Posts Tagged Catherine Ryan Howard

How to publish ebooks – the beginner’s ultimate guide

oldie day 008oldieToday I gave a speech at The Oldie literary lunch (which was very exciting!) and they asked me to explain about making ebooks. I promised a post to distil the important details, and save them from squinting at their notes and wondering if that scrawl really does say ‘Smashwords’, and indeed what that alien name might mean.

If you already know how to publish ebooks you can probably skip most of this. However, you might find some of the links and reading list useful, or pass them on to a friend. And if you’re here from The Oldie – hello again. Nice to have you visit.

How to do it

It’s easy. Really easy. If you can format a Word file, you can make an ebook.

It’s more complicated if you have footnotes or multiple headings that might need to be visually distinguished, or you want graphics (which might not be advisable) but it’s generally easy. Have I said that often enough?

Here’s my post on how to format for Kindle, in which you’ll see how I had to be dragged into the ebook revolution. But by all the atoms in the heavens, I’m glad I was. You’ll also see the original, grey cover of the book that now looks like this.

That post includes the notes about stripping out the formatting codes and rethinking the book as a long-continuous roll of text, not fixed pages. The Smashwords style guide is also explained. (You knew you wrote that silly word down for a reason.)

If you don’t have the Word file

If you’re publishing a book that previously appeared in print, you might not have the polished Word file with all the copy editing and proofreading adjustments. Often, the author sees the later proofing stages on paper only, and any adjustments are done at the publisher. If you can get the final Word file, that’s simplest.

If not, try to get a PDF, which will have been used to make the book’s interior. You can copy the text off a PDF and paste it into a Word document. You’ll have to do quite a lot of clean-up as this will also copy all the page numbers and headers, and there will be invisible characters such as carriage returns. You’ll need to edit all of these out by hand.

Sometimes PDFs are locked. You can’t copy the text off by normal methods, but you can find a way round it with free online apps. Dig around Google and see what you find.

Another option is to scan a print copy. Depending on the clarity of the printing and whether the pages have yellowed, you may end up with errors and gobbledygook words, so again you’re in for a clean-up job. You’ll need a thorough proof-read as some scanners will misread letter combinations – eg ‘cl’ may be transformed into ‘d’ and your spellcheck won’t know that you meant to say ‘dose’ instead of ‘close’. But it’s quicker than retyping the entire book.

Ebook formats

There are two main ebook formats. Mobi (used on Amazon’s Kindle device) and epub (used on many other devices). They are both made in much the same way, and the instructions in my basic how-to-format post are good for both. PDFs are also sold on some sites.

Covers

You need to get a cover. Cover design is a science as well as an art. A cover is not just to make your book look pretty, it’s a marketing tool. If you’re republishing a print book, check if you have the rights to use the artwork. If not, you’ll have to get another cover made. Use a professional cover designer (see later). Here are posts to clue you in:

Where I nearly made a disastrous mistake with a cover

Writers who have changed their covers (including another version of Nail Your Novel, which, I’ll remind you, now looks like this)

nyn solo

Where do you get a good cover designer? See the books list below.

Hiring editors and proof-readers

In traditional publishing, a manuscript goes through a number of stages – developmental editing, copy editing and proof reading. If you’ve done this, go straight to formatting your manuscript. Otherwise, the following posts will help you understand what you need to do.

Are you ready to use self-publishing services?

Publishing schedule for indie authors – who to hire and when

Where will self-publishing get quality control?

How to find a good writing critique service

Daunted by the thought of an editor with an evil sneer and a red pen? Fear not, we respect you more than you know. 

Getting your book on sale

The main DIY platforms to sell your ebooks are Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo Writing Life and Smashwords (you’re getting used to that name now). Publishing on them is free and they’re simple to use. You can publish direct to ibooks, but that’s not easy unless you have a PhD in Mac. And a Mac. Besides, Smashwords (ta-daaah) will publish to ibooks for you. There are other platforms that act as intermediaries, for a greater or lesser fee, and greater or lesser advantage.

So before you spend money on self-publishing services, read this.

Beware of sharks. If you get what appears to be a publishing offer, read this.

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Books to get you started

Written from an author’s perspective – The Triskele Trail

David Gaughran – Let’s get Digital

Alliance of Independent AuthorsChoosing a Self-Publishing Service

Catherine Ryan Howard – Self-Printed (also covers print as well as ebooks)

And some other useful resources

Publish or self-publish? Advice for the 2014 writer

Useful podcast – How to self-publish an ebook and get a traditional book deal – with Sue Cook of The Write Lines

How much time should writers spend blogging and building websites to sell their books

And, er, that’s it. Any questions?

