The Age of Digital Publishing

It is no secret that in the last four-five years, digital publishing has literally exploded and has quickly become a dominant factor in the book publishing industry. Whether it is indie authors self-publishing their work or the various traditional publishers, both big and small, transferring their dead-tree versions to the digital medium. There has even been the entry of publishers who only put out digital products. Undeniably, Amazon has led this revolution with its Kindle Books, its Kindle eReader and its strong, often ruthless, practices where digital book formats are concerned. Amazon is currently the goliath of the publishing industry and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon. However, Barnes & Noble is on the rise as well with its Nook eReader and Apple is also taking tentative steps towards it thanks to their iPad tablets and their recent iBooks Author publishing app.

So where does all of this leave an aspiring writer? Well, the answer is pretty complicated and unfortunately too extensive and contentious a topic to be discussed in depth on this blog. All, the same, I would like to offer some tips and strategies to all aspiring writers who, like me, wish to break into the industry as bona fide authors and want to do so successfully.

Word Processors

There are any number of word processors out there that people use all over the world to write their novels, novellas, short stories and other formats. The top ones, from my experience, are Microsoft Word, Scrivener and Apple Pages. Of course, that is my own opinion and other people may have different views to my own, especially since there are literally dozens of word processing software out there.

Myself, I have tried Word extensively, having used it for close on ten years for my creative work. I was quite happy with it too since it seemed to do pretty much everything I required of it in those years. And then I tried out Scrivener during the National Novel Writing Month last year and I was blown away. Scrivener is an excellent word processor for a variety of reasons, especially for aspiring writers who want to self-publish their work. Anything I can say here is much more easily explained by the various tutorial videos on YouTube but as a quick summary:

  • It has a binder feature which allows you to organise your creative work by scenes and chapters (and even acts or parts on a higher level). This is doubly helpful since you no longer have to scroll through several Word pages and can just instead click-and-view whatever section of your work you want.
  • It easily organises together your synopses, your notes and your text in a clear, neatly-arranged window which means that you don’t have to switch through multiple files when you want to go over some of your notes and back.
  • Important! It outputs files to any of the traditional formats such as .doc or .pdf or .rtf. But the kicker is that it also lets you output your work in the ePub and and Kindle formats as well! This is a big boon for self-publishers who are looking to go through Amazon to sell their books and/or selling their work through their own sites or anything like that.

For these three reasons, I highly recommend getting Scrivener. But don’t just take my word for it. The testimonials are all out there and are easily found through the power of Google. In the end, what really matters is that you get a word processor of your choice, one that you are completely comfortable with and for you is easy to use and manage.

And that makes a big difference trust me. I am now using Scrivener almost exclusively for my various writing projects and I am loving it. Honestly, I cannot work without it anymore really and I would be quite handicapped without it, even though I’ve used Word for so many years and have never had problems with it. Of course, Scrivener is not necessary if you want to be a self-published author because there are services out there like Smashwords where you can get your traditional-format work documents converted to EPUB or Mobi formats but really, why go through all of that when Scrivener is right there and offers pretty much everything.

Content

Content is unbeatable in terms of success. Genre, style, dialogue, setting, etc all lie at the heart of your creative work so it is important that you make sure that what you are writing is of high-quality in terms of what you want to offer to readers. Poor plotting, bad characterisation, random and inexplicable events, cliche over-use, rehashed settings that offer nothing new and all are things you really need to consider before you sit down to write every single day.

Content will make or break you, make no mistake about it. If you want to make it big, this is the first place you need to start at and make sure that you hit all the check-points in your work and have something that people will want to read. Writers often write what they want to write and that is perfectly fine but always consider that all-important reader because without the support of your readers you are nowhere. That success and fame you strive for is meaningless if you are unable to fulfill these basic requirements.

