Five tips for successful self-publishing
As someone who’s spent 30 years as a journalist, I find writing fiction immensely freeing. At work, much of my time is devoted to researching, fact-checking and rigorous editing: when I’m writing a novel, I can just make stuff up. Fiction gives you the freedom to create your own universe, populated with people who’ve sprung from your imagination.
That’s all well and good, but the truth is that there’s actually a lot of overlap between the two worlds, and acknowledging that is important if you’re going to write, and publish, something people are going to want to read. Here are five things I’ve learned.
1) Writing means rewriting
Every writer has their own way of getting from a blank page to a finished manuscript, but I guarantee they all involve more than one draft.
My method is to spend the first draft getting the story down, without spending too much time honing my prose. I then go back through it and rewrite thoroughly, sentence by sentence, looking out in particular for clichés, repetitions, redundancies and all the other hallmarks of bad writing.
After getting a second opinion (see below), I work on a final draft until I’m absolutely happy with every word.
2) A second pair of eyes
Even the most successful authors have their work scrutinised by an editor, and you should too. However talented you are, the chances are that your manuscript contains a few structural flaws, logical inconsistencies and characters behaving, well, out of character.
The trouble is, you’re too close to your own work to spot these things. So identify one or two trusted friends (preferably people who read a lot) and ask them to read your manuscript closely and mark up their comments.
This only works if you have an open mind. You might not agree with all their observations, and you’re free to ignore them, but you should at least consider them. If two people tell you your lead character, who you’ve conceived as a charismatic maverick, comes across as an irritating buffoon, maybe you need to look at him again.
3) Use a proofreader
I’ve spent much of my career as a sub-editor, and I pride myself on my ability to spot a typo at 50 paces. But the truth is, no one can properly proofread their own work.
I learned this the hard way when I rashly failed to get my second novel proofed. At the launch party, I was halfway through a reading when I noticed a typo. I recovered my composure, but I’m still irritated by it today. Even if it’s the only spelling mistake in the entire book, it’s still one too many. It looks unprofessional.
So get your manuscript proofread. If you don’t know anyone with the necessary skills, it’s easy to find a professional who will do so for a modest fee.
4) Think about the package
When you self-publish a novel, you have to think about the bits that go round the actual story, the most important of which is the blurb on the back cover.
There’s a useful exercise that’s often recommended for aspiring writers; summarise the contents of your book in a page, then in a paragraph, and then in a sentence. It’s worth spending time doing this, as it focuses the mind on what your book is actually about, and what will attract readers to it. Use the results to write your blurb.
5) Don’t forget the cover
The most important part of the package is the cover – the first thing readers will see, whether you’re marketing your book online or in person.
I self-published my first novel through a US-based company: I simply uploaded my manuscript and they did the rest. The resulting cover was a murky abstract pattern that had nothing to do with my story, using a typeface I didn’t like.
So for my second book, I contacted a small company who specialise in book design. I met a designer, talked through a few ideas, and a couple of weeks later I had a front and back cover I loved. They also handled all the typesetting.
If you’re thinking, “I can’t afford to pay a designer”, fair enough – there are other routes. Maybe you know someone with a flair for drawing or photography who you could ‘commission’ for the price of a nice dinner. Or you could approach a local art college and see if they’ll set it as a challenge for their students. Just remember to credit their work.