A misnomer: why successful self-publishing is the opposite of going it alone

phil williams

This is a Guest Post by Phil Williams on how collaboration is key to successful self-publishing. Phil is a writer and English tutor based in Brighton. Outside his position as a Communications Manager for social support platform Mifinder, he blogs about copywriting, creative writing and the English language, and has self-published two novels and an advanced English grammar guide.

It’s now possible for authors to self-publish a book that is as professional as any produced by a publishing house, without needing a publisher’s approval. Anyone can do it. But not needing a publisher’s approval is not the same as going it alone. More than ever, when self-publishing the writer has to think of and work with other people – to succeed, a self-published book requires the approval of a lot more people than just a publisher. Here’s why.

1. Approving the quality of your writing

A writer can never be their own reader: your own affection for your work, and your own understanding of it, prevent objective editing. Yet no one will read your musings, much less pay for them, if they’re not produced with a reader in mind. And writing that has the reader in mind cannot be completed without a reader’s input.

This can work on a grander, editorial level, such as the necessity of reorganising large chunks of my novel Wixon’s Day, as my editor pointed out how much difference it made to the pacing. The pacing has always seemed fine to me, because I always knew where the story was going. It can work on a level of minute detail, such as the numerous occasions in The English Tenses Grammar Guide where I had to explain example sentences to test readers – the moment I realised an example needed explaining, it became clear it needed changing.

Without external input, you are simply guessing at how a reader will understand your writing. The input of professional editors and test readers is essential in ensuring your writing is consumed the way you intend it to be – and controlling how your writing will be consumed is essential for marketing it.

2. Approving the quality of your design

Editing a book is not all about the writing. Books are a product. People won’t pay for a product that doesn’t look professional. And while the means to create something that looks professional are increasingly easy and available, external input on appearances is as important as for the writing itself. It wasn’t until I spoke to an editor, for example, that I realised the perils of using red text in my grammar guide (amongst other style issues). Even something as subtle as an uncomfortably narrow margin can make a book an unpleasant reading experience; issues a writer can very easily ignore which an outsider will be quick to point out.

Professional artwork also makes a big difference to a book – however much you believe in the strength of the writing. The English Tenses Grammar Guide was made infinitely more accessible and engaging thanks to a relationship I’ve built with an excellent artist. The same artist created an exceptional cover for Gun City Bohemian which captured the feel of the book in a way my blurb never could. A book that doesn’t visually appeal, on the other hand, will easily lose potential customers.

3. Who can get your book to the market?

A fantastic, polished book will go nowhere if no one knows about it. It needs to be made visible, to be reviewed and to be shared, and no writer can do all of these things themselves. This is the greatest challenge, because while you may have the approval of your editors and your designers, getting the approval of the public means capturing the interests of strangers. The lottery-like success stories of self-publishers like Hugh Howey and John Locke demonstrate the importance of involving other people in promoting a book; their triumphs were not in writing exceptional stories, but in engaging exceptional numbers of readers in the process – before the release of their books. You can blog, you can pursue Amazon reviews, you can use websites like Goodreads,  you can hire marketing professionals to help – there are plenty of choices. But whatever channel you choose they all have one thing in common – interaction with other people. The success of your self-publishing will correlate with how much you do here.

To give a few examples of my own experiences in this area, my novel Gun City Bohemian (beautiful as it looks!) has fallen flat because I released it with little reader input, at a time when I didn’t have the means to engage an audience or pursue reviews. Wixon’s Day reached a small audience thanks to the help of a professional editor and my pursuit of blogger and Amazon reviews. Thanks to a strong mailing list, a handful of excellent editors and a large group of beta readers, a very active website and the help of marketing professionals, The English Tenses Practical Grammar Guide reached a far larger audience and continues to enjoy regular sales. Across these three self-published books, how well each of them performed has everything to do with how many other people were involved in them.


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