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Should you change your book’s cover? Tips for success

nyn1darkcov fonttweaksmllrTake a long look at this cover for Nail Your Novel, original flavour. In the next few days, it’s going to have a snazzy new outfit.

Proverbs notwithstanding, covers are perhaps our most potent marketing tool, so I thought I’d talk to various authors who’ve changed theirs with good results. My panel are literary authors Jessica Bell, Melissa Foster and Linda Gillard, chick-lit author Talli Roland, and travel writer and novelist Catherine Ryan Howard

String Bridge original coverString Bridge 2013 coverJESSICA BELL: ‘Cover #2 clearly attracts more readers’

Why did you change the cover of String Bridge?
I changed it twice. The first time was because my publisher closed and I had to put the book back on the market myself. The second, because it didn’t seem to attract attention, so I decided to go for a more commercial look.

How long had you had the old cover? Both for six months each.

Did it boost sales or interest?
The latest new cover did. The difference was phenomenal. The first free KDP promo I did with the second cover resulted in 2000 downloads. The second, with the latest cover, resulted in over 20,000 downloads. The latest cover is obviously more attractive to the mass consumer.

Were there any other results? Yes. More reviews!

Any tips for the changeover? Look at the covers of what’s hot on Amazon in the same genre as your book, and try to replicate the feel.

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CA COVER  1280 wmedalTwirling dance in cloudsMELISSA FOSTER: ‘Highlighting a different aspect of the novel’

Why did you change? To rebrand my books. Chasing Amanda sold very well with the previous darker, more mysterious cover, but it occurred to me that while Chasing Amanda is also a novel that tugs at the heart of most parents—-and perhaps it was time to try a cleaner, fresher look, giving readers a visual understanding of that side of the story. It will be interesting to see if the audience changes with the imagery change.

How long had you had the previous cover? My first book (published in 2009) had the original cover for almost three years. My second had the original cover for about a year before it was changed.

Did the change boost sales or interest? It’s always hard to tell what has caused a bump in sales when you do more than one thing at once. When I recovered my books to self-publish, I also put more promotions into play to promote them. Given that, I’d say the combination helped.

Any other results? I believe branding is important and so are professional covers. Traditionally published authors rebrand every few years to breathe new life into old titles.

Any tips for the changeover? I’ve changed all my covers and there is little to no impact on sales during the change. The paperback will go off sale for those few days while it’s being approved. The Kindle book doesn’t miss a single day; it’s live while you change.

Any time a cover is upgraded, try a promotion that was done in the past, then compare the results.

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utkUTK new cover largestLINDA GILLARD: ‘Echoing the cover of my bestselling book’

Why did you change the cover of Untying The Knot?

I was about to bring out the paperback so decided to reassess. I wanted to make it reminiscent of House Of Silence, which is my big seller. I’ve always assumed it must be the cover that sells that book, so we went for a dramatic sky and interesting building.
Untying The Knot has had brilliant reviews, but doesn’t sell as well as some of my others. It had a Marmite cover – people loved it or hated it – but most of the feedback was negative, especially from people who’d read the book. They didn’t think it represented the tone or content. Untying The Knot looks at the destructive effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on a marriage, but there are elements of rom-com mixed in with the drama. It was difficult to come up with an image to suggest all that. My original cover was a surreal image of a bride fleeing with a suitcase across a rural landscape but readers thought it suggested chick lit. I realised you need to make sure the cover of a mixed-genre book doesn’t give out a mixed message. That confuses readers and doesn’t work in that crucial thumbnail in ebook stores.

How long had you had the previous cover? A long time. Since August 2011

Effect on sales etc It’s too early to tell, but the feedback on Facebook suggests people think the new cover is more suitable and more appealing.

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BACKPACKED-FRONT-LARGEcrh-bp-cover-front-midCATHERINE RYAN HOWARD: ‘Shouldn’t have echoed the first book’

Why did you change the cover of Backpacked?

Backpacked was my second travel memoir, and as the first (Mousetrapped) had been so successful, I wanted to keep the brand I’d inadvertently created: scrapbook image on the bottom, nice blue sky picture on the top, white band with title etc through the middle. I have a deep-rooted and somewhat worrying need for things to match, so doing it that way satisfied that requirement as well.

