SELF PUBLISHING AS A UK AUTHOR
When I was researching epublishing and publishing generally, I read a lot of good advice on dozens of author websites and writing blogs. I found that there was a lot of information out there for US authors, but not so much for UK authors. This is my take on how I went about self-publishing my novel as a UK based author. I don’t claim to be an expert and I’m sure others may disagree with what I will say below. My plan suited me. It may not suit others. If you’re reading this, make sure you do what I did, and check out other author-writing sites and blogs. Take your time to assimilate all the information and come up with your own plan. Once made, this plan is not set in stone. I had to alter mine several times.
1. The Book – Writing/Editing/Proofreading
This is stating the obvious, but make sure the novel is in the best state it can be. There is no point going through the very complicated and time consuming steps that follow if you haven’t got a good product to sell or you’re still on your first draft.
This is the way I write. Do first draft and edit as I write. Leave it for a couple of weeks (some authors advocate not touching the book for at least a month). Edit and do second +/- third draft. Send it to an editor and beta readers. Rewrite. Send it to a proofreader. It takes me about nine to twelve months to write a first draft; this is while working a busy job. If I wrote full time, I should be able to do a first draft in about six to seven months. This is MY method. Every author will have a different one that suits them. If you feel your method is not working for you, create another one.
Kindleboards and Goodreads are good places to find editors and beta readers. There are also plenty of writing websites, forums, and blogs that offer links to beta readers. If you subscribe to the Writing Magazine and Writing News in the UK, you will find companies offering author services such as editing and proofreading. Check them out carefully and look for reviews of the services they offer. And I don’t mean just read the testimonials on their website; they’re hardly going to put negative ones on there. Google the name of the company and add ‘reviews’ in your search box.
At this stage, the book is likely to need editing more than proofreading. You will have to pay a considerable amount of money for editing. The lovely Tabatha from Streetlight Graphics gave me some excellent advice re:beta readers. She suggested putting a post of Facebook and asking friends who might be interested. I fortunately know quite a few friends who are objective with their critique and ended up asking six of them (three girls, three boys) to beta read my books. Tabatha advised compiling a list of instructions and questions to guide them. I gave them the first draft six to seven weeks before I needed the feedback and they did a brilliant job. I had the lovely Liam Carnahan from Invisible Ink Editing and John Jarrold as the professional editors on Soul Meaning and King’s Crusade, and Liam also did the proofreads. I am currently working with Liam Carnahan from Invisible Ink Editing and Sara Litchfield from Right Ink on the Wall as my main editors.
Expect to pay between £150-£650 for editing, depending on whether you want a cursory one or a full, line-by-line edit. Note that professional beta readers will charge a fee. Contact at least two or three editors and proofreaders and ask for quotes before you make a decision on who to go with.
2. Ebook, Print Book or Both?
Start thinking about this early on. It will help smooth the process that follows.
When I started this venture, I read that producing and selling an ebook was relatively easy. That’s true to an extent. Producing a good quality ebook, however, is complex and time consuming. You need to decide what kind of author you want to be before you even set foot on this path. Are you vanity-publishing a single book for your friends and family, or do you want to establish a serious, long term writing career? If it’s the latter, you have to be professional in your approach. This is a new business you’re setting up.
I originally planned on only publishing ebooks. In the end, I had so many friends, relatives and colleagues request a paper version that I decided to do a short print run of 250 paperbacks that I could gift and sell as autographed first edition. I soon realized that printing was twice, if not three times, as complex and expensive as publishing an ebook. I decided there was no point going through all that trouble just for 250 books. In addition to the short print run, I am selling the book under the ‘print on demand’ model from various online retailers.
The next points of my process will be divided in two sections: what I had to do to publish my ebook and what I had to do in addition to that to publish my print book.
