I know it’s a cliché but there is a more than a touch of madness that drives self-published authors. Can you imagine interviewing for the position?
“Hello there. Thank you for coming. Please sit down. Would you like a drink? No? Okay, then I guess we should get started. I wanted to have a chat because I’ve a position I believe will be of interest.
“It’s in the creative industry. It’s freelance, but I know that won’t scare you off, and while nothing’s guaranteed there are people who’ve taken on similar positions that are now millionaires.
“What does it involve? That’s a good question. You’ll need to invest hundreds of hours without pay – writing, mostly – to produce a product you’re unsure whether people will buy or not.
“The best thing about this role is you get to make things up for a living. No, it’s not marketing, although marketing skills will be needed at some point. Oh, I forgot to mention one other thing. To ensure your product has the best possible chance of being a success, you’ll need to invest your own money on freelance experts – editors, cover designers, proofreaders and so on – so your product meets the professional standards your customers expect.
“I can see you’re not convinced, so now’s probably not the best time to mention you’ll also need to spend hours building your presence on social media, contacting book reviewers and book clubs, and then there’s the advertising costs on top of everything. Oh, and one of the best ways to get yourself noticed is to give your first product away for free.
“No, please don’t get up. Hello? Hello…?”
When I was young I loved to write. I wrote short stories, poetry and won a number of competitions for my work. What I hadn’t learnt, though, was the most important writing lesson of all, application. So over time other, easier activities captured my attention and my passion for writing drifted away.
Roll on more years than I care to think about and my mind came back to writing. By this point, I’d learnt the value of hard work and had run large and complex projects across a number of countries. The thought of writing a book no longer fazed me. And even though I’d stopped writing long before, I’d continued to be a voracious reader. I’d never lost my love for words.
When an opportunity arose to take voluntary redundancy, I decided it was going to be now or never, so I took the money and left the company I’d worked at for twenty-five years. I told one of my soon to be ex-work colleagues that all I need to do was sell between eight to ten thousand books a year and I’d be happy. Oh, those sunny, happy days before the realities of self-publishing came crashing in.
During the following year my first novel, Second Chance, took shape. The same ex-colleague asked me what it would be about. “Oh,” I said, “just whether the current democratic system can meet the long-term challenges facing humanity, and whether you can truly live forever, and if so how?”
“Starting with the easy stuff then,” he replied.
I’ve been lucky in a number of ways. I started writing a book as a challenge to myself while I spent time looking after my youngest son, and it was only through the encouragement of an editor friend that I decided to publish. I started looking for an agent but realised very quickly that that process wasn’t for me. I hated the loss of control as soon as I sent a query off. I’d worked for years where my success was down to myself and no-one else, so handing control over felt wrong. There are many great reasons to look to get published through a publisher, but as soon as I heard of self-publishing I knew that was the route for me.
I won’t say it’s been easy and I’ve made many mistakes. Authors often talk about their books as their children, having to love and nurture them before letting them go. I see self-publishing being similar to having your first baby. You can read up as much as you want, but you cannot comprehend what it truly means unless you do it.
If I had advice to anybody starting out and thinking of self-publishing it would be to treat it seriously. If you’re expecting somebody to part with their hard-earned money for your book, make sure you’ve done your absolute best to produce a quality piece of work.
My second piece of advice would be that you can’t please everyone. There will be people who don’t like your book. It’s not personal, just a matter of a different tastes. If you ever feel down after reading a review, look up To Kill A Mockingbird on Amazon and read the one-star reviews. If some people can hate this well-respected novel, they are allowed to hate yours too.
My last piece of advice is to view self-publishing as a long game. Yes, some authors have struck lucky with their debut novels, but then some gamblers win the lottery with their first ever ticket. For the rest of us mere mortals, the key to success is to publish high-quality books on a regular basis and gradually build your audience. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s more than worth it.