Clearing a path through the thorny world of self-publishing…

It took me about twelve years to complete my first crime novel, Black Moon Over Malvern. As I’ve mentioned before, this was because I was learning how to write a book as I went along, so naturally I made a lot of mistakes which slowed the process down considerably. When, by early 2020, I thought I’d produced a text worthy of publication, I reached for my Writers and Artists Yearbook and sent a synopsis, the first three chapters and a covering letter to around twenty-five agents. Two thirds of them got back to me to say (quite constructively in most cases) that the book wasn’t for them. The rest didn’t reply.

It didn’t make me feel too demoralised because it was more or less what I’d been expecting – it’s what all the books, articles and websites warn you about after all. And despite the fact that no-one had snapped up my precious book, it was encouraging to know that at least two of them had given it serious consideration. What it did make me feel though was that, rather than banging my head against a brick wall another twenty-five times, I’d give the self-publishing route a try and see if I did any better there.

The business of setting it up on Amazon, using Kindle Create, was remarkably easy. More than that, it was a creative experience in itself because the intuitive design tools for producing a cover and laying out chapter headings immediately transformed what had previously been a standard Word document into a strikingly professional-looking book. Launching it on Kindle was ridiculously easy too – literally just press a button and away you go!

The next stage, however, was (and continues to be) much trickier. For a start, I realised that my glossy new crime novel was just one of tens of thousands of similar books vying for attention in a highly competitive market and I was right down at the bottom of the rankings. I wasn’t necessarily down there because my book wasn’t any good, but rather because no-one had heard of it and so why would they bother to pay it any attention? I scoured Google for advice on how to sell more copies of your eBook and what I learned seemed to break down into three main themes:

  1. Set up a website to tell people who you are, what you’ve written and why what you’ve written might appeal to them;
  2. Make extensive use of the marketing and promotion tools that Amazon provide. These include: an author’s page; access to Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read your book for free; special promotional deals like offering the book free or at a reduced price for a limited time; advertising campaigns (at a cost you can set in advance);
  3. Price the eBook at a level that makes people think it’s worth taking a risk on – an amount they’ll hardly notice, like the cost of a coffee – but not so low that you feel you’re underselling it. Anything between 99p and £1.99 seems to be about right.

So far, in response to all this, I’ve set up a website (you’re looking at it now) and set up a parallel Twitter account which I tweet on most days. I’ve also set up an author page on Amazon. In terms of marketing tools, I’ve run one “get my book for free” day which resulted in 75 people downloading my book in a twenty-four period. And where price is concerned, the eBook currently sells at £1.99.

So where am I now, two months on?

Well, first of all, I’ve sold the grand total of 100 copies. I have to admit, however, that about 70 of these were downloaded at no charge during my free promotion day. I’ve received four 5-star reviews and one (anonymous) 1-star rating with no review attached. I’ve also received an abundance of really helpful reader feedback. Most of this has focused on typographical errors and continuity issues, but I’ve also had invaluable advice on technical matters like police ranks and procedures. All of this has enabled me to improve the text significantly (ongoing amendments are extremely easy to make on Kindle Create) and has helped make up for not having access to the services of a professional editor – self-published authors can rarely afford such luxuries unfortunately.

And what have I learned so far?

Mainly to be realistic… because however highly you (and those who know you) might rate your book, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the world will be the slightest bit interested. Persuading the public to download your novel rather than the thousands of others they could choose is a long-term business and you have to keep coming up with different ideas about how to promote it. If you’re persistent, adaptable and innovative you might eventually break through to a wider audience, but, as in the rest of life, nothing is guaranteed.

You also need a thick skin… I have to admit that receiving my first 1-star rating on Amazon came as a bit of a blow. I wouldn’t have minded so much if there had been a review attached, explaining why they disliked it (obviously it would be ridiculous to expect my book to be everyone’s cup of tea) or where they thought it went wrong, but an anonymous negative rating with no explanation is no help to anyone. I’m sure I’ll get over it though!

The long and the short of it is that this is still work in progress and, just like writing the book in the first place, I’m learning as I go. I’ll keep you updated as the story unfolds.

4 Comments

  1. Excellent post and a fascinating insight into self publishing. Your book is very good and, actually, is not like thousands of other books. It happens to be the sort of book that I love. Not too many characters thus allowing for good character development. An interesting but not overly complex plot. Great period and geographical detail. Lots of dialogue which, for me, is the key to an entertaining book. It’s ideally suited for film or TV adaptation. But how to appeal to a wider audience? It seems a similar problem to the one facing emerging musical acts – whether it be individual singer songwriters or bands. When reading articles in MOJO or UNCUT, the key event appears to be the intervention of another musician who brings them to a wider audience and contract by giving them a support slot. I wonder what the comparison is for an author? I don’t think Nick Hornby or David Hepworth had opening acts in their reading/book signing events, even before the pandemic. Do you think that there are any well known authors who would respond to a request for a helping hand? Val McDermid always seems to be a nice person….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great, thanks for the positive feedback. I’d never thought about opening acts for authors before you mentioned it, but it’s got me thinking now. I agree that Val McDermid seems like a nice person; the type who’d probably be inclined to give an aspiring writer a break. I reckon Hilary Mantel or JK Rowling would be the same. The American crime writer, Sara Paretsky, also seems like a decent sort.

    Like

  3. I’ve just put a post on similar lines, but less detailed and incisive. (Obviously WP’s AI thought I might want to read this….WP being useful for once!)
    This is very sage advice to those starting out, or wondering ‘Why not me?’. Any objections to me sharing this on my blog?
    Hoping you are making steady progress.
    Best wishes
    Roger

    Like

  4. Thanks Roger, I appreciate your comment. Very happy for you to share on your blog. Yes, making steady progress thanks.
    Best wishes,
    Rob

    Like

Leave a Reply to robkd Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s