The ‘Getting Published’ Advice I Wish I’d Listened To

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

As you may know, I’ve led many a ‘how to self-publish your book’ seminar in my time. The first few times I did it, I’d sit down at my desk to start putting together my PowerPoint presentation and despair that I only had 90 minutes or however long to squeeze in everything I needed to tell the group about how to self-publish successfully. After I did a few of them, I realised that the best approach was not to aim to tell them everything about self-publishing, but to tell them everything they needed to know in order to start, and start off on the right foot. Those are two very different things.

So I stopped talking about making and selling print-on-demand paperbacks with the likes of CreateSpace and Lulu. Instead I advised that they treat the e-book like a hardback, releasing that first, testing the waters, adapting their plan if need be, and then – if it went well – reinvesting the profits in their print edition. After years of this self-publishing lark, both doing it myself and watching others at it, I think now that this is the best approach. It’s logical, it’s risk-averse and it keeps it simple. But during the Q&A, someone would always ask something like, ‘What about Lightning Source?’ And I’d groan inwardly, because I’d be thinking to myself, Go home, finish your book, self-publish it as best as you possibly can in e-book – and then start worrying about Lightning Source. But not before.

I wish someone had said something similar to me when I was traipsing into Waterstone’s Cork every Saturday afternoon in the early 2000s, systemically working my way through their How To Write Books books section. I hadn’t finished my book – I hadn’t even started it – but I felt like it was really important I know exactly how much an agent’s commission was on translation rights before I even thought about putting put pen to paper. The proliferation of blogs and the constant, never-ending, information tsunami that is Twitter only made things worse. Much, much worse. Years later, when I finally got a clue and concentrated solely on the things I should be concentrating on, I finally learned that getting published is all about the book. So I finished my book. I signed with an agent. And then I got published.

But, but, BUT.

It’s easy to forget that information you think is common knowledge is not actually so. It’s just that you’ve known it for so long, you’ve forgotten you didn’t once. And starting out, I think you do need to know some things. So here is my absolutely bare bones, rock-bottom minimum place to start if you’re aspiring to see a book you wrote on the shelf. This is what I wish someone had said to me five, ten, fifteen years ago.

(Well, someone no doubt did say this to me. But boy, I wish that I had listened.)

Step 1: Write the Book

If I could go back in time and talk to Me From 2009, this is what I would tell her: do nothing else except sit down and write, and keep doing that until your book is finished.

Now, there’s loads you can to delay this. You can read stacks of how to write books books, you can attend workshops, you can hang around the writers’ water cooler on Twitter, you can blog about all the writing you plan on doing, you can play with Post-Its. But honestly, I think there’s only two things you need to do: read as much and as widely as you can, and put your arse in the chair in front of your computer. Honestly, you will never learn as much about how to write a book as you will from the act of actually sitting down and writing one. So go do that. First.

Step 2: Pick a path

Now comes the decision: to self-publish or try to get published? Well, no one can answer this question but you, so there’s really no point in asking me or anyone else.

What you can do is:

  • Research, so you know exactly what you’re getting into (and you can make a plan)
  • Set yourself a deadline

It’s possible that your book will decide for you. It might be very short, too short for a traditional publishing house. Or it might be about something that means time is of the essence, and you need to publish it now. For instance, last year you might have written something about the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising here in Ireland that really needed to be published in 2016 to take advantage of this increased awareness, public appetite, publicity opportunities, etc.

If this isn’t the case, I will say to you what I always say to writers who ask me this: set yourself a deadline. If you’re not sure, give yourself 12 months. Submit to agents, enter competitions, attend conferences, etc – basically, network – and do everything you can to try to find a traditionally published home for your book. Then, once the 12 months is up, if it seems like nothing is happening, perhaps self-publish instead.

Step 3: Don’t Rush Things

Here’s the thing I would love for you to take in: don’t rush. Don’t panic. Don’t feel like you’re missing out or that you need to get your book on Amazon yesterday. I completely understand the feeling you get in your gut when someone says, ‘When is your book out? I can’t wait to read it.’ It’s itchy. It’s panicky. It increases your heart rate. And suddenly all you can think about is getting the book up on Amazon so you can capture that one sale. And that’s a huge mistake.

Just on a practical level, self-publishing does not mean uploading your file to Amazon this weekend. Self-publishing means launching a product. You need to plan. You need to prepare. You need to build anticipation. Ideally, you need to have another book nearly ready to go. (I think, these days, the only way to succeed at self-publishing and to maintain your momentum once you do is by releasing more than one book.) All of this takes time. You can only launch your book once. Don’t diffuse your own momentum by doing it too soon, before you’ve done the work.

Similarly, don’t give yourself 6 weeks to get an agent. Leaving aside the fact that the top agencies get thousands of submissions a year and it would be nearly impossible for even one of them to get back to you in that space of time, that’s so little time that you’re guaranteeing failure before you’ve even begun trying. All this stuff, it takes AGES. Use it to start on your next book.

What I didn’t realise before I got my deal is that, you know what? It’s not the worst thing in the world to be waiting for your dream to arrive. It’s a nice bit. There’s no deadlines, no pressure, no contracts. You’re writing purely because you love to write. Forget about the destination for a second. Enjoy the journey.

Everything else – that can come later. Worry about it then. For now, just finish your book, pick a path and don’t rush.

In its own way, this is the good bit.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

Structural Editing For Self-Publishers

Following on from last week’s very popular guest post, Why Hire An Editor?, Robert Doran, editorial director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services, is back today to tell us about structural editing. While copyediting and proofreading are absolute musts, I don’t think a self-publisher’s money is always put to best use by getting a structural edit for their book. So today Robert gives us some tips on, first of all, what a structural edit is, and secondly, what we can do ourselves to ensure our book is structurally sound. Welcome back, Robert!

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Structurally Sound

Structural editing (sometimes called developmental editing or substantive editing) is the most complex and time-consuming stage of the editorial process. As a result it’s also the most expensive. Nevertheless a structural edit is something that most manuscripts can benefit greatly from. So what’s a self-publisher to do?

I know you’re expecting me to say, ‘Hire an editor!’ and if you can afford to do that, it’s probably the best option. But if paying for a structural edit means you won’t be able to afford a copy-edit, you need to consider other solutions. A copy-edit, to my mind, really isn’t optional, and it will always be the most effective way to spend your budget.

We’ll come back to how you can best handle structural editing in a bit, but first let’s look at what it actually is. Structural editing is looking at the big picture. It’s evaluating a manuscript as a whole and analysing how well its constituent parts contribute to the central message or narrative. Whereas the copy-editor takes a micro view, drilling into the detail, the structural editor goes macro and asks, ‘Does this work as a book?’

