The two most common questions people ask me about producing Mrs God are: how long did it take you to write it, and how did you find the time to write it? This highlights a simple truth about self-publishing a book. People have no idea just how difficult it is. People focus on the writing process, the where and how of it, but they don’t realise that there are hidden months of work that comes after the writing is finished.
Then I thought, maybe would-be writers out there don’t realise it either. As some kind of pay-it-forward gesture, I’ve written down my 12 Commandments of Self-Publishing. It’ll show you how much work is involved and it’ll keep you away from the many errors I made on my own journey in getting Mrs God into the virtual bookshop called Amazon.
1) Don’t start in the spring – This is especially true if you have young children, or live with small kids racing about. Just when you want to get some work done, a small person will want you to play instead. And that’s fine. Go play. Keep a notebook to jot down ideas as they come to you before you become a dinosaur or cowboy or whatever. Start your book in earnest once summer has passed and you’ll find it easier to get into that all-important writing routine.
2) Write the best book you can – This does not mean your first draft. As Ernest Hemingway said, the first draft of anything is sh**! He’s right. The first draft is a skeleton; the finished product should be a fully attired, fully fleshed body. Rewrite constantly. Rewrite so much that you can’t think of anything else. You’re thinking about rewriting all day. You’re considering changes/additions the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning.
3) Make a plan – Choose a launch date up to 6 months in the future and give yourself a budget. At the very least it’ll give you something to aim for, a deadline by which all of these commandments should be ticked off. You will need money so set some aside. If you think you can write, produce and sell a book without spending a penny, then you’ll be doing yourself, your book and your readers an immense disservice. You don’t need to remortgage the house or sell the dog, just get a tidy sum together.
4) Give it to friends – These are your beta readers. Choose friends who read a lot and will be honest. You’ll waste your time giving your prized manuscript to your mum or your partner. They will not help you. They will say it’s great. You do NOT want to hear this. What you want to hear is “I don’t get why that character did that” or “This section was really long and boring” or “This section was really great but too short”. Consider work colleagues, or someone who hasn’t read your writing before.
5) Give it to a pro – This is your alpha reader, someone who will guide you on everything from stray commas to stray characters. A professional will spot things that your beta readers would never think were an issue. There are certain rules in fiction writing that are hard to fathom, but your alpha reader will put these right. The money you give to the pro for their input is money well spent.
6) Create some hype – Don’t just tell your family and friends, use social media to let everyone know you are writing a book. Unless your family and friends secretly dislike you they will buy a copy of your book. Even if they don’t you can threaten them with excommunication if they don’t dig deep. You cannot threaten everyone else. Your efforts at marketing will let strangers know that your book is coming out. Use Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and every other electronic link to the outside world to create some buzz about your book.
7) Get a designer – We all judge books by their covers! Get someone who knows what they’re doing to design yours. Paying for this won’t leave very much cash in your war chest, but – once again – this is money well spent. Taking a crack at designing it yourself will not end well (if you have no previous experience – if you do, then crack away). Your graphic designer understands what a good cover must do. Ensure you give them a brief that captures the tone and essence of your book.
8) Stick with Amazon – Uploading your book to them means your book is available to 70% of the e-reader market. The rest of the market is open to you too. You may consider giving it to Amazon exclusively under its KDP Select programme. Do some research before making up your mind.
9) Research your price – Aim for somewhere between $2.99 and $9.99, depending on the size of your book. Nothing turns potential buyers off more than an ebook costing $12.71. For that outlay they would demand at least 1,000 pages, fireworks and a brass band – or the latest a Stephen King, Lee Child or JK Rowling thriller. You are none of these people. Keep your price down. Of course, you don’t want to under-price either. Buyers may think a 400-page novel priced at $0.99 will not be a great read if the author is willing to practically give it away. Check out what price I put on the two versions of Mrs God.
10) Consider paper – Lots of websites such as CreateSpace and Lulu offer to print your book on demand. Reports of the demise of the paper book have been grossly misjudged. A huge portion of your readers will only read your book if it comes in a traditional format. Not for them is the phantom electronic book. They want a pound of paper in their hands. Creating it will take time and effort but it will be worth it.
11) Print business cards – Give them to friends and family to spread the word once your book is out. Make sure your book’s website or Amazon details are on the card. It’s no use speaking with someone and asking them to remember a web address. Finding a card in their pocket once they get home is a surer way of getting them to log on and download. This could use up the rest of your cash.
12) Write a sequel – Nothing sells better these days than a series!