In the hopes of sharing knowledge with fellow writers, I sought out someone with experience in self-publishing. Gavin Whyte does a really great job at covering the basics of self-publishing, the ups and the downs! So if you want an honest opinion on self-publishing, be sure to take a read!
K. Why did you decide to go into self-publishing?
The truth is: lack of patience and the need for instant gratification. Not ideal attributes for an author, I admit. When I self-published my first book, back in 2010, I just wanted to get it out there as soon as possible. I was naive, to say the least. I had no prior experience of the publishing industry, and the first book I published was the first book I wrote – ever.
Now I would advise any writer that is just starting out to write, write, write, and as soon as you have finished one book, start your next one. Doesn’t Neil Gaiman say to imagine you have a million words you need to get off your chest first, before anything good comes out?
Just to show how naive I was, one of the things that attracted me the most about self-publishing was the fact that you got to cut out the middle man. This is the publisher and/or the literary agent. These people supposedly take a long time to get back to you, and I simply wasn’t willing to wait.
Moreover, I’d heard they are so swamped with submissions, that the chances of them taking on a new writer are slim. Self-publishing was an attractive option from the start, mainly because it was free. I learned earlier on that if a publisher asks you to pay a fee in advance, then walk away – fast. So called “vanity publishers” are sharks, looking for writers with little experience and big dreams.
I was attracted to the idea that I could have my book published in the same afternoon I finished writing it (although it’s not a good idea to do that). I was attracted to the fact that I would be in control of the creative process, from designing the cover to deciding the price.
The traditional route simply does not offer a writer such freedom. You might be wondering if I tried getting my first book published the traditional way: The answer is
yes. You have no idea how shocked I was when it was accepted. I was sent a contract, and when I looked into the small print (I even had a lawyer-friend go through it with me) I decided there was something fishy about it, and so I declined their offer.
That’s when I stepped onto the path of self-publishing.
It felt safe and refreshing. More importantly, I felt my book was safe. As writers, our works become our babies, and we want to protect them and give them the best chance to thrive in the world. Selfpublishing seemed to offer that protection.
K. What have you published?
To date, I have self-published five books, all for the young adult (YA) audience, or younger. It is interesting to see – and I know this from reading the reviews and the personal feedback I get – that it is mainly adults that read my work. I can only assume it is because my books are not reaching their target audience; an undesirable aspect of self-publishing that you, the writer, is in charge of.
My first book, Waiting for Wings, was written as a gift for a friend’s family, when he died of cancer at the age of 22; another reason why I wanted to protect it from the jaws of the dishonest sharks. It tells the story of a 12-year old boy whose friend is dying of cancer, who one day says that he woke to find an angel at the foot of his bed (which my friend actually said, before he lost his speech).
I then went on to write a fable called The Girl with the Green-Tinted Hair. This is less than 9000 words in length, and is easily my most successful book. Why? It is free to download. The feedback is overwhelming, both on Amazon and on Goodreads. It has got into the hands of a decent amount of people (it is closing in on 500 ratings on Goodreads and has 67 reviews, both on amazon.comand .co.uk) all because it costs nothing to read. I treat it as my bait book, to get my name on readers’ “readar”.
K. How did you go about publishing your books?
I started out by using lulu.com. I have just checked their website, and they have clearly made it friendlier and more attractive since I last used it, nearly 10 years ago. They use a print-on-demand business model, which means that if they receive an order of 50 copies
of your book, they print 50 copies and send them out to the customers. You, the writer, don’t have to do a thing. Gone are the days when you fill your garage with boxes and boxes of copies of your own book, which, chances are, might end up being pulped. (Such a sad thought.)
I moved my books over to Amazon because of its impressive infrastructure. The business model is the same as Lulu (in terms of it being print-on-demand), but the truth is – and I’m sorry, Lulu, you were good to me – that more people shop on Amazon than they do on Lulu. That is a fact. Most people haven’t even heard of Lulu, but ask a friend where they bought their Christmas presents, and chances are Amazon will be on the list.
To get you started on Amazon as a self-published author, go to Amazon’s homepage, whether that be .com or .co.uk etc and log in (assuming you have an account). Scroll to the bottom, and find the option that says either Self-Publish with Us (as it says on .com) or Independently Publish with Us (as it says on .co.uk), and then all you have to do is follow their instructions.
