There is a lot to learn from the guru mega-stars in your area of interest. But they are the brilliant (and perhaps lucky) 0.1% in the space. There is also good stuff to learn from the people in the trenches, who have chosen to get busy doing the thing rather than just thinking about it, and are happy to share their lessons learned. Jon Doolan is in the latter category. I asked him to write a guest post sharing what he has learned through self-publishing two adventure books.
You are currently living in the era of the author
Never have there been so few barriers to getting your book published.
- You don’t need the approval of a literary agent or a traditional publisher.
- You don’t have print thousands of books; ebooks and ‘print on demand’ are dominating the market.
- You can have direct access to your market of readers through social media.
I’m here to tell you that YOU can write and publish your own book and, if you learn from my mistakes, potentially make a bit of money too.
My name is Jon Doolan. I gave up my job to explore the world of self-publishing.
1. Don’t give up your job!
First thing is first. Even with one or two books under your belt, you’re not going to make any big bucks straight off of the bat. Unless you’re already famous. Or you get smacked with the lucky stick like J. K. Rowling.
Imagine if you went to a shop and there was one item on the counter. You wouldn’t be going back a second time, would you?
So, get used to the fact that you probably aren’t going to make serious dough until at least book 5 or 6.
2. Know your WHY
I’m a successful author. I’ve self-published 2 books.
But I’ve only sold maybe 50 copies of each. Each book took over a year to write. They have only received 6 reviews on Amazon combined. One of those reviews was clearly from an ex-pupil. It reads:
‘Mr D it woz gr8 much luv’
Luckily I wasn’t his English teacher!
So how can I claim to be successful? Because I knew ‘WHY’ I wrote them. My first book (Sardines) was purely for joy of writing. My second book (Year of Microadventure) was as a Christmas present for my best mate. Both of them achieved their goal. They were both successful. Big thumbs up. High fives all round.
But I’m not happy with that. I want to, eventually, become a full time author making money off of my books. Sooooo… I went back to the drawing board.
What is your ‘WHY’?
Is it to win awards? You want to see your book in Waterstones? You want to create an elaborate photo album or picture book? Then, my friend, I’d recommend going down the traditional publishing route. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to create an award winning photo book as a self-publisher but currently it’s more difficult than summiting Ben Nevis with a blindfold.
- writing is your ‘passion project’
- you want to make a difference
- you want to build prestige in a certain niche
- you want to make more money per book sale
- you want to take control of your writing, publishing and marketing
…then self-pubishing could very well be for you!
3. Build your email list today!
It’s only point three and we’re already diving into the marketing. Have you got your goggles on? Good!
If you want to sell your book at the end of the process then you’ll want to start building your email list today.
There’s a sappy quote that some people use – When’s the best time to plant a tree? Ten years ago. When’s the second best time? Today!
Why do you need an email list? Trust me. It will be your BIGGEST and most IMPORTANT marketing tool that you will own. These people have expressed an interest in you and your work. Guess what? They might buy your book too!
How do you go about building an email list? It’s pretty simple. Build a website (Squarespace, Wix, Wordpress, etc.). Create something of value. Give it away for free on your website in exchange for an email address (using Mailchimp or something similar). Romeo done.
For example, I’ve written a mini-book called ‘How to Have a Microadventure’ (credit to Alastair Humphries for the idea). Ethos, tips and advice for people going on microadventures presented in an entertaining and funny way (hopefully!). Sign up with your email at my website and the book is yours completely FREE!
4. Create an outline before you write, And share it
Chances are that you’re a wannabe adventure writer if you’re reading this so you’ve probably got a journal from your epic adventure.
(Actually, crap. Writing a journal should definitely be piece of advice number 1! Oh well, never mind)
If you follow your journal you’ll have a readymade book outline. Day 1, Day 2, etc. etc. until you have finished. Well done you.
However, you’ve got a new problem. I’m already yawning thinking about how boring your book is!
Don’t worry. I’m the same. I wrote 120,000 words in my first draft of a new book. It took me 6 months and was more boring than sitting through a lecture on boredom at the University of Borington. Only then did I share it with my best mate. He said, quite rightly, that it was a massive pile of elephant poo.
I tried to start from scratch but I was so sick of the project that I just shelved it, wasting a whole year of my precious writing time.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Be clear about what you want to say. Be heartless about what you are going to leave out. No one needs to know about the bread you bought in the supermarket. Unless you were dying of starvation at the time or the supermarket was on top of a volcano.
And then share you plan early on with someone who is going to be brutally honest with you. Better to find out your idea is a pile of donkey poop early on rather than 6 months down the line.
5. Finish the first draft
It’s not going to be good. Accept it.
First drafts are meant to be crap. That’s the point.
No one is going to see the first draft except for you and, hopefully, your editor.
But if you don’t get it done you’ll never EVER publish a book. So sit your butt down in your chair (or tent or wherever) and hammer out those words.
Set yourself word count targets. Hit those targets and see how wonderful you feel.
Check out my blog for 30 Daily Productivity Tips that I recently shared with a group of budding writers during a month long writing sprint.
6. Get an Editor and a Cover Designer
You can’t afford to skip this part. This is the only part of the process where you will have to spend money.
