My Self-Publishing Diary – Part 1: Side-eyeing the starting line

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Well, as it’s the end of the month (and has been a big one for my novel) I thought I’d do a round-up of my self-publishing journey in diary form  – the nitty gritty of what I’ve been doing and how far I’ve still got to go. Not to mention what I’m actually aiming for…

Editing and formatting : DONE

So. This month I had my novel edited, and received the final manuscript, all clean and shiny and void of clangers. I have to say, I’m not entirely sure what I expected from a full copy edit, but I definitely thought there would be more changes. I was surprised by how light on red pen it was, and I don’t know if that’s testament to my writing or just a misunderstanding on my part regarding the scope of the edit. In any case, I’m thrilled with it. It definitely wasn’t something I could have done well myself. There were so many style points and grammatical nuances I just wouldn’t have picked up on. I’m going to study my edit like my life depends on it when it comes to self-editing the next novel though, partly because my editor is booked up about 6 months in advance and partly because it’s not cheap!

(Side note – I’m learning that there is nothing more satisfying than discussing your novel with someone who loves words and gets your characters.)

With the manuscript essentially publish ready (I think??) I’ve been focusing now on formatting it and compiling all the bits and bobs I’ll need once it goes live on Amazon’s Kindle Store. For example, I’ll need a description of the book to hook people in, an author bio – and I’m thinking I need to jazz up the title a bit. You know how everything on Kindle Store is called ‘Mynovel: The best and funniest and amazing romantic comedy you’ll read this year! Unputtdownable! Amazing twist! Book 72 in the Mynovel Series.‘ Personally I find this upsetting. It feels like showboating and noise, and I don’t like excess of either. But if I just stick with ‘Tilted’ it’s really not going to stand out, or tell people what it’s about. So. I’m going to have to suck it up and call it something like ‘Tilted: A sexy romantic sort-of-comedy where some people get shot.’ Or something, I’ll work on it.

Also – the author page: ugh. Writing about myself in third person feels weird. Writing anything at all about myself feels weird, especially as I’ve only written (or am publishing) one novel. But as with many things, I’m going to have to get over myself and push on through.

For formatting, I’m going to use Vellum. Even if you don’t actually intend to self-publish, I’d recommend downloading the free software (Mac users only) and importing your manuscript to see what it will look like formatted, because it is rather beautiful and motivational. And after actually weeping with frustration trying to compile ebooks with Scrivener (and making mistakes every single time) it was the easiest process ever. EVER. It will cost about £200 to purchase the license to format ebooks and print books – but if I keep writing then I do think it will be worth it.

 

Next steps : One, two, two and a half…

I’m dithering, actually. Technically – technically – I could publish my book this weekend. I mean, the actual book and cover are there – all I need to do is set up an account on Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Direct and go for it, and then start telling people. But… I’m not sure. I feel like I need to build up a bit of a head of steam, first. I’d like to set up an author website, for example, maybe set up a mailing list (both things EVERY indie publishing guide tells you to do asap). But that takes more time, more money and more fiddling around trying not to be a perfectionist.

I know that generally, it’s never your first book that gets noticed. You build up momentum by creating a funnel – publish a series of books that all feed into the other and hopefully one day it snowballs into lots of readers buying lots of your titles. Some advice I’ve read has basically been to just get the first one published however you can, and then immediately get to work on the second/third/fourth at which point you can get more bang for your buck on any promotions because there are multiple products in the funnel. You see?

I’m going to split the difference and throw a little launch celebration for Tilted – probably in a month or so – and then really crack on with the sequel and the novella. Yes – I’ve turned my standalone novel into a two-and-a-half piece boxset. Why not? The sequel is all planned out (thanks, Save the Cat Writes a Novel) and I’m still dithering around in my off-message (dark, gay, twisted) novella born from an Instagram dark love story prompt. My plan is to maybe offer the novella as a freebie for signing up to my mailing list? We’ll see how it pans out. It’s still a little spicy for public consumption right now…

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Where’s this all going?

I don’t mean the blog. Jury’s still out on that, but publishing-wise I’d like to focus first on my books in the Tilted series, then switch focus to my mystery novels – I’ve written the first of a planned five-part series, and the feedback so far has been really good, so I’m feeling positive! If I can crack on with those (and streamline the process) then in a few years I will hopefully have seven full novels published. And I’d also like to work on a serialised project – a sort of book soap-opera where I release an episode a week/fortnight or something (like they used to do in magazines back in the day!). I have ideas, but no plan, so that will take some thinking.