Understand the content you writing, whom you are writing it for and what is already out there. Your work will always be held on a pedestal, and that pedestal can be extremely high at times, so you must strive to meet not just your own expectations but those of the majority of your readers as well. I say majority because you cannot satisfy everybody and not everyone will like your work. Make sure that you stick to that basic tenet.

Editing

Once you get past the enormous hurdle of having your content ready, it is time to sit down with it and start going through it bit by bit, refining everything and making sure that there is a clear continuity, your references are all in the proper order, your characters are doing what they should be doing, making your dialogue smoother and all that. The self-publishing industry currently has a bad name because thousands of so-called writers never bother to edit their stuff and they upload their work unedited, unproofed. This translates to a lot of the e-Books currently available being massive letdowns since people just cannot get past all the writing mistakes, format mistakes, grammar mistakes and all that.

Editing is key, people, and you should have a healthy respect for editing. If you are not good at editing then don’t worry. First stage editing is simply everything I outlined above. Your writing should appear to be natural and not forced. It should flow properly. There should not be any spelling mistakes or grammar mistakes or anything like that because these are all basic things. If you really want to be successful, then you really need to train yourself to edit your own work. Down the line, this will come in handy. And if your content is good, and your editing is good, then more and more people are going to like your work and will recommend it to their friends and family and acquaintances.

But of course, it does not end there, definitely not.

Once you self-edit your work, it is time to ask your friends and family to help you edit further. Get their feedback on what you have written, discuss that feedback and make the appropriate changes. Use your friends and family as test-subjects. They are only going to help you refine your work and having an extra pair of eyes or several is always helpful. I frequently ask my friends to go through my creative work and I have reciprocated several times as well.

When you have that covered, then it is time to consider whether or not you have a final draft of your work. After going through the tedious but entirely necessary work of self-editing, you need to think about copy-editing. Usually, this is where an editor really comes in handy (I acknowledge that editors are doubly helpful in regular-editing as well but for self-publishers I feel copy-editing is also just as important) because they are going to go through your work looking for formatting errors, style and textual accuracy.

Of course, you have already gone through some of this yourself but think about all those novels you have read over the years. It may not have stood out at the time, but formatting is very essential for the final product. You don’t want to put out your work where you use the left-alignment throughout instead of using the justified setting that evenly spaces out the words on both margins.

Copy-editing is not essential to your final product but it has a very important place and one you should seriously consider before publishing your work.

Covers

First impressions are last impressions. I cannot even reliably count how many times I’ve bought a book because of awesome cover-art. The same holds true for getting excited about future novels. Good covers are not mega-deal-breakers, but they do have quite the niche for self-published authors. E-book impulse-buying is driven by two things in what I call stage one – cover art and pricing. Stage two is content really in my just-made-it-up-multi-stage process. Pricing is about to be covered soon enough so let’s talk cover art.

What do you look for in a cover art? What works for you and what doesn’t? What are the styles? What should be the positives and the negatives? Should cover art be based on something from the novel itself or something completely unrelated?

Lots of questions huh? If you want to be a full-fledged self-published author then you need to keep all of this in mind. Just look at Black Library cover as a starting point. More notably, look through my monthly artwork round-ups for November and December. Ask yourself the above questions as you look at each of those covers and then think about the answers. Then go to your finished work and see what your cover art should be about. I guarantee that you will be seeing your work with new eyes and that this re-imagining will even spur you on to do some more editing. Possibly. Not sure about that last bit.

A bad cover will mean your work never gets that initial boost while a good cover will draw people in and at least get them superficially interested in what you have to offer. If you are good at art yourself, then consider making your own cover art. Or find an artist, someone who is familiar with the type of creative fiction you have written and is well-versed in it.

Finding a good artist is very crucial. Extremely so.

Note that there are resources out there that you can refer to for public-domain images and/or free images and what not. Make sure to explore the possibilities and avenues before going ahead.

Pricing

Pricing for self-publishers is a major head-ache. There is no right or wrong approach. But it does involve a fair bit of research. You need to look at various publishers’ sites, go through the Amazon Kindle store and just generally pay attention to what is happening in the industry.