Tip – Before you submit it to the editor read the whole manuscript out loud to yourself. You will almost immediately pick up on a hundred errors that you didn’t notice when you read with your internal voice.
A Content Editor will make the story better. They will focus on pacing, tone and structure. They help you cut out all the rubbish that is slowing your book down.
A Copy Editor will pick up on (almost) all of those annoying little spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.
I didn’t use either on my first two books and it shows. Even my brother, when he read Year of Microadventures, pointed out 20+ spelling mistakes. D’oh!
The best thing about self-publishing is that any time I want I can change any of the content inside the book (I’ve also changed the cover 3 times!). So if you spot any other errors let me know and, like a Tippex wielding ninja, I can get them fixed.
Unless you are a god of graphic design then a cover designer is an investment that you won’t regret. People don’t judge a book by their cover. Bollocks! The book cover is the MOST IMPORTANT marketing tool you have. (Didn’t I just say that about the email list? Ok, joint most important then)
Being the cheapskate I am, I tried producing my own covers using a free sample of Photoshop but they’re pretty amateurish. I’m going to have to follow my own advice and get a cover designer sorted soon.
7. Build buzz for the book BEFORE you finish writing it
If you start sharing what you are writing about with as many people as possible then you will have 2 key benefits
- You will be motivated to finish it so you don’t let down you fans.
- You will have an audience to buy your book the moment it is published (giving you more chance of hitting an Amazon best seller list for example).
How do you build buzz? Sharing word counts. Running cover competitions. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. All that jazz. Don’t forget your trusted email list!
There’s the small matter of formatting the book but if you’ve got any computer sense it’s fairly easy, if a little time consuming. There are companies that will do it for you (Vellum) or you can have a stab yourself (find a template off t’internet). Then there’s the middle ground. Abook distributer, like Shashwords, who will take a cut of your book sales but save you the massive ball ache of reformatting it for each of the different e-book platforms.
8. Book Launch
The books back from the editor. You’ve got a knock-out cover designed. It’s formatted and ready to go. Now what?
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 it’s time to launch your book into the big bad world.
If you put your incredible memoir up on Amazon and then sit back and wait for the money to come rolling in you’re going to be like a kid with broccoli ice cream, massively disappointed. You’ve got to actually market the book.
First you need a Launch Team. Remember your email list from before? Well, throw them out an email and ask if any would like to join your elite marketing squad.
It’s dead simple. All they’ve got to do is buy your book on launch day. Leave a glowing review on Amazon. And share your book on their social media channels. They can also actually physically tell people about your book. Going old school works too.
What do they get in return? They get a free digital copy of the book BEFORE release day and, if you’re feeling super generous, you can put them in your ‘Thank You’s at the end of the book.
If you are feeling enthusiastic about marketing, how about running give away competitions in the first week of launch? Or get yourself on podcasts related to the topic that you are talking about. How about visiting organisations that your book engages? What about giving free talks? Send out a few emails. Get your granny to tell her bridge club. Whatever it takes to get that message out there.
9. You are not alone!
Writing can be the loneliest of activities. Sat on your own for hours with only a computer screen as company. Throwing your heart and soul into the words full of fear of judgement and criticism. It’s not an easy life.
Please, just know that you are not alone. Even if your friends don’t get it. If your mum, other half or the postman thinks you are wasting your time. If you’re wondering why you are sat indoors tapping away when it is a wonderful sunny day outside, remember. You. Are. Not. Alone.
You‘re now part of an enormous community that spans the globe. So reach out. Meet authors, online or in real life, and you will find people who understand all the emotions that have been bouncing around your brain like manic children high on e-numbers.
10. Where can you find help?
The following people run incredible podcasts, blogs or have brilliant books on self-publishing.
Joanna Penn – My go-to guru. This amazing lady has been bashing the self-publishing drum for 10 years. She has been inspirational for Alastair Humphreys and Anna McNuff among others. Find her at TheCreativePenn.com. She also has a podcast.
Chandler Bolt – This dude is the Self-Publishing School kingpin. If you can get beyond his youthful American enthusiasm, he is full of brilliant publishing and marketing ideas. His book, Published, in particular is superb.
Johnny, Shaun and Dave – I’m recommending their Self-Publishing Podcast purely because I think the guys on it are hilarious. They completely rip it out of each other every episode as well as imparting interesting tips on how to be a successful self-publisher.
Jon Doolan – Me! If you want support, have an idea that needs a sounding board or generally just want a chat, come find me at jondoolan.com and you’ll have a friendly ear to talk to.
Have fun, keep adventuring and WRITE ON!!
Jon is an adventurer, blogger, author and dad. He loves completing quirky adventures like cycling through Thailand dressed in a Union Jack morph suit or floating down the Thames on an inflatable crocodile called Bruce. At the moment he is balancing going on adventures with spending time with his family and writing. He has two self-published books on his adventures so far.
He recently completed a 50,000 word first draft for a novel in 28 days and is currently developing an online course to help adventurers turn their travel journals into epic memoirs. He is also coordinating some family friendly adventures for the summer of 2018 for members of the Ordinary Superparents Facebook group.
You can find him on
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