What do I think about self-publishing?

I’ve recently been asked what I think about self-publishing, so I decided it blog about it. Everything I’m going to say now is ONLY my opinion, drawn from my experiences, and not the only opinion, or the only way of going about things.

I would always go for a traditional publisher ahead of self-publishing, when you don’t have a track record as an author. Publishers are still gatekeepers in terms of quality control and you learn a lot whilst you’re with them. There are, and have been, some fabulous successes in self-publishing, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. However, there are more good books out there than publishers able to publish them, so self-publishing would definitely be my second choice!

WebUphill All The Way2In fact, I have self-published a novel that’s now out of print, Uphill All the Way, plus a few novellas that began liFour togetherWhereTheHeartIs_Cover_KINDLEfe as magazine serials then became large print books for libraries and so I put them out there as a service to readers – some had seen those books on Amazon, but out of print, and asked me about them. These titles bring me in a useful sum each month.

Some authors, who used to have big audiences but went out of favour with publishers, now self-publish and make more money than they ever did when with a publisher. That’s a fact. If you have the audience already, self-publishing can work wonders.

But when you have no track record as a writer, or, at least, not a writer in the field in which you’re considering self-publishing, you do have to look at the whole situation.
i) You can choose Amazon KDP select, which means you can’t sell your book through other channels. It’s supposed to be beneficial because it means you can put a book up for free once in a while, which can cause a spike in sales in your other books, particularly if you put book 1 up free and everyone loves it so much they instantly download book 2. I only have Where the Heart Is on Select and it has never been borrowed but I have put it up for free once in a while and sometimes it has made my other sales go up a bit.

ii) However, the rest of my stuff is available on Smashwords, too, which means it goes onto all platforms,Β  and I get a useful sum from Smashwords once a quarter. I don’t feel the need to take the rest of my stuff away from Smashwords and put it on Select. For me, to have one sacrificial lamb is enough.

iii) I recommend that if you self-publish, you pay for a professional editor. Unedited work is painful to read and attracts a lot of negative reviews online. Avoid negative reviews if possible, although to have one or two is meant to show that your reviews are real and not just created by best friends.

iv) Ditto the cover. Get it done professionally.

v) Do the tutorial on Smashwords and Amazon (or just Amazon, if you go the KDP select way) and make sure your formatting is correct. Bad formatting also attracts a lot of negative reviews. This is a vexed area because even when you’ve got it right, the occasional reader will still say it turned out wrong on her particular tablet or ereader. Go figure.

vi) Or, like me, get someone else to do it, someone with experience. I was v lucky to have a friend who did it for me. I just supplied the text and got the covers done.

vii) Marketing – go for it, because nobody does it for you. Social media is especially useful and every reader expects every writer to have Twitter and Facebook accounts, and maybe LinkedIn, Pinterest and whatever looks as if it’s going to do you good. Look at Goodreads and their giveaways, also.

viii) Blog and website are indespensible. Get on other people’s blogs when you can, too, ditto book review sites. This is where social media comes in because you can see where other writers get interviews/posts/reviews and you can go on the same blog and check it out and ask if they’d do something with you. Some writers have put out so much stuff on their blog (E L James) that it has led to massive success (Fifty Shades). A small proportion, though.

ix) Give people your Twitter and Facebook names wherever possible (@suemoorcroft on Twitter, sue.moorcroft.3 on Facebook). Link everything together, ie have Twitter and Facebook ‘follow’ buttons on your website and blog. I’m just looking into having Pinterest buttons, too, although I’m weary of the whole necessity to do so.

x) Educate yourself. Go to writers’ conventions, network, do workshops, get information out of others.

xi) Hit on local newspapers, local radio. Send press releases. If you can get national, then do so, obviously! But remember that ‘author writes book’ isn’t a story. You need more than that. ‘Author writes book while being held hostage by pirates’ will gain more interest.

Lots of the above applies whether you traditionally publish or self publish. It’s promo promo promo and then, after that, promo!

Good luck.

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50 Comments

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50 responses to “What do I think about self-publishing?

