Self Publishing (or “my book is gr8 u publecherz don no wot ur doin”)

Firstly, an apology to all self published authors who read the title of this post and immediately decided to criticise me for being judgemental – I’m not, I just wanted your attention.

Next, an apology to all self published authors who think their book was misunderstood by publishers and decided to do it themselves – some of you are not included in this rant. We all know there are some awesome authors who’ve received their fair share of rejection letters.

Finally, an apology to anyone else who feels like they need an apology – just to cover my rear end.

Now, down to business.

I think self publishing is fantastic. No, I’m not being sarcastic – I think it’s great. In fact, in 2009 I assisted with the self publication of a book that has been well-received as a genuinely interesting book. Self publishing is a fantastic option for businesses who want to create marketing tools and “text books” for employees or potential clients, which is one of the reasons we took that route.

Self publishing is also a great way to get your work printed and on sale if you’re a struggling author ignored by the publishers (or just not interested in publishers getting a major cut of the sales price), and I won’t deny I haven’t considered it myself.

However (there it is!) I have a big, big problem with the quality of some of the work I’ve seen self published. Poorly edited, terribly designed, and sometimes just plain boring. What a waste of my download limit! What a horrible abuse to paper! If you’re going to do something, do it properly!

So, here are my tips for ensuring your self published book is going to be enjoyed and not the target of some crazy book-addict’s ranting and raving. I write these tips as your potential reader – I’m the one who’s going to tell others about your book and buy a copy for my friends, after all!

1. Review your novel. If your novel was rejected by several publishers, it might not be because it’s “misunderstood”. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but it’s possible your novel is crap. Sure, your Mum thought it was great and your friends all said it was the best you’ve ever written, but don’t you think they’re a little bit bias?

Join a creative writing group and workshop your novel within an inch of its double-spaced life. Enrol in a writing course and benefit from the wisdom of teachers and the meeting of minds! There are also some great online resources such as Book Country where you can post sections of your novel and get feedback from other writers and readers – and it’s free, so there’s really no excuse not to use it. If everyone “misunderstands” your novel (and if your mother’s reassurances are starting to sound repetitive), there’s a common denominator – and it’s not their incompetence, it’s your terrible novel.

2. Edit, edit, edit. Don’t do it yourself, pay a professional to do it for you – it’s a minor cost in the grand scheme of things and you get the added benefit of their expertise. There are some great websites for finding a freelance editor, so there’s really no excuse. Check credentials and ask potential editors for a list of titles they’ve been involved in editing and publishing – be confident when you choose your editor and find an editor who is familiar with your genre.

I recently attempted to read a self published novel but couldn’t make it beyond the first two paragraphs – basic grammar rules had been stomped upon and thrown out with the first draft (or was I actually reading the first draft?! *shudder*) yet the person who wrote this novel defined their profession as “author and editor”. Do it properly – if you really believe in your project, you’ll pay to have it edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. (Hint: a “professional editor” usually isn’t a friend who did well in high school English and is editing your novel in exchange for a bottle of wine.)

3. Cover art matters. We do judge books by their covers, so making sure your book stands out is important. Googling “awesome fairy pics” is not wise – you could be inadvertently stealing an image and it won’t even be hi-res; it will be illegal and dodgy-looking. Find a Graphic Designer and ask for a unique design to appeal to your target demographic and incorporate key elements from your novel. A good Graphic Designer will work with you to look at what sort of design elements will be suitable for your novel and make sure they capture your “vision” for the cover. Here’s a great Graphic Designer who happens to be my best friend. You should use her so she can afford to buy me coffee. Or, find your own.

4. Sell yourself. There are many ways to market your book, from book trailers to posters on the sides of buses – marketing will make or break your book sales. How you market your book will also depend on your budget, so research what works and what the cost is to you.

