In our occasional series of reports of events for authors, British designer, author and editor Henry Hyde shares his experience of “Self-Publishing in the Digital Age”, a high profile one-day event held in London last month, organised by Bloomsbury Publishing, publisher of the Writers & Artists series of books and the related website. The succession of top-drawer expert speakers including some familiar names from ALLi membership.
Dr Alison Baverstock, Course Leader for the MA in Publishing at Kingston University, opened proceedings. Her talk covered the attractions and challenges of self-publishing, stressing the critical importance of taking responsibility at every stage of the process. Alison also provided commentary between speakers throughout the day and kept proceedings running more or less exactly on time — no mean achievement!
Next came ALLi member and best-selling writer Roz Morris, who spoke about editing, stressing its importance as part of producing a professional product. She described the differences between developmental editing, copy editing and proofreading, and why these should be carried out in that order to save time and money. A highly experienced editor, Roz indicated the timeframe and costs involved in the process and the importance of finding the right editor.
Another ALLi member, Jane Dixon-Smith, then spoke about book design. The importance of creating a striking and effective cover was reinforced with examples of good covers alongside utterly appalling ones! Jane demonstrated that designs must work at postage stamp size, because they will be seen for mere seconds alongside hundreds of others on Amazon. She emphasised high quality layout and typesetting inside the book, which can save you money. Jane finally explained how to brief your designer properly, and the costs and timescales involved.
Next, Jon Fine, Director of Author and Publishing Relations at Amazon, gave a comprehensive run-down of the services and opportunities that the retail and publishing giant can offer. These span digital, print and audio output via KDP, Createspace, ACX and more besides. A key element of Jon's presentation was the importance of having a high quality product capable of competing in this rapidly expanding marketplace, together with a thorough understanding of ‘discoverability' using keywords and metadata — and a great cover.
Jeremy Thompson of Troubador/Matador highlighted the alternatives to Amazon, stressing that you need to research your options thoroughly and scrutinise any contracts offered. He noted that authors are expected to participate fully in marketing their books and this should begin at least six months before publication, especially for printed books aimed at retail outlets. You may decide to shoulder all the publishing process or just some of it, and a good company will help you set a budget and timescale accordingly.
After lunch, delegates were treated to talks by a succession of highly successful authors. Mark Edwards is a best-selling crime writer and a ‘hybrid' who has self-published as well as being traditionally published. He had a lot to say about marketing and ensuring that your work stands head and shoulders above the bizarre garbage out there! Mark also discussed the importance of social media and interacting with your readers.
Top self-published comedy author Nick Spalding hammered home just how critical your cover design is, using a specific example of how tweaking one of his own designs transformed one of his novels from a flop into a phenomenal success overnight. He also underlined the importance of studying the taste of your target market, and flexibility in approach, urging us to experiment with price, title and cover design.
Amazon's Darren Hardy then took the role of interviewer with chick-lit phenomenon Talli Roland who, yet again, had plenty to say about appropriate cover design. Darren and Talli discussed the waning power of free giveaways, which are often downloaded but never actually read, or read by the wrong audience, who then leave bad reviews. Another great tip from Talli is to use a Kindle to proof-read your book: she finds she spots things she might have missed on her PC.
The final speaker was another ALLi member Jill (JJ) Marsh of the Triskele Collective, of which Jane Dixon-Smith is also a part. She described the pros and cons of being part of a collective team, and reported on the extremely positive effects it had on her and her colleagues — the result of their collaboration can certainly be said to be greater than the sum of its parts.
After some closing remarks from Alison Baverstock, the eager delegates were unleashed with glasses of wine and fruit juice to mingle with the authors and experts. Huge thanks are due to Bloomsbury and the W&A staff for organising this excellent event, and to all the speakers who gave so much of their time and expertise for the benefit of those keen to follow their example.
Henry Hyde shares a much more detailed report on his website here.