“The biggest challenge in self-publishing is marketing. Anyone can create a book and get it up on Amazon. Getting it to sell, as anyone in the book industry knows, is another story.”
That is perhaps the most important lesson Robin Lamont learned after self-publishing her debut novel, the mystery If Thy Right Hand, in 2011.
“I believed in the book enough to get it out there on my own,” Lamont says, noting that the book received good reviews and good reader feedback, and won a couple of awards. But looking back, Lamont admits she was naïve about sales and marketing. “You need major marketing efforts to let readers know [about your book].”
So when it came time to self-publish her second novel, Wright for America—a lighthearted caper about one woman’s quest to take down a right-wing radio personality—Lamont made some important changes: she hired a publicist and made getting the book reviewed a priority.
“Having a publicist in the book world is a big help,” Lamont says. “She has contacts with media and bloggers, and having a press release come from a publicist rather than from an author has to carry more weight.”
But hiring a publicist and focusing more on marketing weren’t the only changes Lamont made with Wright for America. Indeed, her second self-publishing story is very different from her first.
For If Thy Right Hand, Lamont—who didn’t have an agent—worked with Dog Ear Publishing, which (like many self-publishers) offers a variety of editorial, design, and marketing services.
“In some ways it’s easy because they do most of the heavy lifting in terms of formatting the book and getting it through sales channels,” Lamont says. “I already had an editor and cover designer, but the self-publishing company did the rest—with the exception of marketing.”
When Wright for America was finished, Lamont worked with an agent, but when they weren’t able to sell it, the author decided against sending it to smaller houses. Instead, she self-published again. And this time around, she did everything independently, starting with creating her own imprint.
“I wanted to get the book out in the middle of the election,” Lamont says, noting the book’s political undertones. “And secondly, even with a major publisher, authors still have to do their own promotion, and even more so with small presses that don’t have big advertising budgets.”
But even for a writer with self-publishing experience, creating an imprint and getting her book out there posed some serious challenges.
“There’s definitely a steeper learning curve involved,” she says of the process. “[You] need a designer to format the book, both in paperback and e-book, interior and cover. You have to go through the steps that any publisher would to obtain and register ISBN numbers, get LCCN numbers, and open accounts with a printer for different sales channels. It’s been more complicated and I’ve made mistakes along the way.”
But even going it alone, Lamont had help—something she says is vital for anyone self-publishing a book. She worked with an editor to improve her manuscript, signed on with a book design company, AuthorSupport.com, and hired a New York City publicist, Meryl Zegarek.
“None of this is cheap,” Lamont says. “Nor should it be. I believe that you can write all alone, but to put out a good book requires a lot of help.” She estimates design costs for Wright for America were about $1,000, but notes that “publicity is running about 10 times that, not including ordering all the books necessary to send out, postage, and then the costs for paid reviews.”
“So far, we have been pleased with the results in terms of getting exposure,” she adds. “Whether that translates into sales, we’ll have to see.”
Still, Lamont says she would self-publish again—barring a more lucrative contract from a traditional publisher—and urges people considering self-publishing to focus on the quality of the writing above all else.
“Make sure your product is good,” she says. “Crucial to remember is that all of us in the self-publishing world are creating the reputation of this industry right now. If you put out a book—just because you can—and it’s not good, it reflects on all the other self-published materials out there. By the same token, if your book is good... the world will view self-published books more positively.”