Self-Publishing Panel – with Avril Sabine and Charmaine Clancy

At the recent Ipswich Story Arts Festival, I had the pleasure of co-presenting a panel discussion with a good writing friend, Avril Sabine, on the topic of self-publishing.

Avril and I first met attending a ‘Year of the Novel’ workshop at the Queensland Writer’s Centre. We were two keen writers with piles of manuscripts, uncertain about what to do next. Once we had both secured traditional publishing interest in our works, we each came to the decision that we’d like to progress down the path of self-publishing. The panel gave us an opportunity to share our experiences, mistakes and advice.

Here’s some of the points raised in the panel discussion:

SETTING UP

Self-publishing will not suit everyone. You need to weigh up all your options and which best suits your goals. There are many great traditional publishing houses in Australia and some of the smaller ones are often taking submissions. However, if your goal is to create works for your audience and be highly interactive with them, then self-publishing might appeal to you. It’s a lot of work, but it is very rewarding.

SCALING UP

Perhaps you’ve successfully published a couple of books, but how do you keep momentum with sales? My key advice on this topic is to see each story as multiple streams of income. A book is not just a book. It can be an ebook, audiobook, app, game, video and more. And what about foreign rights? My books are being produced as audiobooks by Catnip Sound Studio. You could publish your book in Spanish or German! A book can also be used to create merchandise, like t-shirts, bags, notebooks and more.

Most of all, don’t stop writing! The best way to scale up is to keep the books coming out.

BOOK PRODUCTION

Once your manuscript is ready to turn into a book, you’ll need to think about who should format and prepare your documents. Your book cover is one of the most important features of your product. It’s the first thing potential readers will see and it will help them decide if they want to know more about your book. Go professional, your cover is advertising. Unless you have a background in graphic art and understand all the elements of colour, imagery, text style and placement, don’t try to do it yourself. Most homemade covers look unappealing and won’t catch your reader’s attention.

I use Book Cover Cafe as my designer for both interior layout and cover design.

You might also need a different cover design for paperback books and ebooks. Remember, on Amazon and other ebook sites, the book covers are first seen as thumbnail pictures, so you need really big text and high contrast in colour.

Avril recommends using Press Books to create your own layout.

Both Avril and I have heard good things about Vellum for producing professional ebooks and paperbacks, however, neither of us have yet tried to use it. At the end of the day, you just need to decide what you want to try and do yourself, and what you’ll be happy to commission professionals to do for you.

EDITING

There’s a lot of hype about speedy writing and immediate publishing as a way of building a big list of products. This might work well for some, but you won’t convince me to relax from crafting and redrafting until my book is at a standard that I’m happy with—and I can be pretty darn fussy. Therefore, editing can be a lengthy stage of book production, but it can also be a really fun stage! Both Avril and I agree that rewrites allow for an expansion of your creativity.

The first step in rewrites is your own going over. You rest your manuscript long enough to allow you to read it with a fresh view. Look for any problems with character development, consistency, setting, story structure, etc. A great course that both Avril and I have used is Holly Lisle’s, ‘How to Revise Your Novel‘.

After that, you pass your manuscript over to your close trusted reader. For Stephen King, that’s his wife. They should know that praise does not fix problems with a manuscript. I like my close readers (usually my daughters) to be harsh. You could also use a writing group to critique each other’s work.

The next step is Beta Readers. These should be readers of your genre. I enlist many young people who I meet through writing workshops, or from my email list, or where I teach, to read my children’s books.

Once you take onboard all the advice and feedback and you’ve made the changes you want, send it off to a professional editor. I use the editing service at Book Cover Cafe.

PUBLISHING

All ready to publish? Avril recommended putting your manuscript through the CreateSpace program, to check the layout and visual appeal of the finished product. Once you’re happy with it, you can send it off to Lightning Source or Ingram for printing. For ebooks, you can upload directly to Amazon, or to go ‘wide’, upload to a site like Pronoun, which will send your ebook to many platforms.

STARTING OUT

If you’ve just begun your journey to self-publishing, you’ll need to set up your business name and register as a publisher. Everything you need for that is in my booklet, Be Your Own Publisher. You can download it for free, by clicking on the image below:

You can find Avril at www.AvrilSabine.com, where you’ll also find her many children and YA books that include fantasy and steampunk!

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