Self-publishing: the good, the bad and the ugly

Self-publishing: everyone and their second cousin are into it these days. But is it as easy as it sounds? Self-published author Sam Lenton tells The Crafty Writer about his experience so far …

In May 2012, I set sail on the seas of self-publishing armed with a novel only a handful of people had read, a self-made cover and a sprinkling of cautious optimism mingled with utter dread at the prospect of a cataclysmic failure. Embracing the incredible opportunity Kindle Direct Publishing presented to get my work out there, I took a leap into the dark, uploaded Accidental Crime onto the system and tentatively whispered news of its existence wherever I could find a listening ear.

Three months on and Accidental Crime has fared well, selling steadily and chalking up five-star reviews. It hasn’t exactly troubled Fifty Shades of Grey at the top of the charts but it has been a positive step forwards and has taught me a number of lessons I hope others can benefit from.

Why self-publish?

Freedom

Perhaps the biggest single reason to go it alone is the freedom it gives you. You see, I can write what I want and I can set a price that I deem fair when I choose to sell the product. No-one is there to tell me to bring in a few more vampires, lower the age of my main character or lose the reference to Mighty Joe Young. I may well get it wrong and it may be that the guidance of a traditional publisher would be spot-on but the autonomy self-publishing gives you is precious indeed.

Fear

I hate rejection. I’m sure we all do. In fact, many of us fear it and this can inhibit our creativity if we allow ourselves to become trapped by the anxiety that no-one will ever say ‘yes’ to our work. Listening to the wisdom of experts is important and I would fully recommend asking trusted individuals to provide detailed feedback on early drafts but seizing the chance to control the release of our own material takes away the fear that publishers will never accept us. Unfortunately, self-publishing does generate another form of fear: the fear of the crushing one-star review!

Finances

When I uploaded Accidental Crime onto Amazon, I counted the costs:

Writing – I did that, so … FREE
Editing – I did that, so … FREE
Design – I did that as well, so … FREE
Printing – it’s an electronic book and so … FREE

FREE x 4 = FREE

Pricing

And then, when it came to setting the price, that was in my hands too. I could price high and take a bigger cut or I could go for super-cheap and hope for mega-sales. Settling on a reasonable £1.99, I found myself earning about £1.34 every time a book was sold. No costs to me. Simply sitting back and taking a royalty far exceeding that any traditional publisher would offer.

Does self-publishing meet an author’s expectations?

To put it bluntly, I’m not expecting to be able to give up the day job any time soon. Sadly, it seems other people have thought of putting a book out as well and so I’ve got just a little bit more competition than I’d have ideally liked! However, sales have rolled in, reviews have appeared and, most importantly, the book is being read by actual living people. Now that is exciting, whatever anyone says. I would love to have a bestseller. Of course I would. Self-published authors have achieved this and so it can be done but as things stand I am not there yet.

What would I do differently?

Platform

This is probably the most important area to work on and so take the time to think this through: if you are not known by enough people, if you do not already have a large group of followers awaiting your work, then how can you expect the big sales to roll in? It’s a difficult pill to swallow but it’s true. At the time of releasing Accidental Crime, I had about 65 followers on Twitter, a small group of readers of my intermittent blog (http://samlenton.blogspot.com) and a supportive but illiterate cat. By the time I release my follow-up novel I am determined that I would have established a platform at least five times the size of this.

Promotion

I’ll be honest with you here: I was worried no-one would like what I’d written and so I whispered rather than shouted the news of my novel’s release. I failed to arrange a book launch, only produced two posters and resisted spending any sort of money on advertisements. Mainly this stemmed from the thought that surely everyone will think I’m some sort of fraud, that I really am not good enough, and so I was afraid of putting myself out there until I’d had some positive feedback. Next time, I will stand, share and spend with confidence.

Presentation

Remember my list of ‘FREE’ contributions earlier? The problem with that approach is that not everything is necessarily quite as perfect as you’d like it to be. They may only be small things but the margins in the paperback copy annoy me as they’re not quite right and the inside pages don’t contain all the information I would like them to have. It may be that I can still resist paying others to do things for me but what I have learned is that I need to know when to ask for help and when to persevere alone. It could make all the difference.

Over to you…

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the world of the Arts. The key is to seek out what you can do and what you would like to do and to determine how to practically accomplish this. Whilst we may face greater competition than before, we also have greater opportunities to share our writing with others and there are simply too many good reasons not to give it a go!

Sam Lenton is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter based in Southampton, England. He blogs at http://samlenton.blogspot.com and the paperback of Accidental Crime is available to purchase from his website www.samlenton.co.uk. A Kindle version is also available from Amazon.

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