Self Publishing- Why I did it, how I did it, and how you can too.

Since I released Memory’s Wake, I’ve had an influx of people contacting me interested in self publishing. They want to know what my experiences have been, how I did it, and most importantly, can, or should, they do it themselves.

The opportunities for Self publishing are really exciting right now, thanks to new printing methods and distribution programs that make it super easy to get your book published. This is, of course, a good thing and a bad thing. I’m going to talk through what I’ve learned so far in my self publishing journey.

Why did I self publish?


I wrote a book that I had high hopes for. I don’t consider myself a genius writer, but I believed my writing style to be adequate and the story solid. It had been reviewed and critiqued over and over by friends, other writers, and paid professionals. The impatient part of me wanted to self publish right away so it was available without delay, but I thought I’d serve myself better by attempting to get traditionally published. I approached literary agents to see if any where interested. I had a few that were, who read the full manuscript, but in the end while they enjoyed it, they didn’t feel it was something they could market. I kept trying until I got pregnant, then decided if I didn’t just go ahead and self publish then, it wasn’t going to be available for so long my impatient self might explode. A few months later, my book was released and it’s been a joy having people read it.

What people think of self publishing


Some people are going to assume that because you self published your book, that it isn’t very good. And yeah, there are books out there that were self published simply to fulfil a writers desire to be published, but the book really isn’t of professional standards (or frankly, actually downright awful). Other people don’t even know what it means to be self published and won’t care or notice that your book is self published. I think now more than ever there are a lot of writers making the decision to bypass traditional publishing options and make a serious career from self publishing, and soon the awareness and perceptions of self published work will improve.

What you won’t get if you self publish


You won’t get your books in book stores.  If you distribute your books through the right channels, your book will be in catalogues that book stores can do special orders from if a customer asks. If you do the hard yards and go out yourself to ask local book stores to stock your book they may. But don’t expect customers to be able to buy your books in shops. When people come to you disappointed they couldn’t find your book at a book shop, just let them know where they can get it from, which will be Amazon, Barnes and Noble Online and most other online book retailers, and probably direct from yourself.

What you will get


You will get higher royalty rates per sale self publishing than you will by traditional publishing. I’ve heard that a traditionally published author may get 5% or lower per sale, where self published authors can get up to 70% of each sale for ebooks, and varying percentages for paperbacks (varying because an author can set their own profit margin, which I’ll discuss more up ahead).

What you don’t have to worry about


I worried that if I self published, I’d never be taken seriously if I tried again to get an agent or be published by a big publisher. But that’s not the case. Just look at Matthew Reilly, Amanda Hocking, or Christopher Paolini, who all self published their work before becoming bestsellers and getting taken on by mainstream publishing. If your book is good, there’s always a chance, if that’s the way you want to go. You may even get more chance if your book is well received by self publishing. Amanda Hocking sold over a million copies of her books by herself. Talk about a way to get the attention of publishers.

What is vitally important if you choose to self publish


You know what I said before about some people having bad perceptions about self published work? Producing low quality work (in writing or design) only furthers that perception. It’s important to produce the best quality you can, not only for you, but for the image of self publishing as a whole. If you produce a product that looks “home made” people will read it with preconceptions or dismiss it because it is self published. But if you produce a book of the same quality of mainstream published work, which you can, and should do, readers won’t know or care if your book is self published.

The work you will have to do


The key word in self publishing is SELF. By having someone else publish you, all the hard work of producing your book is done by them, but when self publishing it all falls to you. It doesn’t mean you have to do it all on your own, in fact I highly recommend getting help for the key areas of production- editing and design. More on that up ahead…

But producing the book itself is really the easy part. Once the book is out there, it’s super hard to actually get readers to find your work. There are millions of books available on Amazon, more by the hour. How do they find you amongst all that? If you want people to find your book, be prepared to learn how to market it and spend time doing so.

