Monday, 12 December 2011

Crabbit's Tips for Writers - 4: Publishing Yourself

Here is the fourth in my series of Crabbit's Tips for Writers. See the sidebar for links to the others. You can either read it in the post below or you can go here and download the complete document and print it out. Enjoy!

If you wish to quote from these pages, please see the copyright notice at the end.

My position I have had many (around 90) books published by mainstream publishers of various sizes and I am also self-publishing. I do my own publishing through my Crabbit Publishing brand, through which I have published Tweet Right and republished my original debut novel from 2002, Mondays are Red. My next Crabbit Publishing title is Write a Great Synopsis. Why do I do both? Because I can and because I know that some things are best done by publishers and some are not. Every writer and every book is different. I think some writers are self-publishing very well and wisely, and others are not. Informed choice is key. Oh, and the ability to write…

Crabbit’s Tips for Publishing Yourself
1. Do not consider publishing something which is not the best it can be. Publication is not a rehearsal. Most published writers have unpublished work in their drawers and would not dream of publishing it. Be that writer.

2. Once you’ve decided to self-publish a book, get it properly edited. This means three stages: editing (the big picture: characters, pacing, structure, voice); copy-editing (inconsistencies, clunky sentences, continuity errors, wrong words, layout); and proof-reading (typos, punctuation errors, more layout errors, inconsistent single/double/straight/curly quotes, widows and orphans, anything tiny.) A copy-editor can usually proofread, and vice-versa, so this could be combined. But you need at least two other pairs of eyes than your own. Expert ones, too.

3. Do not be in a hurry. Plan ahead and be patient.

4. Get a proper cover design from someone who understands KDP (Amazon) and other technical requirements. Remember that your cover will mostly be seen in thumbnail size – do not pack it with info because it won’t be seen.

5. Create a brilliant “product description” – the equivalent of the back-cover copy.

6. Do not believe anyone who says you can just upload a word doc. Formatting is not as simple as people make out. Yes, it’s eminently possible to learn (as I did) how to do decent formatting of a simple nature. But tiny errors which you might easily miss (because they are invisible unless you see the html) can become huge uglies when converted to the format for a particular device. My advice is: get it done properly by paying someone or at least learn how to do it properly yourself.

7. Keep up-to-date with the possibilities and services available. It’s improving all the time, but there’s a lot of talk and hype which is not always true. My personal advice is to buy in individual skills rather than paying for a self-publishing package.

8. There are two books I highly recommend: Alison Baverstock’s The Naked Author and Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed. You do need them both as they contain different information and approaches. You will also find my own Write to be Published useful – it will help you understand publishing (which is what you are doing) and help you make your book as good as possible.

9. If you’re angry with the publishing industry for rejecting your book, (if they did), don’t show it. It’s ugly. It’s pointless. And it does you no good at all. Grow up and just publish your book well. Your readers want your book, not your vitriol.

10. Obviously, be prepared to spend a lot of time marketing. One thing you’ll learn when you self-publish is that selling books is not easy. Really not easy. There are millions of books out there and you’re competing against them.

11. But don’t put people off with your self-promotion. There are some writers whose books I will never read because they jump up and down shouting about themselves all the time. I’ve had to block one from my Twitterfeed for her refusal to talk about anything more interesting than her book.

12. If you want to sell lots of books, you will have to join the online forums where people are talking about your genre. The forums are time-consuming, and can be frustrating or boring, and some of the people are there only to sell themselves. You won’t find me there often, and consequently I don’t sell vast numbers of books. However, I’m happy with the ones I sell. It’s a choice I/you have to make. I choose to do other things.

13. Don’t spend so much time marketing that you forget to write your next book.

14. The more books you produce (published or self-published) the more you’ll sell.

15. Beware of RSI from checking your KDP sales too often…

16. Manage your expectations. Most people are not selling thousands and thousands of books – that goes for self-publishers and publishers. Most are selling very modestly indeed and many are selling very few. Or none.

17. Pricing is crucial. My view is that an ebook should be significantly cheaper than its print version but I’m against over-cheapening except for temporary promotions. But it’s up to you. Suck it and see – and change it when you want. But I can tell you that if you price too high, no one will buy. Especially for a newbie writer.

18. We could now be in the golden age for self-publishers, because it’s so easy to do. But selling is, as I say, not easy, and it’s likely to get harder as more people do it, especially more previously published, successful authors. In the end, quality will win, as readers will find ways of discerning the good stuff. Make sure yours is good stuff.

19. Quality is not a guarantee of success. In publishing as well as self-publishing, great writing can fail to sell and crap can sell in shedloads. It’s life. Deal with it.

20. Understand publishing before you self-publish. You can’t do it better than publishers if you don’t even understand publishing. 

21. Be yourself. There are many different ways of writing and many different ways of behaving as an author. Do and be what feels right to you.

22. But be nice. It's a very under-rated quality. It's got nothing to do with writing but everything to do with engaging with people. And that is what writers do, in their writing and in their life.


The CRABBIT’S TIPS series consists of:
1. Writing Fiction
2. Getting Published
3. Submitting to Agents and Publishers
4. Publishing Yourself
5. Ingredients of Poor Writing
6. Synopses
7. Non-fiction Proposals
8. Author events
9. Teenage Writing
10. Children’s Writing
And then some more! For details, see

Copyright and permissions
The copyright to the material in this document is fully owned by me. I give you the following permission: you are welcome to quote these tips freely in your own blog or website, as long as you receive no income from it and as long as you credit me by name and include my blog URL or author website. (Addresses below.) If you wish to quote me in a book or paid article, please ask me for permission. Thank you!


