Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

My Speech at the SilverWood Books Open Day

Photo of Debbie centre stage at the open day waving her book in the air
Shameless self-promotion of my handbook for authors, “Sell Your Books!” Photo copyright

A post to follow up the recent Open Day at Foyles Bristol bookshop, organised by the author services company SilverWood Books

Last Saturday I was very pleased to be the opening speaker in SilverWood Books‘ autumn Open Day, which offered a great line-up of experts on writing and self-publishing. Thanks to the generous support of Foyles’ Bristol branch, SilverWood’s publishing director and her wonderful team were able to provide the event free of charge, creating a rare opportunity for a valuable learning experience affordable even to the most impoverished aspiring author.

This was a characteristically generous move from SilverWood, which not only helps authors self-publish beautiful books to a professional standard, but also offers lots of free information and advice on their website’s Learning Zone. They also publish, through their SilverWood Originals imprint, a range of books to help authors write, polish and market their books, including my own Sell Your Books!

For the first part of the event, I shared the platform with professional editor Agnes Davis and Diego Marano of Kobo Writing Life, who you can see in the photo at the top of this post. I usually speak from notecards rather than writing my talk in advance, but this time I decided to write the speech in full, partly because I wanted also to be able to share it with those who didn’t attend. So the rest of this post consists of my speech. It took 15 minutes to deliver, by the way, so I hope you’re sitting comfortably to read it…

Is Self-Publishing a Misnomer?

When to go it alone, and when to get help…and how to avoid the companies who really don’t have your best interests at heart.

I’m going to kick off with a quick definition of what it means to be self-published, and debunking some of the myths around self-publishing. After that, I’ll give you some pointers on when to go it alone, when to involve other people, and how to choose the right partners to make your self-published book the best it can be.

So, first of all – what is self-publishing? There’s a popular misconception that self-publishing is to publishing as home-baking is to buying ready meals – that if you don’t do it all yourself, you’re cheating.

Not so. What self-publishing really means is that the author takes control of the publishing process. It’s a bit like when an actor turns director. That’s why some people these days use a different term – the author-publisher, rather than the self-publisher.

As author-publisher, you assume all the responsibilities that a trade publisher has for publishing a book commercially. For a trade publisher, a cracking manuscript is only the starting point, which must then be nurtured through the production process, to turn it into a marketable book.

Let’s take a quick walk through of the production stages you need to pass through:

  • Writing. First, write your book –then amend, draft and rewrite it until your manuscript is the best you can make it.
  • Editing. Get it polished to perfection by a detached third party expert. Agnes will be talking more about that shortly – and also about
  • Proofreading, that close cousin of editing, to correct any errors that would distract the reader from your story.
  • Formatting. There’s a different formatting process for print and ebooks, which requires a completely dissimilar set of skills from those earlier processes. Note the mention of print – it’s another popular myth that self-publishing equals digital publishing, i.e. only ever ends up with an ebook.
  • Designing a cover. Not a question of choosing a nice picture for the front, but a complex process with lots of technical considerations, such as showing your book’s genre at a glance, and being easy to read at thumbnail size on a computer screen. So, not as simple as it first sounds.
  • Creating the blurb. That’s the copy on the back, to persuade readers to linger more than the standard 8 seconds of a typical bookshop browser. It should also create the right expectations, so that when the reader gets to the end of your book, they recommend it to others. Despite our digital age, word of mouth is still the most powerful way of selling books.
  • Marketing – finding readers to buy and read it! Ben Cameron will be talking about that later.

Now, you could try to do all of this yourself – and plenty of people do, because it’s very easy to do all of those processes, for no up-front cost, via free tools provided by online retailers. I say easy – it’s easy to do them, but much harder to do them to a professional standard.

If you’re just producing a book for fun or for only your family to read, that’s fine – you can easily do that on a photobook site such as Blurb or even on your computer printer at home, or you can publish it online as a website or blog.

