5 things I did to make my self-published book brilliant

The first thing I want to do is write. It’s essential, it’s non-negotiable. The next thing I want to do is share my writing with others. And that’s what I’ve been doing on this blog and through my submissions to anthologies and zines.

Like many I’m still in the process of figuring out what’s the best way of being published. Having grown up with a love of books and familiarity with the names of publishers of revered volumes, publishers such as Penguin in particular, I’ve always associated being published with, well, having a publisher.

This isn’t the post where I talk about how the publishing world is revolutionising.  I’ll leave that for another time. But a lot of the discussion and the key people involved in that discussion are to be found at the Alliance of Independent Authors. This group, founded by Orna Ross, approaches self-publishing from many different backgrounds, either as first time authors, those moving from traditional publishing, or those for whom self-publishing is a mechanism to enable innovation and artistic creativity in the world of words.  The group as a whole aim to help self-publishers, to join together to share knowledge and expertise  to create a great product and it’s a movement that will grow and influence not only self-publishing but the traditional industry itself.

Today, though I’m going to talk about what I’ve done so far to make my book Housewife with a Half-Life the best that I can make it.

1: I wrote the book & revised it to as high a standard as possible

Much of Housewife with a Half-Life was written as my Nanowrimo 2010 novel. Having finished Nanowrimo I worked on the book further, left it for a few months then took it out and revised it. Alongside I was writing many other stories, several of which were shortlisted in major prizes such as the Bridport. I participated in #fridayflash and joined a writer’s group. I did everything I could to improve my writing and feed those skills back into my book.

2: I got writers to critique and readers and writers to beta read my book

Through my online presence and my writer’s group in Dublin I have got to know many talented, published and award winning authors.  Throughout the process of writing my book I shared chapters of my book for  critique to see what was clear and what wasn’t. When I had a complete draft I asked some of my writing friends and also an avid reader who is not a writer to read my book and provide me with their thoughts. What I wanted them overall to do was to read as readers and to see if they could connect with the book or if certain areas jarred.

There are several points to mention here. First of all if I asked a writer to critique a book I was careful to ask them to be as honest as possible and I also explained what level of critique I wanted.  It might be worth mentioning that not everyone liked the book, one reader said it just wasn’t for them but others loved it. This is going to happen in the real world, one book cannot meet the requirements of all readers. Feedback from my writers group would have been at a more detailed level. Of course at any point I could accept or reject their feedback.

3: I got my book professionally edited

I engaged the services of a professional editor Sarah Franklin.  Sarah has a background in the publishing industry as well as being a writer herself. She gave me a comprehensive edit; both a high level edit for flow and content as well as copy editing. I will also give my book out for a final proofread by fellow readers before I hit the upload button.

4: I submitted my book to publishers

I submitted my book to several well-known publishers. The feedback on the writing quality was good but the main sticking point was genre. These particular publishers could not see how to fit it in with their existing catalogues. Admittedly I did not pursue the traditionally publishing route as rigourously as I could have: some of the places I was considering had placed a moratorium on submissions and as I waited for the submissions to open again I became interested in self-publishing. Submitting to publishers though did show me that my book had potential and quality. I had external acknowledgement that my book was of a good standard.

5: I’ve got a designer  to design my book cover.

Design is certainly not my strong point, hiring a cover designer (Andrew Brown of Design for Writers) was a far more sensible option. Andrew provided me with many excellent and comprehensive questions up front  in order to get to the heart of what my book was about and who it would be targeted towards.

5: I learned all I could about the self-publishing process

Through research online and with the help of the Catherine Ryan Howard’s excellent Self-Printed I’ve acquainted myself with the physical process of self-printing but also other aspects such as marketing, getting reviews, promotions and so on. Every day I find more information and I’m determined to do my best to get Housewife with a Half-Life out there because I’m proud of it and knowthat readers  will enjoy it.

For other posts on my self-publishing adventure click here

How about you? Are you considering self-publishing or have you gone through the process and have advice or tips for those wanting to create a quality product?

23 thoughts on “5 things I did to make my self-published book brilliant

  1. Well done! I’ve approached traditional publishers, and now I’ve decided to self publish, most of what you advised I’ve already done, and I’m on the last of the edits for the final polish. I have a graphics D for a husband, so that’s the book cover covered. But I still need to learn about what’s involved with self publishing and marketing – this part I dread, another new skill yet to be learnt.

    Your post is most encouraging, as like you I believe in my fantasy fiction for children. So thank you.

    1. alisonwells

      The world of publishing is no longer clearcut. It’s possible to find our readers differently than through traditional outlets if we do it right and in that way self-publishing has so many possibilities. However, as I’ve become very aware, it is all down to us to find innovative ways of reaching people, particularly those outside of our immediate circle. On the other hand I definitely think there is a place for fine writing that may, for certain arbitrary reasons (publisher budget etc) not be taken on. I’ve written another two books that will not see the light of day. They aren’t awful. They are just not good enough. I wrote this book in Nov 2010 and the shine hasn’t worn off. For me that’s the real test. It’s great you have some of the technical know how at home, as for the marketing, there are many avenues that I’ll share as I learn. And sometimes there’s an element of luck thrown in!

    1. alisonwells

      My brains are on Creative Commons! There are many reasons not to self-publish but there are many good reasons why and those reasons are becoming more and more beguiling as I venture forward. I think it’s worth doing just to get the know how and to learn how to market yourself, a skill that, should we also go the traditional route will make us more appealing.

  2. Abigail Watkins

    I found this really interesting. Was the critiquing process difficult for you? How did you decide which comments to act on? Great to hear of your experience.

    1. alisonwells

      Hi Abigail, that’s a really good question. I try to get several critiques from a variety of sources. Perhaps not always of the full thing but at least chunks of it. Where people are saying the same kinds of things then it becomes more obvious if I should act on a critique. Also having a break from the piece (for several months if possible) was really helpful to me so that I wasn’t so emotionally involved in the feedback. If stuck on a particular issue that had been pointed out I would talk it out with someone and try to see what would work better or if it should be left. Sometimes edits are just personal preferences but I’m always amazed and humbled by feedback that shows me where things just aren’t clear, where what is in my head is not elucidated for the reader. It’s not a clear process. I’ve struggled with another novel where it was so hard to stand back, where my favourite elements did not resonate with some of the readers. Sometimes it’s more an intuitive process to see what is vital in the story.

  3. A very encouraging post Alison, thanks. I’m at Step 1 at the moment and it looks like a very steep hill from here… It’s great to see real-life tales of people who’ve been there and got through it successfully. There is hope after all 🙂

  4. Pingback: 9/7/12: The Writing Edge for Business Writers » Wally Bock's Zero Draft

  5. Thanks Alison – just what I needed to part the clouds in my Sunday morning fuddle brain. A simple, professionally written piece of advice which lays its cards out on the table. Definitely worth sharing with a reblog, thank you!

  6. As a fellow self-publisher, I can respect that you took the time to talk about this and make others aware. After countless rejections, there is no definitive failure. Anyone can self-publish. You can give others the chance to read your work. I’ve used xlibris and my books are available for sale on amazon and barnes & noble.com

  7. Thanks for good advice. Sounds like all the hard work will be worth it. Have just finished first draft of my first novel and looking around for how to get it out there. Will certainly take your comments on board. Well done!

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