Why I Self-Published and What I’ve Learnt by Vicky Newham

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izzie harper

Vicky Newham

It’s now a little over six months since I self-published the first in my new cozy mystery series and it’s therefore a good time to reflect on how it’s gone and whether reality has matched expectation. I published the second book in March and am editing the third for publication in July.

First, though, I’ll say why I wanted to go indie with this series. Before I do that, I’ll very briefly explain my backstory. My first novel was traditionally published. It was acquired, and optioned for TV, but didn’t sell as hoped and, before the second in the series was published, my editor said they didn’t want to continue beyond the contracted second book. My agent said it would be difficult for me to get another publishing deal as I now had “bad track”. So, I was left feeling my writing career was over … after one book. And I faced hard choices.

We then slid into the pandemic and lockdowns. I’d been interested in self-publishing since 2012 and, the more I thought about the things that bothered me about traditional publishing, the more the former appealed. During lockdown, I began learning about digital marketing. Then I started writing a cozy mystery novel. Unfortunately, life, finances and health intervened, and I didn’t finish it. But last July, I made an on-the-morning decision to drive up to Theakston’s crime writing festival in Harrogate (from Kent!) and I’m so glad I did because something clicked and made me decide to finish the book and self-publish it. I came home, re-started the story, finished it, rewrote it several times, got it edited and proofread, formatted it and published it in November 2022.

When I made that decision at Harrogate, I chose self-publishing because I wanted:

  1. Higher royalty payments on my books.
  2. More control over what I write and how I write it.
  3. To be able to write and publish more quickly than a lot of traditional publishing allows.
  4. More control over the marketing of my books, including pricing and positioning.
  5. To cut out gatekeepers such as agents and publishers.
  6. Greater access to sales data.

Most of all, I wanted to see if I could earn a living from writing. I knew I’d need to spend a lot of time marketing, and I was OK with that. I simply wanted the marketing to be done.

christmas carolsSo, how have each of the above factors gone? Do I regret my decision? Absolutely not. Many things are very different from when you have a publisher – but I expected this. One of the main benefits is being able to set my own publishing schedule. With the first book I needed to figure out how long each stage would take. I also had to source professionals to do editing, proofreading, cover design and more. I loved doing edits with my publisher but always found it frustrating that they took so long. As an indie, once you’ve got your dates in place, you can book work in, and you get it back quickly. My cozy mysteries are 55k words and it means I can write and publish one roughly every four months. This keeps me busy, and is hard work, but it’s manageable and worth it.

The data available on the KDP dashboard was a real eye opener. Hourly sales figures on royalties earned and units sold according to format, price, title and country. And pre-order numbers. This is incredibly useful as you can test marketing factors and observe the effects.

The chief benefit though is the difference in royalties. Amazon KDP (I only sell on Amazon at the moment) offers two tiers, 35% for books priced under $2.99 and 70% for books $2.99 and over. It’s 60% for paperbacks. You get paid monthly, 60 days after the end of the month in which the sale is reported. In other words, you wait 2-3 months. The delay isn’t great, but the higher royalty rate makes up for it in my view.

Regarding marketing, the courses I studied in lockdown have helped a lot. I’d also bought a course on advertising for authors several years ago, and as it’s updated regularly, I jumped in. It does take a lot of time to figure out the ever-changing platforms and to learn what works, but I really enjoy that side and find it fascinating. It also takes time to set up, monitor and optimise all your ads. But you know it’s done.

I haven’t followed regular marketing advice. It’s usually to write 3-4 books in a series and release them quickly (by keeping them all back until they’re ready) and to only advertise the first in the series. Most people say you can’t make a profit doing paid advertising on one book. I decided to experiment with that to see if I could make it work. I ran paid advertising on my first book’s pre-order and continued to advertise it when it was published. I did my sums regularly to make sure my ads were profitable. I’ve just done my sums for the six months I’ve been self-publishing. My return on ad spend (ROAS) is 2.41 which means my advertising has been very profitable, and I’m really happy with that.

I didn’t submit my new series to any agents or publishers, so I’m enjoying finding out from readers what they like. I also enjoy deciding on titles, cover design etc. It takes research – and time – but it’s fun. And the knowledge is empowering.

In terms of what I’ve learnt, nothing has been too much of a surprise, maybe because I’ve been accruing knowledge for a while. There are aspects I enjoy and can do more easily than others, but I expected that. A lot of things have been confirmed eg. how time-consuming marketing is. But I’m grateful that I can do it because it makes all the difference.

In conclusion, by self-publishing, I’ve managed to re-launch my writing career, to take control, and to make my “bad track” largely irrelevant. I’m so pleased I did it. It’s glorious to be back writing and publishing.

My advice to anyone considering self-publishing would be to:

  1. Be honest with yourself about what you want and need from writing.
  2. Consider your financial situation carefully, including income and capital.
  3. Consider whether you’re prepared to spend time and money learning how to market – and doing it.

(c) Vicky Newham

Vicky Newham’s cozy mystery series is The Wootton Windmill Mysteries and she writes the books under the pen-name Izzie Harper. You can find her on Twitter @VickyNewham.

About Murder in the Bluebell Woods:

Murder in the Bluebell WoodsA death at a village wedding. A stolen bow and arrow. Three women sleuths.

Spring has arrived in Lower Wootton and Ellie Blix’s cleaning customers have started cancelling. Then, at a wedding at the old folly in the woods, she finds her friend Tracy’s husband dead, an arrow in his back.

All the evidence points to Tracy. Distraught, she asks Ellie to find out what happened and clear her name. But now that Ellie is finally back on cordial terms with her detective inspector ex-husband, she must decide if she is prepared to jeopardise their relationship by sleuthing again.

When Ellie learns that two trusted locals have been acting suspiciously, she cannot rest. The Blix women – mother, daughter and mother-in-law – vow to find the murderer before tragedy strikes again.

Then Ellie receives a death threat and it’s clear that her sleuthing could cost her everything.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Izzie Harper lives on the south coast of England with her cockerpoo dog, where she splits her time between writing and teaching. She blames her lifelong love affair with mysteries on the Enid Blyton books which she sneaked under the covers as a child and read by torchlight, and the Agatha Christie novels which she’s read and re-read since her teens. Her innate curiosity and over-active imagination create a constant supply of story ideas.
The Wootton Windmill Mysteries are set in a fictional Kent village near where she lives. The windmill, where the protagonists live, was inspired by the one a few miles from Izzie’s house.
Izzie Harper is the cozy mystery pen name of crime fiction author, Vicky Newham. More info here: https://www.vickynewham.com/

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