But if you’re putting your book out there in the public eye, it needs to look professional. If not, you risk the wrath of the reading masses. If you have lots of typos, for example, expect to receive a string of poor reviews from people complaining about them – and those reviews will remain live online as long as your book does.  Or, if you let your book go out with a duff cover, it might disappear into a black hole, because no-one is attracted to buy it.

For an author to possess all the skills, experience and materials to carry out every part of the publishing process to a professional standard is about as likely as someone who decides to build their own home being able to do everything from drawing the plans to digging the foundations to putting on the roof without expert help. If, like me, you are a fan of the tv programme Grand Designs, you’ll know there’s nothing more guaranteed to raise the eyebrow of the lovely Kevin McCloud, than having one of his subjects gaily assert that they’ll be doing their own wiring, or some such task, in order to save a few quid. It’s a false economy.

So you need to recognise where your skills lie, and where there are gaps, before you go any further.

That’s not to say you can’t acquire expertise in some parts of the process. For example, if you’re good with IT and are a stickler for detail, learning to format an ebook is not that hard to do, provided you’re able to throw time at it. Though as with all of these processes, if you’re cash-rich and time-poor, buying in services will help you complete your project a whole lot faster – and it will also free up more time for you to write, which I suspect for most of us is what we really want most to be doing.

But other skills are much harder to acquire – the artistic and creative flair for cover design, as well as the technical know-how.

You might think editing and proofreading fall into the easy-to-do category. After all, aren’t you a writer? Isn’t that a key area of strength? But the hard truth is, you simply won’t have the necessary objectivity. Your eye will see what your brain remembers, not what your hands accidentally messed up while you were typing.

Whichever services you decide to outsource, there are cost implications. Before you commission any third-party service, you must do your sums and work out whether your project cost-justifies your proposed investment, including all the easily overlooked incidentals, such as shipping and petrol, postage and packing.

But that’s only if profit is your motive – maybe even breaking even doesn’t matter. You might consider your book project a hobby, to be funded, like any other, out of your own pocket. That’s fine too. Plenty of commercially published authors see no profit on their books, once they’ve factored in their hourly rate for writing the thing – they earn their real living from work associated with their books, such as journalism, merchandising and the after-dinner speaker circuit.

While writing and publishing your own book can be sufficient reward, regardless of money,  there are plenty of author-publishers who are earning a good living and more, from their self-published books. There are also plenty who start out as self-published, before being talent-spotted by commercial publishers keen to offer them contracts. Some accept gladly, it’s been their lifelong ambition. Others don’t, because they value the artistic and creative freedom – and the greater profit margins – that comes with being self-published.

But please don’t assume that you’ll make a fast buck. Self-publishing is a long, hard game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there are no guarantees. But the more professionally your produce books, the greater your chances of being a winner.

So how do you decide which service to use?

There are plenty of organisations and individuals willing to take your money offering you low cost options for every part of the process. Cover designs for a fiver? Book formatting for £50? You’ll easily find offers like this online, but as everywhere else in life, you get what you pay for… And if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. Conversely, don’t assume the most expensive will offer the best service. It may just be a rip-off merchant.

Having decided which services you need to buy in, you have another decision to make: do you want them all under one roof, or are you happy dealing with lots of different subcontractors? Back to my earlier house-building analogy, you might feel more comfortable and less stressed with a project manager who will oversee and coordinate all of those services for you. This is where a company like SilverWood Books comes in, bringing to the game its experience of publishing hundreds of books in different formats across a wide range of genres. A contract with SilverWood not only brings everything under one roof, it gives you much more than the sum of the parts.

Helen Hart headshot at Open Day
SilverWood’s publishing director Helen Hart (copyright

With any service provider that you are considering using, check them out thoroughly before you commit. Ask for samples of their work, get references, keep asking questions until you’re satisfied. You’re the publisher, remember, you’re the one in charge. Whoever you choose, make sure they have your best interests at heart. There are plenty out there who don’t.

