Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Self-publishing: a quick guide

Today's guest-post is by author, blogger, and man-about-town Ben Wakeling. I've followed Ben's progress closely - not least because his (self) published books have often outsold my traditionally-published titles. The truth is, self-publishing works if you're prepared to do the hard work; traditional publishing works if the publisher is prepared to do some work. But not all of them do, or are able (or willing) to.

While 'getting published' (in the sense of sending of a manuscript, having it read, edited and launched on the reading public by a traditional publisher) is in many ways harder than ever, it's never been easier to 'get published'. And, like them or loathe them, Amazon - whether through the e-reader or through their physical listings - level the playing field between the big beasts of the book world and us small fry. Not that Ben is small in any way. He writes...

It is an understatement to say that the marketplace is full to bursting with authors at the moment. Literary agencies receive hundreds of submissions every week, and only take on two or three new clients every year. For many, the dream of seeing their book in print seems at risk of remaining just that: a dream.

Which is why many authors (both new and previously published) are moving towards self-publishing as a way to see their work in black and white. Depending on the self-publishing route taken, it can cost thousands of pounds or nothing at all.

The manuscript for my first book, ‘Goodbye, Pert Breasts’, was send to a long list of literary agents, and in return I received a sizeable stack of rejection letters. When you’re ankle-deep in letters saying the equivalent of ‘thanks but no thanks’, you tend to become demoralised, and so I turned to self-publishing. I never harboured visions of being an international best-selling author, and so the decision to self-publish was – for me – an obvious one; especially when I discovered Lulu, one of a number of self-publishing organisations which are completely free (being a print-on-demand publisher, they just take their cut of every copy sold). Creating the book was easy, once formatted to fit the dimensions of the final product: and, within minutes, it was listed on the Lulu website.

There are distribution packages which can be purchased from Lulu, beginning at around $75; but, as standard, your book appears on Amazon, and I wasn’t after much more than that. They provide you with an ISBN for free; and, if you need extra help with formatting, or cover design, services are available at a cost.

And so, within minutes, I had become a ‘published’ author. I have put ‘published’ in inverted commas because, to be honest, self-publishing feels like running an egg and spoon race with the egg glued down: you still feel a sense of satisfaction when crossing the finish line, but it is tempered by the knowledge that you haven’t gone down the traditional route.

In fact, self-published books are the bane of every literary agent’s life: the nature of self-publishing means that anything can enter the market without a need for proof-reading or proper cover design. As a result, there are a number of self-published books out there riddled with poor grammar, incorrect spelling, factual errors, and a general poor quality of writing. But let’s not tarnish every author with the same brush: by the same token, there are a number of self-published books on the market that are of the highest quality, the author only forced to self-publish because of the reluctance of agents to take on new clients. Indeed, many authors have landed themselves an agent and a book deal off the back of self-published material.

But there’s the other side of the coin. If you self-publish, you are not only an author: you are a marketer, proof-reader, cover designer, and much more. There is an argument that authors publishing in the traditional way have many of these things done for them: the publisher will appoint a proof-reader to correct any mistakes, a graphic designer to create an attractive cover, and a PR company to boost publicity. As a self-published author, you have to put in the time, effort (and sometimes money) required to carry out all of these functions yourself. You can hire external help, but at a cost – something which not everyone has the luxury to afford.

It’s a struggle, but getting your book noticed through your own hard work can be done. Social media can work wonders for getting the word out; in addition, there’s local news outlets, forums, and various other channels through which you can publicise your work. Many self-published authors organise book signings in their local town or village; something which I’ve not yet worked up the courage to do.

It is also possible – and very straightforward – to publish your book on the Kindle through Amazon. This is a wise move: I have sold ten times as many ebooks than paperbacks, and the royalties are much greater. The revenue from the sale of a paperback book is pence, once everybody has taken their cut; with Amazon Kindle Publishing, you can receive 70% of the sale price straight into your wallet.

Kindle Publishing also allows you to give your book away for free, for five days in every three months. Whilst not generating any revenue, of course, it is a great way of getting your book into people’s hands. After that, it’s a case of trusting that word of mouth will generate additional sales once the free offer expires. For example: earlier this year I listed ‘Goodbye, Pert Breasts’ and ‘Teething Pains’ for free for five days. They were downloaded a total of 7000 times, and on the back of that I sold nearly 300 copies the next week alone, with both books reaching Number 1 on Amazon’s Top 100 books on Fatherhood. Both books now make regular appearances in the Top 100; something which I attribute largely to the free giveaway.

And so, whilst self-publishing might not be ideal for everybody, it’s a great way of seeing your book in print, and selling a few copies to boot. As long as the content is sound, professional and free from errors, it will do you no harm. My final tip: believe in yourself, and your work, one hundred percent. If you do that, and people can see your enthusiasm for your work, you won’t go far wrong.

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