Back Story: Leighann Dobbs

The best-selling Indie writer reveals the secrets to her success

Leighann Dobbs.

Control Your Own Destiny With Self-Publishing

I think every avid reader dreams of being a novelist, and I'm no exception. But unlike many authors, I didn't grow up with hopes of being published by one of the big publishing houses. Sweating over a novel for months or years only to suffer decades of rejections didn't appeal to me.

Not only that, but I'm somewhat of a control freak. I like to have control over my business and, from what I can see, traditional publishing doesn't give authors much control at all. I couldn't imagine giving birth to a book and then handing it over to someone else for them to deliver to the world.

That's why I didn't write my first book until I was 50 years old—and then self-publishing changed my life.

Why Self-Publish?

There are a lot of advantages to self-publishing, not the least of which is that you have complete control over your business and the rights to your books. You can publish them to all of the major e-reader websites and charge whatever you want for them. You can easily experiment with pricing to see which price points earn you the most profit and gain you the most readers...and you get to keep more of the royalties since you don't have a publisher to take a cut.

Self-publishing allows you to work within your own time schedule with no looming deadlines (much less stress!). You can also set your own release dates. You don’t have to wait six months for your book to get to market. You can publish it, and start getting readers, as soon as it’s finished. Once your book is published, you can see your sales in real time every day and not have to bite your nails to the nub waiting for a quarterly report to tell you how your book is doing.

You can get statistics on your book launches immediately with the click of a few buttons. This allows you to see what advertising tactics work the best for you and also to change things instantly such as book covers and blurbs. You are in complete control and able to change what you want, when you want.

To me, this control is vital because no one cares more about your books than you do. You don't have to worry about a publishing company losing interest in your books and letting them sink into obscurity—you are in control of advertising and marketing, which includes social media, paid advertising, your book blurb and cover art.

This freedom of control comes with a lot of responsibility and extra work, which is why...

Self-Publishing Might Not Be For Everyone

Some authors don't want to run a business—they just want to write. Writing is the fun part, and the business stuff can be tedious. One of the benefits of having a publisher is that they take care of some of the aspects of running a business for you. But author beware—having a publisher is no guarantee these things will be done for you or done to your best benefit.

One major responsibility of a self-publisher is providing the cover for the book. A good cover can mean the difference between selling thousands of copies to readers who spread the word about your book and selling one copy to your mom. Unless you have some graphics skills, you'll need to hire a designer because nothing will kill the sales of your book more than an amateur cover.

You also have to know what an appealing cover for your book should look like. In order to know that, you have to do some research and learn what elements, colors, fonts and so on appear on the top-selling books in your genre. Then you have to work with your cover artist to create a cover that will catch the eye of your intended reader.

Another responsibility of self-publishing is editing. You're going to need to pay one or more editors (I use two) to look at your book and make sure there are no errors. Don't make the mistake I made early on and publish your book unedited—nothing ruins the reading experience more than having to wade through typos and grammatical errors. Trust me, those one star reviews hurt.

Self-publishers also have to deal with formatting the book and uploading to the various platforms where you want to sell your book (for both e-book and paperback formats). Formatting can be a painful experience, but there are software programs and services that can help.

The marketing and advertising aspects of self-publishing are probably the most daunting for authors. Unless you have experience in this field, it's hard to know what to do. I was lucky that I had an online marketing background, but if you don’t, there are lots of forums, groups and even author blogs online where authors share tips on the most effective advertising for books.

Make no mistake about it: Advertising is critical if you want to grow your reader base and bottom line. Just because you have signed with a publisher does not necessarily mean they will do this for you, so it's a good idea to learn about marketing and advertising your books whether you self-publish or not.

Self-published authors are not just writers—they are also business owners who have to sacrifice some writing time in order to tend to the task of running a business. I think that’s a worthwhile sacrifice to make because there’s no one who cares more about making my books a success than I do.

Would I Self-Publish Again?

Yes! I've self-published over 20 books to date and gone from zero published books to a USA Today best-seller in just under two years. Self-publishing may not be for everyone—it may not even be for you—but for me, it’s been a life-changing experience that’s allowed me to live a dream.

Leighann Dobbs is the best-selling author of the Lexy Baker cozy mystery series as well as several other mystery series. A former software engineer, she lives in New Hampshire with her Chihuahua mix, Mojo, her rescue cat, Kitty, and her husband, Bruce.

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