Authors don’t make a lot of money to start with. At least I don’t. If you do, congratulations, you’re in a very lucky minority. But odds are, you have a full or part time job and write on the side (which is what I do). If that is you, great. I tell you this with only the best intentions: Don’t quit your day job. Why? Because your job offers you three things: money, stability, and a social network to help spread the word about your books. It’s better to suffer through a job for the income than cut yourself off from it and risk going broke. The reality today is that the longer you are without a job the smaller your chances of finding a new one so don’t break the legs you stand on until you are sure you can support yourself another way.
So, that being said, you have two commodities to spend on your writing and publishing: Time and money. It’s up to you to decide which is more valuable and how you want to spend it. I don’t have the perfect formula for everyone, but I am working on developing one for myself.
Writing aside, are you good at (or interested in) building websites? Do you like to play with image manipulation and creating covers? If so, you’re better off spending a few hours (or days) making your own than paying someone to do it for you. Pennies saved! Actually, in this case it’s hundreds of dollars. Even if you have no clue how to go about it, there are resources out there. I mentioned WordPress before. You’re looking at it. Even without any custom work, WordPress gives you a beautiful canvas to write on. Make use of it. You don’t even have to touch any code. Just type what you want to say and click “Publish.” You will see a link to GIMP in my list of links. It’s what I use all the time, for covers and website banners, and everything in between. It’s easy to use and best of all, FREE. I will have How-To posts about it later on. Easy, right? Okay! moving on.
Three things you really, really, really should invest in–with time or money or both–are your website, your cover page, and a professional edit for your book. Why? Because these are the three faces of you.Your book is the skeleton that supports you, but those three things are the muscles that move it. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but a lot of people do. A poorly designed cover sends the message that this is an amateur, low quality book and people will be less inclined to read it. Even with a beautiful cover, if a reader opens your book and finds ten typos and errors in the first chapter, they won’t bother reading on, and they definitely will not come back for the second installment. This is one time where your eyes alone are not enough. I, for example write, re-write, and edit so many times that after a while I stop noticing the small things. Invest some money and have a professional edit your book before you publish. As I said, your readers give you their time, attention and devotion. Don’t short change them with a subpar book.
Let’s say, then, that you did all the right things, you have a beautiful cover and a polished book. Let’s say that after reading it, a person looks for you online (as most people these days do). What will they find? What they should find is a neat, well-put-together website with information about you and your books and maybe a way to contact you. They should find it at a custom URL (see my post about this here) and they should be able to navigate it without major effort. It doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg. It doesn’t need to have the latest and greatest Flash intros, dynamic graphics and all those other bells and whistles. But it does need to look professional and be something you are proud to show off.
After those three things, everything else is gravy and you need to negotiate. What do you want to buy or invest in? Do you really need it? How will it help you? Beware of review sites that offer reviews and with the next breath hawk their advertisement packages at you. There is no research to support any correlation between purchasing such ads and higher sales (and since all such sites say they will accept submissions but cannot guarantee a review, think twice before you fall for it). This is not to say you should not ask for reviews, by all means do, just be sure it is at a reputable site you are familiar with who will give you an honest review and does not charge reading fees. If you can’t find one, you’re better off with a website and a blog you update every once in a while.
Tags are your best friends. Look for forums where you can participate and put a link to your website in your signature. Sites like The Romance Reviews give you free headline ads or something similar for having a link to their site on yours. It doesn’t have to be big and obvious and already you have free advertisement because not only do you have those ads, if you make a profile on TRR, that is one more place where people can see you. Again, though, negotiate. Don’t overstretch yourself. Make sure whatever you decide to do, that you can sustain it. Don’t join a hundred sites and expect to post on a weekly basis because you are first and foremost a writer, not a marketer. Your time is valuable. Balance how you spend it and if you find you’re spending more time on browsing your websites, forums and blogs instead of working on your book, reassess and restructure.