In fiction, the main areas that a structural editor will address are:

  • Plot: Does the plot make sense? Is it believable? Is it satisfying or does it leave the reader frustrated?
  • Themes: Are the themes effectively handled? Are there so many that the book lacks focus? Do they interfere with the plot or complement it?
  • Characterisation: Are your characters well developed and believable? Are they cast in a role that fits their personality? Do they sometimes behave out of character?
  • Point of view/voice: Is the voice consistent or is it sometimes confused? Is the voice authentic? Are you using too many or too few POVs?
  • Pace: Does the plot move forward at an appropriate pace? Should you cut that preface? Should the action happen sooner or should the tension build more slowly?
  • Dialogue: Do your characters sound real when they speak? Is your dialogue cluttered with adverbs and beats? Do you use clunky dialogue to move the plot forward?
  • Flow: Is the narrative interrupted by dead-ends and tangents? Is there so much back story that the main plot is dwarfed? Are there missing plot points that would give the narrative greater integrity?

In non-fiction, the principle is the same, but the specific issues are slightly different:

  • Thesis: Is your thesis relevant? Is it clearly defined or is it lost among marginal issues?
  • Exposition: Are your arguments clear and cogent? Are they well researched and properly supported? Do they have a clear relationship with your thesis?
  • Content: Are all the necessary topics sufficiently dealt with? Are the chapters weighted correctly? Is there superfluous content?
  • Organisation: Is the information organised logically? Are tables and illustrations used appropriately? How many levels of subheads do you need and how should they be arranged?
  • Tone: Is the tone appropriate for the audience? Do you need to eliminate jargon? Is the text accessible?
  • Pace: Are there passages that are bogged down in detail? Do you spend too long on detail irrelevant to the main thesis? Are there areas that need further exposition lest they be skipped over?

Although a structural editor may do a little copy-editing as they work through your manuscript, that is not what they are being paid to do. Their focus is much broader, and they will return your manuscript marked up with constructive comments and suggested rewrites that will in any case render the corrections pointless.

So, if you’re saving your money for a copy-edit, what do you do about structure?

Leave it alone. Put your manuscript in a drawer for a few weeks and forget about it. When you come back to it you’ll see it with fresh eyes and you’ll be in a much better position to read it critically. Then cut ruthlessly. Strip it out. Spike anything that you think you might use later or rewrite. You’re likely to find that your cuts have resulted in a tighter, more readable, and more enjoyable book.

Join a writing group. Creative-writing groups provide a great forum in which to have your work critiqued by people who are as passionate about writing as you are. Some opinions may be more informed than others, and you may have to sift through some personal prejudices before you get to the useful pointers, but there are bound to be people whose opinion you value. Keep an open mind and always thank people for their feedback, even if it’s unjustified criticism. If you’re seen to react badly, people with a real talent for spotting problems might choose to keep their comments to themselves. Critiquing sites and internet author forums can also be a great source of feedback and support, especially if you’re the sort of writer who doesn’t like to leave the house. Harper Collins set up Authoronomy.com as a novel way of finding new talent, but it’s also a great place to connect with other writers. YouWriteOn.com offers a similar service. You can read about Irish author Bob Burke’s experience with the site here.

Read books on writing. There are hundreds of books out there on writing. There are books on plot, dialogue, point of view, editing, and every other aspect of crafting a good book. The information is there for you to apply to your own manuscript if you’re prepared to spend fifty quid and a couple of weeks studying the texts. It might not be the same as having a fresh pair of eyes tackle your MS, but if you put a bit of distance between you and your work, you should be able to put your new skills to effective use.

Read the competition. It’s great to be original, but unless you’re Joyce or Kafka it’s best not to be too different. Your competition represents a good guide to what’s expected from you. You should aim to produce something better, extra or novel that adds to the canon, but don’t stray too far from the beaten track or your book won’t fit on any shelf. Read books published in your category in as critical a manner as possible. It helps if you’ve read a few books on writing first – you’ll find that issues to which you were previously oblivious suddenly come into sharp relief. Try to deconstruct the books and analyse how plot, characterisation, pace, etc., are handled, chapter by chapter. Many authors in your category will have faced similar dilemmas as you, and it helps to analyse their results.

It’s true that none of this entirely replaces a professional structural edit, but you can bring your manuscript a long way by investing just a few quid and some reading time. After you’ve done all this, it’s worth having a chat with your copy-editor to explain how you’ve edited. If you show them that you’ve put in the effort and, if you’re extra nice to them, they’ll be glad to watch out for any remaining structural issues. They may not deal with the problems in depth, but they’ll flag them, and, with all that reading under your belt, you’ll have no trouble sorting them out.

Robert Doran is Editorial Director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services (www.kazoopublishing.com), a one-stop shop for indie authors who want to publish industry-standard books. He has nearly twenty years’ experience in bringing books to market and has worked as an editor, project manager, sales manager, and bookseller in Ireland and in the UK. He is a big fan of the Oxford comma. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEdits.

[Catherine’s note: Back in February I got to listen to the lovely Sarah Savitt talk about editing at Faber Academy, and she said, ‘The editor’s job is to ask the questions.’ She gave us some editorial notes to look at, and they were things that would be going through a reader’s head in a few month’s time if Sarah hadn’t raised them. Like: Why would this character forgive him? She’s no reason to, and But two pages back he said he didn’t agree with that! and I don’t understand why she doesn’t leave the car there?? A structural edit means that these questions get asked—and answered—in private (among other improvements!), before the book hits the virtual shelves, and not on Goodreads and Amazon customer reviews. Haven’t we all seen reviews where readers said something like, ‘I just didn’t get why he/she did that’? It’s like an English essay I wrote when I was in Sixth Class (age 12). The teacher, who usually championed my attempts, made me read out my mysterious character-being-chased-through-the-woods-at-night story (I was big into The X-Files then), before saying in front of everyone, ‘Catherine, you are the only one who knows what’s happening in this story.’ It’s a lesson I never forgot!)

How To Get People To Read Your Blog

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Following on from The Author Platform: Are You Being Cautious… Or Just Lazy?, a few readers commented that they’d like to know more about how to go from blogging into the void, i.e. me three years ago, to having ten thousand followers and 25-30k views a month, i.e. me today.

I’ve avoided doing this thus far because I don’t think you’re going to like my answer. It’s:

  1. Write good blog posts
  2. Don’t over-think it
  3. Wait.

That’s it.

(Sorry!)

Write Good Blog Posts

I tell writers considering self-publishing that the first thing they should do is make sure their book is good, because there’s really no point doing anything else unless it is. When I use good in this way I don’t mean the ‘Oh, the Booker prize judges said that book was really good’ because that’s mostly subjective and we all like different things. I mean good as in has appeal. As in someone else is going to want to read this. Lots of someone elses, preferably.

The problem is that we all think someone is going to want to read what we’ve written. I mean, of course they are. Why wouldn’t they? We’re fascinating! But in the real world, that’s just not the case.

So this is where I tell you how to write blog posts people want to read, right? I really can’t do that. We’re not talking about a checklist, or a template, or a recipe of keywords and search topics that has been proven to work for others. You can either do it or you can’t. Like writing books, I believe you can learn to do it better, but ultimately you can either do it or you can’t.

