Friday 9 December 2011

So you wanna self-publish?

Self-publishing, eh? My books have always been published by mainstream publishers so I've had people making all the major marketing and sales decisions for me. I wrote the books and that was it. But so many people are now launching into self-publishing and I'm now republishing my old non-fiction books as e-books. So I asked Jake Barton if he’d write a guest post. Jake was another writer I met on Authonomy who has become a good friend. He has also achieved prodigious success with his self-published books.  So, without further ado, over to the maestro...
Jake Barton writes... 'Self-publishing has moved on from the days of being sniffily regarded as ‘vanity publishing.’ What other motive for publication is there? Kindle, eBooks, changed all the rules. All the mainstream publishing houses are dashing to get involved or risk being left behind. In a digital age, the pace is relentless. Remember the fuss when the CD appeared? It became the norm, in no time. Now, it’s all downloads. Massive change, in next to no time.
Jake Barton - the bestselling author prepares for a back flip
With the onset of eBooks, a rash of companies have sprung up, offering to handle all the fiddly bits of self publishing. For a price (typically £99 and they retain 60 percent of your royalties). It’s an option.
Certainly, the conventional publishers have only themselves to blame for all this competition. Many still insist on hard copy: actual typed sheets of paper, to be sent out, only for the author to wait for months and then receive a rejection slip. I know this, only too well. I suspected I had a viable novel, but failed to convince a publisher. I looked at the dawn of the new Kindle phenomenon and thought, ‘Why not?’ I’m the ultimate Luddite. Really. Yet even I, with help from cleverer friends, managed to self publish. I have four books out now and that first book has sold 60,000 copies this year.
So, what to look out for? This isn’t about ‘rules.’ I don’t ‘do’ rules and was told by a noted critic that my writing ‘breaks all the rules.’ It’s intended as thoughts about what works and what doesn’t, when offering a book to a potential reader.
Editing. The book should be edited to within an inch of its life by this stage. Every error removed, every typo spotted and rectified. Even books where an army of proofreaders check every word, every line, aren’t immune to mistakes creeping in – I spotted five errors in a John Grisham novel, elementary mistakes, recently – but the smaller publisher or Indie writer has to be certain the book is as good as it can be when it reaches publication stage.
Formatting.  You will need to format your book but it's not as hard as it might seem. Look at Amazon’s guide to preparing a book for Kindle  
One of my favourite writers has the best guide to Kindle submission I’ve come across so far in her blog. Read this, and read her book, Daisychains of Silence, too!  [I concur, heartily… J]
I’d also recommend a talented man I met on Authonomy who writes ‘how to’ books on this and other subjects and has a blog where he talks about the subject. Check out Jason Matthews here 

Yes, fine, but all this effort counts for nothing if nobody ever gets to read the book. Three elements are crucial. Title, cover and pitch. All vital but the latter is crucial.
The title. Titles – the hardest part of a book for me. Relevance is essential, eye-catching too. Don’t worry too much if you pick a title and then find it elsewhere - as with song titles, there are very few unique titles about. Short and snappy is best.

Sold 60,000 copies this year alone.
The cover. The cover picture doesn’t have to cost the Earth. Although you’ll have no problem finding someone to make a cover for you, expect to pay a considerable sum for this. You may already have an appropriate photograph you could use or look up royalty free images online, see what’s out there. Be careful of copyright on images; if in doubt, ask the ‘owner’ of the image. My latest ‘paper’ book, I did the cover myself, just using Word. No fancy design packages necessary. Bottom line, your cover should be eye-catching and effective even at the size of a postage stamp which is all the Amazon site permits. It should also reflect the title. Common sense.  
The pitch, the blurb, call it what you will; it’s the key to getting your book noticed. It’s what everyone looks at in a book shop when looking to buy a book. The back cover, inside the front page, the position may vary, but the tiny piece of information telling us what the book’s about, what to expect, is often all we have, all we need, to make a decision: buy the book or move on, look elsewhere. A browser on Amazon has seemingly endless choice, but the same principle applies. It’s the author’s opportunity to sell themselves to a prospective reader. To say, ‘Buy me. Not the others. Buy me,’ to a browsing potential purchaser.
My first book, Burn, Baby, Burn reached the Amazon Top Ten this year despite having no publicity department to support it and an author without a clue about marketing. When hundreds of people a day are buying a book by an unknown writer, there has to be a reason. In my case, it was the pitch. I’d already decided I would write a ‘commercial’ book, but I had to ensure those browsers didn’t just glance at it and move on to authors they already knew. Here’s the ‘attention-getting’ passage from the pitch for Burn, Baby, Burn.
‘Marcus was special. He’d always known it. Even at the age of six when he’d decided to kill his father. His privileged background should have produced a doctor, an academic, perhaps a diplomat. Instead, he killed people for fun’.
See, it works, doesn’t it? It focuses on the villain as he’s the one character readers will always remember in this genre. It says, ‘This is me. I’m interesting. Read about me.’ Or I hope it does as that was my intention. The sales figures of the book suggest I got it right.
The pitch is all the potential reader has before them when browsing the vast expanses of Amazon’s bookstore. In that blurb, just a few lines, lies the success or failure of your offering. Get the pitch right; make it enticing enough to compel the casual browser to click on your book, that’s the real secret.