Paying for services


There are a lot of small companies out there who want to help people get self published. There are packages available that polish and package up your book ready for the world. This is a valid option if you’re happy to spend the money, just be sure to shop around as some of these companies can charge disproportionately more than others. But remember, with a little time and effort you really can do most of it yourself, for free. There are some areas I do suggest you hire a professional for, the key ones being editing and cover design. Save your money for those, and consider doing the book layout (interior and ebook) yourself, and definitely don’t pay money for getting your book distributed. It’s the easiest part you can do for free (more on that ehead).

Companies like Createspace also offer paid services to put your books together, alongside the free, DIY service.

TIP! When looking for an editor and cover designer, search specifically for those offering services to self published authors. Some have very reasonable rates. Here is also a great start for finding reasonably priced author services- http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,50419.0.html

Learning How


So all that sounds great and you want to DIY your first self published book. Where do you start? When I first mentioned I was thinking of self publishing, someone recommended this book to me- Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author by Zoe Winters. I can’t remember who recommended it, but a big thanks to whoever it was! This book is a great starter for those wanting to self publish, and gives great step by step descriptions of all the processes. Since then I’ve learned a lot more, but this was the book that got me going. I highly recommend it!

Ebook options


Publishing as ebooks is one of the easiest and fastest ways to make your work available. Also, the programs that let you do so are totally free! Here are some key programs you will want to sign up for to get your ebooks out-

Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon)- https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin

PubIt (Barnes and Noble/Nook)- http://pubit.barnesandnoble.com

Smashwords (A service which distributes your ebook to many ebook distributors)- http://www.smashwords.com/

Paperback options


But you want your book in hard copy, don’t you? Yes, getting YOUR book, as a real paper book in your hands is a real thrill! Here the services I’ve tried-

Lulu – http://www.lulu.com/Lulus is probably the fastest and easiest way to get hard copies of your book. Their service is free, quality is great, but they are also the most expensive (price per book), and cost more than others to distribute your book through more than just the Lulu store (eg, to Amazon). Lulu however offer options that some others don’t, like hard cover books and glossy page books.

Createspace – https://www.createspace.com/Createspace is my favourite option for paperbacks. This price per book is really reasonable. They require you to buy and review a hard copy of your book before it’s approved and so take longer to have your book available, but you should be reviewing your book at this stage anyway to make sure it’s right. Createspace also have a very wide distribution network (I believe they charge about $25 for widest distribution options now, but otherwise are free to get your book on Amazon or buy copies yourself). They are a little trickier to work with than Lulu for file formats, etc, but it’s worth getting through it.

Want to see what a Createspace paperback looks like? Why not grab a copy of Memory’s Wake, nudge nudge wink wink.

Lightning Source – https://www.lightningsource.com/LS are a step up in professional quality and distribution again from Createspace. They are a lot harder to work with, even signing up for an account is a long process. But they have (often) the best prices and widest distribution, for those really serious about getting their book out there.

Your baby, out in the world


You go ahead and click the publish button, and your book, your baby is out in the world. Be prepared. When readers do find your book, not everyone will like it. And some will dislike it so much they will leave you bad reviews on Amazon or elsewhere, which you have no control over.  Even the best books get bad reviews. If you get a few yourself, the best advice is to ignore them and write them off as an individuals opinion. Don’t reply or try and talk them around, just move on. If you find you’re getting lots of bad reviews that say the same thing, well, you might have a problem there. Luckily, if you self publish, it’s easy to go back and revise a book that you’ve discovered problems with.

The addiction


Uh oh. Once you’ve got a book released, a craving sets in. You’ll want more, more books in your name, more readers sharing your stories. Self publishing is addictive. Enjoy the ride, and know that the more books you have available, the more chance you have of success!

Have you been considering self publishing? Did this help? Good luck with your self publishing endeavours! 

Ask Selina- Scanning Artwork

“How do I scan my artworks when they are too big for my scanner? What kind of scanner do you use? Can I photograph the artwork? What do I do?”

