How To Be Successful In Self-Publishing

Last week, I spoke at the Frankfurt Book Fair on the Kobo booth and talked about what it takes to be successful in self-publishing to a small group of indie authors. Thanks to Camille Mofidi from Kobo Writing Life Europe for inviting me and also getting me a star on the walk of fame – see the picture at the bottom of the post!

kobo booth at Frankfurt

With Camille Mofidi at the Kobo booth at Frankfurt Book Fair

Here are my slides from the event and a list of notes with more links is included below.

It is 95% relevant to all authors, with a little bit of German specific info throughout.

Here’s my top tips:

What do you think? Does this sum up what you consider is necessary to be successful self-publishing?

Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.

How To Read Your Own AudioBook And Sell Direct To Customers

I love and I am all in with my fiction there, but I’m also a podcaster and after years of doing my own interviews and audio, I decided to read my own non-fiction audiobook, and sell it direct!

Here’s how.

microphoneRecording the book

I live in a basement flat with pretty good acoustics for audio i.e. no high ceilings or wooden floors, so I knew it would be OK to record here. If you want to record yourself and distribute professionally, you are likely to need a studio, but I went ahead at home and just stopped if it got too noisy.

I am not hugely technical and I didn’t want to do much post-processing, so I focused on a quiet background. You can sort out noise in post-production, but ideally, you want a clean read, which is why so many podcasters and audio people record in padded cupboards!

I have a Snowball mic and used Amadeus Pro software on the Mac to record the initial files. You can also use Audacity, GarageBand or whatever free software you have.

scrivenerI had Scrivener open to the book and read from the screen chapter by chapter. I saved each audio file at around 20 minutes and managed two or three per day.

I actually found it was really tiring to concentrate, plus my voice struggled so I drank a lot of peppermint tea to keep it going. When I made mistakes in the file, which was at least every couple of minutes, I would clap loudly and then be silent for a few seconds. This creates a visible spike and space on the file so you can find the bits to clean up without having to listen to the whole thing again.

Yes, you WILL make mistakes. It is not easy to read a book aloud! I have renewed respect for my audiobook narrators.

I decided to make the audio more interesting by adding my own little comments at the end of some of the chapters, giving the people who bought that version a little extra something. I also found a few bits I wanted to change as I read the book aloud, so I did update the ebook files as I read. It’s great to read aloud for that final proof-read!

Editing and QA process

business audiobookAfter I finished a couple of 20 minute files, I would edit them in the same software. I removed all the mistakes and silences and gulps and coughs.

I then used Dropbox to send the files to my virtual assistant who listened to the audio to check for any other issues. I left in things that were natural speech but removed clear errors e.g. when I had left the same section in twice, or a little burp from too much tea!

After the QA process and final edits, I put the files together to create six files of one hour each.

I also included an intro and outro little piece of music which makes it sound professional. I get all my royalty free music from Incompetech, an amazing site with loads of music options.

Then I used to level the sound and add the metadata and tags so it looks nice in your mp3 player.

I decided to package the 6 audio files with the DRM free ebook files in Kindle and ePub formats as the final product. I made the cover on the left with, a fantastic tool for creating images.

Selling the file

I’ve talked about your options for selling direct before.

SelzMy choice is to use to package the audio files with the ebooks in Kindle and ePub formats.

I also set up a discount code which is in the back of all the ebooks and print books so those who have already bought the book in other formats can also get the audiobook version if they like for $5 reduction. Click here to go straight to the audio sales page on Selz so you can see what it looks like.


In the first 13 days, I’ve sold 16 audiobooks directly at a total of $305.53, and also 24 copies of the ebook directly at a total of $119.76.

selz audiobook

The Selz shopping experience

It’s not going to buy me a house but it’s also not bad for the first couple of weeks and in a direct sales channel that I only introduced recently!

The 24 direct sales of the ebooks may ‘cannibalize’ sales from the ebook platforms but I get a closer relationship with my customers and I get the money within a week, instead of waiting a couple of months.

It’s early days and I expect Business for Authors to be more of a constant seller, as my book, How to Market a Book, is as well.

The book is mostly evergreen material so I don’t expect to have to update it for a while. I’m definitely considering recording my other non-fiction books as well. It is a time investment but I think they will be pretty constant sellers. I’ll keep my fiction on but for non-fiction, I think I prefer this option (but I reserve the right to change my mind!)

Positive feedback

Here’s one happy customer, Henry Hyde:

“What a fantastic resource you have created. I’m really glad I bought the audio version with the extra Henry Hydedownloads, and your little asides are lovely, reinforcing how very human and surprisingly humble you are despite your amazing achievements.

I’m going to have to listen to the whole thing again, this time in conjunction with the written version and workbook … My head is buzzing with ideas … I’d recommend this book to anyone running any kind of creative business, not just writers and publishers. A massive round of applause for what is bound to become the go-to reference work in the field.” Henry Hyde

You can listen to a 20 min sample on SoundCloud here, or click play below. You can also find out more or buy the audiobook package here.