One notoriously dodgy practice is to offer the author a relatively low price for complete production services, but then to retain most of the revenue from sales, and even the rights. Thus the author is no longer owns the copy that he has written. Some also deny the author any control over how the book is produced, priced or marketed, so the author ends up with their book an over-priced lemon sold only where no customer is ever likely to find it. Others keep adding invisible extras resulting in a staggeringly high bill. Any of these scenarios is absolutely devastating when you’ve put your heart and soul into writing your book.

One of the reasons that it’s relatively easy for unscrupulous service providers to get away with such invidious practices is that they tell authors what they want to hear. A truly sound full-service provider will be honest with their authors, and if they’re shown a manuscript that really does not make the grade, they’ll say so, and then go on to help them improve it.

So how do you find the good guys?

You might have thought of looking through the adverts in writing magazines or searching online. The constraint with taking that route is that you’re reading only what the service provider wants to tell you  – not the opinion of an objective third party. Another way is to consult a directory called Choosing a Self-publishing Service Provider, produced by the Alliance of Independent Authors, commonly known as ALLi. Not only does it include a large number of service providers, it also has a very long section on how to choose the best service, in much more detail than I’ve had time for here today. It’s very low cost to buy, so it’s an excellent investment.

There’s also a way of getting this book free of charge which is by joining ALLi. A free copy of the book is one of many membership benefits, the most important of which is to put you in touch with other authors who are already successful self-publishers, to learn from their experience and to share best practice, including asking which services they can recommend.

I have to declare an interest here: I’m an author member and I also edit ALLi’s blog of self-publishing advice, which issues daily guidance for authors everywhere, written by the members themselves. I know we’ve got some ALLi members in the audience – can I have a show of hands please? All fine and honourable chaps as you can tell!

The Alliance includes not only successful author members – but also partner members who have been vetted to ensure they are ethical and trustworthy. Many of these partners also offer discounts to ALLi members. SilverWood Books is a partner member, as is Cameron Publicity, whose director Ben Cameron will be speaking later about marketing. Kobo, represented here by Diego Marano, is a generous industry sponsor of ALLi’s work – in fact they kindly allowed us to launch ALLi’s latest handbook, which I co-authored, on their stand at the London Book Fair earlier this year. Any other partner members or sponsors here that I’ve missed?

By the way, you don’t have to be already self-published to join ALLi  – there’s a discounted entry rate for associate members.  If you’re interested in finding out more about ALLi, please take a leaflet or speak to me about it afterwards, or if you prefer, leave your contact details on the sheet for me to contact you.

I hope that’s given you a clear idea of what modern self-publishing means, and of some of the things that you need to consider on your own self-publishing journey.

To sum up – remember that the self in self publishing reflects the focal point of control, rather than defining who does all the work. The person in control of the process is you, the author, and you call the shots. The good news is, that means you’ve got the best boss in the world!

Whatever your book project, whatever genre you’re working in, I wish you the best of luck with it. It’s an exciting, addictive process, and I’m sure today’s event here will help you enjoy it all the more.

© Debbie Young 2014 – not to be reproduced without written permission from the copyright owner

Photo of three SilverWood staff on a bench
The lovely SilverWood Books team (photo copyright

 For more information about SilverWood Books, visit their website:

Feel free to contact them directly by phone or email if you’d like to speak to them about your self-publishing project. They are all lovely people and will be very pleased to speak to you.

You might also be interested in entering their fab new competition that they’re running in collaboration with Kobo Writing Life – click here for more info. 



Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Training My Dragon (Dragon Voice Recognition Software, That Is)

Picture of a dragon reading a book
How I’m training my Dragon

A post about my new toy: voice recognition software

As a multi-tasking, overloaded author who still hasn’t mastered the art of saying “no”, I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my productivity and time management.

