First, congratulations on the launch of your debut novel, The Hidden and the Maiden! As you know, many of our readers are interested in self publishing and promoting their books on the web, so thank you for taking the time to share some wisdom you’ve learned along the way.
How much lead time did you allow for preparing for your book launch?
In retrospect, I probably didn’t allow quite enough time. I started contacting people at the end of October, I believe, with the intent of having things mostly ready by the end of January, and then a full release at the beginning of March. I did make it, but it was definitely a rocky release. I might have been ok in a different set of months, it was hard to get ahold of people in December for obvious reasons. But if someone intends to do a month of physical book pre-orders, like I was trying to do, I would recommend a 6 month lead time. That’s still about half the time of traditional publishing.
Having said that, I also wouldn’t do the preparation for my book launch the same next time. Pre-orders for physical books over Amazon ended up costing me a significant amount of money, time, and effort, for relatively little benefit. Next time around I think I’ll try and focus on pre-orders of ebooks rather than physical books. And then you can cut down on lead time, since you can put out ebooks for presale everywhere but Amazon with relative ease through Smashwords.
What tasks did you outsource and why?
I outsourced most tasks for two reasons. The first is that I’m good at telling stories. The cost of that is that I’m not very good at a lot of other tasks, so for me to do them myself would have sacrificed the quality noticeably in comparison to the text. Much better to have everything of an equal quality. Sadly, the second reason was that I had the budget for it. If you have the budget that decision is easy. If you don’t, you have to figure out what’s most valuable.
The one thing I would say you can’t possibly skimp on is getting a professional editor. It’s an expensive service but if you don’t do it, your readers are going to be able to tell. My wife read every draft I wrote of The Hidden and the Maiden until I sent it for professional editing, and she kept commenting how much better it was afterwards. Even after six years of work, a professional editor was necessary to bring it up to snuff. They simply have the knowledge that you need to make the best polish that you can. Even if you’re a great editor yourself, you’re too close to your own book. Even if you’ve got a great writing group, they’ve all got other agendas, including making you happy, besides simply making your book the best it can be. You cannot skip editing any more than you can skip any other writing stage.
Next most important is the cover art. Unless you are a professional artist as well, people are going to be able to tell that you’ve got a crummy cover. It makes your book look amateur but even worse, it means your book probably won’t catch people’s attention. The world is saturated with books right now. It’s an endless sea. Just reading the elevator pitches for all the books in your own genre would be an overwhelming task. So you’ve got to catch the eye of the buyer to get them to take the time to read the back of the book.
I obviously also outsourced web building. Because while I can write out HTML and even learned a little PHP (or to really date myself, I took classes in LOGO) I couldn’t have made a professional looking site. The web presence allows me to glue everything together which would otherwise simply have been too much work. You CAN do it for yourself but I wouldn’t recommend it. Because it’s not just the central hub, it’s also your dedicated advertising space, it’s also a mind numbingly easy way for people to get a hold of you. My high school principle sent me an e-mail last week, after hearing about the book, and he was able to reach me because of the simple code on the web page to do it. Looking pretty (same benefit of a good book cover), working elegantly, and making life easier is exactly what you need from a web presence. But the easier something is to say, in my experience, the harder it is to do well. So like the cover art, I feel that it is better outsourced unless that is also your field, just because it will look better, which tells a prospective reader that your work is probably of a higher quality. Having spent the money on Launch the Book, I have to admit I’m fantastically happy with the site, enough so that I would re-emphasize that you should probably get a professional to do this work for you. I look professional with it. I look like a traditionally published author. I look like someone worth taking a risk on with hard earned money because the chances of the return in entertainment looks better.
When I was in Orson Scott Card’s “Uncle Orson’s Writer’s Boot Camp” one of my classmates asked him why he priced the workshop so high. His response was that he had made it cheaper at first but what he found was that it didn’t democratize the process like he hoped, letting in much poorer but equally determined students, instead what he got was a lot more wealthy dilettantes that weren’t really interested in writing, they just wanted to indulge a hobby. So he upped the price and found that plenty of quite poor people ended up coming. What the high price insured wasn’t that it was only wealthy people but that was only people who were desperately serious about wanting to learn to write. People found a way to save up the money because the return on investment was worth it. The above three outsourcings seem to me to be the same principle. Yes, it’s a lot of money. But if your serious, you’ve got to raise it, because the return on investment vastly outweighs the cost. If you don’t invest that money as your own publisher, you’re vanity publishing, only publishing for yourself.
I outsourced plenty of other things as well, and I don’t regret them, but they seem much less necessary to me. I think you probably can figure out your own marketing and layout if you’re willing to take the time and do the research. They’re the places it seems best to skimp and save your money. I paid for someone else to write my own back cover and elevator pitch and Bisac code and page layouts, etc.. And I think they’re better than I could have done myself, but not better enough to strain the bank on. I’m not sure if I will pay for them again.
What was the biggest lesson learned in the process of launching your book?