Price. The price structure is almost infinitely variable. An author can change their price point in an instant. Nothing is set in stone. I looked at the books that were selling in vast quantities Many were household names, authors with a loyal following whose readers clamour for the next book, but there was the odd ‘Indie’ writer without any track record as a published writer there too. A few of the established names set a premium price point. Fair enough. But what I found most interesting were the established authors at the top of the charts who offered their work at the lowest possible price point. If that worked for them, why not for me?
Offering a book at the lowest price point brings casual readers, impulse buyers, into the equation. It will always be a balancing act – more sales at a lower return against fewer sales at a higher return.
Gay vampires eh?
I decided on the lowest point for a specific reason – chart positions. Charts are vital to success on Amazon and readers are undoubtedly swayed by charts. If we see a book that’s successful it sparks our interest.
Getting into the All Books Top 100 was never even on my mind in those early days. Since then I’ve had two books in the Top Ten. There are an almost infinite number of sub-charts, all of which have an effect on the buying public. A reader can search for his/her area of interest, find books that reflect that interest, with a couple of mouse clicks. Whether it be Thrillers, Short Stories, Japanese Poetry or Gay Vampires there’s a chart for it.
Categories. When you finally enter your book to the Kindle site, you’ll be prompted to choose its ‘category.’ This is an important stage as it helps you to find one of those elusive charts. My third book was languishing as a ‘Thriller’ but because I’d made a careful selection of categories, it charted very well under ‘Female Sleuths,’ thereby gaining attention.

Marketing. There’s a dedicated forum on the Kindle site where you’ll find answers to just about any question and can also give your book a mention. As for ‘marketing,’ at which I’m utterly useless, use your blog. If you haven’t got one yet, think about getting one. Use Facebook, Twitter and other means to engage an online audience. If you can cope with it, try your local paper, radio, TV station – tell them what you’re doing; that there’s a new author in their area. Nothing to lose.

The Kindle experience has been wonderful. Complete strangers read my books; plucking them from the vast range on offer. That was nice.  If you’re thinking about ‘Kindling’ – what’s stopping you? Worried a traditional publisher won’t want to see your work? Don’t be. In my experience, the reverse is the case. Since I posted my book on Kindle I’ve been contacted by three agents and three publishers, all very keen to discuss a future partnership. Evidence of a saleable product will have that effect. I’m not rushing into anything. Why should I? Do I need them? Not really.'
Thanks, Jake...  I would just add that you can buy Burn Baby Burn by clicking on this link...
And check out all his other books on his Amazon page
He also has, though it pains me to say it, a very good blog... Ramblings of a Deluded Soul.  Check it out.
And don't forget to click the links on the right-hand side of my blog for more fabulous self-published books. ;) 


JO said...

It's great to see all us ex-authonomites going it alone, after the months of backscratching that went on there. Good luck to all of us (and yes, Over the Hill and Far Away - known as Gap Years are Wasted on the Young in its authonolife - is also out on Kindle, and will be a print book soon.)

Good luck to all of us!

Jake Barton said...

