Robert J. Emery's Blog
Self-Publishing: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.
By Robert J. Emery
Self-Publishing is a dirty word. Well, it is two words actually. In some circles—way too many for my liking—authors who self-publish are looked down upon by the elite literary world as unable to attract a ‘traditional Publishers’ (also two dirty words). On the other hand, authors have a new path to publication, and although it could be argued that self-publication opened the door to a lot of bad writing, I dare anyone to predict who might immerge as the next best-selling author. If you have a book or two in you, don’t be discourage, write them.
My entire adult career has been writing & directing TV commercials, documentaries, corporate films, feature films (7) and TV productions (over 140 hours.), which over the years garnered me over 75 industry awards. After completing a one-hour primetime special for MSNBC in 2006, I retired from production and began writing books. To date I’ve had seven published. Five were with traditional publisher (one novel, four non-fiction). Seeking more control over my work, I took the plunge in 2017 and self-published my second novel, which thus far has garnered four book awards including Book of the Year from Book Talk Radio. I self-published my current novel earlier this year. Although what I have written here may seem rudimentary, it wasn’t to be me when I began.
Self-publishing opened the door to authors who might otherwise never find an agent or a traditional publisher willing to take a chance on their work. It has brought to avid readers fresh voices as well as established ones seeking greater control over their work. There is a myriad of available promotional opportunities both free and paid for. But self-publishing means we must spend an inordinate amount of time on self-promoting. It would be foolish to believe we can simply put our books out there and expect them to sell themselves simply because the book receives some positive reviews.
For anyone self-publishing for the first-time, self-promoting can be a daunting task. It is time consuming to the point of distraction when we’d rather be writing. If we have a ghost of a chance of reaching potential readers, well-planned, consistent PR is absolutely necessary. Even with my advertising and film and TV production background, I found marketing to be a huge learning curve. Unlike like the younger generation that made their entrance in the world with their arms wrapped around a computer, I’m clumsy at best navigating the computer world. However, whatever I’m doing appears to be working—most of the time, anyway. In the end it is the readers who get to decide if our efforts rise to the top of the ever-growing list of self-published books.
It is estimated there are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone. Many of those—as many as half or more—are self-published books that sell on average less than 250 copies to friends and relatives; an ego-crushing figure if there ever was one. Each day, it becomes more and more difficult to break through the crowded market. That is why every book-marketing guru worth their salt preaches persistence, persistence, persistence. That old adage “Out of sight, out of mind” applies.
Self-publishing is wrought with many pitfalls and misinformation from so-called experts willing to help authors become the next Steven King or James Patterson… for a price. It seems like a new web site springs up just about every week promising to boost our books to the top of the ‘Best Seller’ list… for a price. Keep in mind there are a lot of scammers out there, some raking in big bucks praying on our desire to publish a successful book. It is, therefore, paramount we do the homework before committing PR money to any service offering assistance. There are a number of legitimate marketing services if that’s the route you chose to take, as I have on occasion. More about that below.
This next part is not going to endear me to anyone, but here goes. One of the problems cluttering the self-publishing book market is the endless stream of books in certain genres that many new authors chose because a particular genre might be ‘trending. If one book is successful, why not a handful more just like it. I question how many of these copycats will succeed beyond 250 copies—most will languish in book limbo. As Playwright Diane Grant said, “It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.” Take her advice and find an original idea to write about
On a site called Just ‘Publishing Advice’, I found this: “Following a new trend is like being the last in line for a new iPhone: It will be sold out before you get to the head of the queue. It takes so long to write a great book that ten trends will have come and gone before you have finished yours.”
Consider this old adage: “If you do what you always did, you get what you always got.”
And then there’s Amazon, the algorithm masters of the world that we’ve all come to rely on, and for good reason—they sell books. I have yet to figure out why they do things that seem to work against authors. I know from first-hand experience that they (or their computers) frequently make errors when vetting reviews, for example. I once had a woman buy one of my books, liked it, and recommended it to her adult son who also bought the book. They both decided to write separate reviews. Because they shared the same last name, Amazon removed the son’s review labeling it as bias. What? When I wrote Amazon and questioned their decision, I never received the courtesy of a reply. Communicating with Amazon on just about anything is usually an exercise in futility. I’ve heard other horror stories from other authors on the same subject.