A well meaning friend told me I could design my own ebook cover: he had read about authors who had ‘done it all’ themselves. I came across many of these self-made covers while I was doing my research on this subject. Some were okay. Some were good. Some were great. Some were goddamn amazing. Some were crap. If you’re computer savvy and you have time to spare and want to try it, then go for it. If, like me, you have a busy job, are desperately trying to find extra hours in the day in which to write, don’t want to add ‘ebook cover designer’ to your skill mix and want to make sure you have a fantastic, professional looking ebook cover to wow your readers/future fans, then outsource this task to somebody who does this day in day out. The links I’ve provided below will lead you to names and recommendations. There are plenty of other websites and blogs out there with info as well. The other way I approached this was by looking at book covers of Indie authors on Amazon Kindle Books and Kindleboards, and visiting their website if they had one to see who designed their ebook cover. Or email them and ask them. They won’t bite, honest. Even if they are writing vampire-werewolf novels. How do you know if they’re Indie authors? Check out who their publisher is under the product detail of their book on Amazon or visit their website if they have one. Many authors operate as a small publishing house.
Some authors who have done their own book covers have gone on to offer their services as ebook cover designers and set this up as part of their business.
Again, contact at least two to three ebook cover designers, look at their portfolio, reviews of their work (not just the book cover but how they were to work with) and ask for quotes.
The covers for my books were done by Glendon Haddix from Streetlight Graphics.
My well meaning friend from above told me I could do this as well. You can probably guess what my answer was. What is formatting anyway? Well, let’s just say you can’t just upload a simple Microsoft Word document to an ebook reader and expect that to be it. All ereaders are different in that they ‘read’ different files. So, your common-or-garden doc file has to be ‘formatted’ into various other files that can be opened and read on these ereaders: mobi for Kindle, epub for Nook, specially formatted MS Word doc file for other Smashwords distributors. Otherwise, it will look like gobbledygook. Literally. Not the best way to make a first impression on those all important readers/future fans. There are many Indie authors out there who have done their own formatting and offer it as a service to other writers. Again, it comes down to time and how computer savvy you are. I went the professional route as I didn’t have that all important time and wanted this done quickly and well.
Extra things you will need to prepare for the book formatting in addition to your manuscript: your front matter (copyright info, contact info including website +/- dedication) and back matter (acknowledgements, author bio +/- author photograph +/- social media addresses +/- sample chapter for another book).
My ebook formatting was done by Streetlight Graphics.
C) Copyright & Pricing
Look at various ebooks and print books to get an idea of how to phrase you copyright notice. You will need to have one, even if it just says ‘All rights reserved.’
The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) states a UK author does not need to register copyright and that copyright protection is automatic; they provide an example of what you can put in your copyright notice. The US Copyright Office states the same but advises registration, first to make it a matter for public record, and secondly to have a registration certificate in case an author wants to bring a lawsuit for infringement of their work.
I ended up registering with the UK Copyright Service. This was for peace of mind more than anything else. Also, my US based contractors kept urging me to do so because pretty much everybody does it over there.With regards to pricing your ebook, do your research. See some of the links below. Study Amazon and see what a newly published ebook in your genre and about the same size (look at the formatted file size and print length under the product detail) is selling for. Also, be aware that whatever you set the digital list price at, Amazon may discount it. Look at the ‘Pricing’ part of how to self-publish with Amazon to see what your profit will be.
There are two different approaches to pricing. A lot of Indie authors sell their books at very low prices (e.g under £2) to undercut the competition from traditionally published authors. Another group think they should be pricing close to what their competition is selling and believe they deserve to earn a decent profit because of the amount of time and money they have invested in producing the book; after all, this is their business. From what I’ve read, the latter Indie authors are still selling.
A lot of readers think an ebook priced at less than £2 is a bargain and will buy it for that reason. Some readers think that an ebook priced at less than £2 can’t be a ‘good’ read, otherwise why would the author be selling it so cheaply.
Do the maths and come up with a number you’re comfortable with. Also, you can change the book price even after you publish or offer greater discounts. Some authors started selling cheap, didn’t get many sales, upped the price, and got more sales. Some authors did the opposite.
Update 2014: I am now also registering all my works with the US Electronic Copyright Office.
D) Website – Design/Hosting/Domain names
If you haven’t bought your domain name(s), do this now or when you reach the website design stage of this process. I bought mine six months before I was due to publish from 123-reg.co.uk. I’ve bought my .com and .co.uk names for several years and will have to renew these when they expire.
