I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree T.J. Alexian to talk with me about his experiences in self-publishing. T.J. lives in Attleboro, Massachusetts in a renovated green Victorian, along with seven ghosts and his long-time (and long-suffering) partner. He also has three kids and one spiritual kid, and their stories and their spirit form the heart and soul of his novel, Pictures of You. A profiled author in the Writer’s Digest book Writer with a Day Job and an award-winning communications specialist, Pictures of You is Alexian’s first novel, although he has two more being prepared for distribution: The Late Night Show and Confessions of a Diva Rotundo.
When did you decide you were going to self-publish?
Deciding to self-publish was a decision I made about three years ago. I had all these stories bottled up inside that needed to get out, and with the publishing industry in the moribund state it’s in, I don’t see it as the most encouraging place for new authors. Self-publishing seemed the obvious choice for self-expression.
What has your experience been like along the way?
I approached launching Pictures of You last year as an adventure in learning more about the industry and how it works. I’m grateful I did, because I’ve learned so much. Self-publishing is a great way to explore all aspects of the craft—because if you don’t get it done, nobody else will, except for a price. In some ways, I think this makes you a well-rounded artist and also gives you a greater appreciation for those folks who specialize in certain areas—and also, those who really do it right!
I’ve also been fortunate to meet some great people along the way. That’s truly been the most rewarding part. Meeting other folks who are trying to accomplish the same thing, exchanging tips, trading war stories, commiserating. There’s a lot of talent out there.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
For me (as with many authors, I suspect), the marketing part is the hardest. I have a background in Public Relations, but even so, I can never find enough time in the day to truly get the word out as effectively as I’d like about my book, Pictures of You. It’s a tough juggle: put together the best book you can, create ancillary content, make connections, set up a strong marketing campaign, and while you’re at it, think about the next big mountain you want to climb. Despite this, I’m proud of the success I’ve achieved so far.
What have you learned in this industry?
Above all, you have got to market yourself. Of course, even when you have a publisher, big or small, this has to be the case, but it’s especially important when you’re self-published. It takes an awful lot of time and planning. Just as much as the actually creation and publication of the book, to be honest.
What are the do’s and don’ts of self-publishing?
Although I’m not sure I’m the best person to provide a comprehensive list on this subject, here are some things I’ve learned along the way:
— Have a good story to tell. The play’s the thing, as Shakespeare said. Make sure your story idea is strong, makes sense, and communicates to the best of your ability what you are trying to get across. Whatever that is. Then, bring that story to life. Paint in vivid colors.
—Focus on ALL the essentials. It’s your name on the cover, so make sure you take the time to put forth a professional product. Have the book proofread and edited. Have a solid design that catches the eye. Have it properly laid out in all the formats you intend to make it available. Think about the little things, like the blurbs and the soundbite.
—Be prepared to spend as much time marketing the book as you did writing it. I cannot stress this one enough.
—Don’t think once it’s written and you’ve sent it out to the world, your job is over. It’s just begun. It’s not easy. It’s a long hard slog. Whatever, your job is now to get people to be aware and want to purchase and then read your masterpiece. Then, presuming they like what they’ve read, help spread the word!
—Don’t take things (especially reviews) personally. Remember, everyone has an opinion. Yours is no better than anyone else, even when it comes to your writing. Even from the most critical of reviews, you can probably learn something.
—Don’t give up on yourself. Ever. Your next great adventure, idea, connection is just around the corner. But you’ll never know that if you don’t keep moving forward.
What advice would you give to a writer who is considering the self-publishing route?
Do your research! Be prepared to work hard. Take pride in your product and make it the best it can be. Deciding to have your book self-published means that all the elements of publishing rest on your shoulders—even the ones you don’t like so much.
What are the promotional techniques you use via social media and how much time a week do you spend promoting your work?
The short answer is: not enough! Right now I am actually in a bit of a lull, because I’m focused on editing my next book (Late Night Show) and planning to direct a play this fall. But when Pictures of You was first released, I made it a point to set aside ten hours a week to actively promote the book, and it honestly should have been more.
In terms of promotional techniques, you definitely want to seek out the help of your fellow authors and illustrators to promote the book (guest posts and launch parties are great fun), as well as secure reviews from book bloggers. Also, whenever you receive positive feedback on your book, ask that person to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads, to help build credibility. Naturally, you also want to cross-promote these: on your website, through Twitter, and on Facebook.
I do like the KDP bargain pricing and free download offers as a way to build social buzz, although both require a strong promotional strategy for them to be successful. On this front, a word of caution: not all sites that offer to promote your book are on the up and up, so do your research in advance, especially if they ask for money, no matter how small the amount may seem. I spent some time having to deal with a credit card company after one rip-off artist tried to charge hundreds against my card improperly. It was a huge hassle and not one I would ever care to repeat. I only bring this up so others don’t make the same mistake I did.
Where do you see this industry in five to ten years?
Hopefully there will be more organizations such as Indie B.R.A.G. to help promote indie authors and showcase the good work that’s out there! I think it’s a tough industry, one that’s constantly feeling the squeeze from big publishers, as well as the pressure of having to prove itself as “legitimate” in light of the fact that self-publishing, being such a democratic institution, allows a variety of works to see the light of day. Including, some that would have benefited from the author spending some more time before inflicting them upon an unsuspecting world. Having an organization such as Indie BRAG that provides indie readers with a “stamp of approval,” so to speak, can help readers figure out what’s out there that’s truly worth a person’s time.
If something that can be improved upon in this industry, what do you think it should be?
Support! There are a ton of “how to” books out there, but I’m not completely convinced that anyone’s published the definitive guide just yet. I guess it’s hard to, when the landscape is changing all the time. I also wonder if there’s some way to offer online classes on “next steps” for authors interested in self-publishing, once you’ve got a story you want to get out there. Something like Writers University, but focused on formatting, marketing and promotion of self-published books that could give people hands-on experience in different areas. I’ve seen some attempts to do so, but nothing that’s really gotten it exactly right. It’s a lot more than simply saying “Get a blog. Post content on it.” That’s easy and obvious. How about something like, “Okay, so you’ve gone and self-published the next Gone with the Wind. Let’s work to identify opportunities to generate word of mouth. Oh, and by the way, here are five or ten friends to help and support you.”