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Category: self-publishing

Reasons to Self-Publish

My previous post gave some gloomy reasons why you should not self-publish so I am delighted to give some reasons to self-publish with a good understanding of the possible negatives.

  • Firstly, you can ignore all the negatives, take no heed of advice, do no research, and just write your book, use an Amazon cover creator and publish in less than half an hour. You could become a best seller and household name. It won’t cost you a penny. Just be aware that the chances of this happening are tiny to non-existent.
  • Publish for the joy of holding your own book in your hand. You can buy ‘author copies’ which are printed on demand for the cost of printing (plus postage). Maybe you just want 20 books for 20 relatives, friends and acquaintenances. That’s your Christmas presents sorted.
  • Why not write and publish an autobiography for your grandchildren? Collect photographs, newspaper cuttings and so on to illustrate the story.
  • Hobbyist, enthusiast or any ‘niche’, there may be a number of people who’ll be interested in your book. A great publication about goat harnesses may not get you into the best sellers but it could bring a modest return. If exposure and income are your aim, remember you’ll have to find ways to bring the book in front of potential readers.
  • As an example of small niche publishing, I was looking for a book about the history of gambling in England. Not many to choose from. I found an Amazon-printed, no-frills paperback for £5-49 by John Ashton, The History of Gambling in England. It doesn’t seem to have involved much in the way of formatting and design, or attention to cover (the back is just plain black) but it does what it says, the content is excellent and the price makes it amazing value.
  • Publish for a cause or campaign that has a lot of interest. You already have a good potential readership. Offer a well-researched and focused book.
  • Community publishing has great historical roots. Local History is a particularly popular topic for smallscale publishing like this. It’s also an opportunity for community members to get involved in the process of publishing. Remember too that ‘community’ doesn’t have to be geographically defined. A community may be globally dispersed, for instance made up of beekeepers.
  • Writers’ groups often publish their members’ work.

Hard Work

All very well I hear you say, but what if you have a great book like a genre romance or crime novel? What if you want it to be read by thousands of readers and make you some money? Great. Go for it. You’re sensible, you know the odds are against you with so many books, just as good, already out there. You come across, through research, many authors who’ve cracked it and are doing well, and you want to be like them.

  • If you have researched the field properly you will know that even authors who are ‘mainstream published’ (by respected publishing houses) by and large don’t earn much, and often don’t sell anywhere near as many books as they’d like. (Some only become successful after they’ve died). There’s a fair amount of luck involved but:
  • Successful independent authors, in almost every case, treat their writing and publishing as a business and generally follow business pocedures which include the need to:
  • Make the best possible product. A finished manuscript has to be excellent writing. It should be proofread, preferably by an expert. It should be copy- edited by an expert who will make minor and major amendments to the story, check for consistency of character and fact, pacing, length, etc. Your manuscript needs formatting for print and you can hire someone for this, use online software or attempt it yourself. The cover is a major thing people judge a book by before they even consider picking it up. Expect to pay maybe £300 to get this done professionally. All these things you can do yourself, or hire a ‘gig’ from sites like Fiverr, but remember that the less expertise and cost in book production, the less quality.
  • You spend time to the point of exhaustion in writing your book. But as a publisher you have to market, promote and price your book correctly. There are many businesses out there who promise to do this brilliant for a hefty fee: beware, many of them achieve very little. What you need to do is learn as much as possible about these vital areas. This is where the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and related organisations are so important. ALLi covers every area of independent publishing in depth, produced by highly experienced and successful writers. For £55 as an associate member you will save an absolute fortune in time and money. You get, among many other things, complete books on various publishing aspects, individual mentorship, details of the best and worst support businesses, a weekly podcast, a lively members’ forum, very worthwhile discount coupons (for example to waive the IngramSpark $49 set-up fee). Any question that an individual may have will be answered very quickly.
  • All the smart advice is to begin things like promotion and marketing, starting a website, building a following months before you publish. All in all, this entails starting to learn the ropes towards being business-savvy at the same time as you’re writing. I’d suggest curbing impatience to publish that first novel until you have understood and put into practice business strategies – even if that takes three months.
  • This may all seem daunting, may even seem unnecessary. Actually, if you are a famous footballer, politician or pop star it probably is unnecessary because your agent would hire a ghost writer if necessary and you could be pretty sure a mainstream publisher would be keen on the book. For the rest of us, publishing is, like anything in life that’s worthwhile, hard.

Reasons to Self-Publish (or not)

What are some reasons to self-publish (or not)? Well, let me begin with the negatives. None of these necessarily mean that you shouldn’t self-publish, but bearing them in mind should inform your decision.

