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In October 2013 I self-published my first book.

Truth be told, I had always envisaged writing a hack-n-slash fantasy story and have one I have been planning/writing for many years. However, I had been telling my children stories about ‘The Amazing Adventures of Skinny Finny and Super Spy Wobblebottom’ for years and was motivated to write them down and get them illustrated. The Crazy Christmas Caper was the result.

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I planned the story out in a skeleton fashion first. I knew who the characters were, what their mannerisms were, what made them funny, what motivated them, etc. why and how they would come into conflict with each other and how that would be resolved. I knew I wanted to get it done for Christmas and so gave it a Christmas theme and setting. I then set out to write it.

I got it written in about three months. I snatched the odd hour in the office, short periods of time at home in the evenings while my wife was getting our youngest off to sleep and managed a few afternoons at weekends. The self-imposed deadline of Christmas (in reality, I knew I needed to get it done for October) was a massive factor in getting it done. In contrast, book two has taken me 2 years…!

I used www.fiverr.com to find an editor who could take a look at the grammar and structure of the story. She, Amy Betz, recommended expanding the start and end of the story, which I did. This took the story up from 15,000 words to 25,000. I then had the grammar edited (again, by Amy) while Curt Walstead did the illustrations and cover artwork for me. I found Curt on a website called Elance. It has now changed it’s name to Upwork – see http://www.upwork.com/ where you can find freelancers for pretty much anything.

Getting the book on Lulu and Amazon was a steep learning curve. I went with Lulu (the website, not the singer! – see http://www.lulu.com/) first as I wanted some hardback copies done. Amazon didn’t offer this (just print on demand paperbacks and e-books) but, after using Lulu for the hardbacks, I then went to Amazon to get the book out on the Kindle.

Initially, I hadn’t thought to self-publish at all. I thought I would just get a short print run done for friends and family. My mind was changed by the huge number of hours I spent writing, typesetting, inserting the pictures, tinkering with their size, etc. and getting the book and cover artwork formatted correctly for upload to Lulu and Amazon. At the end of all that I thought, why not put it out there?

So I did.

I used www.fiverr.com again to help me publicise the launch of the book and used Amazon’s option of putting the book free for five days to encourage downloads and push it up the charts. I had people from http://www.fiverr.com tweet about the free days and other people promoted on Facebook. The promotions cost me no more than $40 US. Over the 5 days I had over 2,400 downloads which helped shoot the e-book to No1 in the children’s/humorous chart and it stayed there for two days. This meant that the book had good visibility after the end the promotion and I sold another 200 or so over the next week. Slowly, then it began to slip and once out of the top 20 (i.e. once it was off the first page on Amazon), it dropped much more quickly and slipped to around 100.

The early success of the book’s Amazon ranking was also, no doubt, helped by the fact that I approached a number of Top 500 Amazon reviewers. All of them agreed to review the book for me which was really kind. They all liked the story and gave it four or five stars… which was nice.

I’m pretty certain that Amazon’s algorithms take into account whether your review is from an unknown person as opposed to a verified purchaser or a Top 500 Reviewer.

Make no mistake, getting the book done was a massive undertaking, especially as I did pretty much everything myself.

Second time round I’m planning on using a self-publishing company to take a lot of the typesetting, formatting and uploading, etc. off my hands. This will, hopefully, leave me more time to concentrate on marketing.

What have I learned from these first two books?

  1. Plan more at the start (more on this in a later post).
  2. Use an editor at an early stage to advise on structure, characters, etc. as this saves time too in re-drafts.
  3. Use a copy editor later on to sort out grammar, typos, etc. Don’t put anything out there that hasn’t been professionally copy edited.
  4. Amazon promotions can be very effective but maintaining a book’s visibility on Amazon is tough.
  5. Fiverr.com and similar websites can help you advertise.
  6. Reviews on Amazon are gold dust. You need as many good ones as you can get.
  7. Getting people to post reviews on Amazon is tough!
  8. Don’t worry about what people might think, get your work out there and take the plunge.

Lastly, I loved every minute of it – okay, I didn’t love the two days it took me to upload the cover artwork to Lulu.com, but the rest was good.

Park your doubts. Ignore the hurdles facing you; you’ll work out how to get over them when you’re nearer. Produce your best work. Get others to help you polish it and get it out there.

What have you got to lose?

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