Self-Publishing: Everything you need to know – part 2

In part one, we started to look at the world of self-publishing. In part two we are going to look at some of the many disciplines needed to make a success of self-publishing.

Self-publishing is here to stay. As a growing part of the publishing world, self-publishing is not something any author should be ignorant about. Indeed self-publishing, even in the UK, has grown large enough to have its own dedicated conference and a dedicated magazine title too.

Self-publishing is a self-employed business

Self-publishing is self-employment. Your success, or lack thereof, is entirely down to the quality of your product and the effort you put in. If this sounds like too much work (and it is a lot of work), then you may be well advised to seek out an agent and go down the more traditional route.

As a self-employed, self-published, author you have two choices:

  1. Be prepared to sell at most a handful of books
  2. Target your audience and plan accordingly

While “build it and they will come” might be true, “write it and they will read it” is a lie. If you are self-publishing you need to know exactly who you are writing for and target that audience as accurately as you can.

It is okay to say “I just write for myself” if yourself is the sum total of the people who will buy your book. Unless there are a few thousand clones of you kicking about out there, you had better know your core audience a bit better than that.

Market research

This is just another way to say “do your homework”. Know who will read your book, where they shop, where they spend time on the Internet, and how many of them there are.

If your target market is small, have a plan for reaching all of them. If your target market is huge then your competition is going to be huge too – figure out how you will stand out and get noticed.

Have a good plan before you start.

Cost per sale

Cost per sale is the amount of money you have to invest to make a sale. If you spend £100 on advertising and get 20 sales the cost per sale was £5. But if you also spent £200 on proofreading and editing, your current cost per sale is actually £15. That will go down but you need to know how many sales are needed to reach the break-even point.

This is why advertising executives are so obsessed with things like CPC (cost per click), CTR (click through rate), conversion rates, lead generation, and all those other technicalities of marketing. Getting the cost of sales down and the number of sales to go up is vital for a healthy business.

Break-even point

This is the magic moment when, from here on in, you are turning a profit. The break-even point is the number of sales it takes to recover your initial investment. As a self-published author, you need to know where and when you will reach that moment.

Upfront investment

The upfront investment is the amount of money you need to spend to get started. For modern self-publishing, this can be very low. It can even be nothing at all. However, unless you are a flawless writer who never makes any mistakes, you will need to think very carefully about proofreading.

Another upfront investment is the hours you put into writing, reviewing, editing, and so forth. Then you can work out the value per hour.

Value per hour

As a writer, you pour hours and hours into writing your work. Then you are going to invest more hours in promoting that work. At some point you are going to ask “is this worth it?” The value per hour is how you answer that question.

What we are really talking about is something called sustainability. The amount of time it costs you to write a book and market it as measured against the reward for each hour invested.

If you work for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 21 weeks. You will have invested just over 1000 hours. So, unless you can earn back £7500 (over time) for that investment, you would have been better off flipping burgers at the basic minimum wage. Assuming that you sell your book for £4.99 you will need to sell 1500 books to even come close.

You can experiment with writing faster or charging more but sooner or later your value per hour needs to make sense.

Self-publishing and technology

The self-published author needs to have excellent computer literacy. While Amazon likes to show off the many success stories of its self-publishing platform on the Kindle, the one thing all those authors have in common is that they did it with technology.

You are going to need to know how to use or learn how to use all or most of the following:

  • Word Processor
  • Image editor
  • Layout and design software
  • e-readers
  • Blogs
  • Online advertising centres
  • Social media – at least Facebook and Twitter
  • Email
  • The latest shiny new thing

Self-promotion and the self-published author

Self-promotion is going to become a big part of your life if you self-publish. That’s why we started Author Buzz. We hope to help you with that but even so, a lot of the work is going to be down to you.

Like all things, there is a good, a bad, and a terrible way to do self-promotion. I have lost count of the desperate and boring authors I have unfollowed on twitter who post links to their books several times a day like an addict begging for a fix. Spamming Twitter is not self-promotion – it is a failure to make a good impression.

Self-promotion, like good writing, is a skill that requires subtly, patience, and an understanding of the people you are trying to talk to.

We plan to dedicate several articles to the art of promoting your book. From that I hope you can gather that self-promotion is a complex beast. It helps if you have a platform – a network of followers who are truly interested in you.

Building a platform for self-pushed success

I have written extensively for Thanet creative writers about platform building. The gist is to establish a way of communicating with an enthusiastic audience. Social media is good for this. Blogs are even better. That’s why Author Buzz offer blogs for authors. Ask in the forums if you would like a blog (assuming we have not automated the sign-up process by the time you read this).

