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

Women of good characters

It’s the daily chats that keep us connected and our sanity in check
Woman&Home, March 2022

There’s a love letter I write every day. It’s part of an ongoing love letter, written now over almost a decade, in many parts and in many ways: in short phrases, in long tomes, sometimes recorded, sometimes with pictures and gifs, sometimes in rage CAPS, sometimes in a small voice that only the recipients of my letter will recognise because they’ve known me for so long and so well.

I’m not alone in this.

This letter is one that many women write every day in their own way to their own loves; letters that keep them connected, that build intimacy, that provide a safe space when life feels mean.

Tom says these love letters would drive him mad if he were getting them every day, at least once a day, sometimes every hour; wonders at my capacity to listen to a letter and type a response at the same time; marvels at the sheer volume of communication we can get through.

There are those who would call these love letters ‘chats’. Worse: just WhatsApp chats, or Telegram chats. And they’re not wrong, technically. There are those who would call my loves ‘just friends’ and I guess, again, they’re not wrong.

But much like a million million little drops of water will turn a stream into a river, the daily pings between my close friends and I have strengthened our relationship beyond what I thought I was possible for friendship in my adulthood.

It’s in offering the daily trivialities of living, without concern that any thought is too small, any feeling too inconsequential to share, that trust finds a play-space to grow … or be dashed

You get to know someone intimately not through the broad brushstrokes of their life’s creation, but by the tiny details only those who care to look will see.

The dinner parties and sea swims, birthdays and funerals, hangouts and talk-therapy lunches are important, of course. But it’s in offering the daily trivialities of living, without concern that any thought is too small, any feeling too inconsequential to share – the delight at a bargain, the petty bitch about a rival, the boredom of a Home Affairs queue ­– that trust finds a play-space to grow … or be dashed.

Unlike the love letters of old that would take weeks or months to reach their destination, leaving time to carefully construct thoughts and project wild wish-fulfillments, group chats are quick and brutal in cutting through pretenses.

When it comes to texting, there’s no relationship red flag quite as immediately evident as judgement or othering – with or without words. Just ask anyone who’s dropped an awkward photo or story into the wrong chat and you’ll quickly get a feel for what’s definitely not a group love letter with sympatico sister-friends.

It’s a rough, but necessary revelation. The problem with friendly social media groups is that simply being part of one assumes connection between individuals where there is none and sometimes we only come face to face with the real status of a relationship when a conflict online isn’t followed up with a courageous conversation offline. Friendships I’ve had have lived and died on group chats because of this.

To elevate a group chat to a daily love letter, you need good friends to begin with and close friends to compose with. And you need that closeness because relationship depth takes honesty and the intention to stay connected.

Love grows where you tend to it, whether it’s a romance or a vroumance

When kids and work, distance and family commitments get in the way of the couch talks and crochet brunches, it’s the regular love letter check-ins that confirm our interest in each other; that add the detail to the creation of the person you call ‘friend’. It’s the grown-up version of nattering with my high school besties over warm sandwiches and flat Coke every day.

My love letters are to a small handful of women only; I keep my inner circle smaller than most. Between recipe and joke swaps, our daily digital contact has supported us through divorces, identity reckonings, recovery, career changes, health crises, parenting chaos, relationship explosions both happy and devastating, political awareness and Wordle rage. It confirms for me every day that love grows where you tend to it, whether it’s a romance or a vroumance.

So, here’s to the tiny tap tap bloops on phones across the world, sending those love letters, making the magic of living this one life shine bright.

Photo by Liam Truong on Unsplash

Love, love me do

If trash-talking yourself is second nature to you, maybe it’s time to take look in the mirror

Woman&Home, February 2022

If I asked you to go to a mirror right now, look yourself in the eyeballs and say: ‘I love you. I am worthy of love. I am worthy of respect. I am beautiful and loved. I am enough.’ What would your emotional reaction to that be? I’ve spoken to enough women to know how generally difficult this exercise is and how generally similar the response. If you’re even able to bring yourself to do it, I’d hazard a guess that your feelings would run the gamut from awkwardness to shyness to comic or cynical dismissal to rage to outright loathing.

