When people hear that I am an author they asked me if I am ‘properly published’. In this day and age that question actually makes me laugh. What is it that makes people believe that if you don’t have a huge publisher behind you then you are not a real author? Erm let’s look at the likes of Amanda Hocking and E.L. James. Did they have ‘proper’ publishers behind them when they started out? Erm no. It was word of mouth that sold their work and then the publishers heard of them. Their sales demonstrated they were ‘worthy’. So with the question are you properly published in mind: I would like to tell you what no one tells you about self-publishing and actually why self-publishing is so beneficial.
Once upon a time… I started writing with conviction. Actually it was around fifteen years ago and at the time I was naïve in my aspirations. I thought you sent a nice friendly letter to a publisher about an idea and they would reply really quickly with ‘wow that is a good idea’ and instantly offered a book deal. Yep I was wrong. Instead I learned the art of being rejected. It is quite a humbling experience to receive endless rejection letters. It is more fun to burn them. Rejection could stop many people and cause them give up because they think – you know what people think my writing is shit! I thought if my writing was shit then it is actually quite amusing really to want to keep writing. The thing is I was compelled to write. I just couldn’t help it. It was something that kept coming and coming. I liken it to vomiting. You just can’t hold it in… It has to come out! I then came to conclusion that REJECTION IS NOT FAILURE IT IS RE-DIRECTION.
Over the next year I took a different tactic – I learned that you send to agents. So I sent to agents and a couple of times I was in the running for representation only to be dropped for someone who had been recommended by a friend. Nepotism and recommendations was the way forward. So I learned the best way to ‘befriend’ and attended literary events and fairs. While at one literary event, and after sculpting a double-helix structure from cocktail sausages, I was taken on instantly by an agent. However, they had spotted my artistic talent rather than my literary talents, he represented my photography. At the time I wish I had sculpted the equivalent in literature. I guess I could have chewed up my manuscript and made a paper-gobby-mush sculpture of a squirrel or the like to capture attention. Anyway after being rejected more than one hundred times I came to the conclusion that I must have been deluded. Something in my writing must have been causing rejection – so I had my work evaluated by a ‘professional’ service. At the same time I was offered a place on a Master’s degree in creative writing. The Masters people told me I had talent and that I was destined for great things. Great, until a series of events stopped me being able to take the course. After that I came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way. So I met an editor in real life and a series of circumstances resulted in meeting my proof-reader who worked for ‘real’ publishers. I came to the conclusion that it was time to go it alone and do things my way… You know that blooming song…MYYYYYYY WAYYYYYYYYYYY! which is often accompanied by another ‘I get knocked down but I get up again…’ Rocky would have real competition if this was boxing and not writing. So I wrote under a pen name and became a literary star in my own name. I did not write under Michelle Dry because a rather insightful journalist said that Media would have a field day with my name… Dry as a desert. Dry produces something wet… etc….
After forming my own team, I began to self-publish. The first attempts were okay; however, there was a real learning in formatting and designing book covers. The biggest learning is providing absolute quality. My proof-reader is a professional who advised me there are always details missed in any book. When she works with the big publishers she finds mistakes in books that are already on the shelves… The thing is everyone is human and everyone has a certain attention span. With this in mind, it is really worth focusing on quality and making sure you have grammatical geniuses read your books. There is always that pedantic aunt who was a secretary… Or that uncle that spouts Latin. If you can get them involved great, although, if you are writing erotica… actually who cares. If they can spot a grammatical error amongst eroticism then they are on your journey for the long-term!
Now it is time to publish and discover Kindle or one of the other platforms. Make a great cover, filled with refined content and hit PUBLISH!!! YEY! Once you have self-published your book, I guess you might be sitting rubbing your hands together expecting the New York Times to call. The reality is that thousands of people are releasing self-published books each day. Unfortunately each self-published book sits amongst a crowd of other self-published books. In addition, you are competing against published authors who are listed before you. So how do you compete against million pound/dollar marketing campaigns and a crowd of other authors? This is where you need to find your own unique way and your own unique voice.
What no one tells you is that you are going to have to learn how to market yourself!
This is it – it is time to make yourself into a brand. That brand has to be such that people are impressed by it. The thing with brands is they have an identity and my advice, whether you choose to take it, is to be absolutely authentic. You will never be able to please everyone and you will definitely discover there are some right dickheads out there. Some of those dickheads purposely go and put one star reviews on new author books (that is something that no one ever tells you or prepares you for).