If you can build a mailing list. That is a list of people who have agreed to let you email them. Ideally a group of people who are pleased when you do email them. Then when your books comes out, you have a lot of people who will be interested.

Platform building may not be rocket since but it can be hard work. Get started as soon as you can.

Who proofreads for the self-published?

I’ve read traditionally published fiction where the proofreader should have been sacked. I’ve also read self-published work that was so full of errors it made me want to cry. Proofreading is a must but where does a self-published author get proofreading?

Getting help from friends and family

Friends and family are a mixed blessing when it comes to getting a fresh pair of eyes on your work. Unless you are lucky, you are going to find that your loved ones are going to tell you what you want to hear. That’s not to say that they cannot give you good feedback just that you might need to reach a little further afield to find it.

Friends and family are a reasonable test market. If you can sell the idea of buying your book to people who know you then you might have a chance. On the other hand, if you are the only one who is interested in your genre, then all bets are off. Find a new test market. Writers’ groups are a good place to start.

Join a writers group

Writers’ groups, at least the good ones, can be a fantastic source of advice, support, feedback, and “free” proofreading. That said, most members of the group are going to be reading for the joy of it or offering their time in exchange for an equal amount of your own.

Even the best writers groups are no replacement for a professional proofreader. If, like me, you are dyslexic and prone to mistakes you can never get enough proofreading.

Writers’ groups are a great source of beta readers. You will get a mixed bag of feedback. Some of it will be useful, some will be better with a large pinch of salt.

Pay for an expert

If you can afford it invest in a professional proofreader. Use your beta readers, family and everyone else who will put up with you to get the easy stuff dealt with but I promise you that a proofreader will find more that needs to be fixed. Fixing those things that are wrong will help you please your readers. Pleased readers tell their friends (sometimes) whereas disappointed readers tell everyone.

There are several types of expertise that you can call on and each does a different job. This is roughly the order you may wish to call upon such services:

  • Pro Beta Readers – less widely focused than a copy editor focused on the storytelling itself
  • Proofreaders – generally look for mechanical errors such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  • Copy editors – generally pick up on structural, plot, and story flaws and make recommendations
  • Proof editor – combining proofreading and some copy editor functions

The Author Buzz directory and the forum are reasonable places to start looking for a professional proofreader.

This is a blog post by a proofreader explaining the different types of proofreading and what to expect.

As well as proofreading, you may also want to consider paying for a developmental editor. This is someone who will focus on helping you identify weak sections or the story and generally challenge you with the result of a tighter, better, story. This post, tells you what to expect from an editor.

Distribution for the self-published author

Getting your book into bookshops when you self-publish can be difficult. Depending on how much you are prepared to pay for, you may have to set up your own distribution deals one bookshop at a time.

Don’t forget to write

As a self-published author, it can be easy to get caught up in the self-promotion and marketing side of things. Almost all of the good advice I have read on the subject says the same thing – make time to keep writing.

Estimates vary but a self-published writer will spend between 5% and 20% of their time actually writing. So make that time count.

Selling to fans is easy

Selling the second book to people who loved the first one is pretty easy. You don’t need to convince anyone to take a risk on your book. All you need to do is let them know it exists and is just as good (if not better).

Some self-published writers treat the first book in a series as a loss leader. They don’t plan on reaching the break-even point until the second or third title in the series. While we can debate the wisdom of this approach endlessly, the fact is you are a writer only if you write.

You are the “factory” and the salesman

If you do not create new content to sell, you will run out of things to sell. As a self-published writer, you need to keep a steady supply of writing available for your sales based activities.

Self-publishing, as we said earlier, is a self-employed business. Writing is the time when you make new products to sell. Without a new product every now and then, you have no business.


Self-publishing is a business. Those that treat it like a business can make a real success out of it. Prioritise activities that lead to sales – and that includes writing. It may be more efficient to pay others to carry out some time-consuming tasks to free you up to do what you do best.

Each writer is different and each self-published business is different too. It will be up to you to plan out what works for your writing.

For example, you may look at alternative income streams as a writer. However you approach self-publication, you are quite likely looking at a large investment of time and effort. We wish you the best of luck.

About Matthew Brown

Matthew is a writer and Geek from Kent (UK). He is the founder and current chair of Thanet Creative as well as head geek for Author Buzz. His ambitions include appearing on TableTop with Wil Wheaton and seeing a film or TV series based on something he wrote.

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