If you’ve been keeping up with my journey, then you likely have an idea of how this blog post is going to do down. If you’re new here, then hello and welcome! ❤ Thank you for joining me on my quest to self-publish my science-fiction and fantasy anthology, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.
So I’m going to talk about the early issues I’ve run into while trying to get this baby published (so this does not include marketing — but trust me, if I ever get this project off the ground, there will definitely be a post on marketing later).
- Recruiting Beta Readers
After a couple rounds of self-edits and revision, your manuscript is ready for the next step, which is seeking out beta readers.
Now, beta readers are precious unicorns who take time out of their day to volunteer by reading your book and giving you their honest thoughts.
Some people struggle with finding good beta readers and instead end up with people who provide useless answers such as, “That was good. I liked it.”
One way to remedy this (and to be nice to your beta readers) is to provide specific follow-up questions, and ask your readers to explain why they feel a certain way.
But my personal issue pops up before I even get to this point. My problem is getting people to care enough about my project in the first place. Whenever I turn to YouTubers for advice, I am painfully reminded of the fact that they already have hundreds (or thousands) of followers. So even though they may not be famous, they have tons of willing volunteers to choose from and are able to recruit about 20 or 40 beta readers per round (at least).
I, on the other hand, am a nobody. I don’t mean this to be self-deprecating. I mean that I’m still a newbie in the world of publishing and social media. And since no one knows who I am, it’s nearly impossible to get people to care about my writing projects — let alone get them to care enough to beta read for me.
So, what I’d like to know from self-published authors who’ve sold a decent amount of books is — how did they get started? No one ever really talks about this. How did they recruit beta readers when they were still relative nobodies?
I’ve managed to nab 17 volunteers — 10 of them are my friends, and the remaining 7 are complete strangers from Twitter and Facebook that decided to give me a chance.
The good news is that this is progress.
When I published my first book, I couldn’t have had more than five beta readers, all of whom were my friends. And I had no system going, so all kinds of friends signed up to beta read and then never actually got back to me.
This time around, I’ve learned it’s good practice to make your expectations clear, to set up a timeline, and to give specific follow-up questions that you’d like answers to. It’s also good practice to send your manuscript chunks at a time and make sure your readers actually have the time to read it (if you ask someone to beta read and they’re honest about being too busy, thank them for being honest and move on). For those who tell me they can beta read, I do ask that they let me know if, at some point, they can’t meet my timeline for whatever reason (some people get busy and life just gets in the way sometimes) so that we can negotiate an extension or so that I can find a replacement reader.
And make no mistake — if you plan to publish, the beta reading process is 100% necessary. You might think your book is good, but before you start spending a fortune on revealing it to the world, you need to make sure others think it’s good, too.
I’m still in the recruiting process myself, and I’m trying to remain positive. Everyone has to start somewhere.
- Hiring a Professional Editor and Cover Designer
After the first round of beta reading, you make the appropriate revisions and initiate the second round of beta reading. Then you make more revisions and initiate your third. After that, you’re ready to look for an editor!
Once again, if you plan to publish, professional edits are a must. When I published my first book, I couldn’t afford an editor, so I skipped this step altogether and brought my book baby into the world unedited and unformatted. Don’t do this to your story. If you love your story, you will have it polished the way it deserves to be.
If you go through the traditional editing route, this part (both editing and cover design) is taken care of for you (I have my reasons for not going this route, though, and maybe I’ll write about those reasons in a future post). If you go the self-publishing route, then you need to find your own editor(s) and pay for their services yourself.
Some people pay $800, some pay $4,000, and some pay $7,000. It depends on the length of your manuscript and what sort of edits you’re receiving (and how many rounds of edits you’re paying for). Either way, it’s expensive, especially for someone like me, who literally (not figuratively) is living paycheck to paycheck. (After paying bills last month, I was left with $15… And then I spent $10 putting gas in my car.)
You hear authors say, “Yes, editors are expensive, so you’d better start saving up.”
But what about those of us who literally cannot save up?
I’m not going to lie. This has taken some of the fun out of writing for me, and writing is my oldest and deepest passion. If I don’t write, I feel like I lose a large chunk of my identity, and the fact that money is strictly the only thing stopping me from publishing is unendingly frustrating.
I feel alone in this, and it sucks. So, if you are currently experiencing this, I hope this serves to let you know that you’re not the only one going through this apparent impossibility.
This also applies, on a smaller scale, to hiring a cover designer. (My first book has stunning artwork on the cover drawn by a friend for $135, but the title itself was created… by me… and it’s not even aligned correctly. Ugh.)
I’ve seen $600 to be a typical price for a cover (for a cover meant for both print and ebook), but I’ve found an artist who’s quoted me at $450-500. So that’s nice.
- Crowdfunding Sucks Ass
First of all, I hate asking for money. It makes me feel like a beggar.
What helped ease my aversion to starting a crowdfunding campaign (at least a little) was reading The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer some years ago. If you’re any sort of artist (and especially if you’re feeling like a fraud — you aren’t a fraud, by the way), I highly suggest giving it a read.
That said, crowdfunding is still rough. And I still hate it — not only because it makes me feel like a beggar, but because people have bills to pay, children to care for, and their own dreams and hobbies to fund. There are people who need help finding a place to stay or need help acquiring food, and how dare I ask for help funding my book (again, there’s that feeling of being a beggar and a fraud).
But it’s my passion and my dream, and I have to at least try.
My current goal is $1,600 to pay for edits, cover design, and the costs that accompany ISBNs and IngramSpark.
Posting my GoFundMe campaign on Twitter has yielded zilch results (again, I’m a relative nobody), and I haven’t gotten any results from posting it in my Facebook group, Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi, either. Although complete strangers ignoring me on Twitter isn’t something to be upset about, I thought I was building a brand and an audience and a platform when I created the BGBFS Facebook page. But I’m learning quite quickly that my page is seen by its followers as nothing more than a source for pretty pictures of black women in sci-fi and fantasy settings (never mind my call for beta readers, or my asking them what sort of content they’d like to see in this blog, or my request for donors to fund a book that actually features black girls in fantasy and sci-fi).
Maybe the page isn’t the platform I thought it was. It’s disappointing, but you live and you learn.
It’s a huge world after all, and I am but a small voice in it.
Most days, I’m tempted by the idea of giving up.
But, other than not letting down the few individuals who’ve already given me their support, the only thing that keeps me going is that before most things, I am a writer, and my need and desire to show my work to the world burns too hotly to let me quit.
I know there are people out there who need my stories — just as there were stories I’ve read that I’ve needed.
GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.
Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi