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How Not To Self-Publish

From left to right: the self-published cover of Who Let The Gods Out? and the final cover from Chicken House

Most of my best decisions have been incredibly stupid. Last year, for instance, I uprooted my family 100 miles from London to Dorset on little more than whimsy and love for fish and chips. It was a great stupid decision.

Two years ago, I gave up my journalism career to start my own creative writing business, Story Stew, refusing to acknowledge that I had all the business acumen of the Titanic's lifeboat suppliers. It's given me flexibility, fun and freedom - another inspired stupid decision.

Three years ago, I decided to experiment with a fringe for the first time...That, it turned out, was just plain stupid - I never said this system was perfect.

But perhaps my best stupid decision also came that year, when I opted to self-publish my children's book, Who Let The Gods Out. I had originally written the manuscript in 2009. With two tiny children constantly vomiting Weetabix at me, writing a book had been a welcome distraction from pureeing everything in sight. Convinced I had written The Next Big Thing, I sent it off, hoping that my letterbox was large enough to accommodate the large comedy cheque that was coming my way.

Turned out I did need a big letterbox - for all the rejections that followed. I couldn't get WLTGO arrested, let alone published. And so, with all the dignity and poise of a then 30-year old woman... I threw a massive strop and refused to write a word for the next five years.

But by 2014, the publishing landscape had evolved and self-publishing was now a 'thing'. That said, it wasn't really a ''thing' for children's books - self-publishing conventionally works best through e-sales where your margins are low and you don't need to worry about the considerations of printing/storing/distributing/stocking and so forth.

So I made a stupid decision - and did it anyway. It led to my book eventually being acquired by the mighty Chicken House and being republished in the mainstream this year, with the sequel, Simply the Quest, coming out on 3 August.

It worked for me - I did, however, make a lot of (not good) stupid mistakes along the way. Here, for the benefit of anyone thinking of travelling this road, is my guide on how NOT to self-publish your book:

  • Don't assume everyone you know will buy one. Do you honestly support all your friend's businesses? Happy as everyone is for you, that doesn't mean they will part with their hard-earned cash to support you- and however much Great Aunty Mabel adores you, she'll only be good for three at best.
  • Don't publish through a third party. Why have your book registered to a generic publishing company when for a tiny bit of effort and research, you can start your own? For approx £150 you can buy a block of 10 ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers - the long number above the barcode). These you can register to a publishing brand of your creation - mine was my Story Stew. You will need a different number for every edition of your book (print, digital, audio etc) so if you plan to publish lots of titles, there is an economy of scale.
  • Don't even consider print copies unless you have a sound, direct route to market. Through Story Stew, I was visiting several primary schools a month, so had an easy link with thousands of my target audience. It also gave me a festival act, so I was able to sell there too. Even though I was lucky and several bookshops did take my book, of the 2,000 copies of my WLTGO I sold, I would conservatively estimate that I hand-sold 1,950. And possibly a couple of hundred ebooks at the very most.
  • Don't believe anyone who tells you that they can make your book successful if you pay them. A writer's ego is a fragile flower and it is very easy to be swayed by someone promising you fame and fortune - and there are so many who will. Only two things will determine the success of your work: 1) a really great book and 2) a bucketload of hard work. Even with the backing of the most fantastic publisher, my book still relies on me putting in the hours to promote it - as a self-published author, that work is ten times harder.

    And finally... 
  • Don't be put off by anyone (especially me) telling you what you can and can't do. Be pragmatic, do your research, be cautious - but if you really believe you can make it work, then do it. There is nothing more empowering than taking your creative destiny into your own hands. I broke all the rules when I self-published my book - and thank Crunchie I did. It really was the most fantastically stupid decision.

Now. About this 80s jumpsuit. It could come back. Right...?

Maz began her writing career in journalism as a TV critic and feature writer and has also been a university lecturer. Most recently she founded Story Stew; a creative writing programme that visits primary schools and literary festivals around the UK. This creative and inventive business is one that Maz is hugely passionate about, and was her personal answer to finding a creative outlet and role that fitted in around her family life. The WHO LET THE GODS OUT? series grew from Maz’s experiences with Story Stew, and her daily interactions with young people: their connection to and creativity and spontaneity with storytelling. Maz has spoken to thousands of children and has never heard the same story twice.

You can visit Maz on Twitter or visit her website here