On the 18th May 2014, after a couple of glasses of Barossa Shiraz, I published my first book (not, I should add, my first manuscript). I spend a lot of time telling people nowadays that self-publishing should never be seen as a ‘last resort’, a ‘hail Mary’ when passed over by traditional publishers. Nonetheless, that’s what it was for me. Having been rejected more than once by traditional publishers, I self-published my book in a last-ditch effort to get the thing out there, before giving up, forever, on my hopes of being a published writer. I knew even then that I’d never give up on writing – it’s far too much a part of my soul, weaved into the fibre of my being as much as breathing. But as for being published? Maybe that was never going to happen for me…
I had no expectation of success. To start with, I didn’t even realise you could track your sales – I had done zero research on self-publishing and really just ‘winged it’. But shortly after I got the notification that my book had gone ‘live’, I was looking at my KDP dashboard (the back-end self-publishing site for Amazon.com) and saw a little dot appear on my graph. And then another one. The book that I’d written and published with absolutely no hope of being read was actually being BOUGHT. By real people! I told no one except my husband what I’d done – I wasn’t ready for that yet. I wasn’t a member of any professional writing groups. It was just me, an $80 second-hand computer, a heap of hopes, dreams and books I’d written in the time I could snatch while my children (2 and 3 years old at the time) napped. By the end of 2014, I was an Amazon All-Star in America and the UK, meaning somehow I’d become one of the most read Amazon-exclusive authors in both those marketplaces. 🤷♀️ In 2016, after selling almost a million digital copies of my books, I was offered a two book publishing deal with Mills & Boon (dream come true, and then some). My 30th book with them comes out later this year. I. Can’t. Even. Cope.
Six years down the track, I still look back on those heady first few months with a sense of awe and disbelief. How did I have the nerve to publish that first book? And how did it all turn out so well? I get to write books for a living. Every day I wake up and lose myself in the worlds of my own creation, my head is constantly buzzing with ideas for books I want to write next. I’m a passionate advocate for believing in your dreams, though I like to tack on the addendum: it’s not enough to simply believe. You have to work for your dreams too, even when they feel out of reach.
There have never been more pathways to publication than now. Publishers are accessible via social media events or writing conferences, and self-publishing remains a viable, attractive option to get your book out there.
Two years ago, on my fourth book birthday, I wrote this article on what I’d learned since self-publishing my first book. Inspired by that, here are six things I’ve picked up in six years – specifically about self-publishing, because I haven’t covered that yet.
- Write because you love it. There are some people who write ‘to market’ and do it well, and I take my hat off to them. But in my opinion, writing is not the career you choose if you want a guaranteed pathway to success. And if you’re after true longevity and a love of what you do, then stick with the words that come from the very middle of your heart.
- Run your own race. This is pretty self-explanatory. While you can learn from other writers and their approach to publishing, don’t compete. It’s fruitless and can leave you feeling unsatisfied. All that matters is that your writing improves book on book, and that you’re telling stories you want to tell. If you’re looking to improve your sales then there are facebook groups that are great with idea swapping and tips, but remember each person shares their experience and that experience is subjective.
- Don’t let the ‘unknowns’ of self-publishing scare you off. This can be a pretty no-frills venture. You need a well-written book, ideally professionally edited, and your cover should be not-bad at the very least, but that’s about it. You don’t need to pay squillions to get your cover designed, book formatted, and to launch with a huge advertising campaign.
- Manage your schedule. I write a lot of words in a year. Last year, for example, I did nine books (one of which was a short online read, the others all full length) for Mills & Boon and self-published four category romance novels. I like to work off a big annual wall planner. I mark my manuscript due dates in bold, then plan everything around those, and school holidays – which I like to have as low-pressure as possible.
- Be professional. Not to muddy the waters with the third point, as you gain a readership, work hard to keep them. Once you can afford to get better covers and editing, do this. Invest in yourself. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking the more you pay, the better you get. Again, facebook groups will be an invaluable resource. You are competing with the big guys and your books should compare well.
- Diversify. This year I’ve been moving one of my series into audio transcription and German translations and am seeing positive sales from both. Self-publishing requires you to wear a business hat from time to time – and if you’re anything like me it might fit a little poorly and give you a headache at the end of the day – but it helps with your ongoing success if you can ‘manage’ your own career objectively.
Finally, the one thing that I’ve felt every morning since the 19th May 2014, when I woke up and saw my baby-book was being bought, is gratitude. Super-sized, can’t-explain-it gratitude. For the readers who took a chance on me back then, and the readers who’ve stayed with me all these years, for the readers who are new to me, and the readers who tell their friend about my books, to the readers who are part of my facebook group, my newsletter, or my other social media accounts, and the readers who read romance voraciously because it gives them the joyous, escapist moments they seek – THANK YOU. I will be forever in your debt – and look forward to paying it off in instalments of happy endings. I am also grateful, every day, for the fact self-publishing led me to the fulfilment of a life long dream in that I now write for Mills & Boon. I submitted my first manuscript to them at fifteen, and every single book I’ve written for this incredible publishing powerhouse has been a labour of love. I’ve also been fortunate to have been paired with an editor who helps me draw the best story I possibly can – an editor who believes in my stories and shines them until they’re perfect, and I’ve learned so much from her.
Like everyone celebrating a birthday in these strange covid times, this is going to feel a little strange, but I’ll be having something sweet and yummy to celebrate this milestone. Isn’t that what being six is about?! ✨