If I knew then…

I’m not the kind of person who indulges in regrets. But sometimes 20/20 hindsight can help us plot our future paths so that A to B doesn’t detour around Q. It can also help others. So, what have I learned about self-publishing in the last six months?

Self-publishing or indie-publishing is a tad misleading. Indie authors frequently exist within a strong network of other authors, readers, editors, cover designers, reviewers and social media experts. We are ultimately responsible for the books we put out, their quality and timeliness, but we work with many people. We learn from many people.

Find a place where you feel comfortable and sit back and listen. Ask questions. Share your experience. But mostly listen. A lot of what you hear will be opinion, so filter and learn. Marie Force’s Self-Publishing Yahoo loop is good, as is Kindleboards. If you have any favourite places for indie discussions, please share in a comment.

You must listen to your market. Know who you’re writing for, and go and read their reviews of books similar to what you’re writing. Hang out at review sites and Facebook pages with them and you’ll discover what they love and hate, and what they’ll share, share, share.

Discoverability will obsess you. Advertising (yes, paying to promote your book) is becoming standard. Free books still work some magic in terms of getting your work found. There is no guaranteed method for success. You need to get your keywords right so that a search for books like yours finds yours.

Include images in your promotional activities. This may mean teasers, photos of places in your book, and the cover itself. The images should make a promise that the book delivers. If you’re like me, learning the language of images may take a while (I’m still struggling).

Be very wary of putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s like farming. If you’re a monoculture, one cataclysm wipes you out. Resilience is built by having more than one string to your bow. Bob Mayer coined the term hybrid author four years ago, and it’s become a standard way authors describe their mix of indie and traditional publishing. Each supports the other. If you go all out down one path, know the risks as well as the rewards.

In fact, that’s the big lesson of self-publishing: know what you’re doing and why. Self-delusion and self-indulgence might be fun places to visit, especially when you’re tired or overwhelmed, but this is a business you’re running. Have clear goals, strategies to reaching them, and back-up measures for when it all goes wrong (as it does).