Self-Publishing: The Story Thus Far

When I decided to self-publish Mundane Magic, I knew that I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. So when I made the decision to self-publish in the middle of 2016, I spent the rest of the year researching what would be involved in self-publishing. Needless to say, it wasn’t quite what I expected. Or rather, it was everything I expected…and twenty thousand other things.

As part of recording my self-publishing journey on this blog, today I want to tell you about my personal experience of what’s happened thus far, the decisions that I made based on those months of research, and what an author-publisher really does with their day.

The Text

Understandably, a lot of my early concern was in preparing the book itself. I was at this point on my fifth major revision of the book, and in the beginning of 2017 I made my sixth revision and final changes – which actually completely revised the ending. At this point I was inclined to keep going; to keep changing and changing until I was 100% happy with it. Except there’s no such thing as 100% happy. Eventually, you just have to…well, stop.

I spent some time researching editing. I’ve worked as a professional editor in the past and I currently do editing as part of my part-time job with Iron Realms Entertainment – so I know how important editors are, and how utterly abysmal self-editing is. There was never really any question that if I wanted to do this properly, I needed to hire an editor. But experienced as I was, I knew how much editing costed.

So a huge part of my preparation for the text was raising the not inconsiderable amount of money that was required for editing. Whilst working to earn this money I got quotes from a number of editors, for a number of different styles. If you want to know more about the different options for editing, go and check out my editor Louise’s website, as she has a ton of resources and explanations there.

Ultimately I found that quotes for editorial assessments (which are like reports on your novel, not line edits) were priced the same as the quotes I was getting for full copy edits, and developmental editing was far too expensive. I went with Louise because she was genuine and stood out to me as someone who was enthused and encouraging – as well as incredibly experienced and skilled. I used her ‘proofreading plus’ option, and I am very glad to have done so. She is absolutely incredible, and Mundane Magic would not be what it is now without her.

The deadline of sending her the manuscript also had the added bonus of giving me a deadline for putting the book down. When I gave it to her, that was it. It was done. And when she sent it back to me a fortnight later…well, I was ready, right. That’s it?

Preparing to Publish: Files

Having published in a lesser form before with my novella for Labyrinthe Live Roleplay, I was no stranger to how hideous typesetting could be. Typesetting is the process of preparing the text for publishing, both making ebook versions (primarily ePub and Mobi files) and print files (which are generally PDFs) – and it is no joke.

Fortunately, I found Reedsy. Reedsy do a whole bunch of stuff for self-publishers – acting as a place to source freelancers (editors, designers, etc) as well as a hub for publishing resources. More importantly, they have a typesetting service. It is completely free, you prepare it all yourself, and it is incredibly easy. You don’t have a huge variety of choice in how things appear at the moment, but the service is still in its early days – and the options you have are plenty. It does leave a line crediting them in your book, but it is short and unobtrusive – and frankly given how useful it was I am happy to have them credited that way.

I used this to prepare the files necessary for publishing, all of which were ultimately accepted by my distributor on the first attempt. This was something that all kind of came together in one go – I needed details like my ISBN number, my distributor’s specifications for files, and the cover designs before I could finish them.

Preparing to Publish: Cover Design

I was deathly afraid of cover designs, especially when I discovered how complex it is to design print covers. When I read my distributor’s specifications (more on that below) I quickly gave up any notion of designing a cover myself.

The thing is that covers are incredibly important. One of the reasons that self-publishing still has a stigma associated with it is the perception that it produces sub-par work. This stereotype conjures images of cover designs made in MS Paint (may it rest in peace) – and often it’s what puts people off buying self-published novels. This is especially true now, where the majority of books are bought via websites like Amazon, where you just scroll past if the cover isn’t eye-catching. In many ways, the self-publisher’s greatest weapon is an amazing cover design.

So when I stumbled through some frantic Google searches onto 99 Designs, I nearly died of relief. It was affordable, produced incredibly professional results, and did I mention it was affordable? By this point I had invested a huge amount into publishing and, to be frank, I didn’t really have much money left. I was afraid that I was going to let the novel down by being forced to get something sub-par.

