Self-Publishing – it’s a Fiddly Business

I set myself the task of preparing my manuscript for publishing on Amazon, Kindle and  paperback, over the Christmas break. Frazzled as I was by a bout of festive flu, it was… a challenge.

monster-426993_1280I got a virus for Christmas – not a PC one, a proper lung, throat, nose, ears and head one. It laid me low for two solid weeks. I felt like I’d been mugged. I was drained, sulky, achy, and very fed up. I coughed so long and hard my whole body ached. I lay in bed drenched in sweat; I lay on my sofa wrapped in a blanket. I survived on Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup and chocolate (thank goodness for my festive choco-fast break) and I sipped on water. Oh, ok, and the odd tot of brandy too – purely medicinal, you understand. My eyes were sticky, my brain was mush and my limbs were leaden. Whilst nothing but my cough reflex functioned, I took to hour after hour of TV; costume drama repeats – Pride and Prejudice, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Treasure Island – and films I’d seen a dozen times before. When I could resist no longer, I went on to back-to-back episodes of Storage Hunters. Yes, friends, it was that bad.

When my brain began to solidify again and I could take a breath without coughing, I returned to my PC, to tackle the job I’d always intended to undertake over Christmas (ideally with an alert mind and an energetic sense of purpose) – that was, to get Singled Out ready for publication.

It’s great, really great, that indie authors can do this for themselves, but setting a book up for sale on Amazon is a convoluted process, make no mistake. It requires a clear head (clearer than the head I was given for Christmas, if I’m honest). There is a wealth of information to assist you, both from Amazon and external sources. But when push comes to shove, you have to stop reading and actually do it.

First thing was to get my MSWord manuscript into the correct format for CreateSpace. And that’s no picnic, because in publishing-land everything is arse-about-face and you have to get all twisty in your head to remember… the page you see on the left of your screen is actually the right-hand page, and the page you see on the right is, yes, actually on the left. Left/right, right/left – don’t you forget now.

I’d figured – and I think I was right – that it would be easier to create the Kindle version from the CreateSpace one, not vice-versa. CreateSpace offers a set of MSWord templates all correctly formatted (in terms of margins, headers and footers, at least) for the various book sizes they have available. I’d found the one I needed and made a first-pass at setup before Christmas. I received my first proof copies on 29th December. I was largely delighted. Some of the pages had printed, or been cut, a bit wonky. But CreateSpace have since assured me this was a production error and that their normal standards are higher than this, and if I had any similar complaints about final-print copies, I was to return them for a refund. I also realised I could correct a formatting error that I hadn’t at first seen a way around. This was: how to eliminate headers and footers from blank pages which may come at the end of a section. In the way these things sometimes work in my brain, I woke up at 4am one morning knowing exactly what I needed to do to fix it. I just wish my brain had delivered this particular gem before I ordered my first proof copies, not after. And preferably not at 4am either.

kindle-254339_1280So I made my corrections, submitted a revised pdf and ordered a second proof copy. Then I reformatted, minus headers and footers, for Kindle. Formatting for Kindle requires a totally contrary mindset from formatting for a pdf. Never mind the right-is-left, left-is-right issue, what you see is definitely not what you get. KDP helpfully provides a tool which enables you to see how your manuscript will appear on a range of devices, from which I realised that anomalies presented themselves everywhere. Headings don’t reproduce uniformly, some are larger, some are smaller, some centre, others don’t; some formats indent the first paragraph even if you haven’t; page endings have no relevance as different sized devices and the option to vary font size put paid to uniform layout. You just have to suck it up – which is tough, for a perfectionist with brain-fog.

The most frustrating thing I found was the way in which my manuscript appeared in iPad Kindle App format. Section and chapter headings showed up in standard type rather than heading format, but as I scrolled back and forth through the pages, the heading formats reappeared. I tried several different approaches to counteracting this problem before resorting to forum advice pages which told me I wasn’t the first to have this problem and that I shouldn’t worry because, no matter how it appeared on the manuscript tool, it would all be ok on the live version. Really? So why hasn’t anybody just fixed the manuscript tool – because it would have saved me three hours of fannying about.

So, I had my manuscripts. Thence to the rest of the process. The CreateSpace (paperback) and KDP (Kindle) versions require a virtually duplicate set of actions. There is some kind of form-filling for US tax purposes, even if you’re a UK taxpayer. Then the meta data and the blurb pages (two – one for Kindle, one for paperback, although apparently these somehow ‘find’ each other and unite at some point, so I’m advised). There are the Author Central pages (four – USA, UK, France, Germany – I did all of them) and multiple decisions on pricing (because VAT on e-books is, to say the least, a tricksy little issue since 1st January 2015, being different in every single country). With my flu-fogged brain, I’ve been back and forth, again and again, through these instructions – which are laid out differently for both CreateSpace and KDP (more helpfully for CreateSpace, I have to say). I accidentally put myself through an unintentional Kindle proof process, which cost me a day (annoying), but I think I’m there now.

Singled Out Proof Copies 29 Dec 14So as of today, I await my final final proof paperback, which I expect to be pleasingly immaculate. The Kindle version of Singled Out is uploaded and live on Amazon – for pre-order only at this stage, I’m afraid as I’m synchronising Kindle and paperback launches to 1st February.

