When I self-published The Conversationist I told myself I was being like Reznor and Rollins (actually more Rollins, since he does have a publishing company) and was determined to replicate their DIY ethic. However, I was relatively ignorant of how to publish a book correctly, so I made A LOT of mistakes (pretty much all of them). The following is a list I hope people considering going down this path can learn from. Despite my mistakes, it was a lot of fun and I gained a lot from doing it.
Good Things I Did
Actually wrote a novel and had it proof read.
Chose a good self publishing platform – I used Createspace, but also know others who have liked Smashwords. Lightning Source/Ingram Spark are also good but not as user friendly – although they have greatly improved upon this recently.
I did some marketing. But this was nothing more than telling people I’d published a book and posting about it (regularly) on Facebook. I also had a “free” promotion on it that gained a lot of new readers. (nb: also a rookie mistake – giving it away when I had nothing else for readers to buy means that while I was gaining readers, I was losing potential purchasers).
I enjoyed the writing process and gained a lot of satisfaction from the manuscript. The story was written for me (and my children) since it is loosely auto-biographical and was published as the story I wanted to tell. It was not meant to be commercial, as such my expectations were realistic – I aimed to sell 100 copies over time. If I include the freebies, I have now achieved this target *grin*.
What I Did Wrong
Nothing says DIY faster than incorrect formatting. My novel looked exactly like an amateur had published it, because one had.
My paragraphs were indented some of the time, but my speech was not. My indentation was also simply a couple of spaces, not the industry standard. And to make matters worse it was not until my second novel was going through the editing process that I realised how badly formatted my first one was.
For how a novel should be properly formatted, please see here.
Equally, I did not get my book professionally edited. Editors are wonderful people who help make your writing better. Don’t be afraid to use one. They won’t corrupt your story or your voice; instead they will enhance these things.
What I did right:
I posted on Facebook, emailed everyone I know and made sure that I told people I met that I had written a novel.
I also took advantage of sale opportunities such as Kindle Countdown deals and Free promotions. This was enough to get my novel on an Amazon.com bestseller list at #8 (briefly).
What I did wrong:
Did this for a few months and stopped. Consequently my sales went to zero.
When you publish you get to state what BISAC category your novel falls into. These categories are the ‘genre’ of your novel.
To me my novel was about the ideas that the characters discussed and did not really fit into a standard classification. I tagged it as metaphysical fiction, which it was in a way, but the archetypal story it told was in fact a romance. But I don’t write romance novels! Or so I told myself…
But then a reader made the comment that once she twigged that the novel was a romance, she really enjoyed it and found it much easier to read as she could concentrate more on that side of the text than the ideas that I thought were the important bit.
Although this should not have been, it was a revelation to me. I had written a romance. So if there was a classification for my novel it would be Romance – Speculative Fiction.
This may seem like a really minor issue, but it can really affect your sales. This is due to the way the your book gets listed when it is sold and what potential lists it can appear on. If you classify your book incorrectly, you limit the people who will discover your book through genre searches or bestseller lists.
Spelling and Grammar
My spelling and grammar were mostly good and my finished manuscript had been proof read by a half dozen people and the grammar check in Word. Despite this there still remained errors in what I published. Why? Because not everyone knows correct grammar and some people don’t want to say bad things about your writing. Plus the Word grammar checker does not know everything. I consistently punctuated speech with full stops like so:
“Hi there.” Said Jack.
I eventually discovered Mem Fox’s rules of grammar for punctuating speech and realised what I needed to do. So the above became: “Hi there,” said Jack.
The rules are simple:
Direct speech occurs when you write down the actual words a person uses.
Indirect speech occurs when you report what someone said. E.g. He said that you were old and fat.
In indirect speech, there are no inverted commas.
In direct speech, the punctuation can be quite complex.
All of the following are CORRECT:
“I love you,” he said passionately.
“I adore you!” he exclaimed.
“Do you love me?” he asked.
“Keziah,” he said, his words tumbling out all over the place, “you’re an adorable idiot. If you weren’t married already, I’d marry you myself.”
“Keziah?” he exclaimed. “Married? What a bitter, bitter blow.”
“Actually, Jeremy, I loathe you.” At last the truth was being dragged from her. “Do me the favour, will you –“ and she paused dramatically – “of never proposing to me again.”
“There are one or two things,” he said, with his finger-tips touching in true lawyer fashion, “which need to be looked into.”
“We’d love to see you,” he said. “When can you come to lunch?”
Note all the punctuation and when to use, or not to use, a capital letter.