By Tom Stacey
In my relatively short career as a self-published author, I have found the learning curve a steep one. For anybody who is considering self-publishing — or somebody who has already self-published and wants some solidarity — here is a list of the key lessons I have learned so far.
The internet is a funny place, and since you want to publish and promote your book to people other than your immediate family, you’ll be spending a lot of time on there. Sure, some people might not like your book, some people might even hate it, but what will surprise you is the amount of good feedback you can get. Everything from helpful critiques, offers for review exchanges, book recommendations, free promotion — the self-publishing industry is stronger than it ever has been and that is evident in the depth of the community’s kindness. Be active on social media like twitter and goodreads and promote others as they promote you. My favourite moment so far is when I was touched by a bit of hubris and decided to google my book. I found it on somebody’s list of their top five favourite books. That’s the kind of thing that drives you.
There is a lot of work required
Everyone who wants to be writer imagines a world where they can sit in a wood-walled office with an open fire and write, perhaps with quill and ink, perhaps with a tumbler of good scotch within reach. Alas, the modern self-published writer cannot just be a writer. You have to be an editor, a formatting expert, someone who understands the software your using to the nth degree, and most importantly, a marketeer. It’s no good writing the next Lord of the Rings if nobody is going to read it. You have to sell yourself, and that is difficult stuff. In short, as a self-published author, you’re going to be doing all of the things that a traditionally published author has done for them. If you tie that in with a day job and (potentially) friends, family, general fitness, etc, it actually leaves you very little time to do the thing you want to do: write. Good thing you can always sacrifice sleep! Of course, if you want to pay people money to do these things for you, then that’s great and will hopefully be very effective, but for those more budget conscious among you, you better start reading up on marketing techniques.
The importance of cover art
The saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is absolute nonsense. Sure, you shouldn’t make assumptions, but if you break the saying down into its literal sense, you have to remember that a book is a product, a piece of entertainment. ‘But this is literature!’ I hear some of you cry. ‘It’s art, nothing so grubby as a microwaved meal.’ Unfortunately, I’m afraid that’s not true. A book is something that people will exchange money for, consume, and then ultimately discard or store. Therefore it has to be good: well-written and, above all, presentable. That’s how you get your foot in the proverbial door of somebody’s attention. That’s why cover art is all-important. The amount of self-published books I see with awful covers upsets me. It’s sad to think that great content could be hidden by pedestrian cover art. Cover art is the hook. It catches the reader’s eye and makes them pick your work up. I said previously that you might need to wear many hats as a self-published author, but leave something as subjective as artwork and design to the professionals. I paid money for my cover art, and I’m so glad I did. People love it and I have had many compliments — it looks great in print too, almost indistinguishable from anything you would find in a quality bookstore. If you’re great at drawing, then fine, but I am not, and for a one off price I managed to get a custom drawn piece of artwork that does my book justice. Know your strengths and funnel your funds where you are weakest, but do not try and save on cover art.
If anybody is interested, here is the website of the illustrator I used: www.mrcanifu.com.
Also, here is a great article on cover design and why it is important to get it right: http://www.creativindie.com/8-cover-design-secrets-publishers-use-to-manipulate-readers-into-buying-books/
You will find errors in your work — get over it!
I have almost lost count of the amount of times I have read Exile (it’s a good thing it’s so great!). In writing, editing, editing again, editing some more and so on, I have probably read it cover to cover about twenty times. I can tell you what happens in chapter seventeen and what Beccorban’s response is when Riella asks him about his past. I can recite whole passages of text and describe the great coastal city of Kressel almost word for word. But still I find mistakes. Okay, not mistakes, rather things I would do differently. I like to think that in my constant editing I have eliminated 99.9% of grammatical and spelling errors in my work (you can never be 100%), but in recent re-reads, I have spotted sentences that I don’t like or would phrase differently. I’ve come to accept that this is perfectly normal. As a writer you evolve. I am not the same writer now as I was when I started penning Exile and hopefully I’ve improved. There is a saying that no work of art is ever finished, simply abandoned. This holds true to writing, and there comes a point when you have to let go and lock the text so it can go to print. Of course you can make revisions at a later date, but usually not for free (unless it’s an ebook). I’ve gotten over that, and also realised that the things I see as mistakes will not be viewed as mistakes by my readers. They are reading my work for the first time, learning from fresh who I am as a writer. Hopefully when they come to read the next one, they will recognise my work, but see that it is a step up.
You will make mistakes in general so don’t be afraid to ask for help
It seems like an overly simply statement but you will. Whether it’s in formatting for an ebook, in paying money to a shady company for ‘marketing,’ there are things you will do now on your first time out that you will never do again. I came moments away from approving the proof of my cover design with a glaring spelling error in the blurb. I had a proof copy printed and realised that I had made a new moon become a full moon in the space of two days. Luckily I changed it before it went to print. These things happen and will happen, especially when you are the only person checking things. Get a trusted friend to read your work and edit as many times as you can. Another really good trick is to wait until you are happy with your story, then lock it away for about two months. Work on other stuff and then come back to it and read it fresh. You’ll be amazed what a new perspective you gain. That’s how I managed to cut down Exile into a more acceptable size.
My experience with self-publishing has been a good one so far, and it is by no means unique. I hope this has gone some way to giving any potential self-publishers a ‘heads up.’ Thanks for reading!
Tom Stacey is an English author of the fantasy novel, Exile. Tom was born in Essex, England, and has lived there his whole life. He began writing at school, often taking responsibility for penning the class plays, or writing sketches with his friends. While attending university to read history, Tom developed his writing by creating several short stories, some of which would later become to basis for his debut novel, Exile.
Tom self-published Exile in summer 2014 and is currently working on the sequel as well as another unrelated novel. He earns a living as a video producer in London in the day and writes at night, a bit like a really underwhelming superhero.
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