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The Problem With Self-Publishing

Your book is written. It’s beautiful, deathless prose, the like of which the world has never seen. You’ve done the hard yakka, put in the long hours, shifted mountains and swum mighty rivers. Your manuscript has been edited to within an inch of its life and you’ve bought the most delightful cover that your budget can afford. You’ve formatted and uploaded until your beautiful book is available in nearly every ebook retailer and possibly even arranged for a POD paperback. The bulk of the work is done!

Or so you think.

Then come the long anxious hours of refreshing your browser to check on your sales. They trickle in slowly. At first it’s exciting just to see a few sales. Then it’s frustrating that there aren’t more sales. Why aren’t hundreds of people lining up to buy your book?

I’m assuming at this point that your book is, in fact, good. Great, even. Given that, why is it so difficult to gain decent sales? You’ve put out a great product with an attractive cover, your blurb is catchy, your price competitive. What’s the problem?

Nobody knows you. You aren’t a household name. Amazon seems to have hundreds of thousands of new books every time I visit the site. Even if you’re very clever with your keywords and category selections, you’re still swimming in a very big ocean. And it’s got a lot of big fish.

So sales are slow and intermittent, and you begin to get discouraged. You begin to feel that you’ll never make it as a published author. No one will ever know your name. No one cares. No one appreciates you. It’s been WHOLE MONTHS and only fifty people have bought your book.

That’s the one problem with self-publishing. With traditional publishing you’re prepared for the long wait. Unless you’re really green to the process, you know that getting an agent can take anywhere from a month to ten years. Then you’ll go on submission. That can take as long again. Once you are signed with a publisher, it’s unlikely that your book will be published in any less than 1-2 years. You go into the process knowing it’s going to take a heck of a long time.

By contrast, self-publishing is laughably quick. Once the manuscript is ready to go, it will usually only take 1-2 days and the click of a button to be published. We’ve come to expect everything to be just as quick. But the truth of the matter is that, unless you’re J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, or very, very lucky, building your readership is a long haul. It will start slowly, most likely build slowly, and if you’re very good or very lucky, will steadily keep growing.

So what can you do to grow your readership?

Be a person. You have so many media outlets at your fingertips. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr- just to name a few. Get out there. Talk to other authors. Connect with readers. Let people get to know you. Be regular in your output, be generous with your retweets/shares (avoid quid pro quo- that’s not generosity, that’s tit for tat) and yes, occasionally plug your own book. However-

Don’t spam people. And by spam, I mean tweet/fb message/DM/PM/etc the same few messages over and over again. You may as well physically hit people over the head with your book. At least that would have the personal touch. Life is too short to be spammed. I Unfollow/Unfriend people who spam me. I certainly don’t follow their links.

Blogs are good. I regularly read the blogs of my favourite authors. Some because they have great insights and tips for writing, some because I like to know what’s happening with them. Make sure you know what you want from your blog/website, and stick with it. Get out there and comment on other peoples’ blogs. Not only will it drive people back to your own blog, you’ll make new friends.

Be prepared to spend on advertising. If you’re self-pubbed, like me, you don’t have the might of a well-lined publisher behind you. You’re going to have to spend some money. Goodreads has been pretty good for me in terms of getting my name and my books out there, and has provided some sales. Not huge sales, but value in name awareness has been high. The ability to host giveaways is a huge boost to name awareness, and also generates reviews. You have to be willing to part with free physical copies of your book, but in my mind it’s well worth it. I’m currently experimenting with Twitter ads, which have generated a lot of interest so far: and, more importantly, many clicks through to my books. Then there are sites like Bookbub, Buck Books, The Fussy Librarian, etc.

Be patient. It’s very unlikely that you’ll become an overnight sensation. Take your time. Build your readership organically. My first book had very few preorders. My second had five times the amount that the first did. I’m now waiting to see how well the third does on preorder.

Write the next book. Don’t get so caught up with all the advertising and promotion that you neglect your WIP. The #1 thing that continues to bring in sales is producing content that your readers love. Don’t let them down.


W.R. Gingell is a Tasmanian author who lives in a house with a green door. She spends her time reading, drinking an inordinate amount of tea, and slouching in front of the fire to write. Like Peter Pan, she never really grew up, and is still occasionally to be found climbing trees.

W.R. Gingell’s books include Masque, Wolfskin, A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend: Vol. 1, and the forthcoming Spindle. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter (@WRGingell), and her blog (

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