What you need to know about self-publishing

Well, I said I was only going to write only two posts about my experience with publishing The Fulcrum, one about traditional publishing and one about self-publishing. So here’s the one about self-publishing. I can’t say it’s a thrill-a-minute read, but it’s a good starter-pack of ‘Valuable Insights’ for those who care.

First things first

This post about self-publishing isn’t for everyone. There are many reasons to self-publish where reach isn’t a factor: family books, memoirs, business books, super niche reads etc etc

But this post is for writers wanting to publish a piece of fiction that they hope will reach an audience akin to having their novel traditionally published. It’s mostly about the South African landscape, but the same points apply to a greater or lesser degree everywhere else.

It’s all on you, baby

It’s typical for authors to grumble about the little 12% they take from the sale of a book. I know I have. (Do you know it’s not even 12% of the listed price! It’s, like, 12% after the bookstore takes its cut! Do you understand how little money that it is!?! etc etc).

But the fact is that publishing a book demands a whole network of skills and services.

From production (editing, proofing, typesetting, cover design) and sales (PR, marketing, connections, book launches) to legal (keeping your botty safe, getting the book’s ISBN, making National Library deposits, finance to track your sales and royalties) and distribution (getting into bookstores and online stores, putting your e-book together, etc) and everything in between, producing a book that might actually find some readers is a mammoth task.

With other people managing these annoying sidebars to The Art, it leaves the author free to lit-crit their work with adoring readers and complain about sales.

But when you self-publish? Well, honey. All of this becomes your problem.

I know, tough guy. But here we are now. Hurrah. Such fun. Which leads me too…

You need time and skills – or lots of money

So you can work your way painstakingly slowly through each process, trying to understand whole new universes of frustration and tedium, design and layout, tutorials and Kindle back-end help – or you can pay someone else to do it.

There are many individuals and companies, small and smaller, that will take care of these very important aspects for you. But everything comes at a cost and soon you’ll find that publishing your book becomes an investment not only of your passion, hopes, dreams and self-esteem, but also a whole stack of casholas.

So how much do you invest and what do you invest in?

Well, ask any corner of the internet and it will tell you: At the bare minimum, a proofreader, but definitely an editor, then obviously a cover designer, then a typesetter, then a…

Of course there are those companies who do it all for you in one package so you could pay a flat fee of 20k and above (if you’re lucky) and then you’d still need to pay for the printing of the books and the marketing and the …

…and so and so forth and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

I was lucky in that I had lots of time and some of the skills, design programmes and systems know-how, not to mention Tom, to get things going. It’s not as slick as I would’ve liked it, but it’s okay. Would I have preferred to use a company to do all the hard graft for me? Absolutely. Could I afford it at the time? Absolutely not. Was I going to take out a loan for this? No. Do I regret not taking out a loan for this? Also no. More on that later.

Any. Way.

Everything comes at a cost and soon
you’ll find that self-publishing a book is a
very pricey investment

While I was still considering an outside service, I was super impressed with MYeBook. Dave is very helpful, very accommodating and very knowledgeable. He’s very active on LinkedIn and it always offering great insights. Definitely worth a looksee. There are many other services that will do the whole shebang for you. Burble seems like a vibe and I might be using them for the printing part of this venture.

These are only two service providers of very, very many so you will need to do your homework on what is going to suit you and your pocket.

Once you’ve done all that and you’re knackered and worn out from the effort, then it’s time to really gear up folks, because now you have to sell your book.

Marketing and other magic words

In South Africa, books are one of the only consumer products that aren’t traditionally advertised. If a new toothpaste is launched, there will be adverts and sponsored posts, radio jingles, samples, tasting groups and maybe even a billboard.

