Do you want to be the next J.K.Rowling or Stephen King?

TypewriterSo picture the scene, you’re walking past Waterstones and you find yourself compelled to look out of the slimmest corner of your eye, despite having all your brain occupied with thoughts of must hurry, I’m late for work!  Including a very strong desire for coffee as you’re also wondering how you’ll stay awake after just three hours sleep.  But, it’s too late!  You’ve allowed Stephen King’s latest book to turn your head and transfix you with its icy stare.  You can’t resist, there’s no escape – breakfast & coffee can wait and it’ll be a sprint finish to get to work on time.

Books will hopefully always exist, there’s something about turning a real page – the scent of new paper, like that fresh bread out-of-the-oven smell mixed with the mouth-watering anticipation.  Okay, so I’d rather eat bread than a book – but if I want a million hits on YouTube, maybe I’ll give it a blast sometime?  Can just see the headlines now: man eats Stephen King novel after bread runs out in supermarkets during recent snow-chaos…  (disclaimer, eating a book is bad, don’t try it, even for a million hits on YouTube!)

So, what’s this all about then?  You may have sniggered, might have even laughed after reading the first two paragraphs – but this blog needs to have a purpose.  So here it is!

Being the next Stephen King or J.K.Rowling is not easy, it’ll come down to several factors such as a little luck and a lot of talent.  Having the guidance and support of others is also important, but with hard work and determination, you can achieve great things.  This blog post will hopefully help give you a bit of inspiration to get you started.

Today’s market for self-publishing

Actually I canThe good news is that today as of now, anyone can get published.  So, you don’t necessarily need an agent, but you do need desire, talent, buckets of hope, plenty of imagination and the ability to tackle lots of other things!  If you can learn about self-promotion, marketing, social media and even how to design your own book covers and formatting, you’ll have a great writing toolkit.

There are a myriad of choices for the self-publishing route and also an equal number of options, terms and pros/cons when selecting your preferred route.

I have used two routes, one was Createspace – basically Amazon’s own self-publishing platform, with KDP Kindle and the other one was FeedAread.  So what’s the difference?  Well unfortunately, I’m mindful that we’ve not a lot of time left before your attention span starts to waver, like the dying embers of a once warm fire.  So, I tend to use Createspace.  It’s American-made, but they have great tools and Amazon is massive – the biggest online book-selling platform on earth.  I’m not here to plug a certain platform, but just to give you a flavour – so I’m not endorsing Createspace in particular over FeedAread.  Check out reviews, forums and see what people think about the platforms first before investing your time in them.

So, if you are serious about writing a self-published novel, short story or poetry.  Whatever it is, here are my top tips:

1. Make sure that you get a decent cover for your book. Do not simply Google nice images and save them to use for your cover.  Always check the copyright for any intellectual property.  Look at Creative Commons and public domain images.  Even if you search for public domain websites, double check them and the terms and conditions.  Otherwise take your own pictures, or paint your own illustrations.  This means the copyright belongs to you and you can do what you like.  If not, hire someone to do something for you, or buy the image rights.

2. If you’re not very good at graphics and typesetting, you can learn! Check out Gimp and look on YouTube for tutorials on how to create a book cover.

3. Make sure you research the standard or current formatting guidelines for books because styles change. We used to use “to speak”, but most modern books prefer ‘this is the way to speak.’  It is a little down to interpretation, so you can also add your own slight differences in terms of font size and style.

4. Research other ‘published’ books. How do they look, what formatting is being used.  What works, what really makes you interested in the cover more than other books?

5. Get a really good social media presence Now this is very hard indeed.  There are billions of other writers doing exactly the same thing.  Research guides on how to do this and how to make engaging content.

6. Get an author film. Have a promotional film produced to help promote your book.  If you’ve little experience in this area, take a look at Animoto or biteable.

7. Join a local writing group to gain feedback from other writers get involved in your local community. This could lead to writing for organisations or projects that require writers, such as a spooky ghost night at a local event somewhere.

8. Get the book on Kindle, even if you love real books. Many people prefer Kindle. (if you use Createspace, after setting up your main book there will be options to setup Kindle as well through KDP)

9. Always, always and always get your book proof-read proofread, preferably by someone other than a friend, unless they are awesome proofreaders. Mistakes will always get through the net, so be prepared to get your first shiny book and see lots of errors.  That’s totally cool though, because everyone makes mistakes and we only learn by making them.  Just please promise me you’ll not order x100 copies of your book straightaway, or you might regret it.  You can always check the society for editors and proofreaders for support.

10. Follow by example. I mean, research the top writers in the world and then research the top self-published writers in the world. Compare and contrast, become a top researcher and capture everything in a big spreadsheet.  Then copy the approaches by seeing what seems to work well, just don’t copy other people’s content!

11. Investigate Amazon’s top reviewers. Some of them have an email address and some of them actively work to write reviews for the aplomb of being a top reviewer.  But, if you get one of these to leave you a positive review on your book, it could lead to greater things.  In my case, a top reviewer did read my book, but was quite critical of it.  This was disappointing, but he provided me with some tips and ideas to help make future improvements to the story.

12. That leads nicely into criticism. Expect it, actually yearn it in a weird way because it teaches you.  I felt from the glowing reviews from family and friends like my book could be the next Harry Potter, but once I’d had an opportunity to look through clear waters, I realised some valuable truths.  These I have kept with me until such a time as I revisit the enigma that was ‘Devonshire with a Hint of Albanian’ and morphing to ‘English with a Hint of Latvian’.  Maybe there’s still life in the cantankerous wizard Thalamos Thunderfire?

13. Seek reviewers that are happy to interview you as a writer about your book. Even if they don’t have a big following, it’s a positive thing and something else you can promote and share.  Look for interviewers that ask questions like ‘what hints and tips can you give to other writers?’  This will allow you to give something to aspiring writers and you’re more likely to get hits if people think that you want to help them.  If you genuinely do, you can even have your own help section on your website.

SuccessFinally, if you need some inspiration, why not check out my self-publishing goldmine on Pinterest for some ideas.

Next up: look out for my blog about interactive fiction and how to create it.

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Matt Ewens

Digital Innovation Technologist

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