Saturday, 9 September 2017
Some Advice From a First-Time Author
Just over a month ago I realised what has been almost a lifelong ambition. I published my own novel. After forty years of procrastination and distraction, I finally managed to consign to print the story that I have for so long been wanting to tell - that of a young man growing up on the streets of Middlesex in 1976, officially (according to the New Economics Foundation, whoever they are) the best year, ever, for anybody to have been alive.
Whatever the drawbacks of indecision and hesitation, there were two distinct advantages to be gained from having waited forty years to get my act together. First of all, my own writing style has taken an extraordinarily long time to mature from the childish flippancy of old to what is hopefully now something readable and at least vaguely pleasing to the eye. Secondly, and just as importantly, writers now live in an age in which we are thankfully no longer hostages to the whim of a publisher to whom product sales is the absolute bottom line to which heart and spirit must if necessary be forfeit.
When I say I published my own novel, I mean I did just that.
Amazon’s CreateSpace is an amazing resource which allows anybody to publish their work and to market it to the world through their very own author page and product listing. Certainly the advent of the ebook has made the process of producing a book cheaper, and greener, but for those who prefer the look and feel of the traditional paperback it is its POD (Print On Demand) service which is the real game changer. Rather than spending as much as two years sweating over whether or not a publisher will think it will sell enough copies to generate a profit, the economies offered by modern print technology make the printing of a single, solitary copy economically viable - incredible though that may sound. You announce it, Amazon markets it, and if anybody orders it it will be printed to order there and then. Every one’s a winner.
And of course it isn’t only fiction writers who are taking advantage of this revolutionary new development in the world of literature. Purveyors of non-fiction, specialist information, directories and even audio recordings are likewise able to ply their wares through the same easy and almost seamelss process. Neither is Amazon the only platform through which it may be done, although it is currently the largest.
In offering advice based upon my own recent experience of releasing my own novel I can only touch upon the dos and don’ts of the process of self-publishing your work, but hopefully this handy seven-point guide will help steer any potential writers along the correct path. If it doesn’t answer your questions, then by all means ask and I’ll do my very best to help:
1. Write your book. It sounds obvious, but this is the hard part. It all begins with an idea, you then need to develop it and to convert it into good, readable English (or whatever language you happen to be writing in). If your book lacks quality or is badly written then no amount of marketing is going to make it a success.
2. Get somebody else to check it. I am a content writer and I pride myself on my literacy and accuracy. Nevertheless after some 20-30 reads and re-reads I managed to miss no fewer than five typos in my manuscript which were picked up by others who generally do not share my attention to detail. Proofreading your own material doesn’t work as you tend to read what it was intended to say rather than what it actually says. Don’t take shortcuts, it seldom works.
3. Decide whether you wish to publish your work as a paperback or ebook - or both - and, if both, in which order. Both CreateSpace and its parent company Amazon offer their own package for both but the received wisdom tends to be that CreateSpace is best for POD and Amazon proper for ebooks. Make this decision first, don’t blindly follow through with one or other provider.
4. Google is your friend - by all means read all the spiel provided by the publisher when you open an account but there is plenty of impartial third-party material available which will advise you on how best to proceed. Hopefully this article will have given a few initial pointers but there is much more out there in the big wide world of cyberspace. The Creative Penn is a particularly helpful resource in this regard.
5. Use the resources provided by CreateSpace and Amazon - they are there to help you because they help themselves by so doing. Formatting your manuscript for POD can be a tricky process but the templates provided by CreateSpace make it much easier (watch out for the erratic page numbering though, which seems to have a mind of its own and changes itself arbitrarily whilst you are in the process of pasting up your material - even after it has been saved). For the ebook at Amazon I find uploading the manuscript as a Word document tends to work best - .mobi doesn’t seem to do it despite what you will be told elsewhere, and PDF files do not convert well.
6. Use other platforms. Amazon is the biggest one, it’s not the only one. If you publish your manuscript in ebook format you will be encouraged to join its KDP Select program, which allows your work to be viewed without purchase in the Amazon library in return for a small royalty every time somebody looks at your work. Don’t. Your part of the deal is that you must not make your ebook (it doesn’t apply to paperback) available through any other platform for a whole three months. In return you will receive peanuts. However attractive this option may once have been, the terms have apparently been altered and my view is that it is now a path not at all worth treading. I’m locked into KDP Select until the end of October - don’t make the same mistake that I made.
7. Market your book. The downside of self-publishing is that you are also required to self-promote. Unlike with traditional publishing, nobody is going to do this for you. Start with friends and family, then use social media and pay particular attention to those Facebook groups within your particular niche. At the same time take advantage of any forums, blogs or other online resources which permit you to draw attention to your work or even to generate backlinks, either to your author page or to the website or blog which you will have created in the meantime as a platform for your work. By the time all these options have been exhausted you will hopefully have sold enough copies to be able to benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations from your first wave of purchasers.