Why best selling authors are choosing self-publishing.

I have had a couple of conversations with authors recently who wanted to know if I could help them get an agent and publisher. I am not opposed to publishers; I think there is room for lots of publishing models and self-publishing is not for everyone. Knowledge is the key and I shared some of this info with the authors.

When we started self publishing with Sinclair’s first book – The Reluctant Detective in 2010 – it was still seen by many as the poor man’s publishing option. Sinclair heard statements like, “poor you that’s a shame you had to self publish!” It never felt like that for us – we saw it as an exciting time, of change, taking control and creating new opportunities – fulfilling a dream that Sinclair had to see his book finished and on sale. His dream continues with 7 books self-published and over 100,000 sales.

There is no doubt that the times have changed – with the technology of ebooks and the stores, especially Amazon, open to authors to allow them to reach readers direct many are choosing self-publishing as their first option. Here at Indie Authors World, we are delighted to have helped many authors fulfill their self-publishing dreams, with 3 books launched over the summer months and more in the pipeline.

Although there are still some (mainly the big publishers) who cling on to the old model of the world – many traditionally published authors are now looking at their own situation and going indie. I came across a very interesting article by Karen TravissUK author of military games and comics whose credits include Halo, Gears of War, Batman, G.I. Joe, and Star Wars – that highlights many of the down-sides of traditional publishing.

Karen explained her rationale for pulling her novel, Going Grey, from the publisher was straightforward. After a number of changes in the publisher’s schedule, she was now looking at a 2015 release for a book that she’d already had to rewrite as real-world events kept overtaking it as time dragged on. She needed the book out by summer 2014 the publisher said they couldn’t do it.

Being in control of your own timescales is a big plus for the indie author. Having spent lots of hours, writing, editing and sweating over your book – do you want to wait another year or two to have it on sale? It can be published in weeks not months or years.

For some writers being “published” is validation of your work, it gives a sense of worth. I know the authors we support want to feel validated too, but that sense of worth and respect in the written word must start with you – the writer. If you believe in your work, if you like your story and are proud of it then stand tall, be brave and let the world meet your “baby”.

Karen wrote, “If you’re a musician, an artist, or you work in comics, independent production’s been part of your professional landscape for much longer. Nobody thinks third-party validation is necessary; everybody knows it’s about creator control. I realise some writers want the validation of a publisher. Please take it from someone who’s had it that the only approval that counts is the reader’s.

Does being under the roof of a publishing house guarantee a successful book? No is the short answer. The publisher hopes it will as your book is their route to profits but there are no guarantees. With marketing budgets cut to a minimum your book has a very short time (6 weeks or less) to sell or it is dropped in favour of another.

With self-publishing you are responsible for all your own marketing. It can be daunting but it’s a marathon and not a sprint. You are not going to ditch your book in 6 weeks. There are loads of free ways to market your book and we are exploring how to make marketing easier for our growing community of Indie Authors.

Publishing is packaging and distribution,” says Karen Traviss, “readers rarely care or even know who your publisher is, though. Why should they?”  Whilst I agree, I also know that packaging and distribution are essential to make your book attractive and create routes for people to buy it. Karen already had a lot of knowledge of the industry and no shortage of skills to find her own path. First time self-publishing authors can struggle to get to grips with the cover, book layout and formatting and if you get that wrong then even the best story can be overlooked. Then there’s a lot to learn about how the distribution process works.

We created our Bookcamp training programme to help indie authors fill that gap in knowledge and offer an alternative to being totally on your own or seeking a publisher. Learning to create professional packaging and decide the best way to distribute your book, keeps you in the driving seat.

So what about money? Gone are the days of a six figure advance from a publisher and being treated like a rock star (if they ever existed). If you have dreams of earning big money with your books the reality for most published writers is very different.

In fact, Karen quotes “ how naive I’d been to think Big Publishing would look after my interests because I made money for it. Unless you’re one of a small handful of mega best-selling writers, you’re not the one getting rich off your work.”   Publishers have a lot of people to pay from your book proceeds before you and it seems that somewhere along the line the industry seemed to forget the producer of the work is the heart of the business.

