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Monday, 8 April 2019

A fool's guide to self-publishing

Writing is wonderful, and being a self-published author is fun in terms of the creative control and freedom you get. Figuring things out along the way can be stressful but fascinating. For anyone interested in self-publishing a novel or looking for advice on where to begin, here are a few things I've picked up on.

My novel 'Anne' is currently in its copy-
editing stages.

You've written your book. Fabulous! Now you need to get it edited. All books require some form of editing because we're subjectively tied to the story and an impartial reader will see things we didn't see. (Sometimes I look back over my blog posts and see typos or blocks of waffly text. I'm not so bothered as no one is buying it and I'm just writing my opinions, but a book needs to be tightly handled as you're creating a product for sale).

There are three main types of editing:

Developmental/Content - this is when the editor goes through your manuscript and looks at the story. They look for plot holes, consistency, character development, pacing. They tell you what works and what doesn't, and give tips on how best to present your work based on the target audience. This is typically given in the form of an editorial report, although there are editors who will do in-line edits on the text (I've never ordered that because it's much more expensive).

Another cheaper way to do a content edit if you can't afford a professional editor to get beta readers. They will read through your work and give you feedback on the points mentioned above. Fiverr is a great platform for finding beta readers and editors. Of course you want to find the best person for your book (and what's affordable). I recommend looking around a bit and trying out a few different editors (I will link ones I've used at the bottom of this post).

Copy-edit - this focuses on the technical points of the story; sentence structure, grammar, spelling, punctuation, consistency, fact-checking. Ideally, once you are happy with your overall story and plot, you want to have this done as a way to make sure your book reads nicely. Think of it as cleaning out the cobwebs, cutting down on unnecessary text or repetition of adjectives, verbs etc.

Proofread - this is the final part (publishing houses typically have two rounds of proof-reading but if you're self-publishing and can't afford that, one round is fine). This is the final polish, the final check for spelling, punctuation, grammar or typos that the copy-edit didn't pick up. I didn't have 'Every Last Psycho' proof-read (just did the first two) and have noticed several typos which I may correct for a second edition.


So your book is all primped and ready to go, but there are still a few things you need to take care of.

Cover - a good cover is essential for a good book as it's what readers will see. You want a cover that reflects your novel in a way that is eye-catching and clear. I like simple covers; anything that clearly reflects what the story may be about. Some people spend hundreds of pounds on a cover - again, if you go on Fiverr there are loads of affordable designers. The woman I use, oliviaprodesign, is fantastic - affordable, swift and clear on the changes I ask for.

ISBNs - All books have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) which makes it easier for libraries, wholesalers, bookshops etc to identify the book. I made the mistake of using free Kindle Direct ISBNs for my first two books. This was a mistake because in order to have wide distribution (will touch on that in a second), you need your own ISBN. A Kindle Direct ISBN will get your book published in print on Amazon, however then makes it tough to get it elsewhere (especially as most bookstores don't like Amazon for obvious reasons).

Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) - these are copies of your book you will send to book bloggers/critics for review. You can send them as a PDF or a physical copy, depending on what the bloggers accept. This is important because reviews are a way for readers to see other people's opinions on your book, and will drive traffic to your book online. If you've never published anything then it is tough to get people to buy your stuff as they have nothing to go on; why should they pay money for something they may not enjoy? Reviews give an honest yet critical opinion of your work so readers can see if they want it or not.

Facebook groups. I've found joining facebook indie author groups to be super helpful in navigating what I've been doing and looking for help from other authors. It all feels so tough and over-whelming but knowing other people have done what you've done and can give you some pointers helps a lot. Facebook groups are also a good way to find bloggers and book reviewers or do book swaps with other authors.


Self-published authors need a service to distribute their books. KDP is free and Ingram Spark is meant to be very good. Beware of 'vanity publishers', or self-publishing companies that charge you hundreds of pounds upfront to publish a book. (I nearly did this with a company called 'Matador' - I would have had to pay for printing, type-setting, ISBN, cover, barcode - basically all the stuff I got for free with KDP. Not saying that they are a bad company, however why spend money to get your product produced when you can publish it yourself for free? Plus I would have had to pay money on top of that for marketing and promotion as their services only included the cost of producing and publishing the book).

