Self-publishing has changed. Once considered to be the last resort of the rejected and dejected writer, it is now a credible, accessible and potentially lucrative option for writers at all stages of their career. Anyone, anywhere in the world can upload their manuscript to a site like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and see a digital edition of their novel for sale around the world within hours. Here is an opportunity that not only stops you waiting for someone else’s ‘yes’ but enables you to retain complete creative control over things like your book’s title and cover design. And all while earning up to three times more from each sale of your book than you would with a traditional publisher.
But self-publishing your book will also demand a huge amount of time, effort and financial investment, with no guarantee of return. To self-publish well is to become an entrepreneur. This is a start-up business and your book is your first product. Consider how much time and money would you anticipate having to sacrifice in order to get a restaurant up and running, for example. Add a few more hours in there, because the self-publisher has to write a book as well. You will also have to learn new skills, embrace social media and find the confidence to promote your book. Although you may get to decide on your cover and title, you will have no control over the most important factor of all: whether or not people will buy your book.
Self-publishing can be a hugely rewarding experience but to do it well involves a lot of hard work. What follows is a brief overview to help point you in the right direction.
Is Self-Publishing Right for You?
The most popular way to self-publish nowadays is to produce e-books with Amazon’s KDP and a print-on-demand (POD) paperback with Amazon’s CreateSpace. It’s relatively easy, it requires the minimum amount of financial investment and it enables you to offer your book to readers worldwide without having to worry about competing for shelf space or getting listed with a distributor. Best of all, it does not require you to keep any physical stock.
Take note of what this option – and self-publishing in general – does not offer, however. Oftentimes writers who were traditionally published in the past turn to self-publishing to promote new work or to revive their backlist, and quickly become disillusioned with the process. They can’t get broadsheet reviews. Bookshops won’t stock the title. Hard won press coverage seems to have no effect on sales. It is important to understand that self-publishing is not merely traditional publishing gone DIY. Success here will look very different. You will enjoy it all the more if you acknowledge and accept this from the start.
Ask yourself: what do I want to achieve with this book? Can self-publishing get you there? If the answer is no, you may want to try to get traditionally published instead. Which path to pick is often the hardest decision to make. Self-publishing isn’t one-size-fits-all, but it may be the better option if:
- Your book falls outside the norms of traditionally published titles, e.g. it’s very short.
- Time is of the essence. Kildare-based Hazel Gaynor self-published The Girl Who Came Home because even if she had secured a traditional deal, the book would not have hit the shelves in time to coincide with the centenary of the event at the novel’s core, the sinking of the Titanic.
- You have a readymade audience, e.g. you are a professional speaker who regularly sells out events and your book is on a related topic.
If none of these apply to you, it may be useful to set yourself a deadline. For instance, I will spend another 12 months submitting to agents and if, by then, I haven’t got representation, I will self-publish instead.
Preparing to Self-Publish
A common mistake self-publishers make is to self-publish first and prepare to self-publish second. The actual act of self-publishing – making your e-book and/or paperback – should be one of the last items on your To Do list. There is much to consider and accomplish before then.
The Law: Copyright, Territories and Defamation
Under Irish law, specifically the Copyright & Related Rights Act 2000, copyright protection is free and automatic. There is no system under which you can register the copyright of your book, because you have effectively done so simply by writing it. In the United States, where the services you will use to publish your book are based, copyright law works in a similar way. Presuming your book is an original work, copyright protection need not be a concern. Further information can found at the Copyright Association of Ireland and the Irish Copyright Licensing Agency.
It is crucial that you ensure you are not infringing on anybody else’s copyright. If you have quoted song lyrics, lines of poetry or extracts from other original works in your novel, you must secure permission to do so from the copyright holder. This may prove to be a lengthy process, and sometimes permission is only granted in exchange for a fee. If you can remove them instead, do. For more on copyright and quotations, see Words Ireland’s document on copyright here.
You must also ensure that you have the right to publish your book. If the book was previously traditionally published, this may not be the case. Contact your agent and/or publisher and ask for clarification in writing. If you have an existing contract with a publisher that covers this work in a certain territory, e.g. Ireland and the UK, it is possible to restrict the sale of your self-published e-book to other geographical regions only.
