Self-publishing – looking for your advice

Posted: June 17, 2014 in writing life
Tags: , ,

Today, oh wise readers, I’m not setting out to inform and inspire you. Instead, I’m hoping to get your advice on the complicated issue of self-publishing.

How I feel trying to work this one out: lots of options, and I don't have a proper grip on any of them

How I feel trying to work this one out: lots of options, and I don’t have a proper grip on any of them


I know that quite a few of you reading this have self-published, and others have looked into it. I’d like to make use of that wealth of experience.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I want to give self-publishing a go. I’ll start by compiling some of my short stories into a book, as a low risk way of getting used to the technology, processes and publicity work involved. The problem is where to start. I know that there are a lot of options out there, but I know very little about any of them, and searching the internet returns a dozen different contradictory opinions in a single page.

If I’m going to get contradictory opinions I’ll at least get them from you folks.

My first instinct was to use Kindle Prime, as Amazon currently has great reach and it looks easy to use. But as a large corporation Amazon seems to have some shady practices (not necessarily around self-publishing), so if there are equally viable options I’d like to try something else.

So, those of you who have self-published or have researched this, could you please give me some idea of the options you’ve used and what you thought of them. What’s good, what’s bad, and most importantly why. Please share your wisdom, or links to where you’ve shared it already.

Thank you very much!

  1. I’m going to try and keep this reasonably brief, since I don’t really know what you’re wanting to know. Feel free to ask for more information.

    To start with, I’d say there’s very little reason not to at least give it a go. You’ll need to pay for an editor and a cover, but that doesn’t have to be too expensive.

    Personally, I would advise against only using Amazon KDP. Just under two-thirds of my sales are Amazon ebooks, but I don’t like having all my eggs in one basket. There is a lot of fear that Amazon will do something bad at some point, but so far they haven’t. On the other hand, in October 2013, Kobo pulled all self-published books off their UK site. Just to make matters worse, they didn’t tell anyone anything for some time, so authors were desperately trying to work out what was going on. So yes, beware the big companies, not just Amazon.

    There are two basic ways of getting ebooks into non-Amazon retailers: Go direct and upload files to each site, or upload to a distributor like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. Going direct gives you more control, but involves more faff. If you go through a distributor, they’ll take a cut.

    Most sites will allow you to upload an ePub file, or a Word file (which they’ll then convert to an ePub). Amazon have their own format, so you can either upload a file for them to convert, or use their free downloadable tool to do your own conversion.

    If you’re testing the waters, concentrate on ebooks. Paperbacks are nice, but they’re significantly more complicated, and generally don’t result in many sales. Paperbacks account for roughly 15% of my sales (interesting side note: I started offering a free ebook with every paperback a few months ago – 3% of people that buy a paperback get the ebook).

    • Thanks very much Russell – I thought you’d be a good source on this, and I’ve been proved right – that’s exactly the sort of starting out guidance I needed. Might pick your brains again later on editors and covers if that’s OK.

      • Feel free to pick my brains over any aspect of it. I’ve benefited from plenty of help and advice from others, and I’m happy to pass it on.

        I agree with Dylan that Write. Publish. Repeat and Let’s Get Visible are well worth reading, but I suggest you start with two freebies: Joanna Penn’s Author 2.0 Blueprint (requires sign-up to her mailing list, but that’s also a good resource) and David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital (PDF is free, or you can buy the Kindle/ePub/paperback version).

        • Awesome. This is one of the things I really like about self-publishing – the supportive community that seems to be out there. I’ve downloaded both those PDFs, looks like I’ve got a busy few weeks of reading ahead!

          • Much of the community is indeed very supportive. There are less savoury elements, just like any other large group of people, but there are plenty of very supportive, helpful people around.

  2. Dylan Hearn says:

    I self-published via KDP. The reason I chose them is that they have the biggest market share and give you the best opportunity to reach a large audience. I’ve blogged about the things I learnt here
    I can understand your reservations on using Amazon (even if the current Amazon vs literature battle in the press may not be as simple or one-sided as the media are painting it), but if you are interested in generating an income via self-publishing, it would be difficult without Amazon.
    For the other self-publishing platforms, most people I know use Smashwords. I’m yet to go down this route myself so hopefully another commenter will be able to give more insight. Smashwords allows you to publish on all the major platforms (Kobo, Apple, B&N) except Amazon.
    If you are seriously looking at a career in self-publishing, whether in the short or the long-term, I would recommend buying Write. Publish Repeat by Sean Platt & Johnny B Truant, and Lets Get Visible by David Gaughran. Both provide excellent advice on how to have a chance at being successful in self-publishing without offering snake-oil or magic beans. David Gaughran also offers a lot of great advice on his blog. Hope this helps and I’d be happy to chat in more detail if you need more advice 🙂

    • Thanks very much Dylan. I’ve bought both the books you recommended (on my Kindle – oh the hypocrisy, but it’s what I’ve got), and I’ll definitely check out Smashwords. Also looking forward to reading your blog post on this in a minute…

  3. Lynda says:

    One of my favourite authors published her last book on Smashwords and she bogged a bit about it on LJ, could be worth a quick search for those posts. Moira J Moore.

  4. Having given this a lot of consideration in recent times, I see self-publishing as a very attractive option. It offers more freedom to the author, not only in retaining control of the publishing process, but also in being able to choose what to write (if you don’t want to be pigeon-holed). Obviously the real money is with the publishing houses, but even then only for the select few.

    Like Dylan, so far I’ve focused on Amazon. I think the important thing is to dip a toe in the water, see how that goes and gradually build up from there.

    Do, though, make sure you get the manuscript well-edited and ensure the formatting is right when you upload it. When you have uploaded it, don’t just check the format on the odd page, go through the whole book. You just have to flick through, not read it, so it’s a bit of a ball-ache, but worthwhile. I’ve found the formatting and typos on several books was such a distraction I didn’t enjoy the content.

    As Russell also commented, make sure you’ve got a good cover design. Fortunately, I was able to provide my designer with a good idea of what I was looking for. She then sourced the relevant images and we were able to agree on fonts quite quickly (see the cover here Even so, take your time and get it right, because the prospective reader has now idea how good a writer you are, so you need something to entice them in.

    I make these statements as an author who has “sold” a limited number of books, but with free downloads has probably managed to shift around 5000 copies in around a year and a half. But that is largely down to the marketing, and that seems to be a whole different challenge which I’m still getting to grips with. Having spoken with a few published authors recently, though, I don’t think the marketing support from their publishers adds that much more than they are having to do themselves.

    So, the results will probably be slow, but if you’re in it for the long-haul that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Good luck with your plans.

    • Obviously the real money is with the publishing houses
      The reports at Author Earnings would suggest that’s not true. Advances tend to be pretty small these days (anecdotal evidence suggests under $10,000 is common), and royalties are very low.

      Very few authors become millionaires under either system, but I suspect a larger percentage of self-publishers than traditionally-published authors make a living wage.

    • Thanks very much Graeme. As you say, there’s the whole marketing aspect to grapple with as part of this, and that’ll probably be my next big thing to think about.

  5. […] Self-publishing – looking for your advice […]

  6. beetleypete says:

    I will be very interested to see how this pans out Andrew. I look forward to charting your progress.
    Best wishes, and good luck! Pete.

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