It’s the same with all aspects of social media: you either are the type of person who does it well, or you’re not. If you’re the former, you can learn some tips that’ll help you improve, and you might pick up a few tricks that make your use of it more effective, but if you’re the kind of person who hates the idea of tweeting, thinks Facebook is for teenagers and has their blog posts set to private, then I can’t help you.

Let’s just all cut the crap and admit this, once and for all.

The only good things about the Irish version of The Voice are what Bressie, one of the judges, looks like, and what Eoghan McDermott, one of the presenters, says. A couple of weeks ago he told the contestants, “remember, if you don’t get through… it’s because you weren’t good enough.”

Bressie-2

Behold: The Bressie.

Continue reading

Why Hire an Editor?

Let me count the ways I have tried to get the point across that you—yes, YOU—need an editor: I’ve said so in my book, I’ve made a video, I’ve told you why I desperately needed one… I’ve tried it every which way I can. It does seem like the message is sinking in somewhat, but I still meet self-publishers who think they’ll manage fine by themselves and send their book out into the world without it ever passing by the eyes of a professional editor. Which would be fine, if it wasn’t for the price-tag they’ve put on it. So today, my latest attempt is a guest post from Robert Doran, editorial director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services, on why you should hire an editor. Read right through to the end for some vague hinting at something that’s, potentially, mildly exciting (at best) that starts here on this blog tomorrow. (Oooh, the mystery!)

Take it away, Robert… 

‘Here we go,’ I hear you say, ‘an editor telling us why we can’t do without editors.’ I would say that, wouldn’t I? Well, yes, I would. But I’m not only advocating for the editor here. Your readers deserve to get what they pay for, and your book deserves to be given a chance to compete successfully when you send it out to represent you in a crowded market. Hiring an editor to copy-edit your work is the bare minimum you can do to allow that to happen. But time and again authors decide to skip this step and to publish an unedited manuscript, hoping for the best. Let’s look at why.

typing

Lots of professionally edited books don’t sell. You’re right: having your book edited won’t guarantee you sales. There are thousands of professionally edited books published every year by traditional publishers that sell just a few hundred copies. A quick browse through any bookstore bargain basement will expose the truth that a book can be edited to within an inch of its life and still bomb. But that doesn’t change the fact that readers expect books to be edited in the same way that they expect cars to have wheels and beef burgers to have beef in them. It’s a basic requirement, not a selling point.

It’s not that readers spend much time thinking about the editorial process. They don’t, and that’s as it should be. The editing should be invisible, imperceptible. It’s only when it’s absent or shoddy that it becomes noticeable. And when readers notice it, they like to shout about it – just have a quick browse through a few of the gleeful ‘it was riddled with mistakes’ reviews that litter Amazon. When you open a book you have paid for and begin reading, you expect certain standards to be upheld, just as when you bite into a beef burger, you expect, well, beef. That’s what readers are used to, and they feel cheated when it clearly hasn’t been done.

But it’s expensive. Yes it is. You can reduce the amount of time an editor spends on your manuscript by sorting out as many issues as possible before you hire someone. This will help to keep the cost down. But editors are never going to be cheap, nor should they be. They offer a professional and often highly specialised service. Most editors have spent years studying and honing their skills, and they charge a fair fee based on their experience and expertise. When you get your marked-up manuscript back you’ll understand how much time, effort, and skill went into editing your work.

If you’re going to self-publish, you must, to some extent at least, act like a publisher. This means building the cost of editing, along with the other production costs, into the price of your book. Do you want a horse burger for 10¢ or a beef burger for €1? People do understand that higher standards cost more. Your book doesn’t have to be cheap, but it does have to represent value, and quality adds value to any product.

My friend read it, and she reads a lot. Great. Get as many friends as possible to read your book. Get your GP and your parish priest and Mary next door to read it. Every bit of feedback helps, and you should welcome it all and consider any suggestions your readers make. In particular, I think it’s worth joining a creative-writing group and having your work critiqued by your peers. But beware the nature of these relationships. People generally don’t want to criticise their friend’s work – they’d rather not offend. An editor will always take your feelings into consideration, but you are paying them to help you with your book and that will be the focus of your relationship. Even if your ego gets slightly bruised, your book will benefit, as will your readers.

Also, no matter how well versed your friends are in the rules of grammar, no matter how familiar they are with the vagaries of the English language, only an editor is likely to know and care enough about dangling modifiers, redundancies, hyphenation of compound adjectives, repetition, consistency of punctuation, presentation of numerals, elision, etc., to point them out and suggest appropriate corrections or amendments.

I can edit my own work. Certainly many authors can do a lot of structural editing without the help of an editor, and we’ll talk more about this in the next post. Structural editing can be fun, creative, and rewarding for the author; copy-editing, on the other hand, is essentially a technical task, more suited to those of us of a geekier persuasion. It is nigh on impossible to copy-edit your own work. You’re too close to it to pick up the tiny errors and the stuff that you don’t even know you don’t know. As an editor I have spent a lot of time studying obscure rules, semi-rules, and conventions-that-should-be-followed-unless-you-think-it’s-okay-to-break-them, yet I would never copy-edit my own work; I don’t know an editor in Christendom who would.

I want it to be all my own work. Naturally you want your work to sound like you wrote it. An editor is always conscious of the fact that it is your name that will be on the cover and that it is your work they are editing. They will intervene only as much as you ask them to. The editor’s aim is never to remove the author’s voice but to enhance it and allow it to shine by introducing structure and consistency, and by applying rules. It is when you get these things right that they become invisible to the reader, your message is amplified, and the quality of your writing is appreciated. Good times!

I always find mistakes in edited books. And you always will. Editors are not perfect, neither are proofreaders. The job they do is difficult, and, unfortunately, things will always slip through unless the manuscript is exceptionally clean in the first instance. It’s always worth noting the number of errors that were caught before going crazy over the couple that weren’t. And remember that a copy-editor’s job is much broader than catching typos – but more about that in a couple of weeks.

I’ll just download an editing program and use that. Go on, I dare you! These programs are so rubbish they make me want to cry. They might pick up a few typos but they consistently make odd suggestions on usage and, in my opinion, they serve only to confuse and delay.

Hiring an editor may or may not pay financial dividends: you will never know about the books you might not have sold or the bad reviews you didn’t receive. But the bottom line is that an editor will make your book better, no matter what point you’re starting from. Before you hire one, talk to a few and see who you’re most comfortable with. Ask them to prepare a short sample to give you an idea of what they can do for your manuscript and discuss the level of edit you feel would be appropriate. Ultimately, the author–editor relationship can be very rewarding for you, for the editor, and for your work.