Again, said friend professed that I could design my own website. At this stage, I was ready to throw my own poo at him, like a monkey at the zoo.
This step of the process is probably easier than designing the book cover. A lot of authors use the WordPress platform to design their own websites and blogs. It’s simple to set up and use, and the WordPress-based sites look great.
You can outsource this to a professional if you would rather spend the time writing and have money to afford it. Check out other author websites. You will usually find who’s designed them by looking at the bottom of the homepage, where it says ‘site design’ or ‘site design and maintenance’. Or email the author and ask them. Contact a few website designers, read reviews of their work, check out their portfolios, and get quotes.
Another reason to check out as many author websites as possible is to see what they have on theirs. When you look at a website, ask yourself what you like/dislike about it, and why. It will give you an idea about what you want yours to look like and what you want to have on it.
I decided mine would have:
- Homepage (everyone has that as their first page; you can specify that it says home at the top)
- Books: where you can read the full book blurb, with links to reading an excerpt and buying the book
- About: where my author bio and picture will feature
- News (Blog)
- Bonus/Extras/FAQs: where my character biographies, pictures (places, cars, weapons), music and other miscellaneous trivia about the series will feature
You will need a web hosting service to host your website on a server and provide the internet connectivity that comes with that little but or so important ‘www’ prefix to your domain name. Some website designers also provide hosting services. You can purchase hosting services separately.
Can you tell that my website is WordPress-based? Streetlight Graphics installed the template (Divi) and I’ve designed most of it myself. My site is being hosted by Hostgator.
E) Amazon & Smashwords – Accounts, Author Pages
Everyone will sell their ebook on Amazon. It has the largest market of ereaders in the form of the Kindle. Smashwords will distribute to Barnes & Nobles, Apple, and Kobo among others. If you want to sell your ebook with all these retailers, you need to open an account with Amazon and Smashwords. As a UK author, you would need to have a US bank account to be able to upload your ebook directly to Barnes & Nobles Pubit and other purely US based ebook retailers; Smashwords offer the bridging solution for authors based on this side of the pond. Make sure you read the ‘how to publish with’ information for authors/publishers carefully. Amazon’s is long but incredibly thorough. You will want to set up your author page with each site once you’re ready to publish.
Update: As of 2014, Nook, Apple, and Kobo have opened up to UK authors. We are now able to upload directly to them without needing a US bank account.
F) Non US Publishers & The IRS – ITIN/EIN/ W8-BEN
If you’re a non US resident publishing and selling your book in the US, Amazon and Smashwords (or any other distribution platform based across the pond) have to report your royalty payments to the IRS and must withhold 30% tax on your earnings. The US has a tax treaty with the UK. This means that as long as you provide the right paperwork to Amazon, Smashwords, or any another distributors, you can claim full exemption from tax withholding and pay no tax to the IRS. What the retailing platforms need from you is a signed IRS form W8-BEN, which you have to send to them by post (keep a copy, obviously: the address is on their website). On this form, you must have either an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) or EIN (Employer Identification Number). ITINs and EINs are supplied by the IRS. You need only one. I sent a separate W8-BEN form to each retailer/distributor who requested one, but they all had the same EIN on them. The IRS will only supply you with one number.
Between the two, obtaining an EIN is faster and easier than obtaining an ITIN. EIN is for businesses and individuals. I phoned up the IRS in the US and had my EIN within fifteen minutes. I doubled checked with the patient lady at the other end of the line that I was definitely obtaining the right identification number as a sole trader/individual/author. I received the confirmation letter from the IRS in the post three weeks later. Apart from the cost of the phone call, I did not pay a thing. Also, no need to get letters from Amazon, Smashwords, or other distributors like you have to for the ITIN. Amazon’s ‘Tax Information for Non-US Publishers’ is a good source of information about this, as was Smashwords’ own guide.
If you want to go the long and painful ITIN way, you can contact the US consulate in London and talk to an IRS staff member. There are also acceptance agents in the UK working on behalf of the IRS that can process the application for you. Three of them quoted around £300-500 to do this. Yes, you read that right.