  • Absolutely anybody can self-publish for free. The most used services are KDP (Amazon) and IngramSpark. If you take the quickest and easiest route, you can transfer a Word manuscript in minutes and be published.  What this means, of course, is that there are millions of self-published books out there and it’s very difficult to get yours to stand out.
  • To improve the possibility of getting your book noticed you need to go on a steep learning curve before publication. You need to understand how to best use social media, start a website, be capable of achieving maximal search engine optimisation, understand marketing principles and practices, establish networks of potential readers. And more.
  • You need to be able to write very well.
  • Some find the non-writing side of things too scary and difficult. They innocently sign up with a business that promises to do everything for them. This can cost many thousands of pounds and very often not succeed in getting a book noticed, no matter how good it is.
  • Aware of the need of producing the best possible book, as well as the quality of writing, you will need to buy expert services to do things like formatting and cover design. This can be very expensive.
  • One of the fastest growing segments of the publishing market is in audiobooks. To hire a narrator can be enormously expensive. I had a quote of £36,000! You will find cheaper, you can even do it yourself but the quality will suffer the more you compromise.
  • Most self-published books sell on average between 100 and 250 copies, some much less. Writing is, or should be, very hard work. If you are doing it to make money or achieve recognition, be aware that your chances are slim.
  • The traditional and best way to be published is to find an agent who specialises in your genre. As agents don’t charge a base fee but work on commission of selling the book to a publisher, agents are only going to take on writers who they think will bring them commission fees (between 10% and 15%). If you’re rejected, as you likely will be, by an agent take that as a pointer to the fact that your work is unlikely to be saleable. Agents can be wrong, of course, just a spublishers can be. But both agents and publishers are experts at trying to make money from writing. Trying to bypass this by self-publishing may be naive. remember that if you have a contract with a publisher they will do most of the crucial work for you (but written into your contract will be a requirement that you take part in things that promote the book).

Having fully depressed you, in the next post I’ll look at why you should seriously consider self-publishing.

Writers Who Were Only Recognised after Death

There are many famous writers who were only recognised after death. They may have sold a few books while alive but never knew that they would become globally famous. See here for some examples. Every writer on that list is now seen as an icon in the history of literature. What can be safely said is that each of them wrote their best work because they had to. The works were the outcomes of who they were, their deepest motivations.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I think too of Gerard Manley Hopkins, unpublished in his lifetime, whose brilliant poetry became our gift, and whose writing can be said to have revolutionised poetry.

Having myself recently self-published a novel, I don’t expect or want it or me to become famous. Or rich. In fact, any paltry sales proceeds will go to charity. It was rewarding to write and will be reward enough if one reader finds pleasure in it.

In that way, I am freed from the ‘author as business’ industries. All the smart advice here, on how to make money from big sales, is based on underlying business practices. Give the customers what they want, what they know. Do thorough market research. Package the product well (e.g. book cover). Promote, promote promote. Advertise. Buy in expert work from formatters, designers, editors, marketers. Expect to ‘loss lead’ and pay a great deal to ensure the product is the best.

Since I have begun exploring the self-publishing world, I have come across much goodwill, sharing, pro bono advice and support, and encouragement. I have, sadly very frequently, encountered third rate ‘online courses’, ridiculous promises that such-and-such a method will bring in sales of 10,000 a day all for the bargain price of $49 reduced from $98 (but hurry! This offer is only for today).

For fun, my fun, soon I am going to write a cop book, a straight down the line genre book using every formula and trick that’s possible. With ‘a twist’, of course. It will have to be the first in a series which follows the deeply flawed cop and his or her sidekick  through a dark social underbelly full of sickening violence, or serial killing, and corruption in high places and so on and so on.

If you want readers and money, follow the market genres, especially crime, romance, sci-fi and fantasy. If you write something outside these safe areas, there’s a chance that it may become another Harry Potter. But there are degrees of chance from zero to 100, and while you’re working on your book you’d best be doing it for its own sake, because you believe in it, because you love what you’re doing. Love is a great motivator and will get you through poverty, doubt, despair, exhaustion, isolation and maybe a journey to hell. In fact it’s often those conditions which have produced great literature.

Myself, I write because I have to, always have had to. The novel project was at someone else’s request – to explore the effects of addiction on an individual and his family.

So, I’ll have fun writing a cop book. If it makes any money, which I doubt, it will go to charity. Meanwhile, I live, I breathe, I write.

Maczon Press: publishing imprint

With the launch of my first book days away, we’ve also started a site for our publishing imprint, MacZon Press

‘We’ are me and my de facto agent, Martin Paterson, who’s worked every bit as hard as I have to see the book published. While I have been writing away, Martin’s been very busy looking for reviewsandtaking care of promotion. At the same time he’s been a shoulder to cry on, and given me many kicks up the backside to counter my inherent procrastination (a dire condition common to many writers).

You don’t need a publishing imprint but there are many advantages. Being your own publisher doesn’t mean you have to set up as a company or register the name with tax authorities as a sole trader. Just make sure your name is unique (by internet search).

In our case, MacZon Press is a project of an enterprise we have been running for two years, The Machine Zone.

This topic is just one of the many things to consider before publishing your Indie book. There are many more I’ll cover. After publication of Scotched on November 5, I’ll write a long post covering some of these topics on the journey to publication. I’ll also do shorter posts detailing individual topics.


On becoming a Publisher

OK. You’ve written the book but who’s the publisher? If you go through Amazon KDP or IngramSpark, they will appear as the publisher. They’ll give you a FREE ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which will save you a lot of money. Nothing wrong with doing that. Buying a single ISBN in the UK will set you back £89. You purchase one from Nielson .

