I started self-publishing through Amazon.com at the end of March. It's been a complete experiment, and one that I entered into with quite a few qualms. I did say, however, that I would share my experiences with you once I had some idea of how it was going, etc.
Now I've been at it a little over a Month. I've put out 4 books and experimented with a serial. Overall I've found this to be a good experience. Here is what I did:
1) I went back to a few manuscripts that had gotten full requests from agents, but that were ultimately rejected. I got a lot of "your writing is very strong," sort of comments, but in the end it boiled down to either the agent not personally connecting with the story, or in one case, an admission that the story was intriguing but the agent wasn't sure she could sell the story in such a flooded market (paranormal romance/vampires). Now, I know that these all may be agent speak for "this sucks but I'm too nice/busy to say so," however, I don't think this was necessarily the case. Anyway, I went back to these manuscripts, and went over them again with a fresh eye and more experience. My intent wasn't to re-invent the wheel, but rather to just polish up what was there. I'd gotten good response from beta readers, so I had some evidence that SOMEONE would enjoy my work. I figured if at least one person read the book and loved it, that was one more person than would ever read it if it just continued to sit around on my harddrive.
2) I researched self publishing. A lot of the stuff I read gave all kinds of instructions that made the process sound complicated and scary. Some insisted that you need professional editing and cover art, and threw around figures of $3,000 or more to get your book out there (I believe one said $6,000). But there were a few that swore it was simple, that you could do it yourself. I'll admit here, I am NOT technologically inclined. When people start talking HTML, I have a minor panic attack. I read things that called the conversion process from word to e-pub as "the meatgrinder." However, I am also dirt poor. I don't have $100 to spend on something that might, after all, just tank. Let alone thousands of dollars.
3) I decided to see if I could do it (some would call this my "fuck it" mode). I signed up with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing at Amazon) and read through their instructions for formatting your Word document for publication. Guess what? There was no meatgrinder. There was no complicated process. The most complicated thing I encountered was an inability to get some extra spaces out of my manuscript (which I've since then figured out).
4) I published Earth & Sky. I had read lots of posts about people self-pubbing and then selling like 1-2 copies of their book...ever. So I sat back and waited for that to happen. Remember, I only wanted to have one person read it, right? I sold a lot more than 2 copies. I did a free promotion and gave away a HELL of a lot more than 2 copies. Now, I'm not saying I'm a bestseller or anything (not at all), but this was really an amazing feeling. I was then possessed with the urge to get more books out there! I published Kelpie and Survivor.
5) I couldn't stand how long it was going to take me to get through the next book, Moonlight Calls. I had seen a lot of authors releasing serials. So I split that book into four chunks, which allowed me to be continuously putting something out there. I ultimately stopped doing this. It's a long story. Suffice it to say that with Amazon's pricing rules, it ended up being less expensive for the reader, and more profitable for me, to release one book, even if I set the chunks at the lowest price possible.
6) I had read, somewhere in my travels, advice that you should make your work available through as many channels as possible. So with Moonlight Calls, I made it available at Barnes and Noble for Nook. Again, long story, but my (admittedly limited) experience is as follows: It was just as easy to upload a book to the nookpress, you just format it a bit differently. However, it took way longer for the publication to be available for sale, longer for updates to take effect, and... I sold way better over at Amazon. Besides, the Kindle app is available for just about any device imaginable, and it's free.
I would recommend e-publishing your own books to aspiring authors, if you are confident that you have at least a relatively decent manuscript. (ie: I wouldn't just throw up your first attempt. But if it's been through the wringer of critique groups, multiple edits, beta readers, agents, etc. and you feel it's held its own.) It is really, incredibly easy to e-pub at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Don't be scared. Also, if you are paranoid (as I am ;) be aware that you can update your manuscript at any time if you find some sort of glaring issue. While I don't often use this, it's a comforting thing.
The skinny on e-pubbing at Amazon:
*You can e-pub right from your Word document. They have a guide that tells you how, right on the KDP website. I ended up just playing with my manuscript and then viewing it in the previewer until I got it right. The most valuable thing I got out of their instruction manual was how to create a table of contents and make it bookmarkable. (Told you I wasn't very tech savvy). If someone tells you that you must use Calibre or some other complicated HTML, convert to an alien language crap, don't listen. You can do this without ripping your hair out. I've got this down to a process now: highlight all, set first line indents, remove all tabs and replace with nothing using find/replace, single space. Create your title page and front matter. Bob's your uncle.
*You can create your own cover. Buy some decent art at a place like i-stock photo. That way you have the licence to use it. You can use all kinds of programs to make a cover. I use...drum roll...Power Point. Yep. Power Point. Now you know my big secret.
*Pricing is sometimes confusing. You'll see that you can get 70% royalties on your book at Amazon. However, that is only for books priced $2.99 and up. If you wanted to set your price lower, you are only going to get 35%. And that 70% isn't for all territories.
*If you enroll in KDP Select, you can get the 70% royalty for most territories, AND you can make your book free 5 days in every 3 month period. The catch is that your book must be exclusive to Amazon if you enroll in KDP. You can't sell it anywhere else (or give it away) during that period. At first I was hesitant about that, however I feel that those 5 free days are worth it. Free days boost your sales for a week or two afterwards.
*I don't have a problem being exclusive with Amazon for now. Amazon is available in more countries and territories than Barnes and Noble. Plus I sold way more on Amazon. I admit, it gave me a thrill to see that I had sold books in Canada, France, Switzerland, and Japan. How cool is that? Seriously! *Nerd moment*
I found B&N to be much slower, in terms of releasing material and updating material. I haven't experimented with any other avenues. Keep the meatgriner away from me!
Like I said, I'm new to all of this, and this is all just based on 1 month of experience. If you have anything to add, or if you have questions, post a comment below :)