By popular request from our members, on Tuesday 5th November, we held a panel on self-publishing. Our panellists were:
- Brenda Gostling, Marketing Consultant and author & publisher of children’s book Sister Poppy at the Front.
- Stuart Walton, copywriter, publisher and web designer from GetProCopy Ltd.
- Kathy Joy, from Fine Tune Your Fiction critique service and author and publisher of Last One to the Bridge and Shop of Liars, and is currently self-publishing a horror book series.
Our experienced panellists gave some essential advice to anyone thinking of self-publishing. Here is a summary of some of that advice.
Should you self-publish?
Self-publishing is an equally valid option to traditional publishing. Both come with their own pros and cons. The important thing is to go with the option that best suits you and your current project.
Self-publishing comes with many benefits. You can set your own schedule. You keep all the profits instead of getting only 10-20%. It also offers you more control. You have the final say in the cover, the editing, how you market your work etc. However, all the control also means all the work. You will be responsible for finding a cover artist and an editor, you’ll be responsible for making sure you book comes out on time, picking a release date, advertising the book, and running promotions. While you do make more profit, you’ll also be the one footing the bill for the cover, editing, and advertising and promotion.
These days when you traditionally publish, you’ll still be responsible for promoting your work, especially on social media. Unless you’re one of the publisher’s big-name authors, you won’t get much help. The only difference is a traditional publisher often has more connections with booksellers, newspapers and so on. However, it’s not impossible to make these connections yourself.
Should you have a website or a social media account?
All three panellists unanimously agreed that an online presence is essential. You need a way to get the word out about your book. You could spend hundreds, perhaps even thousands on ads in the paper, or billboards, but it is so much easier and cheaper to reach people across the globe online.
One attendee asked that if they decided not to open a social media account or website, where could they sell their books.
“Exactly,” Brenda said. “Where would you showcase them? You wouldn’t have a platform to advertise them.”
“Even if you want them in bookshops, you often need to have sales figures, and if you’re not selling, book shops won’t take your books, and those that do often take a huge cut – to the point where it actually costs you money,” Kathy added.
Stuart added that it is easy and cheap to set up websites.
As a minimum, our panellists agreed that every author should have a website. Kathy suggested that authors should also as a minimum have a Twitter and Facebook page too.
“Facebook is most there for information, to give specific updates like release day, give-aways, and book launch events. Twitter, however, is great for networking. You can use it to engage with people, make connections, which in turn might lead to more connections. Hashtags are especially useful if you can get the hang of them,” Kathy said.
You can clearly see what hashtags are trending every day. If you can ‘piggy-back’ off them, it can be a great way to get your posts seen, but be sure it’s appropriate. For example, Kathy used a lot of trending Halloween Hashtags to advertise her book and her Halloween give-away. However, it might not be so appropriate to use Memorial Day Hashtags to advertise a horror book. Think carefully about any hashtags you use. If you’re not sure, search them to see how others are using them. Some useful common ones are:
If you ever want to check how effective hashtag is, use a website called Hashtigify.
Simply input a hashtag and it will tell you how popular a particular hashtag is, and will suggest other connected ones.
It does this in two ways. First, it will show you the hashtag and related ones together. The bigger the font, the more widely used a hashtag is.
In this example, ‘#writingcommunity’ was searched. As you can see, this hastag is quite small, and #amwriting is much more popular. You can also see other examples of hashtags you could use.
It also tells you how the hashtag has been performing:
Before using a hashtag, always check how effective it will be with Hashtigify.
In short, social media is a great, free way to spread the word about your book and you should have some online presence.
There are other platforms such as Instagram and LinkedIn. Whether you use these will depend on what you are writing. LinkedIn is good for building connections but it requires a lot more work than Twitter of Facebook, however it can be worthwhile.
Stuart advised he’s gotten a lot of web design jobs from LinkedIn.
Should you do all the work yourself or hire a professional?
As already mentioned, if you self-publish, you have organise everything. Should you design your own cover, do your own editing and proofreading and marketing? Brenda Gosling commented that it depends on your skill. If you’re good at designing things, do everything you can. Otherwise, hire a professional.
However, Kathy warned that you should never skip getting a professional edit. No matter how good you are, you will always miss errors in your work. You’re too close to your work. You should always hire and editors and if possible a proofreaders. You only get one first impression. If you release a book riddled with typos and poor sentence structure, chances are nobody will want to read any future books you publish.
Both Brenda and Stuart reminded everyone that your book is a product. It might be a creative endeavour, but at the end of the day, you want people to buy it. The only way to get people to buy it is to treat it as a product. If you know exactly what product you are selling, you’ll know how to sell it to people.
Brenda, however, cautioned that you should always be confident. If an editor suggests a change that you really disagree with, be brave enough to push back. Kathy added that when looking for an editor, or cover designer, or anyone else who might help you with the process, shop around. Look for somebody who is right for you. Not all editors are the same. You want to be sure the two of you are on the same page. Ask for testimonials and examples of past work so you can get an idea. Don’t go with somebody who can’t offer either. If they have an option the edit a small sample of your work as a sample, always go for it. Never go with the first editor you find, or even the cheapest, but don’t go with the most expensive either. Money is not always an indicator of quality. Even if you find an editor you love, keep looking. You wouldn’t but the first house you saw. You’d keep looking to find the one that was right for you. The same is true of an editor or a cover designer.
