A few funny words of wisdom for very new authors, and those in charge of household appliances.
Self-Publishing. If I could go back and start again, would I do anything differently? Yes, all of it! You see, I never read the instructions for anything. Half the programs on the new washing machine will never be used because I don’t have the patience to read the manual. I learnt about self-publishing the hard way, but maybe that’s not necessarily a negative. Sometimes, if you make horrible mistakes along the way, you’re not likely to forget them, or repeat them. Now, where’s that powder, the one that doesn’t foam? The one I was told not to use under any circumstances, the one that clogged the entire cycle…
Editing & proofreading.
Cover design & formatting.
Website & social marketing platforms.
Editing & Proofreading.
There are many, many books out there which are badly in need of a good soak and a pre-wash. I confess to having a head-start with regard to the actual business of writing fiction. Thirty years ago I went along the traditional route of trying to find agents and publishers. I had a modicum of success, but the most it taught me was how to write (and re-write, and re-write) and construct a novel, how to build character and how to observe the basic principles such as ‘show and not tell’.
Editing covers a broad spectrum of skills, from advising on all of the above to merely checking punctuation, or that names and timescales are consistent throughout. Your product needs to be as near perfect as you can make it if you want to be taken seriously, and sell books to the reading public with confidence. It is not a good idea to wait until the reader-review stage to get your work critiqued publicly on Amazon by the very reader you wish to please!
Anyway, to cut a long story down a bit, I decided to self-publish my languishing semi-edited manuscripts. I made mistakes, I chose the wrong people to work with. I was on the wrong spin cycle and foaming at the mouth in no time.
Then I met John Hudspith.
Some say he has the eyes of an owl and the body of a crow. (He’s already admitted to the droppings). He can edit any genre. He’s not only comfortable with freaky – such as double-jointed women in gingham – but he also has a handle on quite ordinary things like school puddings and little dogs. What I like about Mr Hudspith is that he personally hand-washes everything; there’s none of this short-cut business with pre-programmed software. He can cope with any kind of material, just check that care label out. He actually enjoys shrinking swathes of narrative such as short stories and blurbs. Hey, he shrunk my shorts but they’re a much better fit. Not only this, but his personal machine can vigorously rid a manuscript of the most stubborn stains, or it can tumble the softest silk into an even smoother ream. As for fluff, he openly admits to being especially obsessed with cleaning that particular filter till it’s sparkling.
Cover design & Formatting.
Formatting the interior of the book is something which is more readily learnt if you have good basic computing skills. The cover, on the other hand can be a challenge. Homemade covers are fine if you have the right skills. The attention span of most people browsing for something to read is actually only a matter of seconds. Ideally, the book’s cover needs to sum up what the reader can expect to find on the inside. Trying to sell a book with the wrong cover is like working in a dry cleaners wearing dirty clothes. Image is everything. There may be a brilliant book inside that plain brown cover but we’ll never know because no one, not least your target audience, can be bothered to open it.
Do consider that your cover needs to work hard as a tiny thumbnail around the Internet. I didn’t. Anything dark or difficult to read will not do the job. If it looks poor and ill-thought out, readers will assume the same will apply to the writing inside.
I made mistakes with all of mine, they were far too subtle. Virtually everyone would say ‘Yes… very nice, but what’s it about?’
Then I met Jane Dixon-Smith.
Working with someone who knows exactly what independent authors are faced with, makes the process so much easier. Many self-published authors write books which cross genres, and although my novels are often labelled as romance, I was anxious not to portray the softer side of this genre, that meant no pastel colours or smiling happy people. In fact, I didn’t really want faces or figures at all, but I studied the market with a more critical eye and put personal feelings to one side. In collaboration with Jane, we went for a more commercial look which not only increased the readership but started to form a brand as well. Another important plus: my books were more readily accepted for promotions on advertising sites.
Your cover is part of your story, and deserves the same thought and effort. That old idiom, about not judging a book by it’s cover, is wrong.
Read more about the process here:
Websites & Social Marketing Platforms.
A good-looking simple website with easy access to the books you want to sell is the single, most important piece of advertising you can do. It is your hub, your shop window to the world. If someone wants to find you or one of your books, the first thing they do is hit Google. Links to your blog, Facebook- Author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and so on, all those social networking sites are worth adding, and it pays to use all of them.
Simple, clean and fresh always works. I can’t imagine anyone searching for your books will be interested in cats dancing round the edge or fish swimming up and down the sides, but maybe that’s just me. If someone really hates cats, they might, just might… look elsewhere. Are you selling your books or telling everyone you like cats? I’m always turned off by those sites that look hugely complicated, books revolving at a rate of knots, tiny writing, too many badges, too much everything!