  1. I feel exactly the same, Sue. When people like Annie B and Freda L put out previously published titles it’s fine, but I do worry about those who have been trying to go the trad route deciding to self publish. And I worry even more about those who self publish with a company (vanity publsihing? Surely not!) but don’t admit it, and say they’re “published by”. More money than sense, in my opinion, but then, I write for money, not perceived prestige.

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    • I write for money, as well as love. The lady sitting next to me at the Giant Book Fair at the RT Booklovers was evangelical in her views on leaving one’s traditional publisher and going down the self-published route and said she made much more money that way. Horses for courses. x

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  2. An interesting blog posting, Sue, with plenty of food for thought for published and unpublished alike.

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  3. At last! no nonsense advice on self-publishing by an author who has experience of traditional and non-tradition routes to publishing. Really helpful, thank you, Sue.

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  4. Gina

    I’m traditionally and self-pubbed. I sell nothing on Smashwords but do really well on KDP, although I’m not with Select because I’ve never yet heard a success story. I so agree with Sue that self-pubbers must have a professional editor, no question.
    At the end of the day, in spite of the fact you earn more money self-pubbing, I’d much rather go with a trad publisher – that’s just me.

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  5. I totally agree. I’ve written a YA book which I know needs a LOT of work before it’s anywhere near being ready to be published but people ask me all the time why I don’t just self-Publish it (it’s so easy right, everyone does it!!??). It drives me mad. In my opinion, if my finished manuscript doesn’t get picked up by a traditional publisher then I have no business putting it out there because it’s clearly not good enough. I know that’s not the same for everyone, but I think it is for debut writers who are just learning their craft.

    Great post, thanks!

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  6. Excellent post, Sue, and thank you for sharing your advice. Certainly food for thought. I’ve never dismissed self-publishing as an option, but I do believe that having a track record with a traditional publisher already gives the author a greater chance of it being a success.

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  7. Great post, Sue. I was asked about this recently too and have experience of both. Publishers/Agents felt my first novel was well written and had some great identifiable characters, but they also felt it would be a difficult book to market. It didn’t slot into one particular genre quite a smoothly as they’d have liked. So rather than have it languishing in a drawer, when I was offered the chance to partnership publish the book instead, I thought why not? Thankfully, any concerns proved unfounded as readers are still buying and enjoying it to this day. However, that’s not to say I didn’t take such feedback on board; as a first time novelist I felt it important to gain as much knowledge as I could both about the industry and my craft. Which is probably why my second novel is, indeed, being traditionally published.

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    • Thanks, Suzie. Interesting. I’ve heard of other authors who have self-published first, and then gone the trad route. Maybe if they have a success with their s-p book it makes them look more attractive to a trad publisher?

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  8. Helen Rolfe

    Really enjoyed this blog…a good, no nonsense account of self publishing and when it can work for authors. Helen.

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  9. Yes, I can see the point in self-pubbing if you’ve already got a track record or if your manuscript is at the point where everyone in the industry is loving it, but it doesn’t quite fit into their marketing plans or genre preferences or whatever. The ones that self-publish because their book has been turned down absolutely everywhere without apology, or who have just dashed off a book-length piece of work and think it ought to be out there – those are the ones I worry about.
    But, as you say, horses for courses. If there’s a book inside of everyone, then there’s a reader for every book that’s written.

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  10. Kathryn Freeman

    Lovely clear post with invaluable advice. Thank you. Friends asked me why I didn’t self publish. While I didn’t dismiss the idea, I felt it was important that somebody other than me (someone unbiased and with experience) believed that the book was worth publishing.

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  11. Reblogged this on oldvictorianquill and commented:
    Great blog article by Sue Moorcroft on Self-Publishing

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  12. I’ve read so many features/blogs about ‘how to self-publish’,but found this one of the most useful and constructive. I really appreciated hearing your honest opinion too.

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    • Thanks, Tracy. I don’t think that there are cut and dried answers to anything, in a writing career. You have to look at the options and choose one. (Close eyes and stick in a pin … ;-)) x

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  13. A well-thought out assessment of self-publishing, Sue. As a recently self-published author I can vouch for every word. Encouraged by the other three New Romantics 4, I decided to go along that route, because 1. no one I submitted my work to, told me I couldn’t write whether it was an editor or my assessor on the RNA New Writers’ Scheme, 2. I wanted to see at least one of my novels out there before I died, particularly the one I published which didn’t fit neatly into a category that’s easy to place.