G) Bank Account
I set up a separate business account with my bank for my writing and operate as a sole trader. It was the obvious thing to do in terms of keeping my income and expenses for the writing business separate from my other accounts. It also gives me a clearer overview of just how much I’m earning or spending. I did not have to do a business plan for my bank to open the account as I had been a customer there for sixteen years, but I had to do one to obtain a £1000 overdraft facility on it. If you are thinking of approaching a bank or building society where you have no accounts, be prepared to supply a business plan for them. It’s not as daunting to write up as it sounds.
H) Paypal and other e-commerce platforms
If you plan to sell your ebook from your own website, you need to have a shopping basket/cart function on there so that your book buyer can click on it to pay and buy. Paypal provides a very good service for both the buyer and the seller. If you’ve come this far, you may already have set up an account with them to pay your book cover designer, book formatter, or website designer. Just upgrade to a business account and follow their instructions on how to add the basket/cart function to your website. Joe Konrath sells his ebooks from his website. He supplies each book as a zip file containing doc/pdf/prc/epub formats, so that it can be opened on any ereader.
You have to register your business with HMRC either the day before or on the day you start trading. Check out their website for sole trader information. There is a form on there that you have to fill and send to them.
You can do your own tax returns for the business if you want, or you can get an accountant if you can afford it. I already have an accountant for my limited company tax returns and he will charge me about £250 a year extra to do my tax returns for the writing/sole trader business. He also does my personal tax return.
My advice? Get an accountant. He/she will know how the system operates and where you can save money. The biggest surprise to me when I set up my limited company in 2007 was what I could claim as an expense. Pretty much anything from part of my mortgage and house bills to my new laptop and stationary. You know that ink cartridge you just bought for your printer? That’s a business expense. And that writing conference you went to? Business expense, including the petrol for your drive or your train ticket. Why are expenses important? Because they are non taxable.
Simple equation: A – B = C. A is gross income, B is expenses, C is profit. You pay tax on your profit, not your gross income when you operate as a business. Whatever A might be, the bigger you make B, the smaller C will be and the less tax you pay on it. Yes, it’s all your own money at the end of the day, but you DON’T pay tax on it! That’s a saving worth several hundred, or a few thousand pounds a year if you start earning big.
K) Social Media & Marketing
There is no hiding from the fact that in this day and age, you have to do both if you want to achieve financial success with your writing. Social media and marketing can be hard work until you understand what it can do for you and how to do it more efficiently. It can be a huge time sink, which is why it’s good to follow by example and see how the successful authors are doing it. There are also good online courses and short ebooks to train you into how to do this part of your writing business better.
It used to be that traditional publishing houses assigned a small budget for their authors (usually someone new they were launching, but more commonly their bestselling talents) for the marketing side of a book launch. Those days are long gone and most traditional published authors have to do a lot of their own marketing.
As an Indie author, you’re completely on your own.
In terms of marketing, the digital age has major advantages. You can do most of it from the comfort of your own home (heck, you can even do virtual book tours where you sign ebook copies for fans online). Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blogs and other social media including writing forums, are a fact of life nowadays. You don’t have to do ALL of it. You wouldn’t have time to write otherwise, not if you still have a full time job as well. But you need to try and do SOME of it. There are also fantastic social media dashboards like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and Buffer that can incorporate your feeds in one place, bypassing the need to log on to multiple pages.
Look at author and writing sites and see what people think about the various marketing tools using social media. See what your favorite authors are doing and whether they do it well or not.
In my view, a Newsletter, a Blog, Facebook, and Twitter are the top four marketing tools. Google Plus is gaining rapid momentum.
Although I was initially going to blog regularly, I decided against it in the end. Why? Because a blog needs to have a function. You need to know why you’re blogging, who you’re blogging for, and what your content is going to be. Will you be a ‘My cat just did something hilarious, here’s a picture of it’ or a ‘The US Department of Justice sues major publishers over ebook pricing under the agency model’ blogger? I decided the only reason for me to blog at this point in time would be to sell my book and I haven’t done enough yet in this industry to have good content to put across. It took six years of hard graft learning and practicing medicine before I was ‘let loose’ on patients. I don’t think having a few published books under my belt makes me an expert. There’s also the time factor to consider with blogging.