I have absolutely no idea if that sounds too ambitious. Tilted has taken me almost four years to get to this point! I’ve learned a lot, though, and I’ll get there. Most importantly, I no longer have The Fear about it all, or worrying that people won’t like my books (they won’t! But some will!). I’m willing to put myself out there. You’re a long time dead, after all.

Anyway, that’s May done!

Come at me, June.

How do you know when you’re ready to self-publish? Part Two

You can find part one of this thorny question riiiiiiight here. In it I offered two questions to ask yourself before self-publishing. To summarise, if your story is complete, positively received by betas and well-written then you’ve probably got a good wind behind you for publishing the thing. (Actual LOL! That may be the shittest piece of ‘wisdom’ I’ve ever shared.)

But for the final two questions, I’m moving onto the less obvious stuff. The stuff that relies on inner fortitude and ability to develop a thick and impenetrable skin. Basically:

3. Are you ready to fail spectacularly–or more likely, fizzle out with no fanfare whatsoever?

We’re all biologically wired to fear abandonment. OBVIOUSLY few of us are going to be thrown out of our tribe for not being an incredible author (if you are I STRONGLY encourage you to find a new tribe toot sweet), but there’s still something within us that makes us want to shy away from putting ourselves out there, to invite scrutiny, ridicule, pity…

For me personally, this is an inexplicable barrier that I’m really having to push through. Like most things holding us back in life, it doesn’t make any sense but that doesn’t make it any easier to ignore. However, if this is holding you back, here are some things that are helping me push on through:

–          Write yourself the worst review for your work you can possibly imagine. Really go to town. Just drag that baby through the mud and then stamp on it. Then read it, and breathe it in. Then write yourself your dream review. The kind of praise that would make you weep with joy. Again, go wild. Then read that and let it sink in. If you publish your book, and tell the world about it, are you ready to read reviews like this? Are you ready to accept that both reviews can be true, and that both can be false at the same time? Can you step back and acknowledge that other people’s opinions will generally tell you more about the reviewer themselves than the book being reviewed?

–          Find your favourite books and go read the worst reviews. There’s bound to be at least one crappy review for every book. Which just goes to show that you can’t please everyone, and it’s not personal. Also, that some people just get great joy out of being angry and disappointed by everything and who are you to ruin their fun by giving them a book they might actually like? Puh-lease.

–          Embrace your insignificance. You might knock a bestseller out of the park on your first book. But more likely, not that many people will read it. Or, lots might, but they won’t tell you about it. A tiny percentage of readers actually leave reviews. And I know from experience that even people you think would be dying to read something you’ve written (ie, your family or friends) might not actually get around to it. Or they’ll just casually forget that you’ve done something as astonishing as write an entire book. It happens. And though it sounds a bit sad, I find it quite comforting, because it boils down to this: nobody is going to care if you don’t get it exactly right. Readers don’t know how many books you’ve sold, fellow writers are too wrapped up in their own creative quagmires and your friends will know whatever you choose to tell them. So relax. Do your thang.

If all of this still feels a bit terrifying – and you really can’t imagine embracing the fear and doing it anyway – then maybe you’re not ready to publish. No-one in authority is going to pat you on the back and give you a big sticker, after all. (Though I will totally celebrate with you! Hit me up with your achievements – tiny and tall!) In reality, the worst that will probably happen is that nobody will care either way, and is that so terrifying?

4. If you don’t do it, will you regret it?

Finally, this. You can talk yourself out of a lot of opportunities and put a lot of things off forever – out of fear, self-doubt, discouraging family members, whatever. But if you feel happy that you can positively answer all the questions above, and there isn’t anything left to do, then what’s stopping you? Everyone has to start somewhere – and anyway, it would be weird if your first book was your best. Weird, and really annoying – I mean, where is there to go from the pinnacle of your career except down? This is just the first step to bigger and better things.

I’m reminding myself that book one is an experiment, a fun foray into self-publishing, and that if the whole world turns on me for writing a terrible book (I flatter myself with my own importance) then I’ll just take it down and start again.

Hope this helps anyone in this strange, exciting and slightly nervy position that I’m in. And if you’ve already reached the giddy, dizzying heights of self-publishing success (whatever that looks like to you) then please comment and share your experience so that we may learn from your wisdomosity. I bow at your writerly feet.

Powerful Bloody Women

I’m open about most things. To the point of oversharing, definitely. But I don’t think I’ve ever written about periods before. Or, for that matter, been able to use the phrase ‘menstrual cycle’ without embodying the spirit of my uptight Year Nine sex-ed* teacher who didn’t understand the concept of lesbianism and seemed awfully uncomfortable telling a class of teenage girls what this menstruation nonsense was all about.

