Sarah Brentyn at Lemon Shark posed a question in her recent blog post and, in the process, threw open the doors for other writers to share their experiences of self-publishing.  I did start to reply, but quickly realised my reply was getting way too big.  I was also starting to repeat a lot of stuff I’ve mentioned in other responses to other bloggers.  So I reined it in and decided maybe I should just get this stuff off my chest once and for all.

In many respects, the theme of Sarah’s post was spot on.  Do read it – it won’t take long.  In short, though, she’s aware of all the advice that’s out there about how to self-publish, makes a terrific comparison with the conflicting advice you get from various quarters for another significant event (seriously, read it – I’m not going to tell you what she said), and proceeds to ask for more…

What she says is true, as there are plenty of self-published authors who’ve had their own experiences, and from those experiences (good and bad) have an opinion on what works best.  Having had some exposure to this process myself, even though I feel it has been fairly limited, I think there are several points worth noting.  Unfortunately, as I started to write what I intended to be a brief blog post, I kind of got carried away, and ended up with a fairly hefty essay.  As a result, I’ve had to break it up into segments, so please bear with me as I gradually open this up over the next few days.

The most important thing to bear in mind when it comes to self-publishing, is that, in spite of claims to the contrary, there are no rules.  It’s up to you how much you do yourself, and how much you delegate – whether that’s by using willing volunteers or shelling out hard-earned cash.

Beyond this, the biggest consideration is the reader.  If you don’t please the reader, you’re not going to get your book(s) read.  Now, when I say that, I don’t mean you should please every reader, because you’re never going to do that.  But you have to reduce the obstacles to pleasing them.

Because the reader should be at the forefront of your mind, the issues I’m going to address are dealt with in the order of how the reader experiences a book, not necessarily the order you should approach them.

The Cover 

This is the first contact most readers will have with your book (unless you’ve already picked up a ton of rave reviews and the world and his wife are telling everyone how good your book is).

So your cover needs to entice the reader, draw them in.  If the only drawing is the illustration (because it looks like it’s been created by a 5 -year old with crayons), the potential reader isn’t even going to pause to look at it.  In which case, it won’t matter how brilliant your story is, or how amazing your characters are, no one’s going to read it.

It also needs to give a sense of the nature of the story.  I’ve included the Ravens Gathering cover below as an example.  If you’re looking for chick-lit or historical romantic you’re not going to go any further with this, are you?  I said earlier that you’re not going to please every reader, but you can improve the odds by at least getting some interest from the right kind of reader.

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Now, if you happen to have the artistic ability to create an image that works for your book, and the technical skills to transfer it to a suitable format, you can save yourself some money.  If you have a friend or family member who can do it for you, the same applies.  But if you don’t have those, you’d better be prepared to invest, otherwise it’ll be pure luck, unless your target market is the blind and they only use audio books.

I should say that when I had my cover designed (I am that 5-year old, but I’m more likely to eat the crayons), I did have a rough idea of what I wanted.  This did help the process, although my cover designer (the wonderful Torrie Cooney) still had to put up with several emails from me that started: “That’s great, but how about…”.

Funnily enough, the images were created relatively quickly.  The longest time was spent on getting the fonts right for the title and my name.  Do not underestimate this.  Unless you only ever want to publish one book, it will save you time in coming up with fonts for future books.  More importantly, it starts to build your brand.  If someone likes one of your books, there’s a strong chance they’ll go looking for another.  Similar images help, but so does having the same style of print on the cover.

So, after spending months (or years) writing your masterpiece, make sure you spend a little more time and (if necessary) some money on getting the cover right.  Otherwise, you may as well have not bothered.

For now, that’s all I’ll say, but keep an eye out over the next few days, because I’ll be back to talk about other aspects of self-publishing you can do yourself or choose to get a professional in for.

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