I published The Monster Novel Structure Workbook in September 2018, and it’s been quite a ride. A tough, scary, and rewarding ride. I stretched my skill sets, took risks, and have heard from a lot of readers how the book has helped them right their own books. That’s why I wrote it, and I’m supremely satisfied with that outcome.
I’ve also learned an awful lot.
1) I’m grateful for my graphic design & tech background.
Indie publishing is not cheap. Editing, covers, graphics, formatting, etc. The responsibility for those costs rests with the author, rather than a publishing house.
I’ve been extremely lucky that I was able to bootstrap a lot of this. I taught myself HTML when I was a teenager, and it turns out that epub files are essentially the same thing. In high school I learned to use graphics software, which I used to create the graphics in MNSW and the cover. I paid for these things in time, rather than money. (Well, I did pay for the software. Which is a post for another time.) And under ‘time’ you have to count the two decades of playing around and working with websites and Photoshop.
2) I understand why traditionally published books take so long to produce.
In traditional publishing it takes years to make a book go from purchased manuscript to final product in a store. Indies can do that work in weeks or months… but they’re usually doing a straightforward text-only manuscript.
I just had to be different and include a bunch of tables and graphics. That meant more time formatting the ebook (and more potential points of failure). Formatting the print edition was a lot of work. It was more akin to laying out a textbook or a magazine than a novel.
In a publishing house, a book like MNSW would’ve gone through a whole team of people: editor, copyeditor, proofreader, designer, formatter, and so on. Each time it’s handed off to the next person in the chain they may notice new things and send it back, like a game of Candy Land.
While I did have external eyes consulting (so many thanks to all of you!!!) I was the final arbiter, the one who made things happen, and I got to say when it was good enough to go without needing a bunch of other people to agree with me.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, and neither is inherently better than the other.
3) A book launch is not the be-all and end-all.
When I was working on the manuscript and materials, I did a lot of research into how to launch a book successfully. Thing is, success can look like different things.
In traditional publishing the pattern is to front-load all your efforts to try to hit a bestseller list in the first week of sales. After that sales of most books taper away in the following months to a trickle. The next book supplants the old one.
Indie publishing puts more of an emphasis on the long-term sales, while still giving the first week to a month a lot of emphasis.
Since this was my first book, I did a lot of wait-and-see. It sold a bunch of copies in the first two months, then tapered off gradually. I did very little marketing, none of it paid, and let it ride. That taught me a lot about how well the book stands on its own two feet.
4) Marketing must be a sustained effort.
Remember how I said I didn’t do a lot of marketing? That I wanted to see how the book performed all on its own? Yeah, that’s not how you make money. But it was an interesting experiment and I don’t regret going that path.
This year I’m being much more deliberate in marketing. I’m paying for advertising for the first time ever. Why? Because discoverability is the #1 struggle for all books. No one’s going to buy it if they aren’t aware of its existence. Advertising makes the book available and the viewer can choose to investigate further or not.
So far, advertising is working well for me. I’ve had a couple algorithms skew off course, but overall I’m not paying a ton to put my book in front of more people. I keep close tabs on how things are doing, and make adjustments as needed.
5) There’s always more you can do. And you have to know when to stop.
You know that joke about writers looking back on their past work and cringing? I’m not at cringe-level yet but I have gotten that itch to change things.
One of the freedoms of self-pub is that you can change things… but that doesn’t mean you should. Significant changes, or changes to the title mean making a new edition with a new ISBN. And all your reviews get wiped. So, yeah, that’s not a route I want to go down if I don’t have to.
It’s a lesson in restraint, and also in where to be more thoughtful next time.
The process of self-pubbing has been interesting, challenging, and illuminating. I’m sure that there are more things to learn still, and I look forward to discovering them.
Self-publishing MNSW has benefited me, but I’m happiest that it’s benefited its readers. Thank you to everyone who’s been part of this journey!