Thanks to the wonderful technology at our disposal and the reach it creates, we now have the ability to create and sell pretty much any product or service to people across the globe. For books, this has become easier than ever before. Not only can eBooks be bought and downloaded instantly, but paperbacks can be printed on-demand via a whole host of places. Amazon is really the leader in this area (I mean, what area isn't it a leader in?), so for me, I was always going to start my self-publishing journey there.
Before I go on, I'd just like to emphasise how simple it is to get an eBook onto Amazon. In fact, you could probably do everything required by their online system within 10 minutes. The only sticking point is when you submit a book – whether it's a novel, play, collection of poems, non-fiction etc – it has to go through a review process that can take up to a couple of days. Apart from that, you can have a book out there in no time, ready for people to click the buy button and be reading it within seconds. It's really that simple.
“Simple”, yes… but easy? That depends on the kind of impact you want to make with your book and the kind of future you want as a writer. For my novel, A Single Source of Truth… I had a book that I was happy with, but I didn't I just slap it on Amazon right away, and the reasons why is what made my simple 10-minute book upload to Amazon a further, year-long process.
In Writer We Trust
The main marketing tactic I've learned by listening to podcasts, watching interviews, and reading books on writing, is that the best way to sell your first book… is to write another one. Consumers like to buy from trusted sources. It means there's no con, they'll get exactly what they understood they were buying, and if they like what they purchased, hopefully, they'll be back to buy again.
Becoming a sustainable, self-published author requires building a brand, which in turn is strengthened by the trust of their readers. And trust takes time. If you can get a name for yourself as the author “who wrote that great book”, and you keep writing great books? People will come back for more. As Ed Harris says in one of my favourite films, Glengarry Glen Ross: “You don't sell one car to a guy, you sell him 5 cars over fifteen years“.
If I'd been impatient with my book, thrown together a slapdash front cover in Microsoft Paint and uploaded it with my typo-ridden manuscript… I'd be shooting myself in the foot. It happens a lot, especially on Amazon (because it's so “easy”). There are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of books on there that people have just written and uploaded without any professional copy-editing or proofing. The number one complaint I see of books is not that the story is shit, is that it's littered with typos. If I had started selling my book, as was, I'd lose people's trust – they wouldn't recommend my book to other people, and they wouldn't be returning for more.
Now that I was self-publishing, I was on my own. I didn't have a publisher taking the novel out of my hands and doing all the preparation work that is usually required before a book hits the shelves. No, it was my responsibility to ensure my book was in the best possible shape before being released to the world. The story-writing was done, but it needed a final polish. Luckily, I knew where to find someone for the job.
Just like with my editorial assessment, I logged onto Reedsy and submitted a brief, explaining that I wanted my book to be prepared for publication as a self-published eBook. I didn't know what I was asking for, technically, but thankfully those who I enquired on Reedsy helped me out. There are many sub-divisions of prepping a book to market, but the one I required most of all was copy editing, which focuses on ensuring the text is correct in terms of spelling, grammar, jargon, punctuation, terminology, semantics and formatting.
I picked 5 people on Reedsy who were UK based and had a portfolio of work that included experience with crime thrillers. I got 4 quotes back, with the prices ranging from £1000 to £2700. The price shocked me at first, but when I factored in how much work was involved – to read through a novel with a fine-toothed comb… twice – it gave me some perspective.
Now, that may seem a lot of money to spend on a speculative novel with absolutely zero readers queuing up, but I'd certainly blown more than that in my time on this planet, on things that meant a lot less. I'd put 6 years of my life into writing this book and I wanted it done right, so to plough some of my savings into it was, in my opinion, a worthwhile investment.
Out of the 4 people who got back to me, an editor named Ben Way stood out above the rest. Not only was he reasonably priced, but he had sent me a sample copy-edit of the 3 chapters I'd submitted, demonstrating the kind of work I'd expect from the full job. Even from those 3 chapters, I knew that a) copy-editing was something I definitely needed and b) this was the man for the job.
The Copy Edit
Ben's offer was to spend 2 months with the book. He'd do a first pass, reading the entire thing from start to finish and then send it over for me to go through the revisions and comments. This was all done in Microsoft Word, which has excellent tools for revisions and alterations tracking. Once I'd gone through his suggestions, either accepting or rejecting them with the ability to add my own comments, I would send it back and Ben would do his second pass, repeating the process.
In the first pass alone, there were approximately 8000 revisions. In the second pass, around 6000 revisions. Ben was thoroughly professional in his approach to my work (you can find him at http://benjaminway.co.uk or on Reedsy). He was extremely meticulous when it came to the fine details of my story, which was paramount for a novel starring a protagonist obsessed with minutiae.
I remember one section in the book where I had Beckford queuing for a bus on Uxbridge Road, between Ealing and Acton in London; Ben had pointed out that I'd used the no. 65 bus, which in real life didn't go down Uxbridge Road (it was the R70 I needed). In another section, I had a couple of paragraphs explaining the history of a character called Rupert Mansfield; my effort was weak and didn't hold up to scrutiny. Ben had called in a favour of a friend to go through the details, then spent an hour of his own time rewriting the text… sending me his revised version as a potential replacement. Suffice to say it was much better than what I had written, and so I accepted the change and it's in the final book.
As you can see from the sample page below, it's littered with alterations and suggestions, and that was just a single page out of the 331 in my Microsoft Word manuscript. Imagine if I had published this to Amazon without Ben taking a look at it? I shudder to think.
After two full passes had been completed, over 2 months, approximately 14,000 alterations had been made to the book and I was confident it was in ‘publication-ready' shape. Unfortunately, there was one more important thing that I needed.
Stay tuned next week, where I'll go into the cover design for A Single Source of Truth.
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