THE DEFINITIVE SELF-PUBLISHING CHECKLIST ~ For People Who Aren’t Very Organised and are absolute beginners.

The definitive

You just hit publish, right?  That’s what all the articles say.  Any idiot can upload a book in minutes.  And yes, I suppose any idiot can, but it takes a very informed, dedicated, professional and talented individual to upload a book that people will want to read.  A recent Facebook post from a first-time author seeking advice made me realise how long I’ve been doing this self-publishing thang and how I’ve kind of taken for granted that everyone has ‘the knowledge’.  There are so many blogs, articles and how-to books on the subject, and yet authors can still struggle with the basics.  The first author asked what she should be doing in the run up to her launch and another suggested that while there is a lot of information out there, it’s almost overwhelming.  Where do you start?  Where does it end??  So in an effort to share said knowledge, I’m writing a blog with an impossibly long title, which will (hopefully) be filled with all of the essentials, while trying not to bombard you with too much scary stuff.

  1. Make a publishing schedule.  promo-calendar      So you’ve typed those blessed words, THE END and you’re mooching around the Kindle Direct Publishing website wondering where the publish button is.  Whoa there Tex, what’s your rush?  You’ve skipped the bajillion steps between finishing your manuscript and sending it out into the world for people to read.  So roll back your wagon and follow step number one – create a publishing schedule.  In my opinion, you’re going to need at least six months to get everything done before your book goes live, so first things first, DO NOT RUSH.  This is not a race, unless you’re hoping to win a medal for the person least prepared to publish a book.

2. Polish your prose.  Has your book been edited?  Proof-read?  Again, don’t rush out there and get the first editor you find on Fiverr.  There are so many ‘professionals’ who are feeding off the self-publishing industry, so you want to find someone who has a proven track record.  A great place to find all of the professionals you’re going to need is Indie Author Alliance Services Directory.  At the very least, get some Beta readers whose opinions you trust and respect.  It nigh on impossible to view your work objectively, so you need other eyes to see the things you cannot.

3. Hire a designer.  Again, you’re going to need time to find a good cover designer and depending on their work load, you might have to wait a few months in a queue, so best to get in early.  Again, look for examples of their work.  Don’t worry if you are on a budget, there are plenty of websites that offer pre-made covers that are really good value and you simply add your name and title.  The Creative Penn is a great resource for self-publishing and offers a handy list of tried and tested book cover designers.  This is just one list however, there are lots of designers out there and a great way of finding them is finding covers you like and checking out who designed them.

4. The Blurb.  You know, there are two sides to every cover and the back can be just as important as the front.  The blurb.  This is often the last thing authors think about and run up a quick summary in a ‘that’ll do’ kind of approach.  Do not do this.  Think about it, when you’re buying a book online or in a store, the cover is the first thing to catch your eye, but the very next thing you do is turn it over to see what it’s about.  This is your moment to hook the reader.  A few carefully-worded sentences are all that stands between them popping your book in their basket or placing it back on the shelf.  Spend time studying blurbs in your genre, Google ‘blurb writing’ and keep refining what you’ve written until you’re satisfied with it.  It’s not a summary and should be written in the same style as your novel.  As author Susan Kaye Quinn explains on The Bestseller Experiement podcast, ‘a blurb is flash fiction, only you don’t end it‘.  Write a killer blurb, or you’ll only have your shelf to blame (sorry!)

5. Formatting.  Before you can upload your book to Amazon or Smashwords, you’re going to need to format it.  You could pay someone to do this for you, but if I can manage it, I’m pretty sure you can to.  Everything you need to know is in this post by Catherine Ryan Howard  on Writing.ie. It’s pretty old, but I’ve yet to find a more user-friendly, dedicated formatting article that explains things as well as this.

The big question, should you publish a paperback version, is something you need to decide for yourself.  Kindle Direct Publishing have made it easier than ever to do this, and as soon as you upload your eBook files, it asks you if you want to make a print version.  In my opinion, you have nothing to lose but the time it takes to configure your cover (or pay your designer to do this).  My print sales are relatively low, but it’s good to give your readers the option.

