1. Do the work!
Having a great idea isn't enough. A painter who's never painted anything will never get noticed let alone stand out as a great painter, regardless of how great their ideas may be. The same is true for authors as well. If you haven't written anything, then you have nothing to show. Books don't write themselves, you know. So do the work. Plot your book, draw up the detailed outlines, create character descriptions, and then write the darn thing.
2. Hire a professional editor!
Completing a manuscript is just the first step in making a great book. Once you have done the work, it's time to get that work up to a professional standard. And the truth of the matter is, many independent, first time self-published authors think they can skip hiring a professional editor and save a few bucks. Don't make this rookie mistake! If you don't have your work professionally edited, no matter how great of a writer you are, it still will be an amateur move. Get it professionally edited.
- You will need to set aside a budget for this part. Freelance editors charge various rates, but for a 50K novel expect to pay anywhere in the neighborhood of $800 USD to $1,800 USD.
3. Hire a professional cover artist!
As it turns out, people actually do judge a book by its cover. It may seem unfair, but it's true. A great cover will make or break your first outing as an author. Since first impressions are the ones that usually stick, if you come out with a first-rate, classy, cover -- that's how people will perceive you -- as a first-rate, classy writer with a first-rate, classy product. But if you come out with a second-rate, amateurish cover, well, that's how people will perceive you -- as an amateur who couldn't aspire to anything better than a generic, second-rate cover. So, make a good first impression -- get a professional cover artist for your book cover.
- As with number two, hiring an editor, the same needs to be said about hiring a professional cover artist -- set aside a budget. Good artists will cost anywhere around $400 and $800 USD for one cover.
4. Network and get to know your fellow authors!
Something I was never told was just how important networking would be to my career. As it turns out, it's a vital part of publishing and the publishing industry. Who you know does matter! So make friends with other authors. Don't expect Stephen King to reply to your emails. Start with other independent authors who you admire, who share your tastes, and who have been doing this for a lot longer time than you. Chances are they have developed many contacts, know agents, and can give you the name of good editors and cover design artists. Be kind, listen to their advice, don't pester them -- be respectful and mind your space, but don't be afraid to ask questions once in a while. And always keep networking.
- In the future, after you've worked hard to build your network and get to where you are, if a struggling author comes to you for advice now you can help them out in turn. Always pay it forward. After all, this isn't a competition -- we're all in this together.
5. Always strive to be the consummate professional.
Your attitude and how you deal with others matters. Be professional. Be kind. It sounds easy enough, but I know far too many writers and authors who feel entitled to more than they deserve, occasionally will badmouth other writers, and seem to have nothing better to do than complain that nobody buys their book even though it's supposedly some kind of literary work of genius (according to them). Don't be this person. Never badmouth other writers, artists, etc. for any reason. Treat everybody with respect, even if they are dolling out harsh criticism of your work. This includes being patient and understanding with reviewers who might give you negative reviews. The more you look and act the part of a professional, the more you'll stand out and the more likely it will be that someone will venture to take a chance on you.
- This is exactly how I broke into the industry and landed a signed publishing deal with Winlock Press and Permuted Press. Although there's no guarantee these five points will magically land you that publishing contract, chances are they can't hurt much either. Lots of other factors came into play which helped me out as well, but these were the main ones and the ones which will make you more than just another self-published author -- it will make you a self-published author who stands at the head of the pack. So go get 'em!
There you have it, ladies and gents. When you boil it all down, it's three parts work, one part who you know, and one part how you behave and your attitude. Now, go forth, and write the next great classic!