Robert Doran is Editorial Director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services (www.kazoopublishing.com), a one-stop shop for indie authors who want to publish industry-standard books. He has nearly twenty years’ experience in bringing books to market and has worked as an editor, project manager, sales manager, and bookseller in Ireland and in the UK. He is a big fan of the Oxford comma. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEdits.

The mysterious bit: tomorrow is the three-year anniversary of a very exciting day in my self-publishing adventures, and to mark the occasion I will be (a) showcasing something new and lovely, (b) writing a new post every day for a week and (c) giving YOU the chance the win stuff. Be back here tomorrow with a coffee in hand for the start of… superfluous drumroll please… MOUSETRAPPED MADNESS! 

How To Sell Self-Published Books: Read This First

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I’ve christened May the How To Sell Self-Published Books Month here on Catherine, Caffeinated, but before we get into the nuts and bolts of marketing and promoting your book, we need to have a little tough love session first.

At my most recent workshop I started off by saying to the participants that my aim for the day was to send them home with everything I wished I’d known before I started self-publishing, or in other words everything I had to learn on the job because when I started self-publishing, I didn’t have a clue. And yet clueless and all that I was, I was operating with a huge advantage: realism. Because I’d spent a good decade of my young life poring over every How To Format a Manuscript for Submission To Within an Inch of Its Life Because, Yeah, That’s What’s Going to Be the Deciding Factor (Not!) and 500 Pages About Submitting to Agents Even Though You Haven’t Written a Word type books, I knew way more than I’d ever need to about the way the traditional publishing world works, and so I knew that as a self-publisher, I wouldn’t be sitting at the top table. I mightn’t even be in the same room. But that was fine by me. I still recognized what an amazing opportunity digital self-publishing provided, and I was excited about getting to avail of it. And because I knew the score, I could manage my expectations. (Truth be told, I didn’t have any.) Ultimately when success came, it was a welcome bonus. So before we get into the practicalities of selling your self-published book, let’s have cold blast of reality, shall we?

1. By Default, No One Cares About Your Book

Just because you wrote a book does not mean people are going to want to read it. Sounds suspiciously like common sense, but as I’ve said before, common sense isn’t as common as you might think.

Think of all the books you hear about on a daily basis. Think of all the books you see when you walk into a bookstore, or through the book isles of supermarkets. Think of all the books that pop into your line of vision while you’re on Amazon. Do you buy them all? Are you even interested in them all? Or are you like me—and, I’d suspect, most book-buyers—buying and ultimately reading just the very cream of the crop, the top 0.5% or less of the books we know about, just the ones that get us interested in them and wanting to read them, i.e. just the ones we care about?

At least once a day I receive an e-mail from an author I don’t know saying “I’ve wrote a book. Will you review it?” If this author knew that every Friday Oprah’s Book Club sends me an e-mail recommending several books—books that, this being Oprah’s Book Club, are hugely publicized, high advance, this-is-gonna-be-big traditionally published books—and that, on average, I make a note of maybe two of them and ultimately buy maybe one of them for every five or six e-mails I get, do you think they’d do anything differently?

It is very hard to get people to care enough about your book that they go and buy it. It’s the hardest part. And before you can even do that, you have to get them interested in it, and before that you have to let them know that it exists. But embracing this will help you achieve this, because you’ll know what lengths to go to in order to make it happen. I blogged a little bit more about this in How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed.

2. Your Book is a Product—and It Had Better Work

We’ve seen time and time again that the self-publishers who enjoy consistent success are those who treat self-publishing like a business they’ve started up. They act like entrepreneurs, and make like their book is their first product—which it is. Your book is a product. While you were writing it you could be all writer-like, hanging out in hipster cafés with your soy milk lattes and your well-creased Moleskine, but now that the book is going to be out in the world, for sale with a price-tag on it, the romance must drop away and the book must meet standards and be a viable product. When it comes to books, we’re talking about a professional polish and it having appeal. I talked about appeal in Why It Doesn’t Matter Whether or Not Your Book is Good, so let’s focus on the professional polish bit here.

Self-publishers against enlisting the services of a professional editor and/or proofreader seem to be against it because it’s expensive and/or because they don’t understand what editing means. The “I can’t afford it” thing drives me completely cuckoo because if you can’t afford to spend some money on your product, you shouldn’t be self-publishing it. If you’re not prepared to invest, why should I be expected to buy? And buy a sub-standard product at that. Which brings me onto my next point: not understanding what editing is.

Generally we can divide editing into three stages: structural (think re-writing), copyediting (think language) and proofreading (think errors). (If there’s any editors hanging around these parts, feel free to correct me on that, or elaborate.) I can understand why self-publishers would skip the structural bit, because it’s the most expensive and going back to the business analogy, you wouldn’t buy Egyptian cotton tablecloths for a fast food joint, because you’d never make the money back off a $1.99 burger. But you would have tables, right? And chairs for sitting around them? Of course you would, because that’s what’s expected. That’s a minimum standard. When we go into restaurants, we expect there to be somewhere to sit. And when we buy a book, we expect it to be error-free. (Or at least almost error-free. I’m still searching for a way to make perfection happen right out of the blocks.) We expect the language to be correct. We expect clarity and consistency. And that’s what a copyedit and a proofread does: it brings your book up to the minimum industry standard.

Every time I mention this, I get comments and e-mails saying things like, “But if a reader likes the story, they’ll overlook misspellings, etc.” I’m just going to say this once, okay? ONLY IF THE READER IS YOUR MUM. Take an hour to read a few Amazon Customer Reviews and then see if you still feel the same way.

3. Social Media is About Connection

I am evidence that social media does sell books, but only if you don’t use it to sell books. This is something I’ll be blogging loads more about this month, but for now I’ll just say this: you can’t use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to blatantly sell your book, because no one will buy it. Being subjected to the hard sell is not why anyone is using those platforms. We’re there for one or more of the following reasons: connection, entertainment and valuable information. Where does you saying “My book is on Amazon now: just $4.99!” or “My book is out now. Buy it!” fit into those? Obviously it doesn’t. (And no, it’s not valuable information!) I have a little giggle to myself every time I meet someone with a business who mutters, “I really have to get on Facebook” or “We really should start tweeting” as if social media is California during the Gold Rush and all you’ve to do is show up and start digging and—hey presto!—you’re a millionaire. News flash: starting a Facebook page does not equal sales.

Worse than the shameless self-promoter is the person who has no interest in blogging, tweeting or using Facebook but reluctantly comes to the table to flog their wares anyway. If you don’t genuinely enjoy connecting and sharing with other people online, what are you doing there?

A presence online takes time to build, and it isn’t suitable for people who don’t really want to be there or who don’t have an instinct for how it all works. So if you’re planning to self-publish a book and your marketing plan is to tweet a link to its Amazon listing once an hour 24/7/365, you’ve failed before you’ve even begun.