Amazon KDP, CreateSpace and all other self-publishing services and platforms mentioned here operate under nonexclusive agreements. You retain all the rights to your work and are free to publish it simultaneously with other services, now or in the future, if you wish.
Note that as a self-publisher, you are solely responsible for the content of your book.
Individuals and/or companies who recognise themselves in your work and are not happy with their portrayal could, potentially, make a case for defamation – even if the book is fiction. If you have any concerns about your work, seek legal advice in advance of publication. This article on Irish defamation laws from Writing.ie may be helpful.
Editing Your Book
Professional editing is not an optional flourish, but a minimum standard. No book should make it to publication without at least a professional copy-edit, and ideally each book should have that plus a structural edit and proofread too.
Editing does not mean spell-checking and typo-hunting. It does not involve someone else interfering with your writing or storytelling. In fact, the goal of a good editor will be to help you fully realise your vision, in the best possible way. You cannot do it yourself, partly because the nature of it requires that it be done by someone other than the creator of the work, and partly because you don’t know what you don’t know.
Self-publishers often maintain they can’t afford to hire an editor. If you think hiring an editor is expensive, try not hiring one. Readers who are duped into buying a book that has not been professional prepared for the marketplace are unlikely to leave positive reviews, recommend the book to friends or look for other titles by the same author. Trying to save money now will only ensure that you make none of it later. The existence of errors in traditionally published books is not an excuse not to hire one. They slip through despite the book being pored over by an editor, a copy-editor, a proofreader and the author herself – imagine how many there’d have been without any editing at all.
To learn more about editing, read this series of articles by Robert Doran, an editor with two decades of experience in Irish and UK publishing:
- Why hire an editor?
- Structural editing for self-publishers
- Copy-editors: what they really do
- Proofreading explained
How much should editing cost? According to the Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders and Indexers of Ireland (AFEPI):
- Standard copy-editing should cost €40 per hour minimum
- Proofreading should cost €25–35 per hour minimum
How many hours’ work will your book require? Only the editor can judge. Send 2–3 pages of your work in the first instance to secure an accurate quote. As a guide, the AFEPI say:
- 800 to 1,600 words per hour for editing
- 2,000 to 4,000 words per hour for proofreading
The AFEPI website has more information on editing, plus a list of their members. They are professionally trained, experienced editors who can be contacted through the site.
Creating a Cover
Think of your book’s cover as a storefront on an exceptionally busy street. Despite being surrounded by other options, it must make potential customers stop to take a closer look and, ideally, push the door open and go inside. The cover will be the single most important factor in whether or not people buy your book.
Writers often have an idea in their mind of what the cover could look like before they’ve even finished writing the book. However, now is not the time for self-indulgence or personal preferences. Your goal is to create a cover that works, not necessarily a cover that works for you.
Here are some factors to consider when it comes to your book’s cover:
- Study the covers of books you bought. Why did you buy them? What attracted you to them? What was it about the cover image that drew your eye? How large (or small) is the typography? What font is that? Can you work these elements into your book’s cover? Study books you suspect are self-published too. What gives them away? How are their covers different from the traditionally published ones? How can you avoid their mistakes?
- Embrace genre. There is a reason all crime books, for instance, look vaguely alike: genre is a shortcut to sales. It instantly sends a subconscious message to browsing readers: if you liked x, you’d like this too. This skips several steps on the convince-to-buy ladder. Don’t squander this benefit by rejecting genre and/or conformity. Aim to fit in while also standing out.
- Consider the online environment. Most if not all potential readers will first encounter your book on a computer or smartphone in a thumbnail image. Many Kindle users will only ever see it in black and white. This must influence your cover design choices. For example, the only cover text potential readers will likely see is the title and author name. Straplines or blurbs in smaller text will not be readable on the cover and should go in the product description instead (see below).
For e-book covers, all you need is a high-resolution JPEG (image) file of the front cover of the book. These are easily assembled on sites like Canva and PicMonkey where basic features are free to use and other elements can be purchased as add-ons.
Alternatively you can hire a graphic designer. Cover design costs will vary widely depending on whether you use stock images, etc. but generally you should allocate a budget of around €100 for an e-book cover and €250 for a full book wrap or paperback cover, i.e. front, back and spine. Design for Writers is based in the UK and has been working with self-publishers – many of them Irish – since 2009. They also offer typesetting and website design services.