6. Pre-order.  You know you can put your book on Amazon for pre-order, meaning that people can see your book before you launch (yay marketing!) and also order it ahead of time.  This will give your sales a bump on launch day and it also means that you can start promoting your book earlier and creating a buzz, while you’re still doing all of the finishing touches behind the scenes.  Confession:  I did not do this.  I was in too much of a rush.  So is this a case of do as I say and not as I do?  Well, yes I suppose it is, but only because I want you to benefit from my mistakes.

7. Reviews.  Reviews (1)If you are a new author, you will most definitely need the help of book reviewers/bloggers to review your book.  Now is the time to start approaching them, as the most popular ones work to very tight schedules that can be booked months in advance.  You’re probably starting to see that six months isn’t very long at all!  But how do you find book bloggers?  Easy, just type #bookbloggers into Twitter or Facebook or any social media platform and follow the links from there. The Indie View also provide an extensive list of bloggers, so if you’re still baffled by blogs, start there.

My best advice is to treat this like your typical manuscript submission process – find bloggers that are interested in your genre and contact them according to their book review policies.  You can get more information on how to approach book bloggers here.  Advance Reader Copies (or ARC’s as they’re known in the business) are essential if you want to have some reviews on your book’s page when you launch, so as soon as you have completed your edits and finalised your cover, start sending these out.  As a self-publisher, I only sent eBooks for review and used the preview file from my Kindle publishing page, so I could send reviewers a .mobi version.

There is also the hugely popular NetGalley where readers can request your book for free.  This is quite an expensive option and it’s difficult to say if you will hit your target audience here (as opposed to approaching reviewers personally), but if you can afford it, it’s definitely a powerful promotional tool.

8. Author platform.  If you haven’t already created an online presence for yourself, now would be a good time to start.  Yes, it can be time-consuming to set up and to maintain, but not only do you need a profile that people can connect with, you also need a profile so you can interact with other people.  The best way to get people interested in you is if you show interest in them.  Blogging is a great way to let people know who you are, what you’re interested in and what you’ve got coming up.  ‘But nobody cares!’ I hear you cry.  Well, you can start driving traffic to your blog from your Twitter account and Facebook.  While there is no way of calculating how much your online activity will result in increased sales, it’s definitely the best way to connect with readers and other people in the industry, which can lead to further opportunities for you and your writing.  If you come from a marketing background, you’ll have heard of The Rule of 7, which basically means that a prospective customer needs to see  your product at least 7 times before deciding to buy, so being active online can only help!

9. Price.  I have never given my book away for free.  Ever.  It’s just not something I would endorse – you might get lots of downloads but chances are that most of those people might never even read your book.  I also subscribe to the wacky notion that people deserve to get paid for their work.  The prevailing wisdom is that £2.99 is the average price for an eBook.  It might not seem like very much, but you get to keep 70% of your royalties.  It’s really up to you to decide what price you want to retail your novel at and the beauty of being a self-publisher means that you can change your pricing and experiment with what works best.

10. Promotion – As with your ARC’s, you need to start booking promo spots as far in advance as possible.  Book bloggers host author interviews and guest posts and there are lots of online eZines where you can submit articles (with links to your new release).  It’s also worth trying traditional media, like local newspapers or radio stations that might be interested in  your story.  As for advertising online – most ad sites require that your book has a minimum number of reviews, so you might have to wait a while for that, but you can run a Facebook ad or a Goodreads giveaway to create some hype around your launch.  (Caveat:  Goodreads giveaways are for print books only.  They are going to introduce an eBook version, but it will not be free, unlike the paperback giveaway).

And now that you have your own platform, why not run a giveaway on your own blog?  Use Rafflecopter, the gold standard for managing giveaways and I promise, it’s easy to set up and use.  If your book is part of Kindle select (which is absolutely worth doing) meaning that your book is sold exclusively on Amazon, you can start preparing your kindle countdown deal which you will be able to run 3 months after you first publish.  At that point, you can make your book available for 99p (while retaining your 70% royalty rate) and give  your sales another boost.

