Up to this point of my writing ‘career’ (maybe that’s a laughable term but I’ll use it with a measure of dignity anyway), I have solely focused my efforts on getting published the traditional way: through an agent and a print publisher. Recently, however, I’ve started considering other options – specifically, going down the route of self-publishing. With this in mind, I decided to sign up to the Self-Publishing Day hosted by the Irish Writers’ Centre, which took place on Saturday 31st January.
This was definitely a good decision. There was such a wealth of information provided to the attendees on the day that, 24 hours later, my head is still buzzing from it all. The speakers answered so many questions that had been floating around in my brain, as well as supplying the answers to many, many, many more questions that I had not even thought of. The latter part was a little daunting as I quickly realised how much there was to self-publishing that I had never considered before!
The first speaker was Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of writing.ie and The Inkwell Group. She began the day with some general discussion on self-publishing: various avenues you can take, costs you can expect, companies you should avoid, etc. During the course of her talk, she provided some interesting tips on giving your book away for free. My instant reaction, naturally, was why would I give my precious book away for free after the months and years of work I’ve put into it??? She made a great point, however, when she said that giving your book away for free is the most likely pathway to getting people to read it, review it and hopefully recommend it to others. On Amazon, free sales are still sales and they will push your book higher in the rankings. This will get it into a better position for more people to see it and maybe then you might be able to put a price on it. Clever thinking.
Up next was Robert Doran, editorial director of Kazoo Independent Publishing Services, a company which helps self-publishers get their books through the publishing process to both digital and print. He was there to talk about editing which, it soon became apparent, is not a single operation but a three-step procedure. First there is developmental or structural editing, which is an overall appraisal of the book in terms of plot, characterisation, pace, points of view and suchlike. Then there is copyediting, which concentrates on details such as consistency, repetition, grammar and factual accuracy to a more minute degree. Finally, there is the proofreading stage, which is there to catch the errors that might have slipped through the first couple of phases. Looking at these three separate levels, I’ve realised that when I reach the editing stage of my own work I try to do all of this at once. It absolutely makes sense to take one aspect at a time or, better yet, get three professionals to do them for you because they will see things that your own eyes won’t. (That is going to cost though.)
Anne-Marie Scully of Orchard Wall Publishing then spoke on the topic which I was most eager to hear about: digital book marketing strategies. After all, it’s all very well to get your book up on Amazon, but what’s the point of that if the people you want reading it don’t see it? According to Anne-Marie, half the battle is understanding how readers come across the books they buy and trying to ensure that your book is visible to them at various points along that path. There was a good deal of talk about advertising on platforms such as Google AdWords, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and I learned plenty about mind-boggling things such as charging per impressions, charging per clicks, using keywords and only using one question mark in an ad! Again, there are costs involved (at this point I’m thinking it might be worth purchasing a lottery ticket) but online advertising is definitely cheaper and more flexible than the traditional kind.
The last part of the day was a sort of round-the-table discussion with Vanessa, Robert and two actual, real-life, honest-to-goodness self-published authors, Emily Evans and Catherine Ryan Howard. It was great to hear the perspective of writers who had gone through the self-publishing process (and survived!) and both were more than willing to share their experiences on what you should and shouldn’t do. One surprising thing that came up was the importance of the book cover, something which I honestly had never given any thought to – after all, aren’t we supposed to not judge a book by its cover? But it seems the cover is more important than you’d think: Emily changed the cover on her book and its sales subsequently doubled, while Catherine found that the cover she really liked for one of her books was misleading because readers didn’t realise it was actually a fiction book. Gaining this kind of insight is truly invaluable and I gobbled up everything they said, figuratively speaking (if I thought that literal gobbling would get me places I would indeed eat the pages I wrote my notes on). In fact, Catherine was so funny and compelling that I have since signed up to her newsletter and purchased her book Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide To Self-Publishing from Amazon. That’s good marketing right there.
One thing that greatly appealed to me in all the discussion was how much you are in control of your own book when you are a self-publisher. The joy of being able to have the final decision on all aspects of producing the book, from content to cover to price, is very enticing. But then you have to balance that out with the practical point of how much do I actually know about all that and shouldn’t I consider the fact that someone else might have a more informed opinion and be better placed to make some of those decisions? So it might not be a bad idea to budget for help from at least some quarter, perhaps a copyeditor or a cover designer – people with skills and experience to help make your book the best it can be.
Throughout the day, I really felt inspired by everything I heard. I have read and researched enough about this industry to have a realistic outlook on publishing but I do have to say that all the speakers were thoroughly engaging and encouraging and I’m sure the other 50 or so people at the event would agree. So it seems I have some decisions to make about what I want to do next. Oh, and I’d better purchase that lottery ticket too.