Looking back on the self-publishing process: What I’m stoked on and things I’d do differently
It’s been roughly 11 months since my book So, You Have A Band was released. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the self-publishing process. Overall, I’m content. The book sells (moderately) each month, and serves as a nice ‘business card’ and portfolio booster when I'm sending out proposals to potential clients and chatting it up over beers at networking events.
But, as is the case with just about everything I’ve tried to do in my life, I made some mistakes. Primarily related to marketing. Here are two things I should have done differently, along with two things I’m happy with, one year following the release of my first book.
What I’m stoked on:
I wrote from experience
This is the biggest thing I’m proud of as far as the book goes. Everything I talk about in the book, I’ve lived myself. The idea for the book came from my own frustration in dealing with local bands as an editor and a talent buyer. They’re amateurs, and they act like it.
It got me thinking back to my early days as a musician. I was a total gaper. I’m 100% confident that when my first band, Area Mofo, played our first real gig at Ska Brewing back when they were in their original brewhouse and the bands played under a tent in the parking lot, the staff at the brewery thought we were idiots.
I’m sure that the staff of each venue who booked Oatie Paste during the first two years of the band thought we were drunk assholes with no idea what we were doing.
It’s too late to change that now. I can’t go back and un-drink those beers or not book three shows in two weeks in the same town.
But what I do have to offer is advice for independent musicians on these things:
How to not make the mistakes I did
How to learn and progress like we did
How to put your best foot forward based on what professionals in the industry want to see, and what successful bands are doing.
These are the things I know, based on my own experience as a musician and someone who works in the industry. There’s a reason why there isn’t a chapter called ‘How to sell a million records.’ I haven’t accomplished that, and I’d be full of shit if I tried to give a young musician advice on how to do it.
I’m proud of my book because I know there is value in it for those that need it. It’s honest, and it gets the point across.
I hired a professional editor, proofreader, and formatter
The other day I looked back at my original manuscript from before I sent the book out to editing. I immediately noticed two glaring typos.
When I uploaded the finished product to Amazon to list for sale, their automated proofreader or whatever they have told me they detected one typo in the document. I imagine there are a few, but nothing like it would have been had I not hired an editor. I paid $200 for an edit that happened on less than a two-week turnaround (here is the guy I used). Of course, there are more expensive and more thorough choices. But I’m independent, man. I don’t have the money for the big wigs.
I also had my wife, who’s a far better writer than myself, edit the book. As a result, I know the finished copy is readable. I know it is in active tense wherever possible. I know that the parts where I rambled too much are eliminated and the points that needed clarifying got a little extra juice.
After editing, I hired someone to format the book for Amazon (eBook) and Ingram Spark (paperback). She had everything looking perfect and ready to go prior to the final day to get the work submitted to meet the publication deadline.
Why I’m kicking myself:
I should have started marketing much earlier
This was the biggest mistake I made. I read Jeff Walker’s Launch prior to releasing the book and thought I had it dialed down: do a series of pre-launch emails to my list of people who already trust me, and watch the money come in.
I did the series of pre-launch emails and sold about a dozen books on presale. Not exactly enough to call the bank and ask them not to freeze my account due to the impending multitude of money that is about to be deposited in the coming weeks, as Walker suggests might happen.
I sent out a press release to the music press and did a small in-house marketing campaign. I got a couple write-ups and sold a few dozen books as a result. Nothing major.
Over the past year, I’ve done a hefty amount of reading on marketing and SEO. Much of my client work these days, as I’ve noted in other posts, revolves around SEO copywriting. I’m not going to go into SEO best practices right now (see the next section for a start) but I’m kicking myself for not doing all of the marketing techniques I’ve done this summer, last summer.
Why the hell didn’t I implement these techniques with my book launch? I’ve sold more books in the last six months after I hired a VA (virtual assistant) to run an outreach campaign that I designed than I did during my release launch. Almost a full year later, I finally feel like I’m starting to gain some traction.
Additionally, I should have set up more speaking gigs before the release. I’ve had nearly a 30% conversion rate every time I do an in-person talk. 30% of the people that come buy my book. That’s a damn good rate, and I’ll be the first to tell you I’m no expert at sales. There’s something about that personal connection and live storytelling that just hooks people in.
I should have built a dedicated website prior to the release
Going along with the last point, I needed a dedicated website during the marketing process. Putting up a page at my portfolio site did little to nothing for me as far as sales.
I recently hired a developer that I met in Bali to build a new website for my book. It’s SEO-optimized and I’ve begun posting a series of keyword-targeted blog posts with the hopes of ranking pages on Google. I’m already on page 1 for the search term ‘help my band.’ The plan is to rank for a bunch of related keywords, such as:
Help my band book shows
Help my band get signed
Help my band write songs
It’s a tedious process, but look at all the product websites that are successful – they are all SEO-friendly. If people aren’t finding you on Google, you’re not going to sell anything. I hired a pro to do an SEO consultation on my portfolio website (this one) and the first thing he said was “you need a new website for your book.”
For book two, if I ever get around to finishing it, there’s going to be a lot more work upfront. I’ve gotten some feedback and will put that into play. Generally, I want to make it more of an event. Something that people are forwarding to their friends. I didn’t do a good enough job of that this time, and I’m trying to make up for it now.
I’m glad the book is out – I’m super stoked on it and love telling people about it. Sales are slowly picking up. It may even turn a profit one of these days, damnit. For my first go at this, that’s a win in my book.