A news flash about my new role at Self-publishing Magazine
People often say to me “how do you manage to do so much?” Of course, they are seeing only my output rather than the massive to-do list on the overcrowded desk in my study. Normally a glass-half-full person, my inner optimist daily quails at my sins of omission – all the things I should have done by now but haven’t. But even I had to be impressed at my apparent ability to post an advice piece in Self-Publishing Magazine while under general anaesthetic…
What is Self-Publishing Magazine?
Self-Publishing Magazine is an online publication produced by Matador, which helps authors self-publish their books through its Troubadorimprint. I know quite a few authors who have used its service, and I was pleased last year to be invited as a guest speaker at their annual Self-publishing Conference. I was sad to have to turn down the opportunity to appear at their 2017 event because it’s on 22nd April – the same day as the local litfest that I run in my village, the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival.
My Role as Agony Aunt
However, I was pleased to accept an invitation to be an occasional agony aunt for the publication, answering questions put by their readers, drawing on my knowledge as an indie author and commissioning editor of the Author Advice Centre blog for the Alliance of Independent Authors.
My first column for Self-Publishing Magazine, answering the question “How do I keep writing every day even if I get writers’ block?”, was due for publication on the same day as my recent operation, giving the impression that not even a general anaesthetic was enough to stop me multi-tasking.
Of course, it was actually written some in advance and scheduled to go live that day. Though the tweeting taking place on the day of my operation wasn’t. (Hurrah for free hospital wifi!) Not even a general anaesthetic can keep me offline for long.
A post to help writers become self-publishing authors
“Help! I want to self-publish the books I’ve written, but I haven’t got a clue how to go about it!”
That message arrived in my inbox from a very nice chap who I’d enjoyed chatting to at the recent Triskele Literary Festival in London. The advice that I sent him in reply will help any writer thinking of becoming a self-publishing author, so I thought I’d put it on my blog to help as many people as I can.
Tip #1: Join the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi)
First of all, you should most definitely join the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) via this link, because you’ll find it an invaluable resource at all stages of your self-publishing journey, in lots of different ways, e.g.
meeting and networking with other self-publishing authors
access to our private Facebook forum where you can ask and find answers to questions about any aspect of writing and self-publishing any time of day or night from our global membership
free guidebooks in ebook form which are definitive guides to different parts of the process
discounts and deals on a wide range of essential services and events
entitlement to post your book news on our Member Showcase
The benefits are incredibly good value for money, and if any aspiring indie author can afford to pay for only one thing, that’s the one thing I’d recommend.
Tip #2: Learn as Much as You Can Yourself
Secondly, it depends on how IT-savvy you are. Self-publishing requires a whole string of computer-based tasks, but they are not rocket science. If you are comfortable with word processing and social media, and you have some spare time to throw at the task, it’s not that hard to master creating book files, especially if you acquaint yourself with various good guide books that I can recommend:
You should soon realise what tasks you can and can’t manage yourself, and you should delegate those to someone else who can. You should ALWAYS get your proofreading done, at the very least, and preferably some editing too if you can afford it, and next on your shopping list should be a good cover design from a book design specialist.
That will be sufficient to get you started by publishing to Amazon in print and ebook form, and once you’ve mastered that you can move on to the various other distribution platforms. If you want to be able to sell your books via bookshops, you should also publish via Ingram Spark. (NB This doesn’t guarantee that your book will be sold in any bookshops, but it makes it possible for bookshops to order them if they want to.
Tip #3: Decide on Your Priorities: Cash vs Time
Thirdly, it depends on whether you are cash-rich, time-poor or cash-poor, time-rich. If money is no object, you can pay a company to publish a book for you, who will do everything other than write it, to get it to the production stage – but you will have to market it. Buyer beware – there are LOTS of charlatans out there, but the good news is that ALLi will help you identify the good guys! Also, of course, if you delegate to a third party, you relinquish some degree of control. Our guide Choosing a Self-publishing Service (free to download if you become a member) is available to buy in paperback here).
Tip #4: Network with Other Indie Authors
It’s also worth joining a good local meetup group of self-publishing authors, if you can find one near you. I run two, in Bristol and Cheltenham, and I’m also involved with one in Oxford, and know of others in London and elsewhere. If you’d like me to put you in touch with any of my self-publishing author friends near where you live, leave a comment and I’ll see if I can hook you up with a group or a like-minded individual.
Tip #5: Make Sure Your Book is Really Ready for Publication
Make sure your book is the best it can be before you publish it – it is so easy to self-publish a book these days that it is too tempting to push the “Publish” button sooner than you should!
