This post, by David Gaughran, is an all-you-need-to-know compilation about self-publishing . Obviously, there’s more to say about the subject than will fit into a single post, but there are links to everything else you will need. We’ve published other material on electronic self-publishing in the past, but you should regard this one as now being state of the art. As David notes, what worked in 2011 isn’t always right for 2014. And if you want to know who David is – well, he’s basically the most authoritative self-publishing voice in Europe, a guy so influential that Amazon quotes him extensively in their emails to KDP publishers. His Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible are both essential works in their categories. Now, over to him. (Oh, and this post is so long it needs a table of contents, so bookmark this page and get ready to read and re-read …)
First up, I recommend you read this: a quick 3,500 word primer on everything you need to know. You can read it on my blog, or download it as a PDF and print it out. Also feel free to share that with anyone.
I wrote the above around a year ago, but the only things particularly out of date are that Amazon no longer charges anything to do print editions, and there is a much easier way to sort out your tax status with the IRS, outlined in this post.
I think it’s important to get out there and connect with self-publishers. The community is wonderfully supportive and helpful and there are a huge number of free resources, blogs etc. which you should check out. You’ll have your own favorites soon enough, but these should get you started:
KBoards.com Writers’ Cafe – this is the main self-publisher forum/hangout (actually, it’s a sub-forum specifically for writers but part of a much bigger reader site). Most members are based in the US, but there are lots of writers from all over, especially the UK. Great place to get referrals on editors, formatters, and cover designers and to hear the latest marketing strategies, which ad sites are worth the money etc. It seems very chaotic at first, but it’s very friendly and you’ll get the swing of it soon enough.
And here are some different blogs and podcasts I recommend checking out.
3. TURNING YOUR MS INTO AN EBOOK (& PAPERBACK)
As I said in the doc I linked to under BASICS, there are three main tasks a writer has to undertake: writing, publishing, and marketing. Publishing is by far the easiest out of those three. So don’t be afraid of this step! And absolutely don’t hire a middleman service to do this part for you. There’s a reason why no successful self-publisher uses these services. You will end up in the wrong categories on Amazon, you won’t be able to do quick price changes, you won’t get near live sales reports (crucial for knowing what bits of your marketing are working), and you will get paid slower, and less too. And those are the good ones. The predatory services, like Author Solutions (who own Author House, Trafford, iUniverse, Xlibris and many more), will do far worse than that. I discuss them in more detail below.
For now, the steps to turn your MS into a perfectly formatted e-book are covered in the free PDF of Let’s Get Digital, which you can download here (scroll to very bottom for link to FREE version).
Steps 1 – 5 in Let’s Get Digital will talk you through what’s needed to turn your MS into a perfectly formatted e-book. If you need a referral for an editor/cover designer/formatter, KBoards.com is great for that. Don’t forget you want an editor with experience working with UK English, and I should also mention that the Writers’ Workshop (who organized the Festival of Writing in York) has an excellent reputation. I don’t have any connection with WW, but I know the editors are great because I attend as many craft workshops as I can when at the Festival and these guys know their stuff inside out. Oh, and there’s information on print editions in the BASICS doc (I only cover that in the 2nd edition of Digital). [If you want to check out our WW editors you can do so here. If you want to check out the range of our feedback and copyediting services, you can do so here – Harry Bingham]
The marketing sections in the free PDF edition of Let’s Get Digital are badly out of date. You need to do very different things to reach readers in 2014 than 2011, and we have much better tools today. A lot of the things I recommend in that old edition (like platform building, blogging etc.) are only really recommended for certain non-fiction authors (and even then, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary and you should focus on the other stuff first – shared below – and your writing, which is most important of all).
This post will give you the basics on how to approach marketing, and what you should focus on (and what to avoid). [If you only read one of Dave’s posts, you should read that one. It’s excellent. The current state-of-the-art in indie publishing thinking. – Harry Bingham]
This post will give you the basic template of that marketing approach I spoke about. If you have a good book, produce new work as regularly as you can, start a mailing list ASAP, and follow this template, you have a real chance of building a career out of this.
All of this stuff might sound tricky, but it’s like riding a bike. You can read all the theory in the world about bike-riding, but it won’t make a huge amount of sense until you are in the saddle yourself.
As for advertising sites, these are the only ones I recommend checking out. BookBub is the big dog (with prices to match). I recommend subscribing there as a reader just to see how they do things (and because they recommend great books for free/cheap every day). These are listed more-or-less in size. BookBub’s ads are expensive (normally you make that back in a day or two), but the rest are either very cheap or free.
When you are starting out you are particularly vulnerable to scammers, as well as the incompetent/unscrupulous making grandiose claims they can’t deliver upon. There are all sorts of scams a writer can get caught up in, involving literary agents, editors, contests, and awards. The number one place to learn about all of these is Writer Beware.
The main scams targeting self-publishers tend to involve things like publicists who claim to be able to get you onto the New York Times bestseller list, advertising sites which claim to have giant audiences, but which actually have none at all, and vanity presses.
As for the latter, you need to particularly avoid a company called Author Solutions. More on them here. [David is absolutely right about this – the company is despicable. What’s worse is that it’s owned by Pearson/Penguin, a firm which should know a hell of a lot better. Yeugh. – Harry Bingham.]
Remember this: there are no shortcuts, and that goes for publishing books as well as selling them. If someone is offering you an easy way to publish, or simple trick for selling more books, you should be automatically skeptical.
Lottery winners aside, success usually requires hard work. If someone claims to be an expert who can put together a social media campaign that will lead to hundreds or thousands of sales, be automatically skeptical. If a company offers you a hassle-free way of publishing your book, where they will take care of everything, be automatically skeptical. And if the company is owned by a traditional publisher, be very skeptical.
I wish I was joking about the last part, but Penguin Random House OWNS Author Solutions, and HarperCollins, Harlequin, Simon & Schuster (and many more) all have their own vanity presses now run by Author Solutions too.
Watch out for these guys.
Here are a bunch of resources not listed above.
The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing by Jana DeLeon, Tina Folsom, Coleen Gleason, Jane Graves, Liliana Hart, Debra Holland, Dorien Kelly, Theresa Ragan, Denise Grover Swank & Jasinda Wilder.
Write.Publish.Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant [an essential text. The book’s kind of long, but it has some very important messages to impart – Harry.]
The Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn
Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran [an essential text – Harry]
On Writing by Stephen King
Write. Publish. Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown & Dave King
[Hmm. Surely you’re missing Harry Bingham’s most excellent How To Write from that list …]
Let’s Get Visible by David Gaughran
How To Market A Book by Joanna Penn
This is an excellent free service provided by the SFWA, which, among other things, warns against scam agents, unscrupulous publishers, and inexperienced or unprofessional editors.
Anne R. Allen
And that’s it. If you get through all of that and still have questions on anything I haven’t covered, please feel free to contact me inthe comments below or via my blog. And best of luck with your journey to publication and beyond.