How can you do what I do?

I’ve met a few budding authors in the last year or so and I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned since I started doing this full time. Self-Publishing is a steep curve and there are hundreds of sites that are more than happy to take your money to ‘help’ you but there are many things that you really don’t need to pay to achieve, that said, there are some very beneficial things that do cost but don’t necessarily have to break your bank.

Of course the first thing you need is a manuscript, getting those ideas down in a page is the key first step. You might want to let it sit and then reread to ensure that you are happy with what you’ve got but the most common way for a writer to procrastinate is by ‘tweaking’. Thinking you can improve this section here or that section there can stall you from ever getting the book to print. I must’ve edited and re-edited my prologue a dozen times back in the early days of the draft and it kept me from dedicating my time to any new material. There has to come a point where, if not ‘finished’ the work is ‘good enough’. I overcame this by releasing Black Knight early and I paid a little for that. The first edition had numerous grammar errors and a couple of sentences that didn’t, in fact, make sense (I’ve since had a full edit done to bring it up to code, so to speak). Which brings us to the next point.

Editing. There are no words for how important it is to have your book properly edited. Editing is not easy, the human brain is an extraordinary organ and can correct errors even as you read them so it is important to A) Do multiply edit passes and B) Have test readers on hand to give a second set of eyes. Again, there’s probably going to be a mistake or two. I’ve read many books (more recently since starting this process) where I’ve spotted errors, hell just this last week I caught an error in the on-screen subtitles of a major Hollywood Motion picture so a couple of slight errors can always be forgiven.

Agents. Having spoken to other authors (both represented and not) there are indicators that the publishing word is in a state of flux. As it becomes easier to self-publish more people are releasing their own work and the role of the ‘agent’ has come into some question however, agents provide a great deal of support for an author, handling printing and promotion, translations and contracts, so many things that may stay beyond the reach of the indie writer. There’s still some question as to whether it’s of benefit to have some work already out there, whether it’ll help you get an agent or publisher (some agents specify that self-published works should not be listed in your submission credits) but proven sales can, in many cases, help.

I’ll freely admit I was impatient to get started but still, I made it a point to contact a number of agents to try and get Camelot 2050 picked up, I set myself a number to achieve every week and kept a quick reference record of who I’d ‘mailed my sample chapters to (always check the agents guidelines for submissions). Luckily I’d had a little experience with theatrical agents so I knew from the beginning that any agent who asks for money upfront is either going to do the minimum work on your behalf or is likely a fraud. Bear in mind that most agents will take upwards of six weeks to review your submission as they receive hundreds upon hundreds of documents when they open their books each year.

Publishing your book is getting easier. Sites like IngramSpark and CreateSpace (not to mention Amazon) will do the printing and binding for you and there are services out there that can assemble a cover for you but wait! I found a number of E-sites offering cover creation services to the tune of £400 and the products they used to advertise their craft looked like modern Mills and Boon stuff (Sexy half-naked Fire Fighter on black background with some fire etc) so, after asking around I discovered it would be cheaper (if not easier) to do it myself. Some of my contemporaries use Photoshop to do their covers, I use Gimp 2.0 (to my mind it’s more versatile, it is a fairly complex programme but there are many tutorial videos and texts online to help you) but, where do you get the artwork? Copyright is very restrictive, you ‘could’ crop an image from the internet but there’s no telling whose intellectual property you’re appropriating and you don’t want to get prosecuted for infringement down the line. Websites like ArtFinder can put you in direct contact with artists and photographers who will do you a bespoke original piece for your cover and, if you’re lucky, it’ll cost you around half what you’d be paying the site that offers to ‘do it all for you’ and you’ll learn some Graphic Design skills along the way.

Once you’ve submitted your properly formatted files to your chosen site (CreateSpace is, apparently a cheaper option to get physical copies to sell yourself but I use IngramSpark because of their fabulous distribution network, your books would be available via Amazon, by order through Waterstones and a long list of RW bookshops as well as on all the major E-Pub platforms if you so choose, Ingram also has a wonderful Live Support engine allowing you to talk to a real operator to help you out) and you’re holding  a real proof copy, where do you go from there?

Social Media is a start, but it’s easy to let that take up as bulk of your writing time. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram a Blog like this, it’s easy to overdo the social aspect and forget the media. You’re here to promote yourself. Keep it relevant and keep it concise, give it a purpose. In preparation for the release of Dragon Fire I ran a ThunderClap. Two-Hundred and Fifty friends signed on and it gave the release an online visibility of over Thirty-Three Thousand people. How many of those people bought the book I couldn’t say (though it wasn’t 33k) but it didn’t hurt my sales and it didn’t take up too much of my time to run.

The other thing is to get out there and sell. Book into local (or not so local) conventions devoted to your genre, run a stand and sell your own works. Meet people, enthuse about your fiction and pass that enthusiasm on. It’s hard work but rewarding. I spent some money on business cards and free-standing banners with my cover art on them, it didn’t cost much and it helps me look professional (given that I’ve been on the circuit less than a year) and it draws people in. A little outlay on On The Spot advertising can push your sales at events from break-even to profit. But it is time, and effort and for those of you looking to get in from a ground floor start while you still have to work a full week and find time to write as well it can be very daunting.

Still, stick with it, write what you love and it will find an audience. Making a living as a writer might be the dream but, as long as your work finds one reader who loves it as much as you do you can call yourself a success.

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