But Backpacked didn’t sell as well as I’d hoped, and when I started examining the cover – really examining it – it struck me that this design did nothing for this book (although it had worked for the first). It actually looked dowdy and dull. So I decided to entirely revamp the cover, focusing more on the content of this book instead of how much it did or didn’t match the previous one.

How long had you had the old cover? Almost a year. (I had to look that up and I was actually very surprised it took me that long to change it!)

Did changing the cover boost sales or interest? Absolutely. And it was immediate. Now, Backpacked is probably my best-reviewed book, and I think that’s because it’s reaching the right readers. By changing the cover I caught their attention, and identified the book as something they’d like to read. It’s been out now since 2011 but continues to sell a steady amount each month.

I would say, though, that a cover change does not automatically generate new interest or boost sales. I had a shortlived self-published novel whose cover I changed and although sales were boosted initially, it didn’t make any difference in the long run. A new cover will only work if it’s the cover the book should have had all along. Change alone doesn’t contribute much.

Any tips? Very important: unless it’s a new edition (i.e. you’ve changed the content considerably), do not create a new book. I know that technically, if you change the cover, you should create a new edition but the headache is not worth it. I went through a month-long migraine when I brought out a new edition of Mousetrapped in 2011, and boy did I learn my lesson!

It is so much easier to go to CreateSpace, Amazon KDP etc. and upload a new cover file than it is to make a whole new book with both editions available at the same time, which is very confusing. You might also affect your rankings and reviews. Simply swap the cover files and keep everything else the same.

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The Hating Game - 2 (old)The Hating GameTALLI ROLAND: ‘Cover looked like the wrong genre’

Why did you change the cover of The Hating Game?

My publisher and I noticed my book was linked on Amazon with others of a different genre (mainly crime), so we suspected the cover wasn’t reaching the right audience. My novel was firmly chick lit, yet wasn’t being sold with other chick lit.

How long had you had the previous cover? We actually had two other covers before the current one. The first we’d had well before the launch of the book, and the second was live for a few weeks.

Result? When we finally hit on the right cover, the novel rocketed into the top 100 on Amazon within a week or so.

Any tips for the changeover? Explain the reasons, to avoid confusion. Although we only changed the ebook cover; by the time the book was in print, we’d found a cover that worked. Make sure the new cover addresses the genre you’re targeting, too.

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Paranormal thriller author MARY MADDOX has an interesting tale of how she changed the cover of her novel Talion because she’d originally used a photo she loved – but readers told her (some rather rudely) that it was too abstract.

Do readers get confused?

One of the questions I was most interested in was whether readers become confused. The general consensus was no. The Kindle store warns you if you try to buy a book you’ve already downloaded. And although you can buy paperbacks more than once, no one reported a dreaded disgruntled review for that reason. Jessica Bell says publication dates are clearly labelled, so readers can tell it’s the same book. And Catherine Ryan Howard points out that readers are already used to covers changing in traditional publishing. ‘A book will have one design for the hardback and another for the paperback, and bestseller authors with extensive backlists get cover redesigns regularly. If the title, sub-title and blurb stay the same, how could anyone make such a mistake?’

Cover designer Jane Dixon-Smith has two useful tips to add. ‘If you’re designing a cover for a sequel, make sure it matches in terms of quality and style Second, it’s important to change a cover if it’s an improvement to your image and the assurance of your quality and brand.’

Going, going...

Going, going…

You’ll have to wait a day or two while the new cover of Nail Your Novel worms its way through the works at CreateSpace et al. But don’t go too far because I’ll be back with an unveiling post AND a very special competition…

In the meantime, let’s talk about changing covers. Have you changed any of yours? Are you thinking about it? Are you happy with your covers, and why? Do you have any other questions you’d like to discuss?

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Before you spend money on publishing services, read this

old ropeAs indies get ever more professional, an entire service industry is springing up to offer us services for every occasion. At this year’s London Book Fair, the Authors’ Lounge was heaving with suppliers, and no shortage of willing customers. While it’s great to have access to these, authors are ripe for rip-off.

This week David Gaughran highlighted unscrupulous companies that charge exorbitant prices, or hoodwink authors into paying for services that could be obtained for very little or no cost.

