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8 Things Readers Want From Self-Published Authors

Categories: Build a Platform & Start Blogging, Building Readership, Digitization & New Technology, Getting Published, Marketing & Self-Promotion, Self-Publishing.

My post last week, The “Self-Pub Is Crap” Debate, has probably generated more comments than any other post in 2011.

Reviewing the comments provides an excellent to-do list of how self-published authors can be taken seriously by readers.

  1. Hire professionals for editing, proofreading, and design.
  2. Put most of your cost toward editing. That means, aside from development or content editing, you must eliminate all proofreading errors and typos if you want to be taken seriously. Evelyn Lafont also recommends using beta readers to put out quality work.
  3. Hire a conversion house for clean e-book formatting.
  4. Understand the difference between vanity publishing and the BUSINESS of being an author. Don’t do it just for the rush of seeing your name on Amazon. (Evelyn Lafont)
  5. Don’t give 5-star reviews to friends’ books that don’t deserve it. Some people give 5 stars to every friend’s book. This is a problem with both traditional and self-published books, but several readers complained that absurd and false high rankings tend to be more widespread in the self-published arena.
  6. Don’t self-promote constantly. Self-published bloggers can be less fun to follow because they promote constantly. Many blogs, Twitter, and Facebook posts have become advertisements. (Theresa Milstein) 
  7. If there’s no quality sample, readers won’t buy. Most readers decide whether to buy the book based on the quality of the sample, regardless of ratings/reviews. (Ann Best)
  8. Be patient. In an environment where NO ONE seems patient enough to put out quality work, your book will stand out if you take the time to do it right. (Tony McFadden)

As Fiona commented, “If you self-publish … you have to take responsibility for the finished product.”

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25 Responses to 8 Things Readers Want From Self-Published Authors

  1. To respond to those who have said cost is an issue, first, let me say, I completely understand and have a tight budget myself and am quite the deal shopper in general. However, to avoid editing in particular due to budget issues, is not a good idea in my opinion. Formatting is questionable as well though some people with a good graphic design background certainly could.

    I read on commenter on another blog recently who stated that if you cannot afford the main steps needed to publish at a solid, high quality level, then maybe you’re not ready. If your book is mainly meant for family/friends that’s a different story. However, if your goal as #4 states above is to be in the business of being an author, quality matters, plain and simple.

    Publishing/selling books is really no different than any other entrepreneur starting most any other kind of business. If it were a bakery, you’d hope they used top quality ingredients. Do they need to be gourmet? No, but still excellent.

    Can you get away with less? Sure, people do it all the time. The thing is though, that the more people go that route, the more readers have reason to generalize about mediocre or less quality and no one wants that.

    My advice for those with small budgets is to shop around for services, borrow, try bartering, or some of the crowd sourcing funding options that are out there. If all of that still keeps you out of the realm of publishing right now, it might be best to wait.

  2. Natalie says:

    The star rating is a challenge, if a reviewer shares a surname with the author I completely ignore them, and if a book only has a few reviews and they are all five stars, I assume they are from the author’s friends. I know I’m not the only one to think this way, but I realise that is unfair, as there must be loads of good books that only a few people have reviewed which many of us dismiss because of the prejudices about the review system. Perhaps the only way around it is to display how many other reviews the reviewer has done? One review = friend, lots of reviews = (more likely) a reader.

  3. Natalie says:

    The star rating is a challenge, if a reviewer shares a surname with the author I completely ignore them, and if a book only has a few reviews and they are all five stars, I assume they are from the author’s friends. I know I’m not the only one to think this way, but I realise that is unfair, as there must be loads of good books that only a few people have reviewed which many of us dismiss because of the prejudices about the review system. Perhaps the only way around it is to display how many other reviews the reviewer has done? One review = friend, lots of reviews = (more likely) a reader.

  4. I offer Kindle conversions for $100, if someone needs help getting their Word file to look nice in Kindle. I run Bravado Publishing services and specialize in formatting.

  5. Great advice. I do wish big publishers would listen to a few. When I read my favorite, best selling authors on Kindle, I see all kinds of formatting issues. It looks like an intern hastily retyped the ms, putting in spaces, missing quote marks, and sentences that end mid sentence. I format books for a living so I’m picky, but some of these are very common throughout certain books.

  6. Leah Carson says:

    I’d like to recommend a great ebook converter: Michael Campbell of http://www.MCWriting.com. He does great work at reasonable rates with quick turnaround. He’ll even design your front cover.

    And no, he hasn’t asked me to plug his work. I’m just so happy with how well he did on my ebook that I want him to have lots of customers and stay in business forever!

  7. Belle says:

    Hi, Jane!
    I love your blog!
    I have a question: can you recommend a good conversion house for e-book formatting?
    Thank you!

  8. @Claude – I don’t have any experience working with or using BookBaby, but the people behind it are credible, and they distribute to all the major platforms. Worth experimenting with.