(*It wasn’t called sex-ed. I’m British; it was called Personal, Social and Health Education which is much more repressed and unhelpful.)

Anyway. Times are changing, my friends, and here I am, using the phrase ‘menstrual cycle’ on a publicly open platform. I don’t even care if you cut me out of your life for such a transgression! Gosh and cripes.

It’s just, I’ve only just realised how much power there is in really knowing what’s going on with myself every month. Physically, mentally, energetically… When I discovered that there was a pattern to the madness of my life – and one shared by practically every woman – I had a total ‘aha!’ moment. Except…that makes me sound like Alan Partridge.

Alan-Partridge

We’re actually quite similar, facially…

More of an ‘Oh!’ moment, then.

I can’t help but suspect you won’t be interested in the history of my period (why not, though?) so feel free to skip the next paragraph. I provide it only for backstory.

When I was about 27, I came off the pill after more than a decade and found myself battling really shitty skin again. That was why I’d gone on the pill in the first place. But now I just wanted to have some control over my body and my skin – I wanted to be well and function properly without having to rely on chemicals that were having fuck knows what effect on my body and fertility. I tried a lot of things: veganism, supplements, psychotherapy (on myself, I should add – I read a book called Skin Deep that was all about the psychology behind having acne. It was a fun read), affirmations, meditation, keeping a cycle-diary. I was desperate for my period to return so I could see what effect my hormones were having on my skin. When I got to day 245 of my cycle, though…I started to think something was up. At some point in all this, I did have a period, and then it went away again. When I got pregnant with my first daughter the midwife asked for the date of my last period. I told her it was 9 months ago; it was a weird moment.

Fast forward to this year – and I finally got back in the flow (as t’were) after pregnancy and breastfeeding etc. I had three cycles, at which point reflecting on my behaviour caused me to pause for a moment and squint into the distance. I asked myself, ‘am I dealing with a split personality, or is this somehow…normal?’

Because, seriously. Let’s (wrongly) assume I have a 28 day cycle and take an average month. For half of it, I’d be a motivated writer, full of ideas and confidence and – crucially – the ability to sit down at my keyboard and write. Then for a quarter of it, I’d be unable to do anything but critique everything I’d written and snippily edit my work, finding fault with it all. Then, for the final quarter I’d be able to do NOTHING AT ALL. No words. Words would not happen. I wouldn’t even want to open my laptop, let alone muster up creative energy and pour it out.

That happened several times, and each time, that ‘dry’ week made me question everything. (As did the annoying critiquing month, but as least then I was still sort of writing).

And it’s not just writing. You should see my wardrobe. It’s the wardrobe of someone who doesn’t know who the hell they are. It’s mostly grey and black, and sensible boots and tights. But there are weird things in there. My pink fur coat. Suede pink platform sandals I can’t walk in. Tropical print skirts. Sheer shirts. Crop-tops. A jumpsuit! Cute, quirky slogan tees that I put on then immediately replace with something less controversial.

When I purchase those things, I’m desperate to wear them. But by the time they arrive and the weather is right for me to do so, it’s like I have no idea why they are in my wardrobe. It’s like someone else ordered them for me. A fun version of me. The version of me I like to think I am, but frequently turn out not to be.

I make social plans that just two or three weeks later I dread the thought of, despite my excitement at the time. I make plans to decorate my house in pastel colours, only to find a week and half later that I want to paint everything navy and embrace low-lighting.

I kind of rolled with it, but all along I wondered… Is it just me? Am I really just so insecure that I can’t make up my mind who I am or what I want? Because I don’t feel insecure. I like myself a lot, even if I never know quite which version of myself I’m going to wake up to.

Then I downloaded an ebook called Adore Your Cycle, by a women’s coach and author called Claire Baker. I’d followed her for a while via her blog, and something kept pulling me back to her and her approach to women’s health and periods. I made the decision to download her book – and just as I went online to do so, she sent an email with a 50% off code. Winner.

Honestly, it is transforming my life. I mean, I only read it last week, so it’s probably too soon to say, but the RELIEF and understanding that I experienced when I read the book was immense. She explains how women’s cycles follow different seasons – withdrawn, silent winter (when you’re bleeding), outgoing, flirty spring (up to ovulation), proactive and motivated summer (after ovulation), then reflective, critical autumn (pre-menstrual).