Kathy went on the share an experience she had when looking for a cover designer for her upcoming horror series: “I reached out to a lot of cover designers and they sent me their portfolios. I had narrowed it down to three who I liked, but I chose my cover designer because they suggested something which I had in mind but hadn’t actually mentioned. I gave all the designers the same brief of what I was looking for. I knew then that we were on the same page and had the same vision for the cover. I chose them over the other two who were just as good.”
Where do you find editors and cover artists?
Kathy detailed where she looked for cover designers. First she did a Google search. She also joined several Facebook groups.
“I got the best results on social media. I was able to interact quickly with prospective cover artists. There was one group in particular that I would recommend is Book Design Cover Marketplace. It is a community where authors and designers can connect with one another. Writers can post jobs where they specify what genre their book is, what their budget is, and what sort of style they are looking for, and designers respond, often sharing examples of their work, or links to their portfolio.”
There are lots of places you can find editors and designers online. You can also look locally. Ask your friends and family for recommendations. If you see a cover design that you like on somebody else’s book, ask them for the designer’s details.
When should you start marketing and promoting your work?
Kathy advised that you should start promoting your work as early as possible.
“If you leave it until release day, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” she warned.
You need to build hype, get people excited about your work so that come release day, they’ll buy a copy or better yet pre-order.
“Think about it this way: films aren’t just advertised the day they come out. They put out trailers and posters months before release – sometimes even a year in advance if the movie is big enough. The same is true of your book.”
Don’t be afraid to promote your book even as you’re writing it. You’ll need to enlist beta readers after all. Share details of characters, small excerpts, early versions of the blurb, and also don’t be afraid to share when you’re editing. Kathy has had great success sharing funny typos she’s found. Not only does it help people relate to her, but it shows she’s actively working to make her book the best it can be.
Most importantly, people need to see you had fun writing it. If you didn’t have fun writing it, it won’t be fun to read. Show people how much fun you’re having.
Kathy commented, “Every time I share some fun detail about the process or working on my book, I gain a trickle of followers. I’ve even had two offers for publicity. ”
Brenda added that when you make posts on social media, even to promote your work, try to make it personal – show some personality. People aren’t just buying you’re book – they’re buying into you.
Stuart added that you shouldn’t be afraid to put things other than writing on your author website. Add things that show some of your personality.
Kathy gave an example: “As a hobby, a friend of mine likes to learn ‘forgotten arts’ like book binding by hand, or paper making. She posts all her projects on her author website. This has led to people commissioning her to create hand bound notebooks for them, but it also gives her more personality. She’s a fantasy writer, and showcasing these hobbies sets her apart from the countless other fantasy writers out there.”
However, as with anything, you still need to be careful about what you post. You need to select specific elements of your life to share. Not everything is going to be appropriate. For example, it might be appropriate to share photos of a holiday or day trip you went on, but not pictures of your children. That said, it all depends on what you are writing. If you were writing a book on parenting, then that could be appropriate. Think carefully about what kinds of things you share on your author platforms. There are some things that work for any writer – such as sharing the occasional photo of a pet, or an inspirational photo, but some content might only be appropriate in specific circumstances.
“I’ve shared articles on my on-going writing process, but I also share funny stories I have from my days in retail,” Kathy explained. “I’ve also written a few articles on issues around customer service. I also plan to write articles on things like my top 5 horror movies, just for fun.”
These work for Kathy because although she is writing a horror series, they take place in locations like the local supermarket, and she combines the horror of working in retail with supernatural horror.
Remember, as our panellists have advised, your book is a product. Think about what your product is and who you’re selling it to. For example, if your book is a sci-fi novel, you know your readers enjoy sci-fi, but they might also things like comic con, Star Trek, and be interested in technology. In this case a blog post about your love of stargazing, or photos of you and your family cosplaying would be great additions to your blog, but pictures of your kids in the bath would not be quite so appropriate to your product.
Where can I self-publish my book?
Brenda explained that she produced the book herself. This is because she wanted a specific paper quality and for the book to have a specific format that online print on demand services just couldn’t give her.
If you are printing a book with an unusual format, this might be something to consider.
However, if you are thinking of publishing a book, be it a novel, novella, anthology, comic book, or graphic novel, there are free online services.
“I use KDP,” Kathy advised. “Both for the group anthologies and for my books. When we first started producing the anthologies, we used a service called Lulu but we had some problems with it and switched to KDP. It seems to have been a much smoother experience. Plus, KDP have a free piece of software called Kindle Create, which allows you to format your book ready for Amazon easily.”
There are other services like Smash Words or Scribd. Which one you use depends on which you prefer. Do your research. Check our each one and decide which is right for you. Amazon is the biggest and most well known, but it’s hardly the only option available.
“Just remember, you should never have to pay somebody to get published,” Kathy warned. “If somebody asks you to pay in order to get your work published, do not go with them. It’s a scam. They’ll take your money, and produce your book, but they won’t do anything with it.”
Remember, prints on demand services are free. The only time you have to pay is when you want to purchase author copies. You have to pay an editor, and a cover designer, but you should never pay to actually publish your book.
Our panellists have provided a list of useful links to help. These are by no means an extensive list. Just things they have found helpful:
Allows you to make mock-ups for book covers or other merchandise. Simply upload your book cover and it will apply it to an number of different mock-ups that you can use to advertise your book.
Allows you design graphics for a variety formats including a book cover, social media posts, and bookmarks.
This is an online learning community with thousands of courses, including on how to design book covers, social media, and marketing. It also has classes on creative writing, as well as courses on sewing, knitting, painting, and anything else creative that you can think of. Each class is broken down into small parts that you can easily fit into even the busiest schedule. Classes are taught be experienced individuals.