4. You Can’t Sell New Concepts with Old Ways

In my experience if your book is only for sale online, you should only be promoting it online. Time and time again I see self-publishers with money to burn hiring publicists who draft press releases for them and then send them round to all the usual suspects—newspapers, radio shows, magazines, etc. This is totally pointless, especially in the beginning, unless your book has a specific local interest or something. If you want to spend money, you’d be far better off doing it on a Goodreads ad or a Kindle Nation sponsorship, i.e. a place where readers gather online. You need to let go of any existing ideas you may have about selling books (especially if you’ve been traditionally published in the past) and haul them—and yourself—into this brave new digital world.

In February 2011 a series of events meant that in the space of a week or so, I was featured in The Sunday Times and appeared on several national radio shows, including the second most listened to show in the country with an average of 400,000 listeners. As far as I could tell, it led to no bump in sales. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that when I read about a book in a newspaper, chances are I’ll later walk into a bookstore, see the book on the shelf and think, Oh, yeah. That’s that book I read about. I must get that. But when you read about a self-published/only for sale online book in the newspaper, there’s no chance encounter later to remind you of it. And since apparently you have to be reminded of something three times before you’ll take action and buy it, it never translates into sales.

John Locke famously spent a fortune on “real world” advertising all to no avail, but became the first self-published author to sell a million Kindle books when he started focusing online instead. Traditional methods for selling books just don’t work when those books aren’t being sold traditionally.

(Note: I’m not saying say no to print and radio interviews. Say yes! They’re great fun and will make you feel like a proper published author. And your relatives might even believe you now when you say you’re selling loads of books online. Just don’t pursue them as a means to advertising a book, because they’re not effective when the book isn’t widely available in stores.)

5. You Are Not The Next Amanda Hocking

In all probability you’re not, anyway. And I’m not talking about becoming the first household name success story of this modern e-book self-publishing era—I’m talking about having to do little other than upload your e-books to achieve stellar sales. As in, chances are you’re going to have to do a lot more than that to shift any copies at all.

Let me explain. As in all walks of life, some people get really lucky at this self-publishing e-books thing. They upload their e-book and sell thousands of copies the first week, without ever having blogged or advertised. They massively outsell self-publishers who have been at it for years, and they do it almost instantly. So we should copy them, right? We should find out what they’re doing and do it ourselves. Wouldn’t that make sense?

No, it wouldn’t. Because they’re the outliers. They’re the extremes. You’d be better off focusing on the people in the middle, the ones who never meet the bleak abyss of failure or the dizzying heights of success, but instead consistently sell and can tell you what they did to achieve it. As I’ve always said, it’s better to hear from me, a moderate seller who can say I did x, y and z to sell my books and you can do it too, then a mega-seller who isn’t quite sure how they managed to sell a hundred thousand books.

Think of it this way: You meet a newly published author who is now sitting atop the bestseller lists with a debut novel that scored her a top agent and a six-figure deal. A movie adaptation is in the works. She’s rich, successful and she has achieved a lifelong dream. How did you do it? you want to know. She says that she was interviewing for a position as her agent’s assistant when they got talking about a recent news story, and she said “I bet the girlfriend did it. Wouldn’t it make a great story if she did?” The agent instantly got dollar signs in his eyes, told her to forget about being a PA and instead go home and write a one-page synopsis, which she did, and seven days later she had her six-figure deal. Now, knowing this, what would you do about your own published writer dreams? Would you continue to polish your novel, write a synopsis, craft a query letter and politely submit to suitable agents and editors, or would you start scanning the jobs listing for admin openings at literary agencies and publishing houses?

(I sincerely hope it would be the former!)

Your model for success shouldn’t be an extreme, because chances are you’re not going to be one. Millions of authors have self-published but only a relative handful had found success comes easily. Instead, get ready to work really hard.

And read all my upcoming posts, of course…!

L-R: the gorgeous spa-style bathroom of the St. Regis San Francisco, which I loved, and the dirty deathtrap of a “shower” in our room at the [cough, cough] “Hotel” San Francisco in San Pedro, Guatemala. Which I did NOT.

I’m testing KDP again with Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America. It’s the story of me (loves Starbucks, boutique hotels and inactivity) going backpacking in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama (climbing active volcanos, sleeping on planks of wood, cockroaches, etc.) and it’s FREE between now and Wednesday 9th May for Kindle. So please, feel FREE (see what I did there?) to download it for yourself, or let your anti-backpacking friends with e-reading devices know that they are also FREE to download it for FREE from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. For FREE.

(FREE!)

See you on Monday!

[UPDATE May 5th: Woo-hoo: Freshly Pressed! Not quite sure how it happened but thanks Word Press—and hello to everyone who came here because of it. *waves* Do say hello below.]

May is How To Sell Self-Publish Books Month on Catherine, Caffeinated. Find out more about here, or read all related posts by paying a visit to the category page. Get every new post direct to you inbox by subscribing to this blog (see the sidebar or footer for the sign-up box).

How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed

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One of the hardest things for a self-published author to do is to get their book reviewed. But you need reviews, if only to lend some weight to your Amazon listing and to reassure yourself that self-publishing your book isn’t the biggest mistake you’ve ever made. Book bloggers and other non-professional book sites (i.e. where the reviewers don’t get paid but read and review for love) are your best bets for getting your self-published book reviewed. But how do you get them to do it? How do you approach them? And where do you even find them in the first place?

How to get your book reviewed

(If you’d prefer NOT to get your book reviewed, please see below.)

The first step is to find suitable bloggers who might like to review your book, and there are two ways to do that. The first is to trawl through Futurebook’s extensive book blogger listing. (You can easily add your name, by the way, if you review books on your website or blog.) Make a list of potential reviewers for your book based on genre preferences, etc. The second thing you can do is find 1-3 recently traditionally published books that are similar to yours, e.g. if you read and liked Book X, you might like your Book Y too. Google their name along with the word review. The top results will probably be newspapers and magazines, but keep going. Soon you’ll get to the book bloggers. Add any suitable ones to your potential reviewers list.

The next step is research, and you cannot skip this step. You are asking these people to give up several hours of their life to read and review your book; the least you can do is spend five minutes looking around their site to see if you should even be sending your book to them in the first place. Check their submission guidelines and then follow them. Add the details to your list. If they say they don’t review self-published books, that means they don’t review self-published books. Take heed.

When I wrote Self-Printed just under a year ago, the problem plaguing self-published authors looking to get their book reviewed was what I called The Mean Problem, whereby self-published authors bristled at the idea of “giving books away for free” to reviewers. (Don’t. Even. Get. Me. STARTED.) I think this has changed, thankfully—especially now that e-books are more widely read and so, accepted by book reviewers—but a new problem has taken its place: Thinking People Care Syndrome. By default, nobody gives a rodent’s arse about anyone else’s book. Oh, you wrote a book, did you? WATCH WHILE I DON’T GIVE A RODENT’S ARSE. (This isn’t me saying this to you, but everyone saying it to everyone else.) Writing a book doesn’t equal people wanting to read it (unfortunately), and I think this is a point a lot of self-publishers—and even some traditionally published authors—don’t quite get. It’s probably the biggest realization I’ve had about this whole publishing world since I stuck a self-published toe in it back in 2010. Nobody cares.