Kindle Direct Publishing - this is Amazon's free publishing service which anyone can use to upload and publish ebooks and print books. Say what you like about Amazon, but this is an incredible service because it means you don't have to wait around for some agent or publishing house to take you on (or give hundreds of pounds to a vanity publisher). Amazon is a major company in the literary market and publishing with them makes your book available to millions. However, if you want wide distribution as well as Amazon distribution, do not use the free KDP ISBN. Purchase your own from your country's supplier (in the UK it is Nielsen).

Nielsen Title Editor - once you have your own ISBN your book will be available on Nielsen's database which means it can be distributed to bookshops via wholesalers such as Gardener's. This means it can be supplied widely, or at the very list is on their database should any shops be interested in stocking it.

Ingram Spark - this is a distribution platform where anyone can upload and publish their books and have them distributed to different retailers and libraries. (Is an American service however they do international distribution as far as I'm aware). You do have to pay an upfront fee but it gives you access to your book being in shops and libraries which is tough to do if you only have it available via print-on-demand on Amazon.

Draft2Digital - If you make your book available in ebook form you can publish it exclusively with Amazon to have it in Kindle Unlimited, and you don't need an ISBN. If your book gains more attraction with Kindle Readers then this is probably for the best (I'm keeping 'Every Last Psycho' in KU). However if you want to have a free ebook or push your ebook on other digital platforms, then I recommend D2D as a simple service that gives access to Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and loads of other digital platforms! (My poetry book is available to download as an ebook from various platforms - initially it was free but I've increased it to £0.99).


Aaaand this is the trickiest part (the struggle is real right now). Other authors I've corresponded with in Facebook groups have said that things pick up once you have 3-5 books in one genre. The more you publish and put yourself out there, the more things will start to come your way. I've been contacting schools and libraries for months (not much response but gotta keep trying!) and am looking in to literary festivals. Also been contacting local bookstores to see if they will supply my book (again, registering it with Nielsen is important so you can have access to their wide distribution services - wish I'd have known this months ago so I would have bought my own bloody ISBNs rather than using the free KDP ones!)

Hope this helps someone anyway and gives a little feel for my 'journey' into this strange world of self-publishing! My books are listed here on Amazon:

Short video on publishing with KDP.

Links to editors and fiverr creatives are below.

Editors I can recommend:

Jericho Writers. Brilliant but pricey. I got a wonderful editor's report for 'Every Last Psycho' that assured me I wasn't writing bullshit. The report was in-depth and several thousand words long and I received it within 3-4 weeks.

WritersServices. Less expensive but less 'thorough' than JW. Copy-editor did a good job on 'Every Last Psycho' and I also got a firm but well-needed report on a novella I wanted to publish at the end of last year (very glad I decided to put it aside and focus on 'Anne' instead).

Word Nerd Editing. Oh. My. God. I wish I had known about this woman sooner! The job Monica has done on copy-editing 'Anne' is fantastic (going through it is a little intimidating - in a good way). What I love about this service is she provides services that combine the different editing types.

Her developmental edit is a three-pass option that includes developmental, copy-edit and proof-read, her copy-edit is a two-pass option that includes copy-edit and proof-read (which is what I ordered for 'Anne') and then she has her standard proof-read plus a final proof-read at a flat rate which is recommended for work that has already been edited thoroughly and just needs a final set of eyes.
While her communication hasn't been the best, I would definitely use her again!

Fiverr: the golden website for creatives (info on designers and beta readers)

Oliviaprodesign is a fantastic cover designer who I have used for my three books so far

Bethany Votaw gave me excellent beta feedback on 'Anne'

Swmentha and Anna Baker are two people who gave me beta feedback on the novella I was going to publish end of last year (but decided to put on hold):

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