Christine Murray said...

Great advice as always. I too think over promotion is counter productive. It's actually rude.

catdownunder said...

Wise advice.
But - I think I will continue to look for an agent first!

Sally Zigmond said...

Excellent post, Nicola. Very few of us are multi-talented. I can have a go at writing but I have no IT skills and am a hopeless, cack-handed salesperson. Therefore I would need a great deal of help from professionals. But I can't afford it. That's why I shall stick to the old ways, concentrate on improving my writing skills and let others do the rest. Pie in the sky? Maybe. But like the furry, whiskery one down-under, that's the path I choose to follow.

Kate said...

All good advice! It looks easy until you try it and then reality hits.

Jon Paul said...

Great post--especially for someone like me who is only now beginning to seriously consider self-publishing.

Thanks! :D

Dan Holloway said...

Marvellous. Especialy the being nice bit - a vastly underrated piece of advice.

A couple of things I'd add. Agree wholly about the "more you write the more you sell" principle - one thing people should do is make it very easy for readers who love a book to find other books - I would recomend links in the "also by the author" page in the front and sample chapters at the back (also with links).

You have very wisely focused on ebook self-publishing because that's what people are doing more and more of, and more easily, but it costs very little (the price of the ISBN if you want your book available on Amazon etc) also to self-publish as a Print-on-Demand paperback (you will also need to speak to your cover designer - Amazon works at 72 dpi whereas for a paperback you will need 300dpi, but designer people seem to be able to do these things very easily). I would highly highly recommend authors to try and do readings, and if you do so, you should always have some paperbacks with you to sell through your hosts. I would also recommend speaking to all local bookstores (this is where the being professional and being nice things really come in). I'm spoilt in Oxford with two of the best bookstores in the country in the shape of the original Blackwell's and amazing independent The Albion Beatnik. Both have been incredibly receptive and I think I've now sold about 200 paperbacks through just these two stores.

Also (I know you've said this before) have a carrd with your cover on at all times. I can't recommend enough for this - the quality is fantastic and you can have as many images as you want with the same text on the other side (I have one for each of my covers so I can always give out an appropriate card depending where I'm reading)

JO said...

Thanks Nicola - and Dan. I hope I'm sticking to the rules; I am now at the marketing and nail-biting stage. Much less fun than the writing!

And I so agree about Catherine Ryan Howard's book - I haven't read the other one, but I think I'd have given up without Self-Printing.

Jacqueline Pye said...

Thank you Nicola for this post. Like so many, I'm wondering about my children's book as a ebook, so advice is really helpful. Especially from the COB! Can never understand stroppy writers or those who shower us with self-promotion.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, all.

Dan - thank you and well done for pointing out the print aspect of self-publishing. I haven't done that yet, for a couple of different reasons, but I may well do, and it's a good idea for the reasons you say. I've just been too snowed under.

And cards - absolutely. Same with my publisher-published books - I've always done postcards.

Jo - good luck!

Jacqueline - hmm, children's ebooks a whole different ball game. It's finding the buyers (parents) that's tricky. Companies such as Nosy Crow are doing it brilliantly but I really would be cautious about self-publishing an children's ebook. Unless you really have some special contacts/ins/outlets. I don't want ot put you off but children are not yet into ebooks sufficiently. They *will* be one day, I'm sure. Teenagers slightly different but still not easy as they aren't in control of the accounts, usually, so rely on asking an adult. And that detaches them and buying becomes not easy.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I've seen far too many writers who think all they need to do is keeping shouting about their book and get reviews and forget that the best marketing tool is a well-written book.

I'd add one more, which is to make sure the book fits what it's claiming to be. I turned down a review from a writer because his book was labeled as a fantasy/action-adventure thriller. The title didn't say fantasy, and the cover didn't say fantasy, though the description did. However, the description didn't even suggest there was action in the story, and there wasn't any promise of action in the sample chapters. It looked more like a mystery novel with an action scene at the end -- not an action thriller with action throughout.

I'd personally like to get an editor or a copy editor. I've worked with one before on reviews and can see a lot of value on it. But frankly, even though my book weighs in at 50K, the price tag for even the cheapest is a lot of money, more than I can afford.

Kath McGurl said...

Great advice. Especially about the formatting. I've read several self-published novels on my Kindle and some have excruciating formatting errors. I think there's definitely a market out there for the tech-savvy to format self-published writers' books for the various devices.

Ev said...

Agree fully with everything you say Nicola. I HATE the sales end of it - I feel like a prostitute throwing my wares at all comers in order to turn a Euro. And then trying to keep track of how many books went where - 'taint easy I wouldn't mind only half my family are involved in sales - I think I missed out on that genome. Ah but i got the 'creativity' - I've resigned myself to being poor. Having said all that I self published in early November and have already covered the cost of printing and shipping 300 copies from the States. It was tough but worth it to think of people sitting on their sofas reading my characters' stories. Self-Printed was my bible and Catherine Ryan Howard a fabulous help to me.

C D Meetens said...

Such great advice - thank you. I'm OK with IT-oriented things, but something like formatting for a Kindle still seems specialised to me, so finding someone who's an expert in it can make all the difference.

Kevin Marsh said...

Thank you, some great advice. I'm fed up with being hung out on the slush pile. My manuscripts have been doing the rounds for the last three years, I have had some very encouraging feedback from Literary agents so have no fears regarding self-publishing. My first novel should be available print on demand fromt he middle of May. All I have to do now is sell it!!! :-)