Tip #6: Keep Writing!
The more books you self-publish, the greater your chances of success. Received wisdom is that provided the books you’ve self-published are any good, and that they are in the same genre, you’ll see a significant increase in sales when you publish your third, fifth and seventh book, and so on – although yesterday someone told me that the fourteenth is the biggest tipping point (no idea why!) So I’d better get back to writing my books, then…
My Self-published Books
I’ve now self-published a number of fiction and non-fiction books, and I’m also currently writing the second in a cosy mystery series of seven, the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery Collection.
A summary of the talk I gave to a local women’s group about being an author
Last week I did something I’d never done before: entered Sopworth Village Hall! Sopworth is an idyllic little village tucked away on the edge of rural Wiltshire. A drive through its winding lanes is an estate agent’s dream. Beautiful honey-coloured Cotswold stone cottages and substantial detached houses are surrounded by flower-filled gardens, with the only background noise the sounds of nature.
I’d been invited to speak to the Sopworth Ladies’ Circle about my life as a writer because the events organiser enjoyed the regular column I write for the local monthly magazine, theTetbury Advertiser. (Tetbury is Sopworth’s nearest town.) This magazine, run by the Tetbury Lions, does great things to unite and inform the local community. For this it was rewarded last year with the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. I’m proud to support its work.
The Essence of My Talk
About fifteen ladies attended, a couple of them interested in writing themselves, and they all listened attentively to my three-part talk (15 minutes per part) in which I explained:
how I came to be an author
why I think there’s never been a better time to be an author
my ten top tips on how to become an author
I won’t say any more about the first point, because that information is elsewhere on this blog (see personal bio and career). Instead I’ll give an abridged version of what I said about the second point, and list those 10 top tips.
Why There’s Never Been a Better Time to Be An Author
The many reasons include the greater ease of writing, editing and publishing; the wider reach of books in all their forms to potential readers around the world; and the benefits authors gain from self-publishing such as greater creative control and higher potential earnings. Here are those points in a little more detail:
Modern technology makes it much easier to writeand edit manuscripts, whether you use bog-standard software such as Word, or invest in specialist software such as Scrivener (a fancy word-processing system developed especially for authors, complete with virtual corkboard for plotting) or Dragon (highly accurate voice recognition software that enables you to write much faster, no matter how high your typing speed).
Technogical advances and trends also make it possible for authors to upload their books to publishing and distribution platforms such as Amazon, which means that authors can, from the comfort of their own homes, publish books that are almost immediately available to buy in print and in ebook form all over the world.
The development of sophisticated ereaders that allow for the user to choose typeface style and size makes it possible to reach those who are “print disabled” whether through conditions such as dyslexia or bad eyesight, and those who are unable to hold printed books e.g. those whose hands are weakened by rheumatoid arthritis (e.g. me).
The new era of digital audio books is increasing reach to the blind.
New synchronising technology that connects ebooks with audio books, enabling you pick up on audio in the car where you left off reading your ebook at home, for example, creates more reading opportunities for readers – and therefore more readers for authors.
The easy availability of books on smartphones is opening up new markets in developing and remote countries previously unreachable by print or where print books are beyond the financial or practical reach of most people
The rise of modern self-publishing as a viable alternative liberates the would-be author from dependence on previously essential third parties – agents and big publishing houses.
Self-publishing allows authors to retain creative control rather than having their views overruled by publishers’ marketeers.
It also allows authors to make much more money per book sold – typically 70p in the £ of the cover price for an ebook, compared to 5p for trade-published books.
Reading is still a very popular hobby, with all the debates about ebooks and ereaders having fuelled new conversations about reading, rather than killing book sales.
Bookshops are thriving, despite some closures, with new bookshops becoming more dynamic and exciting places to be – real community centres buzzing with events, activities and coffee shops, rather than just being places to buy books.
The general public are hungry to meet authors in real life, even those they’ve never heard of – hence the growing popularity of small local festivals such as the free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival (run by me!)
There is a hugely supportive and generous community of self-published authors which anyone may join to help them take advantage of all these opportunities – the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), of which I’m proud to be a part. (I’m Commissioning Editor of ALLi’s Author Advice Centre blog.)
Just Two Disadvantages
Of course, it’s not all good news. There are two key disadvantages:
as a self-published author, you assume all the responsibilities of a publishing house, including production and marketing (but don’t worry, it’s best practice to delegate to freelance experts or specialist services for aspects that you don’t have the skills to do yourself e.g. cover design – and no-one should ever attempt to do their own proofreading!)
with it now being so much easier to publish your own books – and it’s that fact of publishing your books that turns you from being a mere writer into an actual author – more people are doing it, which means you have much more competition in the market
10 Top Tips on Becoming an Author
If those two factors don’t deter you from entering the fray, here are my ten top tips to help you achieve your writing ambitions.