How many first-time authors fall into the trap of giving away free books thinking it will gain them more readers and reviews only to see little or no increase in either sales or reviews? The answer is, too many. I had an audiobook produced for my latest novel. I had free codes that I could give away, so I set up a program through a well-known online site that offers free audiobooks in exchange for honest reviews. Twenty-five of their vetted ‘reviewers’ applied for codes accompanied by a history of books they had reviewed. To date, one person wrote a review (thankfully, a good one). I guess the others were just looking to get a free book or were too lazy to write the review they had promised. I won’t be doing that again, nor will I give away e-books or paperbacks. If I’ve written a book worth reading, my efforts are worth something in return. If not, I should take up basket weaving.
I came across this post from an author who summed it up quite nicely in a post: … “What does it take to get people to pay $2.99 for an e-book? Why should they if all the other self-published authors are pricing their books at .99 or offering them free? I would really like to keep the price of my books at $2.99, but if nobody is going to buy them at that price, what’s the point?”
What’s the point indeed?
SUMMARY – BACK TO THE GOOD
I write novels under the pen name R. J. Eastwood. I self-published my 2017 novel with BookBaby. With my 2019 novel, I decided to try another avenue and published an e-book through Draft2Digital and Amazon, an e-book and a paperback with IngramSpark, and an audiobook through Findaway Voices. All services are free going in—all take a cut of sales. I am quite pleased with all of them. To promote, I am active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and any other free site I can find. I always include a direct link to both my book and my author web site (you might be surprised how many don’t). I spend small amounts on advertising with online sights that I trust (BookBub, Awesome Gang, Books Go Social, to name a few). I signed on for three radio interviews with Book Talk Radio because of their wide distribution beyond the live broadcast. When I do these things, I always see a bump in sales. And it’s worth mentioning that I see better results when I quote lines from my story as a lead-in to my ads.
When releasing a book, I seek early editorial reviews before I begin receiving reader reviews (Readers’ Favorite, Author’s Circle, Readers Digest, International Review of Books, are good sources for editorial reviews). I participate in a number of Facebook author pages even though it’s peer-to-peer PR and may not lead to many sales. But I participate for the feedback and a lively exchange of ideas with other authors. You get a lot of ‘Likes’. Unfortunately, you can’t spend ‘Likes.’
I create my own social media promotional artwork using Canva.com, although I have successfully engaged a professional service in the past to create graphics and handle sort-term social media postings when I was busy writing.
The lesson I’ve learned is that self-publishing and promotion is a long-game. It isn’t unusual for an interesting well-written self-published book to be out there for a year or more before it finds its audience. And it is my job to help find that audience of readers.
A word about my decision to have an Audiobook produced. Forbes Magazine reported that for the first time, 50% of American’s have listened to an audiobook. In 2018, the top two listening options were at home (71%) and in the car (69%). In 2019, the popularity of listening in cars rose while home listening dropped a smidge: 74% now listen to Audiobooks while driving compared to 68% who listen at home. Even with these promising stats, it wasn’t an easy decision because it’s fairly expensive to engage the services of a good narrator. But I took the plunge, and I’m glad I did. Audiobooks are the fastest growing area of book sales, and mine is doing reasonably well.
Getting as many reviews as possible is a must. Readers check out reviews before buying books from author’s they are unfamiliar with. Along with getting reviews on Amazon, I sought reviews from any source I could find including reviewer services that charge a fee, like Reader’s favorite and IndieReader and others. If you pay for a review through a well-known legitimate review service, you’ll get an honest, well-written, thoughtful review… not always what you want to hear, but they will be honest. Once you get reviews, the key is to learn when and how to use them. I use at least one in every post or ad. And each day I investigate other ideas to promote my books as well. Like I said, it is an ongoing chore and challenge, one that has to be met if we are to succeed.