Bleak, I know, but once you acknowledge that nobody cares—once you fully understand that that’s your starting-off point—you’ll take a different approach to book-selling. A more effective approach. And then you’ll sell more books. Because a writer who doesn’t understand that nobody cares will send an e-mail that says, “I just published something. If you’d like to review it, let me know.” But if you’re a writer who does understand, the next thing you’ll do is create something that makes me care about your book. This may be an e-mail, or it may be a press release or “sell sheet” in PDF attached to an e-mail, or even a little video. It should be professional, informative and interesting, but also short and to the point.

It should tell me:

  • who you are
  • what the book is about
  • the what/when/where of the book’s publication
  • whether I’d be getting an e-book or a paperback
  • how to get in contact with you if I want to review it
  • something that makes me think, Oooh, I’d like to read that.

I don’t know you and I haven’t read your book (yet?), so my entire impression of you and your work is going to be formed from this e-mail. This is something to keep in mind.

Your e-mail might look something like this, attached to a one-page PDF document filled with relevant and interesting information about you and your book:

To [first name]

I am the author of Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, a travel memoir of the eighteen months I spent living in Orlando and working in Walt Disney World. I really enjoyed your review of [SIMILAR BOOK]—I too laughed out loud at the bit [MEMORABLE INCIDENT FROM SIMILAR BOOK]!—and as my book is similar, I thought you might be interested in reading and potentially reviewing it.

I’d be happy to send you a complimentary copy. There is, of course, no obligation to review it; I appreciate that you must get countless books to review and don’t have the time to read and review all of them. I completely understand.

If you are interested in receiving a copy, please forward a postal address and I will mail one to you immediately. Alternatively if you’d like an e-book edition please tell me your preferred format and I will e-mail it to you. 

Please see attached document for more information. I’m also available for interview, guest-posting, etc. If there’s anything else I can supply you with—images, more information, links, etc.—please let me know.

Thank you for your time,

[Your name]

If you’ve done your job, you’ll have sent me something that makes me think:

  • you’re a professional
  • who has written an interesting, potentially good book
  • that I want to read because you’ve done your research on me.

Therefore I’ll e-mail you back to say, “Yes—send me this book!” and then I’ll read it and like it and review it, and your job will be done. Mission accomplished. Repeat as required. And well done you.

How NOT to get your book reviewed

The first step is to find book bloggers who don’t read books on the same planet as yours, let alone in the same genre, and bloggers who don’t review books at all. At least half of your potential reviewer list should be made up of these non-book-reviewing bloggers, and everyone on it should say somewhere on their website that they never read or review self-published books. That’s, like, the most important bit. Throw in a few self-published authors as well. I mean, why not? When Patricia Cornwell has a new book out the first thing she does is offer a copy to Karin Slaughter, right?

Don’t visit any of the sites or blogs on your list. You don’t need to, because this is your book we’re talking about. So what if it’s chick-lit and the site is called CrimeSpreeBooks.com? Once they hear about the plot (twenty-something fish out of water with man troubles catalogues her wardrobe and hangs out with her ditzy best friend; giggles ensue), they’ll forget all about serial killers, Scandinavia and grisly body parts and read nothing but you forever more.

Also, don’t bother with those yawn-inducing “Contact” forms or collecting the bloggers’ actual e-mail addresses from the submission information on their sites. That’s just a gigantic waste of time. BOR-ing. Instead, use this handy shortcut:

  1. Take the domain of the website, e.g. http://www.INeverReviewBooksLikeYours.com, and cut out the “www.”
  2. Replace it with “info@”.
  3. Send your e-mail to that address, i.e. info@INeverReviewBooksLikeYours.com.
  4. If you get a failure notice, try “admin@” instead. One of them is bound to work, right?

So now you have a long list of people who don’t read books like yours—many of whom also don’t review books at all—and e-mail addresses for them that may or may not work, and if they do work, aren’t anything to do with the way they’ve asked you to contact them as per the instructions on their site. The next thing to do is to send out a mass e-mail to all of them that does one or more of the following things:

  • annoys
  • gets the Delete button clicked
  • gets the Spam button clicked
  • gets the Block Recipient feature enabled
  • incites anger and/or frustrated pencil-snapping
  • inspires the recipient to write an extremely sarcastic blog post about reviews
  • gives the recipient the impression that you think giving them a copy of your book is bestowing upon them a beautiful gift, and not that them reading and reviewing your book is them doing you an immeasurable favor. (Mucho bonus points for doing this.)

How can you achieve this? Well, I’m glad you asked! To make absolutely sure that you make your reviewer experience all of the above, remember to:

  • Ignore all the review-related information on the blogger’s site, e.g. submission guidelines, preferred genres, etc. If you’ve followed my instructions thus far, you’ve already done this. Well done you! Earn bonus points by including a blatant lie about having researched their site, e.g. “I know you love science-fiction” when there is not one mention of science-fiction anywhere on the blogger’s site, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Omit any information about your book. Just put a link to your website instead, man. That way you get a hit too. And bonus points will be awarded for not activating the link; it’s even better if the recipient has to manually copy and paste the URL into their browser’s address bar. Oh YEAH.
  • Use CC instead of BCC, so every single one of the 391 people you sent the e-mail to can see everyone else’s e-mail addresses. Who doesn’t love that?
  • Include an ultimatum. If you do one thing to not get your book reviewed, make it this. Ultimatums can be one or more combinations of the following book review ultimatum categories: Schedule Ultimatums (“Only accept a copy if you are in a position to post your review between March 4th and April 10th…”), Content Ultimatums (“I ask that you only post your review if it’s a positive one…” or “You can’t mention the misspelling on the cover in your review…”) and Action Ultimatums (“I propose a review exchange. I’ll send you a copy of my book and you send me a copy of yours. Once your positive review of my book appears on Smashwords, I’ll read and review yours [Ed. note: ??!?!?!?!???!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?! Another ed. note: I actually got an e-mail that said this.]. Here’s an inactive link to my website where you can find out more…”).
  • Insult the reviewer. If there’s one thing book bloggers lurve, it’s authors who are happy to send them stacks of shiny books until they post a negative review of their work. After that, it’s all “Oh my god you are SO unprofessional” and “I’m going to bitch about you on every forum I can find” and “Then I’m going to send all my, ahem, fans (read: friends) your way so they can leave bitchy comments about you on your site” and “Who are you, anyway? I bet you’re a failed writer who can barely contain her jealousy that I have a book for sale.” Yep. And the only kind of author they love even more is the kind that makes a pre-emptive strike against such behavior. Get in this category by saying something like, “Before I send you my book, I want to make sure that in return I’ll get a balanced and fair review where, if something is not to your liking, you’ll quantify why. Perhaps you could send me some samples of your previous reviews so I can check that you’re up to the task…?”
  • Tell them your mother loved it. So simple, but oh so effective.
  • Pretend you are not the author but the author’s Proper Publicist-Type even though the e-mail is clearly from your personal account and slips into the first person before the end of the message. A classic technique, this.
  • Don’t even bother pretending that you’re after a review. I mean, why would you want a review? They’re for losers. You want sales. So say something like, “My book is for sale now on [insert link]” and then just leave it at that. For a truly annoying touch, add some hollow humility like, “I don’t expect you to buy it, but I’m going to send you this e-mail about how to buy it just in case. I mean, I know you don’t know me and we’ve never been in contact before and you only got this e-mail because I noticed you had a dot-com domain name and so chances are you have an info@ e-mail address but hey, this is my book we’re talking about. Trust me: you’re gonna want to read this baby.”

