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The International Writers Magazine: Publishing

The Amber Room
Self Publishing my Young Adult eBook
• Tom Harris
In April 2012, I decided to self publish my debut novel The Amber Room as an eBook. So this is the how and the why and a few things I've picked up along the way.

Amber Room

I did it to showcase my writing and a book I believe in. I wanted to give my writing a platform to get noticed by agents and publishers, as the book wasn't attracting attention in the current climate and many agents were declaring their lists too full to even look at it. I'm usually quite pragmatic about this and understand that it can be just a kind way of saying it's not good enough. With a different book, maybe I would have just got my head down and tried again, but the difference with The Amber Room, was that for the first time I really believed in the quality of this story. I still do. I had gained much needed confidence from strangers and old friends who passed comment about my website. They were saying good things about the concept of my novel, my sample chapters and my short stories. I really didn't want to condemn this book and the characters to the R.I.P file on my C drive, so I decided to use The Amber Room to showcase myself as a writer.

I've been writing for sixteen years, so this isn't my first book. It is however, my best and the only one I've had enough faith in to commit to in this manner. So, this is not a 'try it and give up if it doesn't work' thing for me. I will always write. I am a writer. What I've produced is as good as I could as at April 2012, but I'm always learning and will continue to hone my craft and learn as much as I can about this ancient art.

I soon realised that when you self publish, you are setting up a business. I became self-employed and have been keeping all my receipts and setting up my accounts. I am now not only the writer, but the editor, copywriter, marketing manager, accountant and the formatter of this eBook. There are plenty of people/companies who will do this for you, but I felt I could handle the task and didn't want to further reduce my profit margins and have to cut back on Haribos and post-it notes - you know, those real luxury items. Friends will only do so much in terms of helping out and all the help I've received has been much appreciated. But, they won't do it forever, so if you don't have these skills, learn how to, or at least budget for these outgoings.

I've been honest with myself about what I am capable of and tackled everything apart from the book cover. I'm no illustrator, so I paid for that - which was a very real outgoing of three hundred pounds. It's a lot of money and it may seem steep and foolish, but I love the cover and the fact that me and its very talented illustrator were introduced via the medium of the Women's Institute - I'm a sucker for a great story!

This along with deciding to price my eBook at ninety-nine pence, as a first time author, meant that it was more than I could afford and by making this decision I blew my chances of turning a profit in the first year right there and then. But I don't regret it. My plan was always long-term and always about quality, as the book is out there forever. Don't judge a book by its cover, they say - but the truth is that people do! Especially when you're self-publishing your debut novel.

I was made redundant in January from my 'proper job' as my friends like to refer to it and I'm still searching for the right part time position to fund my writing. Like any small business, you need to see things long-term and be realistic about how much money you're going to make in your first year. We're all different and obviously some people have done better than others through self-publishing. I'm certainly not going to tell anybody what you can or can't achieve as that's down to the individual, but I'd say it's important not to set your bar too high in terms of sales and expectations.

This may sound obvious, but reading extensively in your genre is essential. I've noticed a huge improvement in my grasp of grammar, editing, proofreading and copyrighting and I've learnt lots about style, content and structure through reading the work of other Young Adult fiction writers.

Editing is one thing, copywriting is another. The book has to have no spelling mistakes and the grammar needs to be excellent of course, but it also needs to makes sense. This is why it is vital to be part of a writing/critique group to allow others to read your work and let you know what they think it's about. Harsh and honest critique has really improved my writing and opened my eyes to my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It's not the readers fault if they can't translate or understand your vision - you are the translator! This is your job! I really get this now and wish I'd understood this years ago.

Blogging and commenting on others blogs is essential for self publishers in my opinion. I got a Google Plus account, downloaded an unflattering photo as my Gravatar and after a brief stumble, found that I was popping up all over the world, sharing views and learning about things I had no concept of before. By tracking the right blogs, you can learn a lot about the self publishing process.

Through blogging I was reminded that not everyone has a Kindle and that I was now selling to the world - not just people in the UK. There are other eBook readers out there and Smashwords was how I could gain access to these readers. I have now been awarded my Premium Catalogue status, which will get The Amber Room out to all the big retailers like Apple, Sony and Barnes & Noble... but this process does take time.

I chose to distribute The Amber Room through Amazon and Smashwords and so once the book was fully edited all that was left before the upload was the formatting. This seemed incredibly daunting, but was okay once I got into it. I guess this will depend on your background as to how difficult you find this.

I used the Smashwords style-guide which was really helpful and I worked my way through this meticulously. Follow this and you should be okay. I gave myself a deadline but also enough time for trial and error. Formatting on Smashwords first, made things much easier when putting the book on Amazon. This decision depends on whether you want to take part in Amazon's KDP lending library programme, which you can only do if you distribute solely through Amazon. I chose to opt out of this for now, but I may re-address this depending on the success of the Smashwords Premium catalogue sales.

Once the book is out there, you will need to market it. Author pages on Amazon and Smashwords are one thing, but author pages on Goodreads and Facebook and profiles on Twitter, Linked-In, Reddit etc...will keep you visible in the swarm of authors out there on-line. My website and my new blog promote my existence as an author and enable me to share news about my books, samples of writing and some entertaining interviews - I hope!

Being human is the best advice I could give to anyone when it comes to on-line marketing. It may seem slow and frustrating, but you'll make more friends and less enemies this way. I've been guilty of over and under marketing, but I'm just going to be me from now on in everything I do. That's what I've taken from my own experiences and all the advice I have picked up from the great blogs out there that share opinions and advice about the self publishing process.

I have always been aware that agents and publishers on social networking sites do not want to be pitched to. I follow a lot, but only interact with the ones who interact with me too. I treat them in the same as I would treat anybody else. The same goes for book reviewers and bloggers who you may want to approach. Just do your homework as not all will review self published work, but quite a lot do, just approach them with humility and read the submission criteria on their pages. Treat everyone with respect and try to make friends not business contacts. That would be my advice.

I'm wearing more hats as a self publisher and juggling these roles from day to day and it's hard work. My main goal is to get my work read and make everyone aware of its existence. It's all about maintaining visibility out there and that's not easy. Although many won't admit it, I think, like me, most writers deep down are looking for the comforting embrace of a publisher to give us that recognition and security so we can get on and write. If we can wake up in the morning and do what we love doing then that is surely the greatest gift of all! That's why I self published! I hope that The Amber Room can be a stepping stone to achieving the most beautiful of all endgames - to get paid to write.

You can find and download The Amber Room on Amazon & Smashwords by following the links below.


Visit my blog and for more updates on my work

© Tom Harris May 2012

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