The two most frequent questions people have asked since I started writing are “Why do you want to be self-published author?” and “How do you go about being one?”
I’ll deal with the Why? question in a later blog, but as I have just uploaded my second novel to Amazon, and the process is fresh in my head, its a good time to answer the How do you?query
Stripped to essentials, there are two processes a writer must consider.
Creation: Writing, revising and assessing your work.
By which I mean all the steps involved in refining your raw product and putting it into a package accessible to your reader.
Step One: Write your Manuscript
Get the words down on paper. I’ve spoken to writers who fret about issues and forget that they’ve yet to complete the book. This is called evasion, and we’re all guilty of it. Once you have a first draft you can work on it - edit it, revise it, cut it and amend it. It pays, right from the start, to use the features in Word to help with formatting your document. If, for example, all chapter headings are set as Heading 1, it becomes much easier further down the track, to create a table of contents. Indentation, line spacing and font will be consistent throughout the document which will save time later. Most of the assessors, agents, proof readers etc that I have encountered accept digital material. Many won’t accept anything else, so formatting is particularly important.
The first draft of the manuscript is going to be a rough, unpolished work. The NZ Society of Authors is an excellent resource for new writers, and they list a number of experienced manuscript assessors on their website. An assessor will give you a comprehensive report about your work, detailing its strengths and weaknesses. If you are lucky your MS will return covered with a smallpox infection of red ink notes. It would be hard to overestimate the value of this feedback and the clarity it can bring to the editing process. I hired two assessors. The first to give me an initial overview of the manuscript. After I had worked with their suggestions I used another assessor to look at the amended document. With my second book I used the same assessors and simultaneously sent both the first draft for their comments. The value of this two pronged approach?:
i Each assessor views the MS and makes independent judgements.
ii When two assessors share a criticism, it red flags the issue as a critical fix. Usually it confirms a niggle working away at the back of my own brain that I haven’t completely formulated.
iii When they disagree, I feel free to consider their views, but ultimately make my own decisions. For example, one reviewer of Helen Had A Sister (now Princess of Sparta) advised getting rid of the prologue as it gave away too much of the plot, and they saw it as sloppy writing. The second assessor embraced the prologue, saying it drew them directly into the novel. I considered their advice, kept the prologue, but in a refined format.
iv. Time and Distance: The time that elapses as assessors read and evaluate a work means the writer is able to start work on a new project and removes them from the immediacy of the MS just finished. It is hard to let go, but necessary. Otherwise you can end up with a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees.
Finally, get your MS proofread by a professional. However hard you try to proof read it yourself, you will inevitably miss errors.
At the end of this revision, assessment and review process, you will have a finished MS. Now you have to decide what to do with it.
Step Two: Production
I’m all for the purity of art for art’s sake, but unless you’ve written your manuscript for your own amusement intending to file it in a bottom drawer, you now have to make some commercial decisions. If you elect to self publish there are many routes to choose from. In my case I knew from the beginning I was going to publish an e-book. I reasoned this was the best way for a writer from provincial New Zealand to reach an international audience. Amazon and Smashwords both offer simple means of achieving this. Meet their requirements, upload your MS to their site, and your work is on line for the reader to buy. It makes the process very easy. But be cautious before you press the upload button. You want to end up with a polished product, and to do so is going to involve learning new skills.
Be aware that self publishing means you will not have the resources available that a major publication house can offer. You are going to have to provide them for yourself. At a minimum you will need to consider: Cover design, book design, proof reading and editing. You may want your book to be illustrated, have a photographic element or a list of References and Addendums. Some of these are skills the writer can learn – others are best left to experienced professionals whom you will need to hire. There are an increasing number of skilled people eager to operate in a free-lance capacity and assist independent writers. Look around, ask around and research the internet to find them. The advantage of the world wide web is that these professionals don’t need to be in New Zealand. The covers for both The Lost One and Helen Had A Sister were designed by an artist operating in Bulgaria.
Once the manuscript is ready and you’re certain that it is looking good, all you have to do is go to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (kdp), open an author account, follow the instructions, and upload your file.
I have used Smashwords, but experience has shown I have had better sales for my work through Amazon.com and by using their Kdp select programme I get better publicity and marketing assistance.
Amazon, through their company Createspace also offer a print on demand (POD) service. Again, open an author account and upload your manuscript. Both kdp and Createspace have built in compliance checkers to ensure the upload meets their requirements. You can preview your uploaded work online and ensure it is correct. If you want to make changes you can, then upload the document again. Createspace will send you a paperback proof copy (if you order it) so that you can proof the work and ensure the finished article meets your expectations.
The Amazon site will list your book in both e-book or hard copy formats for purchase by readers, and will make online reports of sales and royalties available to you. I was thrilled to see the countries where my book was being read. How magical it is to discover people in Brazil, India and Spain are all reading my work.
When I launched The Lost One, I issued the Kindle version first, and uploaded the book to Createspace three months later. With my second venture, Princess of Sparta, I’ve uploaded both the kindle and Createspace versions simultaneously. Initially I assumed most people used e-readers these days, but I've been surprised by the number of readers who prefer to have a paperback. Having a hardcopy version has also allowed me to sell my work to local bookshops, have it available in the public library system and has helped my publicity efforts.
There are of course many other methods of self-publishing - independent printers, small publishing houses to name only a couple of options. In this blog I've only described what is working for me. If you have tried other methods, or if I can answer any questions, please drop me a line.