The CAT manifesto of self-publishing: Content, Advice and Tenacity
I've been self-publishing for well over a year now, and it's fair to say that I haven't quite got the hang of it yet. Part of the problem is having little enough time to devote to my actual writing, let alone book promotion, but part of it is that I'm joyfully making it up as I go along. There are pros and cons to this approach.
It's low effort and you can pretty much do it lying down. Whilst cuddling a cat.
You don't have to worry about criticism of your work, because your audience will consist solely of supportive friends and relatives (thanks all!), and said cat.
You only have to do the things you want, and you can ignore the difficult stuff at your leisure. Essentially, you can model your behaviour on your cat.
Cons (and it's a big one):
If you don't approach writing and promoting your work in a commercial and professional way, then you'll never reach new readers and you won't actually sell any books.
There's a lot of really helpful information online about self-publishing, contacting agents (if you want to go that route), editing, working with bookbloggers and promotion. However, you have to do a fair amount of sifting to get to the good stuff. Now, as suggested by the above, I can't be arsed with that.
BUT I have done a little research. I'm also lucky enough to have an awesome directing and screenwriting friend (you can find his latest film "Elstree 1976" on Netflix in North America and here - it's ace) who has given me some excellent advice. I'm trying to learn from my mistakes, and those writers who are as lazy as me might find my current "CAT" action plan helpful as a place to start.
Make sure your work is up to scratch before you publish
Have I done this? Hells, no.
The first novel I self-published was in January 2015: "A Bargain in Silver", the first book in my four-book Solis Invicti series. I'm currently working on the last instalment, which is out early next year. It's been a two-year process that's improved my writing so dramatically that I cringe when I read sections of the first couple of novels. My husband still teases me mercilessly about the more unforgivable cliches, repeatedly suggesting that we should take next year's walking holiday in the Peaks of Ecstasy.
And here's the thing: I'm acutely aware that I've still got a long way to go. But that's actually progress in itself.
When I posted that first book on Amazon, I was living in a fantasy, my imagination running away from me with dreams of instant representation, international acclaim on the NYT bestseller list, book signings in Waterstones, maybe even a film deal. Because I was an arrogant, delusional asshole. What I really needed was someone experienced and impartial to take a look at the novel, tear it to pieces and tell me how to improve it. If I'd had that back then, I'm convinced that my writing would be better than it is now. But hey, the first series is always a throwaway, right?
So, for my next project, I'm going to read up on how to write properly. Harry Bingham's done a book about it and everything.
Then, before I even think about showing the manuscript to anyone else, I'm talking to these guys at Writer's Workshop (they also have loads of invaluable advice on their website). It's time to get serious, stop being precious about the text and start editing my novels for more than just typos. It'll hurt, but it'll be worth it.
Put in time (and money) to take advice on the industry from people who know it
Did I do this either? Nope, nope, nope.
Self-publishing is easy. You format your document, make a book cover (which, if you're me, you do shoddily with photos taken and edited on your phone*) and then upload it. Done, right?
So wrong. I need help.
Yes, I've self-published. Well done me. But my work's just going to sit there doing nothing unless I engage with the market. A big part of that is knowing who to approach and how. I've been lucky enough to engage with some wonderful bookbloggers through the Book Blogger List, but I still don't know how to do this promo stuff properly. So, with the help of David Gaughran and others, I'm going to learn.
Then, in March, I'm going to this shindig with my next book (it looks awesome):
*Yes, that's why my book covers are all different sizes. I suck at graphic design. You probably do too. Enter: Canva! Thanks to David Gaughran for the recommendation. I'm re-doing my book covers now...
Build up a body of work and don't stop writing
I must have managed to do this one, surely? Err... sort of.
It often seems as though self-publishing success is about reaching content critical mass. You have to keep writing, and writing, and writing, and then (if your writing is good enough) maybe you'll get a following. If enough people like your work, it'll snowball.
So keep writing your books, instead of constantly faffing about writing blogposts. Hmm.
...as always, the golden rule applies: don't be a dick.
Your readers are real people and, when it comes to bookbloggers, real people who are helping you out for free. They don't owe you anything (not even reviews), and neither do your social media followers or your website subscribers. You're trying to build goodwill, so don't piss people off.
I'd love to hear from other self-publishers with their dos and don'ts, so please get in touch!