Now all I need to do is set a bit of marketing in motion. Easy, right? For a marketer like me? Oh, but no, no. This is a whole different game to the business-to-business marketing I’ve been doing all my working life. As usual in this self-publishing game, there is myriad advice out there – dare I say too much advice? I’m wading through it, picking-and-mixing what I feel I can manage, for starters.

I’ve realised some author publishers are outputting at a seriously intensive level, marketing like crazy and selling tens or hundreds of thousands of books a year. Others are lucky to carve a niche amongst friends and family and shift a few dozen copies. Not surprisingly, I see myself as somewhere in between the two. I have just one book at the moment. There won’t be another one along for upwards of a year. I am just not the kind of writer who will ever turn out a torrid tome every few weeks, I know it.

I wonder if any of you already self-published authors out there could give me a feel for the sort of volumes I might anticipate? You know, a stake in the ground somewhere between a dozen and a hundred thousand… I’d like to know whether, for example, I should be delighted or dismayed by sales in the few dozens, hundreds or even… thousands. OK, I’m pretty sure I should be delighted by sales in the thousands. But should I have a target? A sales volume below which I regard myself as under-achieving, and above which I can allow myself to feel a little bit joyous? Does it make a difference that I’m a UK author, not an American? I honestly don’t know these things.

And one more thing, in the spirit of sharing the self-publishing love… if you, as a self-published author, could only do one thing to market your book, what would that be? What one marketing activity above all others have you found the most powerful and productive? Will you share it?

19 thoughts on “Self-Publishing – it’s a Fiddly Business

    1. Indeed. But it’s great that we can self-publish at all really. Hopefully things may get a little simpler and more streamlined in time.

  1. My hats off to those of you who self-publish. So much work involved. I didn’t realize the layout could look different depending on the electronic reader type. Wow, lots to keep in mind.

    In answer to your question of how many sales to expect, I think that’s probably different for everyone, but it can be challenging to get eyes on one’s book. There are so many books out there. I didn’t sell into the thousands until my publisher ran a 3-day BookBub promotion. For the next three months I saw some nice sales, but of course, like everything, that dwindled down.

    In terms of what’s helped me most in marketing, it’s probably my blog, but that’s time-consuming as you know. I tried a short run of a few ads, just to see how things would go with them, but I found Google ads and Facebook ads not to be worth it. I’ve maintained a Goodreads ad, though. It only costs if someone clicks on it, and I still get my book added to people’s to-read lists frequently because of the ad. Of course, whether they’ll actually ever buy the book and read it is another question, but the nice thing about Goodreads is that it’s a site specifically for readers.

    Good luck with everything! Sorry to hear you were sick. Hopefully that’s behind you now!

    1. Carrie, it’s really good to understand what’s worked for you, even though you aren’t self-published – thank you. I’m inclined to agree re the blog. Whilst it’s quite an investment in terms of time, it’s a great way to connect directly with readers. And apart from anything else, I find a really enjoyable thing to do. As a child I used to love having pen-pals around the world, and blogging is like pen-pals, but on a massive scale!

      1. Another good way to get out there is by commenting and participating in forums (for example, Kindleboards or Goodreads groups), but like everything else, this takes time, and while enjoyable, it’s one more thing to keep us from our writing. 🙂

  2. What numbers to expect?? Who knows – i’ve given up predicting or expecting, or even hoping for, anything. My books are about travel – but I’ve no way to know how my sales (in the region of 40-50 books a month – which has been sustained over three years now) are anything to go by. As for marketing – I’m not the person to help you, I find it so boring!!

    1. I think 40-50 books a month over three years sounds pretty successful! Thanks so much for sharing your numbers. As for marketing, I’ve always told my clients, you can’t hope to do everything, but you must at least make sure that what you do, you enjoy doing. Same rules apply to me, I guess!

  3. I’m not self-published, so don’t know the answers to your questions, but you might like to get in touch with Hilary Custance Green who has just self published her novel, Borderland, and is very lovely. You can find her blog at .. I’m sure she’d like to learn about what’s worked for you too.

    1. Thank you for the connection, which I will follow-up on, for sure. It really helps to find out about other people’s self-publishing experiences.

  4. Sounds like a nightmare. I do like the expression ‘fannying about’ however. I believe the American equivalent would be either ‘dilly dallying’ or ‘putzing about’. Although, the latter reference is probably more universal as it is Yiddish.

    1. Oh, we have all kinds of words for it… Another one that begins with ‘f’, for starters, then there’s mucking about, faffing about, perhaps some more, but I can’t think of them just now!

  5. Formatting isn’t for the faint of heart! It’s even worse trying to format for Smashwords. But I’ve shown Word who the boss is. As far as marketing though, hosting a goodreads giveaway was the best thing for me, but I also really like It gives me click through info that Amazon doesn’t.

    1. Now I’ve done it once, I know how to make it easier the next time around. But I still maintain, it’s great that we indie authors can actually do this for ourselves, even if it is a bit of a job.

  6. Thanks so much for this post. I was interested to read about the format troubles, as I’ve made a rash prediction to self-publish in April and I haven’t finished my first draft yet. Some great comments here too.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I would say, never underestimate the amount of work that you’ll need to put in between your first draft and the finished manuscript. In the past (the long ago and naive past!) I would have said that with a first draft finished, you were half way there. But now, I think it’s more like one-third, or even less! The Kindle and CreateSpace processes will take a couple of weeks to sort out, but make sure you’re completely happy with your manuscript before you start on these, as changing things at this late stage gets much more complicated.

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