In terms of other social media, I’m on Facebook and Twitter. I’m also on Goodreads and Pinterest, and have recently joined Wattpad and Google Plus. I also subscribe to various publishing industry, author, and blogger sites through feedly.
If you opt for Facebook, develop a fan page for yourself as the author or your book (some authors even have fan pages for their characters: sounds like fun, but you need to have the time to maintain all those pages). You can have someone design a Facebook or Twitter banner for you. Although you can’t do a lot to change the wallpaper on Facebook, you can do so on Twitter.
Update 2014: Canva is a great free platform for designing anything from a Facebook banner to a business card.
Make sure you write a good author profile for any social media or writing forums you subscribe to. Remember, you’re promoting your book and yourself an an author.
Finally, there are bookmarks, flyers/postcards, and business cards with or without QR codes. I’ve done all three via Vistaprint, Stress Free print, and Moo. I’ve put out the bookmarks and flyers/postcards in a cafe, a restaurant, a bookstore, a beauty therapist and a hair dresser. A good advice given to me by a friend in the business: don’t put all your eggs in the same basket. Leave only 10-20 flyers/postcards or bookmarks at any one place. That way, if someone accidentally or intentionally throw them all in the bin, you would not have lost a lot of copies in one fell swoop.
Don’t forget you can do an online ebook launch. Have a book launch party on your website or get to be a guest on someone else’s blog. I have seen a few authors successfully do this. I don’t know how much money they made out of it but they got their writing and their name out there. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate your achievement.
L) Reviewers- ARCs/Book Bloggers
You can either publish your book and wait for reviews to build up on sites like Amazon, or you can approach book bloggers/reviewers and even other authors you may have made contact with at writing conferences to look at the book before it comes out and write reviews for you. You will need to send them an electronic file for an ebook or an advanced reading copy for a paperback. These reviews can then be included on your book jacket, website, and other virtual places where you will do your marketing. The Book Blogger Directory and The Indie Reviewers List are good places to start. Check out Kindleboards and Goodreads as well. Note that you may end up waiting several months before you actually get these advanced reviews as the busy reviewers have long waiting lists. And they do it for free, so be patient and graceful in your approach to them! You can also organise Book Tours via professional sites once your book is published. Look at book bloggers’ websites. You will start to see familiar Tour buttons on the sides, where book bloggers actively sign up to certain companies’ book tours. Again, do your homework, look at testimonials and reviews, and get quotes.
I did Book Tours for Soul Meaning and King’s Crusade with Bewitching Book Tours from March to May 2013. I have joined a Netgalley co-op with Patchwork Press since December 2014 to place the new editions of the first two books in the series, as well as upcoming novels, for review. Greene’s Calling 2014 Book Tour was organized and run by Lady Reader’s Bookstuff and Cabin Goddess.
2. Print Book
As I said previously, in addition to what I did above for the ebook, I had to do the following for my print book.
A) Printing- Printer/Formatting/Pricing
For a self-published author, POD (print on demand) is the way to go. You don’t want to print 2000 copies of your book to sit in a warehouse or your home and potentially not sell those. Print on demand means exactly what it says: your book is only printed if someone wants it.
There are many companies offering POD services out there, more so in the US than the UK. If you’ve read author-writing websites and blogs, you would have come across the 3 biggest players that Indie authors seem to use: CreateSpace, Lulu and Lightning Source. I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of any of the three: there is plenty of information about that out there already. After carefully studying their costs and publishing processes, I decided that I would go with either CreateSpace or Lightning Source.
I’ve gone with Lightning Source in the end.
CreateSpace is easier to use but does not cater well for authors outside the US. Yet. Lightning Source is very complex to use but already has a good international presence and has a base in the UK.
Reading Lightning Source’s publishing process, especially the formatting bit, gave me a headache and almost had me reaching for some alcohol. It looks terrifyingly complicated to a newbie author. That’s because Lightning Source is a printer and assumes that you, the Publisher, knows what the hell you’re doing. A lot of authors have painfully learned how to do the whole Lightning Source content and cover formatting process on their own; from what I read, it was torture. Especially as if you upload a wrongly formatted file, you have to pay their fee again to upload a corrected version. Ouch.