My intent in writing this was to share what I have learned and what I continue to learn in the hope that it might help other first-timers looking to find success as an author. My final thought is, keep coming up with original idea and keep publishing, because you never know who might be the next best-selling author. Secretly, I hope it’s your truly - 😊 You can check out my author site to learn more: http://www.robertjemeryauthor.com.
Producing an Audio Book
By Robert J. Emery
Following my comments, narrator David Loving shares his process for narrating the Midnight Black audiobook.
The decision to publish my novel Midnight Black – The Purge as an audio book was not a quick one. Initially, I planned to publish only e-book and a paperback version. But when I began reading articles about how audiobooks were selling in greater numbers than e-books and paperbacks, I began to make plans for mine. I also read that the cost of producing an audiobook could run as much as $3,000.00. That almost put a damper on my plans.
I published the e-book first with Draft2Digital, then Amazon Kindle, and finally IngramSpark for both an e-book and paperback – I wanted to go wide. Draft2Digital has a working relationship with Findaway Voices, a producer and distributor of audiobooks. I thought I would give it a try with them. Findaway provided me with 10 or so narrator auditions to choose from. We settled on David Loving. I provided the manuscript and David sent a couple of recorded chapters as samples before we committed to him. I provided David my instructions, and he went to work. Each time he would finish a chapter, Findaway sent it to me for my approval. If changes were needed, I could enter them right there on the same page and they went directly to David Loving who was a joy to work with. It was that simple.
As for the cost, well, that pleasantly surprised me. The completed audiobook runs 7.2 hours and it cost less than half of what I stated above. The narrator’s fee is based on his or her rate and the final running time. Instead of me going into greater detail here, check out Findaway Voices at their web site for more details: FindawayVoices.com. My experience has convinced me to do it again on my next book (assuming this one sells).
I have but one regret. I waited too long to begin the audiobook process. I should have released it along with the e-book and paperback. Next time I will know better. And keep in mind that the audio book could take up to two months from recording, to quality control, to final distribution. As I write this MIDNIGHT BLACK – THE PURGE is rolling out to thirty online audiobook sellers around the globe.
I’ll sign off here and allow narrator David Loving to answer a few questions about his involvement and the process that might prove helpful to authors considering an audiobook.
DAVID LOVING, NARRATOR, talks about narrating Midnight Black – The Purge
I read through a quarter of the Midnight Black manuscript the day I got it. It has a Blade Runner-ish, sci-fi noir feel that I really like. I’m a sucker for books that offer a really compelling vision of a dystopian future and this one fit that bill.
Much of the book takes place inside the main character’s head. On one level, that’s easy for me as a narrator because it means I don’t have to worry about switching between character voices. But it also means I have to keep from getting too monotonous—just my regular narration voice over and over. Also, it was a challenge to differentiate between the main character, Billy Russell, thinking something to himself and Billy saying something out loud. I tried to do that by adding extra space between the lines and by saying the lines spoken out loud with a slightly louder and sharper tone, so (hopefully) my voice comes out sounding slightly (but not too) different.
The other perpetual challenge for was keeping the characters clearly differentiated in scenes that have more than three characters participating in the dialogue. Especially when, as in Midnight Black, several of the characters are late-middle age ex-military men.
It’s a bit scary as a narrator to spend hours recording audio only to find you’ve made critical mistakes that require a lot of re-recording. On Midnight, I received really quick and on-point feedback from the author—sometimes the same day I loaded a chapter. That’s a big help.
As to my approach to a project: I read the manuscript through and take notes - mostly on the characters so I can get a sense of what sort of voices I’m going to use. This is where the author’s notes come in handy. It’s important I know what he or she had in mind.
An hour or so of recording translates to about 20 minutes of finished audiobook. Once I have the first round of recording, I listen through everything at least once. Sometimes I find bits that I need to go back and re-record because I flubbed a line. The recording software makes it pretty easy to drop in and fix a sentence here or a paragraph there. I do a little light post-production work to raise the volume and make sure the silence before and after matches the specs. Then I submit the files and wait for the author to listen and come back with any additional changes. Hopefully, I’ve done my job well and there are many.