  • Have a book launch – invite friends and friends of friends and their friends and their friends’ friends – you don’t want 500 people in a room guzzling expensive champagne, but having about 50-100 people in one place with some simple food and discounted copies of your book (which you’ll even sign for them) may well result in the sale of 100 books – “one for me and one for my friend – he’ll be thrilled with the autograph!” Ask a local library or bookstore to host the launch for you and …
  • … Contact local bookstores and libraries and ask them if they’d like to organise a reading and signing – they get a cut from the sales and you get free publicity. DO invite a few friends to drop by in case no one else does!
  • Investigate the cost of advertising in local newspapers or magazines relevant to your subject area. Get your Graphic Designer to design an eye-catching advertisement and consider offering a discount when the advertisement is mentioned.
  • Print some posters and ask local bookstores and other (relevant!) shops to display them and sell your book on consignment. This is a low cost to you and it gets your book placed in a reputable location.
  • Book trailers are becoming increasingly popular though this is something that you really want to leave to the pros – an image of your book cover with your favourite song playing is not effective! This one is pretty cool and this one is nice and simple and you get this one because I thought the book was gorgeous.
  • Book reviews are a fantastic way to get people to notice your book. Not all reviewers are nice and if you can’t receive their criticism with a smile and a shrug then you’re probably in the wrong profession. If you’ve covered the basics of “interesting plot, characters you can relate to, well-edited, well-designed” then everything else is subjective. It doesn’t cost anything to send out free PDF versions for eReaders and the cost of sending out ten review copies of your printed book is worth it if everyone who reads the review buys a copy!
  • Competitions – everyone loves free stuff. Get people interested in your book by offering it to them for free! If they miss out but like the sound of it, they might buy a copy anyway. Approach other blogs and newspapers/magazines and offer them free copies to use in promotions and competitions. It gets your book out there and it gets you free publicity.

I’m definitely not a self publishing expert, but I am also willing to read novels that have been self published so that does make me a potential customer. I want to emphasise how wonderful I think self publishing can be. I’ve recently started reading a self published book that I find intriguing and well written, though I must admit that it’s one of the few I’ve enjoyed in my experience (to date). I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I’m already in love with the main character and I struggled to tear myself away from its pages when I had to stop reading. I’m eager to return to the story! It doesn’t matter that it’s self published – it’s a great book in it’s own right, and I’ll happily recommend it. Heck, I’m probably going to review it soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

If you’re thinking of self publishing, I say go for it – and do it properly.

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11 comments on “Self Publishing (or “my book is gr8 u publecherz don no wot ur doin”)

  1. Pingback: Publishing Prestige | dodging commas

  2. Pingback: Weekday Links 4 | tita buds' blog

  3. You are very generous with these tips and ideas and I hope more people read this post.
    I’ve read a couple of self-published books — the first was quite good but the next needed a LOT of ‘tightening up’ (plot and grammar-wise) that I could not finish it. I’m glad I read the good one first or I would have been put off self-published books forever. 😉

    • I’ve (attempted to) read a few excellent examples of “why you shouldn’t self publish” … It is disappointing because I think it’s such a great opportunity. I’m glad you liked the post! I genuinely hope that people who are serious about their work (and self publishing it) know that their hard work will ensure success!

  4. Great post! Your advice is spot on, Stef. I make my living as a copywriter, and like to think I have a reasonable grasp of the English language. But thank God for proofreaders and editors, because they still catch my mistakes. I agree that once you’ve stared at your own words long enough you stop seeing the little details and mistakes.

    And we all have our grammar bugaboos. I am Queen of the Comma Splice. 🙂

    • I used to read books and sneer at errors, feeling delightfully superior knowing that *I* would have done a better job … but then when you’re actually proofreading something for the fifth time that day you realise how easy it is to miss something that, to others, is so glaringly obvious! Fresh eyes are best!

  5. I think these are worthwhile tips. It’s not really a genuine ambition of mine to be a published author, but I do like writing – and given the research I’ve done on my own, off and on, what you say here is a nice condensed layout of some really good pointers.

    With your suggestions, the only things I’d deviate from if I were to self-publish would be…

    a) That I’d edit it myself, because while I’m not the “best” at grammar and punctuation, I’m pretty damn good. Plus the glaring mistakes I’ve seen in bestsellers and other widely read books make me cringe.

    b) And while I’m hardly a good visual artist, I’d prefer to do it myself, mainly based on the fact that I know what visuals I would want in order to give the right feel for what’s inside the book. Plus I just like the idea of something I created being as much of a reflection of Me as humanly possible.

    All in all, your self-publishing post was definately worth taking a few minutes out of my day to read 😉 .

    • I am glad you enjoyed the post =) I don’t have a problem with people doing things themselves, and I understand that if you can do something well yourself then you don’t need to get someone else to do it. I know from personal experience, though, that when I am editing or proofing my own work it’s easy to miss a glaringly obvious mistake because I’ve looked at it so many times! And sometimes because my glasses are all the way over “there” and I’m quite comfortable “here”!

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