Guest Blog: Self-publishing & E-books - The Ups & Downs

Posted at 14:35pm on 20th May 2012

Although I don’t know her personally, Sheila Skillman is one of my Facebook friends. With what many of us thought considerable bravery, she recently asked for advice from other authors, concerning the lack of sales for her book. I hope she doesn’t feel she received more than she’d bargained for.

 The fact is, that self-publishing - and e-books, in particular - are a two-edged sword. Seeing your book in print - whether real or virtual - has never been easier. Paradoxically, as I know with my last book, a novel titled, A Painful Post Mortem, this means that your published work can be buried beneath an avalanche of others.
 
Which is why I’ve decided, as Chairman of a national writers’ association (ACW), to host an occasional guest blog, on which aspiring and debut authors may show-case themselves and their work. I’ve been talking with some American authors, who are so much better than we Brits at promoting each other’s books, and I’m going to endeavour to learn from them. So here, at my invitation, is Sheila’s guest blog.

PITCHING YOUR TENT IN THE PROMISED LAND: A SELF-PUBLISHING TALE

 I first began writing age seven and filled many little notebooks with children’s adventures stories, inspired by Enid Blyton. These usually featured gangs of crooks pitting themselves against the superior cunning of children, and always losing out to them. I graduated to poetry, a daily journal and confessional style writing in my teens and began a spiritual search which was to last years after I left university. I wrote a comic novel inspired by various eccentric characters in the world of academe. But Malcolm Bradbury had got there first with the dreadful Howard in The History Man. After a second comic novel set in a converted abbey and involving a radio drama team from the BBC, I made several attempts to complete a further novel. Following my return from Australia where I’d lived and worked for four years, I produced Mystical Circles which I’d originally hoped to set in the subtropical Queensland rainforest but ended up setting in the Cotswolds, England. This mystery/romance story was inspired by numerous colourful characters I’ve met in the course of my spiritual search. I’m now working on my next novel, provisionally entitled A Passionate Spirit.
 
The completed manuscript of Mystical Circles was appraised by established author and literary consultant Fay Sampson. I revised it according to Fay’s guidelines & re-submitted it to her via the Writers Workshop. On her second appraisal Fay liked it enough to suggest I send it to Harry Bingham in the hope he'd recommend it to an agent. However, it didn't quite pass Harry's stringent requirements, so I chose instead to go the self-publishing route.

SELF-PUBLISHING: PRINT ON DEMAND

First I had my manuscript copy-edited & proofread by two separate professional services. For publication as a print book I decided to go with Lulu, using print-on-demand technology. The quality of the final product was high but the retail price set by Lulu unrealistic (£11.74). If I had been less naïve I would have realized straightaway that Lulu was not an economically-viable option for a full-length novel. Having purchased 130 copies of my novel I sold them myself at £8.99 each, and received 13 positive reviews on Amazon.co.uk and 3 on Amazon.com.

THE DIFFICULTY OF GETTING INTO BOOKSHOPS

However, despite all my subsequent publicity and promotion efforts, including a website and blog and social networking across several sites, I realized that I could not hope to match a commercial publishing house when it came to getting my novel into the bookshops, getting radio and TV interviews, winning reviews in the national press, or editorial in the popular press. I knew my highest hope for sales lay with ebook publication. So I converted my novel into an e-book file, and uploaded it to Amazon Kindle. 

E-BOOKS, AMAZON & KINDLE

When after several months sales were still slow, I realized Kindle-owners didn’t seem to be finding my book and downloading it. Why? I sought advice from successful self published author, Victorine Lieske, who had offered her services on the Kindleboard forum. Her advice was that genre, blurb and cover design were not working well together to lead prospective readers to my novel. One commentator discerned a possible identity crisis over my genre, which Fay Sampson had felt to be a psychological thriller. Yet the blurb, and several of my enthusiastic early reviewers had suggested the novel was more of a mystery/romance. A number of other ebook authors agreed, too, that the cover design was critical, and one or two mentioned that they themselves had uploaded new cover designs & blurbs, and had increased their sales significantly.

SHOWING & TELLING

A little later, at a writers conference I met Ali Hull, consulting editor at Lion Hudson, who kindly looked at my 1st 3 chapters, and picked out what she felt were cases of "telling" instead of "showing". I re-edited those chapters according to her guidelines, & am very pleased with the result – the text is much tighter and stronger. I have a new blurb, have changed the genre to mystery/romance, and have just commissioned a new cover design. Once that is finalized I plan to upload a new second edition to Kindle. I’m also hoping to go with a new publisher to produce the second edition as a print book.

