Unless you live in a very small hole, way underground, it has probably not escaped your notice that it is Titanic centenary week! Although for self-confessed ‘Titanoraks’ like myself, the fascination with Titanic never went away, I am certain that by the end of this week, Titanic will have a whole new legion of admirers who are spell-bound by her story and by the incredible accounts of survivors and family who lost loved ones on that tragic, April night.
For me, the Titanic centenary has been much more than a passing observation in an event I have been fascinated with since a child; it has presented me with an opportunity to self-publish and promote my novel The Girl Who Came Home, which I simply could not ignore. For months and months I wondered: could I self-publish? Should I self-publish? With a Titanic novel in my hand and a huge media event staring me in the face, there was really only one answer to my questions: Yes, I could and I should. So, how did I do it and how have I found the self-publishing experience? Here are my tips and observations (so far).
1) Before you self-publish, speak to people who have already done it. They can offer invaluable advice – not only in terms of preparing your manuscript correctly and navigating the technical side of the process (which is actually quite straightforward), but in terms of the ‘softer’ elements of the experience: potential pitfalls, tips for promotion using Twitter links like @kindle_promo, setting your pricing and utilising the KDP Select free download days.
2) Spend time thinking about your cover and get it professionally designed. I knew the cover of my book had the potential to be very strong: the image of Titanic alone generates an emotional response in many people. By researching carefully, I was given permission from an artist to use one of his paintings for the cover. This was the starting point from which Andrew Brown at Design for Writers created the amazing cover, which perfectly captures the look and feel I wanted.
3) Be prepared to put in a lot of hard work. Pressing ‘Publish’ may feel as momentous as stepping onto the moon, but that’s when the hard work is only just beginning. Without well-timed, well-planned publicity, your book may never get noticed. I have used my blog page, Twitter, relevant LinkedIn Groups, relevant Facebook Groups and sites such as Goodreads to help get the book noticed initially.
4) To free download, or not to free download? In the first two weeks of publication, The Girl Who Came Home was selling about 15 copies a day. On the free download day, it had 21,000 downloads and entered the Kindle charts. The day after the free download day, it sold 400 copies and is now selling over 1,000 copies a day. For me, the free day was all about visibility and getting the word out there.
5) Help people to find your book by linking to the page wherever you refer to it and help them to also download your book. Free Kindle reading apps are available to download for PC, iPad, iPhone, Android and many other devices. The full list, and download links, are available on The Kindle Store. If my mother-in-law can figure it out, anyone can!
6) Be prepared to become addicted to checking your download stats. Through the Amazon DTPdashboard, you get real-time download and royalty figures. When you’re having a good sales day, this can be more exciting than watching the Eurovision results come in!
7) Know your target market and tap into any available media opportunities relevant to your book’s subject matter. With my novel, I knew I had a massive opportunity to write press articles about Titanic which would allow me to promote the book as a by-line. I was also invited to appear on The Morning Show during their Titanic week.
8) Use your social media contacts. Although nobody likes relentless self-promotion, I don’t think anyone begrudges a little pom-pom waving every now and again – and if you can get your friends to do it for you, all the better! My social media contacts have certainly helped to push the book sales in the US and Australia as well as Ireland and the UK.
9) Develop a thick skin. Of course, it is a wonderful feeling when a total stranger in California leaves a 5 star review or emails you personally to tell you how much they adored your book, but it is hard to read a negative review. Of course, you can never explain to a reader the commitment and sacrifice that went into your book – and everyone is entitled to their opinion, right – but if I can emphasise one thing here, it would be to expect the highs to feel amazing and the lows to feel bloody awful. Have a jaffa cake, and move on.
10)Remember that, although your family and friends are very happy for you, and extremely supportive of your self-publishing endeavours, they also like it when you talk about other things and cook the occasional meal for them.
11)Above all else, remind yourself, often, why you wrote the book in the first place. It is easy to forget this amongst the job of promotion and checking stats and giving interviews and writing articles.
For me, writing a book about Titanic was a very long held ambition and the centenary year gave me the perfect opportunity to take the leap of faith and put my work out there. I am so passionate about my subject matter that it still brings tears to my eyes when I watch a documentary or read a well-written article about the event. Of course I want The Girl Who Came Home to be successful; of course I want my words and my characters to be loved and of course I hope that my next book will be snapped up by a publisher! But, for now, I am happy to know that I wrote a book I am very proud of, about an incredible ship and the 2,228 people who sailed on her. May we never forget them.