Do’s and Don’t’s of self-publishing by Polly Trope, indieberlin literary editor and self-published author


There are many amazing success stories of self-published writers. They seem most encouraging. Other writers self-publish, and none of the amazing stuff happens. You have a closer look, and notice that the authors already had a sizeable following thanks to their previous, traditionally published works. Another set of writers pumped in large amount of money to have a great marketing campaign, which helped things immensely.

Put the case that a writer has neither of these two things: a thumping fan base all ready to buy the next product from their favourite author, or a competent marketing team lined up to do the publicity. How will they break the ice?

Self-published authors enjoy, at best, a mixed reputation. Between self-righteous critics positing that self-publishing means you couldn’t get a publishing deal, and that not getting a publishing deal means your book must be pretty bad so you better buckle down and start over, and underground prophets hailing self-published books as the ugly ducklings of post-modernism whose beautiful psychedelic swan of a genius will rise tomorrow from the ill-adjusted, brilliant pages that aren’t getting the acclaim they deserve, you as a self-published author must find your seat — between these two oh so flattering chairs.

Advice bit number one : Unless you’re a masochist, don’t let a conservative twat tell you your work sucks. And unless you’re truly into it, don’t jump onto the dark and opaque boat of subaltern movements you know nothing about. The beauty of being self-published is that you can do anything you like, so why put on yet another uniform?

Advice bit number two (I’ll give you ten, and then it’s over) : Don’t give up. The difference between successful people and unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones are able to take rejections in their stride and keep going. You definitely won’t find your true audience if you let the sceptics shut you down.

Three: About the fanbase that you haven’t got yet : sorry, you’ll have to build it. Go to parties and networking events. Mingle. Have a business card. Have a copy of your book with you. Be prepared to deliver a little reading or to give a quick and sparkly summary of your book. Don’t drone on about it, obviously. Don’t put on airs and graces — unless that’s part of your act. Your thing. Be interesting in real life. Do use social media to reach more people, meet more like-minded people, or make new contacts. Be focused on your work and talk about it, show your dedication to your work and your enthusiasm and your great skills — but don’t be a broken record. Social media is your chance to learn about yourself and others. Not your chance to go on a public ego-trip. Celebrate what you love doing. Don’t behave like a celebrity or an advertising agency on facebook. Talk to individuals, see what you can do together. You’re a new red-hot talent at the start of your career. Not a superstar with their nose up in the air. You get the idea.

Four: About the marketing team that you haven’t got: try PR. Try to get people who you know and who are on the same wavelength as you, to champion your work. Give them a favour of equal value back in return. If you have friends with blogs, youtube accounts, a twitter following, etc., or friends who are events managers or who do art shows or play in bands, or something like that, ask if you could write a guest post there, if they would post something about you, if you could be their support act. If you get a favour, remember to offer a favour of equal value in return. Make sure the links to your book website do work, and make sure the description is current, and is awesome.

Five: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, admit mistakes, and change your strategy if something doesn’t work. Keep re-inventing yourself. Like David Bowie. If it worked for him…

Six : About the book itself. There are several self-publishing websites out there. You write a book, format it into the correct size for a book (for example: 6×9″, the standard size of a paperback — for this, enter the page setup menu in your word processing programme, usually found in either the “file” or “layout” tab), turn the whole thing into a PDF, and upload it to the website. They will then print and bind it. PLEASE DO MAKE SURE you have checked on every single page that the typesetting is correct. You’re not a typesetter, but you will need to make sure of these basic things at least :
– the sizes of your margins. Best way to do this is to take a book out of your book shelf at home and measure with a ruler how many inches or centimeter margin the book has, and copy that format.
– there shouldn’t be any paragraphs beginning at the very bottom of a page, or ending at the very top. If possible.
– the font should be a decent type and size.
Seven: About the book cover. You will need to upload a book cover to your self-publishing site. The cover should be beautiful, and you might consider hiring a professional to design your cover. People really do judge a book by its cover. Your book deserves a gorgeous cover. Don’t let yourself down. If you can’t get a designer, do it yourself by keeping it super simple. Look at lots of books on your book shelf and try to do something very simple. Simple and eye-catching. Sometimes you don’t need much at all to achieve this.
Eight: You may NOT skimp on a good editor. Friends and family, even if they are well-qualified, sometimes might want to make you feel good rather than tell you what they didn’t like. But that’s doing you a disservice. Conversely, you might risk destroying a friendship, or losing faith in your book, because of disagreements with your friend about it. Get a professional in. They’ll be business-like, and it will do your book a lot of good.
You don’t need to follow every suggestion an editor makes, but you do need to know which parts of your book you should have another look at, to make sure you are definitely happy with them. Think of the mean and nasty readers, and of people who will hate your book. You don’t want to give them ammunition.Budget in enough time to process the editorial suggestions. You might encounter a bit of writer’s block if the editor comes back with too many negative points or if, simply, you are exhausted and over-sensitive because you have just handed in the fruit of many years of work to a stranger and they’ve fired it back to you two days later with lots of criticisms you were not expecting. Give yourself time and space to go through all the editorial suggestions.
When that’s done, you’ll either go back to the editor for a round two, or you’ll be OK with it and hand it to someone able and willing to do a thorough spell-check and grammar and style check. And possibly even a fact-check.
And then… Voila!
Nine: About budgeting your time and money for a self-published book. A crowdfunding campaign might be a neat idea — for the cover design and the editor, for instance. This is what I did, anyhow. And do what I didn’t do : budget in the teeniest bit of marketing money, too, or more, if possible. So you can print business cards, or organize a launch event, or stage some kind of mad publicity stunt, or have a few free copies to give away to well-chosen individuals — whatever suits you, your work, and your personality.
Ten: About selling your book. You should take part in as many readings as you can. Many small book shops that organize readings, and you can go in and talk to them, ask if they would let you have a reading– either with just yourself or with a couple of other writers. Bring along a few books on the night, and see if anyone would like any. I almost always sell a couple of books at these things, at least. By the same token, reading nights are places where people interested in new books show up, so you might meet your future publicist right there. You’ll also have established a tie with an indie book shop owner and you can start seeing about them stocking your book. They might be up for it. They will most likely want a pretty big cut of the profits, but I suggest you let them have that, because once you’re in a book shop, you’re like a traditionally published author, and probably making only about 50p per copy sold, but that’s OK, because your book is in the shops. Of course that’s only my opinion.
About e-book sales. I won’t say much on this because I don’t know that much, and there are better articles out there. Don’t over-price your book, don’t under-price it, either. 0.99 or 1.99 is a bad price, it sounds like bargain basements and reeks of valueless crap. 5 or 6 Euros, on the other hand, is a bit too much. Do something in the middle, and your e-book sales will be fine. Use social media for this, probably twitter better than facebook. Try to stay on top of hashtags on twitter, so you can make your book current and interesting from all these angles every day afresh.
And finally : Be Happy. Do as much or as little of this as you can. Always a pleasure, never a chore. I have sold just shy of 200 copies of my self-published book. For many months after first getting my book out, I didn’t want to do ANYTHING about it because I was completely exhausted from my crowdfunding campaign, the writing of the book, which had taken years, getting everything ready and so on. And I was broke, too, because I had invested quite a lot of time during which I could have been doing freelance work and earning money, but wasn’t. I released my book on halloween, 2013, and it wasn’t until around Easter time, 2014, that I started attending readings with it and talking to bookshops owners, contacting book reviewers etc. You’re a self-published author. You decide the pace. This is for you.