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The Great Self Publishing Question…Answered!

As some of you may know, most of you probably as Google stats tells me that vitually all of you come to this blog via my sailing blog, I’ve recently had ‘a bit of a shock’ on the pension front. To be precise, my pension payments have been slashed by 66%. Not TO 66% but BY 66%. Clearly, clear to me at any rate, my cruising days (cruising in my boat for those of you who haven’t visited via the sailing blog) are numbered. What to do?
At this point let’s review the arguments against self-publishing. So JK, you’ve written the definitive novel of the twenty-first century (or not, are you the best judge of that?) and now you’ve decided to self-publish. Have you carefully proof read your work? Well you might have done, but as you wrote it in the first place you probably won’t spot that many errors, so you need a proof reader. A couple or three choices spring to mind. Friends, hire a proof reader or join a writers group and hope somebody will do the job for you. That translates into somebody who might or might not spot more typos than you, spending money or having a complete stranger whose background you know precious little of check your work and wanting something in return.
Having jumped through that hoop, you might consider editing your work. Now you’ve probably already chopped bits and pieces out of it, but can you view it with an unbiased eye? Can you hell, it’s your baby, your pride and joy. Somebody else needs to cast a critical eye over it. What should an editor be looking at? How about inconsistencies in the plot, shallow characters, a bad ending, a bad beginning and is the story in fact worth telling at all, for a few of ideas off the top of my head? Friends and writers groups might be able to answer a couple of these questions, but can they look past what they like and consider a genre that they might have no interest/experience in or liking for? Back to hiring an editor, but which one? Lucky dip in Yellow Pages, recommendations from other authors or do you respond  to adverts that pop up from time to time on your browser or email program. Of course, you might decide to skip both these steps and trust your judgement, I’m sure a lot of self-published authors do. I’m also sure that many if not most self-published authors sell a few books to family and friends and that’s it. Remember that pension which is now 33% of what it was? A bit of a conundrum then, do you invest in yourself or do you exercise iron will and a self-critical eye? I have no idea what a proof reader and editor would cost, the two are totally different functions of course so you really are looking at hiring two different people.
And now a digression. ‘They’ are watching you, you know. Have you ever noticed that when you send an email or even make a blog entry, you receive a bunch of ads/pop ups based on what you wrote? I have and as an ardent aardvark fancier who thinks it would be fun to have an ardvarkas a companion on a cross country bustrip in Latvia, travelling in a vintage double-decker Routemaster London bus whilst in fancy dress, say a little leather cocktail dress, I shall view my ads over the next couple of days with interest.
Be that as it may, back to self-publishing (or even Self-Publishing. Nah, get enough of those already!) and having crossed the financial hurdle of having your work checked, or not as the case may be, you have to decide are you going to publish your masterpiece as an ebook, a paperback or both? Let’s assume that you’re going to publish as an ebook only, which platform do you use, Amazon, Smashwords or something else? Using Amazon limits you to the Kindle format, but of course, they probably are the biggest provider of ebooks. Sorted then? Well not quite, first you have to upload your work, then you have to check the formatting. Having done so, quite possibly several times, you’re ready to epublish right? Not quite, how about the cover artwork, is it important for an ebook? Well when you do a bit of searching on the Internet you find that most of those who provide artwork for a price say it’s vital (now there’s a surprise), a couple of honest souls say it’s important but if it’s a good story it might not be quite so important and of course here’s plenty of people who say it’s unimportant. Personally when I’ve brought ebooks I haven’t really noticed the covers unless they’re exceptional, but then I haven’t really been browsing, I’ve been after a specfic book. That leads me onto another point, but in a moment.