And yet, how much easier would the exercise be if I asked you to list your faults and why you’re failing at whatever it is you feel you should be succeeding at?

It’s perverse how much more emotionally comfortable negative self-talk is, how smoothly it slips into your thoughts: I am so stupid/ugly/weak/incompetent, no wonder I am failing/single/lonely/unsuccessful … Hateful words we’d never utter to our loved ones, we happily shower on ourselves.

I know using the word ‘we’ might be overreach. There are those who can do this exercise wholeheartedly and believe every word, embodying it without judgement and without hiding behind ego. There are those whose confidence and self-love is innate, who were shown they were worthy of existing and wanting the best for themselves from the moment they howled their arrival into the world. And there are those who have worked through their healing to reclaim those parts of themselves that life and circumstance ripped away from them. I can say that after a very committed process I am somewhere in the vicinity of this space of self-love. But not entirely.

Self-dislike or even self-hate is a sticky web to untangle yourself from. While self-love or the lack of it is not a gendered experience, the odds have been stacked against women for millennia.

The ancient subjugation of the female and the feminine in the patriarchal set-up has, in modern times, distilled its toxicity to such a fine art that its poison now feels like fact: how the female body should and shouldn’t look, how a good girl does and doesn’t behave, how a woman should and shouldn’t be treated, what she can and can’t say, what she does and doesn’t deserve, what spaces she may occupy, what words she may utter. How she is worthy, how she is not. Even the ‘Yas Queen’ generation suffers.

The question ‘When did I start believing I wasn’t worthy of love or of loving myself?’ throws a powerful beam of light on the road less travelled.

For most of us, the journey to self-love is a harrowing and difficult one. The question ‘When did I start believing I wasn’t worthy of love or of loving myself?’ throws a powerful beam of light on the road less travelled. It inevitably leads to unpalatable or painful truths in our origin story, it reveals raw and hurtful memories of those impressionable early years of becoming a human in the world. Worse maybe, it forces a reckoning with the choices we make as adults about who and what we allow into our lives.

This is such difficult terrain to venture into that it can feel like the safest step is the one you don’t take at all. Why take a flamethrower to your toxic relationship with self and others when you can take another spa day and call it self-care?

But anyone who has been on the heroine’s journey to integration will tell you that the treasure of healing and self-love lies only on the other side of the dark forest, with its scary trolls to tell off, raging beasts to acknowledge, hungry wolves to appease and dragons of grief to slay.

It’s a journey you undertake by yourself, but you are not alone. There are self-help books, counsellors, free groups and online resources to guide and sustain you. If you’re lucky, you might have loving friends, partners and family who will support you. It’s blood, sweat and tears soul work, but I know this much: there is also laughter, strength, joy, and revelation.

If you want to gift someone something this Valentine’s Day, look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I love you. You are worthy. You are enough.’ – and if you don’t mean it, find out why. Happy travels.

Photo by Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash

How to not be sad when trying to get a book published

I guess this is hardly a great sell for The Fulcrum (Hey! No publisher wanted my book but you should totally read it!) and so I will only post two blogs about the shittiness of getting it into the world: one about (trying to get on the bandwagon of) traditional publishing and one about self-publishing.

And I do so because I am a good person (ha!) and feel that if even one of you can be spared some of the heartache by being emotionally prepared for it, then my work here is done. (It’s not, of course, it’s just something to say because I plan to do quite a lot more.)

Just two points: This is specifically for my South African wannabe authors, but I guess, maybe sorta kinda, interesting for anyone else. Also, this is about fiction and specifically novels.

And then: If this all sounds depressing, don’t worry about it. Your novel could be the lucky exception to it all and honestly, who’s really to say, because it’s all just a crapshoot anyway.

So with that out the way, on with the biz…

1. Know that your SA publisher wants a very specific book

At the time that I started looking for a publisher for The Fulcrum I was told to go local first. If you want a chance of getting your book published at all, use your home-country base they said. At the time, we had about five publishers I could approach. We have less now, since most of them have been swallowed up by NB.