It explained all of my tropical-print skirts (bought them in my ‘spring’ phase). It explained my writers block (ALWAYS when I had my period, why did that not click sooner?!). It explained my drive to edit. It explained why for a week or so each month I’d suddenly want to change EVERYTHING ABOUT MY LIFE and do all the things I’d previously lacked confidence to do.

Ugh. Why did I not know this from the start? WHY? I can work with this knowledge! I know when to sit down and write, and when to expect my inner-editor to come out. I can plan for that! I can make peace with the fact that – for seven days or so, while my uterus decides to just fall to pieces – I’m actually not gonna want to create much, thanks. Just going to want to sit here, in silence, and watch chick flicks and cry about very small things. The book will wait.

And I know when to make life changes, and when to hold back. I know when to start trying to save the world, and when things are likely to overwhelm me and make me feel like my actions won’t be worth the effort. I know when to try and change my diet and make it stick. I know when to accept that I won’t be able to fight cravings, and to not give up just because I have a bad few days.

There is so much POWER in this knowledge. I can’t tell you how energised I feel by it. (I mean, I can tell you. That’s what I’m doing right now.)

You might relate to some of this, or you might relate to none at all and wish I’d stop saying ‘menstrual cycle’ already. I know when I mentioned it to my colleagues, they said I was sounding dangerously close to being someone who uses a Mooncup.

And you know what, I probably am. Maybe. (They are actually a lot bigger IRL than I imagined and that frightens me, so….it’s not a definite no.)

But that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about being a hippie, earthy, ‘I am woman hear me roar’ do-gooder (I can only aspire to such giddy heights). This is about realising that we hold power in different ways at different times, and that if we learned to work with those powers instead of sucking it up and carrying on as normal, then maybe we’ll all be a little bit…better? Happier? Aligned with ourselves, at least. Empowered, definitely.

I’m going to be reading so much more into this. I’m quite excited about what else I might discover about myself. If you’re in any way interested, I’d recommend you check out Claire Baker’s website and see what resonates. Her free resources are a good place to start.

After a bit of experimenting, I’ve finally found the right week in the month where I can actually wear my red lipstick without feeling utterly ridiculous. I might even graduate to my jumpsuit, next cycle….

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Look lively, lads.

 

What I’ve been reading: Lost Gospels, Funny Girls and Near Death Experiences

It’s been a crazy reading ride so far this year. I’ve decided to capture what I’ve been reading throughout the year and review as I go through a monthly book round-up. This one is a double-whammy so it’s a touch on the long side – usually they’ll be shorter! (But equally as weird – I flit crazily between fiction, self-help, spirituality and writing-craft books.)

It all started pretty normally with the newest release from Mhairi McFarlane – who writes the best down-to-earth, funny female characters and really sexy, brooding but ultimately lovely love interests. This one delves into the world of a floundering 30 something barmaid who comes face to face with the boy who broke her teenage heart – and he doesn’t remember her at all. I fully identified with the main character as we both own the same (ridiculous) pink fur coat. Huh. Good stuff though. I’d recommend her books to anyone – and this new one was as familiar and comforting as all of her others. (These are, by the way, absolutely cracking holiday reads. She is SUCH A FUNNY LADY.)

Then my dad recommended Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. I don’t think I’ve read any others by him (perhaps About a Boy? But maybe not) but I enjoyed it. It’s set in the late 1950s in Britain, and follows northerner Barbara as she moves to London to pursue a life of comedy television. The story spans many years and many of the characters involved in writing and producing a successful sitcom. It’s funny, but bittersweet. Very evocative of how I imagine the country was back then, the good and the frustrating, un-PC bad.

Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting! was next, and it was one that I’d been dithering over for a while. I’m glad I read it, it has kickstarted a whole chain of interesting and introspective events since! The premise of the book is that in order to change your life, you need to change the way you feel. It’s less about ‘thoughts create reality’ and more ’emotions and feelings create reality.’ It made me SO aware of my emotions, and through keeping a 30 day journal as recommended in the book, I’ve been shocked by how difficult it is to consistently maintain positive feelings in my body. It’s easy to think positively, but without the accompanying emotion, I’m not sure that thoughts alone have much impact. But when I’ve managed to get the feeling to align with the thoughts… Weird things have been happening in my life, guys, and I’m totally into this. Things just keep appearing when I need them (and for a while after reading this, the suddenly meaningful song ‘You Always Take The Weather With You’ by Crowded House kept following me everywhere, in books, radio, TV and in shops. Weird). Lynn’s writing style is a bit divisive – it’s very pally and chummy and a bit old school. What’s even weirder is that after this book her life took a bit of a weird twist and she slumped into depression, going on to write two further books all about how we are in some way being prepared on Earth for some other planet…. Earth Two, I think she called it. I won’t be reading those books. My intuition – which I rely on a lot for my reading choices – tells me to just…ignore those ones.

