In the nearly 25 years since I came up with the idea for a guide for young actors in need of agency representation, I’ve thought about what I learned from the experience. At the time, I felt a sense of urgency to get the book to market and finished the manuscript while my newborn son slept. After waiting through two review cycles with a traditional publisher, I took matters into my own hands and enjoyed years of consistent sales through a specialty bookstore before the Internet made this information free and readily available with a few keystrokes.
Here are some of the things that I learned in the process of being a self-published author:
1. If you are invited to speak to a class of students about your book—Go!—and if you don’t feel you have all the answers, invite a subject matter expert to accompany you, but go. Don’t find excuses not to attend.
2. If you are invited to a bookstore to celebrate its anniversary (and to host a table where your book is prominently displayed), don’t let anything stop you from attending. Not fear, not chronic back pain. This type of invitation is heartfelt, genuine, and a one-time offer. Find a way to make it happen.
3. If an unfriendly librarian at a local, public library scoffs at your interest in books about self-publishing when you ask where you might information within the Dewey Decimal system, ignore his biting commentary. It’s likely that you are doing what he’s too afraid to try.
4. Know your competition. If you are going to hide behind a pseudonym when looking for financial backing from a prominent talent agency with zero affiliation to you, understand telephone calls about your proposal will not be returned, and that the book’s concept will be presented to an industry association who will publish a similar version of your book.
5. When a book publisher tells you for two years that they are considering the book, don’t let the manuscript languish with them. If they were truly interested, they will get on it straight-away. Pressuring them to decide will not work in your favour; they’ll likely pass on the project.
6. Reconsider your practice of editing a manuscript in the early morning hours before daybreak while your husband and newborn sleep close by. Sure, you’ll make progress on the next draft, but everyone will be tired and cranky. And no one but you will feel the urgency of getting your book to market.
7. Know that sometimes success is due to timing. You can have typos in your manuscript, the bookseller can sell books that were supposed to be destroyed, and sales will remain consistent because the advice in the book is solid. But, if you can, keep polishing and improving the text between on-demand reprints.
8. Understand that while books have a shelf life, the information is still valuable. Before the World Wide Web ruined everything for publishers and independent bookstores, your book provided solid guidance at a reasonable price. Find a way to keep the information available. Parents of aspiring actors are still being scammed.
9. If you’re a one-hit wonder, be cool with it. Build on the momentum of being a published writer (and yes, self-publishing counts when you sell a certain number of books), or don’t, but be comfortable with your decision.
10. Be strategic in your product giveaways. If you offer people free books they will take them, but not everyone will reciprocate with something of equal value, so don’t hand out freebies begrudgingly, if you expect something in return.
11. Sometimes a niche markets is better suited to your product. Sometimes expansion is required. Understand the limitations of your book as well as the breadth of its appeal.
12. Be smart, be business-minded. Hire professionals that you can work with easily. You’ll need an editor, maybe a graphic designer, and possibly a website designer. Watch costs. Ask for detailed invoices. Fire them, if necessary. Switch printing houses, if quality, or service is unsatisfactory. If you have a good thing going with an independent bookstore, maintain inventory and invoice regularly and according to your agreement, but give them some leeway when payment becomes irregular. Supporting their business is worth more than being a stickler for payment terms.
13. When people show you that they’re in your corner, and that they want nothing in return, appreciate how truly special that is.