Note that due to the specification requirements for POD paperbacks, you will have to create your paperback’s cover using desktop publishing software such as Adobe InDesign.
Getting an ISBN
An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is the unique 10 or 13-digit code you will find printed on a book’s barcode and listed alongside the book wherever it’s for sale online. ISBNs are used to identify books and track the sale of them.
Kindle e-books do not have ISBNs; they have Amazon Standard Identification Numbers (ASINs). These are only used on Amazon sites. KDP will assign your book an ASIN automatically, for free.
CreateSpace will provide an ISBN for your print book free of charge. You can purchase your own ISBN from Nielsen and use that instead, but at a cost. Registering your own ISBN offers no practical advantage. Some self-publishers do this in an attempt to mask the fact that their book is self-published, i.e. they don’t want ‘CreateSpace’ to be the publisher of record. But readers don’t care and bookshops won’t be fooled. Others worry about how it will affect their rights. But the purpose of an ISBN is identification, not ownership. CreateSpace will own the ISBN but not your book. You are free to publish that book again elsewhere, so long as you do not re-use the same ISBN.
Building Your Author Platform
There is little point in self-publishing a book unless you have considered the practical steps you are going to take to sell copies of it. Some writers groan at the mere mention of social media, but it is almost impossible to promote and sell a self-published book that is predominantly or exclusively available online without it. Think of it as word-of-mouth. A decade ago, if a reader liked your book they might tell a couple of friends, or the handful of people in their book club. Now they can share their love for it with thousands of people online. Your job as the author of that book is to encourage and facilitate this.
See Selling Your Book (below) for more information on this. For now, in the months leading up to the publication of your book, you should focus on building your author platform.
It is essential that every self-publisher has a website where readers can go to find out more about them and their work. Free services like WordPress.com enable you to have an attractive, organised, professional site without having to have much technical expertise. For around €15 per year, you can add a personalised URL, e.g. www.catherineryanhoward.com. Make sure to include an ‘About’ page, links to your book(s) and a contact form.
Self-publishers should also have profiles on at least one but ideally all of the following social networking sites:
- Facebook. Set up a public page, i.e. a page people ‘like’ not a profile where people can add you as a ‘friend’. This is a great place to engage with readers and fans of your work. Recommended posting schedule: 2–5 times a week. (See an example of an author page on Facebook)
- Twitter. There is a terrifically enthusiastic community of readers and book bloggers who use this platform as a place to chat about books, share recommendations and interact with authors. Recommended posting schedule: a few times a day. (See an example of an author Twitter profile)
- Instagram. Get it on the #bookstagram and #writersofinstagram fun with this social media app that focuses on images. Recommended posted schedule: 3–5 times a week. (See an example of an author’s Instagram)
Deciding on a Publication Date
When you self-publish an e-book on Amazon using KDP, it normally appears for sale on the site within hours. However when you self-publish a POD paperback with CreateSpace or an e-book for other retailers using a service like Smashwords (see below), it may be days or even weeks before the listing appears. Thus it is not possible to have a publication date, i.e. a date when all editions of the book become available for sale. It is still important, however, to have a date on which to focus your promotion in the months leading up to publishing your book, i.e. a date by which all editions of the book will be available for sale. This is your launch date. Decide on it now and tell readers that that is the date on which your book will be published.
Self-Publishing Your e-Book
E-books are essentially electronic versions of scrolls. Readers decide on the font, the font’s size and whether they read in landscape or portrait. They may read the book on a dedicated e-reading device like a Kindle, or on a tablet computer, or even on their smartphone. There are no page numbers because with all these variables, there can be no defined pages. The text must ‘flow’ so that, no matter what choices are made, the text remains stable. Therefore when you are formatting your book for e-publication, you are not deciding how it will look. You are ensuring that no matter how it looks, the reader has a pleasurable reading experience.
Front/end matter is everything in the book that is not the text of the book itself, e.g. dedication, acknowledgements and author page. Add this to your manuscript now, before you begin preparing it for conversion. Remember that you can insert live web links into your e-book, so add URLs for your website, Facebook page, etc.
