With the New Year fast approaching, many creative writers are thinking about ways to get their novel published in 2018. There are so many ways you could make this dream come true, from traditional publishing, to blog serials to sites like DeviantArt which has a thriving community of writers as well as visual artists. Whichever road you decide to take to make your work available to the public, there is plenty of help available online, but if you’re specifically looking for tips on how to self-publish a book, let this blog be your stress-free guide! I’ll be introducing you to the different software you can use to get that novel written and polished, which platforms are best for self publishing an e-book, how to publish your own paperbacks and audio books and then in a separate post I’ll talk about making money by self publishing, and hints to help you promote your book so it really shines.
Firstly, let me introduce myself. My name is Sharon and I write using the pseudonym, Lacey Dearie. I’m a full-time writer from Scotland and on 30th November 2011, exactly six years ago, I self-published my first novel, The Tangled Web. It reached the top 100 on Amazon UK and was well-received in my home country. Since then I’ve gone on to write a series of short stories about a feline detective named Leger from which I make a passive income. I’ve also written a trilogy of fairy tales and a series of erotic short stories about over-amorous foods which have been inexplicably popular in continental Europe. I was able to give up my part-time job to care for my son because of my royalties and although there have been many downs as well as ups, after six years of self-publishing, I know the subject inside out. I’ve made more mistakes than I like to admit in those years and that’s how I learned. I had nobody to guide me, but luckily, you do!
Writing Your Novel
Here are a few things to consider when you decide to embark on a career as a writer, whether full-time, part-time or as a hobby.
Can I Really Write A Book?
Firstly, writing a book is hard and it will take up a lot of your time. You have to look at it the same way you would look at getting a pet. This has to be something you are willing to commit to and nurture. Take a little time each day to write your story just like you would walk your dog or clean a hamster’s cage. Ten minutes a day certainly adds up over the course of a year and your book will potentially take years to complete. If you hate this idea, try your hand at short stories. The great thing about self-publishing is, there’s no minimum word length for your book and no publisher telling you what you have to produce.
If you find time is a restriction, you can easily make notes on your phone whenever you get an idea or think of a brilliant piece of dialogue to use. The best app I’ve used for such a task is Evernote. For those not familiar with Evernote, it’s software for your desktop and mobile device that will store notes, snippets of writing and lists in one place. It’s a great way to edit on the move or make character profiles on your commute and your account will be accessible from anywhere.
Secondly, if your grammar is poor or your style is awkward, that’s where an editor and proofreader will help. One of the best editing tools I’ve used is Grammarly. It’s a free online grammar checker which you can add to your browser. You’ll need an account to use it but it’s free to set up. There’s also a paid version and if you’re editing by yourself it’s worth investing in this. You’ll be able to check spellings, ensure you haven’t inadvertently plagiarised and it actually teaches you things about grammar by explaining them to you in simple terms. You can use a short explanation or a longer one, depending on whether you just needed a memory jogger or you really don’t understand where you went wrong. In short, it’s better than a spell-check on your word processor and can be integrated into MS Word. A human editor may miss a few things that software won’t and it’s always good to have more than one way of checking your work.
Another way to get your book edited for free is to exchange manuscripts with another writer. You can edit each other’s books for free. If you really must hire a professional, it can be costly. Most editors have a university education and expect to be paid highly for a job well done. You can expect to pay a minimum of £800 just for proofreading.
Is Your Book Ready?
There are a few questions you should ask yourself before you decide to self-publish. Firstly, do you still have dreams of this book being traditionally published? If you do, it could be worth waiting a little bit longer. Many agents won’t even consider a book that has been published already. Agents and publishers are not there to nurture your dream and admire your talent. They’re business people whose aim is to make money. If you’ve already been published, that harms their chances of profiting from your work.
Also, do you plan to write a sequel? If you do, it could be worth getting that ready to go before you publish the first book. I’ll write about this in more detail in the next post about profiting from your writing.