Anyway, through keeping my journal of positive emotion, I started noticing a lot of things that I would otherwise have ignored. One of which was a bible quote in my parish newsletter: “Knock and the door shall be opened, ask and it shall be given.” I have no desire to read the bible but something about this felt sort of apt given what I’d been reading, and it made me idly wonder what it would be like to learn about Jesus without all the….religion attached.

Idle thoughts can take you in strange directions, my friends.

I googled. And I Amazoned. To my surprise, my online delving finally delivered me to The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels. So, did you know that in 1945 an urn full of thousand-odd year old heretical gospels were dug up in Egypt? Because somehow, that passed me by. They apparently inspired the Da Vinci Code, and I do love a secret-text related mystery…. These gospels were more spiritual than the ones that made it into the bible (and therefore deemed heretical by the orthodox church.) Totally fascinating. Good historical book, this one. I felt enriched and also a little wiser by the end.

ANYWAY – getting back to normality with Indie Confidence – this deserves its own review. It was a great confidence boost and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of writing a book but lacking in direction or self-confidence, and particularly anyone wanting to publish themselves. It was balanced, personal and warmly written, and gave me back a bit of writing mojo. Another useful craft book was Erik Bork’s The Idea, which lays out the seven key elements of any successful idea. He’s a scriptwriter so a lot of the book is focused on scripts and movies, but it’s really translatable to novels. He explains everything with contemporary and classic examples (mostly films, though) and it has given me a lot to think about with my current WIP and future ideas I want to develop into stories. If you can crack the high-concept stuff at the really early stages then actually plotting and more importantly selling the story will be so, so much easier further down the line.

I’m just going to finish by touching on Proof of Heaven, which I’ve read three times now and find a lot of comfort in it. Like I said, I’m not religious. This is one of those books that presents a very spiritual concept in a way that doesn’t make you think everyone involved is a space-cake. The author is a neurosurgeon, who a decade or so ago contracted a really rare form of bacterial meningitis and went into a deep coma. His brain basically shut down. The chances of him dying were 97% and nobody, nobody in his situation had ever made a full recovery before. Whilst his neocortex was totally out of action, and therefore incapable of fantastical flights of fantasy and imagination, the author describes how he found himself in a totally different (heavenly) realm that felt more real than life on earth ever had. He attributes this to his consciousness expanding beyond his body and experiencing what life outside of our current reality is really like. He then went on to make a rapid and total recovery, astounding everyone. This book is SO INTERESTING.

It also has special meaning for me as I found this book in my grandad’s room a week after he died. I’d had no idea that he was interested in such things when he was alive, and I wish I could have talked to him about it – he had other similarly esoteric books on his shelf too. But I found it when I needed it, and like I said, it’s a very comforting view of existence.

In summary – if you want a giggle, read anything by Mhairi McFarlane. If you want to write books, read The Idea and Indie Confidence. And if you want to know what happens after you die… Dr Eben Alexander has you covered.

 

 

The newbie indie author’s guide to a great book cover

Just like we first eat with the eye, we also choose what to read with the eye. (I mean, what else would we choose with?) Basically, the consensus is that a good cover is essential to publishing success.

But ‘good’ is very subjective. What I really mean is ‘obvious and eye-catching’. Obvious in the sense that the cover accurately depicts the story within, and eye-catching enough to grab a readers attention even when the thumbnail is teensy-tiny – which it will be to people reading/buying their books on their phone.

Traditional publishing takes the cover-design stress away…right?

I confess that I’ve had a few moments of envy for people pursuing the traditional publishing route. Whilst it’s a much slower process (if you get representation and/or an offer on your manuscript in the first place) at least you will end up with savvy professionals who know their stuff, can zero in on your specific niche and genre, and utilise a whole marketing department to give your book the best chance of success.

Except…that’s not always true. I listened to a podcast months ago about a writer called Polly Courtney who got her books picked up by an imprint within the Big Six, and immediately started to regret it. The publishers were pushing her stories into chick-lit, a genre she didn’t think they suited, with covers that were chasing the zeitgeist of the day (at the time, the X-Factor/Pop Idol hype) and didn’t reflect the stories she’d actually written. In the end, I think she either fired them or broke out of her contract at the earliest opportunity to publish them herself, on her own terms. You can read about it/listen here on the Creative Penn site – I found it pretty eye-opening!

