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Considering Self-Publishing: A Guide

Lisa Hinsley

Author Lisa Hinsley discusses why she made the decision to self-publish, what it's has done for her and her advice for writers thinking self-publishing their own books.

In 2009, many of my unpublished author friends were talking about Amazon and a new way to self-publish as an eBook straight into their online bookshop. I frequented the HarperCollins website Authonomy, a place for as yet unpublished authors to hone their skills and, on this forum, debates raged on: would self-publishing a book this way mean a publisher would never consider that book, was this a form of vanity publishing, was this essentially giving up on landing a literary agent or publisher? Most of my writer colleagues chose to continue sending out query letters, and called people going with Amazon foolish or brave. Meanwhile, I listened to the voices of the few who were saying now was the time to self-publish and start selling books.

At the time I had only one book I considered polished enough to put onto Amazon KDP. Coombe’s Wood had won a place in the semi-finals of ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) earlier that year, and now had a glowing Publishers Weekly review as a prize. And yet the novel still didn’t gain the interest of an agent or publisher. I decided in late 2009 to take the plunge and upload onto KDP. 

After commissioning a cover from Bradley Wind, a cover artist, I formatted my novel, a process I found tedious and time consuming, and after a day of fighting to eliminate every error and produce an eBook I hoped would be up to the standard of professionally formatted novels, I took a deep breath and published. 

In late October, the book went live at $2.99. That month I sold a single copy. By the end of the year, a paltry 13 copies had been purchased. I kept very quiet about what I’d done, maybe to avoid the debates that continued, maybe to prove I could become successful without help. In January I sold twelve copies, but in February that dropped to a mere six. By now I was active on the Amazon forums where the newly published authors swapped marketing strategies and tried to raise awareness of their books. One theory was that, as a new and unknown author, a price of $2.99 was too high for a reader to take a chance with. I lowered Coombe’s Wood to $0.99 in March and sales took off. That month I sold 144 copies of my novel. By the end of the year, I’d sold over 1000 between the UK and the US. It was addictive, and between my day job and my family, I was typing away, putting more of my ideas to paper. 

Another theory coming from the forums was the more books you had published, the more discoverability you’d have. By the end of 2011, I had three novels, a novella and a short story collection published. My hard work paid off and sales took off in 2012.

By now, I had a strict process I followed. After writing the book, I took it to my editor, John Hudspith. After a few months of working out the kinks and plot holes, I took my ideas of a cover to designer Jane Dixon-Smith. I can’t stress enough how important these two steps are. If you can’t afford to use an editor and commission professionally produced cover art, don’t publish. The cover you slapped together will look amateur. You will have mistakes in your manuscript no matter how hard you search for them. When you publish to the world, readers will find the errors and they will shout about them in the reviews. If the cover appears to be ‘homemade’, readers will skip by. You can also employ someone to format your novel, but I prefer to use Mobipocket Creator (a free programme to download) and do it myself. It always seems to take me a day of wrangling to get it right, but this is a necessary process to produce a novel that will stand beside a novel from one of the big publishers and not look out of place.

Do your research, get recommendations from other authors you trust and go with someone you feel comfortable with. You must be sure you trust this person and can work with them, as you’ll be working very closely with them, possibly for months.

In 2009, there were few options for marketing. You crossed your fingers, bleated about your book on the Amazon forums and hoped your novel would be noticed. Amazon eventually cleaned up the forums and chucked out the authors as our numbers increased and we took over. We were given our own forum and ended up trying to sell to each other and the odd reader who found their way there (probably by mistake!). There have always been blogs by avid readers, and this became a new way to increase awareness of your novel. Some you pay for, but I never do this. I submit to the blogs that take books for free, but the readers pick and choose what they want to review. If your book isn’t good enough, it will be ignored.

New ways of promoting have appeared, like Book Bub and Ereader News Today. They are sites that have large numbers of readers subscribing to their sites. They can be picky; again, you’ll only get in the door if you have a good book. Newsletters come out daily with a few books targeted to the genres the readers have picked. You do pay to feature on these, but they are worth it in the sales you’ll get.

As for the many eBook shops out there, well, Amazon continues to work hard to keep writers exclusive to them. On Amazon Select, you can offer your book for free or as a countdown deal, you can do preorders and allow borrows. As I’ve not had much luck selling on other online bookshops like Barnes & Noble or Apple, I have my books with Amazon only. 

Back in 2009, I took a chance publishing Coombe’s Wood. I shunned the ‘old-fashioned’ methods of submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers. I now have four novels, two novellas and a short story collection published. I was picked up by Simon & Schuster in 2012 with a two book deal based on the sales of the two books they took on. I honestly think that self-publishing was the best thing I could have done for my writing career.

Lisa C Hinsley's career has been varied, working as an architectural technician, a pet sitter, a pharmacy supervisor and most recently a carer/companion for elderly ladies, all the while writing when she can. Born in Portsmouth in 1971, Lisa grew up in England, Scotland, and America. She now lives on the Wirral, in northwest England, with her husband, three children, four cats and a foxy-looking dog. Lisa's novels Plague and The Ultimate Choice have featured regularly on the UK Amazon bestsellers charts and are now published in the USA by Simon & Schuster. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter

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