Establish regular writing habits, ringfencing realistic timeslots to suit your life e.g. get up earlier, go to bed later, scribble in your lunch hour.
Aim to write a set number of words every day – it doesn’t have to be huge, but a single daily page will add up to a substantial novel over a year.
Don’t wait for the muse to strike – just allow your brain free rein, writing whatever comes into your head or to specific prompts (e.g. imagine a back story to a newspaper article, or turn the radio on at random and write about the first thing you hear). You’ll soon realise you have got plenty of ideas and inspiration after all.
Join encouraging groups such as ALLi to reassure yourself you’re not alone and to gain moral and practical support (conversely, leave any writers’ groups that bring you down).
Take advantage of technology to increase your productivity – Scrivener (writing software) and Dragon (speech recognition) are excellent investments of your money and the time it takes to learn to use them well.
Expect to edit – a lot. No-one writes perfect copy first time. Rough gemstones need lots of polishing to make them shine.
Delegate what you can’t do yourself, including different aspects of editing.
A report about a fascinating talk about the Oxford English Dictionary by Edmund Weiner
Anyone who loves words would have been as rapt as we were at the Oxford Authors’ Alliance last night, when Edmund Weiner, Deputy Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, came to talk to us about his work preparing version 2.0 of the OED. This mammoth task employs sixty people, and though it began in 1993, they’re still only 30% of the way through the task. They are effectively detectives, examining everything ever written in English to come up with comprehensive definitions of how every word has been used through the ages. Continue reading “Straight from the Lexicographer’s Mouth: An Enjoyable Talk about the OED (Oxford English Dictionary)”→
Yesterday I was glad to have the excuse to return to the University of Winchester. After my guest lecture about self-publishing there in January, I was invited to give a quick-fire talk on the same subject as part of its prestigious Winchester Writers’ Festival. I was also available to offer one-to-one advice to delegates afterwards – a great opportunity to get know and help aspiring writers in different genres.
For my lecture, I rattled off 20 Top Tips about how to self-publish to a professional standard. To save delegates having to write them down, so they could listen instead, I promised I’d share the points on my author website here today, so here goes. I’ll be adding a further report about the Writers’ Festival later this week, once I’ve unpacked my notes and caught up on my sleep!
20 Top Tips for Aspiring Self-Publishers
Recognise the status of self-publishing. It has had a long and respectable heritage ever since Caxton’s day, with the likes of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf all publishing their own work at some point. You’re in good company! In any case, readers don’t care who your publisher is, as long as you’ve written a good book!
Decide your goals before you begin – and then plan your self-publishing journey accordingly. What do you want to get out of it? posterity, a family heirloom, a useful “business card” in book form to help with your career, profit, or just a bit of fun? Then do it your way! You’re the boss!
First, write your book! Yes, it’s fine and advisable to start planning how you’re going to market your book once you’ve published it, but always keep your writing front of mind, and protect your writing time. Without decent writing, and without finished manuscripts, the rest of the process counts for nothing.
Test-drive your manuscript with beta readers. This is a great way to get constructive feedback, for free, before you start paying out for editors and production. In case you’re not familiar with this term or process, I’ve given links at the end of this article for a couple of posts on the subject that you’ll find helpful.
Understand the different types of editing and identify which you need: structural, line editing, copy editing and proofreading. Find a good editor via the Alliance of Independent Authors’ partner members, or via the Society of Editors and Proofreaders. (This is a UK organisation, and you’ll be able to use their services wherever you live, but if you’re writing in non-British English, you should check out the equivalent organisation for your own region.)
Be aware of the formatting differences required for print and ebooks. In summary, print books are formatted similar to Word documents, but ebooks are completely different, with flexible margins, no page breaks, and no fancy characters. You can learn to format yourself, but if subcontracting, shop around for best prices and services, get references from satisfied customers, and make sure you know what you’re committing yourself too.
Name that book! Choose your title carefully, to be suitable for its genre, memorable, easy to spell and original (search Google and Amazon to make sure there aren’t dozens of books out there to play “snap” with). If it’s non-fiction, incorporate the most likely keywords and use a subtitle to give your more scope. Be ready to ditch your working title if need be.