Here, when a new book is launched, local publishers rely on networks and goodwill: book launches and festivals, book bloggers, newspaper and magazine reviews, the publishing house and author’s social media accounts, book groups and clubs, the book store it’s in and the interest of the bookseller, and so on until, hopefully, word of mouth takes over and people are buying the book because they heard it was great and suddenly you’re feeling like a superstar.

why thank you yes i did write all those words by myself

If you’re self-publishing, you rely on … well … this is awkward … um you can rely on … well …

How good is your social media reach? And do they read? Are you part of writer’s groups? Do you know all the book bloggers and can you send them free copies? Can you get onto radio shows? Do you have a relationship with the indie bookstore owners? Can you spend some cash on advertising and boosting across Amazon, Facebook and Instagram? Do you have extra more cash to hire a PR person to get you some exposure? Do you understand how complex Amazon makes the e-book business?

Suddenly that 12 or 15% starts looking like a pretty good deal, right?

Selling a book is more than just putting up your website and loading your book to Amazon and waiting for the magic to begin.

Even though there is more and more talk about authors having to ‘market themselves’, quite a lot of that supposes you have some of the base covered by your publishers, whether they’re indie or huge megagroups.


If all you have to worry about is your Facebook posts, blogging occasionally, and saying ‘yes’ when your appointed publicist books you a slot on radio or you’re invited to a festival, it leaves you a lot of time to ‘build your brand’ etc.

But when you’re also trying to figure out Meta’s advertising system as a newbie and how to set up a site with an e-commerce capability or don’t know how to design and put together social media ‘adverts’ and you don’t have much of a writery network and you still have to work to make money and live a life … then … well … you’re pretty fucked.

Unless, of course, you can pay someone to design all your ads for you and pay someone else to do your PR and pay someone else to send awkward emails to book bloggers (and you can find book bloggers who read your genre) and pay someone else to…

And what can you expect from all of that investment? Here is something straight from the Kindle Direct Publishing forum (remember: sales = readers)…

What sales should I expect?
None. Anything over that is a bonus. Some people sell a book a month, some sell a book a second, and there’s people on every step in between.’

Suddenly that 12 or 15% starts looking like a pretty good deal, right?

Look, it’s not that traditional publishing is a ticket to wild success; it just gives you a good, solid, credible and understandable foundation to work from. And that’s worth a lot.

Boo hoo this sounds terrible. Why even try?

Because you’re a writer who wants readers and because you’re a bit mad and masochistic and you’ve put all the time into it so why stop now?

Seriously though, I believe all stories are in a way co-creations. Writers co-create their stories with their characters, stories co-create themselves into something bigger, more intimate, more meaningful with the reader who resonates with it.

To complete the creation, to make it more than it ever could be as just yours, you need the reader and so you do what you can to find those readers and hope they like your stuff.

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss – you can’t do it alone.”

john cheever

So, what? It’s all just going to be awful?

Nope. There are definitely a few plus sides to self-publishing.

You have – for better or worse – full creative control over your work, from beginning to end. You also learn a lot.

If you didn’t know anything about what it takes to bring a book into a world, you will certainly get a crash course in that. If you didn’t understand what it meant to sell your book and promote yourself as an author, you will certainly become uber aware of how important it is.

you will become strong young sparrowhawk

Self-publishing is really an exercise in growth mindset and grit. As long as you manage your expectations around what you’re likely to achieve doing it alone, you should be fine. There are lots of writers who have made this work for them, it’s just a case of figuring out if it’s going to work for you.

You could be the exception to the rule

To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s working for me yet and so everything I write about this is coloured by my own experience.

You might find that your experience of self-publishing is very different: you got a hot hot story, you got the connections, you got the groups, you know the peeps, you got the cash, you have oodles of self-hype and everything you touch turns to yes yes yes…

All of this is possible. If so, that is beautiful. Use your powers well.

If not? Well. Good luck?

And there you have it

If self-publishing doesn’t feel like that much of a vibe, here’s a post about traditional publishing that might interest you. It’s not much more comforting but it is useful I think. If I’d known some of the points I make before I went in it would’ve felt a lot less poo.


Good luck, be strong, everything will be okay and all the great good wishes to you and your book adventures.

Love and hugs,

(PS If you want to find out more about The Fulcrum click here; if you want to check out the e-book click the banner below.)

Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

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