Refrain from adding too much frontmatter to the beginning of the book because readers can download a ‘sample’ of the first few pages of your book and there should be as much of the actual story/text in that as possible. Avoid adding too much endmatter to the end of the document because e-readers show what percentage of a book a reader has left and having the book end earlier than they expected, only to give way to pages of acknowledgements, will only disappoint them.
Preparing Your Manuscript for Conversion
Amazon KDP will take your Word document and convert it automatically into an e-book format called MOBI. To ensure that this process goes as smoothly as possible, you must adhere to strict formatting guidelines. Don’t forget that your choices of font, font size, etc. are irrelevant. Conversion works best when you keep things as simple as possible. KDP has a straightforward guide to formatting your manuscript.
Self-Publishing Your E-book on Amazon KDP
The actual process of self-publishing is the easy bit, especially when it comes to your e-book. Begin by setting up an account at Amazon KDP (you can use your existing Amazon account if you have one), click ‘Add New Title’ and follow the instructions on screen.
The process will essentially involve filling out two screens’ worth of forms and then uploading your manuscript and cover file. You will have an opportunity to enter a ‘product description’, i.e. the blurb that would normally go on the back of a printed book. You will also be able to check your e-book before it publishes. Within hours, your e-book will be for sale on all Amazon sites.
Setting Your E-book’s Price
It is completely free to self-publish an e-book using Amazon KDP. Whenever a sale occurs, Amazon will take their cut and add the rest to your account. You will be paid your profits by electronic funds transfer (EFT) once a month.
How much will you earn? As this is an American company, all transactions are in U.S. dollar; euro conversions here are approximate and based on rates in August 2017.
- If you price your book below $2.99 (€2.50) or above $9.99 (€8.50), you will earn 35% of each sale
- If you price your book at or between $2.99 (€2.50) and $9.99 (€8.50), you will earn 70% of each sale
By comparison, traditionally published authors tend to earn 25% from e-book sales. Note that if you are publishing your e-book with more than one service (see Other E-book Publishing Services below), you must set the same price for every retailer.
It is crucial to think not of the profit from each individual sale, but the bigger picture of building a readership that will sustain a career. An e-book priced 99c will potentially entice the reader to take a chance on an unknown, unproved author – an author whose second book they’ll be willing to pay much more for. On the other hand, setting your price at $2.99 or above will enable you to lower it in the future, and promote that as a limited-time discount.
It is a sad state of affairs that most e-book consumers are willing to pay more for a large latte than a 100,000-word novel, but it is also a reality. Do not expect each individual reader to reward you for all the hours you spent writing your book; compare how much time and money it costs to make a feature film with the price of a cinema ticket. Furthermore, many traditional publishers price their e-books between €5 and €10 so a low price could be a competitive advantage.
Other E-book Publishing Services
Amazon are thought to account for as much as 70% of the e-book market; there seems little point in self-publishing an e-book without self-publishing it there. But while Amazon tries to encourage exclusivity by offering promotional benefits in exchange for not self-publishing your book in digital form anywhere else, you might want to consider doing just that in order to cover all bases. You might also find formatting to be too much of a headache, or have a book that requires special formatting attention, e.g. poetry or a cookbook. Consider these other services if that is the case:
- Smashwords. Smashwords is another DIY e-book upload service similar to Amazon KDP. However it supplies all the other major e-book retailers: Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble’s NOOK store, etc. These retailers require e-books to have ISBNs but Smashwords will provide you with one free of charge. Smashwords has its own formatting guide.
- Blurb. Blurb began life as a print-on-demand service that helped users create high-quality coffee-table style books. They still do that, but they also offer fixed-format e-book publishing and distribution. This means an e-book that does not work like a scroll, but instead has fixed or stable virtual pages, ideal for books where formatting is important, such as cookbooks. There is a one-time conversation of $9.99 (€8.50) for this service.
- eBookPartnership. eBookPartnership is a great option for the self-publisher who feels they don’t have the technological know-how to do this by themselves. They will take your manuscript in MS Word and do all the work for you. They are based in the UK and offer packages to suit every self-publisher, from e-book conversion only (from €209) to creating, publishing and distributing both an e-book and print edition of your book (from €926).