The Author Earnings Report has been tracking sales and earnings for over a year now and in their July 2014 report concluded: “We can now say that self-published authors earn more in royalties than Big 5 authors, combined.”

Another interesting fact about signing up with the big publishers is how long they want your rights for. Karen Traviss’s experience is fairly typical – sign away all your rights for the lifetime of the copyright. As she said “ that’s 70 years after you’re dead – marriage may last as long as ye both shall live, but even death won’t release you when you wed yourself to a publisher. And if they screw up, you can’t normally take your business elsewhere without an expensive lawyer.”

Traditional or self-publishing it’s your choice but make it an informed one. And what of the authors I met up with? I am pleased to report that they have opted for self-publishing and I will be sharing their book info soon.

Why crowdfunding to self-publish your book could be a great idea

You are so excited to have finished your novel and now you want to self-publish it. Great idea but what if you don’t have the funds to invest in your book what can you do?

In our last newsletter we shared how you can get financial help towards the cost of our Bookcamp training but what if you would rather pay to have your book done for you. You could ask your parents/auntie/bank manager for the money. Maybe sell some things or search down the back of the sofa to come up with the cash. What about asking strangers to invest in your book? It may not be as weird as it sounds and could have added benefits.

Crowdfunding has been around for some time now – it’s a way for lots of individuals to back a project in return for some rewards. The money raised provides the funds to start the project. It’s a great idea and has been used by many creative folks to fund music, films, put on a show or generate funds to produce a prototype of a design. In fact there are few limits to what you could crowdfund with recently bids even paying for vet bills.

So you may now be thinking – sounds good what’s the catch! The main thing you need to have a successful crowdfunding experience is time and commitment. You need to create your project, tell people about your book and generate enough interest to encourage people to part with money in return for a reward. Here’s a quick guide to what you need to get started:

  1. Decide how much cash you will need – do you need to pay for an editor, graphics for your cover, formatting and typesetting your book and printing some copies. £1200 to £1500 is a good starting point.
  2. Think about what rewards you can offer in return for the investment. You start with small amounts and work up. Make sure that whatever you offer as a reward will not cost you more than the investment (remember to factor in any postage costs). You could start at £5 – it can be as simple as a bookmark, a postcard thanking the person. Moving up to an e-book for £10, a printed copy of your book £15, how about a dedication in your book for £50, dinner with you the author £150, a character named after you for £500. The options are only as limitless as your imagination. You decide how you want to split the rewards and how many you can offer, the more exclusive the higher the price.
  3. Decide on the crowdfunding platform to use – Kickstarter and Indiegogo are both well established. Each has its own rules about whether you can take the funds if you don’t meet your funding goal, and all charge a fee so think about what would work best for you. Or you could even help children improve their literacy by using Pubslush – a new crowdfunding platform just for books. We love this model because if fits with our idea of community and giving something back to help others.
  4. Plan your project – 30 days is the recommended time. When will this work for you? You need to be able to promote your campaign, respond to questions and send out rewards so make sure you can give it your attention. Draft in some help as back up too.
  5. Write up the details about your book, about you and why you wrote it. Imagine you are the person reading it – what would trigger you to part with some cash? Most successful funders have told their story well, produced a video and made it really compelling. This is your chance to really sell your book and you as the author.
  6. Have your social media set up to promote and respond to your campaign. Start with friends and family – ask them to help share out your campaign. Could you get your local paper involved?
  7. Plan what your next stages will be for producing your book and imagine this being a great success.

So there you have it – our brief guide to crowdfunding. But what extra benefits could you get? You have already begun to market yourself as the author of a book before it is even printed. You have readers waiting for it to arrive. Most self-published authors will agree that marketing is a learning curve and you will have already begun to market your book. Using social media to promote your campaign means you will have built up relationships with others who are keen to help you.

Crowdfunding to get books published is growing and we can understand why. With guaranteed sales, publicity about your book and the cash up front to allow you to achieve your dream we reckon it is worth the effort. What do you think?