Hanging Out to Dry.
So, assuming you don’t have any of these editing and design skills, all of this is going to cost. Of course it will! You’re asking someone with professional credentials to spend time working on your product; those jobs which used to be down to the agent and the publisher.
‘Oh no!’ I hear you cry, ‘It’s free to publish. All you do, is upload a file from your computer, it’s really easy! If you have a problem along the way with any of this process, there are plenty of experts to help you on Facebook and Twitter.’
All true, of course, but if you want a fully functioning product, please read the instruction manual first.
Interview by Helen Corner, founder of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.
We ran an internal competition recently that invited our authors and the public to vote for their favourite self-published book, based on a sentence blurb and the jacket. There were a flurry of votes as the deadline drew near, and three out of the 50 authors who entered were almost neck and neck. In the end, the winner was Jan Ruth for Wild Water. It was great to see how these savvy authors spread the word via twitter, emails, blogs and local word-of-mouth to garner support. It goes to show that apart from being a good read, marketing your own book is an essential part of being published. Have a look at Jan’s journey to self-publication:
Congratulations! What inspired you to write Wild Water? Is this your first book?
I wanted to write a book about infidelity where the man is the wronged party and the main voice of the story, and I wanted to write about the Welsh landscape; make it function almost as a character in its own right. Wild Water is my second novel. My very first book (25 years ago) went to a London agent trying to set up her own project, publishing love stories with a difference but it never got off the ground because of finances.
How did you find the writing process?
Until I get the main guts of the story down I am consumed by the process really, to the exclusion of everything else. Husband could quite likely come home and find dinner in a burnt out pan in the garden!
Did you submit to agents and publishers? What led you to self-publish?
Yes I did the usual route with agents, and with Wild Water I was lucky enough to get Jane Judd on my side, who then referred me to Cornerstones. After some tweaking with the original script we were ready to go but unfortunately Jane failed to place it with a publisher because ‘it fell between two genres and didn’t quite fit anyone’s list’. So it sat in a drawer for twelve years. My son alerted me to the steady growth of Kindle, helped me with the technical details and set up a website.
How has the experience been so far?
The best part of self-publishing is being in control of the whole process and getting feedback from the paying public. And although I have a sales background, the marketing of something internet based is somewhat different to a physical book, and I am still learning. But then, I didn’t set out to write something commercial, just something readable.
As we’ve seen from our competition, every vote counts. How did you market this?
The advantage I had with Wild Water is the tremendous support I have locally. I talked to a lot of people about the book and the competition. Generally I find people will respect something sincere and will get behind you, especially if it champions where you live. Autumn 2011
The tragedy and comedy that is Jack’s life; secrets, lies and family ties. Jack Redman, estate agent to the Cheshire set. An unlikely hero, or someone to break all the rules? Wild water is the story of forty-something estate agent, Jack, who is stressed out not only by work, bills and the approach of Christmas but by the feeling that he and his wife, Patsy are growing apart. His misgivings prove founded when he discovers Patsy is having an affair, and is pregnant. At the same time as his marriage begins to collapse around him, he becomes reacquainted with his childhood sweetheart, Anna, whom he left for Patsy twenty-five years before. His feelings towards Anna reawaken, but will life and family conflicts conspire to keep them apart again?
Bookmuse Magazine: ‘You’ll enjoy this if you like: Nosing into other people’s lives, gossip and descriptions of the Welsh countryside. Avoid if you don’t like: Secrets, family difficulties, or you are going through a divorce. Ideal accompaniments: Wine and plenty of it, a big bubble bath, a cigarette if you are so inclined.’
Romance reviews Magazine: “Jan Ruth ruthlessly puts her hero through the grinder and God only knows how he retains his sanity. I’m literally breathless from reading this novel in one go in order to know Jack’s fate. Wild Water is a damn good read.“
Jaffareadstoo (top 500 Amazon reviewer): ‘The skilful manipulation of the story line and the author’s unique way of bringing her characters to life makes this one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time.’
Pan McMillan Books: “It has a good combination of humour and poignancy.The characters are well portrayed and Jan delves shrewdly into their make-up, gradually allowing their traits to become evident and appreciated.”
WINNER of the Cornerstones Literary Consultancy ‘Most Popular book’ Competition 2011. NOMINATED for the 2013 eFestival of Words Awards. FINALIST in the Wishing Shelf Awards 2015