So this post is a self-publishing 101; a catch-up for those who are wondering what they need to spend money on. In some cases, knowledge is the answer; all books, authors and genres are different, and one supplier does not fit all.

It’s virtually impossible to publish a book without any expenditure, but we can make sure we use our budgets wisely – and stop writers filling the pockets of unscrupulous suppliers who are getting rich on our dreams.

Publisher accounts

Some authors don’t know they can create their own user accounts on Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo and CreateSpace. Or how simple it is – basically, no more difficult than entering your details in a mail-order website.

Some companies offer to upload your books through their account, but this is unnecessary. Even if you don’t make the files yourself, you can still upload them. If your service company went out of business, what would happen to your book listings? Moreover, if a third party controls your access to these publishing platforms, it’s harder to adjust your book’s appearance and description – which as you’ll see is essential to successful self-publishing.

Ebook formatting

This week, as you may have gathered, I published the follow-up to Nail Your Novel. I was rusty with the e-platforms, but it didn’t take long to get reacquainted.

Basic ebook formatting is dead simple if you can use Word on an everyday average level. You don’t need to be a wizard, but you do have to be meticulous. The best instructions are at the Smashwords Style Guide, a free book with diagrams and reassuringly clear instructions. There are a couple of other useful links in this post I wrote 2 years ago when I first ventured onto Kindle. I reread them when I uploaded my new book last week and it all went smoothly.

Indeed, if you have Scrivener, it will format ebooks for you.

Print book interiors

Print books are more tricky than ebooks, and amateur ones can look dreadful. But there are various tools to help beginners do a good job for very little money.

cathI recommend you read Catherine Ryan Howard’s book Self-Printed, which I used the first time I ventured onto CreateSpace and I still keep to hand to remind myself how to set up a book. She also has a ton of other useful guidance on book formatting.

How do you make the interior? CreateSpace provides Word templates, if you need help (although I make my books in a design program and upload a PDF).  CS templates are pretty plain, and Word isn’t ideal for interior formatting, but it’s fine for novels, which require hardly any design. In any case, a neat finish isn’t created by fancy typesetting, it’s from consistency and readability – and you can find a post I wrote on that here.

If you want a slicker look for little money, try Joel Friedlander’s book design templates for use in Word.   Joel has created interiors that you graft your text into – which is exactly what happens when books are designed in mainstream publishers (although they don’t use Word).

Which print-on-demand company should you use? There are two main options: Lightning Source and CreateSpace. LS isn’t suitable for beginners. It costs to start a book project and proofs are expensive. CS, though, is free to set up and holds your hand. Here’s a post I wrote comparing the two for novice publishers.

Covers

A great cover is money well spent. But you need to take creative control because you could end up with something unsuitable, horrible, or even illegal if the designer downloaded images from Google instead of sourcing them legitimately. This happens.

When you hire a cover designer, you need to know how to choose them and how to know when the job has been done properly. Identify your genre, familiarise yourself with its most successful covers, then you’ll know how to judge which designer is right for your book. Here’s a post I wrote recently on getting a cover designed.

Marketing

At LBF I talked to a publicity company to find out how they’d publicise a literary novel. They hadn’t tackled literary fiction before, and seemed unwilling to admit it until I pressed them hard. If I’d been a newbie, they’d have been selling me expensive packages that were unsuitable for my book. (I wasn’t looking to buy anyway; I was asking out of curiosity.)

With marketing, learn as much as you can before you hire publicists or buy advertising. I’ve learned a lot from Joanna Penn’s blog, and this is where I’d send you too.

Not all marketing has to cost money. Book descriptions, price point, tagging, titling and categorisation will all affect whether your book can be found by its ideal readers and you can experiment and tweak ad infinitum. (Remember I said you don’t want to have to ask a third party whenever you adjust your book’s back end? This is a good reason why.)  You might find you know more about marketing than you realise, as I did when I was asked to write this guest post.

Two more books I’m going to recommend:allibook

psst… Editorial services

First, of course, you need a book that’s fit to be published. In a publisher, there would be a team of people handling different editing stages:

  • developmental (the big picture: book structure, characters, narrative voice, plot etc)
  • copyediting (niggly details like plot consistency, names, timelines)
  • proofing (looking for typos and other mistakes)

It’s worth hiring expertise to help you with these and it’s unlikely that you can do it cheap. But you can choose wisely: here’s my post on issues to be aware of.