How to fund self-publishing your book

You have finished your book, it’s taken a lot of blood sweat and tears and now you want to publish it. If you want to keep the momentum going self-publishing is the way to do it. The questions I get asked a lot are; how to self-publish and how much will it cost.

You have choices about how you self-publish your book may be based on how much money you want to invest, your skills and the time you have available. But it’s also about what your hopes are for your book and your motivations for self-publishing it. Do you only want to give your book to family and friends as a gift or do you want to earn an income from your book?

Think of yourself in a publisher’s shoes – if they are going to publish your book to sell, they invest their money in editing, proofreading, designing a cover, formatting for an ebook, typesetting for print and marketing. If you want to earn money from your book you need to invest in it to produce the most professional book you can. Your writing deserves it and so does the reader. Which takes us back to the question of how can I fund this?

I have already written about the costs that some self-publishing companies charge (check out Are you a cash cow?) It can be a very expensive business but it doesn’t need to be. Maybe you can skill swap or rope in the services of friends to help with some of the technical aspects.

Funding for training

If you want to learn the skills to publish your book and you live in Scotland you can get help to fund your training from Skills Development

Scotland Flexible Training Opportunities fund. This fund provides employers and self-employed people with 50% of the costs for all sorts of training up to £500 per person. But wait a minute I hear you say “I’m not an employer or self-employed I am a writer”. Well, guess what – if you are looking to sell your book then you will be a self-employed writer and as far as Skills Development Scotland is concerned that entitles you to apply. You can find out more here http://www.ourskillsforce.co.uk/funding-for-skills/flexible-training-opportunities/

You could seek out training in cover design, typesetting and formatting and learn the skills to create a professional quality book. Our Bookcamp training programme offers all this and a lot more besides.

Funding services

If you don’t want to learn to do everything yourself or you want to publish quickly then you can pay someone else to produce your ebook, cover or print files for you. The prices for these services can vary greatly so you may be able to fund from your own savings (if anyone still has some these days!), use credit or find a kindly relative or friend to fund it for you.

Have you heard of crowdfunding? It’s the new kid on the block for funding your book. Crowdfunding is a way to ask people to invest in your book where you offer them some special return based on the level of investment. Crowdfunding has been around and used for raising finance for many sorts of projects including films, events and products but is now being used more and more to publish books. This is an exciting new option with benefits that can extend beyond the money itself. Sinclair and I attended some training about the pros and cons of crowdfunding recently and we think it has great potential. Look out for next week’s blog where I will share more about this.

How collaboration can increase sales

As a writer do you think of other writers as your competitors? Or is your literary world one of collaboration and friendship?

People who love books will read lots of different authors. Don’t you love it when you find a new author that you like? I reckon this makes it easier for writers to help each other out when it comes to promoting books. Publishing companies will get the writers under their umbrella to recommend and review each other’s books. So what can Indie Authors do to help each other out?

Social media makes it easier to find people, so searching for savvy Indie Authors isn’t too difficult. Look out for blogs –www.sinclairmacleod.blogspot.com for example. Search for writers on Facebook or Twitter and introduce yourself. Start conversations, get to know each other – this is not a race to the finish line, it is about building real connections with other authors.

Once you have established a relationship then you can explore how you can help each other to promote your books. This can be as simple as retweeting posts and sharing Facebook status updates or more interactive maybe interviewing each other, writing guest blogs and reviewing each other’s books.

Each one of us has our own network of friends, family and hopefully fans of our writing. Connecting with other people potentially opens up their network to you. This is how information “goes viral” so imagine that a great review of your book, a blog post and an interview gets shared with your connected authors who in turn share it with their network. If people in the network then share it the reach becomes much greater.

Our vision for Indie Authors Scotland is to help facilitate this process, to provide an opportunity for like minded Indie writers to make connections and help each other out. We believe in community – we have been building our physical community in Scotland for some time through our meetup group and now we are working on building that community online to benefit more people. We will be unveiling more of our ideas soon but we’d love to know what you think – so connect with our Facebook Page and join in the conversation.

Are you a cash cow?

