OK. An admission: I love self-publishing.
I’ve been traditionally published for all my twenty years as a writer. I’ve been published all over the world. I’ve had a ton of nice reviews say a load of nice things about my books. My work has been sold for the screen and successfully adapted. I’ve been on bestseller lists and prize-shortlists.
A lot of those good things arose because of my involvement with the traditional publishing industry. I doubt if I’ll ever cut my ties with the industry completely.
I love self-publishing.
I love the creative freedom. I love the money and the financial security. I absolutely love the close relationship I get with my readers. I love having the control – the ability to do things right or, at worst, my own version of getting things wrong.
But for all that I love self-pub, I’d never claim that it offers an especially easy road to financial and artistic independence. You have to have realistic ambitions. You have to write well. And you have to accept that you are running a small business. Yes, you can spend your mornings with your stories and your characters … but you’ll be spending your afternoons and evenings with spreadsheets and email automation procedures and formatting tools and ad dashboards.
If the thought of all that turns you off, you will probably never succeed as a self-publisher. I’d suggest that trad publishing might well be a better route for you to follow.
If, on the other hand, those things seem exciting to you – energising – then go for it.
The basic platform you’ll use for self-publishing your work is Amazon’s own, huge Kindle Direct service. That platform supports both e-books and print, but you’ll find that a vast majority of your sales comes in the form of e-books. (There’s nothing wrong with that either. What matters is the content; the format is nearly irrelevant.)
Although Amazon is by far the most dominant platform in both the US and the UK (achieving eighty-something per cent saturation in both markets), there is a fringe of other e-tailers too. Apple is the most notable of those, but Kobo, Nook, Google Play and others have services. If you’re newer to the industry, I’d actually recommend that you go exclusive to Amazon (and get the benefits of Kindle Unlimited). But if you do really want to “go wide” – ie: not exclusive to Amazon – then you are probably better off doing so with a distributor such as Draft2Digital or the (now rather faded) Smashwords.
But simply uploading your book is not enough. In fact, you shouldn’t even think of doing that until you have everything else neatly lined up first.
Because self-publishing (or indie publishing as it’s also known) is complex, this post won’t even vaguely pretend to talk you through how it works.
Fortunately, however, I have written a monster post that takes you through every single aspect of your self-publishing process.
You need to read that post, every word, and do as it says. If you take shortcuts, you will simply be piling up a huge store of marketing problems for yourself down the line. The biggest problem I see with people want to be traditionally published is that they rush into things too fast. They send the book out before it’s ready. They don’t approach enough agents. They don’t take professional advice or use it properly if they do.
With self-publishing, it’s much the same thing. People go too fast. They get the book out before it’s ready. They don’t prep properly, so the Amazon page looks back. Or their text is poorly edited. Or they’ve tried to save money on the book cover and the result just looks amateur and weak. Or they haven’t made any effort to secure the emails of readers, which means they end up not having a way to reach their own core audience.
And so on.
In short: if you want to self-publish, then you have my blessings and I wish nothing but fair winds for your sail and a gentle swell beneath your oar. But do it right. Go slow. Put in the hard yards of preparation first. Write a wonderful story, build a beautiful ebook, and travel well.