You don’t need to buy a big scanner to scan big artworks. Sure they are nice, but they also cost a pretty penny (my advice? Check ebay auctions now and then, sometimes they come up cheap! That’s where I got my A3 scanner, a Microtek Scanmaker 9700XL). In terms of scanner quality, in my experience the thing that affects the quality of artwork scans the most is focal depth. A higher focal depth means if your artwork is on textured paper or isn’t sitting perfectly flat against the scanner glass, it won’t be out of focus.

Whether you score a good A3 (or larger!) scanner, or are just using standard A4 (or Letter) sized, you’ll sometimes have an artwork too big for the scanner plate. What you need to do then is learn how to stitch scans. This means scanning your artwork in pieces and putting it together using graphics editing software, like Photoshop or Gimp (a free program like Photoshop). I could tell you how, but fantastic artist and business woman Ellen Million already has an excellent article about it here which is pretty much the same process I use- http://ellenmillion.com/pageview.php?writing=14

And while you’re learning about getting great scans of your art, also check out her other article about scanning, here- http://ellenmillion.com/pageview.php?writing=5

Spending a bit of time cleaning up and refining your scanned image makes a huge difference to your presentation, so get those dust spots cleaned up, get your colours balanced, and display the best scan possible!

I personally think your time is better spent scanning and stitching artworks than it is trying to get a good photograph of the image. For starters, you’re going to want to have a VERY good digital camera- this doesn’t just mean high resolution, but also the size of the light sensitive chip as well, which is a major factor in the quality of digital photos. Most digital SLR cameras would fit the job, but make sure the resolution is going to be high enough to print your image as big as you’re going to want to print it. After you’ve got the right camera, photographing artwork is a very technical and skilled task. I sure can’t do it. Lighting and focus have to be perfect- NO flash! Angles have to be just right or your image is going to be warped. I’m sure just the right type of lens is needed for a good job too and you absolutely must use a tripod. You really also should have a light box, white balance cards and other accessories, and really once you get ALL of that, you might as well have bought a good scanner. I’ve priced a professional art photographer service once and their quote made me spit out my tea. They charge a lot because it is damn hard to get it right. So, my opinion is to stick with scanners.

 

 

Ask Selina- Starting Out as an Artist

“For an artist just starting out how would you suggest they get their work out there?”

This is a question I get asked a lot, and it’s a really tricky one to answer because of one major factor- things are very different now from when I was first starting out.

My second disclaimer is that most of my information is about developing your art career ONLINE. That’s because that’s what I did. Two reasons- 1. I’m shy and hate talking about my art in person, and 2. There are millions of people who can find you online. Much more than available for any in person event, gallery opening, convention or market.

There are some suggestions which still fit, but the internet has grown massively in the last decade, and so has social media, internet art communities, how people connect with artists, find and shop for art.

Here are my main suggestions which still hold true:

