We chat self-publishing, marketing and going all in with Sarah Gates.
Sarah Gates’ debut to traditional publishing hit the shelves last year. Love Elimination (Harlequin Mira) was not her first foray into the world of publishing. In 2015, she self-published a YA novel after it received over 9.6 million views on Wattpad. Before her recent short course (accessible here), we sat down with Gates to talk self-publishing and the always-changing world of marketing.
KB: Thanks for coming out and having a chat. To start with, what will we learn from your course?
SG: I’m going to go over why you should self-publish and go through all of the different areas of self-publishing with lots of resources of where to go and my top tips for each area. So, book covers, formatting, where to distribute, print versus online.
Basically, I’m going to bombard people with all of the information possible so they can go away and have the perfect resource to find out an aspect of self-publishing. They should have a strategic overview of all the things they need to know.
There are so many things to know and you don’t know until you get there for a lot of it. There’s a huge learning curve. And that’s what I found was the hardest thing. Basically, you need to be good at research to be good at self-publishing. The technology is always changing. Best practice is always changing.
KB: Do you think the hardest part of self-publishing is putting the book together, making it look good, or is marketing?
SG: Getting it out there is the hardest thing. You’re competing against so many books uploaded to Amazon for example, every minute even. It’s easy enough to get it to look good if you’ve got tonnes of money. If you don’t, then it’s harder.
If you don’t have the skills, you’re going to struggle. There are definitely things you can do but that is somewhere where you have to be skilled or have money. If not, you’re going to take a bit of a quality drop there.
But getting it out there is hard for everyone. Even if you have all the money in the world it’s hard to know where to spend it and what’s going to work. Every book is different so you can’t just copy someone else’s strategy. That’s the hardest thing.
KB: There’s this onus on writers now in traditional publishing to put their book out there. To promote themselves fully. Which is something that terrifies me, which is why I think I would be terrible at self-publishing. Do you think you have to be able to promote yourself well?
SG: For sure. I think that the people who are really excited by that are the people who usually do better. Some people have a knack for it, while others do the minimum and just get lucky.
It’s different for everyone but there are some common threads of what people can do on the cheap or for free that self-publishers will do but traditional publishers won’t. Self-publishers will contact reviewers, do blog tours and these strategies can be quite successful.
There are definitely a lot more options in self-publishing than traditional. Even though in traditional you still have to market your own book, you have restrictions of what you can do with that book. For example, you don’t have files to send out to people and you only have your ten reader advance copies that you can do things with.
KB: You also have complete control over your creative vision.
SG: Yes, and if the cover’s not working you can change it in a minute. You can respond really quickly to the market.
KB: That’s a really good point. What do you think is the most common misconception people have about self-publishing?
SG: That it’s easy. It’s difficult. You’ve not only written the book and edited it, you’ve got your book covers and your formatting and marketing. That alone can take more time than writing the book.
I had the advantage of a built-in readership because I came from Wattpad. I had the 9.7 million reads. I thought if I even get a fraction of that buying my book then that’s a success. But, you know, those people wanted it for free. I think largely because they were teenagers, they couldn’t use credit cards or buy online. All of those factors will change the market.
KB: So, what factors do you think contributed to your Wattpad success?
SG: I wrote it as a teenager, on Wattpad, knowing what was popular in the serialised style. It was right place, right time. Moving away to self-publishing is a different world entirely. You’ve got a different demographic of people. People who are buying on Amazon are not the same people on Wattpad. The whole experience of how people read is different. It depends on the book to how you’re going to do well. That’s what that speaks to.
KB: If you could distil all of your knowledge into one takeaway on whether our readers should dive into self-publishing?
SG: I think it depends on what you’re writing and who you are. If you’re going to write a lot of books and it’s in genre fiction and you like marketing, then go for it. Self-publish.
I also think there’s a lot to be said for getting that experience through traditional publishing. I tend to tell people to try for that first if they can and then move over with that knowledge base. Just because, you make so many mistakes through self-publishing and anything you can do to mitigate them the first time is a good thing. The more you can learn before going into it, the better.
But then also, just jump. Because you might as well experiment.
View our free short courses featuring Sarah Gates, Benjamin Law, Patrick Lenton and Alison Croggon under the 'Learn' tab. Our courses are free to the public because of the generous support of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.
Katerina Bryant is a writer based in Adelaide and Writers Bloc's Writing Development Manager. Her work has appeared in the Griffith Review, Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow, amongst others. She tweets at @katerina_bry.