And yes--I have a leg up because I've been a publisher--as in I published other authors' books. My experience first at AMP and then at Musa gives me a unique perspective on everything a self-published author has to do.
The difficult part for me has been separating the authorial responsibilities from the publishing ones.
Here's the deal: if your work is picked up by a small publisher or a big one, they are the ones spending money for all the things you need. And I know how expensive those things are because we were the ones paying people to design the cover or format the ebooks. As a self-publisher, you want your books to compete favorably with publisher-released titles. That means that you--and I--have to spend money to make that happen. And nothing is more important than cover art.
Do yourself a favor. Unless you have a lengthy background as a book designer, don't try to make your own cover using Paint and Photoshop. Just...don't. Go to a reputable cover artist and just fork out the money you can afford to get a professionally designed cover. If you don't, you're just throwing your book away down a big black hole. Your cover art is the most important promotional tool your book has. It's the first thing a prospective customer sees, and is the deciding factor as to whether they click through to your blurb and sales page. Do not skimp on the cover design! There are artists out there who will design a good cover for under $150-200. Go to self-published authors you know and find out who did their cover.
Ditto and double that for interior layout, design, and formatting. If you want to spend a frustrating 48 hours trying to detangle the formatting directions each separate e-reader requires, knock yourself out--and consider yourself lucky if it ONLY takes 48 hours. Or, open up your wallet and go to a reputable design firm--I use KMD Designs, which is run by my former Musa partner Kelly Shorten. Not only are her designs incredibly solid, but mistake-free. And her prices are very, very reasonable--far less than I had originally anticipated. Check out their website, prices, and portfolio here. Or find someone else that you are comfortable with who possesses the knowledge you do not. It's well-spent.
But all this notwithstanding, the biggest obstacle for many of us I think is on the promotional end. My first release, The Reckoning of Asphodel, comes out in a little over a month. So I am going to have to take the 12-15 hours a day I've been spending writing and use at least half promoting my books. And when the sequel series comes out this fall, I will probably have to spend more.
The main thing you HAVE to do in order to promote your self-published books is to create an online presence. Yeah, I know--everyone tells you that. But it's essential--Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, blogging, participating in online activities, Goodreads, Amazon author page--all these things are cogs in the wheels that sell your book. I DO NOT MEAN to hop on Twitter 4-5 times a day and post a plug for your book. I'm an author, and I mute other writers who do that on my feed. So don't be an obnoxious 'buy my book' whore. Create daily content--like, say for example, a blog--and use your social media presence to promote THAT. That sends people to your blog, where all your book information should be prominently displayed.
These preliminary steps should be fairly automatic for any writer about to launch onto the ocean of horror known as self-publishing. But if you do it right, if you invest in your books and create that online presence, you can at least get people to LOOK at your book. And if they don't look at it, they aren't going to buy it. So get busy! Get all those bits going before your book even hits the market. And then check back as I dig deeper into the process in a future post.