I want to self-publish but where do I start?

My advice to new authors is to always give the traditional route a chance before turning to self-publishing. However, it’s my feeling that self-publishing may be the only option for many writers. I read an academic paper last year, one of the first to look at authors from a Black, Asian or other minority background. One of my major takeaways was around the barriers that exist for authors from all minorities. There is a practice that exists within most publishing houses called ‘comping’ where submitted books are compared against previously published works to get an idea of how commercially viable they might be. So, what’s the problem?

Of course, the main problem is that not many authors from minority backgrounds have been published so there is little to compare a new work against. Risk-averse publishers are therefore unlikely to take a punt even though, in the case of a disabled author or an author writing about disability, twenty percent of the people they sell books to will have a disability of some sort. There is a vast untapped reservoir of readers for books featuring disabled or minority background characters but most publishers are seemingly unwilling to take a chance on what they might see as something new and untried.

However, if the traditional route doesn’t work for you all is not lost. Try self-publishing. That’s what I did.

Since coming out as being disabled around fifteen years ago as my spinal condition got very much worse, I’ve noticed that there was a distinct lack of disabled characters in books, film and TV. Even the few that are visible are often two-dimensional and unreal (perhaps due to the fact that on film and TV they are often played by able actors). When I started writing, in desperation to find something to do to cope with my pain, I decided that my main character would be disabled and, for authenticity, he has exactly the same disability that I do. I’m a world expert on my disability. Now, it might just have been that agents and publishers didn’t like my books but, having made it clear that the main character of my crime series was disabled, I was somehow not surprised at getting zero response from over twenty submissions. It was at that point I decided to self-publish.

It would take too many posts to take you through the whole process but, if you want to give it a try there are some tips below.

Write your book first

Write the best book you can and then get someone else to read it. Who you choose as a reader is incredibly important. They have to read and enjoy the genre you write in but be forthright enough to be able to tell you where you went wrong. I am lucky enough to have four readers and none of them are scared to tell me of the typos or plot holes that exist in the first draft. From experience, I always build in time for a rewrite after my book has been read. However, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. For most new authors, good is good enough. Even if there are blemishes, most readers will forgive you if your story is compelling enough. Don’t forget that, as your editing skills increase, you can always go back and re-edit and then republish your book.

Amazon is the only game in town

When it comes to self-publishing there is really only Amazon as no other platform has the reach and the readership. When I published my first book some seven years ago, I found the whole process quite confusing and it took me quite a while to get my head around it. Since then they have improved their publishing system but it will still take you a while to get even a partial understanding on what’s on offer. Anyway, the first thing you need to do is to go to any Amazon page and then scroll right to the bottom. Under Make Money with Us select Self-Publish with Us. You will then be taken to a page where you can set up your Amazon account and your journey will have started.

Learning the process

The first page you will see is the Bookshelf. It will, of course, be empty but you can begin your journey by entering in some basic information; title, sub-title, author, blurb, keywords etc. The most important thing to remember at this point is to take your time. You will be on a steep learning curve so ensure that you refer to the Help pages, available at the very top of your screen, any time that you are unsure about something. Amazon has gone to great lengths to make sure that virtually everything is covered and I found that they helped me greatly. Another wonderful source of information can be accessed by clicking on the Community link. Here Amazon has set up a forum so that authors can speak to and help each other. The site is moderated but I’ve found it is with quite a light touch as many posts moaning about various aspects of the publishing process make their way through. Any question you want to ask will probably have been asked many times before so use the Search window first before you post.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s not hard work and, at times, a real slog but if you put in the hard yards before you publish your book, you will get much better results.

What not to do

While Amazon’s reach and readers make it a great place to publish, if they decide to terminate your publishing account, there is nowhere else you can go. Some great ways to get terminated are –

  • Plagiarising other authors. Amazon have state of the art software checking for this so don’t even bother trying
  • False book reviews. Probably the major reason that gets authors terminated. Don’t try and get people to put up reviews for you. Anyway, these days any reviewer will have to have bought $50 worth on Amazon before they can review anything. Also Amazon can usually detect if your reviewer is known to you so don’t even try to get friends and family to put up reviews
  • Book content has to comply with the rules. Ignorance is no excuse. Read the rules and make sure that you stay well within them
  • Be careful of marketeers. They may increase your sales but, if they do this by sailing too close to the wind, Amazon won’t blame them, they’ll just pull the plug on you. I use Amazon ads and find that they work fine for me
  • Being dishonest with Amazon about anything. Just don’t do it.

This is, of course, not an in-depth guidebook to self-publishing. I’ve seen quite a few books that pretend to be this but don’t fall for it. Everything you will need to know is in the Help pages and, if you’re really desperate, you can contact Amazon and they have some great people who can usually sort out your problem.

I also notice that there are many sites now setting themselves up as ‘publishers’ who will basically take your money and simply publish your book on Amazon. If you have money to burn you might want to try them but, as many books produced by these services are quite shoddy, I personally wouldn’t bother.

So, my advice is to have a go. Nothing can beat that wonderful feeling when you hold your first published book in your hands. Even better for me was when I got my first US review. To think that someone thousands of miles away had read and enjoyed my book was absolutely mind-boggling.

Best of luck. When you go to the beach next summer perhaps it will be your book that people will be reading!

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