Thanks for the pic Horia Varlan

What other warnings and tips would you add to my self-publishing 101?

unsaid

Nail Your Novel: Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivatednyn2 2014 sml

Alive and sparking now on all ebook formats

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Blogging – should authors go self-hosted or not? Part 1: two bloggers who don’t

You must self-host. You mustn’t use an off-the-peg theme. You mustn’t, on pain of ethernal damnation, have links in blue Times Roman.

There’s a lot of strident advice about blogging. Even that remark about blue Times Roman came from serious advice on a high-profile site trying to tell quivering newbies what they should do. Perhaps blue links matter in some quarters, but what matters to an author who wants to connect with readers? Should you be spending money on hosting, and on customised, SEO-friendly blog themes?

Today and tomorrow I’m going to examine both sides of the electric fence. Four bloggers, evenly split between self-hosted and not. On the ‘not’ side are me and Catherine Ryan Howard. On the self-hosting side are writer and author entrepreneur Joanna Penn and digital publishing guru Jane Friedman.

In a way I speak from both sides. I started with a self-hosted blog, when a friend insisted I camp out in a corner of his webspace (because he felt it was infra dig to be anything but self-hosted). And it didn’t go well. More about that in a moment.

You’ve lost me already. What does all this mean?

Quick tutorial – your blog is kept on a server so anyone in the world can read it and lots of people can access it at the same time. With self-hosting, you pay for disk space (also known as a domain) and you can put whatever you like on it – blog software of your choice, websites, pay buttons, video, anything. With platform-hosted, like WordPress.com and Blogger, your files are kept by WordPress and Blogger, you can’t customise the design or have pay buttons or video – although paid upgrades will allow some features. It’s like the difference between renting a house – with landlord’s furniture and rules – and owning the whole space outright.

Just to confuse you, there’s a version of WordPress for use on self-hosted blogs – WordPress.org.

With freedom comes responsibility

The biggest difference between the two is, obviously, freedom. This can go rather wrong. When I was self-hosted, I imported a cool plugin that broke my entire blog. I would never have got up again if not for (another) expert friend who was prepared to poke around the upper, scary database levels and unravel the damage. (Note to self: self-hosting is not for the insanely curious.)

The other problem is security. Most blogging systems are open source – which means the code is available for anyone to read, and hackers can find the loopholes easily. WordPress.com and Blogger don’t let you change anything that threatens security, but on self-hosted blogs there are no padlocks. My self-hosted blog got hacked – which might or might not have been because I was sharing with a friend of less secure habits. But after the stress of that I decided I was out of my depth and didn’t have time to sort out software and security headaches. I rebooted on WordPress.com, which has been able to do everything I need.

Get  customising

Obviously you don’t want your blog to look like everyone else’s, but there are only a limited number of visual templates (themes). However, there’s a lot you can do to customise. My blogs all use the same template, Fusion, which I’ve tweaked with my own headers and logos. You can buy upgrades to let you customise even more, but everything I’ve done is free.

Fusion tweaked for my main author site

…and for my novel’s blog

But themes aren’t just about the blog’s appearance. Themes also allow you to draw in new readers through the hocus-pocus of SEO – search engine optimisation.

SEO

Here, the paid-for themes have an advantage as they are designed to worm their way more effectively into search pathways. Tomorrow I’ll discuss this in more detail with Jane and Joanna, but there are ways you can optimise your free non-self-hosted blog:

  • use attention-grabbing headlines with key words
  • optimise post URLs – Google looks at post URLs, so I make sure mine show the headline, not the post date or number. Your blog will probably have an option for changing this
  • use plenty of tags – you’ll see my posts all have shoals of tags, including my name, my book titles, and general tags like ‘write a novel’. Those tags are not for you, reading this page – you already know every post is related to writing novels. Those tags are for Google. Make sure each post contains the keywords for the specific post and the keywords for your blog in general.

Buy a URL

I also bought my own general blog URL and pointed it to the free one. The rationale is that when someone hears about you they search for you.com or yourbook.com. (It’s usually .com they plump for first, even if you’re as English as Earl Grey tea). So the actual web address of this blog is nailyournovel.wordpress.com but for a few dollars I bought nailyournovel.com and through a very easy process, pointed it at this blog. I did it for My Memories of a Future Life too.

Over to Catherine

Anyway, I promised you a second opinion on platform-hosted blogs, so here’s Catherine Ryan Howard, of the indefatigable and unfatiguable Catherine, Caffeinated…

How did you start?