Next, is the book ready for public consumption? Edit it and edit it again. Work on the presentation. Make sure your chapters are properly divided if your book is long enough to have chapters (short story writers may want to ignore that advice) and make sure you have proper punctuation, grammar and all the intended spellings. Notice I didn’t say correct here because you may use the wrong spelling on purpose!
Finally, are you ready to promote it? Prepare yourself for success, but also for disappointment. Nobody knows how many copies their book will sell. I think when I started publishing, the average self-published book was estimated to sell 125 copies in its lifetime. That’s the whole time it is on sale, not a day or a month or a year. A lot of writers sell more, most sell less. With the self-publishing revolution in recent years this will have increased but it gives you an idea of what to expect. Please, hope for the best but know that it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.
Putting The Book Together
How Much Should I Pay To Self-Publish?
There are certain costs involved, such as cover art, editor’s fees and proof copies of paperbacks (if you choose to publish a physical copy). Anyone who asks for a fee for publishing is a shark and to be avoided at all costs. This is then heading into the shady territory known as “vanity publishing” and not recommended. As a self-publisher, you are an entrepreneur. Cut out the vanity publishing middle-man. You don’t need him.
Book Cover Design
Firstly, you can buy a license for a royalty free image on sites like Dreamstime which should only cost £10 maximum. Using this image you can use the free cover creator software on Amazon or Createspace to design something suitable. You can get creative and have fun! Always remember to credit the original artists in the copyright section of your book. Each self-publishing site has it’s own specified image size requirements so if the cover you create on Amazon has to be used again on another site like Kobo, just upload the Amazon version (you do get the option to save your cover image) and Kobo will re-size it. Amazon however, do not re-size a cover for you and you’ll need to do the legwork. A cover created for a paperback on Createspace is easily done and they give you a free copy of the finished cover to use for e-book versions. I’ll explain more about these different publishing platforms in the next section. If you’re very lucky and know a kind graphic designer, they might give you a few pointers or a freebie. If you want to spend time experimenting, try a site like Canva, which you may need to pay for to unlock the features you want.
As for formatting, don’t listen to anyone who says you need to know HTML in order to publish a book. They’re either misinformed or trying to make themselves look clever. It’s always been possible to save your manuscript as “web page filtered” on MS word and upload it to Amazon. Then the site will convert it for you. In recent months, Amazon have now started accepting most basic word processing documents and converting them. Sites like Kobo don’t need you to have anything more sophisticated than a word processing document. Createspace just asks that you use the correct margins. If you want to add a chapter list at the start of your book that readers can click on to end up at the chosen chapter, a simple table of contents will take care of this. Check your word processing software’s help guide on how to add a table of contents.
If you do feel you need some funds for hiring a professional cover designer or editor, there are lots of crowdfunding platforms that have special sections for writers. Kickstarter and Indiegogo both have areas on their site specifically for arts projects.
Which Self-Publishing Platform Is Best?
Self-Publishing An E-book
Congratulations! You have a book that’s read to go. You have a fully edited manuscript, a cover (or at least an image you want to use for the cover) and you’re ready to show it off to the world. There are several sites that will help you self-publish your books but I’m going to tell you about the best ones here.
- Amazon are without a doubt the top dog in this area. Once you have a Kindle Direct Publishing account, which will have the same login details as your Amazon account, you’re taken to the dashboard and on selecting the option to create a new e-book you’re taken to a three page form where you fill out the required information such as book language, book title, author name, other contributors, description (which will be the blurb you’d find on the back of a physical book), keywords and categories which I’ll deal with in the marketing section.
You upload your manuscript and cover image, or use the cover image creator section to create your own cover, and then decide on which countries you want to sell in. There are two pricing options. The first is 70% royalties which is for books between $2.99 and $9.99. The second is 35% which is for books between $0.99 and $299.99. Some countries only offer 35% royalties, such as India, but you can still sell the same book and earn 70% royalties in other countries. There’s so much I could tell you about Amazon and I could expand on this until I had written a whole book about it, so please ask any questions you have in the comments section.