In addition, there are the vultures… These are the people who are sitting up in the tree watching you flail away to literary death. They then want to come and pick off the bones. This analogy comes from all those people who will offer you their services. There are promoters, marketing people and…. so many others who are all ready to take your money. My friend, who is an author, learned the hard way. She invested in paying people to market her and nothing came from it… In the end she used friends to recommend her to a literary agent and that was her way forwards…
That was not my way forwards because I am a little bit headstrong and can write and write… I also work with trending analysis, social media and business. While doing that I was also teaching creative writing classes. I like to be busy and teach creative writing was a joy. What’smore, I had written numerous books including LOVE HUNT 1 & 2 and my most powerful book MONEY FARM. They were selling at a steady pace, so I felt that I had the right to teach what I had already learned. That is quite lucky really. By teaching you certainly have the chance to evaluate and look at new angles.
So, with my business head on, I considered what was it that people needed or wanted? I then wrote books that filled those gaps – one of them was A Short Course in Creative Writing. That was written because my students asked me to write it. I then had that turned into audio so that people could be prompted and write. Guess what? That sold and sold well. Guess how I sold it? I advised students that I had put the whole ten week course onto audio so they could download it. Guess what happened? They told their friends and they told their writing friends. Word of mouth again!
So what else does no one tell you?
If you want to make money from writing then write what people need. That is entrepreneurialism.
The thing is sometimes there is no fun in that. Admittedly I loved writing the creative writing book because I could imagine students sitting and developing their writing with a teacher at their side whenever they needed it. I likened it to an ‘on call’ audio teacher. That made me feel nice. Although we write because we have other aspects to express too…
After understanding how to initiate word of mouth I thought: I know, I am going to get a little bit cocky… I want to see if I write the books that I want to write then can I create the market? I was applying the theory of post-modernism. What did I want to write? Some short fun kids’ books. So I wrote The Hairy-Legged Mystery. That was quickly followed by Tingle Dingle and The Little Mischiefs. Now, there is nothing like a bedtime story being read to you. Yet sometimes parents don’t feel like reading. So I thought – actually why not have it made into audio too? That way the story can be read aloud and the parents can be present while it is being read. Also the story can be stored on the phone and played on car journeys. It just made sense to me. So I posted the books on ACX.COM (this is a place where authors can invite audio producers to produce their work) and both were picked up. The books were produced and went on sale on Audible and ITunes.
What no one tells you: how easy it is to get your book produced professionally on audio! Those books began to sell due to a few blogs, a number of tweets and a being lucky enough to have attracted a producer who works with children as a ‘reader’ of books. I could go on and on but I won’t. So this is what I have learned about self-publishing that no-one tells you:
- There are loads of people who want to make money from vulnerable authors. There are vanity companies, book promotional companies and agencies all looking for you to pay them to validate you. I say steer clear! None of my author friends have achieved anything that way.
- Before you do anything test you work on people who are honest. None of the ‘nice’ friends. It is better to find out where you are going wrong or right. Also remember everyone has an opinion and you will have to learn discernment of opinion. That is a huge learning in itself.
- Find yourself a good editor and proof-reader to make your books the highest quality.
- The truth is you are going to have to spend some money if you want to create quality.
- Decide on being in the spotlight or anonymity. I went for the latter because I would rather not be accosted in a supermarket or toilet (I had that happen when I won a big award for photography – it seriously put me off being recognised. Imagine a head poking under the toilet cubicle door to ask you a question… Oh yes!)
- Build yourself a brand. Look at the people you like and look at what works. Decide what makes you special and build your brand accordingly.
- Marketing – promote your books. There needs to be time and effort put into this. Ask friends to tell friends. Post that you have published on Facebook. Write a blog. Make a film. Do what your gut tells you to do but do intend to tell as many people as possible. Pod casting and YouTube enable people to engage with you. The strange thing is when people like you they buy your books. Weird eh?
- Publishers are looking for easy sales. If a book establishes itself on a market then the publishers will come to you. At this point you then get to ask yourself the question – do you stay indie? After doing all that work and going on that journey – why do you actually need a publisher and an agent? My answer is negotiation. However, there is a benefit of doing it your way and that is no pressure. You can write. Release. Repeat. That is liberating and seems to be a remedy to writer’s block! To be in this position is a beautiful thing…
- Finally write your next book and the next and love the writing. If it sells great. If it doesn’t it is not failure. The fact that you hatched an imagined idea into reality is success in itself. The truth is writing will take you on a blooming journey – much like a narrative. The monster in your narrative are the parts of your self – the self-doubt, the inner critic and the idealist. Everyone wants their book to touch another’s soul… Yet it might not. The biggest thing that no one ever told me is that the purest pleasure is in the creation… You may sell a lot of books; however, the joy really is in being in that creative space and imagining as the words flow onto the page. I hope this inspires you… Go for it my literary friend because there are seven billion people in this world and a large enough market for everyone…