I needn’t have worried. 99 Designs have a very different way of approaching designs. You put up your brief and, over a period of a week, designers submit proposals to you. Within a few hours of opening my contest I was was picking my jaw up off the floor. The designs coming in were incredible. Not all of them, of course – I definitely saw more than a few that were MS Paint worthy, or didn’t fit the brief at all – but this was entirely outweighed by the quality of the other submissions.

Being able to run a poll and have all of my readers vote for things was the icing on the cake – and it was in fact their favourite design, by CirceCorp, that I ultimately chose.

So that was my book and its cover sorted. Now, how to publish it.

Choosing a Distributor

As a self-publisher you have a few options regarding distribution of your text. I knew that I definitely wanted a print version, so this decided some of the choice for me – there are services out there which only do digital, some that only do print, some that do both.

For details about who is good to use and why, the pros and cons of the various services, and what the differences between them all are, I really recommend ALLi’s advice site. I can’t tell you how much their resources and blogs and Twitter have been invaluable to me. On their site you can find all the details you’ll need regarding the options for distribution.

I ultimately went with Ingram Spark, who are one of the three big names in self-publishing (the others being BookBaby and CreateSpace).

One of the commonly recommended things to do is to split your types of publishing (digital/print) between Ingram and CreateSpace, but I elected to do it all through one company and I’m really glad that I did. It is easy for me to manage how my books are distributed – rather than having to edit listings in the astonishingly vast number of booksellers, I just edit things in my Ingram account and they populate to the various sellers.

The process of signing up and preparing your book with them isn’t simple – publishing is incredibly technical in places, especially where it comes to printing. There is a terrifying guidebook to publishing with Ingram that made me have nightmares about the word “margins”. But as before there are tons of resources for understanding it and, ultimately, it’s not impossible.

Also, Marketing

Finished text: check. Cover design: check. Distribution: check. That’s everything you need, right?

Except it isn’t.

The major advantage to the months of research I put into self-publishing was that I knew the work wasn’t done. At the beginning of 2017 I took a Diploma in Social Media Marketing with Shaw Academy, and honestly? This was the single best thing I did on the road to publishing. Whilst the course wasn’t geared towards authors, I learnt a huge amount and I am now using those skills every single day.

Marketing is relentless and exhausting – especially as someone with an anxiety disorder. It is the hardest aspect of my job, and it is the thing I spend most of my time thinking about. I have spent weeks leading up to my publication date making marketing plans, researching resources, writing a list of my networks, learning about Facebook algorithms and creating the image of my target audience. It even comes down to things like increasing my usage of Twitter – which I hadn’t used regularly for several years, and now read constantly.

Website management experience is also incredibly important to marketing. I am fortunate that my teenage years were spent creating website and managing online communities – whilst my ‘training’ is out of date, I have enough existing knowledge about the field to understand the things that now take up much of my time, like search engine optimisation and CSS.

All in all, I have probably spent more time preparing Mundane Magic for publication than I ever spent writing it. And given that it took me multiple years to write, that’s saying something.

The Polymathy of the Author-Publisher

I asked my readers this week what they thought a self-publishing author does with their day. The responses were, as one might expect, mostly tongue in cheek – I suspect it is unlikely that any of you actually think that I brood darkly in candlit rooms, drink heavily, or roll in the vat of all of my book royalties. The effervescent Stephanie came closest – whether being an author-publisher is twice the work of both an author and a publisher I’m unsure, but it’s definitely the enthusiasm of one and the resources of the other.

An author-publisher is not just a writer. They are an administrator, a marketing executive, a public personality, an accountant, a researcher. The vast majority of their time doesn’t involve writing at all: publishing Mundane Magic has been so much work that I have had to put working on Protos, my second novel, to one side – whilst I could certainly fit writing in, I don’t believe that I would be able to fully dedicate myself to it. Right now my focus is on this process, and it has to be, and that is okay.

Being an author-publisher is all-encompassing. You are always thinking about it, even scrolling through your Twitter feed at 1am, or in the shower, or walking to the shops. It’s exhausting. It’s stressful. It’s isolating.

And it is the best thing I have ever done.