Tweet chat 12th December 2020 Self-publishing with guest Nathan James, Creative Director of Softwood Publishing

Participants: Rekha Elaswarapu, Julie Charlesworth, Gerald Hornsby, Elizabeth Exckstein, Elizabeth Holland, Maria Johnson, Anita Belli, DJ Callaghan, Lary Crews, Sandy Stuckless, Ekene Obaji, Deborah Klée

What are the common mistakes/problems that authors who are new to publishing experience, and/or what are your personal concerns?

Anita: We never stop learning I am formatting a book today for a memoir writer. Inserting sketches is always a challenge to make them look good in a paperback and work on kindle

Nathan: Too often authors are sucked into publishing contracts that ask them to part with lots of money and cause them to lose creative and financial control of their MS. Many horror stories of authors who wanted to have a publisher’s name on their book but suffered as a result.

Authors need to know they CAN keep every penny of profit and stay in control of things like cover design and distribution. Authors mustn’t get sucked in to believing that a vanity publisher will do much marketing for them.

Maria: We happened to talk about this last week. I agree it is important to be careful, but there are some hybrid companies that are transparent and legitimate and can be a good road to go down. Authors do need to read any contract carefully & be aware of scams though.

Nathan: Even traditional publishers expect the author to participate fully in marketing their own book! 

Sandy: Publishing too soon. It terrifies me that I’ll put a book out that is just terrible and there’s no way to take that back

Gerald: Probably the most common issue is authors publishing too early, before the work has had a good enough edit and proofread

Deborah: I agree with that. All of that work into writing and then when it comes to getting it in shape it goes out too early.

Nathan: Yes, agreed. The editing is crucial to success. 

Elizabeth Eckstein: The biggest problem I have picked up reading self-pub authors are typos/editing problems and poor book covers. I have read the most amazing books that I felt really deserved better editing and/or book covers. Wonderful writing and stories that hide beneath these issues.

Elizabeth Holland: My biggest mistake with my first two books was not having immersed myself in the writing community before publishing. I’ve learned so much. Back then I didn’t even know what a beta reader is. I think my 3rd book has greatly benefitted from everything I’ve learned.

Anita: me too Elizabeth. Discovering the writing community. Also understanding the publishing world.

Deborah: You have done a tremendous job of networking Elizabeth. You are right though. I see questions on Facebook from authors who have self-published with no platform and no marketing plan.

Anita: The biggest technical problem is interior design; having to strip out the often random formatting to make a ‘clean’ manuscript. My biggest concern as a self-publisher for my own books is marketing and selling. This is far harder for me than writing or publishing!

Deborah: There is always the concern of investing in professional edits and cover design when an author may not make enough sales to break even.

Nathan: Yes that’s true. Sadly, many potential buyers still judge a book by it’s cover. It emphasises the importance of networking and social media engagement before publishing to maximise interest in the book. 

Sandy: True, but why shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve even taken a step. Not investing in those things also sends that message that you’re willing to cut corners, damaging your rep even more.

Deborah: I agree but it was a concern early on for me. I am now much more optimistic and confident.

Gerald: I think small press can be a great solution for some authors. All authors should look at what’s being offered, the pros and the cons, and what is expected from them and what they expect from the publishing experience.

Maria: Explaining Vanity publishing – A publisher that charges quite a big fee to be published, but then offers hardly any editorial work, marketing and only does print on demand. Generally seen as scams.

Nathan: Being aware of the small print is very important, and not every route to publishing is right for everybody!

Anita: I learned pretty early on that although Writing is an Art – Publishing is a Business. Self-Publishing requires you to be good at both, which is a big ask!

Nathan: We try and make authors aware of every element of writing, as yes it’s not just the writing you have to pay attention to! 

Maria: Biggest thing me was the learning curve into building platform based and branding early on. I was very private about my pen name when my first historical fiction book came out which did limit my opportunities but that was a personal journey I needed to walk down!

Deborah: Creating your personal brand can feel a bit intimidating for some authors.

Elizabeth Holland: This is so true! I’ve been lucky in the sense that without knowing it I’ve become my brand

Maria: Yes, it was for me especially without me realising how much I’d need to market for myself and with having hardly any confidence! I’m in a much better place now with marketing stuff and my own personal confidence

Deborah: Do you provide a service for each step of the journey Nathan?

Nathan: Yes, we do have various tiers of editing that help authors develop their manuscripts, from a simple edit to a full content edit. Plus formatting, marketing, and a print service! Most importantly, the authors stay in creative and financial control 

Which aspects do you feel competent to do yourself and when do you seek professional help?

Elizabeth Holland: This is a really tough one! I’d love a professional editor but the cost is beyond me. I do reach out to family members and beta readers. Professional help can come in all shapes and sizes! My education and  work background give me confidence to do my own proofreading.

Anita: We are fortunate in that we belong to an excellent Novel Critiquing group – mostly published authors. We have built trust and honesty amongst us. It is invaluable feedback and beta reading.

Gerald: I’m not artistic, so I can’t create original artwork. But I do have an eye for design, and when I design covers, I thoroughly check the genre expectations. If the client needs original artwork, I have to subcontract that out.

Elizabeth Holland: Genre expectations are a brilliant thing to point out! You can often tell just by glancing at a book what the story will be.

Deborah: I am hopeless at design and so I do pay a professional for cover design.

Nathan: We try and make authors aware of every element of writing, as yes, it’s not just the writing you have to pay attention to! 

Deborah: I have found editor services invaluable. A structural editor helps a writer to develop, so to me it is as worthwhile as paying for a writing course.