MARKETING, PROMOTION & PUBLICITY

Please note, if you’re thinking of following the self-publishing path yourself, I advise you to budget for it. A copy edit of a 97,000 word manuscript can be in the region of £450. A substantive edit can cost more. I was fortunate enough to get my proofreading done for a special price of £50. But you have to be prepared to spend money to achieve a perfect product. The rule as a self-published author is: don’t spend money you cannot afford to lose. For instance, G.P. Taylor, the author of Shadowmancer, sold his motorbike to finance his self-publishing project. Don’t go into debt to do it, unless you are an extremely confident self-promoter and already have a very strong platform across the full range of social networking sites. The key is to take marketing, promotion and publicity seriously – unless of course, the sense of achievement by itself will be enough of a reward for you.
SC Skillman
 
 
 

Your Comments:

22nd May 2012
at 10:39am
Very informative post, Sheila. I self-published my memoir, A Life Less Lost. I was being asked to speak about the book and people were disappointed that I didn't have any to sell, then I had the opportunity to speak at an event alongside Adrian Plass! I couldn't wait for the slow process of finding a proper publisher.

Like you, my book went through several stringent appraisal processes as well as copy-editing before I went to print. But I had a mentor who helped me get it into a print-ready format and a graphic designer who turned my photo into a cover. I was then able to go to printers and have 200 copies for under £4 each.

It's definitely worth spending the money on professional editing/appraisal. People who read my book have come back to buy other copies for friends, family and even to donate to a hospice. I've had several print runs.

Self-publishing is very hard work and I've found an e-publisher, Crooked {Cat}, for my novel, Once Removed. It's so much more fun and I'm learning loads about virtual marketing. When the dust settles, I hope to relaunch A Life Less Lost in the e-market.
22nd May 2012
at 11:25am
Thank you for your comment; it was lovely to have a positive story like yours and I know there can be very successful self-publishing tales. New things may always be just around the corner. I went to a workshop on Discernment once, and the leader put forward an image of "doors opening". Sometimes the door that opens may lead to a broom cupboard. Sometimes the door may lead to an elevator shaft. I keep this image in mind, whilst learning all the time, and trying to respond positively to all the challenges that come my way.
24th May 2012
at 9:23pm
Great to hear your story, Kimm, and I love the title. I'm sure that all that you and Sheila have written will be so informative and helpful to other aspiring and debut authors. Thank you both.
8th June 2012
at 10:19am
Thank you all for the advice - I hope to use it when my book is finished. Thanks Sheila, Mel and Kimm
Mel Menzies
8th June 2012
at 10:09pm
Good to hear that Sheila's guest blog and Kimm's comment have been helpful to you Sandra. Look forward to hearing more when you finish writing your book and publishing it.
5th December 2012
at 5:31am
Thank you so much for your personal story. The information is extremely helpful and you have highlighted a number of pitfalls so that myself and others can avoid them.

I hope your novel is having good sales performance now.

Kind Regards.
Mel Menzies
21st December 2012
at 9:58pm
Glad you found the article of help to you, Danielle. It's always encouraging to an author to know that a blog post has been of value to others.
Ian Newton
19th July 2014
at 11:53am
I have had three books published that were not self publishing, Dustbingate (optioned for film) The Pizza Wars (in my arabic name of Ahmed Debani) and, The Night Shift. Dustbingate became a best seller and I wrote a screenplay to go with it.

But by far my most successful book was a self published book called Hessle Road Scallywags. It was a small book only 160 pages and sold for 9.95. The sales in the first four weeks went ballistic and for two weeks got into the top 5000 best seller list. Apart from being in the local paper, I had no publicity. Even being a published author made no difference, they national press would not review it. I know that to get into the nationals, it is mostly stitched up at London cocktail parties by the big boys. Also money and "presents" do change hands, if you know what I mean. The reason I chose self publishing for Hessle Road Scallywags was even though I sold as a writer, you make very little. I found Waterstones in Hull extremely helpful and supportive and sold around 1500 just through them, apart from thousands of sales to other local book shops. Without a publisher, without a distributor, I was making 6.50 a copy. I analyzed the market and found a niche that is a gold mine and I am writing a second book about Hessle Road Scallywags and I now have publishers asking me if they have a look. I said no. My book went around Yorkshire by word of mouth. At one of my book reading in Hull, I was shocked that over a hundred people turned up and some from across Yorkshire. I must admit I was heckled at the book reading but they were thrown out. It was over some historical facts in the book - but the facts were true. Hessle Road Scallywags was a comedy about four children growing up in post war 1950s Britain and their struggles to escape their poverty, their mischief and their fun. It also pulled no punches on the hardship as it was basically the story of my life. I would say to those there. If you want to self publish, look for niche a bit of magic that will make people talk about your book. I am not going to tell you what niche I found, it is too valuable. The trick is to hook your very first reader, so they talk about your book and so another person buys it. Thats how I sold mine. I will never again go with another publisher now that I have got my confidence with self publishing. I also found a brilliant editor and graphic designer locally.

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