That's a question many authors ask themselves, particularly now, in this age of Kindle, Nook, Kobo etc. Self-publishing has historically been looked down upon, but if you're not one of the lucky minority who manage to snag a deal with a major publisher, then what do you do? Let your manuscript that you spent years sweating and crying over just languish in a dark corner of your hard-drive?
No, of course not.
By all means, start out by trying to find an agent who'll get your book out with one of the Big Five – if that’s what you want - but if that dream doesn't materialise, don't throw in the towel. Get your novel out there by self-publishing it. You know it's good right? Otherwise you wouldn't have sent it to that agent. So get it out there!
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
The first thing people see on Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks etc is the cover image. It's vitally important that you get it right. We've all seen the horrible, self-made efforts that so many self-published authors put out there. They might have written the greatest novel ever, but if the cover looks like it was put together in ten minutes by a colour-blind child, no one will read it. So, unless you're extremely artistic, hire a cover designer. For the sake of maybe a couple of hundred pounds, you'll get something that will catch the eye for all the right reasons, won't turn people away before they even read your first line and will pay for itself in no time.
While we're on the subject, I think it's a good idea to plan ahead and see your covers as part of your brand, particularly if you're writing a series. Use the same font for the cover of each book in a trilogy for example, and have similar themes in the pictures the designers choose. My first two books have an arrow bursting onto the top of the covers over the title. Different arrows, but they create a theme and make it clear that both books are related. Think of a band like Iron Maiden or Motorhead. You can probably see their logo or mascot in your head, even if you're not a fan, because they've used the same ones, consistently, for decades. Try to create the same instantly recognizable brand for yourself with strong cover designs.
The next thing your potential reader will see is your blurb. We writers, in general, don't enjoy condensing our novels into short, punchy sentences for a synopsis or blurb - but it doesn't matter how good your front cover is if the description on the back is boring. Take some time to craft a few strong paragraphs to sell your novel. My advice is to buy Write a Great Synopsis by Nicola Morgan. This little gem has some excellent tips and I used it to create the blurbs for both of my books. Basically, it tells you how to come up with a great 25 word pitch which you can then build upon to come up with the longer blurb.
Once your reader has been lured in with your eye-catching marketing skills, they don't want to be disappointed by a book riddled with bad writing, spelling mistakes and plot holes. So, if you can afford it, whether you think you need one or not, a good editor is one of the best investments a self-publisher can make. Your mum might think your manuscript is nigh-on perfect, and you can certainly understand her recognition of your genius, but an editor will always spot issues no one else has and make you realise your perfect book could be even better. I was very lucky to be put in touch with an exceptional editor who listed the likes of Ben Kane, Jilly Cooper and Bernard Cornwell on her CV. It cost me a few pounds to have her go over my novels but they ended up much, much stronger as a result of her expert direction and I was glad I hired her.
Cover designers and editors are the biggest unavoidable expenses any author going down the self-published route has to worry about. Once you have your cover, blurb and completed manuscript all ready to go, that's almost it. Time to upload the book to Kindle or whatever and start to earn back those costs, right?
Well, not quite. This is actually the part I found the most difficult. To upload an ebook for sale, it has to be formatted correctly. If you write using the TAB key to start a new paragraph, you're in for a nasty shock because ebooks HATE tabs, amongst other things. Unless you want your novel to look like a horrible mess when a reader opens it, you need to make sure the formatting is compatible with different devices. Smashwords do a good free ebook, the Smashwords Style Guide, which is the best place to start. It tells you, in simple terms, how to rip out all those nasty tabs and any other unwanted formatting and redo it quickly and easily so you end up with a manuscript that'll read nicely on various devices. This can be a hugely stressful part of the self-publishing process, even to someone who really knows their way around a computer. If you're struggling, you can hire someone to do it for you quite cheaply, but it's really not that hard if you work at it slowly and don't smash the laptop off the wall in a fit of rage. Remain calm. Google to find out answers to things like “how to find and replace tabs” rather than doing all two thousand of them one-by-one, and you'll get there in the end.
Once you've completed all of these tasks, that's it - you can be sure you have the strongest possible product for people to buy.
Hit the “upload” button and watch your book appear for sale worldwide.
Congratulations, you are a published author! Nice one!
Now you just need to market it...
Steven A. McKay was born in 1977, near Glasgow in Scotland. He lives in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. His second book, The Wolf and the Raven was released on April 7th, at the London Book Fair where he was part of the Amazon KDP stand. Wolf's Head is a Kindle top 20 best-seller while The Wolf and the Raven was the “War” chart number 1. He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.