So there you have it, 10 practical ways you can prepare for your book launch.  HOWEVER, if you’re reading this and you’ve scheduled your launch for tomorrow and haven’t done any or all of these steps – fear not!  You have two choices here:  go ahead with your launch and try to do all of these steps in hindsight or just postpone it.  Trust me, unless you’ve done a fantastic job of promoting the launch of  your book online, no-one will even notice.  I remember when I published my debut novel, I sat at home all day, staring at the screen and wondering when the sales figures would start increasing.  Seriously!  That’s what I did.  And  you know what?  Nothing happened!  I had a handful of sales, but to my disappointment, the Internet didn’t stop what it was doing and congratulate me on publishing my book.  Do you have any idea how many books are self-published every day on Amazon?  Someone self-publishes a book every 5 minutes!  The best chance you can give your book is to follow all (or most!) of these preparations ahead of time.

Final piece of advice, try not to get sucked into the marketing vortex to such an extent that you delay starting your next book.  The best way to sell your first book is to write a second.

Best of luck!  You’ve written a novel, now go publish it.

Women’s Fiction: The Big Cover Up

custom-wrapped-rose-and-pinks-31Following a recent discussion with an online book-club (which I am now ripping off for this blog!) the subject of covers reared its’ pretty head.  Pretty being the operative word, and a pejorative one in this case.  A male reader asked the question, why do publishers insist of giving female authors the kind of covers that men wouldn’t be caught dead with?  Of course, there was also the argument that some men wouldn’t be caught dead reading a female author, period; regardless of the cover.  In this day and age, I find that a bit sad to be honest.  It just perpetuates this idea that women can only write about things that concern women – as if men wouldn’t find anything of interest in ‘women’s things’.    Furthermore, what does it say about a man’s sense of identity, that he can’t ‘be seen’ in public with a woman’s book?  All big questions, which I will now neatly side-step in order to get to the side of the argument that best serves my agenda.  Girlie covers – what’s it all about?

Just to be sure I wasn’t being a complete hypocrite, I made a quick scan of the books I’ve read over the past few years and there is an approximate 60/40 split in female to male authors on my list.  I think it’s only natural that we will veer towards our own gender, but I was quite pleased to see that my reading has been fairly balanced.  I never really think about the author’s gender when choosing a book.  My decision is based solely on whether or not the story piques my interest.  That… and the cover.  It was at this point I realised that the guy in the book club had a point.

One of the most important jobs of a book cover is to let the reader know, as clearly and succinctly as possible, what they are getting with this book.  If I see a dark and moody cover with blood stains, I’ll probably keep moving.  Crime fiction isn’t really my thing, but how many good books have I missed because of these preconceptions?  Readers make their minds up in a matter of seconds, based on the cover of a book.  So it follows that the publishing industry, rightly or wrongly, create covers that they believe will sell; even if this is at odds with what lies between the covers.  However, there is an even greater divide when it comes to books by female authors.  Regardless of their literary merit, many publishers seemed determined to shoe-horn women’s books into the kind of covers that female readers themselves feel may be undervaluing the author’s work.  It has long been argued that the Chick Lit genre has become something of a double-edged sword; on the one hand, it has introduced readers to a lot of very talented female authors, but it has been marketed in so much pink fluffiness, that many of these writers are doomed to spend eternity on a dusty shelf, trapped in pastel coloured covers and not taken seriously.

A recent article by Emily Harnett in The Atlantic reveals the thinking behind these covers:

Like any form of advertising, book covers tell women what they want by surmising who they want to be.

Image result for typical chick lit book covers

I’m guessing the assumption is that we all want to be white, thin goofballs with a hidden intelligence, all wrapped up in designer clothes!  Please don’t get me wrong – I am not criticizing this book or its readers, but I am questioning how the author’s work is marketed and whether or not this is a hindrance to women’s writing as a whole.  If you are a woman and you happen to write about anything involving relationships or family life, chances are that this will be your marketing strategy.

