Having recently self published my first book, I am not going to claim I’m an expert in self publishing but I’m delighted to share my experience and hope you will find it useful in your own self publishing journey.
In many ways, writing the book is the easy part! Once it is written, you then have to make that final decision – do you try and find an agent or a publishing house or do you go the solo route and opt for self-publishing. With many authors deliberately choosing to self publish having gone the traditional route (and becoming disillusioned with it), others using self publishing as a method to perhaps be discovered by a publisher, and tales of hundreds of rejection letters ringing in your ears, you can see why self publishing has become so popular. No longer is it seen as pure vanity or desperation but as a respectable way for an author to publish their work.
However, it isn’t just a case of running a spell check and editing it yourself before you move it from a word document to a MOBI or a PDF and slap it up on kindle. There’s much more to be done. It will cost you some money but if your book is good, you are maximising its chances of success. Nobody wants to read a book that is unattractive in design and format, no matter how good it is.
No matter how well you have formatted it in your word document, things alter when it is changed to a different format. I spent hours formatting my non fiction book as it had various headings, sub-headings and tables. For my printed book, the printers still had to make some adjustments and they very kindly inserted the twenty illustrations for me – all I had to do was write the number of the illustration on a blank page and they did the rest. I was happy with the formatting and when Ryan Tubridy complimented me on the quality of the book, I knew I had done a good job. However, it was a different story when it came to putting it up onto Kindle and I very quickly realised that because of the inclusion of tables, headings and illustrations, I was going to have to get some assistance. Alan of A2D Design came to the rescue and it made me wish that I had asked him to format it for the printed edition too. Life is too short to add to the grey hairs!
Tip – Don’t cut corners. Unless the layout is very simple (text divided into chapters and that is it), I would recommend hiring a professional to help you format it.
No matter how good you are or how good your friends are, your book will still need a professional edit. While mine was edited, a tight deadline meant that it was edited a little early and I ended up making significant changes to the final section with no time to get it checked by the editor again. Occasional typos crept through – mostly where I had changed a sentence and either omitted an extra word in error or added one. Some authors hire two editors, aware that while most of the feedback will be similar, it is what they each pick up separately that can be important too.
Tip – Only do minor editing after your editor has seen it. Getting two edits done is a good idea (either by the same editor or two different ones).
Front Cover / Illustrations
I have about 20 illustrations in my book and I felt they were important to emphasise the humour in the book. They really give it that added quality too. The quality and clarity of the front cover is crucial and it is worth bearing in mind that you may need different covers for your ebook and your printed book. My book cover (I think) communicates the humour within the book – not only might you get the farmer with the large diamond, but you also get the farm and the dog too. The font adds to the country charm. However, it is not so clear as a thumbnail cover for a kindle book and I am wondering if this is why the kindle copies are not selling as well as the printed books. The front cover needs to be attractive but it also needs to be crystal clear and communicate the genre and style of the book.
Tip – Consider getting two covers designed – one for the printed book and one for the ebook.
If you have quoted from works by any authors within your book, remember that you need to seek their permission for the copyright. Some will ask you to pay a small charge ($50) so do budget for that whereas others will provide you with the relevant text to be inserted and will request a copy of the book when it is published.
Tip – Allow sufficient time for this – at least 3 months.
You will need to order your ISBN numbers from Nielsen. Allow a few weeks for this too. You will need to submit your front cover image and your title page. They issue you with ten ISBN numbers and they will have registered the first one for your first book. If your second edition is paperback (and the first was hardback) you will have to give the second one a different ISBN number and you will have to register it with Nielsen too which takes a few days.
Tip – Allow three weeks to get your ISBN numbers.
Distributing Your Book
I didn’t try to get my book into bookshops with the first print run. Partly because I didn’t have time, partly because my unit cost on my first print run was quite high by the time I factored in printing, editing, illustrating, website and all the other sundries. Each copy was costing me almost €10 and I was selling them for €15. Local shops and libraries stocked them and I sold them online (225 went to my crowdfunding backers too).
As this article suggests, it is very possible for indie authors to get their books into the bookshops. Despite the fact that paper books sales were supposed to be down by 16% last year, many readers still expect to see your book on a book shelf. Some authors find that sales of paper books surpass their kindle sales (I have to say that is definitely happening in my case).
You could contact individual bookshops but it is worth contacting main distributors first. The only distributor for Ireland’s independent bookshops is Argosy. Their website states they may take up to three months to make a decision after receiving your book but I rang them after a week as I had a piece of PR coming up in a national newspaper and received a ‘Yes’ straightaway. I also sent a copy of my book to Easons, I haven’t chased it up as yet. Gardners is the largest wholesaler in the UK. They will need to know your sales to date, your social media activity and level of followers and see your marketing plan. 55% seems to be a common discount percentage.
In my case, the wholesalers took 100 books and I will receive a monthly report. While the sales rep will tell bookshops about it and it will be listed on their website, it is up to you to get some press coverage to encourage people to order it from bookshops – then the bookshops might be persuaded to order more and stock them on their shelves.
Tip – Include a copy of your marketing plan with your book when contacting a book distributor.
Press Coverage & Social Media
Even if your book is published with a publishing house, you are still going to have to do a lot of the publicity legwork on your own – that means spreading the word via your social media platforms and sending out good press releases to try and get some coverage in print and radio. Having a blog is crucial as readers will be encouraged to purchase your book. I know I have purchased books because I have connected with the authors, people do buy from people after all. Having a facebook page, twitter account and pinterest account can all add to your profile and reach.
I don’t have a magic answer in terms of what gets your book some press coverage and what doesn’t. I sent my book out to a few radio presenters. One phoned me the next morning wanting to be the first to interview me, I never heard from the others even though I sent a follow up email. The same went for print features – some featured it, others didn’t.
Tip – Chase up any leads to secure press coverage. Ask other bloggers to review your book.
The time of year can have an enormous influence on your sales. While, in hindsight, I should have had my book ready for the biggest agricultural event of the year in Ireland, the Ploughing Championships in September, followed by getting it into bookshops for Christmas, this just wasn’t possible. I had to cut myself some slack as I only started writing the book in April. However, having the book out for 1st December with radio interviews happening within the first two weeks, meant that I sold 750 copies before Christmas. If people see your book as a good gift for an occasion, it will sell.
Tip – Is there a good time to publish your book? Plan this well in advance.
Is it a good idea to have a launch party or not? I didn’t – partly because I had organised a crowdfunding campaign which has secured me 225 sales, partly because I didn’t have the energy to organise a launch party so close to Christmas and partly because I wasn’t convinced that it would prove sufficiently advantageous given the cost. If you wish to increase the number of sales within a single week so you can aim for the best seller list, then a launch is a good idea. To get press coverage however, you need a notable person to launch your book. I relied on press coverage and social media to get the word out there rather than having a launch party.
Other options could be asking a local book shop or library to host your launch. You may have to pay for the wine and nibbles but they will help to broadcast the launch to interested readers. If you live amongst a strong community, having it in a community hall or similar could work well either.
Tip – Don’t rush into a launch party – plan the costings and payback carefully.
I hope you found these tips for self publishing useful. If you have any questions based on my experience, do ask and I’m very happy to share my experience with you.