Recently I was introduced by my author friend Orna Ross, founder and director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, to a new way of squeezing more words out of each day: using voice recognition software.

To my amusement and delight, the software she recommended is known as “Dragon”, manufactured by Nuance, and to increase its (already impressive) accuracy, you are encouraged to “train” it. The training consists of reading specific extracts of text to help it get used to your voice.

I’m still at the early stages of using Dragon (and also a free speech recognition programme that was included with my other new toy – how spoiled am I? – my tablet). But I have to say it’s great fun, and much more reliable than whatever they use to produce the subtitles on news programmes, which are always full of amusing errors. To be fair, part of the problem there may be that the software has to respond to an ever-changing variety of voices and accents, rather than acclimatizing to one.

Not Just for Authors

Voice recognition software is useful not only to authors, but to anyone who types a lot of text on computers – business letters, blog posts, emails, even social media updates. If you’d like to find out more about it, you may like to read the blog post I’ve just written in my capacity as Commissioning Editor for the Alliance of Independent Authors on their blog of self-publishing advice here:

Rather pleasingly, when I was first starting to use Dragon, it interpreted the name “Orna Ross” as “Order Rocks” – and I’m hoping that now that I’ve mastered it, order will indeed rock, in my study, if not throughout the house.

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Introducing Commissioner Debbie

This post gives an overview of one of the many freelance roles that make up my working week – the editing role that, with echoes of Batman’s Commissioner Gordon, I refer to in my head as my “Commissioner Debbie” job.


Picture of my desk
It’s not always this tidy

As you may know, I work full-time from home in the comfort of my own study, overlooking the garden of my little cottage in the English Cotswolds.

My working week is a patchwork of many things, of which the largest is the role of Commissioning Editor of the Self-publishing Advice blog run by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Yes, that is a long title – and no wonder we often abbreviate this when talking amongst ourselves in the group to the ALLi SPA blog.

ALLi is the global organisation that brings together self-publishing authors from around the world to share best practice and to campaign for a higher profile for indie writing.


ALLi logoAs its blog’s Commissioning Editor, my remit is:

  • to identify suitable topics for inclusion
  • to arrange for appropriate people (usually other self-publishing authors) to write guest posts
  • and to set them up to go live on the blog at the appropriate time

There’s a new and interesting post just about every day. To make it easier for readers to find what they’re looking for, the posts are loosely grouped into different strands according to the days of the week. For example, Monday is the “Opinion” slot in which writers sound off about controversial issues, and Thursday is the “Writing” slot in which we address topics related to the craft of writing.


World Book Day logo 2014Occasionally I write posts myself. This is either because my chosen topic is one that I’m well qualified to write about (for example, World Book Day), or because I’ve been inspired and informed by discussions on ALLi’s Facebook forum (a members-only group in which we discuss all aspects of self-publishing).

My latest post falls into that second category. Following a conversation about which version of English ALLi’s members choose to write in, I drew on my own experience of having lived in other English-speaking environments and stated my preference for adhering to British English (no surprises there). Although I can translate reasonably well into American English at least, I stick with what comes naturally. I also included quotes from authors writing in English in other countries, including the Scottish-born Catriona Troth, who grew up in Canada but now lives and writes in England (where she’s recently written a book set in Canada).

The post  – which you can read in full here – received lots of social media shares (53 at the time of writing this YoungByName post) and a flurry of comments (16 at last count, to each of which I gave a personal reply).

The author graduating from her American-style high school in 1978It also gave me the opportunity to use a photo that my editor at the Tetbury Advertiser used to illustrate my latest column there. It shows making a speech on graduation day at my American-style high school in Germany, Frankfurt International School. Worth every bit as much as my high school diploma was the fluency I gained in American English, though I retained my British accent.

Which version of English do you prefer? Do tell!

If you’re an aspiring writer or are already self-publishing your work, you might like to consider joining ALLi: click here for more information.

Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

How To Find Beta Readers

Following my post yesterday about how I’ve used beta readers to help me fine-tune my next book, you may be wondering how I found such a fine band of willing volunteers!  If so, read on…

How do you find beta readers, willing to give up their time to help you further your writing project? Well, you just ask. “But who do you ask?” I hear you cry. “And why would they want to do it?”

Who to Ask

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Just back from beta reading – to be published 21 June 2014

Best not to choose friends and family, who might be tempted to tell you what they think you want to hear – that it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. Worse still, they might hate it – not great for the relationship!

If you belong to a writing circle, commenting on each others’ drafts is probably something you already do – but if not, make the suggestion. You may find others are keen to do this, but just didn’t want to appear egotistical by being the person to raise the idea!

Equally, if you belong to a book group, ask for volunteers there. After all, people attend because they enjoy reading, and those who aren’t writers themselves may be pleased to be invited.

I recently read a short book called The Beta Reader by Elizabeth Eyles, who kindly offers to match up writers with beta readers. If you’d like to take advantage of her generosity, I’d suggest the decent thing to do is to buy and read her book before you do so. (I didn’t realise this until she’s volunteered to beta read Quick Change for me – she’s obviously practising what she preaches!)

Who I Asked

I found most of mine by putting a call out for volunteers on a private Facebook forum that I belong to – the Alliance of Independent Authors. This is the not-for-profit organisation that brings together the best self-publishing authors from around the world – i.e. those who take their writing seriously and aim for professional standards.  I’m well known there because I edit the group’s advice blog, so I quickly had a list of volunteers. But it’s such a supportive group that I’m sure that anyone else would have had the same response, had they put up an engaging pitch for their manuscript.

The international element of the group is a bonus because it means I’ve had beta readers from other countries. I’m conscious that I’m a very British English writer, and I want to maintain that feel to my work, but without puzzling overseas readers with unintelligible Anglicisms.

In addition, I called on an online friend whose flash fiction I’ve enjoyed, Helena Mallett, author of Flash Fraction, a clever collection of 75 stories each 75 words long. As one of the stories featured a GP at work, I also called on my friend, Dr Carol Cooper (also a member of ALLi) to check it for accuracy. She’s not only a GP, but also a medical journalist, non-fiction author and novelist (where does she find the time?!) Her excellent debut novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, by the way, is currently on special offer on Amazon UK for only 99p for the rest of this month.

Why Would They Do It?

Cover of Opening Up To Indie Authors
My latest book, co-authored with Dan Holloway, helps indie authors interact more effectively with the book trade

Volunteers who are not authors will be

  • interested in seeing what goes on behind the scenes of producing a book
  • flattered that you value their judgment enough to entrust them with your precious manuscript
  • be glad to have a sneak preview of your book before it’s published

The last two of those reasons also apply to volunteers who are authors. In addition, this group of people will be:

  • interested to see how another author’s work looks pre-publication
  • pleased to feel that they are helping an author friend produce a better book
  • possibly hoping you’ll return the favour

My Experience of Beta Reading

I’ve been a beta reader for several author friends and have always found it very satisfying to feel I’ve contributed to the fine-tuning of their books:

  • I’ve picked up factual and grammatical errors that might have slipped through until an eagle-eyed reviewer complained post publication
  • I’ve highlighted confusing plotlines.
  • I’ve spotted repetitive words and phrases that the author hadn’t realised were cropping up so often as to become funny, e.g. so many characters rolling their eyes that it was starting to sound like an affliction

All of these things were very easy to fix, and the authors were always grateful. It’s also rewarding to receive an acknowledgement in the book when it’s finally published and a free copy of the book (signed, if it’s a print edition). After all, who doesn’t like seeing their name in print?

Go For It!

If you still need justification for asking, bear in mind that if your beta readers enjoy your manuscript, they may be persuaded to post up early, positive reviews when your book is finally published.

