I’ve always liked Longfellow’s poem “A Psalm of Life,” which I first read in high school. Here’s the last stanza:
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
When I first read it, the last word felt wrong to me. In a poem that is all about how time is fleeting and how we must be a hero in the strife, it seemed weird to end the poem with an admonishment to learn to wait.
Since then, I think I’ve come around to better understanding the virtue of patience (although my iPhone isn’t helping, but that’s another story).
It seems this virtue often gets left behind in the world of independent publishing.
One of the great things about publishing your own work is that the time to market is dramatically faster than going through a traditional publisher. This is especially true if you count the time it takes to find a traditional publisher, but even if you don’t count that, self-publishing can get a book to market within days of finishing it, where a traditional publisher likely needs at least a year.
I’ve become convinced this temptation to publish immediately should be fought. Or at least … delayed.
Last week, the independent distributor Smashwords announced a new feature: they can make your book available for pre-order on Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Any pre-sales made are credited on the day of the release, so it can help boost a book up the charts. It also makes planning a little easier–ebooks uploaded to different sites would be available at different times. So it might be for sale on Amazon, but still not available on Apple or Sony. Frustrating.
I thought it was a great new service for Smashwords to offer, but a lot of self-published authors shrugged. “If your book is ready, why not just put it on sale?” they asked. (I’m paraphrasing.)
I think the answer is: patience.
I have twice fallen into the trap of rushing a book to market. There’s a real itch to get one’s work out. It feels great. So I scratched it. In both cases, I regretted it. I’ve later found stupid errors I would have caught if I’d waited, or I missed some pre-marketing opportunities that only required a bit more patience.
I really think authors will get more sales if they slow down and spend some time marketing before they publish.
The obvious question, of course is: How long?
From the time you have a finished ebook and cover, I’d say 8 – 12 weeks. At least.
“Really?” I imagine the self-publisher asking. “Doesn’t that mean I’m missing out on 8 – 12 weeks of sales?”
Not really. Especially not with pre-orders.
The books I’ve written will be on sale forever. In other words, as long as there is an Internet, there will be a place to buy The Marinara Murders. (Weird to contemplate, huh?) So what’s 8 – 12 weeks versus forever?
The Marinara Murders sold roughly 100 copies in its first three months of sales. It’s sold 8,500 copies in the 18 months since then. Putting it on sale a few weeks early would not have caused meaningfully more sales. But the marketing work I did in those weeks did impact sales. Book bloggers reviewed it and linked to it, for one. Those reviews aren’t just temporary boosts. Those are permanent reviews, permanent links. All the marketing that I’ve done since then has built on the positive press I generated in months between when I finished the book and when I published it.
There are other marketing promotions besides book reviews that can be scheduled in those two to three months. Hosting launch party, local press, Goodreads giveaways, a social media countdown, and more.
But they all take a little time.
Waiting 8 – 12 weeks from publication might feel like a slow crawl, but it’s well worth it, and it’s still light-years faster than traditional publishers. There’s a lot of good stuff you can get done in that amount of time.
Now, since I started this post with a poem from the 1830s, I don’t want you to think I’m too stuffy. So I’m going to close it with what seems like the exact opposite of Longfellow–a little Guns N’ Roses. Enjoy.