Maria: Writing, I think? Maybe some editing lol. That’s the big pro of being partnered with a small press as they took care of the front covers, more editing and loads of stuff that go into turning my novels into actual books. They do a bit of promoting/marketing too.

Nathan: Excellent! We work with a wonderful designer who creates the brand for authors, makes such a difference 

Anita: Beta readers; professional feedback and proofreading during the writing process. An outside eye is essential. The technical stuff of producing a book, I can do, including cover design, although I do like to use an artist for original artwork where possible.

Gerald: I would say having another set of eyes on your writing is absolutely essential. I self-edit, and I’ve been writing a long time with lots of constructive feedback, but I always have at least one person beta read for me. 

Sandy: I’m no expert, mind you, but the #1 thing I keep hearing from authors who have done it is to not be cheap. Spend the money on a pro editor, cover designer, and marketing. Trying to do any or all of those yourself can cause you problems.

Larry: For my first 3 novels, Bantam Books paid me. My nonfiction book on writing novels cost me ZERO money. My free-verse book cost me ZERO money. I wish you good luck in your effort to help self-published writers. 

Nathan: The question we’re most often asked is, do I need to hire an editor when I could just it myself? We always recommend a self-edit but strongly recommend, if possible, to have a professional pair of eyes look over it.

Deborah: I agree that this is really important. Not everyone has a budget but at least ask writer friends to assist. As a writing community we have different skills and can support one another.

Maria: Absolutely. I edit/proofread my manuscripts as much as I possibly can, then if and when my publishers accept them they still come back in red in tracked changes

Deborah: I also worked with Hard Pressed Books as Gerald formatted my two novels for publishing as ebooks and paperback.

Are there any helpful publishing resources you can share with the writing community?

Deborah: I used Reedsy to find my creative team – editors and cover designer. Now that I have worked with them, we have direct contact. And they are great.

Anita: I love the idea of teams working together. great relationships are important in any creative work

Deborah: It sounds as though Softwood offer this continuity. I hope that I can keep the creatives I have found as I have absolute confidence in them.

Nathan: Creative relationships are so valuable. We offer a bespoke service to every individual; that relationship is crucial to get right.

Maria: This chat every Friday at 4pm GMT is a wonderful place to start! Great chance to connect with other writers and get great tips about the process of writing, publishing, and marketing etc. 

Anita: We use Vellum for formatting standard Kindle and Paperback, although it has its limitations. I am hand formatting currently for a book with pictures. We also use Canva for Kindle covers and Pixelmator for wrap around.

Deborah: Is Vellum expensive and how easy is it to use?

Gerald: It’s quite expensive for individual use. $250 for both ebook and print book. And yes, there is definitely a learning curve. Not just a one-click and it’s done. Lots of ‘tweaking’ required!

Anita: And. like Pixelmator, it is only available for Mac

Nathan: In terms of creative writing resources, check out Save the Cat! By Jessica Brody Also Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey diagramme, found in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Hugely helpful for learning how to structure your plot.

Elizabeth Holland: Bit of self-promo here I wrote a whole series on my blog about my experience self-publishing. Below is the final post with links to the others. I’m hoping to update it in the new year and move it over to my author website.…

Elizabeth Holland: Some more self-promo Completely forgot I filmed this. I sat down and spoke about how I market my books. Could be helpful for those who are self-published/looking to self-publish.…

Sandy: I always recommend 4 resources to fellow authors: @WritingExcuses podcast They cover everything from outlining, drafting, and publishing. Fantastic people too. #FriSalon

What are your top tips for authors new to self-publishing?

Deborah: Don’t be daunted. There is a lot to learn but you don’t have to absorb it all overnight. Embrace the challenge and enjoy it!

Nathan: Ask many questions before you choose an editor/publisher Request a sample edit to make sure you’ll work together Carefully consider all your options- will you stay in control of your MS?

Elizabeth Holland: If you feel overwhelmed don’t be put off, just take the plunge and self-publish. We all have to start learning somewhere and we’re a brilliantly supportive community

Anita: Go for it! Manage your expectations, especially around sales; understand the business; join in the writing community; be open-minded and prepared to learn!

Deborah: Be selective about what you do yourself and buying in professional help. You will need a budget. This is a business and it needs some financial investment including time.

Rekha: Any idea on costs or is it too variable?

Deborah: It is of course variable but I estimate 2k per novel. I use a structural editor and a copy editor

Nathan: Services depend on word count but we offer personalised quotes through our website. Might give you an idea of associated costs #FriSalon #selfpublishing

Nathan: Social media- get networking on Twitter & Instagram as soon as you can in your writing journey If you can afford a professional editor/designer, your book will be more attractive and easier to sell!

Deborah: What will you give up to make time, and/or find the funds?

Deborah to Nathan: Do you have a range of prices for editors and cover designers? Do you advice an author on the best package to suit their budget and skills?

Nathan: Yes absolutely. It’s important for us to keep the process affordable. The author always stays in control when working with us. We also offer individual payment plans (in any currency) if that helps. Bespoke quotes available here

Nathan: If anyone would  like to talk more, I’m available on 𝘴𝘸𝘴𝘱𝘶𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨@𝘨𝘮𝘢𝘪𝘭.𝘤𝘰𝘮 and all services are available here

Gerald Hornsby’s book about self-publishing – ‘Where I try to de-mystify the process a little’.…

More about Hard Pressed Books here

Thank you all for another great tweet-chat. Next week is all about Xmas. A chance to get to know each other better. Everyone is welcome.

While you are here you might like to browse my blogs or find out about my books.