Update for Dec, 2014 – EU VAT Tax on Digital Products

On 1 Jan, 2015, the EU introduced new VAT tax laws that impact anyone selling digital products to the EU – that includes authors who sell books or courses direct. Essentially, VAT is now calculated based on where the customer is located, NOT where the seller/vendor is located. The tax varies per country and to be compliant, businesses need to collect 2 pieces of evidence proving location. Previously, there was an exemption limit for small businesses but this law gets rid of the limit so anyone selling anything and making any revenue above 0 must pay this VAT. Many of the companies above will help with sorting out this tax information, but many small businesses are pulling down their direct sales – myself included – until the law is revisited for small businesses. For more information, please read this article.

I’d love to hear your comments on this topic. First of all, do you like to listen to audiobooks read by the author? Do you want to try doing this yourself and do you have any questions?


Copyright, Publishing Contract Clauses, Image Use And Avoiding Getting Sued With Helen Sedwick

There are questions that come up over and over again in the self-publishing world: What does copyright even mean? How do I write about real people and not get sued? How can I protect against piracy? Today, I interview lawyer Helen Sedwick about these and many other legal issues.

In the intro, I talk about the new Kindle Voyage, heading to Frankfurt Book Fair and what I’m learning from Dean Wesley Smith’s productivity course that has resulted in 20,000 words done for Gates of Hell, my next novel in the last 9 days.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to:

helensedwickHelen Sedwick is a California attorney with 30 years experience representing a diverse range of businesses and entrepreneurs. She writes historical fiction and has also written the Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook to help writers self-publish while minimizing legal risk.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube, or read the notes and links below.

We discuss:

  • legalhandbookHow Helen studied creative writing, but eventually went to law school when she wanted to earn more money, but she continued to write on the side. 30 years later, she self-published her historical novel, Coyote Winds, and learned so much about the process. She wrote a guide to help other authors based on her legal perspective.
  • What is copyright? When does it come into existence and how do you register it? Using the metaphor of a house you own, Helen explains how each room represents a certain right, and how you can best exploit those and protect yourself.
  • Some key publishing contract clauses to watch out for. Limit the rights by length of time, or the format asked for. Make sure that a publisher will actually exploit any rights you sell. How the end of the contract is managed and when you get your rights back. Defining ‘out of print’ in a digital age.
  • On writing memoir and real life people and events – without getting sued! Considering privacy issues and country differences.
  • On piracy and enforcing copyright. How to use take-down notices. But basically, obscurity is more of a risk than piracy, and some authors use piracy as a form of marketing these days.
  • Avoiding scams in the shark-infested waters of self-publishing. Check out Writer Beware. We also discuss competitions and which are worth entering.
  • Collaborating with other authors, translators and other professionals. What you need to consider if you want to work successfully with other people.
  • On working with attorneys and lawyers – if you need one.
  • How setting up a business can be great for optimizing your finances.

You can find Helen at and on twitter @HelenSedwick. I highly recommend you read her amazing blog, buy her books and email her if you have legal questions. You can also leave comments or questions below.

Q&A Time: My Journey, Writing Routine, Author Platform Tips, Global Publishing And Mistakes

I recorded this video for the Gulf Coast Writer’s Conference recently and I thought you might find it interesting as well. It’s 26 mins long and contains slides and images as well as my talking head :)

Thanks to thriller author Michael Lister for the invitation! I also recently interviewed Michael about his religious thrillers, if you like similar fiction to me.

I answer the following questions:

  • To me you are the epitome of an indie author and entrepreneur. Can you share with us the journey that has gotten you here?
  • What percentage of your time is spent being an author and what percentage an entrepreneur? What do you think a person needs to be both?
  • What is your writing routine? How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
  • Can you touch on author platform for us?
  • Can you tell us what you think works best for indie authors, what those who are experiencing success are doing best?
  • What are the biggest mistakes you see authors making?
  • Can you touch on what you’re doing in foreign markets and translations?
  • Write. Publish. Repeat.   Respond   :-)

 I’d love to know if you like these type of videos, as I could do more of them to answer more of your questions. So please do let me know in the comments a) if you like this style of video post and b) what are the questions you’d like me to answer.

How Has Self-Publishing Changed In The Last 2 Years? Interview With David Gaughran.

Today I interview David Gaughran, author and outspoken commentator on all things indie.

lets get digitalDavid has just released the second edition of his fantastic book, Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo for $4.99/£2.99.

This book is one of the reasons I decided NOT to write my own book about how to self-publish. When it is done so well by a fantastic author, why reinvent the wheel! I highly recommend grabbing a copy and even if you know what you’re doing as an indie, you’ll certainly learn something from the interviews in the last section.

What are some of the big changes in the publishing industry between the two editions of your book?

That was probably the most interesting part of writing this new edition, charting all the changes. It’s only when you take a step back that you realize how much has happened in the last three years. A lot of what was theory in 2011 has become fact.