Therefore if you don’t want to get your book reviewed, your e-mail will look more like this:

To Blogger

I’m a fancy pants book publicist from a fancy pants book publicists’ office. I’m contacting you today in the hope that you actually have this e-mail address and because I know you’ll be interested in reading [GENERIC TITLE], a stunning debut by [AUTHOR’S NAME] that’s available now on Amazon for $1.99. I’m fairly certain of this because of your blog header. (Yes, I know your blog header is actually nothing to do with the subject matter of this book, but just go with it.) Go to http://www.generictitle.com now to find out more because that’s all the information I’m going to give you and this e-mail isn’t attached to anything except what is sure to be one of the biggest sellers of 2012. As Person With The Same Last Name as the Author has said of it, “You typed this whole thing? Like, yourself? Wow! I’m impressed.”

As I’m sure you’re aware self-published authors don’t have a lot of money and as a self-published author yourself, I know you’d appreciate me asking you to appreciate this and perhaps buy the book instead of getting a FREE copy of it…? I mean, come on. You’d probably spend double the price on a cup of coffee, am I right? Anyway if you must take money out of my—I mean, the author’s—pocket, I can send you an e-book with your name on every page so if you pass it on and it ends up on one of those piracy sites, I’ll know it was you. Yeah, I know what you book blogger types are like! I wasn’t born yesterday. Thus before I send you anything, I’m going to need a guarantee that you’ll post a review of it. Perhaps you could scribble a quick contract and send it to me, signed and notarized, along with your passport? I promise I’ll send it back after my (positive!) review goes live. 

Oh, and I—we— need you to do this review thing ASAP. Like, yesterday. I got bills, y’know?

I’m also gonna need assurances that you’ll accompany my review with links to my blog, site, Twitter feed, Facebook profile, Flickr albums and Goodreads page, and that you won’t use any photos of me in which my left side predominantly features.

That’s what’s up.

LATERS,

The Auth—I mean, The Author’s Fancy Pants Publicist

And so, to recap:

  • If you give me a copy of your book to review and I read and review it, it is me who is doing you a favor.
  • Book bloggers specify what kind of books they like to review on their websites. Read this information. If it’s not there, a quick flick through a list of their existing reviews will help you determine whether or not your book is for them.
  • By default, nobody cares about anybody else’s book. Your job is to get me—and everyone else—to care.
  • If you’ve self-published a book, that doesn’t mean that other self-published authors will want to read it. It doesn’t work that way.
  • I won’t leave your e-mail to go looking for information about your book, so don’t ask me to.
  • Sending an e-mail that’s trying to sell something to someone you don’t know is called spam. Sending spam could get your e-mail account blocked and deactivated.
  • Putting me on a mailing list without my consent will not get me to buy your book. It will only get me to report you to your e-mail provider for abuse. This extends to lists of e-mail addresses you made yourself and then sent mass mailings to, not just “formal” mailing lists. If you haven’t communicated with the person before, you shouldn’t be sending them mass anything.
  • I’m not even a book blogger and yet I found myself with more than enough material to write this post. I CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE the gems actual book bloggers get sent.

Finally, we all know that the majority of submissions agents and editors get are smeared with crazy, unprofessionalism and coffee rings. That’s why we strive to make our own pristine, clean, correctly formatted, in adherence with their submission guidelines and smelling fresh; we want to give a professional impression. Do the same with your book review correspondence. Be professional, target suitable reviewers, don’t be pushy, demanding or frightening, and your book will get reviewed.

Happy reviewer-searching!

(Thought for the day: this blog post is nearly 3,000 words long. My book isn’t finished. Coincidence?)

Public service announcement: By the way, I don’t really review books anymore. A quick look around my site would reveal that (a) the last time I posted a review was August 2011, (b) if I do have time to review something, it’s not self-published books I choose to review and (c) does this look like a book review-centric blog to you? So I don’t really know why I’m even getting e-mails from authors in the first place. Although after this, I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting any.

Was that my evil plan all along? We’ll never know…

[Mysterious Mona Lisa-esque smile]

What the Dream Looks Like or, Why This Self-Publisher is Still Pursuing Trad Publication

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In Friday’s post, Self-Printing: My Biggest Mistake, I talked about how I was trying to shift my thinking away from self-publishing non-fiction as something to do while I pursue a traditional book deal, and towards self-publishing being a parallel to a traditional book deal and one that could, in the future, be profitable enough to ensure that I could be a full-time writer regardless of whether or not someone else ever gives me that illusive deal. I figured out, for instance, that if I were to double my current e-book sales, i.e. release another book that sells just as well, and either maintain or increase those sales, I could be making 50% more a month than the wage I was making working 9-5.

Which begs the question: why I am still pursuing traditional publication at all? Why don’t I just go with self-publishing? Why don’t I release the novel I’ve already written as an e-book, this afternoon, and start earning money from it instead of leaving it in a drawer (or my computer, to be specific) and waiting for someone else to publish it? Why don’t I forget about traditional publishing?

The arguments for doing that go something like this:

  • Going by average advances and the standard cut of 10% of the list price, I could make more money releasing it as an e-book and keeping up to 70% of the profits for myself
  • I could make more money in the long run, because if I do it myself my book will always be in print or at least always available as an e-book
  • If I do it myself, it can happen now and so I can start earning money now. No waiting a year or two for the book to come out, or spending years of my life submitting to agents and publishers and waiting to hear back from them.

The common denominator in all those is money. Now while I like money as much the next person, that’s not what this is about – or all about, anyway – for me. And so I still want to get “properly” published because that’s what my dream looks like.

I have spent more than a decade daydreaming about being a published author. In those daydreams, there is the excitement of being offered and then signing a book deal. I have the input of an editor who has a vested interest in the success of my book, an editor who says that in her professional opinion, my book is good enough. I get to work with a publishing house, staffed with people whose job it is to edit, design and sell books. In the meantime, I get a phone call to say my book has been sold abroad, and is going to be translated into other languages. I have a beautiful, physical book – one that looks and feels like all the other books, and has both my name and the logo of a major publishing house on the spine. I have a publicist who knows newspaper editors well enough to be able to get my book reviewed, or a story about me written. And when people read that story or hear me on the radio, they can walk into almost any bookshop and find my book on the shelf. I have achieved a lifelong dream.

