I have worked my booty off this past year promoting my book and learning what works (and soooooo much that doesn't) with self-publishing. And I've had some success. True, it could be chalked up to luck (right time, right place), but I would also like to think that some of my hard work (the booty-off variety) had something to do with it.
After having quite a few people ask me for advice, I've realized one of the most important pieces of advice I can give. So here it is. Do WHATEVER it takes to make your book NOT look/seem/feel self-published.
What does this mean, exactly?
It's quite simple, really. Your book, in order to compete with the big-guns (publishers), must look like it came from a big publisher. Your cover, your content, your blurb, your blog, your website. Everything.
It really goes without saying (or it should at least), that if you want to make a name for yourself, you must look professional. Put it this way. If you made the best baked chocolate cookies in the entire world, but you wrapped them in Ziploc bags, slapped on a printed tag using Comic Sans font (please don't make me cry) and then presented it for the world to buy... do you think they will? Not likely. And especially not on the internet.
How do you do this exactly? Research, research, research. Look at the bestsellers in your genre and see what they are doing. Here are some ideas of what you can do:
Pay someone to make your cover. Use a professional. Don't think you can do it on your own, or use one of those ready-made programs. That screams self-published. And don't try to buck the trend. Look at what is selling and go from there.
Have your book read by multiple beta-readers, and really take into account their feedback. Even if you have the best packaging in the world, your book will not succeed if people do not like it.
Have your book professionally edited. Your "grammar nazi" sister is not good enough. (trust me)
Pay to have your website designed, or buy a pre-made design that you can adjust. There are lots of great programs out there.
The deal is... this will cost you money. But like any business owner will tell you, you have to spend money to make money. And your book is your business. You have invested your time and energy into writing it. You will also have to invest some money. Ask ANY business owner. They did not get to where they are without spending money and taking a chance at first.
I must go now. That chocolate cookie example may have not been the best thing to talk about while dieting. I must have one... right now.