My first three novels – Stolen, Gone, and Tell Me Lies – were all traditionally published. But with Murder in Slow Motion, I decided I wanted to try something new. Having been first published by a small, independent publisher and later by one of the biggies, I found there were pros and cons to both. I knew nothing about self publishing but knew people who had. It’s easy, they said. It’s fun! Well… after a lot of hard work and a handful of nervous breakdowns, here are some of the things I learned.
- Before doing something, know why you’re doing it, and what you hope to get from it
Did I want the “kudos” of being traditionally published? Did I want to see my book in bookshops? Did I want a hard copy of the book or was just an eBook fine? I realised that the book is the same regardless of who publishes it and that being traditionally published doesn’t necessarily mean your book will be stocked in real bookshops. What was important to me was getting a story that meant a lot to me out there and having control of things I previously didn’t have. The only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted a paperback as well as an eBook. As someone who reads very few eBooks, I wanted something I could hold in my hands.
- There are far more decisions to be made than I ever realised
There’s a lot of excellent information out there (a lot of mine from The Creative Penn) but as someone who is chronically indecisive, it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. Do I publish exclusively on Amazon or publish wider? Do I use my own ISBN? What should the cover look like? How do I find an editor that’s right for me? What size book do I want? Do I format it myself or get someone else to do it? What are my categories and keywords? And on and on. After a while I found myself in limbo. There were pros and cons to everything, and almost too many things to choose from. At this point I wondered if I should start sending the book out to traditional publishers.
- If you need help, ask for it
After weeks of researching editors and still coming to no decision, I reached out to the brilliant Mel Sherratt and asked if she could recommend anyone. She did, and I ended up working with the equally brilliant Donna Hillyer, who whipped the book into shape. With one less thing to worry about (I’m also a chronic worrier), I reached out again to my first publisher. I was told that the overwhelming majority of their sales came through Amazon so I decided to publish exclusively with them. Another decision made.
- There’s an answer to almost everything on the internet
I guess I already knew this from some of the more obscure “research” questions I’ve typed into Google. But I’d decided to have a go at formatting myself because I like to learn new things, even though new things related to technology usually send me into meltdown. I found some useful videos on YouTube and discovered things I could do in Word I never knew about before. Exciting!
- Challenging yourself is challenging, but also feels really good
So, extremely proud of myself for formatting my own book, I uploaded it into the previewer and waited for my work to appear in all its glory. Except when it loaded, it was a disaster. Turns out there isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to formatting. I won’t bore you with all the ins and outs, but let’s just say that after several more attempts I was almost weeping. But as well as being technically inept, I’m also stubborn, so I couldn’t leave it alone. Spending nine hours on a Sunday afternoon trying to format is not fun at all (especially when you’ve already put a lot of hours in and thought it was done). But when you finally get it right, it’s worth it.
- Any decision is better than no decision
I spent a lot of time trying to weigh up pros and cons, and second guessing myself. Every time I thought I was ready to move to the next stage, I’d panic that I’d made the wrong decision. I was afraid to choose one thing over another. But the thing is, almost all of the decisions are reversible. Choosing to publish with Amazon now doesn’t mean I can’t go wider at a later date. If I realise I don’t like the font or the cover? I can change that too. No matter how uncertain things feel, doing something is always better than doing nothing.
- You’ll know the perfect cover when you see it
I’d never had input with my covers before but now it was entirely my decision to make. There are lots of people out there who can create whatever is in your head. The problem was, I had nothing in my head. I guess visuals are not one of my strengths. How could I commission something if I had no idea what I wanted? Fortunately, a lot of designers do ready-made covers. Out of thousands of designs, I found one that looked good and I thought maybe that was enough. But after procrastinating for so long, the cover was snapped up by someone else. This turned out to be fortuitous. Going back in, I found the cover I finally used, knowing it wasn’t just good but actually perfect. This time I bought it immediately.
- You have to press publish eventually
The book was edited, proofread (and read and read), formatted, the cover was designed. I’d chosen my keywords and categories. Decided on a price. I’d got a proof copy and checked it over. There was nothing else to do but press the button that said Publish. And yet I hesitated. What if I’d done something wrong? What if it wasn’t quite ready? With my previous books there were little things I’d change if I could but it was too late. But this time, I could change things if necessary, so what was I waiting for? I pressed send. And felt a bit sick. (But also happy).
- You never know when a book will be a success, but neither does anyone else (unless it was written by J.K. Rowling). So don’t worry about it!
The book hasn’t been out long and it’s tempting to keep checking the sales reports. (As handy as it is, having day by day sales figures is possibly the road to madness.) And as nice as it would be to become a bestseller, I have to remember that, just as the book is the same whether it’s self published or traditionally published, the book is the same whether one person reads it or a million do. The achievement is in the writing and, for me, navigating the self publishing process. I found it hard work but I’m glad I did it. What happens next is out of my hands.
- Life is too short for algorithms
Finally, one of the things that came up repeatedly in this process was algorithms – the thing that dictates how visible books are on Amazon, and how sales are ranked. Many of the sites I visited spoke of algorithms as if they were the most important factor of all, as though the book itself doesn’t matter. And yes, I know it all helps, but really? Isn’t life too short to worry about algorithms? I’d rather be writing the next book.