So why on earth would you spend that if you can have it for free? Especially as legally you don’t even need an ISBN.

Well, think about setting up your own publishing imprint. It doesn’t have to be a legal entity such as a limited company. My own imprint is Maczon Press (Maczon, by the way is a Scottish surname but also refers to an organisation I help run called The Machine Zone). Provided you check (using Google) that nobody has the same name as a publisher you can call your imprint whatever you like.

Now, although one ISBN costs nearly £90 you can buy ten for £159. Each ISBN will be linked to your publishing imprint each time you publish a book.

I think having ‘published by Maczon Press’ looks better than ‘published by Kindle/IngramSpark’ but it’s a matter of opinion. If you’re approaching writing and publishing with a business frame of mind, it seems to me sensible to have a brand name. You can, of course, use the imprint name to start a company (but with Maczon that would be a problem as there’s a Chinese engineering company already registered with that name.)

There are only me and friend Martin behind both Maczon and The Machine Zone. But, for instance, as we are both engaged with community work, we could work towards Maczon becoming a ‘community publisher’ or similar.

Working Class Writing

Scotland probably has a good proportion of working class writers. But it’s relative. I was reading this article yesterday, and agreeing with it.

I won’t go into the quagmire discussions of what makes someone working class or not. I’m happy to say it refers to the big majority of people. The problem is that without being represented by writers and artists, the mass culture is ignored. It’s a political issue. The discourses that appear in culture are largely middle class, repeating and reinforcing a view of the social world as ‘natural’. In this ‘natural’ disguise, power and money are distributed by the laws of god or nature, rather than through the history of human exploitation.

Great that there are concerted efforts to address. this. Writers like James Kelman spring to mind. There are also many organisations and small magazines promoting working class writing. And obviously, there are those writers and artists like Ken Loach or Alan Bleasdale who, paradoxically, become darlings of the liberal ‘left’.

Given how cheap indie publishing is, it would be good to see the setting up of local working class writing groups that learn the publishing process and have the support to write a novel, a radical history, a book of recipes, whatever. The books could be set for very limited circulation or for wider readerships. A parallel activity is podcasting.

The problem with independent publishing for many people is firstly that they don’t know about it. Secondly, authors with money to spend have a head start in getting their work known because they can afford paying for things like formatting, proofing, editing, cover design, marketing. Addressing these two issues should be part of a campaign to encourage working class writing and reading.

(Yes, I now that there are some working class people who have more money than some middle class people. Some.)

I hope, by the way, that it goes without saying that there are many working class people who are great writers and readers. Some (of us) do not restrict our reading and writing to work with a strong texture of class, but we do insist on the vitality of working class literature. Equally obvious, I hope, is that if a working class people succeed in writing romantic or crime fiction, or scripts for soap opera they should be celebrated. Invariably they will be writing for a working class readership, and you can only do the culture if you’ve got it.

Whatever. I would personally enjoy more radical, experimental work which is loosely ‘working class’.

Self-Publishing: The Creative Penn


Indie Publishing (a phrase I prefer to ‘self–publishing’) has its own culture, largely characterised by a commitment to getting authors’ work out there and given the kudos of mainstream publishing. The culture is also marked by generosity, support and sharing.

The phrase ‘self-publishing’ has a wide usage and covers a great deal. ‘Indie publishing’ is more a flag of honour. I’m reminded of the history of indie music production and marketing. The Independent newspaper is happy to co-opt these connotations and be known as ‘The Indie’, perhaps suggesting its claimed difference to other mainstream commercial operations.

The independent publishing field contains largely authors who want to have more freedom, see their writing as a business, and overcome the problems associated with traditional publishing. A smaller number of Indie authors are less interested in making money, and more centred upon radical, experimental writing. In practice, the many available resources to help writers self-publish are useful whatever your motivation may be.

Joanna Penn, herself a best-selling author, set up The Creative Penn to help others. Her website is a fund of advice, links and resources. It’s totally fair that it’s also partly a marketing tool. Marketing your books while offering excellent free stuff are not incompatible: in fact it’s a great blueprint for all authors networking, making connections and happy to give freely quite aside from any gains in book sales.

Go and see the site. You’ll probably be as happy and grateful as I am.

Alliance of Independent Authors

When I decided to ‘self publish’ my first novel, I fell for the line that it is easy. Amazon provides the most popular route via KDP which states on its homepage: ‘Publishing takes less than 5 minutes and your book appears on Kindle stores worldwide within 24-48 hours.’

Now, technically, that is probably true. If you have a Word manuscript you could just upload it, use KDP’s ‘cover generator’ and, yes, your book would be available in print and ebook forms. It would cost you nothing. Zilch.

However. I began to google, research, explore the field. The first thing I discovered was that there are hundreds of ancillary services selling themselves as providers of either complete publishing packages or elements such as professional cover design, formating, audiobook production, marketing. Many of these services have excellent reviews and take much of the hard work away from the author. But at a price that can be substantial.