Friday, 7 August 2015

How to self-publish

This is the first of a four part series by differing authors looking at self-publishing/a hybrid approach mixing traditional and self-publishing. I’ll update this throughout the month, adding links to subsequent related blogs by EJ Tett, Jo Zebedee and Teresa Edgerton.

There are several reasons you might choose to self-publish rather than go down a traditional route. If you do opt for it, here’s a rough guide, based on what I did.

First off, write the book. Rather obvious, but as over 90% of people who start writing a book fail to finish it, this is perhaps also the most difficult task.

Secondly, you’re not an island. Whilst writing’s a largely solo activity, your finished work won’t be down to you alone. A cover artist, beta-readers, perhaps an editor/proofreader are also needed. 

Cover artists can be acquired from many places, and one I used was Deviant Art. Do check their bio/guidelines and make it clear you want the art for commercial purposes (I very nearly had a different artist, until she revealed she’d only do stuff on a personal basis). Have in mind how much you’re willing to spend, and don’t be afraid to try negotiating (if you’re writing a trilogy or plan on writing more, it doesn’t hurt to point out the artist could be getting more work from you down the line). Also, this is a bit obvious, but be clear what currency you’re paying in and how you’re going to do it (both when payment [or payments if you split it into a before/after arrangement] is made and through what means). For obvious reasons, paying a stranger a large sum before they do anything is unwise. Finding a good cover artist can take a little while, but is well worth doing. I get along very well with Tiramizsu ( my cover artist, and that makes it so much easier.

Beta-readers should be people you know and trust to tell you when your work’s rubbish (if they can’t, you can never know if their praise is genuine either). It’s done for free, and is often reciprocal in nature (I do it for others, but it’s not one-for-one, so I’ve done a lot more than I’ve received for some people, and vice versa).

Editors can provide a wide range of advice (at varying costs) so be sure you know what you want and what your budget is. Whilst others swear by their importance, I’ve got to admit I take a more territorial/independent approach, and do think the ability to self-edit is something that ought to be cultivated. J Scott Marryat , a top chap who assisted me (as a beta reader) with Sir Edric’s Temple, charges a couple of hundred pounds for most services, and more for more extensive help.

I hate proofreading, but also would hate to pay/trust someone else to do it. Finding one shouldn’t be too hard (editors often offer the service), but bear in mind the odd mistake will probably remain whether you pay or do it yourself.

Thirdly, format. There are a couple of guides, both free, which I used for Smashwords and Amazon, and I’ve never had any problems (NB I was using Word. I haven’t tried with OpenOffice yet). There’s substantial overlap between the two (slightly) different formats required, and after the first time it’ll come more naturally. I am not technically adept, so if I can do it, you probably can too.

Fourthly, marketing. This can come in a variety of forms. Turning up on a new website/forum/blog and waving your work under the long-standing members’ collective nose is a good way to alienate people. Offering ARCs [advanced review copies] to blogs is better, but if they decline or don’t reply, don’t hassle them about it. Sometimes people are just too busy, or your book doesn’t fit their style (check guidelines ensure you get the technical aspect of submission right and to see if your book falls within their preferred genres).

Do not worry if you get bad reviews. This happens to everyone, and a bad review is still a lot better than none. Generally, do not reply to reviews on websites (although if someone writes one for you after you send them an ARC it’s fine to thank them for their time and feedback).

Other forms of marketing are interviews, revealing the cover, revealing a map (if there is one), and time-limited discounts (Smashwords has a very cool and easy to use voucher system for this).

Fifthly, choose distribution, and pricing. I went for Smashwords, which helpfully fires off the book to many other retailers, and Amazon, which is the 800lb gorilla of online bookshops.

There are alternatives to Smashwords, but for the sake of consistency I’ll refer to that site and Amazon.

Pricing is a merry hell. Personally, I love a bargain, but others take the view that you get what you pay for. If you’ve got several books out it can even make sense for one of them to be free, to draw more downloads and attract more readers. The $2.99 point is where Amazon’s 70% royalty rate kicks in (under that or over a certain amount the royalty is 35%).

I almost forgot about the ISBN. Before my first self-published book I was quite worried about this, but so relaxed now that I only remembered it for this blog when chatting with a friend who’s going to self-publish. You don’t need to worry about this at all, self-publishing avenues all (as far as I know) offer free ISBNs with zero hassle.

Sixthly, decide whether you want a hard copy version as well. Unfortunately due to the voodoo maths of self-publishing, you’ll make more on a $2.99 e-book than a $6.99 hard copy. However, lots of people don’t have e-readers. It’s especially important to avoid mistakes with a hard copy edition (you can modify an e-book to remove typos, though it’s still better not to have them).

There are a few options for a hard copy, including CreateSpace (Amazon), Lightning Source and Lulu.

Don’t forget to set up your author profiles on Smashwords and Amazon, and to add your books to your profile (via Amazon’s author central database). It’ll often take a day or two for your book to appear under your name on Amazon, so don’t worry if it’s not instant.

Seventh, a new feature on Amazon enables pre-ordering of self-published stuff. Wasn’t available when my last work came out, but if you can drum up pre-orders that should help the initial sales rank, which also helps more people see your book (through things like People Who Bought This Items Also Bought...).

Eighth, and last, don’t collapse in exhausted relief when it’s out. When you get great reviews (if you do), link to them, quote them, in Twitter feeds and the like. Don’t overdo it (once or twice a day is fine). Likewise, if you get comically awful quotes don’t be afraid to mention those (if Joe Abercrombie gets crap reviews, and quotes them [and he does], why not you?). If you break into a top 10 in a category or subcategory, you can mention that too. But try not to spam “I have a book, you should buy it” which isn’t very interesting and is very repetitive.

Well, that was a bit long, but I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll link below to future blogs when they appear (pencilled in for the other Fridays in August).

Part 2 - Things to avoid in self-publishing, by EJ Tett

Part 3 - Doing it for yourself, by Jo Zebedee


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