Luckily, you can outsource this as well. I used Everything Indie to do my Lightning Source cover and interior formatting for the first book and have used Streetlight Graphics thereafter. Note: you will need to have your ISBN (see below) for the book cover/jacket and a good blurb +/- any advanced reviews you may already have obtained ready before you address this step.
Whoever you go with, make sure you read their publishing guide carefully.
With regards to pricing, see what I said above for the ebook. Remember that your print book price (RRP) will have to be much higher than your ebook if you want to make a profit. It will cost me about £4.50-£5 to print a copy of my book with Lightning Source. I will then have to offer the retailers at least a 20% discount on my RRP to sell my book. Do your maths. Make sure you know how much it will cost to print your book before you decide on the price. Study Amazon and see how much other newly published print books in your genre and about the same size as your book is selling for.
B) ISBNs -Nielsen
Do you need to have an ISBN for a print book? Most definitively.
Do you need one for an ebook? This is a grey area. The guys doing my ebook formatting told me no. Most ebook cover designers, formatters will tell you no. The reason? Amazon will automatically assign an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) to your ebook, free of charge: this does pretty much the same thing as an ISBN. Smashwords will assign a free ISBN to the epub format of your book but will identify itself as the publisher: your ebook needs that ISBN to be distributed to Sony and Apple.
Nielsen, the company that supplies ISBNs in the UK, told me I should technically have an ISBN for the ebook. I decided not to have one. If you do decide to get your own ISBN for your ebook, you will have to assign a different ISBN for each ebook format, i.e. a different one for mobi, epub, pdf, doc. That’s technically 4 ISBNs for one ebook.
For the print book, you will need an ISBN for each binding style, i.e. the paperback needs an ISBN and the hardback version will need a different one. I decided to only print paperbacks: they’re cheaper to produce than hardbacks.
Look at Nielsen ‘New Publisher Intro Guide’ and ‘Important Information for Publishers’ on Nielsen Book Data. It tells you what you need to do. Visit Nielsen UK ISBN Agency for the application form. You can also ring them and talk to them, they are very friendly and approachable. It cost me £118.68 to get ten ISBNs: I thought buying 100 was a bit ambitious.
Once your ISBNs are allocated, you will receive instructions on where else to register your book.
C) Post Office – PO Box, Business Account
When you register with Nielsen, they require a contact address from you/your company. You can provide your personal address if you want to but be aware that this will be available to the public upon request. I decided to get a PO Box with Royal Mail for the writing business. It was ridiculously expensive but I thought it was worth it for the purposes of anonymity.
If you do decide to sell print books from your own website (see Paypal and others above), you will need to post these. You can buy your own mailing boxes and keep popping to the post office everyday and pay the standard post fee, or you can invest in the SmartStamp option. You can also open a small business account with them but you would have to be doing a lot of trading from home to make this worthwhile.
I was originally planning on selling autographed copies of my book at the full RRP from my website but decided against it in the end for one main reason: time.
D) Book launch & Marketing
You can have a formal book launch of your print book if you wish to do so. A lot of venues will let you have their function room for free if you order catering and drinks from them. Get in touch with local newspapers, magazines and book shops and invite everyone you know. Be prepared to bring lots of copies of your book to sell. Bring a good pen or two to sign them. Have an invoice sheet or receipt book so that you can keep track of how many you’ve sold. And a money box with change. And, most important of all, HAVE FUN!
On the subject of pseudonyms
I recently received a query through my website from a new author about the use of pen names. The question related to the implications of using a pen name with relation to setting up a business. This is the reply I gave in my email.
I hope you’ve found the above useful. Drop me a line at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments.
Below are a list of links I found useful when I was starting out on this path (and still do!).
Useful books to read on writing and marketing
David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Visible
The Creative Penn’s Author Blueprint (downloadable from Joanna Penn’s website)
Jeff Bennington’s 5 steps to winning with KDP Select
Tim Grahl’s How to Sell Your First 1000 copies
Nick Stephenson’s Supercharge Your Kindle Sales
James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel from the Middle
Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love