Whatever genre you’re writing in, if you’re pitching as a first-time author, your SA publisher wants South Africa – South African characters or South African setting or South African story. Best if it’s all three.

I doesn’t matter that they don’t write this up on their submissions page, it’s what they’ll tell you eventually. There might be 1% chance of your Sci-Fi YA novel set on Gadzorka getting picked up and I know of one first-time author whose publisher was okay with stepping outside this formula – but those are not great odds.

I obviously don’t know every single book ever published by new SA authors, but in general, that’s the first flavour they’ll want.

2. Stick to the formula

I’ll get to US and UK agents later, but I think it is fair to say that if you want any chance of being picked up by an agent or a publisher anywhere, the formula is this: stick to genre, 80 000 to 120 000 words. Genre was a tricky thing for me to get around because that’s not how my brain on storytelling works. And to my detriment.

The Fulcrum came to me the way it did, and the way it did was as a genre-hopping, 205 000-word fairy. I went with it because I didn’t know better. (To be fair, even if I did know better I would probably still have gone with it because what else is a newbie author but a delusional hopeful.)

More established authors who have proven their storytelling and sellability can get away with it; I’m not sure a first-time author will easily hook an agent or publisher with this.

“A Bit Spec-Fic Maybe”, “Probably Sci-Fi in The Broader Picture”, “Sort of Fantasy and Magic Kind Of” with some “Thriller Probably”, that’s “Plot-based but Character-Driven Mostly” is not a genre

Again, it could happen, but I promise you, if you’re writing your first book and want to improve your chances of being traditionally published choose a genre and stick to it.

“Sci-Fi”, “Fastasy”, “Historical Fiction”, “Magical Realism”, “Alternative History”, “Literary Fiction”, “Women’s Interest” (can you ever), “Thriller” etc – these are genres agents and publishers can sell easily. Something that’s “A Bit Spec-Fic Maybe”, “Probably Sci-Fi in The Broader Picture”, “Sort of Fantasy and Magic Kind Of” with some “Thriller Probably”, that’s “Plot-based but Character-Driven Mostly” is not a genre.

TV and film are good with absorbing these crossovers, book publishing isn’t.

3. Understand what a US or UK agent is about

The local folks have all said ‘no, not for us thanks’, so you think ‘ah fuckit let me go to where the big readers are and where my story might have a chance to live’.

Just a minute there, bucko. Take it easy.

Because of the very, very small book economy and generally few writers in SA, publishers don’t require an agent.

Because of the giant book economy (and the masses more book-reading and -writing people) in the US and UK, publishers need a gatekeeping zone – agents, pitching conventions, workshops … anything that funnels, filters and processes the enormous influx of work – so that they only have to sift through the hundred books they get pitched by agents as opposed to the thousands upon thousands of manuscripts that would otherwise clog up their servers.

Think of an agent as someone who works through the slush piles and chooses the products they believe they will most easily be able to sell to a publisher. They’re making a commission on the sale so they obviously want to choose a product they love and think they can move.

This includes you, by the way. Not just your book.

UK agents. Here’s the short version: Unless you have 1 and 2 covered, you’re not making it anywhere in the UK. My feeling was that most agents there want a possible Booker nominee. (Of course, if you have a literary fiction novel with 1 and 2 covered then GET YOUR BUTT THERE GO GO GO!)

US agents. It’s possible you could get an agent in the States, but only if you have 2 covered and then, frankly, unless you’ve got an element of 1 covered, what distinguishes you from the bazillion other manuscripts they get? So best you try to get published in your own country first … oh wait, you can’t because it’s not South African enough … etc

4. Prepare for the heartbreak and madness of tap-dancing like a circus bear for an agent

So. Agents. If you choose the US market, which I did, there are some things to bear in mind that might help alleviate the pain.

Even though I didn’t get signed, I LOVED the energy of the US marketplace. Especially in genre fiction they want commercial, they think big and broad, they want to see opportunities exploited – film, TV, series, you name it.

