99.9% of it was discouraging as hell.
I've been 'in print' since late 2007, and have sold... depressingly few copies. Though, I have to say, my few fans are FANtastic and reviews are mostly positive. And my books keep selling, just slower than I'd like.
I'm by no means an expert, I'm still fumbling my way through all this. And Traditional Publishing is the most vicious meatgrinder-of-dreams ever invented. I've had traditional publishers ask for money to 'improve my chances' of getting read, at respected places (Mondania press). I've had publishers threaten to blacklist me. And, rarest of all, out of around 500 submissions, I had ONE rejection that was actually constructive and helpful. One, out of 500.
The 'traditional publishing' industry is in full self-destruct mode, and it couldn't happen to a bunch of more deserving people, if you ask me. They've earned their place on the ash-heap of history. There is a reason why top-shelf names are commissioning their own cover art, paying for their own editing, and self-publishing now-a-days.
At the beginning of publishing, the 'editor' would read the book, then make a decision. Sometimes, the book was so awful that they'd only read a page or two, but they did read some of it first.
Fast forward to today and the LAST thing most publishers want to read is the book. 99% of the rejections Harry Potter got were from editors that didn't bother to read any of it. They want to read your MARKETING PLAN first. And if you can't guarantee them at least 10,000 books get sold (you're in a popular band, you teach school and can assign the books be bought by students, etc), you are "wasting" their time. They only talk to "serious" authors. Yes, I've been told this too, by the editors themselves!
They want a query letter (has NOTHING to do with the book, but proves to them that you know how to 'play' the game and kiss up). Next, they want that marketing plan, and it better be spectacular (because publishers don't want to do anything to earn their money, they want the author to do all the selling for them!). Then, if those first two are great, then they'll read the book. 500 submissions, and only three of my books were ever read, by anyone, at the publishing house.
This is how Harry Potter got rejected by dozens of houses. This is why most of the books that come from first-time authors and turn into best sellers get passed over by dozens and dozens of traditional publishers before someone 'takes a chance' on them. It's because it's difficult and time consuming to actually read books. It's easy and fast to read marketing plans and queries. But that practice makes editors lazy. Readers don't care about queries and marketing plans, they judge books on content alone. And the only only only only way to find out what's in a book is to read the book. . . and that's the LAST thing traditional publishers are willing to do.
When I self-published, 6 of the top 10 books in Japan were self-published (BEFORE KINDLE). Today, 2012, 6 of the top 20 books on Amazon are self-pub with Smashwords. Same trend with the NYT list. Full self-destruction is right around the corner.
My covers... are not that great. It's amateur hour. But, you know what, I IS an amateur, even though I've put thousands of hours into this particular endeavor.
My covers feel right to me. They feel authentic. My best-looking cover is NOT my best seller. In fact, my worst cover is my best seller. If I could think of something better, that I could do with a cell-phone camera and GIMP, I would. But I'm not that good with that sort of imagery. I'm not a photographer, just isn't me.
So, what can you do?
I can't afford 'professional' covers. And even if I could, I'd spend that money on professional editing instead.
But, I get compliments on my amateur-hour editing. And I should.
I edit each book at least four times.
I'm dyslexic, so I write everything in New Courier. My first edit comes right after I type 'the end'. I read it once, straight through, no stopping and no backing up. This is mostly for obvious typos and pacing.
Second edit, I change the page size. I make the paper a half inch narrower. This changes the way the words land on each line. You'd be surprised how many typos this little trick will pop out.
I know this
this sounds wrong,
but it is
is actually true.
I know this this
but it is is actually true.
Third edit is for story plot holes, but I also change the font to Times New Roman. Again, more typos pop out this time. By now you're past the 'story' and are a little bored. This heightens your attention to minutia and sloppy details like 'didn't I already say this somewhere' and stuff like that.
Fourth edit. Save it as a PDF, open it with Reader, View, Read out loud. Now I listen to it as I read along in the word document. Your ear will catch even more typos and bad sentence structures than your eyes will. I constantly find myself saying, "Wow, that didn't sound right!". Some people will use Kindle's read to me feature and your book should sound right being read this way. It shouldn't sound confusing, and now is the time to do that.
Fifth edit. I go back in the archives to when I first typed 'the end'. I have word compare now to then, and go back through each of the changes it found and ask myself if I still agree with them.
Sixth edit. Read it one more time, this time aloud with your own lips. This step can not be skipped. It really zeros in all your dialog and sentence structure. Lastly, have it read to you by the computer again, and just listen to it.
That's the best advice I have right now.
99 cents can be just as powerful as a great cover. Readers are still a little snobbish and haven't discovered that really good books can hide behind crap covers. 99 cents and free help get them over that.
But DON'T EVER give away a crappy book, it'll do you far more harm than good.
By the end of this year, I "Should" cross over that $400 line that the IRS says is where 'hobby' ends and 'writer' begins. This'll mean I can start writing off expenses now too.