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Five lessons I've learned from self-publishing (so far...)

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Google ‘how to get published’ and you will be overwhelmed with search results for articles bemoaning how, firstly, it is easier to predict the outcome of Brexit than get published; and secondly, if you are talented (and lucky) enough to find a publisher, the returns will amount to barely more than Bob Cratchit’s payslip. In 1843.

But let’s look on the bright side. It might be harder than ever to catch the eye of a publisher and tick their numerous boxes (hot genre, topical issues, ready readership, marketable author, brilliant writing, cracking storyline, compelling characters…) but it is also easier than ever to self-publish your book.

As my manuscript wings its way to the printers, here are five lessons I’ve learned from the last 24 months (or so) of Blood(y Marys), sweat and tears…

Work with a pro to typeset and format your work
Work with a pro to typeset and format your work

1. Commit to the long haul. Finishing your book is certainly cause for celebration but, like the Premiership footballer who scores an equaliser just before half-time against League One opposition in the Carabao Cup, whips his shirt off with misplaced delight and gets booked, this isn’t the end. Raise a glass, sure, but the hard work is just beginning. From editing to proofing, marketing to PR, it's not a quick win.

2. Find the right editor. There are plenty of people who claim to be good editors — and who even have the credentials to prove it — but finding one who is not just skilled, but in-tune with your style and genre, is the key. I have a talented friend who is an aspiring author and his wonderful manuscript was ripped to shreds by an editor, losing all that made it unique and special in the first place. Like taking a wrecking ball to a wicket, the force was disproportionate. It was costly - both financially and in terms of confidence - and the obliterated manuscript now sits in a dusty drawer.

Find an editor, research their previous work, talk to them on the phone, and get a feel for them. Ask if they will quote for editing the first three chapters to start with, before you commit to the whole manuscript. Editing, after all, is personal.

3. Don’t skimp on the visuals. It’s early days (my book is currently rolling off the presses) but I strongly believe it's worth investing in a cover designer to create a standout design. Covers sell, particularly online. That old adage about not judging a book by its cover? Pah, it’s codswallop. We all do it. Cover first, blurb second. And in the digital age, small icons of book covers on a mobile screen have to work even harder to catch a reader’s eye.

I commissioned a talented illustration student, Josie Staveley-Taylor from my local university to work with me on my jacket design. The resulting cover has attracted a lot of positive comment. Fingers crossed it will stand out as a small icon on Amazon, as a compelling image on Instagram, and amid the plethora of titles at my local bookshop…

4. Work with a typesetter. Of course, it’s cheaper to publish ebooks than fill a garage with paperbacks, or use Amazon’s Print On Demand (POD) service to produce a copy each time an order is placed, but hard copies can play a valuable role in getting your book off the ground. After all, writing your book is just the first step, marketing it is the - crucial - next.

I have ordered several hundred copies to send to reviewers and book clubs, as well as to sell directly and at the book’s launch event. But where do you start? I worked with the lovely Alexa Whitten at The Book Refinery. She demystified styling, font selection and ISBN numbers, and prepared it perfectly to send to the printers. She also formatted it for Amazon, uploading it to the Kindle Direct Programme (KDP) quicker than I could say, ‘buy now’.

It’s an additional cost, of course, but it gives you peace of mind that all your hard work will not be let down by shoddy production or random formatting issues.

5. Talk to real people. Social media is, of course, a must for anyone who self-publishes, but don’t forget the real people all around you (they’re there if you look up from your screen). Talk to family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, coffee shop frequenters, shady types hanging around the library — tell people about your book, capture their imaginations, entice them to follow your story, invite them to your launch.

Word of mouth is powerful, particularly for a story with a strong sense of place (mine is set in a fictional Cornish town called Poltowan). Tap into the local or regional community. Chance conversations can sometimes be transformational.


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