"Why don't I have sales", "What did I do wrong" and "What am I supposed to do when the time comes" are just some of the questions I've been asked from authors regarding the art (and desirable success) of self-publishing. Although I've been more than happy to answer those questions, I found it easier to write an article so I'll be able to redirect them here in the future.
You've written a book but you have no idea what to do next? Simply follow these instructions. Or don't. I'm a guide, not a cop.
No matter how good and consistent your story is, you will need a second opinion. Find a couple of experienced beta-readers, send the first draft along, and let them give you feedback on what works and what doesn't. A spreadsheet where the beta-readers will be able to rate each chapter individually on characters, plot, pace etc is a nice touch. Note: Don't pick your friends for this kind of work. You don't need encouraging, you need constructive criticism.
You have a Bachelor in English Language and Literature. That's awesome. You will still need an editor. There are plenty of talented editors out there like Tim Marquitz, Laura M Hughes and Sarah Chorn. Hire them. Let them proof read, line and copy edit your manuscript. You won't regret it.
You had to buy a ISBN number, pay a fee to print Hardcovers on Ingramspark, and hire an Editor on top of that, so you simply can't afford an illustrator for your cover. A stock photo will have to do, right? The answer is no. Wait another year if you have to, save money, and hire a talented artist. It doesn't matter how awesome your story is, it simply won't sell without a good cover. John Anthony Di Giovanni, Jason Deem, Felix Ortiz and Amir Zand are just four of the hundreds of talented artists that you can find in the wild. It will make your book a thousand times better.
Oh shit, I have to pay again? Yes you have, and it doesn't end here, so just keep reading or quit. The cover will be responsible for a large proportion of your sales, but it's not just an illustrator's job. You will need professional designer as well. I only know Shawn King for this job, and I really have to look no further, because he's as great as it gets.
Your book is ready for publication, but are *you* ready to publish it? Of course not. Οne of the most important steps to a successful publication is the correct distribution of Advance Reading Copies, and for that reason I'll split them into 3 categories:
Community members: To get people to notice your book, you need to start the so called hype. At least 3 months before publication date, you will distribute ARCs (e-copies will have to do) to people who might not be popular reviewers, but their opinion holds weight in their communities. A name out of my head is Julia Kitvaria Sarene. If she likes your book she will recommend it when it's suitable. If she loves it, she will rave about it. I've added countless of books on my TBR thanks to Julia, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Reviewers & Authors: A couple of months before the book is out, you will have to send ARCs to those who have a huge following. People like Mark Lawrence, Jaime Tivendale and Petrik Leo can make you popular on their own. This time though you will need paper ARCs. Electronical copies (and some times simple paperbacks) means nothing to them; they can buy that on their own. A rare and limited print ARC is what reviewers live for. Make their day, and they will make yours.
Booksellers: Most of the readers nowadays buy their books online, and they trust their reviewers on what to read next. Still, a huge proportion still visits the old traditional bookstores. A single bookseller on Waterstones can sell as many of your copies as every reviewer combined.
The first reviews are in, and they're bound to have some awesome quotes in there. Use them on your social media and on the back cover of your book. The correct selection of a blurb is a combination of wording and politics. You will need a quote that shows your book for what it is, not what you want it to be (eg 'a promising debut' instead of 'in a par with GRRM') from someone who has a big following, and a quote not from someone who gives you a meaningless title (eg THE DEBUT OF THE YEAR) but from someone who has done everything in his power to help you and is bound to do the same when your next book is out.
Your book is out, but you are not ready to go. The final step to a successful publication is advertisement, and there are two types of it. The one that you have to pay for, and the one that you don't.
Free Advertisement: There's an important number of book-related communities out there (For fantasy see: Fantasy Faction, Grimdark Fiction, Fantasy Buffet and /r/Fantasy) that can bring you hundreds of fans. Join the conversations, let the community members to know you, become friends with them, but don't advertise your book. If they like you, and if your book deserves it, they will do it for you).
Paying Advertisement: Buy ads. Yup, simple as that. Facebook, Amazon, or book-related sites like Tor.com and BookNest.eu can host ads for you. Ask other authors, see what works, and use it.
Giveaways: Do them your own (fb page, author website, goodreads etc) or have a blog (BookNest, Fantasy Faction, Fantasy Book Review, Fantasy Book Critic) to do them for you. Subconscious is a powerful thing. If people keep seeing your book they will register its title and its cover, and when they come across it on amazon or in a bookstore, there's a high chance they will buy it.
Special Edition: A limited, signed and numbered edition of your book is a nice touch. It doesn't cost anything extra, and there are a lot of collectors out there.
Date of publication: Ask an experienced self-published author (eg Ben Galley) when to publish your book. Yes, the date counts. If you publish it on December, don't expect any sales - people save their money for the holidays.
Goodreads: A powerful tool for all authors. Learn how to use it.
Now you are ready to go. These steps can help you immensely, but they don't mean a guaranteed success. There's still a high chance that you will be unlucky, or, who knows, your book might simply be shite. You will never know until you try.
PS. I've had to write this article twice due to a power outage (a lesson to be learned here) and I was really tired the second time around, so there's a high chance I've forgotten something important. If something comes to mind I'll add it later, or if you think something's missing, feel free to write it in the comments.