Friday, February 17, 2017

Finding the Right Hired Hand by Hard-boiled Thriller Author Jim Nesbitt

One of the great things about self-publishing is you get to tell your story your way. If you’re like me, you want your book to be as professional looking as possible so that means hiring a good editor and finding a graphic designer to produce a killer cover that’s true to your book.
That’s easier said than done. I have a great editor, Cheryl Pellerin, who is also a fine science writer who could give advice about the publishing process based on the experiences she had with her book, Trips: How Hallucinogens Work In Your Brain.
But the rest of the self-publishing game was terra incognito, with few trail markers, a blizzard of often conflicting online advice and the help of some buddies who had already journeyed across this land. To launch my first hard-boiled thriller, The Last Second Chance, I made a ton of mistakes and traversed a bunch of false trails, wasting more money than I should have on formatting, Facebook posts and cover design. On the latter, I first engaged some illustrators with the idea of creating a cover that mimicked the pulp fiction detective novels of yesteryear. That wound up being a waste of time and money, but did lead me to discover a German graphic designer who turned out four excellent cover options for me.
I also had a rather nightmarish experience with CreateSpace formatters who kept delivering manuscripts that were below my professional expectations, honed by more than 30 years as a journalist. I wanted a book that looked as professional as possible, one that didn’t have an amateurish or cookie-cutter cover and one that didn’t have a river of hyphenated short words and rogue line breaks. After multiple revisions that delayed publication of the first book by more than three months, I finally got an acceptable manuscript.
No matter how vexing the cover and formatting process was, it was still familiar ground to me as a former reporter and editor who regularly worked with photographers, graphic artists and page designers. I had to learn the particular quirks and pitfalls of formatters and graphic designers, but I could speak the language and knew what I wanted to accomplish.
What I struggled with most was the promotion and advertising game. I wasted too much money on boosted Facebook posts and advertising and didn’t run enough Kindle giveaways and countdown deals. As a first-time novelist, I ran into a brick wall with book bloggers and reviewers—with a few notable exceptions such as Scott Montgomery, the crime fiction coordinator at BookPeople, the biggest independent bookstore in Austin, Texas. I also pulled the trigger far too late on Amazon ads.
I learned from those mistakes, though. The biggest lesson: I suck at promotion. Second biggest lesson: social media alone won’t get you sales. I found Facebook to be an excellent platform for creating buzz and awareness that didn’t necessarily translate into sales. People loved the cool graphics Ray Martin, a buddy of mine, created to hawk the book. They loved the fact that I had a novel on the market. That didn’t mean they bought the book.
What I also realized is that the publishing world still has some strong, traditional roots, with influential outlets in both the print and online world. This means you need to have game that blends both old school and new school. And you have to know the players in both. I didn’t and needed help breaking through. That realization led to my biggest move in preparation for launching my second book, The Right Wrong Number, another hard-boiled thriller—hiring a publicist, Maryglenn McCombs out of Nashville. She’s got my book in front of folks I didn’t even know about as well as those who gave me the cold shoulder when I came calling with the first book. Will this lead to a sales boom? Not necessarily, but it does take me to a much higher level of awareness and potential.
These hard-won lessons made preparations for The Right Wrong Number much smoother. There were a few problems: the German graphic designer I used for the first book just flat disappeared on me. But I found another designer, thanks to a recommendation from fellow author Owen Parr, who pointed me towards I also found an excellent formatter, Polgarus Studio, a small Aussie outfit with old-school values. They’re great folks—top-flight pros.
I still have a lot to learn about this game. But as Brad Pitt said in Moneyball: “It’s a process. It’s a process.” You bet. With lessons worth learning so you can tell your story your way.
For more than 30 years, Jim Nesbitt roved the American Outback as a correspondent for newspapers and wire services in Alabama, Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. He chased hurricanes, earthquakes, plane wrecks, presidential candidates, wildfires, rodeo cowboys, ranchers, miners, loggers, farmers, migrant field hands, doctors, neo-Nazis and nuns with an eye for the telling detail and an ear for the voice of the people who give life to a story. He is a lapsed horseman, pilot, hunter and saloon sport with a keen appreciation for old guns, vintage cars and trucks, good cigars, aged whiskey and a well-told story. He now lives in Athens, Alabama and writes hard-boiled detective thrillers set in Texas.
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