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Should I Self-Publish? – Part Three

If you’ve followed this series, you’ll notice that: a) I think most writers have a project that would make for a fun and possibly profitable self-published book, and b) Creating a successful self-published book will require a fair amount of design and technical skills, either your own or someone else’s. I encourage you to try your own hand at it as much as you can. Like anything, the more you learn about it and the more you apply yourself to the project’s success, the better off your book will be when it is completed.

But what to do with the book when it is printed up and sitting on your desk? Here are a few ideas to help get it in front of readers, and better yet, to make them want to buy it:

Sell It Online

It seems like an obvious tip, but make sure you're selling it in as many places as you can online. Most print-on-demand (POD) publishers (such as CreateSpace and LuLu, to name just two) will have online stores where your book will appear, as well as distribution agreements with places like Amazon and other marketplaces around the world. Make sure you utilize all of those distribution agreements. Like it or not, if your book isn’t on Amazon in American, the UK, in Germany, etc., you are seriously handicapping yourself. Amazon is the biggest marketplace in the world, and as they say, “Showing up is half the battle.” Make sure your book is at the party.

Be a Pal, Add a Button

Another easy-access feature to add to your own website is a PayPal “Add to Cart” button. This is something that will allow readers to buy the book directly form you, so if you do use this, make sure you have copies available. First you’ll have to sign up for a PayPal account. Then you can add the HTML code (available at their website, here) to your own page and the button will appear. You will need to adjust the HTML code so it includes your product name and price, but if the walk-through instructions are too complicated for you, they also have a “Button Factory” application that makes it a little easier. When people buy the book using the button, you’ll get a notification with all the purchase and shipping info, and the money will go right into your PayPal account. Easy for everyone!

Big Money, No Whammy!

Everyone likes a game, a contest, a chance to win big! So make sure you come up with a few contests over the first month or two when your book is available. And whatever it is that people have to do in order to win, make sure it’s something that also helps you, such as reposting a link to your website on Facebook. It’s free and easy for them, and it gives you wider access to people who aren’t on your friend list.

One example of a contest I used for my book of short stories, The Cards We Keep—which has a cover that looks like an Ace of Spades playing card—is I simply asked people to pick a card, any card, and email me their guess. No obligation for them to do anything or buy anything. But that’s just a 1 in 52 guess, about a 2% chance of winning, so if they shared my cover or a link to my website on their Facebook page or blog, I allowed three guesses. Much better odds. Whoever guesses closest wins a free copy. A couple dozen people shared my link, and I got a few sales from it, so it was well worth the free copy I gave out.

Whatever you choose to do for your contest, keep it fun, easy, and have it help you spread the word about the book. And make sure to brag about the winner when you do give the book away. Make them feel special and that will entice them to show off their newly won book to all of their friends too, and maybe give you a great review on Goodreads or Amazon to boot. It’s a win-win!

Dangle the Carrot

Let me make this as clear as possible: Don’t pay for “good” reviews. That’s just sad, and it sends a signal—if only to yourself—that your book can’t stand on its own two legs. However, you can “pay” for reviews by offering reviewers free copies. Reviewers LOVE free books, obviously, so if you perform a Google search for bloggers who review the same types of books that you write, go ahead and email them and ask if they would be interested in looking at your book. Send them a free copy (a PDF at first, but a print copy later is standard) and see what happens. Make sure you do this as early as possible so reviews will start coming out around the time of your book.

You should also look for small press magazines that publish similar work, as well as for people on Goodreads and Amazon. See who the top reviewers are in the genre you write in and offer them copies. Reviewers can’t take on every book they get, but a good one will try and give an honest assessment when they do eventually get to it. It’s worth the free copies you send out.

Don’t be a Robot

This one is BIG. You can do a lot of selling and pitching of your book online via blogs, review sites, Facebook, your website, Twitter, etc., but the one thing that will sell your book like no other is to get in front of your readers, face-to-face, at a live event. I have heard this time after time, from bestsellers to poets working the open-mic circuit on the road. Throw release parties, go to community readings, set up events at your local library and at book clubs, contact your alma mater and see if they throw literary events, and make sure to carry copies of your book with you at all times. You never know who you will run into and people LOVE meeting the author.

And yes, you and I have both heard the many stories about how readings are poorly attended and book signings can become ghost towns. It happens, but if you plan properly and if you go after your specific market, you can avoid those embarrassing moments. Don’t just try to set up an event at a bookstore and hope people show up. Know your reader and go after them. Is your novel a chick-lit thriller with a young female protagonist who just started college? Get thee to a university! Call ahead and set up a book release party at a sorority house (ahem…make sure you invite me, ok?) or set up a table in the student center on a busy Thursday afternoon.

Or maybe your book is a historical war drama about a little known battle near your hometown. Contact the local historical society, local museums, the town board, the local high school’s social studies teachers, anyone who might have an interest. Even if you do ten small intimate readings with different groups, the word of mouth will spread, and its word of mouth that authors NEED to succeed.

Be smart about who you target, and make sure you are getting active and out in front of your readers. It will do wonders for your book, and more important, for your writing and social life, too.

Finally, remember that while there are indeed big money success stories in self-publishing, it’s probably going to be a long road with moderate or minimal sales. Temper your expectations, but not your dedication and enthusiasm. This is your baby, and you may only sell fifty copies, but go into every day knowing that each copy you do sell is one more person who is experiencing your story, your theory, your poetic vision. That’s a magical thing, and that alone is worth all of the hard work you put into it.

Congrats on your book, and good luck!

Do you have any other advice for self-published authors who are seeking ways to get their book into the hands of readers? How did you feel about your own self-publishing experience? Feel free to add your comments below!


James Duncan is a content editor for Writer’s Digest, the founding editor of Hobo Camp Review, and is the author of the short story collection The Cards We Keep and the poetry collection Lantern Lit, Vol. 1. He is in the process of submitting a handful of novels to agents for traditional representation, just like everyone else on the planet. For more of his work, visit

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