Self Publishing: The How – And The WHY!

Tony James SlaterA confession is my first order of business; my title is paraphrased from that of a very popular How-to Guide on self publishing that started out as a blog – quickly grew to over 20,000 page views per month – and was then developed into an eBook called ‘Let’s Get Digital’, which has gone on to sell in vast quantities wherever eBooks are sold.

It’s a success story, and far from the first you’ll discover, if you go trawling the web.

There are BIG names. Eisler. Konrath. Hocking. There are middle-sized names; like E.L. James, Rachel Abbott and J.K. Rowling (joke!). And there are small names, like my good self. Or my bad self, depending on how well you know me.

The point is, there has never been a better time to publish your book, online, as an eBook – yourself. The most obvious reasons can be easily summed up:

1)   The print book industry is in decline. Worldwide. Massively. If there ever was a time it could get harder for a new author to be published by a traditional publishing house, it is now.

2)   The eBook industry is booming. Worldwide. Massively. Kindles are selling like… well, like Kindles. There really is nothing to compare them to, as they outsell almost every other electronic device. Know anyone with an iPad? iPhone? Other smartphone? Pc, Mac, laptop? Then you already know someone with an e-book reader. The software is free. Thousands of books are free. Can you see why it’s becoming so popular?

3)   You CAN make money. Remember that old saw, about not quitting your day job? Because most authors make a small advance, never earn it out, and that is that. And repeat with another book… if you can still afford to eat whilst you write it. But selling your own eBooks, you get to keep most of the price tag (there’s no printing costs after all), so you make a lot more money for each book sold – and you can potentially sell a lot of them.

So. It’s fairly obvious which way I’ve cast my chips. Here’s how I did it.

First I wrote the book. I made sure it was damn good because I would have to sell it to people directly, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than selling someone a crappy product.

I edited it meticulously. (I made a mistake here – I should have gotten a professional to edit it meticulously, because people write to me every day with new errors they’ve found, that I missed at this stage. But still – at least they’re writing to me, right?).

I designed a cover. This, too, I could have paid to have done – but I’m a control freak. I learnt Photoshop and did it myself. It took a whole week!

I uploaded the book to Amazon. This was by far the easiest stage, following the instructions they give online and the advice of a few friends I’d made in the digital publishing world.

I sold the book… and I’m still selling it! This involves a lot of work  – building your brand by interacting on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, emailing your book out to review sites, writing a blog, buying advertising, talking about it constantly to anyone you meet online. It can be frustrating. It’s very time consuming. But when it works… ahhh! That’s when your royalty cheque arrives, and you can revel in the fact that a few months ago you were a no-one. Now – you are a published author, making actual, real money from your writing!

I didn’t make a lot at first. It was a learning curve, figuring out how best to tell people about the book, how to get it ‘out there’. My sales increased slowly, from 10 per month to around 40 per month. Then I did a sale on Amazon, where I gave away 22,700 copies of the book for free – yes, FREE! Remember those free books I mentioned? Well, for two days I was one of them. Then some of those 22,000 people told their friends about me, by which time my book was full price again (£2.99). Over the next two months I sold 5,000 copies! It looks like this is starting to drop off a bit now though, so it might be time for another sale…

Amazon Best Seller List

My book, ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ on the (free) Amazon Best-seller List!

How can you lose? Because it’s free. Yes, you can pay pro’s at any level to help get your book into eBook form and available on the web. I did it all myself though, with almost zero technical knowledge, and it didn’t cost me a penny. But I know you’re already thinking about the more far-reaching consequences of this decision…

The number one question that concerned me was: ‘What will the publishers think?’ As in, will this be the end of my dreams to be taken on by a ‘real’ publisher? Well, the answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ The internet is awash with stories of authors who have been picked up by a major publisher following their success with a self-published book. Of course they are in the vast minority – just like authors who secure a contract by the traditional route are. But the Amazon Best-sellers list is rapidly becoming the new slush-pile. How much easier for agents and publishers to discover new talent by browsing this list – seeing who and what is already selling in sufficient quantities to be economically viable! Put yourself in their shoes. Which would you rather do? Browse the Amazon top 100 looking for well-presented Indie work in your field, then reading a few free samples of it on your iPad? Or tackle the groaning stack of unsolicited manuscripts that arrived this morning – and is probably piled just behind the ones that arrived yesterday morning…

In fact, the question I’m now asking is this: ‘If a big publisher asked me to sign… would I want to?’ Because if you sell well with them, you’ll make between 5% and 7% of the book’s cover price. If you DIY, you can make up to 70%!

(Imagine ‘them’ selling a £6.99 paperback versus your online equivalent. It’s the difference between getting 35p per book sold in a traditional royalty structure –  and getting £4.89 from Amazon!).

So that big publisher had better be pretty confident. They’ll need to sell over ten times as many as you can sell, just to pay you the same amount. And by the time you’re doing well enough to attract their attention, you’ll already be selling quite a few…

I know, I know – it sounds like a fantasy. It isn’t; there is A LOT of hard work involved in this process, and there are still good odds that your book won’t sell more than a hundred copies to friends and family. BUT. If you are confident enough in the quality of what you’ve written, to the point where you’re expecting big name agents and publishers to take it seriously – then you’ve got every chance of doing well as a self publisher. And who knows – you could be the next recipient of an email from Amazon, asking if you’d like to sign on to one of their new publishing imprints! Now that IS the future…

I love helping people out, and answering questions. Please feel free to ask anything in the comments, and I’ll get back to you! Alternatively you can email me at:

Thanks folks!