As writers ourselves, we know how daunting it can be to self-publish your first novel. Member L M West did just that, embarking on the mammoth task of learning all the skills effective self-publishing involves. Now, she’s reaping the rewards. From editorial assessments to cover commissioning, she takes us through her process and explains why self-pub can often be the perfect fit.
JW: Tell us a bit about your background as a writer. When did you start writing?
LMW: I left school in 1970 with three O levels and hadn’t written anything before. After reading about a local woman who was accused of three instances of witchcraft, the story of my first novel, ‘This Fearful Thing’, was forming in my head – but I had no idea how to go about setting it down or how to actually write. I had done the research and when lockdown hit I thought I had nothing to lose by having a go. I started off by doing a short online course with Curtis Brown Creative called Write to the End of Your Novel. This was just what I needed as a complete beginner and really helped me get to grips with what I was trying to do.
JW: What made you change your mind about pursuing a traditional publishing route?
LMW: A lot of the information and courses out there are geared towards traditional publishing and that was what I thought was the ‘proper’ way to go. Two other writers I had ‘met’ on the CBC course (and who had become my Trusted Readers) both got agents within a week of each other and were over the moon. I hadn’t quite finished my book, but my synopsis was done and my query letter all ready. I was so thrilled for them and thought this was what I wanted as well. But then, about three weeks in, they started to mention deadlines, a possible title change, and a major re-think of some of the characters. It also became clear that you, as an author, do not always have the final say on things like the cover design. I just woke up one morning and thought ‘I don’t want this’. I had suddenly realised that I didn’t want the stress of deadlines and alterations, of the problems of getting an agent and maybe, even then, not getting a publishing deal. I also hadn’t realised just how long the traditional publishing process takes and I wanted my book out there sooner rather than later, so I looked again at self-publishing.
I just woke up one morning and thought ‘I don’t want this’.
JW: Self-publishing involves a lot of plate-spinning – how did you go about learning all the skills required?
LMW: In the early stages I’d decided that self-publishing was far too complicated and would take up valuable writing time, but when I revisited the idea I began to look at it in more detail. This is where Jericho Writers came into its own for me. I paid to have a professional editorial report which was a complete game-changer and something I’d wholly recommend, as you need another – unbiased – opinion on your work before putting it out there. I think self-pub has still got a bit of a stigma around it. With this in mind, I wanted to make my book as professional as possible so I also commissioned a cover from a local printmaker/illustrator. Both these things were costly, and I did hesitate before committing to them, but they helped make the book the success it’s been. It became stronger and much tighter for the editorial report, and I’ve had so many lovely comments about the cover design, so I’m pleased I made the investment.
I paid to have a professional editorial report which was a complete game-changer and something I’d wholly recommend, as you need another – unbiased – opinion on your work before putting it out there.
I Googled the skills I needed and decided to publish via Amazon KDP as there is no up-front cost. The process was easier than I thought as the KDP site talks you through the process in simple stages, and I resisted the urge to check it ‘one more time’! I decided to publish in both Kindle and paperback format and interestingly, so far I have sold about 75% paperbacks to 25% Kindle copies – I think it’s the cover! It’s when you press the ‘publish’ button that you realise it’s now sitting in a pond with six million other books – how will anyone know it’s there?
JW: What was your experience marketing yourself as an author?
LMW: I commissioned a small company to build a website for me, which was another investment. But it’s the first place your readers see and hear about you so I think, like the book, it must look professional. I also don’t have the skills to insert things like Amazon links and a mailing list form, so it was well worth having someone else do it for me. I was very lucky too that, on the day I published, Richard Osman had just been awarded Writer of the Year and there was a lot of discussion going on about that. I’m a member of a couple of Facebook book groups so took a chance and posted on one that today I was happier than Richard Osman as, at age 67 and with no further education, I had just published a novel. I didn’t do a direct link to Amazon, just put an image of the cover. An hour later I had five likes and was really pleased. By lunchtime the likes had turned into hundreds and the comments were rolling in.
I replied to anyone who had put more than ‘congratulations’ or ‘well done’ and so spent what turned into four days responding to Facebook posts! In that first week, I had over 1,800 likes and nearly 700 comments. The sales on Amazon soared and I was off. I also approached local bookshops who were very encouraging. I underestimated the time this would all take though, especially as I have to distribute the books myself. However, it means you get to establish a relationship with bookshop owners, which has been a joy. I did a book event and found I really enjoyed standing up in front of a room and speaking about my book.
You get to establish a relationship with bookshop owners, which has been a joy.
JW: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers wondering whether self-publishing is for them?
LMW: Jericho Writers have masses of information about self-publishing, and I wish I had seen this before I started out – it would have saved me a lot of time! There is plenty there to help you decide if self-pub is for you, but my advice is to give it a go. If you have a strong book, professionally produced and formatted, that has a great story, then just try. And if you get stuck (as I did several times) you can email the staff at Jericho Writers and they will always help. The support is there, and the information. I don’t regret it at all. I never thought I could do it and am very proud that my book is selling steadily and that book two is written and being edited. I won’t hesitate to self-publish this as well.
If you have a strong book, professionally produced and formatted, that has a great story, then just try. The support is there, and the information. I don’t regret it at all.
Laina lives in Suffolk with her husband.
Interested in self-publishing? Take a look at our Simply Self-Publish Course with award-winning author Debbie Young – the perfect way to go from publishing novice to indie-expert.