I started my self-publishing journey back in 2015, when I decided to publish What Happens in New York myself.
Since then, I’ve gone on to publish eight books, five of which I published in twelve months. Looking back, that boggles my mind. My goal was to publish three books in a year. There was a time when that felt unachievable.
In the mean time, let’s take a look at some of the things I’ve learnt publishing eight books all by myself…
1. The prejudice prevails
While attitudes are changing towards self-publishing, it’s very much still there, particularly in literary communities.
There’s a prestige that comes from having your book approved by a gatekeeper, and that prestige is taken away if you publish yourself.
I know people who have traditionally published books that have received mediocre sales and still get invited to more panels and speaking opportunities than self-published friends who’ve topped bestseller lists.
Is this because publishers have the connections to get them added to that panel?
Is it because traditional publishing is still seen as the thing?
I don’t know.
But it says to me that attitudes haven’t changed that much.
I’ve found business and marketing communities to be much more welcoming of self-published books than literary communities because they know and appreciate the work that goes into creating and marketing a product.
Most who pursue traditional publishing have no idea how much goes into book publishing beyond the writing of a book.
They assume that the publisher will do it all for them until they become published and find themselves having to promote their own books.
2. One book won’t change everything
Every writer hopes that one book will make them the next Harper Lee or J.D.Salinger, but modern publishing doesn’t work like that.
Traditional publishing still pushes debut writers hard and makes out like one book is everything, but it isn’t.
Your second book will be better than your first.
Your third book will be better than your second
The more time you’re given to grow, the better the writer you’ll become.
Now, more than ever, writing and publishing is a long-term game. The longer you’re in it, the more success—whatever you class as success—you’ll experience.
3. Not everyone will be supportive
I’ve lost and gained many friends in the last three years. Several of my self-published friends have gone through the same thing.
Some people will be jealous that you’re published; others will be jealous you’re closer to achieving their dreams than they are, because you’ve broken through the barrier of fear. Some won’t like that you’re daring to deviate from the 9-5 model. Some don’t understand why you do what you do. Sometimes a disconnect forms because you no longer have things in common.
None of these things are easy to accept. But, in order for you to be your best self, you have to accept that you can’t control other people’s reactions to what you do.
4. There are different ways to market a book
I’ve tried many ways to market my books over the years, and I’ve received varying levels of success from each method.
This method won’t work for everyone, but it works for a lot of people.
It’s the carrot to draw people in, and it’s a carrot with minimal risk.
It’s up to you if you’re comfortable with marketing this way, but if you’re not—or if you have fewer books so it isn’t worth it yet—there are other methods you can try.
Paid advertising is really only worth it if you have multiple books out, as the money is in the read through, therefore having a series with multiple books in is important.
People get loyal to a series before they become loyal to an author, therefore it’s worth focusing on finishing a series first.
5. Planning speeds up your time to write
I didn’t plan much when I started writing What Happens in New York.
When I created What Happens in Paphos, I knew exactly what would happen. Because of that, I wrote, edited, and published the book in five months. That includes editing and publishing Writing Myths in between. If I hadn’t worked on Writing Myths in between, What Happens in Paphos may well have been out sooner.
If you want to write quickly, planning is everything. There’s no denying it. The hardest part is figuring out the plot, which means that if you’ve worked that out before you put finger to keys, it makes sense that writing and editing becomes a faster process.
Planning my writing meant that I more than halved the time I spent editing Paphos compared to What Happens in New York.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that knowing your characters before you begin is important, too.
Astin in particular went through several iterations while I worked in What Happens in New York, and that’s part of why the book took longer to write than I’d hoped for.
Knowing your characters is probably the most important thing, because it means that even if you don’t know your plot, you can figure it out based on how they would behave in any given situation.
6. Your ego will hold you back
We all have egos. The sooner we lose them, the faster we can grow.
Egos can come in many forms.
Sometimes it’s being precious with your writing.
Sometimes it’s being precious about a particular book or series.
Sometimes it’s being precious about your way of doing things.
These all mean that you’re closed off to different ways of doing things, and different aspects of the writing and publishing process.
The closer you hold these things to your chest, the harder it is to get anything done.
I was very attached to the original cover of What Happens in New York and didn’t want to admit that it didn’t fit the market and was holding me back. When I changed it, the reaction to the book changed, too.
7. Challenge and test everything—you never know what will work
In an ever-changing market, it’s impossible to know what will work until you try it. There are so many different ways of writing, marketing, and publishing, that you never know what will be successful until you take that risk.
Most of us are risk averse, however, which means we’re less likely to actually take that leap. Well I’m here and I’m telling you to take the bloody leap.
That doesn’t mean spend hundreds of pounds you don’t have on ad campaigns.
It means going to events; guest blogging; writing and publishing faster; planning your work; studying different courses; anything and everything that can stretch your writing skills and make you a better author and publisher.
8. Perseverance is EVERYTHING
So, so many people give up when their first book isn’t a success.
I dread to think where I would be if I had done that a few years ago.
There were months where What Happens in New York made me a few pence if I was lucky. I can’t share exact stats as that’s against Amazon’s ToS, but I can tell you that for certain. While I still don’t make a living from it, the series is doing much better than i ever could’ve dreamt of.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything I’ve learnt. Some of the things I’ve learnt even I’m not aware of until other people point them out to me.
That’s the beauty of going on a journey like this, though: you learn so much about so many things that you’re too busy implementing what you’ve learnt to dissect it all.
Over to You
What has your writing and publishing journey taught you? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!