To self-publish or not to self-publish… That is the question more and more aspiring authors are asking themselves these days. And with good reason—self-publishing has come a long way in the decade since it really hit the market and many of the blatant scams of the past have been outed by an increasingly well-informed author community. With the popularity of ebooks and the rise of print-on-demand (POD), self-publishing has become a viable route to success as an author. It certainly hasn’t replaced traditional publishing, but the two paths are starting to coexist in the same mass market.
As an author I have successfully pursued both the traditional and self-publishing routes – funny enough with the same books. My first two military sci-fi novels were originally self-published and they did well enough to attract the eye of the traditional world. I’m very pleased to announce that the first of them, Virtues of War, is being re-released by Titan Books at the end of June, with two more on the way.
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1. Read Widely
If you’re a huge fan of a particular sci-fi franchise – Doctor Who, say, or Honor Harrington – I strongly recommend you start reading a selection of sci-fi books that are completely outside your favourite before you start writing. The most successful sci-fi franchises have their own unique elements, and many of these elements are so widely associated with the franchise that if you were to employ them in your own writing you’d be very quickly branded as an imitator. If you’re writing fan fiction based in the franchise that’s fine, but it can be disastrous if you’re creating something original. So read widely to make sure you have an appreciation of what the sci-fi community sees as clichés, tropes and/or proprietary ideas.
Another reason to read widely is simple: you’ll have a much larger pool of inspiration to draw from when you do sit down to write. Maybe you’ve always read space opera and never cared much for hard sci-fi. Reading some classic Arthur C. Clarke may not transform you into a hard sci-fi author, but it may give you some really interesting ideas on how to make your space opera unique.
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4. Engage the Community
Marketing a book is hard. It’s even hard for the Big Five publishers in New York – they just have millions of dollars to throw at the problem. I’m going to guess that you don’t, and I’m going to strongly recommend that you stay far away from any kind of marketing or advertising that costs a lot of money. Print, TV and radio advertising are out. Don’t hire a publicist unless they’re willing to work solely on a commission from book sales. To market a self-published book, you the author need to get engaged directly with your potential fans.
Enter the internet. There are thousands of sci-fi community groups online, and they’re usually wide open to new members. The future fans of your book hang out in these places, and because they like the same sort of sci-fi you do, you’ll probably enjoy mixing it up on the forums about existing sci-fi books, movies and TV shows. Your purpose here is to make friends and, ideally, become a bit of an opinion leader through your witty, succinct and profound commentary – or just being yourself, that works too. You absolutely do NOT want to start peddling your book as that is generally frowned upon.
The key to engaging your community of future fans is to start early – months before your book is even launched. Be sincere, be friendly, and be actively engaged. When your book does launch, it’s totally okay at that point to announce it to your community, because by then you’re a known entity and people kinda like you. After your launch, though, you need to get back to just being a frequent contributor to the discussions, although a link to your book’s webpage at the bottom of each post is a perfectly acceptable way to offer ongoing, soft promotion.
Link to the rest at i09 and thanks to Dave for the tip.