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How to make a lucrative living as a self-published author: Everything you need to know

As a successful businesswoman running her own interactive media company for twenty years, Rachel Abbott was always on the go. When she took early retirement, she adored the idea of waking up in the morning with the words ‘relax in the sun’ the only item on her To Do list. But she soon decided to put her spare time to good use and finally turn the idea at the back of her mind into the novel she always hoped to write.

When she had finished the book, Only the Innocent, Rachel sent it out to a number of literary agents. Most replied politely saying they liked it but couldn’t see a market for it, and some didn’t respond at all.

“At that point, I put the book on the back shelf. Then one rainy day in September 2011, I discovered that it was possible to publish independently through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP),” Rachel tells Express Online.

Only the Innocent hit No. 1 in the UK Kindle Best Seller charts in February 2012, outselling titles from many established authors. It was one of the best-selling products across the whole of during the first three months of that year.

“Every day was a thrill seeing the sales grow and it changed my life by giving me the most unexpected sense of community. It has opened up a whole new world for me really; I get lots of emails and tweets from people who have read the book and from other KDP authors who are all really supportive, giving me a new group of friends,” Rachel adds with a smile.

“I’m loving every minute of it.”

Only the Innocent is now available in print through Amazon’s print on demand service, CreateSpace, which Rachel describes as ‘a doddle to use.’ Rachel also published her second book, The Back Road, on KDP and CreateSpace in the UK in March. It has been firmly entrenched in the top 100 ever since then.

Only the Innocent is now available in print through Amazon’s print on demand service, CreateSpace, which Rachel describes as ‘a doddle to use.’ Rachel also published her second book, The Back Road, on KDP and CreateSpace in the UK in March. It has been firmly entrenched in the top 100 ever since then.

Now Rachel tells us how she did it and give her top tips for what and what NOT to do.

From how to actually get published to what to do when people post vicious reviews (tip: NEVER respond) she tells us all we need to know to become a self-published author.

The interview

How long have you been self-publishing and how many books have you published?

I published my first book in November 2011 and my fourth book just two months ago in February 2015.

Rachel Abbot

What was the hardest part of writing and doing it all yourself?

The first book is hard to write whether you end up being traditionally or independently published, but after that, I think the biggest issue for independents is the fear that they can’t write another book that people will like as much as the first one.

I now have editors, a publicist, a jacket designer, much the same as a traditionally published writer, and I’m fortunate to get the support and encouragement I need from my agent. But for people who are just starting and perhaps can’t yet afford all the help, it can be a lonely job.

It is notoriously difficult to edit yourself – did you get help?

For my first book, I had two excellent proofreaders, but I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know what real editing was. I believed that editors just made some changes and maybe rewrote some passages. I had no idea that at the first edit they might actually tell me that some of the chapters of the book were in the wrong order, or that my character wasn’t coming across in the way that he needed to – and then leave it to me to fix. It was a revelation, and now I would never be without a full edit (usually more than one) finishing off with a professional proofreader.

How hard did you have to work at publicising your books?

When I launched Only the Innocent – my first book – I did a lot of research into marketing and then realized that in fact I was spending all my time researching, and none actually doing the marketing. At that point, I wrote a marketing plan and followed it. It made a huge difference, but as it was my first book I felt I had to work seven days a week, fourteen hours a day for three months until I got to number one. Since then, it’s been a bit easier, but for each book, I probably focus on marketing for a couple of months.

What was the hardest part of getting your book out there?

Having the courage to press the publish button and know that people might read it and hate it. I had no technical issues – I’m quite a technical person and know a lot of people who can help me if I’m stuck.

Finding a title is always tricky, and I do think the amount of time spent deciding what I’m going to call the book and writing the blurb – both crucial in marketing terms – takes a disproportionate amount of my time.

How can you get your book seen in a sea of online releases?

The breakthrough for me came when I wrote a marketing plan to give me focus so that I wasn’t just jumping from one idea to the next. I focused on a few core areas – many of which would be different if I were doing it now because things move on.

The key is to make sure that the jacket is visible in as many places as possible. They say that people have to see a product seven times before they recognise it, so authors need to make sure that they contact as many bloggers as possible for reviews, interviews, opportunities to write guest posts; they should use graphics in their Twitter and Facebook posts, and just make sure that they never miss an opportunity to show their jacket – on the end of each and every email they send out, for example.

In the early days of self-publishing, there was a small band of us who helped each other, cross-promoted books, passed on any hints and tips that we had. Even now that all of us have had success, we can still be found chatting on Twitter and sharing what we know with other, new writers.

What tips would you give for things people should and should not do when self-publishing?

I don’t think I would ever tell somebody not to do anything. Different strategies work for different people, and although some people are keen to suggest that there are ‘rules’ we should all follow, I think we each have to find our own way. What they should do, however, is decide at the outset what success looks like to them, because it isn’t the same for everybody. Some people just want their book to be out there – they don’t care about sales. Others want great reviews, or perhaps a high chart position is more important to them than a high level of profitability. Until each individual has decided what he or she would consider being a success, it’s impossible to define a strategy to achieve it. So, first define what success looks like, and create a strategy that you believe will help you to get there.

Can you make a living from self-publishing?

Very much so. I know that I’m one of the lucky ones, and not everybody finds their route to success, but the same is true of writers who take a traditional path to publishing. Some get advances that are not sufficient to allow them to give up their day job, and they may still have to do their own marketing. Others are tremendously successful. The returns per copy sold are higher for self-published authors, so for those who are comfortable with managing the marketing aspects of being an author, it can be a lucrative option.

Over to you

So what do you think of the interview and the self-publishing process? Jot down your thoughts, questions and comments below!


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