You have spent time writing your book, maybe you have tried to get a publisher to take it, or maybe you always wanted to be an Indie Author – it does sound cooler than self-published writer don’t you think? Whatever your route to self-publishing, the next decision you make is an important one. Will you do everything yourself or pay a self-publishing company to do it for you? What do you need to consider and how do you know if represents good value?

It does concern me that as self-publishing increases in popularity, you as a writer are now seen as a cash cow by the same big business publishers that rejected your books. These businesses are relying on your lack of knowledge or fear of an unknown world. They may offer excellent services but armed with some knowledge you can ask them some challenging questions before you part with a big cheque.

Self-publishing may be a big learning curve for you and it’s no surprise as the traditional publishing world wanted to surround the processes with mystique to stop pesky writers like you believing you could do this for yourself. Many of them would have you believe it is so complicated that you can only be allowed into the club if we deem your work good enough. Or as is more the case today – you are a celebrity and have millions of followers on Twitter!

With many of the traditional publishers grudgingly accepting the tide is changing, is it any surprise therefore that so many have now grown new arms to embrace the self-publishing writer? These same businesses want to maintain this air of mystique and control to entice you to part with lots and lots of your cash because you can’t possibly do it yourself! This helps to justify the high price tag that you have to pay them for the privilege of publishing your book and even be grateful that they will give you 50% of the royalties earned on your book sales.

Take Balboa Press (self-publishing arm of HAY House) as an example – with prices for packages ranging from £899 to £4,999 plus 50% of your royalties (money earned from book sales). They do detail clearly all that you will get for each package, there is a big list with ticks against the prices – ISBN allocated, author volume discounts, online UK distribution, custom cover, personalised back cover, interior book design and so on. The higher the price the more ticks you get – makes sense doesn’t it – of course it will cost a lot more to add hardback formats, Google and Amazon searching, US distribution, press releases and 100 business cards and social media set up guide (it’s only a PDF!). So you now want the whole package and it’s going to cost you £4,999.

So is it worth it even if you have the money to spend? There are some questions you should ask – what exactly are they going to do for you? Read all the small print! Work out how many books will you need to sell to break even? Using their own example from their website of cost of sale (printing) and royalties rates from a retail sale of a book priced £10.99 you would earn approx £0.94 per book that means you need to sell 5,319 books before you start to make a profit. There is no marketing for you in this top of the range package – that will add another £699 although it’s not clear what this buys.

Do you know what these list of ticks really mean and what they would cost you to do yourself?  With a little research you would find:

You can buy 10 ISBNs for your own use for £120, you could learn to format your ebook yourself and upload it to Kindle and other ebook services direct, you can typeset your book, design your cover and submit it to a print on demand company (Lightning Source for example set up is £45 approx per book) and for a small fee (around £8 per title) you have your print book available through their worldwide distribution network including Amazon and all the major book sellers. You will need to give retailers/wholesalers a discount but anything that you make you keep. So even using the same price/costs/discounts you would earn twice the royalty rate £1.88 per book. If you round up your spend to £200 to allow you to buy some business cards then selling 107 books means you break even.

Sinclair and I have now self-published 10 books between us (and helped many other writers too). We didn’t know anything about the publishing world before we started self-publishing; we figured it out, learned lots and made a few mistakes along the way. We know that you can do it yourself too. At Indie Authors Scotland we are determined to be different. We have created our unique flexible Bookcamp training programme to teach you how to produce your book yourself. But we also know that some of you don’t want to learn the skills and want your ebook or print book done for you. That’s why we have created our own Pick n Mix service options at very fair prices. You can see exactly what you are paying for. We will never take royalties from you. We pride ourselves in providing good value and ongoing support for our author community.

Whatever option you choose to become a published Indie Author take time to ask questions and choose the route that offers the best support and return for your budget.

The Story Behind Bookcamp

Our Bookcamp training programme is ideal if you want to self-publish your books, control your budget and have the support of experienced self-publishers to ease you through the process.

We have strong values and ethics about sharing knowledge, empowering and supporting you to produce the most professional book possible. We love the community that we are developing, helping you to market and sell your books too. This is why we developed our unique Bookcamp programme – we thought we would share how it came about and what brought us to this point.