Self-Publishing Your Print Book
The ease, accessibility and relatively low cost of print-on-demand (POD) paperbacks make producing one an attractive option. Upload your interior file and cover design, hit the ‘Publish’ button and see a paperback version of your book for sale around the world within days. Whenever someone orders it, you need take no action. Amazon’s CreateSpace service will print it, ship it and collect your profit share for you. Gone are the days of having to pay upfront for a print run of hundreds or even thousands of books and then despairing as the layer of dust on them grows thicker and thicker.
Also gone are the days when publishing a book required the publishing of a print edition. If, like many writers, you have long been dreaming of holding your book in your hands, it might seem strange to suggest that you don’t do it at all. But as an entrepreneur who is professionally self-publishing, postponing or even avoiding publishing a print edition of your book could be the sensible option. Most e-books are sold online and here, you can compete with the world’s biggest publishing houses on a level playing field. But most print book sales take place in ‘brick-and-mortar’ stores – supermarkets, book chains and independent bookshops – and there, unfortunately, you will struggle to compete at all.
Getting Your Book into Bookshops
If your aim is to see your book on bookshop shelves, then you should aim for traditional publishing. Self-publishing a POD book is, unfortunately, not the best way to make that happen. Reasons for this include:
- The role of the distributor. Bookshops, particularly those who are part of chains, do not deal with individual authors. They purchase their stock through a distributor, e.g. Argosy here in Ireland. Therefore you will not only have to convince such a distributor to list your book, but order stock to supply them with. This negates the biggest benefit of POD, i.e. not having to pay upfront for stock. As the books will be taken on a sale-or-return basis, this stock may ultimately be returned to you, unsold. If they do sell, payment for them will be months in the future.
- Costs. Books are sold in brick-and-mortar stores for anything up to a 50% mark up. This means that you have to sell your book to them at a price low enough to not only accommodate this, but to keep the retail price in line with books of comparative size that will sit on the shelf next to it as well. There is very little room for profit in this equation. A standard 360-page mass market paperback, for example, retails for €11.95. To order 100 copies of your similarly sized book at cost from CreateSpace would be €435.00 plus €95.00 for economy shipping, or €5.30 per copy landed. In order for the book to retail at €11.95, the bookshop must buy it in at no more than €5.98. That gives you a profit of just 68c per book. (You would collect €2.32 every time a copy of the same book was sold on Amazon.co.uk, with no purchasing of stock involved.)
- Lack of publicity. The reason bookshops stock the titles they do is because they believe they will sell, that customers will come into the shop looking for them. This could be because of the author’s track record, planned publicity such as radio interviews or festival appearances, or anticipated broadsheet reviews. As a self-published author, it is highly unlikely you will have these.
The bottom line is that it will be incredibly difficult to get your POD paperback into brick-and-mortar bookshops and, even if you manage it, the profit on sales from this channel will not make it worth your while. Focus instead on online sales.
Friends and family will undoubtedly look for a physical copy of the book. Consider ordering as much stock as you are confident of selling and holding a launch party. You can use the photos as content to put online and ask those who attend to share tweets, images, etc. on their own social networks.
Alternatively, delay the paperback publication. Release the e-book first and months later, if sales of that are going well, reinvest the profits in a paperback.
For some authors, creating a physical book and getting it into bookshops will be very important, e.g. a local history book that will only appeal to local readers. If this applies to you and your book, see Other Printing Options (below).
Self-Publishing a POD Paperback
The process of self-publishing a POD paperback with Amazon’s CreateSpace shares many tasks with self-publishing an e-book. In fact, once your e-book is published you can ‘add’ a POD paperback edition through the dashboard on your KDP account. Alternatively you can go to the CreateSpace website and publish your POD paperback from there.
The biggest difference is what files you must prepare beforehand. The interior of your paperback book will be a PDF you create from a MS Word document and your cover will be a full book wrap, i.e. front, back and spine, also in PDF format. For this reason, the workflow is different. Typically you will have to complete the following tasks in this order:
- Decide on a trim size for your book. Click on the Printing Options tab on the CreateSpace homepage to see what options are available. Measure a book from your shelf whose size you wish to copy and then look for the closest match in the list.
- Download a blank MS Word document from CreateSpace to match your chosen trim size. Copy and paste your manuscript into it and format it as you wish your book’s interior to look. Pay close attention to font choice and size; study the interiors of traditionally published books for guidance. Remember to include front/end matter, page numbers, etc. (Alternatively you can hire a typesetter or graphic design to make your interior for you.) Convert to PDF and save.
