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  • J.D. Mitchell

How Not to Self-Publish

Let's be honest, there are as many ways to self-publish as there are books. This article is based on my experience with my book (Springtide Harvest) in my genre (dark fantasy), published as me (a debut, cisgender male, Anglo Canadian author). I'm in a very crowded genre that's currently experiencing a lot of change and some friction (please stand by). That said, some or all of what I'm about to say will likely be applicable.


Part One: The Stats

As of October 1, 2022.

Release

  • August 22, 2022

  • Wide (all major retailers)

  • Paperback, eBook

  • Amazon, IngramSpark

Marketing

Meta Campaign

Aug 20 to Sep 23

  • Text, Video, Images

  • Optimized

  • 50,685 impressions

  • 2,375 clicks ($0.04/click)

  • Unknown sales

Amazon Campaign

Aug 20 to Sep 1

  • Auto and Targeted

  • 25,513 impressions

  • 1 Sale

Sales

  • Paperback: 34 (19 sold in person)

  • eBook: 7


Part Two: Just One More Thing...

I should open with a universal, unutterable, and virtually impossible piece of advice. Slow. Down. No, slower. It's so hard, I know; I couldn't either. I thought I had slowed down. I made a calendar, got my editing all done, set a launch date, and lined up some ARC readers. But I should have gone slower.

Columbo (Peter Falk) holding his head with the caption "Just one more thing"
The Author, Horribly Dating Himself

I won't tell you how many author copies I burned through trying to get the cover and formatting just right; how once that that was done, I just nudged the page this way a bit, but then the spacing didn't look quite right, or how the font size was too big... Slow. Down.


When it comes to editing and proofing, I had this burning sense that the clock was ticking, that I'd miss out if I didn't get my book out immediately. It might or might not have been true, but rushing only cost me time and money. I ended up making changes, ordering a new author copy to check them, then make three new big changes in the week it took the author copy to arrive.


Slow. Down.


Part Three: To IS or Not to IS, That Is the Question

So you're just starting out? Should you go wide with IngramSpark? No. No you shouldn't.


See, there's always one more thing to fix or tweak prior to launch, and sometimes just after. That's IngramSpark's business model. They might sucker you in with a free title setup code, but it's the edits, tweaks and updates that are going to bleed you dry. I was lucky to know that going in, but was too clever by half and still spent way more than I ought.

A london rough and his accomplice, a drawing by Mary Evans
IngramSpark lying in wait, user fees in hand

Here's the thing: Amazon is cheap and easy. It's the floozie of the printing world, and for the young, penniless, wide-eyed author, it's the only floozie we can afford. IngramSpark's books are slightly nicer quality, but at a cost. When setting up your book and making sure it's perfect, Amazon has cheaper author copies, often faster shipping, and changes that are gloriously free of charge. Not only that, but the interface is so much easier than IngramSpark's old, frequently offline, and very clunky author portal. It's also nice to have fewer things to juggle when starting out. IngramSpark does nothing to help you market your title, unlike Amazon, which has some built-in mechanisms to get your book out there. Getting your title listed on major retailer sites isn't going to sell your book or get it on store shelves, it only gives you the opportunity to do so, which you can always take advantage of later.


One thing's certain: Do NOT use IngramSpark for eBooks. It might seem like a good deal to setup a dual title and get your eBook out everywhere, but there's no formatting support or way to control the release. The eBook goes out immediately when you complete your phyiscal and eBook drafts. No takebacks, no chance to modify the content, unlike your physical copy. Similiarly, unlike the physical copy, there are separate fees for an eBook's interior and cover, which is just bananas. Worst of all, you don't get quick statistics on eBooks from IngramSpark: They come ONE MONTH after sales have been made. That means you can't rely on IngramSpark to help you adjust your marketing campaigns. You might know how many clicks you're getting from ads, but no way to know if those clicks are converting into sales. I'm going to look into other options to go eBook wide.

And finally, the last reason not to launch with IngramSpark (at least for your first title) is that it takes four to six weeks for your book to populate on every retailer site, and title updates are slow, as are price changes, which only take effect every Friday. Need to update the price which appears on your back cover? You're going to have to pay to update the cover file and wait a long time for that cover to match the price change.


Okay, to sum up, if you're self-publishing for the first time, IngramSpark is not your best bet:

  1. Their site is unfriendly.

  2. It's costly, even if you manage to dodge the $50 setup fee.

  3. It takes weeks to months for a book to appear everywhere online.

  4. Retailer updates are SLOW.

  5. eBook sales don't all appear until the 25th of the following month.

  6. There's nothing built-in to drive book sales.

Stick with Amazon until you're comfortable before considering IngramSpark. Your bank account, and mental health, will thank you. Once you're comfortable and know your book is done-done, and assuming you have a good reason, then maybe consider IngramSpark. Don't try to be "clever" like me, keep it simple and save yourself a few hundred dollars.


Part Four: Marketing

There are a lot of people self-publishing and a lot of poorly written and edited fiction out there; and that's just traditionally published books (hey-oh!). The hard part of selling self-published books, I've read, is convincing people that yours is quality.

My marketing scheme started with my Twitter account in May 2019. I was able to build a moderate following of 1000 people relatively quickly, and it's been slowly ticking up ever since. Early on, I wrote and promoted blog posts and tried to have fun to make connections in the #WritingCommunity and #fantasy, #DnD, and #TTRPG communities (my target audience). It also helps that I have an amazing writing group who support and promote one another, and a lot of friends and family who are readers and/or into fantasy and sci-fi (thanks, everyone!). In those regards, I'm lucky. These longstanding connections allowed me to sell a fair number of author copies early on.


So, yeah, paid marketing. My campaign wasn't a success. At least, I don't think so. My sales dropped off massively after the first week. Without access to regular eBook sales reports, I assumed I was selling at least as many eBooks as paperbacks, but that wasn't the case. Ouch. I was quite happy with the click-through rate my Meta ads were getting, but why they didn't convert to sales is hard to figure. With real-time stats, I could've experimented with the ads to find out. What's done is done.


Long story short (too late!), I stopped my ads when I saw they weren't working and shifted my efforts to social media engagement, which have more tangibly paid off these last few weeks. I'll likely experiment with paid ads again once I get my eBooks transferred to KDP Select (getting retialers to remove your title is also slow) and can access some real metrics. Until then, I'm mailing out review copies like nobody's business and just having fun on Twitter, which is really the point, isn't it?

Part Five: In Conclusion

So, what's this all boil down to? Knowing what I know now, I could have saved myself a good $300 in IngramSpark fees, draft author copies, and advertising. That's nearly 3/4 of what I've earned from my book to date. Ouch. I would have given myself an extra two months to get ARC copies out and reviews up. I would have monitored my eBook sales through KDP Select to better wield my ad campaign. Knowing is half the battle.


Good thing for me, the hardest lessons are the best learned. Please, do learn from mine.


I've still got a lot to learn (in case you haven't noticed). It's only been a month, after all. Still, I've made connections with a lot of book reviewers, and reader reviews from last month's sales are starting to trickle in. I'm far from done promoting Springtide Harvest (a copy of which you really ought to purchase 😀).


J.D. Mitchell

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

October 3, 2022



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