The feeling I got was less about thinky, thoughtful awards (although those are great and the more you have the better), but mostly: sell sell sell. Which, frankly, is great. Selling books and screen rights means reaching as wide an audience and reader-base as you can and that’s very fucking cool.

There is a lot of homework you’ll have to do to prep your pitch for an agent. There are many, many, many sites available for insights. Here are a few that really stuck with me.

• Jericho Writers
• Publishers Marketplace
• Manuscript Wishlist
• Rejection: Live! (A nice shot of anxiety, courtesy of Piers Blofeld)
• People who write your query letter for you!

But this listicle isn’t to help you find an agent or craft your perfect pitch. This listicle is to warn you about not losing your mind as you do.

Finding an agent felt like wandering through codependent madness. You’ll find as many contradictory pieces of advice as you’ll find advice: get personal / don’t get personal; show me who you are, use your voice / don’t deviate from the format; show that you’ve researched me and why I should sign your book / don’t assume you know me, don’t get friendly or clever … it’s exhausting. It’s like being subject to a moody dominatrix.

The general vibe sometimes feels like: ‘Show all the respect, spend all the time doing all the research and crafting your pitch to manipulate the fleeting emotional experience of the agent or the agent’s reader on the specific day – which you have no idea about and no control over – and then be happy with a form rejection letter.’

An aside: I always thought a rejection letter would be better than nothing; I was wrong. Some agents use a time frame as a rejection (‘If you haven’t heard from us within three months consider this a pass.’) which is waaaaay better than: ‘Hi , I just didn’t connect with the story in my heart. Better luck next time.’

Agents need to sell your work on. The more complicated and messy and problematic it feels,
the quicker it’s taken off the table.

If I sound bitter, it’s probably because the experience left a very bitter taste in my mouth. Between the publishers and the agents, I got about 70 rejection ‘letters’ and of those only three were humane. It didn’t feel radical cool, my friends. It felt very, very bad.

However. Had I stuck to Point 2, I probably would’ve had a better experience of it.

Once I laid my ego gently to the side and looked at the situation clearly, it was obvious that chances of getting signed were almost zero.

I didn’t get a clear genre or good elevator pitch for The Fulcrum (‘Every generation faces its own apocalypse’ I only got when I was doing the first social media post), and on top of that it was way too big. (Of course, they might just have hated the idea and didn’t think it was sellable, but I choose to ignore that possibility because I love it so much.)

So there you have it

I could’ve continued pitching – there are a few publishers who don’t use agents – but it started feeling like to do so would be like choosing to keep stabbing myself in the heart, and that didn’t seem like a vibe at all.

Which is why I decided to self-publish. And boy, do I wish I didn’t have to. If you would like to read up more about what that entails, here’s a post about it.

Happy life and snoozles to you and yours.


(PS Tom says I should say these little splice banners are clickable but … like … that’s obvious isn’t it? Isn’t it? If you didn’t know they were clickable through to the book will you let me know? This self-marketing business is new to me and I live in a bubble of my own thoughts sometimes.)

Dominatrix photo by Maria Vlasova on Unsplash

The Fulcrum

Every generation faces its own apocalypse.

In Chicago, part-time bookkeeper and burlesque dancer Camille discovers she’s pregnant with a child she doesn’t want. In Baltimore, brilliant virologist Jacob is being courted by a rich, and deeply sinister, patron. And in Verona, grumpy Father Antonio is beginning a great, secret journey. Again.

The history of humanity is a dance between life and death, creation and destruction. When the scales seem set towards annihilation, a balancer is born, bringing equilibrium and correcting the course.

The balancer is not born alone in the world. Since the beginning of humanity, each has been shepherded into the world by The Fulcrum. And now this ancient team – part human, part immortal – must look to the newest balancer: Camille’s unborn baby.

But this time all is not as it seems. As the harsh Chicago winter sets in, the players in this aeons-old game will be forced to make choices they don’t want to fulfill their destinies in ways they never imagined possible…