‘I started off with Blogger.com, but I always felt there was something about Blogger templates that said ‘amateur’. This was back in late 2009 so chances are they’ve improved since then but when I went to WordPress, it felt like a whole new level of professionalism and the choice of themes was just fantastic. I think it’s a credit to WordPress that I’ve had enquiries about who designed my blog – people think it’s been done professionally but it’s a free WordPress theme (Bueno) I love how easy WordPress.com blogs are to use, how easy it is to integrate them with the rest of your online activities (Twitter, Facebook, etc) And my all-time fave WP feature is their custom menu, which enables you to link to external sites (or wherever you like) from the menu at the top. For example, on top of my blog I have a ‘newsletter’ tab, and when you click it on it, you’re brought to the MailChimp sign up form.’

Is there anything you pay for?

‘The only thing I pay for is the domain upgrade, i.e. www.catherineryanhoward.com instead of www.catherineryanhoward.wordpress.com.’

What limitations are there on a WordPress-hosted blog?

‘Paypal buttons is the big thing – you can’t sell anything on your WP blog although you can have a donate button.’ (editor’s ahem!… it’s possible to fudge it – see the How To Write A Novel course in my sidebar…)

‘Also a lot of external widgets don’t work. BUT I think this is a tiny price to pay for such a great, easy service that lets me have a professional home online for very little cost.’

What about SEO?

‘I don’t worry about SEO at all. Not one tiny bit. Maybe I should, but I’m quite happy with the way things are for me and my blog at the moment. The only thing I want – and I have it – is for my blog to be the first result when people google my name. I think if your blog is the core of your business, you should worry about things like that. But for a writer, their books are the core – or should be, anyway.’

Roz again… I couldn’t agree more. So here are my tips for making the most of a non-self-hosted blog, if we can use such a horrible term…

  1.  Tag your posts with an eye on SEO
  2. Get your own URL
  3. Check your URLs show your post headline, not just a date or a post number
  4. Find a theme that you can shape to look distinctive (so people really feel it’s your online home)
  5. Remember your online presence isn’t just a blog – you reach much further if you use social media as well.

If you blog, what platform do you use and why? Do you have any thoughts on self-hosted versus platform hosted? Share in the comments…. and come back tomorrow when Jane Friedman and Joanna Penn give their reasons for self-hosting.

The first edition of my newsletter is out now, including useful links and snippets about the next Nail Your Novel book!  You can read it here and you can add your name to the mailing list here.

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A year of change in publishing puts writers in the driving seat – guest post at Catherine, Caffeinated

Catherine Ryan Howard was one of the first bloggers I found when I started flinging words into the ether. She was writing about her deep love of caffeine and outer space, and of course her books – among them a memoir.

That memoir was Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida which became a self-publishing phenomenon. Catherine put it out in 2010 after agents and editors told her that while it was a fab read, there was no market for it. Using only free promotional tools like her blog, Twitter and Facebook, Catherine has managed to shift over 7,000 copies. Not only that, she’s written a brilliant book on self-publishing, which I keep by my side when I venture into unfamiliar self-publishing waters. When I put Nail Your Novel on Kindle, it was Catherine’s blog I used to guide me.

We’ve both had very positive experiences self-publishing, but we both also swore we would never self-publish our own fiction. But a few months ago I started to think again. And then I happened by Catherine’s blog to find she was entertaining the same plan…

She asked me over to her blog  to explain what changed my mind and made me publish My Memories of a Future Life (which is out today)… and why, as a bestselling ghostwriter, I even had to self-publish in the first place.

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I’ve had near misses with agents and publishers – should I self-publish?

I had this very interesting comment from Paul Gresty about my interview with John Rakestraw at BlogTalkRadio, and it’s typical of questions I’ve been seeing a lot of authors wrestling with. What follows is just my opinion as an author and freelance editor, and may be typical only of the UK publishing market, but here goes.

Paul: You talked in the interview about writers who have had near misses with agents. A few times now, the agents who’ve read my novel have said: ‘This is really good, but we can’t see a major publisher going for it. Try finding a smaller publisher of literary fiction for it, and send us whatever you write next.’ At the same time, smaller publishers, with whom I’ve published bits and pieces before, are saying, ‘We don’t have the means to publish a new book right now’.