Right, the book’s on Amazon UK and Amazon International and you’ve even filled out a gazillion page form to allow Amazon International to pay your royalties without deducting US income tax. Relax and wait for the money to roll in. Er not quite, what about marketing? You’ve already pestered everybody in your email address book and of course you’ve been writing a blog, have a facebook page and are a Twit(erer). What else? Damn good question. Still stalkingthe point I was getting to in the last paragraph. Amazon have a jolly wheeze up their sleeve. Provided you’ve priced your book at £2.99 or above, they pay 70% of the cover price as royalties, which of course is good, in fact about the best deal that you’ll get for ebooks. The jolly wheeze is that as a marketing ploy you can specify a couple of dates when readers can download your book free and they will still pay you the royalties at the 70% of the cover price that you originally set rate. Fantastic eh? Amazon also say that if they decide to drop the price of your etome they will pay royalties based on the price that you set. Nirvana (weren’t they a seventies band?)! The sting can be if you’ve epublished elsewhere, Amazon also reserve the right to match or better the price of your book on any platform, so if another platform does a promotion Amazon will notice and will drop their price. In this case, your royalties will be based on the new price and I’m not clear how quickly Amazon ‘notice’ if the promotion ends on another eplatform. One final little wrinkle in the fine print. Have you noticed when you buy an ebook on Amazon that you get a ‘readers who brought this also brought..’ pop-up? Your book, provided it’s selling, will go up the Amazon sales ladder and eventually at a certain level of sales your book will feature on the ‘readers also brought…’ pop up BUT, the sales that come about from the promotion do NOT count towards the level of sales needed to feature you on Amazon’s ‘readers also brought’ pop up. Oh, and don’t forget that formatting is different on each different epub platform. Still with me, or are you wondering what an aardvark in a leather cocktail dress would look like?
So much for ebooks. Wanna be a paperback writer? I believe that Amazon have a ‘real’ publishing division, but of course the book’s then only available on Amazon. There are self-publishing companies who will print on demand (POD) and list the book with Amazon and other retail outlets BUT, the royalty structure is different i.e. not so generous, and of course you won’t see your book in WH Smiths, airport departure lounges or a bookstore near you, unless you pay for a print run. Surely not a good idea as you might have paid out several hundred pounds on editing, proof reading and artwork already. Never mind, you’ve pounded the pavements and convinced your local store to stock your masterpiece. Hell, for a price your POD self-publisher will even organise a book signing for you. You take the plunge, have a good time and sell a couple of books. You’ve even persuaded Jimmy Olson from the local rag to attend and interview you (or paid for him to do so). You’re on your way baby. Weeell, not so fast JK, ever heard of ‘returns’? They’re the unsold copies that booksellers return to publishers after they fail to sell them in, oh I don’t know, the first five or ten minutes after they put them on display at the back of the bookstore near to the ‘books in Mesopotanian’ section. Naturally they are returned and disposed of at your expense, not the POD self-publishing company. You will, I am reliably informed, be billed for this.
So much for self publishing then. What about the ‘traditional’ route? First you have to get signed up by an agent. Yes you can pitch your book direct to a publishing house but I get the feeling that most are a bit sniffy about that, although it is changing, slowly. OK, an agent likes your work and a good one will proof read and may even make editorial suggestions in order to attract a publisher, free of charge but of course there are agents’ fees to be paid out of royalties. If your agent asks for money up front, find a new agent or make sure their ‘cut’ from your royalties is on the quantum end of the scale rather than the cosmological end. Now the waiting begins and it can (and has) taken up to three years for an agent to interest a publisher in a manuscript. But eventually comes the day and you sign a contract; hurrah!! Problems over right? You get a humungous advance and…..not so fast. Most advances these days seem to be in the order of three or four thousand US dollars (or the equivalent) and you might not get that in one fell swoop either. Before that, the agent will have negotiated your contract, retaining as many of your rights to your work as he or she can manage and making sure that you get a different royalty structure for ebooks. In the interim you’ve lost out on sales (i.e. money) by not self-publishing. Conventional wisdom says that the advance from the publisher will nullify this, but assuming you get £1.99 per book from Amazon, if you can manage to sell fifteen hundred books (based on an advance of three thousand pounds) you’re ahead by self- publishing. Or are you? Fifteen hundred books is a lot unless you’re a marketing wizard. If the agent route takes three years to produce an advance (and frankly these days that isn’t guaranteed) you need to sell five hundred books a year/forty one a month/ten a week. Tricky JK, tricky.
For all that, my pension has just been cut BY sixty six percent and to keep cruising (and I wonder what ‘they’ will make of cruising) I need to generate some income PDQ. I had started on what I fondly imagined was a faintly amusing police story. Rather than take any of my books away from Emma the Agent, I think I’ll finish that off and self publish on Amazon, with a cover photo that is in the public domain (i.e. free). I was about six chapters into it, so I tell you what. How about I edit/proof read the first chapter and put it on this blog, would you let me know what you think about it? Watch this space.

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