4 Lessons from 4 Years of Self-Publishing

Today’s guest post is by author Deanna Cabinian (@DeannaCabinian).

It’s been four years since my young adult novel One Night was released. Time has flown by, and during the past 1,460 days I’ve learned several things about myself, my writing, and indie publishing. But four lessons stand out.

1. There isn’t a magic bullet for selling books.

There isn’t any one thing that sells books; it’s a lot of things. I’ve tried every promotion avenue I can think of, including whatever’s hot at the moment: Amazon ads, free book promotions, BookBub (my book was featured in their international deals newsletter), NetGalley, Goodreads giveaways (before they started charging), local author fairs.

That’s in addition to my email newsletter, blogging, refining book descriptions and keywords every six months, and placing guest articles when I can. You name it, I’ve tried it in some form or another. Someone asked me recently, Have you tried Instagram? I just smiled and nodded.

2. For every ten doors that slam in your face, one or two crack open a tiny bit.

When I started promoting my book in 2016, I was frustrated by the number of nos I received. My hometown library, a modest operation, couldn’t be sold on letting me do an event. I offered to host a writing workshop, a Q&A, a reading. Nope, nope, and nope. The teen librarian offered to place some bookmarks at the circulation desk, however.

Despite the resistance, I’ve had a few surprising wins along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to be featured on this site and several others. I got to speak to over 300 students at my high school’s writing festival (I don’t think many books were sold as a result, but it was nice to get paid a speaking fee). And there have been many kind bloggers willing to give my book a chance even though I don’t have a publisher.

3. I still love the writing part the most.

I’ve made a few good connections from pitching my work, and I enjoy having creative control, but it has been exhausting because my full-time job requires the bulk of my mental energy. I want to save what’s left of my head space for writing, not worrying about how to get my books into the hands of readers. I want a traditional publishing contract, which includes marketing and production support and wider distribution. I’ve discovered I would very much like to have a publisher sell books for me. Granted, a lot of marketing still falls to the author, but having publisher support is still an advantage. I am getting closer to that goal as I’m now represented by an agent, but our agreement is for other projects, not One Night.

4. I have no regrets.

Someone asked me recently if I thought self-publishing was a good idea. She said her neighbor’s daughter was interested in putting out a book and did I have any advice for them? I told her it is much harder than it appears. Does she want to hold her work in her hands? Or does she want to use this as a gateway to New York publishers? Does she consider herself a salesperson? It’s what I would ask anyone trying to embark on this path. I emailed her a dozen articles to review.

Despite the challenges, I feel proud to have my book out there. My audience is not huge, but it’s passionate. I’m grateful for every reader who contacts me and hope they’ll follow me throughout my career.

What have you learned from your publishing journey? I would love to hear about it in the comments.

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