  • Get your art seen– Put your art on as many online galleries as you can, especially ones targeted to the genre of your art. When  I was starting out, this meant Elfwood, Epilogue, Art Wanted, Deviant Art, Fantastic Portfolios, The Australian Fantasy Art Enclave (which I actually created myself- side tip, if it doesn’t exist, make it yourself!) and more. Some are still around, some thriving more than others. These days there is Tumblr, Facebook Fan Pages and other similar social networks that aren’t art related but still great for exposure. Do your research and get your portfolio on as many sites as you can- FREE sites I should say. I’ve never found a benefit to being listed on sites you have to pay to be a part of (I think I only tried one, once). If you can, keep your galleries on those sites up to date. Every time you have new work, get it up on as many sites as you can, because new art will keep bringing people into your galleries and getting them to know you and your art, and remember you.
  • Always be professional- Some people say any exposure is good exposure. Some people have become famous (or perhaps infamous) through drama or scandal. I tend to think the best policy is to always be professional, right from the start. Yes we’re human and we can slip up, but if you hope to be working with big licensing companies some day you need to have a record of being professional. They won’t want to work with someone who could cause problems for them or their image.
  • Don’t forget to be human– A side note to being professional but just as important. While I don’t suggest running rampant revealing all your intimate secrets and saying everything that comes to your mind, I do think you should always be yourself, because people will want to know the real you. If you can be considerate, businesslike, and diplomatic while still letting your personality shine through then you’re doing great. Look at artists like Ursula Vernon. She has a massive following because people love HER. Her art and writing are fantastic, but her wonderfully wacky personality is what sells the whole package. Another example are the Muppets. No seriously! It’s the reason why I love the Muppets so much. They are all fabulous and unique personalities, appealing and funny without ever being mean.
  • Build your portfolio– When I was starting out, I painted a collection of 10 goddess artworks and put them up on a website and thought “This is it, I’ve got a collection of art people will buy now!”. But the sales didn’t come in like I hoped. And why? Because I only had about 10 artworks in my collection, lol. Everyone is different, everyone will connect to artwork differently. The more artworks you have, the more luck there will be something someone just has to have. When someone says “Do you have something with a unicorn and a mermaid together?” or some other request, if you can say “YES, here it is!” you’re very likely to make a sale and a loyal fan. I’m not saying you should try and have lots of different styles of art, or paint things that you just aren’t interested in, but rather to diversify and explore your own style and subjects that you love and build a large portfolio of those images. Painting what you love is important.
  • Never stop learning– We can all be a little blind to our flaws sometimes. It’s good to have pride in what you create! But I also believe an artist should always be improving themselves. When you look at the art I did ten years ago and compare it to what I do now (lets do that! Check out the two images below!), can you imagine if I had just stopped trying to improve back then? If I’d just gone, “yay, I’m an artist! I like what I do and I’m just going to keep doing it without change forever!”? There’s so many artworks I’d never have painted. I COULDN’T have painted them because they would have been out of my skill and comfort zone. So ALWAYS keep learning, keep pushing yourself. The people who come to see your art will also appreciate it.
    THEN
    NOW
  • Make Art as much as you can– (A lesson I really need to follow myself!). Once you have some people interested in your work, keep them interested by giving them new pretties to see, by making new pretties as much as possible! This also crosses over with the Never Stop Learning tip, because the more you create, the better you get. Practice really is all it’s cracked up to be.
  • Get your own site– It’s super cheap (or even free) to have your own website. Grab your domain name- this is something you’ll need to buy, but is a must in my opinion. Back in the old days when I was starting out (showing my age again) I learned good old basic HTML and made my site myself. These days it’s much easier, with awesome free software like WordPress (THIS site runs on wordpress!) and other content management and blogging software that means anyone can create their website with little to no coding knowledge. Anyway, setting up a website is a whole other subject and I need to get to my point, which is get your domain name and have some kind of website there, so that when someone googles your name, the first place they find is YOUR site, so they see YOUR art. Sure, they could google your name and find your Deviant Art gallery or something else, that’s fine too, but isn’t it better if they come straight to you? Having your own place on the web that is yours, yours, yours is important. And it’s also fun 🙂
  • Meet people in person– Yeah, didn’t I say I hate this part? OK, I also kind of love it. Sure it’s hard, and you’ll feel uncomfortable at times, but it will be very important for you and your art career. I like to get to markets and conventions when I can sell my art and products in person. It gives me the advantage of seeing how people react to my artwork. Which artwork is everyone gravitating to? Which artwork is turning people off? What are they saying about my work when they don’t know I’m the artist? What do they say when they DO know I’m the artist? It’s a fantastic learning experience every time, and sometimes it’s just nice to get some of that warm fuzzy “people really DO like my work” affirmation us artists need. 🙂
  • Learn from and connect with other artists– Forums are probably the best type of place to do this, but I actually don’t know of a good active artists forum any more. I think Deviant Art is probably your best bet but I haven’t spent much time in artists forums for years so I don’t know. There were a lot of great artists forums while I was starting out but most have closed now. Regardless, networking is important in most careers.  Remember, particularly if emailing an artist out of the blue, be nice, respectful and remember relationships go both ways. You could suggest swapping links to your sites, or if you have a blog, offer to do a guest blog, interview or some kind of cross promotion. If you have questions about art techniques or business, try to be specific (otherwise it can just be tricky giving a good answer), and if the artist doesn’t want to share their secrets with you (I’ve found most artists very friendly and sharing though!), respect that, it’s their right.
Now, I said at the beginning that things are different now than when I started out. I think I had it a lot easier back then. There were simply fewer artists online. Goodness, these days I visit DeviantArt and see just a small sampling of the talent in this world and could cry (for joy, and envy, in despair at comparing my art, and happiness at what people are creating, oh, emotional turmoil!). Just remember, you’ve got one advantage. You’re YOU. You create YOUR art. Only you can do that. Only you can paint just your way and create your visions. Know what makes you different, and special, and keep that close at heart as you work. Here’s a fantastic video on “branding” I saw recently that talks about why it’s important to know what makes you, and what you do, unique-