The $0.99-$2.99 range seems to be where the majority of e-Books fall in and where you can guarantee yourself a moderate amount of success. For brand-new self-published writers, this is a good entry-point into the market and where you can take your first steps to success.

That said, nothing stops you from moving into a higher price band. Nothing at all. Except two major things: Content and Editing.

It is all self-explanatory really. The more you charge your readers, the more they want to get out of your work. If the content is bad or if the editing is terrible then you are going to start losing your audience. Word will get out and the negativity will pour in. Contentious wisdom holds that there is no such thing as negative publicity, but there is also a clear case of negative publicity of high-quality work and negative-publicity of terrible-quality work. I’m sure you all know which category you would rather be in.

So yeah, the more your readers expect, the more they are generally willing to pay. So make sure to hit those two important checkmarks. The higher the quality of your work, the higher you can charge for it. And just remember that there is a ceiling limit to how much your readers will be willing to pay, no matter how high the quality of your work.

You shouldn’t under-price your work and neither should you over-price it. Try to find that balance and you could just hit that elusive jack-pot.

Marketing

Once everything else has been considered and hashed out and whatever and your product is now finally out there, it is time to consider how you want to approach your marketing. The rise of self-publishing has given rise to book bloggers as well. Book bloggers are quickly becoming a very legitimate voice in the industry and their opinions now do matter a great deal.

The best thing is that authors can approach book bloggers directly and set up some kind of a deal with them with regards to reviewing. Just as long as you avoid the debacles such as working out contracts where the reviewers give you full rights to use their reviews as you see fit or whether you ask for positive reviews and pay the reviewer for that or other such nonsense, book bloggers are going to be massively helpful to you in getting the word out.

Unequivocally, book bloggers are going to be your best friends and I don’t say that because I am a book blogger myself. I say this from experience. I’ve met some really fantastic authors and read some truly great novels thanks to book bloggers, irrespective of how the novels were rated. That’s the beauty of the whole thing, especially since a lot of book bloggers are up-front about their likes and dislikes and they even go into quite some depth about their opinions.

Whether you do interviews with book bloggers, or you send them copies of your novels for review purposes or you do book tours on blogs or what have you, book bloggers are essential because of their growing fan-base.

Of course, other marketing avenues do exist. You can take to Facebook, or Twitter or Google+ or any other social media and you can advertise your work there relentlessly. Marketing is just as tedious as editing and you have to be really dedicated to it. It will involve a lot of leg-work and you will spend countless sleepless nights over it. And that is because the job is not done once your work is published out there.

You have to market it like hell, generate that interest and once the ball starts rolling, you have to keep it rolling. Its all about continued sales. Even one sale a month is good but consider what you would rather have, that one sale or all those extra sales you would get from marketing your novel?

A lot of people think that indie-writing is all about just writing and publishing your work. Its not. There are a lot of other things that you really need to consider and you have to maintain all that post-production work because it never ends.

Six months after you publish your novel, maybe offer a discount on it. A couple months before your third novel comes out, offer the previous two novels together at a discount. A year after your third novel, offer all three as an omnibus. That’s just some ideas you can explore. There is room for everything and anything.

And that’s all I have really on the topic for now. I would love for people to offer their opinions in the comments section. Tell me what you agree with and what you don’t. If you want to challenge my views, then feel free to do so. A healthy discussion is a good discussion.

Some helpful links

About the Author

Occasional dabbler in video game design, an aspiring writer (frankly who isn’t these days) and an avid SF/F (likes to think so) buff, I can usually be found in the depths of alternate universe GW fanfic or slogging away in online games. Also a contributor at 24FPS for movie reviews and at The Founding Fields for book reviews. Feel free to check out my blog at http://sonsofcorax.wordpress.com. You can also find me on Facebook as Abhinav Jain or on Twitter @abhinavjain87.

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