They are constantly trying to make the process as simple as possible. It is all free (as is lulu.com), but you can pay for additional services, such as editing, proofreading, and copy-editing, etc. (I personally haven’t used these services, but I do have a friend that has, and he was very satisfied with them.)
Here is an important point about self-publishing, one that needs to be taken very seriously: What you write and hit “publish” on, is exactly what your readers will download and keep, forever. Read that sentence again, in fact, no, I’ll put it in italics for you: What you write and hit “publish” on, is exactly what your readers will download and keep, forever.
You, not only as a writer, but as your own publisher are responsible for making sure that your book is as finely polished as it can be. Self-published books with many errors in them – such as sloppy “speling” mistakes, or the absence of full stops – is one of the reasons self-publishing has got a bad reputation.
Of course mistakes happen, but they shouldn’t be because of laziness or negligence. And anyway, why would you want to present your hard work in such a half-arsed way? You have got to become a perfectionist, because if you don’t your readers will pick up on it. Even something as simple as asking a friend to help proof-read it, can help go a long way to avoiding simple mistakes you may yourself miss.
K. Can you give us some advice on publishing with Amazon?
Let’s start with an ebook. I’ll briefly cover how to self-publish a paperback and audiobook later.
- Once you have completed the steps mentioned above, you will need to upload your work, usually as a Word file or PDF. I would strongly recommend only a PDF is used at this point, because PDF mirrors print exactly – that is what it was designed for. Word Docs are not designed to look the same on different mediums, or even different screens or computers. Once uploaded, you can go through your book just as it would appear on a Kindle or iPad. Here, you can again check for errors – and again, it is very important you do.
- Then it comes to designing your cover. Amazon are forever updating and improving their templates for you to use. Some of them are pleasant, some aren’t. But it is about your personal taste at the end of the day, and what kind of cover you envision for you book.
- I used Amazon’s templates for my first three books. I was happy with them, but as time went on I realized how unoriginal and cheap they looked. Having an eye-catching cover is important. We might not judge a book by its cover (at least we try not to), but a cover is usually the deciding factor of whether or not it jumps off the screen at us.
We see thousands of images on a daily basis. We scroll and scroll, clicking only on what grabs our attention. You have got to try and create a cover that grabs the eye. Easier said than done. However, Amazon know this, and, like I said, they are always improving their templates.
- The thing about using one of their templates is that other people can use them too. What could be more frustrating than finally publishing your book, only to scroll down and see a completely different title with the same cover! Not good. I have been there. It is for this reason that I used fiver.com for The Girl with the Green-Tinted Hair, Happiness & Honey, and A Stolen Youth.
- ‘Fiver’ is a website where people offer many services, including editing, digital marketing, translation, and graphic & design, i.e. book covers. And, just as the name of the website suggests, they do it all for a fiver (of course, you can also choose to pay more, depending on what you want).
- It is used by people who are trying to build a substantial portfolio for their work, and so they are going to try their best to do a good job. You find someone who you like the look of (by reading their reviews, for instance), tell them what you want, upload a few samples of the covers you like (by sending them book covers from Amazon or wherever), and leave the rest to them.
- When I received the cover for The Girl with the Green-Tinted Hair, honestly, my eyes filled with tears. I was so happy with it – and all for a fiver!
K. How do you price your books?
You don’t want to make your book too expensive. Simply do some research and see what others are doing. Do what feels right to you. Are you wanting to knock up the price of your book because you want fat pockets? Chances are you won’t be a household name, so setting your ebook at $9.99 isn’t advisable. However, something like $3.99 is much more sensible – and still a little on the pricey side.
Some have said the price reflects an assumption of the book’s quality. I am not sure if that is true. If your ebook is on sale at $1.99, it has an attractive cover, and the story is good enough to start gaining good reviews, then clearly that assumption is false.
(Word of advice: At the end of your book, ask your readers if they would kindly write a short review for you. Reviews are so important for any writer.)
Because you are in control, you can change the price at any time. Something you definitely don’t get to do when you publish traditionally. That being said, I would advise you not to change it too often, simply because you don’t want to annoy your readers.
My advice is to set the price of your book rather low, and treat it as a trial run. You can always change it 6-12 months down the road. Self-publishing really is all about trial and error. At least it has been for me.