Know what makes you unique, special, what niche your artwork caters for, and you’re doing great.

Those are my main pointers. Now, once you start getting people see your art, it’s entirely up to you what you want to do with that! How, where, and whether you want to sell your work is a whole other subject. A big one! But really, getting people to see your art is the first step, and in some ways the most important one, because what is art unless it is seen? It’s sharing my art and writing that makes me happiest.

Ask Selina- New to Art Licensing, Help!

Hi selina, Firstly sorry for bothering you i know your probably very busy but i was wondering if you could give me some advice. Someone has approached me about licensing some of my artwork,the site is called “XXXX” and sells digital XXXX The thing is i have never licensed anything before and have no clue what to do! The owner of the site said “(exact quote removed)” Do you have any idea what kind of price per image is normal?Am i supposed to state a price i want ? i thought she would tell me what she was offering and i would accept or decline. I dont want to appear like i dont know what i am doing (even though i dont!) Please could you offer me any advice? Thank you and sorry for picking your brain! Best wishes XXXX

Hi XXXX,

Congratulations on the potential contract!

There are a couple of things the company could mean about pricing per image, so it’s a bit hard to give a sure answer.

Royalties can work in three ways-

  • 1. Once off payment- a flat fee per artwork, for a certain duration. For example, $50 per artwork for three years, after three years the fee would be paid again to continue.
  • 2. Percentage royalty- No upfront payment, and is normally a blanket amount for ALL artwork you offer them. Normally 5-15% for PHYSICAL products, but digital products can vary widely- up to 60%+ royalties is not unusual. So you would be paid a % for any sale on any artwork for the duration.
  • 3. Royalty advance- the company pays you a bulk amount up front, for example, $500. But this is just an advance on what would be paid using option 2 above, and you will continue to receive royalties once the total they owe you goes over the initial advance amount.This is very rarely used, seen more in book publishing than art publishing.

I’m going to assume the company is talking about option 1 above, just based on their rather vague wording. Now, the price per image is really arbitrary and is completely up to you. But, of course, when quoting a price you would do well to consider the company you are dealing with and what they can afford. In some ways, option 1 is a little like option 3. You are making an estimate of what they would sell of your work and what you would receive if getting royalties, but getting an upfront payment rather than relying on the company to keep accurate records. That’s why option 1 is a good option for small business who don’t want the extra work of tracking sales for royalties and providing regular sales reports and payments to artists. You might also want to offer a discount depending on how many artworks they are licensing. This makes some sense because if they are licensing just one image of yours, you are likely to sell more of it, and if they license ten images the sales are likely to be spread more across the ten images.

When you get to see the contract, be sure to pay attention to the exclusivity and duration terms.

Three year duration seems to be standard on contracts I’ve seen. The exclusivity is also fairly standard, because companies will want to feel as though they are offering something special with your art, not something every other competitor of theirs can also offer. BUT on both terms you really need to read the details in the contract. For the duration, you need to know what your termination clauses are if you want out. For exclusivity, it can be exclusive per image, by region, or for you as an artist and your entire collection ever. When you get the contract to look over, check out my article on contracts here- https://selinafenech.com/2010/advanced-licensing-advice/ for more advice.

I hope that helps!

Selina