Hi there! Duolit is on hiatus, but please feel free to explore our extensive archive of posts and our free Weekend Book Marketing Makeover. Thanks for visiting!

Self-Publishing Ain’t For Sissies [Guest Post]

 The following is a guest post by Joseph M. Rinaldo. Joseph has self-published two novels, A Spy at Home and Hazardous Choices

During a period of unemployment in 2004, I did a lot of soul-searching about my career and a lot of reading for pure escapism. It was at this time that I read Nicholas Sparks’ Three Weeks With My Brother, and I tried to absorb the fact that he received a million-dollar advance for this book. After I got over the initial shock of that fact, I remember thinking, “Holy cow! He’s a good writer, but I know I can do this, too.” I’ve been writing since that day in 2004.

When I finished my first novel, my wife and I spent a great deal of time and money printing off complete manuscripts and mailing them to agents and publishers. This went on for months with no result. We struggled with the disappointment we felt from the countless rejection letters.

As this went on (and on and on), I began working on my second novel. I felt it was much better than the first, and I was very hopeful. We finally realized that it wasn’t necessary or practical to mail the entire manuscript to agents and publishers (in fact, most of them don’t want it as the initial contact), and we began querying and sending synopses, chapter outlines, and excerpts. Still no result. A few nibbles, but no bites. Again, much disappointment.

In the meantime, I had taken a job in another state, and we moved. I continued writing novels while working full-time, and my wife took over some of the “marketing” aspect of this endeavor. Nine novels later, we had nothing to show for our efforts with traditional agents and publishers but frustration.

Through some chance or perhaps through diligent research (I don’t remember which.), we discovered the world of self-publishing and Amazon’s self-publishing ebook program. We were so excited to have another venue to explore, and we were sure that if we published the books ourselves, at no cost to us (thank you, Amazon), we would certainly sell books and become rich and famous. How naïve we were!

The one thing we have discovered about self-publishing, apart from the fact that getting the books formatted correctly to upload to Amazon’s program is a nightmare, is that ALL the marketing is totally up to the author (and his trusty sidekick/spouse). We were stymied. How does one go about marketing one’s own book? What avenues are out there for this purpose?

Again, through trial and costly error, we discovered that advertising in national newspapers and on BookPage was an exercise in futility. We got NO sales from the several ads we placed in print. Likewise ads placed on Facebook and Google and bookmarks printed and passed out at bookstores and book festivals. By this time, we were beginning to make some contacts online with other authors, and we decided that having a website might be a good idea. It’s amazing how inept we were in trying to create our own “free” website; it really looked like an amateur had done it, and the results, again, were nil, even though we had a store right on the site.

It was not until we hired a web designer who also re-designed the cover of my first published book, A Spy At Home, that we began to see sales. Just a few at first, of course, but by then we had begun to “work” the social media, created a blog, and tried to figure out just who the market for this book was and to send them announcements about the book’s release. We also discovered the value of reviews, we began contacting reviewers both on Amazon and on blog sites, and favorable reviews started coming in. This boosted sales, though they were still modest.

We now have two ebooks for sale on Amazon: A SPY AT HOME and my new release, HAZARDOUS CHOICES.

The benefits from creating a network of contacts (writers, readers, bloggers, reviewers) was so much more than getting good reviews or word-of-mouth advertisement. They supported and encouraged me to pursue this dream of writing and publishing my books.

I am now in my seventh year of writing, revising, editing, marketing, and selling novels. Progress has been slow but steady, and I am proud of the work we’ve done. I will continue to write and market my books, and one day, I know, we really will become rich and famous! That’s the dream, and I know it can come true.

Thanks for the great post, Joseph! If you’d like to contribute a guest post on any self-publishing-related topic, just give us a shout.

  • I love and hate being a writer and you seem to have captured some of my feelings very well. Mostly there is frustration when you see the mass amount of competition and you realize how little quality impacts which books succeed, but there is so much good about writing and the friends and adventures you fund along the way.

    Dixie Goode

  • I am always so glad to hear about self-published writers who pursued their passion and didn’t give up.

    And I am grateful that we, as writers and bloggers, get a chance to publish our work through other venues besides traditional publishers.

    Imagine even 10 or 15 years ago getting such rejections and then feeling like you HAD to give up because the traditional publishers were the gatekeepers.

    Well, they aren’t the gatekeepers anymore. I do not mean this disrespectfully. I am just glad other people can have their voice, without having to wait on someone else to give it to them.

    All the best, Joseph….

  • ‘Perseverance Furthers,’ quoth the I Ching. Great piece Joseph. We must all take heart from each other!

  • Great post! It’s always nice when someone writes about the reality of any profession. Everybody who makes it “big” in any field has to put in the work and have serious perseverance. Keep up the good work, Joseph! You’re no sissy!