- Now that you know how many pages your book will have, you can download a cover template from CreateSpace to match your trim size/page count. Build your cover using this, or send it to your cover designer.
- Once all files are ready, complete the self-publishing process either on the CreateSpace website or through your KDP account. You can set the retail price for your book, but CreateSpace has minimum thresholds to cover manufacturing costs and retailers’ cuts. Try to stay close to the price of similarly sized traditionally published books in order to remain competitive.
- Order a proof copy and check it thoroughly for errors, etc.
- ‘Approve’ the proof on your account. Within 1–5 days, your book will appear for sale on the relevant online retailers. You will also be able to order copies of your book at cost through your CreateSpace or KDP account.
For more detail see the comprehensive guide CreateSpace has on their website, available here.
Other Printing Options
Depending on the type of book you plan on self-publishing, you may have realised by now that using a POD publisher like CreateSpace will not be a viable option for you. You may have written a book with a focus on local history that will only appeal to readers in a certain area, for example, or be a café owner with a tie-in cookbook you plan to sell in-store. You need to find a print option that works for you both in terms of the book’s quality and design, and its profit margin. Consider self-publishing the ‘old-fashioned’ way: paying a local printer to produce a print-run for you. Note that this will involve considerable upfront costs.
Alternatively, consider a company like Lettertec. With offices in Cork and Dublin, this Irish company will help you design, print and publish your book. Visit the self-publishing section of their website for more information on the services they offer.
Selling Your Book
During a single week in February 2012, an Irish self-published author had a quarter-page feature in the Sunday Times which included a large, colour picture of her book cover, two national radio interviews including The Marian Finucane Show on RTE1 (which has a listenership of around 400,000 people), and a smattering of local newspaper coverage in the city where she lived – and absolutely no discernable increase in sales. Traditional media does not help sell books that are exclusively or predominantly available online and to pursue such coverage with this aim is to waste your time.
Consider your last book purchase from a brick-and-mortar store. Unless you discovered it while browsing, you likely had heard of the book several times before you entered the bookshop. Perhaps you had read a review in a newspaper, or heard the author interviewed online, or a friend had read the book and gushed about it. When you saw it in the shop you thought to yourself, Oh, that’s that book… and picked it up.
With self-published books, there is no such ‘reminder’. A reader might hear about the book from a friend and make a mental note to look it up on Amazon when they get home, but if they forget to they may never encounter that book again. To combat this you must aim to close the gap between the time a potential reader learns about the existence of your book and their first opportunity to buy it. If a reader sees your book cover in a tweet and is intrigued enough to check out the link attached to it, they end up on your Amazon page looking at a ‘Buy’ button. There is no delay at all.
Promoting your book online is a game of ideas and, as a writer, you already have the imagination and creativity required to make it work. In Building Your Author Platform (above) you built a website and started using social media networks Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow other authors there, both traditionally and self-published, as well as publishing houses, book bloggers and booksellers. Watch how they use these platforms and learn from them. Consider what ideas might work for your book and how you could adapt them.
Promoting Your Book Online
Publication day is too late to start thinking about promoting your book. At least six months in advance, draw up a plan that will build anticipation for your book, maximise launch day reach and engage readers in the long-term.
Note that Twitter is not a way to sell books. It is merely a tool. You must come up with a strategy for how to use it.
Here are some ways you can promote your book online:
- Start a blog. Add a blog to your website and regularly update it. Topics could be related to your book’s subject matter, or use it to share the self-publishing process. Bring readers to your blog by sharing links to it on your social networks and by commenting on other people’s blogs.
- Social networks. The only limit here is your imagination. Study how other authors use these platforms to promote their books. Glean inspiration from them. Remember the most effective online content is that which can stand on its own even when you remove the ‘buy a book’ element, e.g. a Twitter account that is still engaging and entertaining even if you removed all mentions of the user’s forthcoming book. Don’t be afraid or dismissive of social media. Remember it’s the same thing that has always sold books – word-of-mouth – only moved online and amplified, and for this reason it’s the best way to find readers for your book.