Handy Tip: Amazon do not give you the option of giving your book away for free. Which makes sense, because they would make no profit. But what they will do, because it directly affects their reputation, is match the price of your book if it is cheaper on another site. If you want to make your book available for free, go to a website like draft2digital; go through the process of uploading your book, then set the price at $0. Contact Amazon and tell them that your book is available for free on Draft2Digital and you would like them to match the price. Hey presto, your book will appear on
Amazon for free.
K. How do you get paid for self-publishing?
Every month you will receive an email from Amazon, regarding your royalties. They will get paid straight into your account, completely hassle-free. I know a lot of people have had trouble with Amazon not paying them, but honestly, I have never had an issue.
Let’s briefly cover the process of self-publishing a paperback and an audiobook
As a self-published author, you get to publish one book in three different ways. That is, potentially, three streams of income from one source.
If you want to publish your book as a paperback, then simply head over to createspace.com. It’s owned by Amazon, so the process is very similar to publishing your ebook. Formatting can be a nuisance. I have published books where the print is extremely small, and, even now, I’m pretty certain there are big margins of empty space at the sides of the pages. It is not ideal.
It is worth remembering that Amazon sell many more ebooks than paperbacks.
Once you have finished going through the process of creating your paperback, hit publish, and it will be available on Amazon.
If you want to create an audio version of your book – and why wouldn’t you want to? – head over to audible.com. Again, this is owned by Amazon. Now you understand what I was meaning before about their infrastructure. They have their fingers in many pies.
You upload a sample of your work, and then wait for narrators to send you samples of their auditions. You choose the one you like the most, leave them to narrate your book, they send you the entire thing, and once you are happy with it, you hit publish. Simple!
Now you have your one book available in three different formats. You don’t have to do any shipping yourself, and your royalties, from all three sources, get put straight into your bank account.
K. Sounds easy enough, so how has it gone? Have you made money on your books?
How much have I been paid since I published my first book in 2010? This includes five paperbacks, five ebooks, and three audiobooks. Drum roll…
Less than $1000.
If you went for a job interview, and were told that after a decade you will have earned less than $1000 in total, you would laugh and walk out of the room. But that is the reality of it. My most successful book is, as I have said, my free book. It is great to read the reviews. In fact, I was nearly moved to tears last weekend, when I read some of the ones I hadn’t seen before! But, chances are, those people downloaded the book for free, and so no money for me.
You may ask why I don’t increase the price (at least to 0.99!) but here is the thing: People get to know it because it is free. Amazon have a whole separate chart for free books, and there are far less contenders there, simply because there are less people willing to give away the work they have worked so hard to create. Which makes perfect sense.
It is a massive sacrifice. But I did it because I believe in the story, and I knew people would resonate with it. The most important thing is that people read it. And I have confidence that the book will one day reach enough people that it will begin to pay dividends. Overly confident, maybe?
I haven’t lost any money, which is a very important point. The process of self-publishing can be absolutely free. You choose how much you want to spend. If you don’t want to spend anything, then don’t. You really have got nothing to lose.
K. Do you plan to continue self-publishing or would you ever consider going traditional? Why?
I have three children’s picture books, and another 40,000-word YA novel that sit unpublished. And I don’t intend to self-publish them.
It is time for me to tackle the traditional route. Self-publishing has allowed me to build a
framework, such as reviews of my current books, a following on social media etc, all of which I hope will attract a literary agent, and subsequently a publisher.
A positive aspect of self-publishing is that you are in charge – and that very thing can be a negative aspect too. I have spent many, many hours going through the self-publishing process – getting it wrong, learning the hard way – when, all that time, I could have been writing.
Now I feel I have the patience to include the middle-man.
There are many success stories about self-published authors, selling thousands and thousands of their ebooks, but I am afraid mine isn’t one of them. The reality is, it is hard to get people to read your books.
But, and this is a big but: Your book deserves an audience. God knows how many hours you’ve put into it. It needs to be read, it calls to be read – its purpose is to be read by as many people as possible. If it is finished, and you are happy with it, you can have it available to people, all around the world, this afternoon. And that is pretty cool.
Whatever path you decide to go down, good luck. I wish you all the best.
If you are interested in more from Gavin or his books, check out his site here!