  • I’ve had such a similar experience: spending copious amounts of time on writing the novel, then sending it off, only to have agents with the taste for vampire books turn it down. I too found Amazon and, while the marketing side of it is sheer tedium, it’s nice to finally have it in a ‘bookstore.’ That said, Amazon is by far the easiest place to upload content. If you thought it was a hassle, try iTunes–you’ll not know self-publishing humility until you do.
    Best,
    William Olson, author of ‘Right on Time,’ and the short stories ‘British Properties,’ ‘To Kill a Hip Hopper,’ ‘Lifafa Death,’ and a few others.

  • What a great post! You have captured what the process is like – frustrating. Writing is a passion that requires pure tenacity and a will to keep going. Whether a million people love your book, or just a chosen few, the rewards come from touching hearts with your tales. Well done!

    – Julie

  • That was a really inspiring post, Joseph. It captures so much of the frustrations and the triumphs of what we do. I wish you and your trusty sidekick lots of success.

  • Fantastic post! I am taking a break from my own self-promotion campaign and I needed to read this! I published my novel in March after letting my agent go. When people ask me how the book is selling I send them to a link that I created on my Amazon profile called: What readers are saying. Even if I only have one new reader a month, I know that my story is out there instead of on a publisher’s desk who may or may not take the time to respond and tell me how “close” it is getting. When you publish a book you never know who may have it on a nightstand on any given day. You don’t know who has passed it on to a friend. Who has picked it up at a library on a cruise (be sure to give a copy to any of your friends who are cruising!). That to me is more important than numbers. http://bit.ly/ProperOrderReaders

  • Thanks for this post. Finally, someone who tells, specifically, what worked in selling books.
    Now, if we could work out a formula to selling MORE books …

  • Frustrating. Exasperating. Driven insane. Exhilarated. Writing takes you on that crazy ride. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have my own horror story with a publisher, after which I decided the self-publish my dark fantasy, Spellbound by Fire, after having done so with my poetry book back in September. Self-publishing certainly isn’t for sissies but it is definitely worth the agony!!! I won’t do it any other way. I am much more proud of my sales knowing I put in that much more work on my own book past writing it. I love being totally in control of the creative process. :) Good for you on chasing your passion!

    ~ Lavinia

    Buy my book, Spellbound, on Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/92467

  • Tim

    One thing I think your post unintentionally teaches is that you should research what works before jumping blindly into the street (buying print ads and expecting sales). Hopefully, your sales will start to recoup all those expenses.

    With 9 books written, how come you’ve only released two on Amazon?

    Keep on typing and best wishes to ya.

  • Susan Ricci

    Awesome and inspiring article! Printed out for when I feel bluzey about writing and need a kick in the rear to get me going. Thanks for posting it!

  • As a traditionally published author, let me take issue with this brave new world of self-publishing. My own experience has been that if your writing is good enough, you will get picked up by a traditional publishing house. They are, indeed, the gatekeepers of good writing and they very much want to find and nurture literary talent. They are not, as a writer friend of mine thinks, purposely rejecting you because they don’t like you or because they wouldn’t know good writing if it smacked them in the face with a thesaurus. I spent many years working at my writing before my short stories began to win prizes and get published in literary magazines. This is how we learn the craft. Self-publishing bypasses that necessary difficult apprenticeship and the result is a literary world awash in “the gray goo of mediocrity.” I do though, applaud your perseverance. May you write well and prosper.

    • Nicola Rhodes

      You have been luckier than you know, Traditional publishers are not the gatekeepers of “good writing”, as much of the traditionally published dross out there proves. They are the gatekeepers of what is marketable (in their narrow, conservative and terrified view) While you are correct in saying that a lot of “indie” published work is terrible and some sort of new model or standard is needed to separate the wheat from the tares. Traditional publishing is not the way. Not any longer. 

  • What an honest and insightful overview of your experience. I so appreciate your point about ads, sell sheets, and bookmarks. I know so many authors, myself included who are more prone to look for easy ways to sell books and most often it is the good old networking and pursuing sales opportunities that do it. But of course this takes time. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    • This is so true, Dara. Good, effective marketing always takes a bit more time/effort than we’d like, but I think the results are definitely worth it. Thanks for your comment! 

  • Nicola Rhodes

    Nice post, but I take issue with one thing – if you are in this to get “rich and famous” you are doing it for all the wrong reasons. 

    • That’s very true, Nicola. Those adjectives will describe very few who go the indie route — love of writing and desire to share it must come first!

    • Don

      Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth! It’s true, if it’s wealth and popularity that Joseph is after then he should venture onto something else.

  • Graffitibleu27

    Great article!!! Indeed this game is one of patients as well as a study in salesmanship. There are many so-called “Best Sellers” that fall short of “Best Effort” Continue on my fellow creator, continue on…

    • So glad you enjoyed it, and you hit the nail on the head — indies must wear many hats as well as keep their expectations in check. Patience is key, for sure!

  • Bob Mayer

    The promotion is a good book. Better promotion is more good books.