Self-publishing – even if you work with an editor, produce a beautiful book, hire a publicist, find a distributor to take on your book so it can be in stores and get nothing but rave reviews – is not the same. It doesn’t feel the same. It’s great and it’s an achievement and I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I haven’t ticked a dream off my list with it. And I know there will be traditionally published authors reading this whose experience of getting a book published will not be anything like the one described above (which would be the ideal) and they’ll tell me things like, “Stick with self-publishing – getting traditionally published isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” I don’t care; I want to discover whether or not that’s the case for myself. I want to be traditionally published because that is my dream. My self-publishing success is irrelevant. I could sell 1,000,000 e-books and it still wouldn’t even begin to compare. It certainly wouldn’t “do.”

And the self-publishing evangelists may start to sharpen their stakes upon hearing this, but traditional publishing done right is done better. If I leave illustrated children’s books out of the equation, I can honestly say I have never seen a self-published book that looks as good or better than a “properly” published one, my own included. It is possible to make one? Surely. Hopefully. But does the average or even above average self-publisher have the time, knowledge and resources to do it? No. Not even close. Even Amanda Hocking (who I like a little bit more every time I read one of her down to earth, tell it like it is blog posts) has admitted that the time it takes just to produce her books is staggering, and that even after going through them with editors time and time again, she still finds errors in the finished product. It takes a village – or the staff of a publishing house – to produce a perfect or almost perfect book, and I’m just one person. And I want to write.

But while marketing and promotion isn’t as much fun for me as writing the book in the first place, I still really enjoy it. I love blogging, tweeting and Facebooking and I don’t even mind talking on the radio or to rooms full of people. (Once it’s over and done with, anyway!) I have managed, after all, to sell a few thousand copies of a book that has a perceived super-niche readership and isn’t available in bookstores. What could I do if it was a mainstream, commercial book, and it was available in bookstores? And not just here in Ireland, but wherever you live as well. What could I manage to do then? And so that’s another reason I’m still chasing traditional publication: because I would love to be let loose promoting a book of mine that was widely available. That would be the ultimate challenge. And I love me a (non-physical type of!) challenge.

Finally, it’s not all about money but it is about money a little bit; I want to do nothing else but write or do writing-related things, and in order for that to happen the writing I do has to earn me some money. And while it’s easy to get carried away with the figures in the headlines, self-publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s not even a get slightly less poor slowly scheme. There are no guarantees. For every mega-selling e-book author, there are probably hundreds if not thousands if not millions of e-book authors who can count their sales to date on the fingers of one hand. They mightn’t even need all of them to do it.

I read about a couple of guys recently who released an e-book, as an experiment, to see if they could sell a million copies of it in six months. They did everything right, but they only sold a 1,000, because the most important factor in publishing success – be it e-book, print, self or traditionally published – is luck. And so you can’t say things like “By spending the next six months submitting my novel to agents, I’m losing money” or “By signing this publishing deal that will release my debut novel in 2013, I’m missing out on up to two years of earnings I would make if I self-published it” because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Money that doesn’t yet exist can’t be counted and money that does exist, however small the amount, is worth more than theoretical earnings.

Now I’m about to really over-simplify things but let’s say a traditional publishing house knock on my door and offer me €5,000 as an advance on a two-book deal. The first book won’t be published for a year, the second book will be published the year after that and I’ll earn 10% off its list price of €10.99. I’ll have sold 4,000 copies of Mousetrapped in a year so for the sake of argument let’s say I sell the same amount of these books, so that’s 4,000 sales in the first year and 8,000 in the second, because there’s two books. Because I have to wait a year to publish it, there’s no earnings in the first twelve months. An agent brokers the deal so all earnings are minus 15%. That means that in the next three years, I’d earn somewhere in the region of €11,118 from that deal.

If I released the first book right now as a $2.99 e-book (70% royalty), and then the second book as soon as it’s written in six month’s time, and they sold in the same amounts (4,000 each a year), I’d make €32,911 in the same period. (See calculations below for specifics.) And yet I would take the traditional deal because I’d be getting a €5,000 advance on those earnings, and there is no guarantee that I’ll ever sell a single copy of either book no matter what route I take. And money that exists is better than money that doesn’t.

BUT.

(You knew there was going to be a but, right?)

I’m not an idiot, and I’m not going to keep submitting forever. I have one novel written, a third of another and a basic synopsis and two chapters of another one after that. The first novel has been relegated, for the time being, to The Drawer, as its feedback was (Mousetrapped flashback) along the lines of, It’s funny and well-written, but I don’t think it’s suitable for the market here or worse again,  I love it but I don’t love it enough. (I know, I know – it could be so much worse.) And I can’t self-publish it for a variety of reasons but mainly because it’s tied, thematically, to the other two and while I’m trying to get my fiction published, I think it’s safer to stick with just non-fiction for my DIY publishing adventures. The second one has had some interest but I haven’t been offered a dotted line to sign on. (Yet – I hope.) And a girl can only take so much rejection, so I’m not going to let this go on forever more. There will come a point where I will stop this and self-publish the first novel, see how it goes. This time is not anytime soon, and in the meantime I have two non-fiction projects which will be getting the Mousetrapped treatment this side of Christmas. But if I can’t find a traditionally published home for those books, which while connected are not a series, I will self-publish them.

Hopefully they’ll sell, and I’ll start to earn some serious money. (And bribe someone for a US visa and move to Celebration, while I’m at it.) But do you know what I’d do then? Write a new novel about something totally different.

And try to get that traditionally published, but that has always been and always will be The Dream.

Click here to read more about Mousetrapped.

Calculations:

Traditional deal: earning 10% off €10.99, or €1.09 per book. 1st  year: no sales. 2nd year: 4,000 x 1.09 = €4,360. 3rd year: 8,000 (2 books each selling 4k) x 1.09 = €8,720. Combine all 3 years (€13,080) – 15% agent’s fee (€1,982) = €11,098. (The advance is just that – an advance – and so is not added but included.)

Self-published e-books: earning 70% off $2.99, or $2.09 per book. 1st year: 4,000 sales of book 1 and 2,000 sales of book 2 (released six months from now) = (4,000 x 2.09) + (2,000 x 2.09) = $12,540. 2nd year: 8,000 sales (2 books each selling 4k) x 2.09 = $16,720. 3rd year: 8,000 sales (2 books each selling 4k) x 2.09 = $16,720. Combine all 3 years ($45,980) and convert to euro where 1 EUR = 1.39709 USD = €32,911.37.

These calculators do not factor in tax or self-publishing costs such as cover design.

UPDATE: Five years later, I got a book deal. Six years later, I got published.