I should point out this article has been ruthlessly edited by the blog owner. I submitted what I considered a reasonable amount of copy, doing ample justice to the subject, and it has been hacked away to virtually nothing. Honestly, what was wrong with the original 26,000 words, I want to know?
I'm honoured to have a guest slot on the blog which defines a successful blog. One day, I'll have one a tenth as good. Okay, I won't but without dreams, where would we be?
The word verification requested of me before I'm allowed to post this is 'penile.' Imagine anyone of a delicate nature having to type that.

Fennie said...

Most interesting. I'm sending off a children's book 'Clazzakin's Carpet' to Blurb in the next few days (all being well) so we'll see what will happen. It will probably turn up as an eBook as well. It's all about flying carpets.

Fran Hill said...

Thanks for this. Have been seriously considering it for a while and it's nice to know there's wisdom out there to follow. Ta.

F said...

Thanks Jane and Jake. Super timely.

And: I'm excited about Walker, Jane. Has James read it?

Exmoorjane said...

@Jo - Yeah...I resisted for a long time but hey...why not? What's to lose? Good luck, Jo... :)

@Jake - yeah, yeah, yeah. :)

@Fennie - I remember Clazzakin's Carpet (LOVE flying carpets, of course)...huge good luck. Keep me posted eh?

@Fran - go for it. Glad the information is helpful. :)

@Frankie - Timely? Really? *excited face* Nope, James hasn't read it - he doesn't like anything he considers 'spooky'. *sigh*

Ashen said...

Congratulations. Such impressive teamwork. I was struck by your reply to my tweet, Jane ... I dunno, Ashen. Is strange. It takes on a life of its own. Different from non-fiction somehow :)...
You hit the nail on the head. The problem of letting go of my story sits right behind all the other stuff I put in the way. Must give myself a kick next year :) Much encouraged by you and all the innovative authonomites.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous article, Jake (and Jane) - really interesting to read as I'm also a self-published author. I find the marketing and promotion an absolute bind but even with trad pub these days, we authors have to push our books out there as much as we possible can.

CJ x

Big Fashionista said...

Do I sound like a suck up if I say I now want to buy a Kindle just so I can read Jake Bartons books

I've been Googling!! I want to read Blood, and Burn Baby Burn.

Waits impatiently for Santa!!

Ooooh he better have got my letter

Rebecca Lochlann said...

I've got Walker and the only thing keeping me from reading it right now is the queue. I am looking forward to it so much! Here's sending you vibes for many sales!

Kathryn Lang said...

I really appreciated the points on self-publishing ESPECIALLY from one that has been there and done that.

I am beginning to understand that it is about listening to all the advice and then paving your own path!

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

I'd like to ask four questions, if I may.

1. How important is an ISBN to a self-published eBook?

2. If you make the same text available for different kinds of eBook, would a different ISBN be needed for each one?

3. I took a look at how to register for exemption from tax for people outside the USA who publish on Kindle. Was daunted! Does the tax apply to people who purchase from within the UK as well as from outside it? Did you arrange for the exemption and how challenging was it to arrange?

4. Once a book is published as an eBook, is it possible to make changes if any mistakes have crept in, either typos or formatting mistakes?

Jake Barton said...

Lucy, have been tracked down to respond to your questions.
ISBN not important at all to e-Book. Ditto, different versions. That's my take on it, anyway, although Haven't had to ponder the question myself.
Like yourself, I found the tax exemption business very daunting. So much so, I ignored it and accepted paying more tax in advance on US sales. Not a big problem for me as UK sales vastly exceed US sales. Again, only my approach and others have appeared to get the paperwork done without huge problems. I just didn't bother - mostly lethargy and am easily baffled.
Question 4 is the only one I'm confident of having right answer. I made half a dozen post-publication edits of my book. Very easy and changes take effect within 24 hours. Very different from 'traditional publishing.'
Hope this helps, but take nothing I say as gospel. My success all down to blundering around, learning by trial and error as am hopelessly inadequate when attempting anything even faintly technical.

maddie said...

I'm bookmarking this post so thanks Jane and Jake. Very, very useful info. And good luck with Walker, Jane.

maddie said...

I'm bookmarking this post so thanks Jane and Jake. Very, very useful info. And good luck with Walker, Jane.

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