When I (Sinclair) focused on writing to help me cope with the tragic loss of our son Calum to meningitis in 2007, my first target was to finish the book. I had always written but life had got in the way (something many of you will recognise) and there were a number of unfinished stories on my computer. My work career had somehow wandered into the world of IT, fixing computer problems and then web design. Writing was something I did to switch off from the stress and unleash my creative side.

About a year after Calum died I decided that life really was too short to not do what I loved and so the Reluctant Detective began his journey from my imagination to the written word. Spurred on by the encouragement of Kim and close friends and family, I did finish the book but the next question was how to get it published.

I contacted some agents and publishers but had no success. I was determined not to leave my book, that was dedicated to my son, lying in a drawer so I decided to self publish. My very first publication was a PDF version that you could download from my website. I was delighted with what I had achieved and we celebrated the achievement with a book launch where we gave everyone a copy of the first chapter. This was back in 2010, just as the eBook readers were taking off and this was my next challenge. My IT skills were put to the test figuring out how to format my book for the eBook readers but after several attempts (and lots of swear words) my book was now on sale to the world.

I have a love of books, I read all the time and our house is full of books. I wanted to have my book printed but I had no money to pay a printer for a run of books. More searching and Kim discovered the self-publishers dream – print on demand publishing! More skills were put to the test, this time it was typesetting, testing fonts, sizes, working out margins and gutters. My flat book cover now needed a spine and a back cover, bar codes and an ISBN. The learning process was steep and infuriating at times but I did it! I had my paperback in my hands.

Now all I had to do was sit back and wait on the sales starting! That proved to be another steep learning curve – How do you market a book? What is social media? How does distribution work? Where could I sell it? In reality it was about a year before I answered these questions and the sales started. With the sales came the reviews and I found that people loved my book, they wanted more and so my career as an Indie Author really began. I have now published 9 books that have achieved great success, my Glasgow-based ‘The Reluctant Detective’ series and spin off police detectives Russell and Menzies, have sold over 100,000 copies and I have books in the Amazon top 20 bestsellers lists.

When I started self-publishing I knew nothing about the publishing world, but I have learned so much in the last few years. Other authors started to ask me how I had produced my books, and after spending many hours over coffee with writers, Kim suggested that we could help more people if we developed a training programme. We knew it can be a difficult and tough learning process for writers who want to self-publish, and many turn to service providers to produce their book. With packages often costing thousands of pounds to publish one book we recognised a need for an affordable alternative that puts you, the writer, in control.

Kim, who has also self published her own book From Heartbreak to Happiness, has a background in training and coaching and we knew that we could offer a different approach to help writers to self-publish. Our training has evolved too from a very intense full day course, through evening classes to our online flexible Bookcamp programme.

We are really proud of what we have developed. Bookcamp is a wonderful blend of practical publishing knowhow with coaching support and encouragement. We help you to learn not only how to produce professional quality books but how to make the most of your strengths and go for success. Kim and I have blended our skills to make this programme unique. We say that I am technical and Kim is mental!!

Last month our Indie Authors Scotland business was boosted by being selected for Scotland’s premier start-up and investment programme for creative industry entrepreneurs, the 2014 Starter for 6. Our Bookcamp flexible training programme really impressed the Starter for 6 team and we are so delighted to have been chosen in what is a highly competitive process. With the support of Starter for 6 we are extending our reach to help more writers and adding extra support for authors as we truly want to develop a centre of excellence for self-publishing.

Indie Authors Scotland already has global reach with authors in Scotland, England, USA and Canada participating in the Bookcamp. Our writers benefit from making connections around the world and it means that we can help market and sell books together. With Starter for 6 help we are building a worldwide community of independent authors and that has huge potential for us all.

When I started writing The Reluctant Detective I never dreamed that we would be helping others to produce their books. Kim and I are delighted to be helping people like you to achieve their dreams, we get so excited when our authors publish their books we are like the proud grandparents ( Kim says auntie – she’s not old enough to be a granny!) We set ourselves a target to help 100 authors publish their books this year and we have a few deliveries expected soon.

We would love you to come and join us in the Bookcamp or if you know of someone who needs our help please share our message with them.