Doing the whole thing yourself might be more work, but at least you have complete control over the design and how it relates to the novel itself. Which leads me to:

Know your market – and market to them!

I know, here are some eggs, suck ’em. But this is actually something I’m struggling with when it comes to my novel, Tilted. I’ve had mixed feedback on exactly what genre it fits into. Initially in my mind it was kind of romantic chick-lit, but the themes in it make it less light-hearted. It’s got a fair whack of suspense, but putting a thriller-style cover on it would be misleading – it’s a definite romance. It’s not women’s fiction, either, thanks to my main love interest, Max, having his own point-of-view.

Romance would be the clear contender here, but the romance market is SATURATED with very similar cover designs: topless man, couple laughing at each other, suited man looking broodingly at his hands…..sigh. It’s hard to stand out in romance unless you can narrow it down.

This – in large part – comes from my desire to be different, and to produce something that feels authentic to me. Admirable traits, but totally useless if you want to sell books to busy people who just want to know: is this book the kind of thing I want to read? The only way they can possibly tell that in a hurry is if it has an appropriate cover on it.

The lesson I am learning (slowly, and probably the hard way) is that as writers our own personal design preferences will probably only hinder our progress here. The answer, clearly, is:

Hire a professional cover designer

They know what they are doing, they know the book cover market, and they have their finger on the pulse of current cover and design trends. They also – and this can’t be overlooked – know all the nitty gritty involved in designing something that works for books of different sizes/print styles/digital formats etc.

Designers don’t come cheap though, and from my research it’s about £150 – £400 for a cover, and that doesn’t always include print AND ebook. It can add up – BUT a cover designer can do add-ons like promo materials for ads and social media, which is pretty useful.

If your pockets don’t stretch that far, and you’re feeling brave though, you could:

Design your cover yourself – if you dare

There are some great tools to use. Software like Photoshop would obviously be spot on IF you have it AND know how to use it. If you don’t, though, then online tools like Canva are brilliant. Intuitive and free, and with some great pre-made designs to use as inspiration, it’s a good choice if you’ve got vision and creative flair. There’s a new Design School within Canva with video tutorials about how to get the most out of the deceptively simple tools.

I designed a few mock-ups for Tilted on Canva a few months ago, and if nothing else it got me really motivated about seeing my book enrobed in something other than a Word doc with the title and word count on it!

I came across a cover design course the other day, and whilst it’s a fair amount up front, I guess it’s a good investment if you plan to use the skills you learn on all the books you write. It still depends on you having faith in your design skills though, and besides, not everyone wants to. The course creator, a designer called Stuart Bache, also wrote a book on cover design for authors, so there’s another option if you’re really committed to doing it yourself.

If your design skills aren’t great, though, and you’ve got a little cash, then:

Split the difference and get a pre-made cover

This would be my preference, as you get the benefits of a professional cover design from as little as £50. Designers post their pre-made designs – usually fairly generic, but it’s surprising how many you can make work for your novel with a bit of squinting and open-mindedness! – and once you buy them, they take that design down so nobody else can use it and insert your own title and author name before sending it to you to stick on your book. Some designers will make small changes to the font/colour for no charge, but others ask for a supplement for any changes.

Some good sites include Rocking Book Covers, Coverquill, and the massive database The Book Cover Designer, which is comprehensive but terribly overwhelming. There are thousands of covers to choose from in the Romance genre, for example, and my mind melted around page 24.

Places like Etsy are also pretty good – and any decent indie author forum will have links to cover designers who offer pre-mades.

Personally, I’m still figuring it out. I’ve tried my hand at Canva, I’ve requested quotes from designers who never responded, and I’m half way through a conversation with a designer to see if some of her pre-mades might work for Tilted. I’ll get there, but it’s not the straightforward process I fancifully imagined it would be! Partly this is because I don’t fully know what I want it to look like myself, and lack confidence in where it sits in the market.

(In fact, if ever I could pass on one piece of advice to writers from my experiences so far, it’s…. KNOW WHAT GENRE YOU’RE WRITING IN FROM THE START. God. I hope I take my own advice next time around. Spoiler: I probably won’t.)

Whatever route you choose to go with your cover though, this is not an area you should overlook, at any cost. I’ve even seen advice suggesting that a cover designer is a better investment than an editor, because whilst your writing without a pro edit might be shocking, your book without a pro cover won’t ever get opened, at all. Bleak.

So, watch this space – my currently nude novel will be enrobed in something suitably gorgeous any day now. I won’t let it strut it’s stuff on Amazon’s storefront totally naked….

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What does it cost to self-publish your book?

