Industry Insiders: Self-Publishing by Emerging Writers’ Festival

Last week I bit the bullet, pulled up my socks and using many other cliches I booked a ticket to this seminar on Self-Publishing as part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. I’ve turned my ideas on self-publishing totally on their head since my early days of this blog eight years ago and it’s now something I’m putting into my thinking. It’s good to have several ideas on the go at once.

There were three people on the panel: Karen Andrews, Gemma Flack, Aaron Lamb. All three had a different and interesting story. Let’s look at them and I’ll give you some pearls of wisdom from the seminar as well. I hope I’ve ascribed the thoughts to the right people, my notes include what was said but not by whom.

Karen Andrews is the person behind Miscellaneous Mum, Miscellaneous Press and has also authored several print books. She started off as a mummy blogger, I first met her shortly after starting my blog and it’s been lovely watching her progress. Self-publishing means you get to work to your own deadline and you don’t have to answer to an editor. But you do need people to ping ideas off.

Bloggers tend to be more accepting of self-publishing than authors. They’re amenable to taking on new ideas and experimenting with them. Bloggers have made self-publishing far more accessible for authors.

If you’ve got a physical book you want to sell in a bricks and mortar bookshop you need to take them into the shop and talk to the manager. You’ll need to be able to talk marketing with them and may need to sell on commission. You don’t get paid unless they sell the book.

The writing process can be lonely and risky. Andrews was very happy with the Small Press Network Mentorship she received. She felt it was good to be able to sit down with a mentor and help get rid of anxieties and ideas. It also helped to have someone to overlook the business model to see if it would work.

Gemma Flack is part of the Sticky Institute. I scribbled a few words about them back in 2015 having made a successful foray inside; I still have the zine on my desk. Flack sells art on Etsy as well as doing tattoos and zines.

The Sticky Institute is a fabulous institution. It sells and provides publishing equipment for people wanting to create their own zines. The poet, Frank O’Hara, could have used the Sticky Institute as he often sent his own poems out to family and friends. This would have been an easier way for him to do that and also to have sold more of poems within his lifetime. They have very few rules: zines must be less the $10; have no ISBN and; no barcode. In other words, it’s ideal for the small writer who wants to write a poem or a short story and sell it in a supported atmosphere. The equipment they provide includes typewriters and photocopiers.

Aaron Lamb is the author of two ebooks, Pollen and Stem. Self-publishing means you have several things you need to do yourself and not be able to rely on other people. These are things such as budgeting. Lamb did suggest it’s wise to outsource some parts of your project such as editing, cover designer and proofreader.

Lamb mentioned the positives of having the ability to change the digital file and reupload to Amazon (yes, he’s a Kindle author). What he’s done is listen to feedback from his readers and amend his writing, changing the digital file. The next buyer then gets a better book. He likes negative reviews as they help inform the writing process.

Some discussion was held on digital marketing. This is what Lamb does for a day job and he’s found it’s become much easier since the advent of social media. Yes, Google still sell advertising units but if they do this they have to deliver the number of ads they’ve sold. Lamb discussed some of the testing he’s done with both intrinsic language and extrinsic language. He advised he’s had better results with intrinsic language talking about relating the characters to things people already know about. The ads can become an extension of the book, it gives you a chance to explain more about the characters and get people hooked.

Kindle free books are a two edged sword. On the one hand they are the race to the bottom of the price pack and they devalue books and writing. On the other hand a few thousand downloads can put you into Amazon’s emails which can lead to sales.

General thoughts.

Don’t end your ebook on a cliff hanger unless you have the next book ready to go, it is likely to receive negative reviews. People have lost patience and don’t want to wait for the next book, they want to be able to go and buy the next book immediately. It might be good for sales to write the whole series then publish all at once.

If you have a series it might work to have the first ebook for free as a taster but then to have prices on the other ebooks.

You don’t have to have a distributor for your print books but it might help depending on your ultimate goal.

When approaching agents if you have a print book then it’s good to include a copy with your letter as they don’t have to figure out what you’re saying but can look at the completed book.

When looking for a publishing platform look at if they can sell books. Feedback is an excellent indicator of this.

Amazon is great for selling science fiction as they have many different categories and you can work within your niche.