingly though the cost-per-copy of small digital runs is still too high for the large chain bookstores to look up. Besides, you’ll have to be something special to get them to look at Science Fiction. The genre is… while not dead, badly abused and tattered.
- Direct sales at markets, events etc: A lot of work for very little reward. However it does raise awareness. We had a few sales every time we staged such a sales event.
- Newspaper and magazine publicity: This is a slow process. We have had podcasts, press releases and reviews in newspapers, and a popular magazine reviewed the first of the series; yet, sales figures didn’t seem to reflect. However, the news is filtering through to people and over time, there is indeed a sales impact.
- Revisiting internet marketing: So far, all we explored was free marketing. Now we put up a website to showcase each of our books (by which time we had acquired a couple of more authors, and had added some music books to our stash). A learning curve how to program a website such that it works, across browsers. I doubt that many self-publishers actually design their own; but I’m headstrong and knew exactly which way I wanted it. Possibly this is a mistake; time will tell.
- Adding “freestuff” to our website: This brings eyes, and clicks. Inquisitive clicks who enjoy browsing. These clicks have in all probability browsed for “free books” or something similar. Previews on books are a must, but how much to tell, that is a pickle. The wording is still a learning curve. It’s not a given that if you purportedly know how to write and capture a reader from scalp to toe, you’ll also know how to write a good ad!
- Giving up and the angels intervening: Now this is the part you might hate to hear. So far, all has been hard and consistent work (though you have probably spotted all the holes by now). But it felt as though it were going nowhere; so I sighed pitifully and gave up. For a moment. I needed ten “Violin Tunes” as I use them in my teaching (and the music shop needed stock) so I trudged down to the local copy shop with my professional covers… ordered the insides and CD’s… was referred to a sister branch of the shop for the insides, and met a lady who introduced me to a distribution agent for music books.
After all this Scifi agony, my unassuming “Violin Tunes” was the book that started moving first! We’re still in small runs (South Africa = financial struggles and a battle to get a product finished in time due to all sorts of shortages at all times); but the ball is rolling, and as I promised my friend who set it rolling, I have taken a new breath and am pushing onwards.
I still have a list of things to do to promote the Scifi series, the other music books and by now, the new authors.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice:
- Follow every lead, promptly. You never know where it will take you. If the angels want to intervene, let them.
I hope these tips will help you along your publishing road. I intend to come back with more when I have progressed further.
(Lyz Russo is a self-published author and violin teacher in South Africa. At the time of writing she is getting ready to launch the third in her series of Science Fiction books, and some other authors’ books.)