Here’s the thing: I don’t know. I have yet to actually publish my first novel, Tilted, but I suspect that by the time I finally press ‘publish’ on Amazon, I’ll have spent close to £2000.

And that’s without any actual marketing.

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Yikes! I mean, the dream is obviously that your book instantly sells 500,000 copies, makes you a millionaire and that initial outlay is as insignificant a memory as the steam that wafted up from yesterday’s morning coffee. But I’m only a part-time fantasist, and I think it’s probably sensible to hold off from putting an offer in on the country mansion and assume I’ll make diddly-squat from my (wonderful, marvellous, you-should-definitely-buy-it-when-it’s-released) novel.

So, I guess the first question should be:

Can you self-publish without spending anything?

For sure. For sure. But you’d need one of two things:

  • A really good network of readers and fellow writers/editors/graphic designers who can make sure you’re putting out a solid, good quality product; or
  • The ability to be happy with turning out a potentially (and noticeably) sub-par product.

Believe me, I researched self-editing tools and techniques for hours. I attempted to design my own cover on Canva. I’ve sent my book to about 6 friends to beta-read for me, and received great feedback. I absolutely could have just considered that a job well done and published.

And maybe I would have, were it not for another two things.

Firstly, I’ve read a number of self-published books on my Kindle, and I can usually spot the ones that haven’t had a thorough edit a mile off. And it PISSES ME OFF. Even though I’m a writer, I’m actually not that inclined to cut my fellow writers much slack when it comes to sloppy mistakes like getting character’s names wrong halfway through the book, or poor formatting, or just bland characterisation and plodding plots. In a draft? No problem! But a book you’ve published for the world to read? Nah. I wouldn’t put up with them in a traditionally published book, so why should I have to with an indie book? In most cases, I’m paying exactly the same amount for them.

(Aside: I’m by no means suggesting my novel is perfect, or that readers might not find all of those flaws in it should they be so inclined. Also, I’m a really picky bitch when it comes to stuff like that, I can’t help it. It’s a curse.)

Secondly, I saw the impact that a professional eye could have. I paid for a professional editor to beta read Tilted for me when it was at the third or fourth draft stage. The advice she gave ran to 4 pages and covered marketability, characterisation, pacing and the kind of constructive feedback I’d been craving from my other readers who, understandably, didn’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of writing a good novel to identify the areas I was weakest on/nailing. Then I had a couple of sample copyedits done on my final draft and boy, is there room for improvement. I thought my manuscript was tighter than my toddlers fist when someone asks for one of her raisins, but there was so much scope to improve and tighten and refine. (For example, I used 3 words there that all meant the same thing – they would not have made the edit.)

How much does it all cost?

I guess it differs for everybody, depending on budget, time and whether you consider your novel to be a means to a financial end or not. I don’t. I’m lavishing treats upon my novel in the same way I throw gifts and food and clothes at my kids in the hope that they’ll thrive, without ever expecting to break even. (How do you break even on a kid? Hope they become Oprah, or something?) I love writing, and producing a novel is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. People spend a lot of money on their hobbies, right? This is my hobby.

Also, it’s a pretty public hobby – once my book’s out there, anyone can judge me on it. It’s like doing a dance competition in front of everyone you’ve ever known; you’re not going to want to do that without some lessons, spray-tan and a seriously distracting costume, ammiright?

So I’m anticipating that my costs will end up looking like this:

Beta read: 200USD (about £160)

Editing: c. £1450 (could defo get it cheaper if you shop around and aren’t fussy on the style of feedback you get (and write a shorter novel…!) but I found a great editor I connected with and went with my gut)

Cover design: I’ve budgeted £150, but you can get pre-made covers for a total bargain. I purchased one I plan to use for a future YA novel for £30 and it’s gorgeous.

I also purchased Scrivener a while ago which has made the writing process a lot easier, and might consider using Vellum to format the book, so that could run to another £200 or so.

Total – c. £2000

Is it worth the investment?

The answer to which has to be that you’ll never know unless you do it. Like I said, this book and any future books will be my creative babies, and even if they never earn me a penny back, I’ll consider them totally worth the cost.

Having said that, I’m hoping that by splashing out on my first novel, any future books will benefit from my increased understanding of the process, of what a strong edit involves, and hopefully a good stash of pre-made covers that I’ll snap up as I see them.

If you want to quickly start making out of writing, then maybe this feels like too big a hit. If I sell my book for £2.99 then I’ll have to sell 1000 copies to make back my money. I don’t know 1000 people, and don’t have any money for marketing, so let’s just say I’m not pinning all my hopes on it.

