The 23rd May, 2013 came into being during a relentless autumn downpour. This was a tragedy! How was I going to walk from the Domain car park to the NSW State Library without my hair suffering ruination? How could I talk at the Sydney Writers Festival on The Forest for the Trees self-publishing panel if I looked like a smelly, old dog who’d just rolled in a muddy puddle?
With my umbrella glued to my head, I walked along the Macquarie Street footpath, cursing every raindrop. Just shy of my destination, when I thought I had survived nature’s onslaught and retained fabulous hair, some jerk, from the warm, dry comfort of his motor vehicle, swamped me with a wave of wet stuff when he (I’m assuming it was a man because they are always doing silly things) drove through a massive puddle and drenched my jeans. I think I actually growled and I definitely swore. Marching on, determined to ignore my plight, I reached my destination.
Okay, enough of the theatrics. I’ll get down to business now. I was honoured to be asked by the organisers of the Sydney Writers Festival (the biggest writers festival in Australia) to sit on the self-publishing panel. I love sharing what I’ve learnt in the last year and a half, with other writers who are dreaming of life as a published author and here was an awesome opportunity.
Chairing the panel was the kind and knowledgable author and crowd-funding specialist, Anna Maguire. She asked awesome questions of myself and the two other authors (who were also wonderful peeps), Chris Allen and Elisabeth Storrs.
Our roads to self-publishing were different: I have always (and probably always will be) self-published, Chris started as self-published but is now with Momentum Publishing, and Elisabeth started with a traditionally published book, but moved to be self published and actually decided not to renew her publishing contract when her publisher was bought out by another company. We all agreed that professional self-publishing is a good avenue for aspiring writers to pursue. Here are some pertinent points from our discussion (some of them refer to trad published authors too):
1. Have a blog/website.
2. Interact in the social media forum where you feel most comfortable.
3. Have your book edited!!!! One of the questions was “How much does it cost?” Editors charge at different rates—I’d say as a general rule between $40-$80 an hour (depending on their experience, reputation, and workload). The quote you receive also depends on the amount of time it will take to edit your work and the word count. When I edit, if the writing is good, I can edit up to 4,000 words an hour, if the writing is not so good, it can take an hour to edit 1,500 words, so prices for a 60,000 word book could range anywhere from $750-$2,500. If your writing is really not ready for editing, the editor should tell you and not take the job. If this happens with me, I edit a paragraph and tell the author to go away, learn what I’ve explained and apply it to the book before resubmitting. A good editor won’t want to waste your time or theirs.
4. Have your book proof-read.
5. Spend time creating a great cover which is relevant to your genre or set aside a budget to pay a professional.
6. Be patient: it takes time for the word to spread about your book and you want to be in it for the long haul.
7. This is a business so treat it like one and realise you will need to invest money and a lot of time.
8. Traditional publishing is not all it’s cracked up to be. Elisabeth felt that her original publisher supported her with editing and cover, but only provided marketing and support for six weeks after her book came out. She is much happier as a self-published author and she retains all her royalties (you have to sell three to four times the amount of books as a trad published author to receive the same royalties). Incidentally, Elisabeth was so happy with her editor that she now pays her on a freelance basis to edit her self-published books.
9. You have total control as a self-published author. You can see what marketing works because you have access to your sales figures and you get paid every six weeks to three months (if your book is selling). With a traditional publisher, you must wait six months to be paid.
10. As a self-published author you have the ability to price the book to sell. I have seen many (not all) of the big publishers price their authors’ e-books out of the market because they are trying to protect their print interests. If you don’t believe me, check out some of these books on Amazon. I buy a lot of e-books for Club Fantasci and I often have to pay between $10 and $15 for an e-book!
11. The support of other writers is invaluable. Connect with authors on Twitter or Facebook because they will answer your questions about how to upload to Amazon, or who is a good editor, they will spread the news of your book sales, and they will support you with a kind word or funny anecdote on the days you receive a bad review or the weeks when you’ve hardly sold any books.
12. The credibility of self-published authors is still suffering because too many of these authors write a first draft and press the ‘publish’ button. If we want to be taken seriously, we all need to follow the professional route (ie editing, learning the craft, doing good covers) and encourage other self-published authors we know to do the same.
Something we didn’t discuss on the day, as we ran out of time (we could have talked all day), was, in my opinion, the importance of learning your craft. If you can’t afford a university degree in creative writing or literature, there are many online or local courses you can take. If you live in Sydney, The NSW Writers Centre has loads of fantastic courses run by some of the most experienced and talented writers in Australia, as does the Australian Writers Centre.
I predict that many mid-list, traditionally published authors, will decide to self-publish in the coming years. Why wouldn’t you if you have an established fan base and great editing/cover contacts since you will earn a lot more money?
If you want your book to shine, to impress people, and to sell; if you want to survive in the new age of publishing, be professional and patient. I’m happy to say that self-publishing is no longer a dirty word (even though a lot of publishers still scoff at self-published authors) and it will continue to lose its negative connotations if we all work on doing the right thing. If you are an author considering self publishing, I wish you all the best. Feel free to contact me on twitter or through my facebook page if you have any questions on the subject. Cheers and thanks again to the organisers of The Sydney Writers Festival!