  9. Great post as always, I just tweeted about it! I agree on everything you said, including the need to have good editing. Trouble with that is it’s SO expensive (say $3/page just wipes out any normal return on ebook sales in the first year).

    Ok, it might well be a necessary expense because I don’t believe beta readers are that reliable (do they really take the time to read with care, page by page for overall rythm, line by line for small errors?) Unless there’s an emotional tie (say he’s your husband), I doubt you can get a good job done from your crit partners.

    I’m currently trying to set out in the self-pub e-world, with the help of BookBaby. What’s your take on that?

  10. Thanks for the article, Jane. We have started a conversation about your to-do-list on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/xinxii.en For example, one author remarks: "Of course, if you are poor, like me, half these tips are unreachable and unapproachable. So what are we poor ones to do (…)?" Recommendations, comments and tips are welcome.

  11. TC Conner says:

    I just self-published my first book, a compilation of my gardening articles from the past 5 years. I used Lulu.com and nothing else. I formatted the entire document myself and used on of Lulu’s cover formats with my photos. My first initial order of 125 books was received in early April. It’s only 146 pages so I call it a booklet. I’m down to my last ten or twelve books.

    I sincerely believe that you don’t need to follow any rules in order to sell self-published books. Of course it helps if one has the extra income to dole out hundreds of dollars on some of those things you mentioned (Rules 1, 3, and 3). But for those of us on very limited incomes, a basic self-publishing package that costs less than $500 is quite viable, and you can even turn a profit.

  12. Bob Mayer says:

    The last point is something I’m seeing more and more of. A writer uploads a book on Sunday and is already asking by Wednesday why sales aren’t any better. Coming out of 20 years of traditional publishing, I was forced to learn patience. In January of this year I sold 347 books on Kindle US. This month I’m on track to sell over 12,000. And I think that’s really fast.
    Just today I was featured along with several other authors in a Forbes article on self-publishing backlist. I’m starting to have great success. After 20 years, 50 manuscripts, and working seven days a week, every week of the year. So, yeah, I’m a fan of patience.

  13. @David – Converting files isn’t that complicated; the big question comes into play when you look at the formatting after conversion. (Just because it’s converted doesn’t mean it will look good!)

    Here’s a great post from GalleyCat on 6 resources for DIY conversion/formatting:

    However, some people would rather leave this in the hands of a professional.

  14. Ed Cyzewski says:

    Thanks Jane. That certainly strikes me as a worthwhile investment.

  15. As to #3: Conversion houses, I haven’t dug too deeply into this yet, but is it really that hard? The program Scrivener compiles my manuscript exactly like I want it and converts it to .epub. I can load it into my iBooks, Stanza, Kobo, etc. and it looks like everyone else’s books. What am I missing here? Or can I not send it out to ebook distributors as an epub? But as something else ready for them to convert they way they want?

  16. @Porter – I totally agree, they should. But how often do they?

  17. Jane, thanks for this distillation. The whole discussion has been useful. Regarding reviews and the plethora of five-star entries (I’m thinking of Amazon in particular), shouldn’t friends disclaim their relationships, if any, when they review?

  18. Perry says:

    Great advice, thanks. It’s nice to see someone giving concrete advice for this segment.

  19. @Ed – Yes! One of the best is Ebook Architects: http://www.ebookarchitects.com/

  20. Ed Cyzewski says:

    The ebook conversion house is a new one to me. Any recommendations on some of the top ones to check out?

    The 5-star review rule touches on a pet peeve of mine. A 5-star book is one that either changed my life or is the kind of book that I reread. I don’t give out too many 5-star reviews!

  21. Robyn says:

    Sounds like very sensible advice to me. Interesting your comment 6 about self-promotion. Twitter almost drives me insane sometimes with the constant self-promotion tweets..

    There is no self-promotion on my blog – that would interfer with my topic!

  22. Catherine says:

    Oddly enough, I would have thought that good content and clear writing would have made this list.

    You can edit like mad, but if there’s nothing there to start with, there’s still nothing there.

    Catherine Kane
    author "Adventures in Palmistry"

  23. Lol, and now I shall thank you for mentioning, "the new generation of self-published authors who ARE putting out edited, quality products."

  24. Great Article: Regarding point number 8 about quality, when I self-published my book "How to "Retire Happy, Wild, and Free", my goal was to have the "World’s Best Retirement Book." I believe that I have succeeded given it is the best-selling retirement book on Amazon.

    Even so, my promotion had to be the best as well, far better than any of my competition. This quote by Seth Godin applies:

    "Being average is for losers. Being better than 98 percent of the competition used to be fine. In the world of Google, though, it’s useless.
    If you are not going to get to #1, you might as well quit right now."

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    Innovator, Best-Selling Author, and Unconventional Career Coach
    Author of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 125,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

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