I know a number of writers who have excellent, interesting novels that are not getting published. Perhaps they cross genres, or they’re too edgy to be literary and too intelligent to be genre. In all likelihood if those writers were submitting those same novels to the market 5 or 10 years ago they would have landed a publishing deal. But publishers don’t want them any more.

My agent says he’s had plenty of situations in the last few years when editors have adored a novel by one of his clients, have recommended it for publication and had it rejected by the marketing department. So these novels were definitely good enough. But the marketers didn’t want them.

Why?

Publishers don’t sell to ordinary readers

The major publishers sell to book stores, and they want to make bulk sales to chains. They want titles that will sell in quantity. Not something ‘interesting’ that will sell one or two copies per store.

Meanwhile, smaller publishers are inundated with submissions and can only afford to publish a few titles a year. This is because there’s a lot of work in bringing a manuscript up to standard and it is simply impossible for a shoestring staff to handle more than a small number.

Paul: Perhaps the solution is to publish an ebook?

That seems to make perfect sense. While you may not shift very many copies in your town or even your county, worldwide you might find 15,000 people who want to read what you write. Providing you can reach them – and the internet is the place to do it. Some small publishers are testing the water by epublishing titles first, and then if sales go well they produce a print version. But again, you have to land on their desk before they hit their quota for the year. How lucky do you feel?

Paul: On the writing courses I’ve done over the last few years, I’ve been advised against self-publishing – ‘vanity’ publishing, with all the negative connotations. ‘It shows that you haven’t looked hard enough to find a ‘real’ publisher,’ I’ve been told. But maybe that’s changing. Maybe self-publishing is becoming more legitimate. Is it?

Ooh, this is interesting.

Vanity publishing is not the same as self-publishing. With vanity publishing you pay – usually a lot of money – for someone to print thousands of shoddy copies of your book and then you discover they’re not going to sell or distribute them for you. It’s usually verging on a scam. With self-publishing no money changes hands until a copy is sold (of course you may spend money on covers, editing etc, but that doesn’t usually have anything to do with the self-publishing company).

As for the assertion that if you can’t get a ‘proper’ publisher you haven’t earned your spurs…

Many of the people saying that either wouldn’t get published now or have never tried at all. I still encounter people who imagine they only have to slip their magnum opus through a publisher’s letterbox and they’ll be Rowling all the way to the bank.

Take no notice of the stuffy gits at those writing courses. They’re well out of date. I bet most of them don’t even know what an online platform is, or assume we’re all writing undisciplined noodlings about what we had for breakfast.

I couldn’t get a ‘proper publisher’ for Nail Your Novel. I was told it was far too short and there were far too many how-to-write books. It was not needed in the market, apparently. So I self-published. Far from being a flop it’s been getting great reviews and sales that have surprised me. I regularly get emails and tweets from people who are genuinely grateful I put it out there.

Catherine Ryan Howard, of the blog Catherine, Caffeinated, self-published her travel memoir Mousetrapped after agents told her it was a good read but hard to place. It’s doing very nicely for her – especially in ebook form. (She’s got a book coming soon all about how she self-published. I just read an ARC. If you’re interested in self-publishing it’s called Self-Printed and I urge you to get it.)

Which brings me back to…

Conventional publishers have narrower tastes than the book-buying public. Much narrower.

My agent also says that the pendulum is bound to swing the other way in favour of these maverick, original writers. That’s lovely of him, but who knows if it will? Self-publishing makes sense if you’ve exhausted normal channels and don’t want to wait for ever.

The trouble is, as I said on the radio show, anyone can now hit ‘publish’. There isn’t yet a reliable way for readers to find out which the good self-published books are, especially with fiction. How do you even get noticed?

I haven’t got an answer for this. Except…

Let’s show those stuffy gits

Self-publishers are now more credible than we have ever been. We must keep that credibility. We must aim for the highest possible quality. That means getting professional help with the editing, proofing and design, so that the book can hold its own against the best of conventionally published titles. (In fact, I’m just revamping the interior design of the print version of Nail Your Novel so that it looks as crisp as possible. Not the content, just the layout and typestyles. When I first formatted it I didn’t think I’d be getting it on Amazon alongside the top-selling books in its field. Now it needs to look the part.)

To sum up: Paul, if you’re really sure you’ve done all you can to make your book as good as you can, hit publish.

(Thank you, Oldonliner, for the picture)

What would you tell Paul? Are you another ‘near miss’ author? Discuss in the comments!

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