- Book bloggers. There is a huge, enthusiastic and dedicated community of book bloggers online: readers who review books for free. Contact them via their websites (following their submission instructions to the letter) to offer them a free, no obligation advance copy of your book. Email a PDF or use CreateSpace to make physical proofs.
- Goodreads giveaways. Goodreads is essentially a Facebook for book lovers and a great way to promote your book. They offer a giveaway service whereby they run giveaways for your book that reach thousands of people, pick a winner and send you the address to send the book to. Note you can only do this with physical books. For more information on how to run an effective Goodreads giveaway, read this blog post.
- Bookbub. Bookbub is a U.S.-based subscription service that alerts its subscribers to limited-time e-book bargains. If you manage to get your book listed (which involves a fee), you will enjoy hundreds if not thousands of sales that day which, because of the way Amazon algorithms work, will increase the ‘discoverability’ of your book on the site and lead to future sales too. Note that this is highly competitive with a very high barrier to entry – but one of the few promotions where you are as good as guaranteed your money back. Visit their site for more information.
- Facebook advertising. There are two kinds of Facebook advertising: standard ads, where you pay to have an ad appear in people’s news feeds under a ‘sponsored’ label, and boosting, where you pay to have more people see your posts. Used effectively, these can help you promote your book. Bestselling self-published author Mark Dawson is the Facebook ad expert. Read more about how he uses Facebook to sell books here.
- Price promotions. As you control the price of your e-book, you can lower it for a limited time and promote it online as a sale.
- Mailing list. Use a free service like Mailchimp to create a mailing list. Add a sign-up box to your website and promote it on Facebook, Twitter, etc. You can even put a link into your e-books after ‘THE END’. No one knows what social networks will look like five, ten years down the line, but e-mail isn’t going anywhere. Imagine a scenario where every time you publish a book, you simply alert your mailing list to its availability and it instantly becomes a bestseller, due to their number. That’s your aim.
- Traditional media. Coverage in traditional media will not help you sell books and you shouldn’t waste time pursuing it. However if it comes to you, don’t refuse. It’s often fun, impresses family and friends and can be used to create online content, e.g. if you are interviewed by your local paper, look for the piece online and share that link.
Self-publishers often ask, but will this work? As is the case with all publicity, there are no guarantees. Sometimes traditional publishing houses put all their might (and money) behind a book, but fail to get it onto the charts. The same can be said for self-published authors: two might follow the exact same promotional strategy, but one gets to the top spot while the other disappears into obscurity. All you can do is do everything you can and focus on the long-term goal: building a loyal readership. The only alternative is to leave all the time, effort and money you spent – and your book – go to waste.
Don’t forget, the most effective thing you can do to promote your book is to write another one. All the biggest selling self-publishers have multiple titles available.
Finally, consider that because of the way Amazon works, every sale has the potential to lead to another sale. You don’t need to reach millions of readers to sell millions of books. You only need to reach enough of them to virtually push your book to the front of the Amazon store, where the site’s algorithms will take over and start selling your book for you.
Royalty Payments, Taxes and Artists’ Exemption
As many of the main players in this process are based in the United States, you will have to provide them with a tax identification number in order to receive this foreign income. Your PPS number will suffice.
Payments are typically made once a month via EFT into an account of your choice. Do not forget to declare this income to Revenue when you complete your annual tax return. Irish companies like TaxBack.com and PayLessTax.ie offer affordable assistance with self-employed, self-assessed tax returns.
Any income earned from your self-published works may be tax exempt under the Artists’ Exemption Scheme. This allows for royalties from the sale of ‘creative and original work’ with ‘cultural or artistic merit’ up to €50,000 per annum to be exempt from Irish income tax. Please note that this exemption only applies if you have received a determination of exemption. For more information, read Revenue’s guidelines on the scheme. An application form can be downloaded from here.
All the services mentioned have a wealth of helpful information on their websites – FAQs, download guides and community forums where other users share tips and ideas.
Other helpful websites include:
A Podcast on Self-Publishing with Catherine Ryan Howard is available to listen to here.
Catherine Ryan Howard is a writer from Cork who started her career self-publishing non-fiction. She has delivered workshops on the subject for Faber Academy in London, Guardian Masterclasses, Irish PEN and Publishing Ireland, among others. Her debut thriller Distress Signals is shortlisted for the CWA’s John Creasey/New Blood Dagger Award.