I’m still dreaming big, though. Miracles happen every damn day.

And it’s worth saying, too, that I saved up a pot of money for this exact purpose, which makes the decision to spend it a bit easier.

In conclusion

Unless you are an editor yourself (and I suspect they still need outside editing) I think that you have to spend at least a bit of money on your manuscript if you want it to be the best it can be. You don’t have to. But having read the ones that chose not to, I think I’ll always feel better having done so.

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The Value of a Beta-Read

Whew.  It’s been ages since I felt like I could justify blogging.  In my absolute dream life, I picture myself floating serenely out of bed (before a few laps in my heated, indoor pool, natch) and heading down to my beautiful library-slash-office, and writing from 9am until 5pm, at which point I’d close the computer and cherish my family time.

I guess some writers – good, established ones, or at least the rich ones who can afford to – do do that.  But for me, writing is never-ending.  I do it as soon as I get up.  I do it while the baby naps.  I do it while the toddler watches TV.  I do it while my husband takes the kids to the shops.  And when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing.  I wake up in the night to jot down plot points or dialogue or just things that come to me and which might be brilliant, might be a pile of shit.  I can’t risk it; I write it down.  So when I’m not physically holding children, I feel like I should be working on my novel.  Blogging just falls behind the wayside, because it’s non-essential.  But not blogging makes me feel a bit weird and guilty, so….

What’s wrong with us?  All of us, I mean?  Why do we always put so much pressure on ourselves to be doing something that we are not currently doing?  Sigh.

Anyway, onto the topic at hand.  I recently sent my completed novel to be read by a professional editor.  I paid for the service, but I’m really glad I did.  Before she read it, I think six other people had read it – and I’m so grateful to them all.  Their feedback was lovely, and really encouraging, but they are my friends and family and as every writer is continually reminded: They Will Not Tell You If It’s Shit.

So, before I pressed on and self-published 130,000 words of crap, or gave up altogether, I took the plunge, checked my bank balance (a mistake) and sent it off.  It took my beta-reader about a month to get around to it, but she sent me a four page write up of what worked, what didn’t, what could be cut, and the areas a traditional publisher would likely want changed.  It was brilliant.  She told me some really positive things, most importantly, that she really enjoyed reading it.  I mean, that’s all an author wants, right?  That and a million pounds?  Totally standard.

She also gave me some very useful – and not at all discouraging – criticism.  Characters needed to go.  My main character needed to grow a backbone.  My love interest needed to be a bit more….loveable.  (He’s a killer – it was a tough re-write).  The whole thing needed to be significantly shorter.  My baddie needed to be less like a James Bond ‘mwah-ha-ha’ villain.  All things I can work on (and have worked on – I attacked the third draft like a beast).

The main sticking point she mentioned – and which I have always suspected was going to be difficult – was putting it in a particular genre.  It’s romance, but a bit of an odd duck of a romance.  The hero, Maxwell, is a very non-standard sort of romantic hero, in that he doesn’t want to have a relationship.  Or sex.  Or any kind of friendship.  Then there’s the themes in the book – murder, suicide, bullying, references to domestic abuse….  I genuinely didn’t have ANY OF THOSE THINGS IN MIND when I started to write it.  I don’t know where they came from.  I don’t know where the story came from, all I wanted to write about was Nina and Max, but I needed something to hang them on and….  Poor Nina.  Poor Max.  Anyway, the themes meant that my attempts at a romantic comedy were a bit off the mark, but it’s not quite a thriller…  And it can’t be ‘Women’s Fiction’ either (that catch-all genre) because in order to make it so, I’d have to lose Max’s point of view, and that would break my heart.  I love him (even if nobody else does).

So.  I guess it’s closest to a romantic suspense, and that’s probably where I’ll pin it for now.  In the future, I’m going to make sure I know what genre I’m writing in before I start writing.  Also my advice to other aspiring authors.

My beta-reader was amazing, though, is what I’m saying.  Not only did she give me amazingly clear direction, she also gave me back my confidence and love for a story I’ve been dragging along for 2 years, and was starting to lose faith in.  Many people in writing communities don’t pay for beta readers, they just share critiquing favours, and that’s amazing.  But I don’t have that network yet, and in my case, paying an editor was well worth the money.  Once I can scrape together the money to pay for it to be properly edited, I’ll do another round.  (You pay per word, another MASSIVE incentive to cut it down!)

And then, maybe early next year, I can finally publish this little baby of mine.  I’m excited and also terrified, but most importantly, I’m motivated.