As it’s been about five months since I published Blood Song in which time I’ve sold over 2000 books (admittedly most of them this month). So I thought it might be time to reveal the secret of self-publishing an e-book that sells. Don’t waste your time and money on how-to books or webinars, for I have the answer right here for free. Ready? OK, here goes:
Write a good book.
That’s it. There’s no mystery, no short-cuts and no substitute. If you want to write a book that sells, make it a good one. The advent of e-books has certainly opened the flood-gates to an enormous amount of unreadable dross, but it’s also brought about a new meritocracy in publishing. Put simply, if it’s good it will sell. If it’s not, it won’t and no amount of publicity will magically turn it into the bestseller you want it to be.
If you’re going to do this thing, accept the fact that you exist in a meritocracy, a real one. Not the pretend meritocracies of the corporate world where success is largely a matter of fooling gullible management into believing how great you are (read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test if you don’t believe me). In a real meritocracy all that matters is ability. Not popularity, not inter-personal skills, not a facility for spewing jargon and buzz-words. Just being good at what you do, and being good at something requires work.
Writing is hard and it takes a long time to do it well. I estimate it took me about 100,000 words before I got to a point where I wasn’t embarrassed to show people my work, and another 100,000 before I felt confident enough to publish it. So if you want to do this, get writing. Write every day, whenever you can. And, if you’ve never written before, accept the fact that you’ll probably write crap for the first 100,000 words or more. But having written 100,000 words you will definitely be a better writer than when you started. Writing is a craft and you can learn it, but learning requires doing, and no one is going to do it for you.
Worry about the mechanics of publishing when you’ve written something worth publishing. As you can learn to write you can learn to format a word file correctly, you can learn the basics of graphic design to produce your own covers, you can learn to write a blurb, you can learn to set up a blog or a website. But do it after you’ve actually written a book that’s worth someone’s time and money. And most of all, be honest with yourself. Deep down, you will know if the book you’ve written is ready for publication. Listen to that voice and don’t publish before you’re ready. Canvas second opinions from people you know will give you an honest critique and listen to what they tell you. If it’s not ready, don’t publish it. I’m eternally grateful for the fact that e-books came along after I’d gotten most of the dross out of my system, otherwise I might well have been tempted to publish it, with potentially ruinous results. Most pro-writers will have an anecdote about the terrible novel they stupidly sent out to publishers and subsequently burned so no one else would ever see it. You may have spent years on a novel only to find it’s just not very good – I did, more than once. Does that mean all that time was wasted? No, because I learned from it, I got better.
As writers we exist in a true meritocracy now. Publication is now open to all, but success is dependent on ability. It’s just about writing good books.