Self-publishing: what I’ve learned so far

I’m big on planning. Both as a writer and as a human being (wait, did I just imply that writers aren’t people?) I deal with life a lot better if I know what’s coming. I have a template for planning blog posts. My story plans include a specific bit of guidance for roughly every 500 words. If I go into town I scribble down a list of the errands I’m running so that I don’t forget.

So of course I’ve done lots of planning and research before trying self-publishing. Based on the great responses I got to my previous request for help and guidance I’ve done a lot of reading and note taking – from people’s comments, blog posts, books, podcasts…

It’s only been a few weeks, I haven’t published anything yet, but here are some of the things that I’ve learned already.

Apparently I need one of these (both the machine and the tiny moustache)
Apparently I need one of these (both the machine and the tiny moustache)

Covers matter

It sounds obvious once you stop and think about it. A visually striking cover can make all the difference in what you browse in the bookshop, and of course that applies online too. Yet being so word-focused I’d been treating it as an afterthought. But your cover needs to work well, to get across your genre, to draw in readers who will find your story interesting. And it needs to work in a variety of formats – on books, on ebooks, on blog pages when you hopefully get reviews, and as a tiny little gif on Amazon. That’s a lot of work, and needs a lot of thought put into it.

This post gives some insight into the sort of things that matter, and certainly helped me to think in design terms. But ultimately I’m a writer not a designer, so I’m going to have to turn to someone with those skills to get this right.

Another reason why the lone artist is a stupid myth.

Timing matters

Do people buy more or less ebooks in July?

Will this month’s big fantasy releases drain the time and money of my potential readers?

How soon after release is a free give-away most effective?

At what point will my book vanish from e-book new release charts?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can’t take every timing factor into account, but boy, there are a lot to consider.

But not everything matters

Having buried my nose in indie book blogs, I’d been overwhelmed by the amount of coverage of the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. It’s a situation I find genuinely fascinating – the social phenomenon of big business interests me, and this stuff makes a difference to our future.

But still, there’s a storm in a teacup element to this. It’s one in a series of disputes that will shape the future of the business. It’s obscure enough that the wider reading public mostly don’t know it’s happening. And, for all those pages and pages of coverage, it makes no practical difference to someone planning to start self-publishing.

Like any in-community dispute, it clearly feels big and intense to the people involved. But it’s important to be able to step back and recognise when the shared anxiety perhaps outweighs the impact.

So what next?

All this and more means I’ve learned a lot, and have a lot of planning to do. I’m still intending to start with a collection of previously published short stories. I know that won’t sell brilliantly however hard I try, but it’s a way of trying out all this learning without putting something new on the line. Plus I have friends who’ve asked for a collection before, which is nice.

Originally I’d hoped to get that first collection out this month, but it’s the 15th already and it’s only now reaching the top of my to-do pile, so that seems unlikely. Not impossible, but not the most practical ever. Soon though, very soon.

Meanwhile I keep on reading. I’m nearly through the third of the four key books I was recommended to start with, I’ve got some pretty crowded notebooks, and soon I’ll be developing a book-launch project plan.

It’s like being back in project management, except now I care about my projects far more.

More updates to follow as I go along.


Picture by Seattle Municipal Archives via Flickr creative commons – one of the coolest collections I’ve borrowed a picture from, you should check it out