In the time that I have been editing www.writersguild.org.uk one of the biggest changes has been the new technology enabling writers to become increasingly independent. The rise of self-publishing has come on the back of a range of innovations, most notably relating to digital printing, ebooks and social media. Whereas once an author’s options outside mainstream publishing houses were almost non-existent, now it’s possible to publish and promote a book with little or no outside assistance.
In writing Getting Started In Self-Publishing (Hodder, 2013), Kevin McCann and I have sought to provide practical advice on all aspects of the process. The book also contains a number of case studies; an extract of one, by WGGB member Martin Cloake, follows below.
Martin Cloake has self-published two mini-books in a series called Spurs Shorts that he launched with his writing partner Adam Powley. One is about Danny Blanchflower, the other concerns Arthur Rowe. They have also republished the first full-length book they wrote, We Are Tottenham, as an ebook after the rights reverted back to them.
Why did you choose to self-publish?
I’m a journalist and I’ve worked in production for years. I’m also interested in technology and the media business, an area I covered as a journalist. So I’ve been interested in and involved with new publishing platforms and methods for years. Digital publishing has changed the game in so many ways, one of which is to change the view of, and the opportunities offered by, the self-publishing route. Essentially, digital makes the whole process more nimble. The idea for the ‘Shorts’ series came from the kind of thing The Atlantic Review was doing in the US, and The Guardian in the UK. Those publications are mining their archives to produce collated volumes on particular subjects.
Adam and I were both published authors through the traditional print route, and we are both experienced journalists. So we had already built a bit of brand awareness, if you want to call it that.
We wondered if we could monetise some of the writing we were already doing, while at the same time building the profile we already had. We decided to produce books of about 6-8,000 words – not long enough for a conventional book but longer than a magazine article. The Spurs Shorts idea was based around profiling famous players from the club’s history, but adding some original angle and analysis. So readers could find out about a player and get some original, considered analysis, and access that on mobile devices or their desktop for a short read. We wanted to offer quality and originality at a fairly low price, but a price we felt reflected the effort we put in.
The longer term aim was to build up a critical mass of titles, and possibly to branch out into other areas under the Sports Shorts branding. A lot of the ideas we have wouldn’t ever be ideas you could pitch for a full book, published traditionally. So this gives us the opportunity to publish some longer form journalism, and to potentially make some money. Hopefully, as we put out more titles, the back catalogue will continue earning. One of the beauties of digital self-publishing is that once the initial work is done, that’s it – there’s no stock ordering or extra effort over the normal process of publicising the books.
Various options are likely to open up in the future. We want to do more short books on a greater range of subjects. Some of those, if they sell and/or attract the attention of a traditional publisher, might lead to more traditional commissions. And we’ve also got the option to do full-length books that are attractive to a niche market – the sort that would not stack up economically for a publisher having to commit to a print run and production costs, but which might be viable for an individual writer.
Having a production background also helped. Many writers, quite understandably, just want to write, and when the creative part is over they prefer to hand the work on to someone else. I quite like the production side too, so something that offered greater control of pretty much the whole process appealed.
How much research did you into the process?
I’ve been a journalist and sub-editor for over 20 years, so I know a fair bit about production techniques. Constructing an ebook is more complex than you’re led to believe, but it’s also a case of thinking in a different way in order to work through the process. Having to construct books in a slightly different way for different platforms is also a bit of a pain. I did a lot of research on the web, and through face to face chats and email conversations – the Scrivener software was really useful for organising that research. Online communities are very useful, too.
I also did a fair amount of research on pricing, and on the tax situation with ebook royalties, which is quite complicated. Being a journalist who works in the finance field also means I’m taking in a lot of detail about all this stuff on a daily basis, so the ‘research’ is actually me just being interested in and aware of what’s happening in my trade.
How did you approach marketing and selling your books?
I’d already done a lot of work on marketing and promoting the books I’d had published by more traditional routes. Again, my background in journalism helped, as did Adam Powley’s background working for some of the big publishing houses. Many writers, quite understandably, just want to create the product and leave it to others to market. We felt we could offer a more complete package, and that’s helped in our relationship with publishers. We bring a similar approach to our own books. We both use social media a lot, and the advantage of writing, as we have done, about sports and particular sports clubs means we can involve ourselves in the various online fan communities and put the word about. We also negotiate deals with various websites and magazines, providing extracts in return for a plug and link to the book.
I have a static website that I set up as a showcase that works as a kind of online CV: www.martincloake.com . I created it myself using a piece of software called Rapidweaver, which is available for about £35. I used it to find out how to put a website together. It’s a time-consuming process and I wouldn’t pretend to be a web designer, but I feel I know a bit more than the basics about how to put a decent site together and what works.
I blog regularly at blog.martincloake.com I promote all my books through the blog, and I write about sport, journalism, media and technology and occasionally a bit of music and politics. The blog started as a way of raising my profile and demonstrating what I could do when I was preparing to go freelance. There’s also a line on my profile page which talks about a journalist not blogging as a bit like someone not using electricity, and I’d stick by that.
I also use Twitter a lot – again for professional purposes but the nature of it means there’s inevitably going to be some more personal stuff. Twitter is great for networking, getting information out and, if you’re following the right people, for finding out about what’s going on and keeping up with the latest thinking and the latest trends. I’ve also got a LinkedIn profile, and I knit that network of platforms together.
On Facebook I find it’s harder to maintain a divide between the personal and the professional – there’s a lot of ‘noise’ in comparison to Twitter and LinkedIn, and I don’t like the way they keep changing the interface after you’ve set stuff up as you want it. It’s also probably a product of my being from an older generation – I noticed when I was teaching how the students pretty much lived on Facebook, and use it very effectively both personally and professionally. So I’m conscious I should probably do more on Facebook, but I find it difficult to find the time or the inclination.
Did you have any expectations for sales, and have you met them?
Adam and I started the ebooks strand to test the water. We knew it would be a long-term project, building up a number of titles and hopefully capitalising as the mass created its own momentum. We deliberately didn’t entertain any wild ambitions about making money, we saw it as a side project. Because we both do other work, we don’t have to rely on this as an income stream. That also means we don’t feel the same pressure to drop the price that someone dedicating themselves to the marketplace would. We price the books based on the effort we’ve put in and what we think they are worth, as well as with an eye to what the market will sustain.
What advice would you give to anyone else planning to self-publish?
- Believe in what you’re doing
- Be honest about what you’re doing and what you can do
- Work out what you can do well yourself – you’ll be surprised at what you don’t need to buy in
- Get real experts to do the stuff you can’t do – for example, cover design. Amateurism doesn’t sell and it doesn’t promote quality. You might be able to barter expertise, but always remember you’re not the only person who needs to make money
- Be prepared to put lots of time in
- Network, market, publicise.