The real shock out of left field has been the interest I’ve been getting from teens from India. I don’t know what I’m saying that’s striking a chord but I do seem to be striking a chord. The world really is shrinking, and there are plenty of people who you’ve never thought of that will be interested in your work. Don’t cut them out just because they’re living across the world.
Having said that, what’s really come clear to me, talking to the people interested in my book and others just interested in books, is that people don’t have a good idea of the economics of self publishing. You can cut way down on what it costs to make a book, but there’s this idea of zero, and that isn’t so. It’s the same problem of freeware, it means free as in freedom, not free as in complimentary. Everyone is now free to publish. It’s still going to cost money. The way books get ready is editing, the way books get into reader hands is art, and the way people know to look is advertising. You’ve got to spend that money. Self publishing isn’t no publishing, it is you becoming your own publisher and making the decisions of how much money you can risk for how much you can expect in return.
I had a high budget. I’ve spent several thousand dollars putting out my book. I think I’ve made about $60 back so far. To some degree, that was an economic decision made going into self-publishing. I was willing to take a hefty loss on The Hidden and the Maiden in the expectation that it would function as an advertisement for me, that it would be an enticement to buy later books by me by having this as a high quality start. I don’t actually expect to get my money back on it, I’m thinking of it as a razor which I’m “giving away” in order to profit off the razor blades of subsequent books. But it’s also been something of a shock to see how little I’m selling. I was prepared not to have sold much yet, but having made only $60, is really an eye opener to how long a haul advertising and self publishing is going to be. There is years of work ahead having nothing to do with subsequent books. And that too really needs to be part of your equations. You have to expect a slow build, no matter your quality.
Even making all these decisions upfront, where theory has met reality has been quite a shock and I understand much better why traditional publishers don’t want to risk money on untried authors. There’s simply no safety net for return on investment. With how many books are out there, just getting noticed has quite a price tag, and the sales from your first book aren’t going to make up for that as far as I can see. Hopefully with more books to sell with the same advertising.
Now that your book is available for purchase [Amazon Paperback , Kindle, Nook, Smashwords (all ebook formats)], what are your plans to promote your book?
I just finished a giveaway on Goodreads. I expect I’ll do one or two more in a few months. And I’ve started contacting professional reviewers with websites to see if they’re willing to give me a review. The reviews are much the same thing as the marketplace, they’re saturated. So I’m doing my best to target the reviewers, reading up on them and trying to tell them not only about my book but why I think The Hidden and the Maiden will appeal to their particular tastes. So far I’ve had no return contacts. But that’s to be expected with the saturation.
On the upside, I was contacted by a reviewer who saw my book on the giveaway and he actually requested the book. Also I targeted the person who seemed most vocally excited by the giveaway that didn’t win, and sent her a book anyway. It really does just seem to be that careful paying attention, at least so far.
I feel like I should mention that there are review head hunters. Some of whom seem like they’re worth something and most of which strike me as the equivalent of get rich quick schemes. Remember, the reviewers are inundated, I’ve run into so many announcements of people being too swamped with books to accept more for review, that I don’t see any way to get anybody without personally targeting them somehow. Just too much competition.
But in the end it is all about reviews. So I’m going to keep reading up on people and keep sending them e-mails. Like the rest of writing, it’s slow and steady and dull, even if the results are magic. The new reality may be that you’re never done selling.
What’s next for Eben Mishkin?
There is a document that I affectionately call the Zero Draft. The Zero Draft was begun in 2006 and completed in 2010. The Zero Draft was a long series of adventures and just random pieces of life of James, Zephyr, and JJ. The Zero Draft got worked on pretty much every day, with very very little rewriting and most of that was simply changing things in the future, instead of going back and changing things.
About three quarters of the way through, in 2009, my wife convinced me to rewrite the third adventure that the trio went through – when they were fighting against a villainous medium by the name of Kenton Dean who had enslaved Death to do his rather unimaginative bidding – into a book. Six years and many rewrites later, that is The Hidden and the Maiden. It uses many elements of other adventures from the Zero Draft but that third adventure is the spine of it.
My current intention is to turn the whole Zero Draft into a series, by picking and choosing through adventures and elements. But, taking one thing at a time, the spine of the next book is based on the second adventure, don’t worry it’s not a prequel, I’m resetting it to be subsequent to The Hidden and the Maiden. That adventure was based around the idea that we all had that one house in our neighborhood which we KNEW a wicked witch lived in. In this case, a wicked witch, ancient and powerful, really does live in that house, and she really will “eat” children. I hope to work much quicker on this one, having learned from my many mistakes, and have the trio’s next adventure out sometime in 2016. The exact date will of course go up on my beautiful website, ebenmishkin.com, as soon as I know it. Not the least because I’ll probably be right back at Launch the Book for an update, to make sure it’s perfect.
Until then I’ll be blogging writing advice and how the work is going on my Tumblr blog, The Empty Manuscript.