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  14. Very interesting, Sue, so thank you for that. I’ve gone down the self publishing route for my short story collections but wouldn’t have done so without considerable technical help from Richard, my computer journalist son. My eBooks haven’t set the world on fire yet, but I’ve had some very favourable feedback.

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  15. I have to agree with your advice, Sue. Great advice, in fact!

    I know self-publishing is an option, but I think it’s certainly more successful for those already established as authors. And for me, I would like a publisher to invest in me, so that I get some sort of peace of mind that I *can* write. lol!

    You’ve reminded me I have “Where The Heart Is” to read on my Kindle, too πŸ˜€

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  16. Sarah Hooton

    Thank you, Sue, for such a great post. Lots of super information. I have just finished my first novel and am constantly asked by friends and relatives why I don’t self-publish. I now have very good answers for them! And I sound like I know what I’m talking about too. Thank you for sharing. Great advice.

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  17. Well said, Sue. I am so glad s-pub wasn’t available when I was in my rejection years, as I might have been tempted. Now, I know that those novels weren’t good enough and I’ve no intention of putting them out there now that I can.

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  18. Thanks very much for this post, Sue. I was about to embark on e-publishing my collection of poems for teens but your extremely helpful insights have made me stop and think again about whether it really is the right thing for me to do. I certainly have many doubts about going over to the “dark side”!

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  19. This was an interesting post, Sue and an interesting follow-up discussion. I think it brings to focus the fact that there are now a range of methods for getting one’s work to readers than the traditional publishing route alone. My guess is that the sense of them being rival camps will blur soon and I’m interested to see that you are using both methods.

    One thing I would like to point out is that there is a difference between Kindle Direct Publishing and Kindle Select. If you choose not to opt for Select you can still publish your book on all channels either through Smashwords or directly with outlets such as Nook, Apple and Kobo. I don’t use Select any more because it restricted me. ‘Artful’, the one book I put on Select, had 1,000 free downloads but I began to wonder how many people were actually reading it. So I took it off and will now offer it through Smashwords.

    I agree about the importance of proper editing (mind you I’m reading a traditionally published novel at the moment which is riddled with errors) and with making sure that your novel is as good as it can possibly be before you ask people to buy it.

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  20. Rosie Dean

    An excellent, well-balanced article.

    For the yet-to-be published it’s extremely tough out there, and if the route chosen is self-publishing then paying a professional editor and a graphic designer is essential. Like any business, if you’re going to do a job well, do it properly.

    If somebody genuinely wants their work read and they want to earn a living from it, it should be considered as a commercial investment. Otherwise, it’s a hobby, and few people make a living from their hobbies.

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  21. Glad you posted this Sue, and I agree completely. I have some stories in anthologies that are available as e.books, but for publishing a novel, I would rather wait until a publisher or agent likes my work enough to publish a book, then if it was made into an e.book as well fine. Proper publishing and proper books all the way for me.

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  22. Thank you for a sensible and balanced post. We are fortunate to live in times where so many options are open to us, Sue. Editing, an attractive and effective cover and blurb are essential for any book attempting to get out on the market, whether it’s through mainstream, self or assisted publishing.

    Like Martin I’ve noticed poor editing and atrocious covers in every type of publishing. The better self-publishers invest in themselves to bring a good product to market; for the not so good the result will be disappointing.

    Rivalry and disrespecting never gets anybody anywhere. In our examination of the hows and whys, it would be a shame to forget the end-user. All the reader wants is a gripping story in a readable format. And they don’t care how the book was published, only that it was, and that they’ve found it.

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  23. Pingback: In Conversation with: Sue Moorcroft | Vulpes Libris

  24. Very helpful advice in your post Sue πŸ™‚ I’m about to self-publish with Kindle & Smashwords – ideally I think we would all like to be traditionally published, but I think self-publishing is a great way to ‘cut your teeth’ in the publishing industry. I’ve learned so much about the process (working with a designer and an editor, marketing the book on social media etc), all things I would have gladly left to a publishing company, but now I’m so glad to have had that learning experience. And I agree, I think publishers want to see that you already have a fan base for your writing before taking the risk.

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