The following graphics from an article on Flavorwire show some examples of how male authored books are marketed completely differently.  The jumbo writing is a classic of the genre, which almost screams ‘This is important!’  It demands to be taken seriously, and as such, lends an air of gravitas to its reader.

The female authors have markedly different covers.  They are warm, decorative and while they’re not as garish as the Chick Lit cover, we immediately assume that what lies inside is somehow more feminine in nature.  Would a man pick up any of these books?  I would like to think that in this day and age, yes, he would.  But why are the publishers trying to divide us at all?  As an author, I would hope that both male and female readers can enjoy my stories, but have I subconsciously placed a barely perceptible ‘Men Keep Out’ sticker on my book just by the covers I’ve chosen?

And it’s not just a male/female divide.  There is also the question of what makes a book commercial fiction as opposed to the more highbrow literary fiction?  Who decides this and what are the criteria?  If you’re confused, take a look at these covers for the same book and tell me the publishers aren’t playing some sort of minds games!

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The first has a quote from literary heavyweight John Banville (a man!) comparing the author to Edna O’Brien, another literary biggie, and features a monochrome image of a child and an old man.  The second, features a young woman with a tagline from one of Ireland’s most successful commercial fiction authors, Cecelia Ahern of PS I Love You fame.  This is the same book, people!!  How could a single story be marketed so differently?  Well, on closer inspection, it turns out that the black and white cover is the hardback and the carefree young woman is the paperback version.  According to author Jennifer Weiner, who treads the fine line between commercial and literary fiction, “Hardcover is when you get the reviews and the profiles, paperback is when you get the readers.”

So what they’re saying is, they don’t want to challenge us too much, but give us something wrapped in a package we are already familiar with.  Are we such predictable repeat shoppers?  I’m not so sure.  One of my favourite novels this year was The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild.  It’s a mystery art caper, that takes us from the auction houses of London to Nazi Germany, and questions the true value of art and man’s desire to acquire beautiful things in search of salvation.  AND YET.  One of the male readers in the book club said he would never have picked it up, but his girlfriend had it and so he started reading it (and loved it).  A woman in the group said she wouldn’t touch a book with such a cover with a barge-pole (the cover in question was the red paperback).  The hardback features original artworks, while the Kindle version on the end features a palette and dispenses with the swirly writing altogether.  In this case, I imagine that the publishers are trying to cast their net wide and get as many potential readers as possible, so why not do that in the first place?  I really feel for the authors who have absolutely no say in how their work is packaged or marketed.  Perhaps self-publishing will change the face of cover discrimination, or will we, for lack of any better ideas, just perpetuate it?  The question we are all trying to answer is, what do readers want?  Perhaps a little less cliché and a little more originality.

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Sometimes I think we should just go back to the days when book covers were cloth bound and the title embossed in gold leaf.  These days, we have grown accustomed to the kind of aspirational lifestyle marketing that bombards us for clothing, make-up, interiors and cars, but isn’t there something about books that should be held sacred?  In reading, do we not seek to move beyond the shallow and superficial?  I love book covers, just as I love design and art, but matching an image with a story is a tricky business and can often be misleading.  I suppose the same can be said for blurbs, which are more often than not a bunch of sound-bytes to reel you in.  The Blind Date Book Company is a fantastic response to the publishing world’s attempts to manipulate our reading habits.  Their tagline, rather predictably asks us to ‘Never Judge A Book By It’s Cover’, but rather choose ‘blindly’, based only on a four word description.  I think it’s a really lovely idea and an innovative way to broaden your bookshelf and find some new books to love.  It is, after all, blind 😉

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Whether you like my covers or not, you can get my books here:

new heirloom1+1Amazon (Paperback)Kindle 

 

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - CopyAmazon (Paperback) ~Kindle ~ Nook ~ iTunes ~ Kobo