I hope this overview gives you the courage to seek beta readers for your own books. Good luck and happy writing – and reading!

In case you missed it, I wrote another post about beta readers here:

Why Beta Readers Make Better Books



Posted in Family, Self-publishing, Writing

Writing With Many Hats

(A post about one of my writing roles – as Commissioning Editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ blog of Self-publishing Advice)

Moroccan fez hats in restaurant
Moroccan hats n a Boulogne restaurant (fortunately, they didn’t have to eat them)

Writing my latest post this morning on the ALLi blog, it occurred to me that many people who read my Writing Life blog will have no idea of the double life I lead.

Well, much more than double, really – I am a classic example of a multi-tasker (and that’s probably why I’m permanently tired!)

What is ALLi anyway? I hear you cry. And what are you doing writing on its blog when you’ve got a perfectly decent one of your own?

A Brace of Blogs

Actually, I’ve got more than one blog of my own. Echoing those car stickers that you see in rear windscreens saying things like “My Other Car is a Porsche”, my other blog is about book promotion, offering tips to authors on how to sell more of their books. Which in itself echoes the title of the book I wrote for Silver Wood Books a couple of years ago called Sell Your Books! See what I mean about the multi-tasking? That second blog is called – which is short for Off The Shelf Book Promotions. But back to the ALLi blog…

ALLi for One, and One for ALLi

ALLi logo

ALLi (pronounced to rhyme with “ally” rather than “alley”) is the acronym for the Alliance of Independent Authors. It’s the professional organisation for self-published writers and indie authors all over the world, launched by bestselling novelist Orna Ross just over two years ago.

As a self-published author interested in networking with other writers and in improving my writing craft and self-publishing skills, I joined ALLi not long after it was launched. ALLi members may write guest posts for its blog of self-publishing advice (, and after I’d written a couple of guest posts, I was flattered to be invited by Orna Ross to join her small staff as the Commissioning Editor of the blog. It seemed too good an opportunity to pass up, and so about a year ago I assumed the role, working from home, at hours that fitted in well around my other work and responsibilities.

Commissioner Debbie

The Young family does Fontainebleau
More hats – this time at Fontainebleau on our camper van tour in 2011

The job of Commissioning Editor is to, er, commission articles for the blog, adding to its extensive resource of advice and information for authors who self-publish their work. There are specific themes for each day of the week, and I’m responsible for filling four slots each week:

  • Opinion (Monday)
  • Writing (Thursday)
  • Publishing (Friday)
  • Reaching Readers aka book promotion or marketing (Saturday)

To fill these slots, I track down ALLi members who have relevant messages and advice to add, and I give them a broad brief on what I’d like their post to be about. I plan the schedule of posts to provide a good variety and range of topics to appeal to writers in all genres, wherever they are around the world. When I receive the copy, images and author bio for each post, I input it to the blog via WordPress and add the necessary metadata and other details.

Keeping Myself Posted

By definition, I have to read every post – so it is a great way of keeping myself up-to-date and well-informed about self-publishing trends and developments, which complements the other writing activities and ambitions in my life.

But it was only when I was looking through the site index that I realised just how many posts I’ve written for the blog myself – some of them composites of comments by other writers, some them exclusively my thoughts. And it occurred to me that they might interest readers of my Writing Life site. So here are links to a few of my favourite posts, for your convenience:

If you’d like to read all the posts I’ve written for ALLi, this link will give you everything that has been published under my byline on the ALLi blog.

And if you’re an indie author who is interested in joining ALLi, here’s the link to find out more.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionBut for now, I’m heading off to slip on one of my many other writing hats – working on my new collection of flash fiction, Quick Change, due out next month. If you’d like me to let you know when it’s available, please feel free to sign up to the mailing list for this title.

PS In case you’re wondering, my other car is a Ford Ka – but more about my vehicles another day!