Respect the specialism of book cover design. Use a specialist to devise your cover, someone who understands book cover conventions and essential such as being effective at thumbnail size in online retail platforms. Keep an open mind about changing your book covers as you go along to keep it looking in keeping with other books in its genre as fashions change. Even if you start out with a free cover, for budgetary reasons, consider reinvest your royalties in a more effective and professional cover later on.
Write the blurb to lure in readers who will love your book. The first thing readers look at in bookshops after the cover is the blurb on the back – “the 100 hardest words you’ll ever write”, according to Ben Cameron, Director of Cameron PR. They should prepare your readers’ expectations precisely for the content of your book – and reel them in to buy it!
Know your limits. For points 5-9 above, be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Treat your self-publishing like you would a domestic DIY project. Would you really install a new bathroom without having any plumbing skills? Nope, it would be a false economy – the kind that makes Kevin McCloud raise his eyebrows every time a “Grand Designs” couple declare they’ll lay their own bricks/install their own fireplace/fit their own electrics to keep costs down of their house restoration. If you can’t supply a professional finish yourself, call in the professionals.
Make sure your book passes the identity parade. In a line-up of books, make sure yours isn’t the one that screams “I’m self-published” in an identity parade. A growing number of self-published books are published to traditional, big publishing house standards – make sure yours is too.
Press the “publish” button at the right time. My friend and mentor Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, always says that many authors publish too soon, because it’s so easy to, using digital and print-on-demand technology. Only publish your book when you’re sure it is the best it can possibly be – and then stop tinkering with it. If you need to keep changing it, maybe you published too soon?
Write another book. That’s the best piece of marketing advice an author can get – write another, and another, and another… The most books you have out there, the more visible your work will be. And if readers enjoy your first book, they’ll be ripe to be sold another. Better still, write a series – get them hooked on book 1 (at a specially low price, if you like), and watch the sequel sales grow.
Ring the changes. Although you shouldn’t keep messing about with the content of the book after publication, do play around with the keywords and categories in online retail listings till you find the right ones that help you shift the most sales. As with cover designs, the metadata needs will change with fashion over time, too, so keep an eye on them.
Spread your risk of success online. Don’t put all your eggs in one retail basket. Don’t focus solely on ebook or only on print – you’ll sell more books overall if you have both. Equally, put them into all the main retail outlets online – Nook, Kobo, iBooks, etc, rather than just Amazon. Although early adopters often went with only Amazon, the others are fast seizing market share, so don’t miss out.
Market yourself, not just your book. Marketing is a huge topic that falls outside the scope of this talk, and for more on that score, read my handbook, Sell Your Books!– but apart from point 13 above, the key take-away point about marketing that I’d like to share is that when planning your marketing, include your own back story. Too many authors don’t realise that their own lives and personalities are part of their pitch – readers love to hear about authors, especially in the modern digital age, so don’t be shy! Otherwise when it comes to marketing, stick with what you’re comfortable with, and don’t try to do too much at once, or you’ll quickly get overwhelmed.
Respect the real estate of bookshops and libraries. Contrary to rumour, bricks-and-mortar bookshops are happy to stock self-published books, provided they’re of professional standard and you can convince the bookseller that you’ll drive sales through their store (for libraries, drive loans). Think of their shelves as rental accommodation – each book needs to pay its rent by being sold on a regular basis. For more advice about how to sell your books through bookshops, read the guide I co-authored for ALLi, Opening Up To Indie Authors.
Set up your own shop window online i.e. create an author website. This should be the hub of all your marketing, and the authoritative guide to your authorly pursuits. This needn’t cost the earth – a great entry point is to use the free WordPress.com software (I use it for mine) – you only start paying if you want to add extras such as a URL without the .wordpress.com suffix (which I do).
A writer’s website is never done! Unlike your published books, the development of a website has not deadline, nor should it. Instead, it should evolve as your writing career evolves. Build followers with an e-newsletter sign-up form, consider a blog to keep it current and lively, and keep it up to date with your book news. It’s great for fine-tuning your voice and building your writing confidence and fluency too.
Associate with other successful self-published authors. Success breeds success, and the community of indie authors is extremely generous, readily sharing best practice and advice. The best way to run with the pack and to learn by osmosis is to join the Alliance of Independent Authors, whose author advice blog I edit, and which, not surprisingly, I heartily endorse! It brings together the most professional, cutting-edge self-publishers around, as well as welcoming those still starting out on their writing journey. More about how to do that here: www.allianceindependentauthors.org.
Last but not least, here’s a bonus point #21 – CELEBRATE! Be proud of your achievements as a self-published author, you’ve done what many only talk of doing but never achieve. You are right to be excited about your future, so stay optimistic, open-minded and opportunistic, and enjoy this heady ride.
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