Self-publishing has gone mainstream, with indies grabbing around 25% of the US e-book market – from scratch! Borders has gone out of business, taking its 600+ stores out of existence (and costing 12,000 people their jobs). Publishers are merging to try to weather the storm, but they still haven’t become that much smarter about how they approach e-books, digital marketing, or this thing the kids are calling “the internet.”

For self-publishers, the amount of change has been equally breathtaking.

When I wrote the first edition, selling 1,000 books in a month was a big deal. A really big deal actually. But now you can sell that much in a day with a BookBub ad. Authors tend to focus on how much competition has increased (there are 3 million books in the Kindle Store today versus maybe 1 million in 2011), but they forget to factor in how much the digital market has swelled and that we now have much more sophisticated tools to reach readers.

On top of that, self-publishers are constantly innovating and sharing. While I’m glad I started when I did, I wouldn’t be afraid of starting today or thinking that I’d missed the boat. Not at all. I think we’re still at the beginning of this revolution that’s reshaping our industry.

How has the public perception of self-publishing changed, and are we past the ‘stigma’ label?

I’m skeptical about how much that stigma ever existed among the people that really count: readers. It definitely existed in the industry – among agents, editors, and traditionally published authors – and still does in certain quarters. But, really, that’s their problem. It doesn’t affect me reaching readers, building an audience, and selling books.

I think most agents and publishers are very open to signing indie authors. Out of those that aren’t, ask yourself this: do you really want to do business with someone with such an outdated view of the marketplace?

The market does feel like shark-infested waters these days with so many companies out to take money from authors.

How can people tell the difference between good and bad services? What should they definitely NOT spend their money on?

It’s pretty tough because a lot of these scammers are so slick. What I would say to authors, especially those starting out, is that there are no shortcuts, and that goes for publishing books as well as selling them.

If someone is offering you an easy way to publish, or simple trick for selling more books, you should be automatically skeptical. Lottery winners aside, success usually requires hard work. If someone claims to be an expert who can put together a social media campaign that will lead to hundreds or thousands of sales, be automatically skeptical.

If a company offers you a hassle-free way of publishing your book, where they will take care of everything, be automatically skeptical. And if the company is owned by a traditional publisher, be very skeptical.

The biggest predator out there is a company called Author Solutions, which is currently subject to a major class action in the US for deceptive business practices. I’ve been campaigning against the company for a few years now, but this post is a good place to start if you don’t know much about them.

The saddest thing is that Author Solutions is owned by Penguin Random House – which has done nothing to clean up those predatory practices since buying the company for $116m in July 2012. So when I hear publishers talking about re-imagining the industry, placing the author at the center, and treating writers as true partners, I always think to myself: talk is cheap.

Scammers aside, I go into some depth in Let’s Get Digital about what authors should do and not do in terms of marketing (and that goes for the time you spend, as well as money), but you can get the basics of the approach I suggest in this post.

You have a load of success stories in the book and what’s encouraging is that it includes people who are NOT ‘big indie names.’

What are some of the common threads you see between these authors & how can people model their success?

I’m glad you liked that because I was doing something very deliberate with that section. The media tends to focus on the very biggest sellers: Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, HM Ward etc.

But this revolution is far deeper and wider than that. I think the real story is the hundreds and thousands of authors who maybe aren’t selling millions of books, but are making a living off this for the very first time, or paying their mortgage with royalties for the first time, all thanks to self-publishing.

I tried to select a range of authors from different backgrounds and genres, and with different paths to success. You have people like Bob Mayer who had millions of books in print when he was traditionally published, but his experience turned sour and he decided to self-publish and became a huge success (again) – with those very same books that publishers said were finished.

At the other end of the scale you have someone like UK author Mel Comley who never had a traditional deal, decided to self-publish in 2010, and took six months to make her first $100 on Amazon. Today, Mel has sold hundreds of thousands of books and is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, and she did that all on her own. I wanted to show there are multiple paths to success and each story is quite different, and I hope the overall effect is inspiring.

Authors are always looking for magic bullets, but here’s the real secret.

All of these writers decided to pick themselves instead of waiting to be picked.

They were all determined enough to keep at it until they were a success. And they all worked bloody hard at it too. You need a bit of luck, but you need to put yourself in a position to get lucky by honing your craft, putting your work out there, and being smart about how you reach readers. And you need to hang in there and keep at it. Again: there are no shortcuts, but success truly is attainable.

It’s not easy, but it is much more of a possibility than it ever was before. In other words, it’s down to you.

david gaughranvisible300pxDavid Gaughran is an Irish author, living in Prague, and he blogs on writing and the publishing business here. You can pick up the updated, expanded version of Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo for $4.99/£2.99.

To celebrate the launch, he’s also running a sale on the companion book Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books which you can grab for the reduced price of 99c/79p, also from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

If you have any questions for David, please leave them below, and join the conversation!