Kobo is another option and here Kobo Writing Life is your dashboard. However, sales can be very slow. What I like about Kobo is that it’s technologically speaking much more basic than Amazon so it’s easy to use. Their form contains less questions. There’s more leeway when it comes to pricing. Royalties are much the same at either 70% or 40% but you can make books free on Kobo without being tied in to an exclusivity deal and until recently, they took basic word documents that weren’t saved as “web page filtered.” They aren’t quite so strict with cover image sizes either. The downside of Kobo is there’s less chance of being noticed and making money there. They also take a long time to approve books and it could be up to three days. If it’s a holiday in Canada, where they’re based, they work even slower.
Smashwords is a possibility for many independent authors. However, I never really jumped on the Smashwords bandwagon myself. Uploading one manuscript there allows you to share on many different platforms via them, so it’s kind of like a hub. They’ll share to Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble et al, but I had a few grumbles about them. Firstly, they insist that you state in your copyright section that it is a Smashwords edition. I can’t think of any other platform that insists that you do this. Also, if you’ve already published elsewhere, they don’t check for duplicates, so you could end up with two versions of the same book on a particular site. I uploaded a book onto Smashwords back in 2013 and within a week it showed me I’d had lots of sample downloads but because I had a minor formatting issue, those potential buyers weren’t allowed to download my whole book. Smashwords blocked the sale. To me, a reputable platform should insist on your book being ready for sale before readers are allowed to download samples and see formatting errors. It should alert you to the mistakes and give you a chance to fix them. I’m not a fan of this site.
I did also dabble in uploading my books onto Google’s Play Store. They were on there for around a year and I had no sales. I would say don’t waste your time.
Self-Publishing A Paperback
Amazon KDP have now branched out into paperback publishing and they seem to offer a good service. It’s easy to upload your manuscript as a paperback but you will need an ISBN. You can either provide your own, which will cost you, or you can use a free Amazon ISBN. I would recommend doing this. I can’t see a benefit to sourcing one yourself. It’s quick to upload your work and make your book available in the Amazon store but they take a while to start sending out copies to buyers. I know because I ordered a copy of one of my books on the day it became available on Amazon and it was ten days before I received it. The best thing about publishing in paperback on Amazon is that you get to see paperback and e-book royalties on your dashboard together. You can keep all your records in one place.
Createspace is still my first choice for publishing in paperback. I’ve been using them for around five years now and I highly recommend them. Once you’ve created an account, there are two ways you can start publishing. There’s a quick one-page form or a longer step-by-step guided process that spoon feeds you and helps you with each stage of the publishing process. Like Amazon they offer a free ISBN. I would take this. They also have great cover design software and using their software ensures you don’t have to worry about bleeds or re-sizing spines. If you don’t know what these terms mean, don’t worry. It’s a job for the graphic designers of this world – and those not using Createspace’s software! They offer a selection of trim sizes for your book, black and white or full-colour interior and either white or cream paper. This is important if you’re publishing a novel because one is thicker than the other and with 300+ pages the tiny difference will start to matter. The downside of Createspace is it can be tricky to get the book’s margins just right. The proofing section guides you in this area, and the Createspace help team are really friendly and helpful. The best thing about Createspace is the books go straight to Amazon once they’re ready and you can also make them available in libraries and physical book stores. Once ordered, they’re sent out to you very quickly, usually within 48 hours.
Self-Publishing An Audio Book
ACX is the Audio Creation Exchange. I have limited experience in this area since I’ve only published one audio book and I found it tricky. You can either record the book yourself or hire an actor to do it and share the royalties. There are plenty of actors ready to audition on the site. I decided to advertise for an actor from a local actors’ group on Facebook and got plenty of auditions that way but in the end, I hired someone from the ACX site after all, as he was able to handle all the recording himself. The biggest problem with ACX for me was duplicating the cover but squashing it into a square shape. I would rather have used my original cover, but ACX want your audio book cover to resemble a CD cover.
Once you’ve reached this stage, you may be starting to think about how to make money from your e-book which I’ve covered in another post. If you’ve used any of the platforms I’ve listed, or you’ve used one I haven’t listed, let us know in the comments.