How to successfully publish your novel online


April 13, 2015 read

How to successfully publish your novel online

Crime novelist P.S Brown talks to 3FoldCreate about self-publishing for success

In 2012 Paul Brown sat down to write a book, but he had no agent let alone a publishing deal. Fast-forward two years and Paul is now a bestselling crime novelist, with his debut ‘Hide and Seek’ selling over 100,000 copies on Kindle and entering Amazon’s top 100 bestsellers list. His new novel ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, the first of his D.S Ripley trilogy, is available on Amazon and the second instalment will be available from September 2015. Here, Paul speaks to 3FoldCreate about his experiences with self-publishing.

3Fold: Why did you self-publish your novel rather than go the traditional route via an agent?

Initially, I wasn't interested in publishing my first book 'Hide and Seek' at all. Writing the book was a personal goal for me. I had always wanted to write a book before I turned 30. That milestone came and passed. Two years later I was unhappy at work and I decided to leave my job and take a year off to write the book and decide what to do next in my life.

I didn't have much faith in the traditional publishing route. You can spend a lot of time researching to find a list of agents who like your style of book. However, it still comes down to personal taste. I just felt that trying to get your book accepted through the traditional publishing route was like playing a game of Russian Roulette - and I've never felt like a lucky person.

I was sprucing up my CV and applying for jobs when my mother showed me an article in a women's magazine. The article was about two women who had found success by self-publishing their novels after suffering rejection from traditional publishers for years. The article just struck a chord with me so I went on the Internet and started researching the growth of eBooks and the available avenues to self publish.

3Fold: When you decided to self-publish, where did you start? Can you talk us through the process?

The article that I read in the women's magazine specifically focussed on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform and so I concentrated on that. After reading a few articles on the Internet it was clear it was one of the largest players in the eBook market. I simply downloaded the formatting guide and spent a few hours formatting my book.

There are a number of other things to consider before publishing your novel. You have to write a striking blurb that is going to interest readers in your book and you should also have a professional book cover, that looks intriguing even as a thumbnail image.

Then you must go through each marketplace and set your price. You should read the information on pricing and royalties carefully because KDP operates a sliding royalty scale dependent on the price you set. VAT is deducted from your list price and you earn royalties on the remainder. As you enter the list price, the website will show you the amount of commission you will earn per novel.

When you have uploaded your document and book cover, added your blurb and set your prices you can publish your novel. KDP takes up to five business days before your novel becomes live on Amazon.

3Fold: How did you find the technical aspect of self-publishing?

The technical aspect of self-publishing was very straightforward. If you are semi-proficient with Microsoft Word it will probably only take a few hours to format your book to the specifications required. KDP provides a free manual (Building Your Book for Kindle) and tutorials to help you with this. If you don't feel confident about formatting the book yourself there are a number of people online who offer this service.

The Alliance of Independent Authors is a well-respected site that provides a list of vetted professionals who can help you with all aspects of self-publishing, from formatting your book, designing a book cover, writing a striking blurb and so on.

3Fold: What were your initial expectations? Did they match up to the reality?

My initial expectations were that I'd probably sell around 50 copies via friends and family. However, within a month I'd sold over 500 copies and a number of very good reviews had started to come in. I decided to run a five-day free promotion after Christmas as I presumed that a lot of people would have received Kindle devices as gifts. I was surprised that 8,368 copies were downloaded over those five days and even more surprised when sales shot up as soon as the promotion ended. I had a few drinks on New Year's Eve and thought I would check my rankings before I went to bed and found I had reached the No1 position on the psychological thrillers bestseller list. So I had a few more drinks to celebrate! Over the next few weeks it seemed like word of mouth was spreading as the book continued to rise up the charts and it went into the Amazon overall Top 100 on 13th January 2013 and stayed there for over 100 days.

3Fold: What were the major challenges and stumbling blocks, and how did you overcome them?

I would say the major challenges include building an audience initially and then maintaining contact with readers who enjoyed your book to make them aware when a new novel is due to be released.

I failed to create a website and start a mailing list when Hide and Seek was released. I had built up a small following on Facebook and Twitter but when it came time to release Wrong Place, Wrong Time I realised that those social media platforms were not very good for letting readers know my new book was available.

Facebook and Twitter are free and easy to set up but I don't depend on them too much. 

There are some authors I follow who are very good with social media, their posts are often funny, engaging and interesting. Unfortunately, I'm just not one of those people who feels comfortable on social media. 

I have now set up a website and mailing list and have focused my efforts on that. I believe it is a more reliable way of staying in touch with readers and making sure they're aware of new releases.

3Fold: What advice do you have for any aspiring writers?

Of the authors I've spoken to or heard at festivals and conferences there seems to be a few different approaches to writing. Some authors plan out everything meticulously before they put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Other authors have no idea what is going to happen, they just sit and write and see what happens Ann Cleeves admitted at Harrogate Crime Festival that this was her process for writing. And some authors have an idea - maybe a beginning or an end and some scenes in-between - and start writing in a very chaotic, unorganised attempt to join the dots. I definitely sit quite firmly in this latter process!

It doesn't matter where you start. The most important thing to do is write something. There is nothing worse than an empty white page and a cursor blinking at you impatiently. I find the first draft the most painful because it is basically a battle to meet a self-imposed word count. The following drafts are much easier because you can edit and mould the book into something readable.

Also, you MUST have your novel professionally proofread prior to publication. Initially, I didn't do this for my first novel and it is one of my biggest regrets. Three months after release, when I finally had my novel proofread professionally, I was amazed at the amount of stupid errors that had been missed. I can understand why people are hesitant about spending £200-£500 when they're unsure whether the book will sell enough to recoup those costs. But if you are serious about self-publishing you have to be professional. 

The same principle applies to book covers. Unless you are a graphic designer, you should consider approaching a professional to ensure your book cover is eye-catching. Even now, when I browse through the various lists on Amazon (because I'm sad and that's how I like to spend my time!) I can easily spot the book covers that are homemade. In a sea of thumbnail images your book cover has to stand out from the crowd. Readers DO judge a book by its cover! At least, as far as deciding whether to click on the image and read the blurb to decide whether to buy your book. 

You can find out more about Paul Brown's crime novels at his website.

The technical aspect of self-publishing was very straightforward. If you are semi-proficient with Microsoft Word it will probably only take a few hours to format your book to the specifications required.

— P.S Brown